MPS Should Offer In-Person Classes
Or else the Legislature should expand school choice.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept the narrative that the main priority of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is to educate children. Amidst the mounting evidence that in-person instruction can be done safely and effectively, MPS and its teachers union still doggedly refuse to return to in-person instruction in its buildings—at least, that is, until April of this year, when the school year is nearly complete.
The pandemic panic is losing out to an overwhelming compulsion to return to some sense of normalcy across the country. Both public and private schools in the suburbs of Milwaukee, where parents of means have the leverage to compel the schools, have been in-person (with a virtual option) since last September. Even large cities such as Chicago and San Francisco have begun to push back against the unions and other forces keeping students and teachers out of the classrooms. Yet in Milwaukee, our leaders remain silent on the issue.
Let us not forget that prior to the pandemic panic, Wisconsin already had the largest achievement gap between white and Black children in the nation. This gap will only get worse as schools across the state continue with in-person instruction while MPS students struggle to connect virtually, and in many ways educate themselves. Inner-city students are far less likely to have comparable access to technology, according to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, and many more of these students are working or are having to care for younger siblings while their parents are working.
For many of these students, school is the only place where they get a decent meal. Most importantly, attending school in-person is the most effective means of instruction because of the personal connection students establish with teachers. A selling point for any school is smaller class sizes because an instructor has more of an opportunity to connect, understand and individualize the instruction. By going all-virtual, MPS has gone the opposite direction with predictable, disastrous results.
One cannot underscore enough the importance of a high school diploma, with high-school graduates generating significantly higher lifetime earnings than dropouts. A recent study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) found that learning loss from the Spring 2020 semester will result in an estimated $7.7 billion in lost lifetime earnings for Wisconsin students.
In an astounding number of metropolitan areas across the country the increase in absenteeism and failing grades among virtual students has skyrocketed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this continued isolation of our young people has had many additional pernicious effects such as increases in substance abuse, suicide, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, clinical depression and other mental health issues. Why would we thrust all this on our children when they are less likely to get sick and unlikely to transmit the virus to others?
These schools need to reopen now, or parents and the Wisconsin Legislature should take advantage of and expand school choice programs. That way, the obstinance of MPS and the teachers union can be bypassed, and students can have a shot at a quality education.
Furthermore, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett should step up and pressure MPS to get these kids back in school. If you have any conscience at all, the gravity of the situation should compel you to demand better for these kids from the people who run this city. Their future depends on it.