By Steve Gunn

MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee residents live in a school district that spends more money per student than most in the nation, yet the students trail most of their peers academically.

freepassThe people’s answer to this problem? Spend even more money on the schools.

Milwaukee residents live in a school district with a very powerful teachers union, where seniority and tenure protect even the worst educators and send bright young teachers to the layoff line.

But the people say even terrible teachers should keep their jobs.

Those worrisome attitudes, and several others, became apparent in the results of a recent poll of Milwaukee residents, sponsored by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

The results of the poll prompted George Lightbourn, president of the WPRI, to suggest that any serious reforms in the Milwaukee school district be accompanied by a “strong educational and public engagement campaign.”

The need for that is rather obvious.

Either Milwaukee residents haven’t been paying attention to the problems plaguing their schools, or they’re so brainwashed by union propaganda that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Either way, they’re going to have to learn a lot before serious change can occur. And if they consistently refuse to accept new ideas, the education establishment, which has failed so miserably in the past, will continue to run schools into the ground.

In the end it will be the people’s choice.

Do parents and students deserve the blame?

The purpose of the poll was to “get a sense of the public’s attention and knowledge of what’s going on in local schools and what their appetite is for change,” Lightbourn told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The responses offered by a majority of participants were not promising. The people realize their schools have big problems – most rated them average to failing – but they seem to think the same tired system, with more government money, will cure the problems.

Check out some of these statistics:

More than 57 percent of respondents said teachers unions had a somewhat positive or very positive affect on school reform.

That’s funny. We’ve come across very few union leaders who even admit that reform is necessary. Most of them scowl at logical proposals like increased teacher accountability, merit pay for outstanding teachers, ending the “last in, first out” layoff policy or increasing school choice.

More than 78 percent of respondents want more government money spent on public schools, despite the fact that education funding has consistently risen over the past few decades while student performance has consistently declined.

Even when reminded that Milwaukee schools spend about $14,000 per student, more than the national average of about $10,000 and the statewide average of about $11,000, 61 percent of respondents still called for increased government funding.

When asked to assign blame for students’ failure to learn, more than 33 percent pointed fingers at parents and 28 percent blamed the children. Only 10 percent blamed teachers and about five percent blamed the schools.

That’s right – Milwaukee residents think students deserve more blame than their teachers for their failure to learn!

Along the same lines, more than 67 percent said teachers who consistently perform poorly should be given additional training or counseling, rather than being fired. And a full 55 percent said bad schools should remain open with more support from the government.

Teachers, unions held blameless

At this point we have to tip our hats to the leaders of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the local teachers union.

They’ve obviously done a bang-up job of convincing the public that they and their members are doing just fine, and the schools can only be fixed with more taxpayer dollars and more quality parents and students.

So teachers are held largely blameless in Milwaukee, even if some of them are really bad at their jobs. What a paradise for the union.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of respondents said students should have to pass a high school exit exam to receive a diploma, even in the absence of good teachers or quality schools.

What a nightmare for kids seeking a decent education.

Some might read these responses and reject their importance. Schools can be changed and teachers can be held more accountable, regardless of what the public has to say, right?

Don’t be so sure. As the Journal Sentinel points out, in 2009 Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made a very logical proposal to put the troubled school district under mayoral control, something that’s been done successfully in many larger cities. The elected school board wasn’t getting the job done, and students were failing left and right.

But the public rose up and killed the idea, just because.

If the people aren’t ready for education reform, the best laid plans will do little good.

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