Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Milwaukee Philanthropist wrong about MPS

Sheldon Lubar is a successful investor.

It's great that he's giving half a million dollars to Whitefish Bay High School to renovate its stadium. Generations of suburban athletes will benefit from Mr. Lubar's largess.

But isn't this what wealthy businessmen do-make large donations to their alma maters that name bricks and mortar after them? Nothing really unusual here.

But I don't understand how making a lot of money or even donating some of it makes Mr. Lubar an expert on urban education or public school governance. Yet Mr Lubar used the announcement of his gift to praise Whitefish Bay as a model in successfully educating black students and attack the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) as "structured to fail." All of this was dutifully reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We have a long history in this country of folks who made a lot of money in business-Henry Ford comes to mind- who stumble badly when they venture beyond their area of expertise.

Ford mastered the art of mass production in designing and producing the Model T. He even doubled his workers wages, something that would help address the labor shortage today, to solve his turnover problem. But his manufacturing and managerial insights did not prevent him from supporting German fascism, being an overt anti-Semite or hiring criminals to spy on his employees.

Mr Lubar has evidently been a savvy investor, but that doesn't make him an expert on how to educate Milwaukee's predominantly poor, inner city children. Nor does it make him an expert on urban school governance, a topic of considerable research and debate.

Whitefish Bay, contrary to Mr Lubar's assertion, is not a "model" for successfully educating black children. An examination of testing data suggests that despite having a much more affluent student population than the Milwaukee Public Schools, Whitefish Bay still has a significant racial achievement gap.

On the 10th grade reading test, 83% of Bay's white students recorded advanced scores and 14% were proficient. Yet only 33% of its black students were advanced and 29% proficient. On the 10th grade math test, 57% of white students were advanced and 36% proficient, while only 17% of black students were advanced and 33% proficient.

These results shouldn't surprise anyone with a serious interest in urban education since the racial achievement gap is a national dilemma. But it is a clear refutation of Mr. Lubar's contention that Whitefish Bay is worthy because it has solved the challenge of successfully educating poor black children and MPS is not and should be taken over and dismantled.

Mr Lubar certainly has a right to his opinions. This is America after all. But making lots of money doesn't make one on expert in other areas. And the Journal shouldn't allow its pages to be used as a megaphone by rich, but misinformed donors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this insight, Michael. What's more, African-American students often come back to MPS from Whitefish Bay because of overt discrimination on the part of their school peers and the general insults of institutionalized racism. Who's keeping track of the returnees' test scores? MPS,of course.