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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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In Kids & Family Commentary

A report by the Annie M. Casey Foundation says Wisconsin ranks as the worst state in the nation when it comes to racial disparities for children. (PHOTO: Annie M. Casey Foundation)

Wisconsin is the worst state in the country for opportunity for black children


It seems like every day the idea of an alternative universe grows ever more apparent in Milwaukee.

Just think of the last few days.

In our first universe we have the marvelous day of new billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, massive pledges to building a new arena and the excitement of the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers.

In our second universe we have a study by the very respected Annie M. Casey Foundation that says Wisconsin ranks as the worst state in the nation when it comes to racial disparities for children.

The foundation, a 66-year-old charitable trust that concentrates on child and family issues, released the study called "Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children." The study scored states according to 12 different factors, ranging from early childhood, education, work, family supports, neighborhoods and socioeconomic status.

Wisconsin was last. Behind Mississippi and Tennessee and Georgia. Holy Cow! About 70 percent of the black kids in the state live in Milwaukee, so this is our problem.

While there is this tremendous attention being paid to the new arena and a new entertainment district Downtown, I don't hear much about the plight of black children in our area. I hear hardly anything at all.

I think the new arena is crucial to our city and that the idea of a new entertainment district is a great idea whose time has come. The development is going to truly raise our profile nationally and provide expanded opportunities locally.

The one thing that is counter-productive to anything happening is for people to say "well if we didn't build the arena we'd have money for this or that." These things are not related, nor should they be.

The danger, however, is that while we our attention is focused on infrastructure development, we are running the risk of being eaten alive from the inside by our neglect. As the black population continues to grow and face the bleak future we are faced with having a huge number of people with virtually nothing to do. Dreams, yes. But not much hope.

I am not here to argue about racism, white or black. I'm not going to talk about the past sins or the historical barriers to opportunity.

There are only two things to talk about. Admit we have a major problem and figure out what to do about it.

The research is pretty clear that educational success is the biggest factor in individual success. By any measure, Milwaukee Public Schools has failed to develop a successful way to educate black children. (Editor's note: In recently released state WKCE test scores, voucher schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program scored lower than MPS in math and reading.)

A lot of people blame the kids. Bad neighborhoods. Lousy home life. Single parent. No role models.

That kind of thinking is severely flawed. There is too much research, both scientific and anecdotal that proves children from even the most dysfunctional backgrounds can be successful if they receive an appropriate education.

I am watching, with perhaps more than just a little amusement, the MPS school board search for a new superintendent. And I want to scream that "It hardly makes any difference."

Almost all research shows that the first year of a new superintendent, scores drop a bit. The second year they go back up to where they were. The third and fourth years may bring some marginal gains and by the fifth year the superintendent is gone and the cycle begins again.

What we don't need is new reading texts, a new math teaching program, more or less arts education, better facilities for recreation, remodeling of schools, giving schools more control over their own money.

What we really need is to change the way everyone thinks about public education, especially teachers and principals. It's time the adults took responsibility for both the successes and failures of our children. Time to turn the whole thing on its head and do something drastically different.

Dr. Jeff Howard is a social psychologist who runs something called the Efficacy Institute in Boston. I've worked with him before and his approach to education has shown remarkable results, not just for minority children but for all children.

"We don't talk about self-esteem," he says. "We believe in self-confidence to drive effort. Self-confidence is a mindset based on an understanding of previous accomplishments and future potential."

"A child says, 'I've done this so maybe I could do that.' A teacher says, 'Look what you did, now you can probably do that.' That's founded in real experience and is a driver toward committed effort to further accomplishment, It's totally different than self-esteem."

The crux of what Howard talks about is this: "People aren't born smart. They get smart."

I'm not saying that Howard has all of the answers. This is a complex problem that demands complex solutions. But we can't keep tinkering around the edges here. We need a fundamental change in the way we think about black children.

Sure, poverty plays a big role in this whole thing. But it's so much more than that.

