Two Changes to Believe In | submitted by Ray Allen
Too bad it takes an economic crisis to create real change.
Two recent events in Madison have drawn my interest and my hope that miracles can happen.
First, the City of Madison hired Tim Cooley as the new economic development director.
Cooley, on paper at least, has a resume which would indicate that he has the background and experience to move the city forward in this critical area.
As you may remember, the city's first choice was former school board member and community activist Bill Clingan, whose nomination sparked fireworks in the business community. I had the pleasure of serving on the Madison School Board with Clingan. He is one of the most decent individuals I know, but his background, primarily focused in social services, and did not make for the best fit in the area of economic development.
Cooley’s appointment provides creditability to the office and the city's commitment to changing its image within the business community.
The second event that is of interest pertains to the Madison School District beginning the development of a new strategic plan. Their process of aggressively reaching out to parents, community activists, and business interests is a much needed and welcomed effort. While the updated strategic planning is needed, hopefully the district will also recognize its limitations. Limitation which extent not only to resources, but also those limits which is inherited to the development of public policy.
The MMSD strategic planning process has been ongoing for several months and hopefully will provide the district with parameters which address community concerns relating to education and provide clear direction on how to focus their limited resources.
The two events — the hiring of Cooley and the MMSD strategic plan development — each will have a long-term impact on the community. Both parties, the city and the school district, must understand that these efforts are inter-connected.
Expect the strategic planning to recommend focusing on early childhood education and a "birth to four" initiative.
The "birth to four" initiative is an example where the education and business strategic planning efforts should intersect for the long-term benefit of both. The focus on early childhood development is timely in light of studies, such as the Carnegie Task Force in 1994, which stated that approximately one-third of the nation's children entering kindergarten were judged by their teachers to not be ready for kindergarten work.
It should be noted that studies indicate that the gap between children not "kindergarten ready" and those that are ready tends to increase over time. University of Chicago professors James Heckman and Dimitriy Masterov stated, “On productivity grounds alone, it appears to make sound business sense to invest in young children from disadvantaged environments, especially as the economy becomes increasingly skills-based."
Research indicates that for every dollar invested in early childhood programming, there is an economic benefit return of eight to ten dollars once the children reach the age of 40 years. That suggests that early childhood investment creates an educated workforce to sustain business growth.
You cannot have a region with strong economic development without the foundation of a successful public school system. That is one of the major reasons Milwaukee struggles.
That’s why I repeat: The two events — the hiring of Cooley and the MMSD strategic plan development — will have a long-term impact on the community. Both parties, the city and the school district, must understand that these efforts are inter-connected.
Just as the University of Wisconsin is viewed as an economic engine for our region and state, so should be the Madison School District. MMSD’s greatest resource, its students, is our true foundation to any future economic success we may have.
The thought of education and business development partnering together in Madison: Now that's change you can believe in.