Proof That MPS Sucks

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.

This information is a few years old, but you’ll see below that the numbers haven’t improved. This was reported by Susan Mitchell, the president of School Choice Wisconsin:

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.


  1. Jeanne

    It is interesting how the language here is slanted to be inflammatory. Instead of reading, “the vast majority (70%) of MPS teachers enroll their children in MPS schools,” it places focus on the minority who do not.

    The entire tone marks the writer as someone who does NOT want to be convinced that there could be anything positive about MPS. Further, she prefers to believe certain things about teachers that simply aren’t true, and has no idea about all of the meetings, paperwork (that legally must be completed), and afterschool required activities for teachers. That does not include all of the extra discretionary hours teachers put in to prepare special projects, just to try to make the lessons more interesting and inviting for the students.

    This writer shows no awareness that the students, and their families, have an obligation to prioritize their education, and do their part. Students come without their materials, without proper clothing, without being properly dressed and cleaned. Every year students come to kindergarden without even knowing how to use the toilet. Their small, precious bodies are subjected to lead & fed processed foods devoid of nutrition. They often were neglected as infants, starting a trajectory that leaves no chance of normal brain development. They witness violence, abuse, poverty and all the worst the city has to offer. Many of the children have medical issues, as well. Asthma, sickle cell anemia, ADHD, the list goes on and on. Teachers exhaust themselves trying to be all they can for these children, but have to send them home to the same environment.

    My students tell me about the friends who have been shot. They tell me that they spend the night sleeping on the floor because they can hear the gunshots outside. I’ll never forget the little girl who cried and asked if I would be her mother, because her mother just lost custody of her that morning. These students are often more concerned about survival than algebra.

    Perhaps students could and would learn, in spite of all of this, if they understood that it is their responsibility to learn. We teach, we definitely teach! We wear ourselves out teaching. But all of our efforts will not and cannot force a single fact or understanding into a child’s brain, if the child does not put forth the effort.

    In an environment where writers like this one wish to blame all of the problems of the city on the very people who are actually trying to make a difference, these children never learn that they need to do the work. They need to listen, stay seated, practice writing, memorize the math facts, and do all of the other things that a person needs to do in order to learn.

    I’m glad that I took some time in my life to teach. I know I made a difference for so many students. Soon, I will leave and start another career. There were some who wanted to learn. At the same time, I have watched my peers work fewer hours, and get paid more than twice as much. Every year my job becomes more dangerous. Worst of all, I am tired. I am tired of pouring my heart into my job, and then to have all of our efforts dismissed on the radio, television, and by writers like the one here. What has this writer done to help. Has he/she ever volunteered on a regular basis, to come in and help these children with CD, LD, ODD, etc.? Has she ever demanded from our legislators to know why each student in the Port Washington School District is allocated over $13,000 every year, while the MPS students are allocated under $6,000? Why are these children worth less? Why does their value depend upon their address? Why are the “haves” given more and the “have-nots” given less? Why is the writer angry at teachers, instead of a system that punishes the poor? Why isn’t she spending her energy trying to make a difference. Lord knows, the teachers are.

    If we had the power of the almighty Lord and Savior, perhaps we could singlehandedly make all the changes this writer desires.

    But we are not.

    We are doing all we can.

    Dear writer, it is your turn. What are you doing?

  2. Maurice Peugh

    What were the results for 2007? You have the results for the other cities listed. In any event, Milwaukee looks pretty poor as to quality for the time prior to 2007. Have you ever tried to do anything like volunteer your time helping some of these underperforming students? It is so easy to point fingers and place blame.

  3. Tracy Coenen

    Maurice – I’d really rather just have teachers do the jobs they’re paid to do with my tax dollars. The blame is squarely on the teachers in MPS. They need to start teaching instead of making excuses. I don’t know of any other job in the world that allows for failure year after year and rewards that failure with raises.

  4. Maurice Peugh

    For once, I agree with you! MPS does not look good; however, it still takes an entire community to properly raise a child. By the way, I made 93% on the science test in Texas which is one of the states where education is supposedly improving, There are many issues with the education in Texas that could actually be helped by a fairer pay system. I am considering applying with Raytheon headquartered in Dallas, because I am sick of the attitudes towards Education. My pay would double (or triple), and I would finally be able to get my family the things that they need like dental care. You can believe what you like, but it has been tough for my family in Texas. I have been working most of the summer on additional certifications and professional development, so I could not pursue a summer job. The one by NASA was free, but I still had to put in the time, and some of the drives were awful on the other ones.

  5. Tracy Coenen

    LOL – Lots of people work 2 (or more) jobs when their children need to be fed, but it sounds like it was too much trouble for you. You will never hack it in the corporate world, so I’d recommend you not even bother applying with Raytheon.

  6. Maurice Peugh

    Actually, I did hack it for 9 years in the corporate world before the work was outsourced to India. It was much easier than teaching. By the way, I worked 50 to 60 hours per week and reported to the main manager at our location at RR Donnelley and Sons. I still worked fewer hours than as a teacher. Why you are so derogatory? Oh well, have a nice day.

  7. Raymond Lee

    I am a senior currently enrolled in an MPS school and I can honestly say that MPS sucks to the fullest potential of sucking. I wouldn’t say that ALL of MPS teachers don’t care about the students, only about 91% of them don’t, from personal experience. I had a teacher say to me ” I don’t care if you learn or not, I’m still getting paid.” I hate hearing all of these excuses that are being made as to why MPS is doing so badly, it sickens me. I have ADHD, I didn’t grow up in the best neighborhoods and yet my reading skills are the highest in my class. Stop using excuses for the horrible reading standards that MPS has, the bottom line is that the teachers are responsible for the education of their students, point blank.

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