Closing the achievement gap: Madison Prep Academy deserves business support | submitted by Torrey Jaeckle

Someday you’re going to hire a sixth grader. Let me rephrase that – someday you are going to hire an employee who is currently in the sixth grade. True enough, you might be saying, but what’s the point? Let’s explore.

Training is everything for a business. Without proper training for your employees, you are doomed to an inferior product or service, costing your company revenue and profit, and potentially jeopardizing the livelihood of the company itself, as well as its employees.

Therefore, most of the best businesses invest considerable sums in worker training each year. But what most of us fail to consider is that all of our employees receive a large amount of training elsewhere before they even walk through our front door. Specifically, just about every employee receives at least 13 years of training from our nation’s education system, at a total cost of over $100,000.

Frequently, that education is excellent; other times it is mediocre; and still other times it is severely lacking. While many factors go into determining which of those outcomes any specific child will be assigned to, one thing is certain: There is a high correlation between race and socio-economic status and falling into that third, unacceptably poor outcome category. In the Madison Metropolitan School District, for example, African-American and Latino males graduated at only a 52% rate in 2009, compared to 81% for Asian males and 88% for white males. That this achievement gap is a concern from a moral perspective is obvious. That it is a concern from a business perspective less so. So allow me to explain.

In my opening, I pointed out that today’s sixth graders are tomorrow’s workforce. And the education they get now is going to greatly affect your business – for better or for worse – then. Don’t believe me? Consider this: Illiteracy costs American businesses more than $60 billion each year in lost productivity and health and safety issues, according to ProLiteracy. Cha-ching.

So it’s clear that a proper education for today’s children is critical for your business’ future success, and it’s also clear that certain subgroups of children have more difficulty getting that proper education in our schools today.

Now let’s throw one more statistic into the mix: The recently completed Census shows that over the past 10 years, Wisconsin’s population increased by 5.5%, with increases in our black and Latino populations accounting for over 83% of that increase. Sadly, it appears that the groups that we are doing the worst job of educating are the same groups that are the fastest-growing source of our future workforce. These undereducated citizens are going to make up a larger and larger share of our talent pool over time. That is not good news for these children. It is not good news for our community or economy. And it certainly is not good news for your business.

Fortunately, some reformers are tackling these issues and trying to reverse this perpetual cycle of failure. There is no silver bullet to solving these complex problems – it can only be done one community at a time, one school at a time, one student at time. Money alone won’t solve it. If that were the case, we would have solved this crisis over a decade ago, as over the past 40 years inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending has more than doubled. Meanwhile, educational outcomes, especially for the most disadvantaged in our society, have remained stubbornly and unacceptably flat.

What’s needed are schools that are free to innovate. What’s needed is an education system which recognizes that each child is unique and that – just as your top salesperson and accounting manager find success in very different work environments – a one-size-fits-all education system is not sufficient for ensuring a proper education for all. What’s needed are schools that recognize that operating a schedule based on shorter days and a 19th century agrarian society is no longer in the best interests of all children.

Madison Preparatory Academy, the new public charter school being proposed by the Urban League, is just such a school. Madison Prep would be open to all students in the Madison Metropolitan School District, and would feature “a special focus on young men, the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a college preparatory focus, Harkness Teaching, an extended school day and year, mentoring, community support, and a Prep Year (for students that are more than one year behind academically in reading, language arts, and/or math).”

Additionally, students would wear uniforms and administrators would nurture and foster a high level of parental involvement, which research shows is an important determinant of educational outcomes. The school aims to be the school of choice for a high number of African-American, Latino, and other minority students – the groups currently most struggling in our traditional public schools.

Madison Prep promises to be a beacon of hope for those currently being left behind, a laboratory of innovation for MMSD to learn from, and a successful stepping stone to college – and ultimately a career – for many who currently have little hope for either.

This is why I support Madison Prep and believe all those in our business community should do the same. If we fail to recognize the interconnectedness and dependencies that ultimately exist between the business community and our educational system, we are doomed to collectively do just that: Fail.

Madison Prep’s motto is “Whatever it takes!” One thing it will definitely take is support from our community’s business and other organizational leaders. I hope Madison Prep can count on you today to help deliver the world-class workforce and leaders who will be necessary tomorrow. Please email the MMSD board members and urge them to vote “Yes” on Madison Prep when it comes up for a final vote later this year.

Torrey Jaeckle is a Madison-based, libertarian-leaning blogger.

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