Op Ed

MPS Should Offer In-Person Classes

Or else the Legislature should expand school choice.

By - Mar 7th, 2021 09:27 am
School classroom. Pixabay License. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.

School classroom. (Pixabay License).

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.

It was easier to understand keeping children out of school at this point last year when we did not know what we were facing. After experiencing nearly a year of “two weeks to flatten the curve,” however, it is evident that the cure has been far worse than the disease. This is especially the case for children in inner-city Milwaukee.

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?

On top of that, we are forcing our children to miss the very best childhood experiences. How many proms and homecoming celebrations have been missed? How many birthday parties and playdates canceled?  What about an inner-city high-school senior who was not able to participate in a graduation ceremony? How many students missed out on their final year of competing in their favorite sport or other activity, either for fun or potentially a college scholarship? For every older person who grew up in a time without cell phones and social media and is so quick to lecture our young ones on the importance of personal connection, how can we say the denial of this basic human need is outweighed by the failure to find a perfect solution?

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.

Shannon Whitworth is a Bradley Freedom Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and is the director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: MPS Should Offer In-Person Classes”

  1. rubiomon@gmail.com says:

    This right-wing hack’s screed is an ill-concealed pitch for more vouchers for private schools. You want to have your kids educated by WILL, pay for it yourself!

  2. Mingus says:

    Like most-right-wing school choice political operatives, Ms. Whitworth does not address the concerns of teachers and parents with children who have high risk medical conditions about contacting Covid-19. We don’t know the impact of Covid -19 on the health of teachers and students in religious and choice schools because State law protects them from having to report the same relevant data that public schools have to report.

  3. mkwagner says:

    Shannon Whitworth misses one extremely important (dare I say critical) aspect that needs to be in place for school districts to return to in-person instruction; adequate ventilation–fresh air to prevent the spread of COVID. Whitworth ignores the fact that parents of means live in suburban communities that are far more likely to have up-to-date ventilation systems (including air conditioning) making it possible to return to in-person instruction. Milwaukee Public Schools, which has experienced more than 2 decades of underfunding (funds used to finance Choice for families of means in wealthier suburban communities) has had to resort to massive deferment of physical plant maintenance. There is a reason MPS is targeting April for reopening. Classroom windows can be opened to bring in necessary fresh air.

    I remind Ms. Whitworth that public education historically been financed through property taxes. After WWII, the federal government supported suburban growth for “whites” only. Housing covenants, redlining as well as the total lack federal funds supporting inner city housing contributed to the enormous growth in “white” suburban wealth at the expense of all others. That wealth and the property taxes it generates, advantages suburban and disadvantages inner city AND rural public schools. Wisconsin could not fulfill its commitment to the education of every child. This realization (a result of federal lawsuits) led to the state shouldering an increasing percentage of the cost of education. However, the gerrymandered legislature with the support of the Bradley Foundation and WILL decimated state funding and crippled poor school districts efforts to raise essential funding.

    Whitworth’s diatribe is just another example of the racist dog-whistle politics of today’s conservatives. She could care less for the safety of Milwaukee children and teachers, or their academic achievement. Her goal is to justify yet another massive funding cut for MPS so that privileged families have more educational choices for their children.

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