Austin Ramirez: Have the highest performing schools in the nation

CEO, Husco International

Last updated on March 30th, 2021 at 10:19 pm

To move Milwaukee forward in the next 25 years, we need a bold new commitment to urban education: Our city will have the highest performing schools in the nation.

As a community, we’ve talked for decades about the need to improve our schools. Beyond talk, we’ve invested significant time, work and resources to attack this problem. That work has yielded real bright spots worth celebrating, but the aggregate, city-level outcomes say we haven’t truly moved the needle. Today in Milwaukee, access to great schools still falls largely along lines of race and income.

Our discourse and our efforts typically focus on the persistent trouble spots that keep us below state and national performance averages. This approach implies getting to “average” is the extent of our ambition. Milwaukee’s kids deserve “exceptional.”

Let’s reframe the discussion around a much more aggressive goal to be the absolute best. Here’s what that would look like:

Every Milwaukee child will have access to a seat in a school that equips them to reach adulthood with the power to choose a direction for their life. All publicly funded schools will be held accountable for delivering both academic and social-emotional outcomes. The life outcomes of Milwaukee children will have no correlation with race, household income or ZIP code.

Milwaukee will be a destination for top teaching and school leadership talent from across the country, and the best place in America to be a teacher or school leader of color. Students will regularly see themselves in educators who share their identities. 

Milwaukee schools will be strong and stable, operating with strategic intention in order to keep the promises they make to families. Educators and school leaders will be empowered to drive outcomes for their school community, equipped with the resources necessary to ensure students thrive. 

Milwaukee will be the most active and organized city of public education constituents in the country. Local and state laws, policies, and practices related to education will reflect the will, desires, and needs of Milwaukee children and their families. In Milwaukee, the selection of a school for one’s child will be an active – not passive – process, facilitated with user-friendly tools and relevant information.

Some will call this vision unattainable. After decades without meaningful progress, it’s tempting to concede the problem as an unavoidable reality of life in a big city. Fortunately, the evidence says otherwise. In the past decade, a number of cities across the U.S. have achieved major advances in student outcomes, including Denver, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Milwaukee can accomplish this goal, and we must. We even know how to do it – the results from other cities and our own bright spots provide a roadmap. We need only the political will to follow it. This is no time for Midwestern humility or “Milwaukee nice.” We need to aim high and do whatever it takes to get there.

Educational opportunity is the birthright of every Milwaukee child. Excellence is inside each one of them. It’s our moral obligation to provide what they need to achieve it. That’s what they deserve, and what is necessary to secure the future of our city.

This will take effort and commitment from parents, educators and leaders from across our city’s many communities. Many of us are part of a growing coalition built around this vision for Milwaukee’s future. Join us at cityforwardcollective.org.

This column is part of “25 big ideas for Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin’s future,” a feature included in the BizTimes Milwaukee 25th anniversary issue. To read other contributions, visit biztimes.com/bigideas

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