I recently wrote a couple of articles here about the Milwaukee Public Schools budget situation (students down by almost 5%, but spending up AGAIN) and my opinion that MPS teachers are grossly overpaid. Of course, teacher advocates have fired back with comments that not every school district pays as well as MPS, that we should disregard the $30,000 to $40,000 of benefits MPS teachers get each year because it’s not “salary,” and that teachers are generally overworked and underpaid.
No one has successfully convinced me yet that teachers anywhere are overworked. Even if I believed that teachers worked 8 to 10 hour days (I don’t), they still work the equivalent of a part time job because of summer and the multiple school holidays. The 180 school days worked by teachers are the equivalent of 36 weeks worked (5 days worked per week). Compare that to the average professional who works 8 to 10 hour days for 46 to 48 weeks per year, and it’s clear that teachers work part-time.
All that aside, here’s more proof that the highly compensated MPS teachers aren’t earning their pay.
Consider that by the time African-American students enter their sophomore year in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, taxpayers have invested about $100,000 per pupil in their education. How accountable has MPS been in teaching these students?
New data show that only one in five black MPS sophomores is proficient in math or science. Fewer than four in 10 are proficient in reading. To make matters worse, these distressing results come after a decision to lower the score that a student must attain to show proficiency.
The majority of black MPS students won’t receive a high school diploma. The Shott Foundation for Public Education has issued the numbing finding that “nearly three-quarters of the black male students (in MPS) fail to graduate with their (ninth grade) cohort.”
Jay Greene, a nationally recognized expert on graduation rates, separately has estimated that the overall MPS graduation rate is 36%.
The actions of MPS teachers are also instructive. According to the latest federal census, nearly 30% enroll their children in private schools.
In case you missed it, over 60% of black students cannot read proficiently as sophomores. 80% aren’t proficient in math or science as sophomores. And as a whole, 64% of MPS students don’t graduate.
I realize there are a million excuses that you could cite why these students aren’t learning, from broken homes to lack of health care to poor nutrition. But let’s just be honest with ourselves: The biggest factor in this failing equation is the teachers.
How do I know? Other urban school districts are doing better, and their students face the exact same obstacles cited by the excuse-makers. Check out this data compiled by The Council of the Great City Schools:
Milwaukee (p. 273) 10th grade at or above proficient in reading for all students:
2002 – 40%
2003 – 36%
2004 – 45%
2005 – 41%
2006 – 39%
Birmingham (p.39) 11th grade meets or exceeds reading standards for all students:
2004 – 79%
2005 – 75%
2006 – 79%
2007 – 78%
Cleveland (p. 116) 10th grade at or above proficient in reading for all students:
2004 – 44%
2005 – 73%
2006 – 66%
2007 – 78%
Dallas (p.130) 10th grade met standard or above in reading for all students:
2003 – 58%
2004 – 70%
2005 – 60%
2006 – 77%
2007 – 77%
Minneapolis (p.280) 10th grade meets or exceeds reading standards for all students:
2006 – 50%
2007 – 39%
Salt Lake City (p.410) 10th grade substantial or sufficient in reading for all students:
2006 – 73%
2007 – 73%
I don’t think anyone can argue that Milwaukee isn’t doing so well compared to these other urban school districts.
Now I realize that there are other school districts in this study with worse numbers than Milwaukee. Frankly, that’s not much of a feather in our cap. I don’t think we want our tax dollars to make MPS the best of the worst, do we?
And of course, the states each administer different tests and it’s hard to tell how comparable they are. But at the end of the day, isn’t each test really just asking, “Can you read?” There’s not a whole lot of room for interpretation there.
The bottom line is this: MPS is spending $1.2 billion a year, and less than half of students can read at a high school level by the time they’re sophomores. If that isn’t enough proof of a completely failing school system, I don’t know what is.
Sidenote: I do realize that teachers don’t want student proficiency judged by tests, because it shows how our schools are failing. They have a million excuses why tests aren’t valid, but the bottom line is that a test is the only way to find out what students know on a wide scale.