White kids in Wisconsin are nine times more likely to graduate from high school than black kids. If that doesn't tell you there's a serious problem with the way we do things, I don't know what will.

Those black kids aren't born any dumber or smarter than the white kids. We adults are the ones who determine who is going to be successful and who isn't.

It's obvious that an entire race of children is being ignored. Somehow, someone needs to step up to the plate and drive a discussion of the problem and the solutions. The tired old answers don't work.

What we need is something new.

Talkbacks

emills81 | April 24, 2014 at 2:48 p.m. (report)

When talking to MPS teachers about this issue I hear the same reason over and over. If the parents dont care about education the kid isnt going to care abut education. They cant do the job of the parent and teach. I do agree with this. I think a MPS boarding school would benefit these at risk poorly parented kids. Also, year round school would keep the kids attention a lot easier. Having a 3 month summer break is not helping a child who is having difficulty learning.

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KristenLueth | April 24, 2014 at 10:26 a.m. (report)

From Next Door Milwaukee Executive Director "The best chance for our children? High quality early education coupled with strong parent engagement." The recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that Wisconsins African-American children fare the worst in the nation. The report analyzed 12 indicators, including birth weight, enrollment in early childhood education, and fourth grade reading scores. For white children, Wisconsin is a good place to live. Our score places us 11th in the nation. But for low-income African American children, the deck is stacked. The very features that all of us need to grow up to compete and succeed are sorely lacking in Milwaukees central city. These issues are complex and have a long history. We cannot turn them around overnight, but neither can we throw up our hands. Wisconsins economy cannot grow unless we address this disparity. We cannot afford to lose another generation to chronic poverty. The best chance for our children? High quality early education coupled with strong parent engagement. Next Door and other early childhood programs offer real hope for African American children in our city. We and our colleagues are proving every day that these children can thrive, learn and succeed. Government leaders as well as all of us need to decide that all of our children deserve the opportunity to succeed. We know what works; we just need to commit ourselves to the goal. Carol Keintz, Ed.D. Next Door

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KristenLueth | April 24, 2014 at 10:25 a.m. (report)

Published at nextdoormil.org by Carol Keintz, Executive Director of Next Door, Milwaukee April 14, 2014 "The best chance for our children? High quality early education coupled with strong parent engagement." The recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that Wisconsins African-American children fare the worst in the nation. The report analyzed 12 indicators, including birth weight, enrollment in early childhood education, and fourth grade reading scores. For white children, Wisconsin is a good place to live. Our score places us 11th in the nation. But for low-income African American children, the deck is stacked. The very features that all of us need to grow up to compete and succeed are sorely lacking in Milwaukees central city. These issues are complex and have a long history. We cannot turn them around overnight, but neither can we throw up our hands. Wisconsins economy cannot grow unless we address this disparity. We cannot afford to lose another generation to chronic poverty. The best chance for our children? High quality early education coupled with strong parent engagement. Next Door and other early childhood programs offer real hope for African American children in our city. We and our colleagues are proving every day that these children can thrive, learn and succeed. Government leaders as well as all of us need to decide that all of our children deserve the opportunity to succeed. We know what works; we just need to commit ourselves to the goal. Carol Keintz, Ed.D. Next Door

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AndrewJ | April 24, 2014 at 10:08 a.m. (report)

This one is simple... who's been in charge of Milwaukee for last 100+ years? Liberal Democrats. Literally since 1906. Milwaukee is a living, breathing, Liberal petri dish, and this is what the experiment has yielded. 100+ years of Democrats making promises to the very people that keep voting them in office, and 100+ years of them completely neglecting to fulfill those promises. Why would they do that? Well, that's simple too. If they fixed these issues, what promises would they run on in the future? They would have no agenda. If they enacted policies and programs that actually benefitted the black community, and improved the community, how could they fear monger and work: "things are bad because... REPUBLICANS!" into their next stump speech? They couldn't. So instead they keep making promises, they keep their thumb on top of the community, and they keep getting elected. Wake up, Milwaukee and stop electing your own executioners!

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