Alan Borsuk had a fascinating article in the weekend’s paper extolling the virtues of a linguistics class taught by Suzanne Loosen at MPS’s Milwaukee School of Languages. Since Borsuk found this class – where they dig into the meaning of words – such a "special jewel in Milwaukee education," let’s dig into a few words relevant to his column and the topic of education in Milwaukee ourselves.
Let’s start with the word "selective." Were you inspired by the Borsuk article? Would you like to send your child to Milwaukee School of Languages (MSL)? Good luck. As with most of the best MPS schools, MSL is open only to those who meet the school’s admission requirements.
This would be in contrast to non-selective MPS schools who take any students who apply, and schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program who are prohibited by law from placing admission requirements on their enrollees. That does not make MSL any less of a "jewel" but it relevant to note that this jewel is only available to a handpicked – some might say "creamed" – few in Milwaukee.
Next word: "boutique." What MSL does, teaching foreign languages to a hand-picked few, is great. However, it does beg the question of why, in a district where only 14.2% of the students are proficient in reading the English language, we are using our scarce taxpayer dollars to develop fluency in foreign languages for Milwaukee’s elite?
Is that sort of boutique education really the best use of dollars in a district that is constantly crying poor? Might MPS be better off working on the mastery of the basics for all its students before it branches out into the sort of specialized programming offered by MSL? I might be tempted to call a feature story about the glories of MSL’s linguistics studies while less than 20% of MPS students can read "putting lipstick on a pig," but it might be deemed offensive to pigs.
And let’s finish with the word "reality." First, a badly needed reality check apparently needed by Suzanne Loosen, the MSL teacher featured in this puff piece. Ms. Loosen says that as a teacher she faces stress from a lack of respect that she finds "demeaning and insulting."
The taxpayers might find it demeaning and insulting that Ms. Loosen, whose total compensation for working the 10 month school year is over $90,000, wants to take their money, work in her little specialty corner of educational space in Milwaukee, and then complain that the folks footing the bill for her job are not dishing out enough professional warm fuzzies for her liking.
Reality is that there are a lot of folks in Milwaukee working 12 months a year, getting paid a lot less than Ms. Loosen, and then having a good chunk of what they do make taken out to pay her salary. Many of these folks face the reality of wondering not only why their child can’t get into Ms. Loosen’s fancy selective school but also why their child is one of the 80% of MPS students who can’t read English proficiently.
Quite frankly, these folks have more pressing realities to tend to than to worry about whether Ms. Loosen is feeling sufficiently respected and fulfilled in her job.
Finally, while what Suzanne Loosen does at MSL is wonderful, it is not educational reality in Milwaukee. Reality is an MPS where systematic, intentional academic segregation is aggressively pursued in hopes that the public will be sufficiently distracted by the shiny specialty veneer provided by places like MSL that it will continue to ignore the wholesale rot that infests the rest of the system.