MMAC proposes creation of a caste system of schools


This is reminder to those of you who follow K-12 education in Milwaukee: there’s a new plan waiting in the wings that includes another attempt at the takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools.

The plan, designed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC), was reported on by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past November.

It’s loosely designed in the image of the New Orleans “Recovery School District,” and has been a model for reform both in Tennessee and in Michigan.

While all of the specifics of the plan have not been made public, its features have been presented in an MMAC slideshow and in interviews with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. These include:

  • Create 50 high-performing schools serving 20,000 students, a mere 16 percent of Milwaukee’s K-12 student population. The MMAC estimates it will take a total of $48 million in capital costs and $21 million in annual operating costs to get 20,000 students in high-
    performing schools by 2020.
  • Establish a special turnaround district in MPS for low-performing schools that would be headed by a different superintendent.
  • Expand vocational-technical education for large numbers of Milwaukee’s children.

Basically, this proposal creates a caste system for public education. 50 high-performing schools will serve a fraction of Milwaukee’s K-12 students, while the remaining 84 percent take their chances in other schools, including those in a designated low-performing district.

This old tune under a new name is an affront to the majority of Milwaukee’s poor and working class kids. Instead of teaching every child to be college ready, whether or not they choose to attend college, the MMAC has a very different vision.

Students not attending one of the 50 high-performing schools may be tracked into a vocational program.

Whenever the captains of industry start talking about vocational training, red flags should go up about the danger of forcing low-income students of color to fill the role of a cheap labor force.

Many remember the historical debate over calls for “industrial training” for African-American students in the South by Booker T. Washington, so-called “enlightened” southern segregationists and the northern industrialists.

Vocational and career training can meet student’s needs. But these programs cannot be set up at the cost of dumbing down curriculum or tracking some students into high skills areas like engineering and the trades, while the rest are destined for life to tuck bed sheets or greet customers at WalMart or stock shelves at dollar stores.

Beware, plans are in waiting. Some of our city’s business and political leaders are just waiting to see the outcome of the governor’s recall to try to set them in motion.


  • nmballa says:

    I commented extensively on this article on ON Milwaukee website. Mr. Miller couldn’t be further off on his assumptions. The type of system proposed works marvelously in other countries. Miller assumes a cookie cutter one fits all approach to education. The idea that all children should educated as college ready is flawed concept that perpetuates the problem with todays education system. And it directly influences the economical issues that our country faces today. We have a workforce devised of undereducated and overeducated persons. We need to rebuild our middle class. A great article in the NY times states just this…

    All children are not equal, interests will differ as will ability to comprehend and progress. Today’s system is aimed at spitting out higher education bound students. The result is that those that have no interest or the ability to succeed in this environment simply drop by the wayside.

    Splitting the school system in to two different paths is a fantastic idea. The children that have the capability to achieve under the system that produces higher education bound students should be placed separately than those that simply are not cut from the same mold. It dilutes both students education experiences. This holds true from the other direction as well. If a student simply isn’t interested or gifted enough to make it in this environment they should have the opportunity to move a different direction.

    My opinions are based off of the limited experience I have had within the Danish school system. If you wish to deem this system a caste system by all means do so, but it does rank third in the US’s Education Index so it can’t be all bad. We could take a page or two from their methods. They don’t dump students that are not college bound.

    The system utilizes a basic K-9 system which is followed by and exam. Score high enough you have the option to move to a 4 year school that preps you for higher education in the sciences. If you don’t you are welcome to take an additional year to focus on preparing for the exam or you can opt to move towards a vocational school. The vocational school provides for two years of education (similar to a tech college) and an additional two years of apprenticeship. Studies include but are not limited to building
    crafts, from earth to table (hotel, cooking, foods, agriculture), mechanics, transport and logistics, commercial area (trade, office, finance), services, technology and communication, etc. A student is always welcome to try to test in to a university at a later date but obviously those with the 4 year prep education have a higher rate of entrance. At the end of the day what you have is students that have been primed for the university route and students that have been provided with an education that allows them to succeed in life. What you don’t have is a system that weeds out the bad, drops them by the wayside, all the while diluting the quality of education by trying to be everything to everyone.

  • nmballa says:

    “but it does rank third in the US’s Education Index so it can’t be all bad.”

    Should say UN’s Education Index.

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