MPS has a widening opportunity gap
Much has been written about the achievement gap in Milwaukee Public Schools. Hands are wrung over our students' test scores and heads shake each time a school is declared to be "in need of improvement." Very little is made, however, of the "opportunity gap," as renowned education professor Richard Milner refers to it, that exists for Milwaukee's students.
The drumbeat of worry over the achievement gap obscures the reasons that gap exists in the first place. It does nothing to help our children and youth, and the adults who care about them, look beyond failure to imagine possibility.
It stands to reason that the opportunity gap has everything to do with persistent gaps in achievement between children of color and their white counterparts. After all, opportunities make kids want to achieve, and they connect students to schools and learning in ways that multiple choice tests never will.
Young people who go to school in Milwaukee have significantly less access to the kinds of educational opportunities that kids in better-funded schools are routinely offered. Our students' access to arts classes, physical education and libraries (with librarians and books in them), for example, have been shuttered with increasing speed with each budget cut made and each accountability measure added.
According to Elliot Eisner, emeritus professor of Art and Education at Stanford University, "The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know." It is not enough to memorize facts. We need to be able to create new knowledge if we are to realize our full human potential.
The arts give students a place in the curriculum where they can build the skills the Partnership for 21st Century Learning have identified as critical for future success: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation.
Children who lack opportunities to exercise these cognitive muscles undergo a form of intellectual atrophy. The arts trade in imagination and innovation, which are the kinds of thinking we need to help students, our city and our country rise above the hard times we find ourselves in.
We need students to be able to think up solutions, not just fill in bubbles on tests. We need to close the opportunity gap for our students so that they can close the achievement gap.
The arts, when taught well, open 21st century opportunities and can teach our students to imagine things – in the words of the great teacher and author Maxine Greene – "as if they could be otherwise."
This commentary is published on the occasion of MPS Children's Week. To learn more, visit mpschildrenscampaign.org.
Nice article Kim. It is sad how MPS students do not have the same access to the arts as their suburban counterparts. MPS needs to come up with creative ways to solve their performance problem. Perhaps that starts with reinstating more of the arts. Mr. Thornton took a step in the right direction with the new budget. The problem is not a lack of money (the article never said it was) or uncaring parents. The problem is MPS needs to get its priorities straight. The arts may not show up directly on test scores, but a true education does not consist of solely reading and writing. SUPPORT THE ARTS!
The arts are what make us human, separate from the animals. The arts help us develop an appreciation for differing viewpoints, and skill in expressing our own viewpoint without trampling on others. I am concerned about the shape that Art education is taking today in MPS. Art and creativity take time, and guidance - resources that continue to be cut at MPS. An art teacher who is at a school one day a week is not sufficient - it spreads the teacher too thin, and forces "cookie cutter projects" upon the students, who may go 2-3 weeks before they have another session with the teacher. It saddens me because I know that there are many gifted art teachers out there, who if given the time to spend with students, would inspire them and guide them to create truly original works, complementing and extending what they learn in the academic subjects. If they are not given the time, guidance and exposure to the creative process now, they will probably never get it, and we may never know what we are missing.
Yes, if we could just spend MORE money then all of the problems of MPS would be solved. At $13,500 per student, per year they are QUITE on par with the surburban counterparts. It doesn't matter if one school has art classes and the other doesn't...what matters is if the parents of a child emphasize the importance of school, the value of an education, and prospect of a real future in civilized society. They could spend $100,000 on every child and it wouldn't make one iota of difference...if you have parents who don't care, neither will their children.
Blah, blah, blah...go back to 1865 and blame the Civil War, why don't you? The last time I checked, every American was born with the same opportunity. Some just continue to--generation after generation--make poor choices. This isn't about racism, it is about the fact that some members of society (black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, etc.) seem to want to do nothing more than blame others for their condition rather than take responsibility for their own actions or lack of actions. Barring very rare circumstances like being the victim of a vicious crime or a disabled veteran, the only person that you have to "blame" for your condition in life is yourself. Stop with the excuses for these people and help them right the ship. Excuses only perpetuate their inability to cure their self-inflicted ailments.
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