Rethinking education

Terrence Wall, a well-known developer for Dane County and beyond, writes from a businessman’s perspective. Often, he writes about the intersection of politics and business for IB, and how pending mandates or legislation affect the bottom line. However, his topics vary.

If you saw a statistic that 52% of students failed to graduate from high school, what would you think? Me too. But that is an actual statistic for African-Americans in Madison Public Schools.

In spite of all the money (almost $15,000 per student) and all the resources devoted to education, we are letting down an entire generation of students who will create the future of our country.

Fortunately for our community, there are people who have decided to do something about this. The Urban League of Greater Madison and its CEO, Kaleem Caire, have proposed creating a new charter school that will specifically address the problem. Just a few weeks ago, Kaleem formed the board of directors for the new Madison Prep Academy. [Full disclosure: I am on the board.]

Madison Prep will start at sixth grade and go through high school, preparing students for four-year colleges by instilling excellence, pride, leadership, and service. With 52% of African-American students failing to graduate, there is a huge gap that needs to be filled, especially when compared to the 87% graduation rate for white students.

I particularly like Madison Prep’s slogan "Empowering Young Men for Life" (and as of a few weeks ago, empowering young women, too, as Madison Prep will have a separate all-girls school as well). Caire hopes that Madison Prep will be a catalyst for change and for creating opportunities for young students who might otherwise get left behind.

Best of all, the Urban League is starting with the correct philosophy that every student has the potential to succeed.
Too often some teachers give up on certain students because they’re different. Setting high expectations and following through is key to helping students succeed. Just because many of them are poor does not mean they don’t have the capacity to achieve academic excellence.

These kids need more positive role models, especially when the majority come from a single-parent household. And given that many of them go home to an empty house, because the parent is working, I particularly like Madison Prep’s strategy of providing an extended school day. I never understood why, with so many two-income households today, we put kids out onto the street rather than provide programs until 5 p.m. when their parent(s) finish work.

Statistically speaking, our public schools have created a culture of acceptable failure. Madison Prep intends to create a culture of expected success. Starting with a dress code (gasp!), and moving onto behavioral standards, mentors, and role models, in addition to teaching values (double gasp!), Madison Prep will take a different path to success.

Caire intends to create a culture of achievement and teamwork by judging students on how supportive they are of one another.
I realize that Madison Prep isn’t the answer for all students, but with the incredible failure rate at the Madison public schools, surely we should be trying something different – anything different, frankly. For those kids who are not finding success in their present school, at least this is an alternative, for the only alternative they have now is failure.

As Caire says, this is a promising solution to alleviate the achievement gap as well as provide a laboratory for best practices to move children forward in other schools and improve the overall performance of the school district.

The best practices point is especially important to innovation in the education space, and Madison can once again be a pacesetter.

If you wish to support the Madison Prep Academy, go online and sign the petition at www.change.org/petitions/empowering-young-men-for-life-whatever-it-takes.

Bottom line: The Madison School Board should approve this new charter school during its November meeting.

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