This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

Two education stories within two days not a coincidence

Arguably, it was the most under-reported news story of last week.

Recently Gallup conducted a survey and took a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia asking this question:

“Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one – a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little?”

When it came to public schools, a meager 29% said they have a great deal/ quite a lot of confidence. That’s a record low for public education.

Public schools tied with the criminal justice system and did manage to get a higher confidence rating than newspapers, television news, organized labor, banks, big business, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and Congress.

The lack of faith in public schools isn’t shocking, especially when you consider the following:

·       The Cato Institute reports, “For over half a century, a succession of Congresses and presidents has sought to do two things for American elementary and secondary education: raise overall achievement, and narrow the gaps between high- and low-income students as well as between minority and white students. The federal government has spent roughly $2 trillion on these efforts since 1965… we have little to show for the $2 trillion in federal education spending of the past half century. In the face of concerted and unflagging efforts by Congress and the states, public schooling has suffered a massive productivity collapse — it now costs three times as much to provide essentially the same education as we provided in 1970.

“Grim as that picture may seem, it fails to capture the full measure of the problem. Because as productivity was falling relentlessly in education, it was rising everywhere else. A pound of grocery store coffee is not merely as affordable as it was in 1970 — it hasn't just held its ground — it is cheaper in real dollars. Indeed virtually every product and service has gotten better, or more affordable, or both over the past two generations.

“Seen in that proper context, we would have to be disappointed with our nation's lack of educational improvement even if federal spending had not increased at all. The fact that outcomes have remained flat or declined while spending skyrocketed is a disaster unparalleled in any other field. The only thing it appears to have accomplished is to apply the brakes to the nation's economic growth, by taxing trillions of dollars out of the productive sector of the economy and spending it on ineffective programs.”

·       The non-profit organization, Do Something reports: Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. More than a quarter of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time. On average, only 58% of students in America's 50 largest cities make it to graduation.  More than one in four Hispanic youth drop out, and nearly half leave by the eighth grade. Hispanics are twice as likely as African Americans to drop out. White and Asian American students are least likely to drop out. In the last 20 years, the earnings level of dropouts doubled, while it nearly tripled for college graduates. Recent dropouts will earn $200,000 less than high school graduates, and over $800,000 less than college graduates, in their lives. Dropouts make up nearly half the heads of households on welfare. In the U.S., high school dropouts commit about 75 percent of crimes. The dropout problem is likely to increase substantially through 2020 unless significant improvements are made. America’s high school graduation rate ranks 19th in the world. (Forty years ago, we were number one.)

·       The "Pathways to Prosperity" study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2011 shows that just 56 percent of college students complete four-year degrees within six years. Only 29 percent of those who start two-year degrees finish them within three years.

The Gallup survey came out last Wednesday, just two days before a front page story showing that the Milwaukee Public Schools system has the fourth-highest per-pupil spending cost in the nation. Clearly, the results don’t justify the cost.

Let’s zero in on, for example, reading in eighth grade, the year just before entering high school. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) issues The Nation’s Report Card that informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Here are some of their findings for MPS eighth graders:

“In 2011, the average score of eighth-grade students in Milwaukee was 238. This was lower than the average score of 255 for public school students in large cities. The average score for students in Milwaukee in 2011 (238) was not significantly different from their average score in 2009 (241). In 2011, the score gap between students in Milwaukee at the 75th percentile and students at the 25th percentile was 46 points. This performance gap was not significantly different from that of 2009 (47 points).  The percentage of students in Milwaukee who performed at or above the NAEP Proficient level was 10 percent in 2011. This percentage was not significantly different from that in 2009 (12 percent). The percentage of students in Milwaukee who performed at or above the NAEP Basic level was 46 percent in 2011. This percentage was not significantly different from that in 2009 (51 percent). In 2011, Black students had an average score that was 24 points lower than White students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 2009 (31 points). In 2011, Hispanic students had an average score that was 12 points lower than White students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 2009 (15 points). In 2011, female students in Milwaukee had an average score that was higher than male students by 12 points.  In 2011, students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch, an indicator of low family income, had an average score that was 22 points lower than students who were not eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 2009 (17 points).”

And that's just one subject area. 

How about the district-wide graduation rate? It's improved since 2000,  but still needs work at 69%.

Is it any wonder confidence is lower than a gopher's basement?

MPS sympathizers haul out the usual, tired excuses and clamor for even more spending, though they refuse to offer an amount of taxpayer money or per-pupil figurethat would convert MPS into a passing system. Why? Because there never will be enough money to satisfy that crowd.

The revelation last week that MPS isn’t being cheated when it comes to cashola but is producing little bang for the buck shoots huge holes in the argument that more spending = greater student performance.

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