After Madison Prep vote, it’s time to shake things up

There’s nothing like standing in the schoolhouse door.

For me, the Madison School Board’s 5-2 vote to shoot down Madison Preparatory Academy, a proposed charter school specifically designed for low-income minority students, brings to mind images of George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to block the integration of the University of Alabama, or state officials blocking James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

If you think that’s harsh, remember that those pieces of history were not only about Civil Rights and desegregation, they were about every person’s right to pursue a quality education.

In the Madison Metropolitan School District, a 48% graduation rate among African American students indicates that quality has not been achieved. Not even close.

Fortunately, this is one dream that’s not going to be allowed to die. Kaleem Caire, president of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is the driving force behind Madison Prep, and he isn’t ready to wave the surrender flag.

Following the school board vote, Caire vowed to file a racial discrimination lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice, and he also urged supporters of Madison Prep to run for school board.

Love it, love it, love it.

At one point in the development of Madison Prep, Caire sounded optimistic that the school district was a real partner, but the majority of board members had other ideas. Caire and the Urban League did their best to address every objection critics put in their way, and now it’s clear that the intent all along was to scuttle the project with a gauntlet of hurdles.

If that weren’t disappointing enough, all we hear is a litany of excuses about why it’s hard to educate economically disadvantaged students. As someone who grew up poor and earned a bachelor’s degree, I’m not only tired of these results, I’m tired of the excuses and really tired of the monopolistic attitude that pervades public education.

I’ve long been open to alternatives with my eyes wide open. I have soured on the state’s school choice program because it has not produced the promised educational benefits, so about the only option left is reform within the public schools. It is more than worth a try, it is essential that we try something different – something uniquely tailored to African American students.

In case this school board majority hasn’t noticed, more taxpayers are getting restless and employers need a larger pool of skilled job applicants to choose from, not only to grow their businesses, but also to grow the tax base that funds public education. They demand value for their tax dollar, and when it comes to educating minority students, this school district isn’t providing enough value.

Despite the try-harder assurances of the Madison school bureaucracy, don’t expect the achievement gap to narrow unless fundamental changes are made. As long as they can dictate educational options in this or any community, change will be hard to come by.

So sue away, Urban League. It won’t be the first time citizens have had to pursue educational justice in the courts, and it won’t be the last.

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