National education reform advocate and former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent howard fuller Over 30 years ago, he was on the first floor of facilitating school choice in Milwaukee. Did. Currently serving about 325 students, the school aims to grow to accommodate 500 students within the next few years. Fuller recently spoke with BizTimes Milwaukee about the challenges facing Milwaukee’s schools, the limitations of school report cards and other accountability indicators, and the role of businesses and his community in supporting education.
BizTimes: School leaders have been warning for some time about the lack of funding (between voucher/charter schools and Milwaukee public schools). What is your outlook on the change in funding method?
Howard Fuller: “If you go back to the beginning of this, there was some sort of philosophical perspective on how much funding you needed, and there was also the political reality of getting the program through in the first place. There has always been the view that schools don’t need that much money because they don’t have various bureaucracies etc. , should be a nationally funded program and local property taxes should not be a part of it.Thus, we can go back in time and look at the historical basis of why this gap exists. If you try to understand them, they are at least two elements of why we are here today. , the reality is that sending one of your children to MPS generates about $17,000 (state, local, and federal funds), and sending your child to our school (Dr. close to $9,000 if you send them to a private school.The funding gap, the inequality of funding, is unsustainable and threatens the existence of the education ecosystem that has been built over the years. Private and charter schools have to raise so much charity each year that they are ultimately unlikely to be sustainable, so this idea of bridging that funding gap is built to survive. It is very important for the kind of ecosystem that has been developed.”
Specifically for the Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, what does it need to procure on an annual basis to sustain operations?
“Doing the bare minimum that we have is not enough, but we need to raise at least about $600,000 a year to operate. One of the problems we face, although separate but related, is that currently about 22% of freshmen are in special education, probably about 17-18% across the school.325 people. For schools with children this is too much and as you know we need all these additional resources to serve children with special needs. It’s a reality because it’s a school that serves all children, so that’s a whole other component of this funding problem, which Tim[Sheehy of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce]and I are working on together. In the Coalition, we’re not talking about special education, we’re just talking about basic funding inequalities, but there are other issues like special education that will also be addressed at some point. need to do it.”
Of course, the business community is very invested in seeing future workers emerge from Milwaukee’s school system, and some are frustrated that change isn’t happening fast enough. Do you think the business community has a role to play in holding schools accountable when they are not improving or not meeting expectations?
“One of the things I want to say is this is a lesson I’ve learned over the years: school can make a definite difference in children’s lives. I have no doubt about that. But what I do know is that if children come to you hungry, if they come to you without proper housing, if they don’t have proper medical care, if they don’t go to school It’s all that happens to kids before they come to the door, we’re sitting here and saying, ‘Oh, okay, school can make up for that. , our school has to help all the kids who come to us, but… I know how hard this job is. One of the things I have been guilty of over the years is that even though I have tried not to do this, there is enough respite for what teachers and school leaders face every day. It’s easy to talk outside about what to do, it’s much harder to be inside, confronting the realities that people face every day… Our children are in school They live in the community, and what happens to them in the community affects what happens to them at school.
“But I’m walking a very fine line here, because there are a lot of people out there who would argue that children have these difficulties, so we can’t expect them to be educated.” But at the same time, I’m not going to sit here and act like nothing happened before they got to us. It goes back to everyone’s role, in terms of what should be done to create a better overall environment for children, including what happens to them in the school building?
In that regard, much attention is paid to school report cards as a means of measuring how a school is doing. Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy, as I understand it, takes students who are well behind grade level and places them where they are accelerating more rapidly but may not be grade level. This is an example of a school I take. It will be reflected in the school report card. What do you think about that?
“So one of the problems with getting older is that I went back there to the beginning of some of this stuff and it helped create some of the problems that we have now. I was the founding chairman of the National Association of Public Charter Schools.When we first started, the focus was choice.It wasn’t quality.So at some point, we had a committee on quality. .. those of us who were in favor of the quality argument – and the test scores were the basis for understanding it – were like, “No, it’s not going to judge how well we’re doing ‘What I believe has gone the other way is that test scores have become the dominant and complete way of understanding the values of a school. And I think that was a mistake, because we are now in a situation where people are looking at test scores and not necessarily looking at added value.
“I think the report card says things the school shouldn’t be responsible for, but I know this won’t change. There is an argument that if the school is doing really great, the kids will come. Because I want them to take care of me,” the school can’t control it, but it’s still responsible. for attendance.
“If you’re in high school and you’re raising a child three or four grades late, and you don’t have the resources you need, how much accountability should you take? … (To Howard Fuller College Academy, Ph.D.) You have kids who are three or four grades behind in reading and can reach the point of being like 16 in the ACT.Most of those kids will never be 31….but, If you want your kids to be 16 or 17…there are different options available to them…if you look at our school I don’t think our school is a good school but I’m a good school I’m not trying to be a school, I’m trying to create a school that will change the lives of children and give them the opportunity to become socially and economically productive citizens.
“I mean, my job is…to talk to these kids and convince them that education is the only way they need to change the trajectory of their lives. I’m looking, so I should care what’s on my report card, but that’s not why I come here every day.
“I compare test scores and the tension I feel about some of these scales with the day-to-day realities of children’s lives and the work of these educators who face enormous challenges every day. I’m trying to explain.”
This sort of thing ties in with discussions about resources and the business community. If it’s a good school, according to the report card, put it in front of people who have the money to sell it and say, “Support us – we’re doing good” can do. I think it would be difficult if you had a more complicated story like the one you share with me. in a position.
“But that’s our society, isn’t it? The problem is we talk about school like a foreign object. and I was trying to explain that it’s really hard to have a just subset in an unjust reality. What I mean is that people expect schools to perform fairly when they are part of a broader system that is not fair.
“There is a big challenge here, and funding is part of it. But another part of it is changing the narrative that criticizes the system. No. But the system is ultimately made up of people, and that is not an abstraction, so I tried to do that when I was superintendent, but I understand how difficult it can be for individual teachers. But the way our system is built doesn’t allow you to be a teacher.The best part of being a teacher.But it’s very hard to criticize a system.The people who work in that system. see it as a direct criticism of themselves.”
Going back to the business world, what productive ways do you see or think the business world can get involved in the education system?
“I’ve been through a lot of places where the business community isn’t as involved as Milwaukee is where the business community is, and for some people, that’s a negative thing. Because what it means is that people actually care, and I’ve been in communities where people literally don’t care, which is interesting because it means that people still care In some communities we don’t have arguments because people have given up and all I can say about Milwaukee is we haven’t given up on the business I think the community has played an important role in not giving up.”