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We must resolve to close achievement gaps, Bell says

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Wisconsin must resolve to close its shameful achievement gaps between white and black students, WEAC President Mary Bell said Thursday (October 27, 2007) in an address at the WEAC Convention.

Noting that the recent report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that Wisconsin has the nation's largest achievement gap and that reading scores for African-American students in Wisconsin are the lowest in the nation, Bell said this issue has to be a top priority for the state.

"We all know test scores are just one of many measures of any student’s — or school’s — ability and progress. But they are one measure, and on this measure our state has no choice but to be ashamed, and must resolve to change," Bell said. "Today. Right here, at the WEAC Convention in Milwaukee."

"To our members, these scores are not just numbers or abstractions – they are the children we see each and every day," she said. "They have names, faces, and we have a concern about their futures that numbers just don’t reflect."

And it's not just a Milwaukee problem, she said. "From Superior to Florence to Sheboygan to Waukesha to Beloit to Platteville to Eau Claire to Wausau and all points in between, as Milwaukee goes, so goes Wisconsin."

Bell continued:

"We have great schools throughout Wisconsin. Investments in great schools build strong communities, and our public schools have helped create and preserve the high quality of life so many of us take for granted. But too many of our state’s low-income and minority residents do not enjoy the same quality of life, and too much of what we take for granted in the schools and communities outside of our state’s low-income neighborhoods, towns or households is a faint and fleeting aspiration inside those poor communities.

"I know that the men and women who work in Milwaukee’s Public Schools work as hard as they can and care as much about their students as educators anywhere. Not trying and not caring are not the problem. I have seen it. And I have seen the results.

"Many MPS schools are excellent places of learning according to any standard of measurement. Rufus King High School is one of the very best high schools in North America. Great schools benefit everyone, and thousands of students who graduate from MPS go to our nation’s elite colleges and universities, have brilliant careers, and contribute to our world in countless ways. The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education 'focus schools' here in Milwaukee are making a difference for the achievement of their students as well, investing in teacher-led professional development, driven by the needs of the staff of these schools and their school community.

"But every kid deserves a great school. Every kid. And not every kid in Milwaukee or our other high-poverty districts is getting what he or she deserves."

Bell called on President Bush to help schools address the many social problems that are thrust upon them by providing assistance such as:

  • Honoring the federal government's commitment to fund 40% of special education costs, rather than the current 17%.
  • Providing universal pre-kindergarten, smaller class sizes, tutoring and mentoring for children at risk.
  • Allowing schools to regain local control of school district budgets and curriculum, and help provide professionally competitive compensation for educators.
  • Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act "with children and the future in mind rather than what is in the best interests of testing companies and school privatization advocates."

Bell noted that a new WEAC poster available at the Convention says “I Believe” at the top. "It speaks to the values we hold for public schools. We need to act on those values, loudly and proudly. WEAC is here to help you today, and together we will decide on the direction of our organization for tomorrow."

Bell urged members to lobby their legislators through postcards or the OnWEAC Cyberlobby, take action on "No Child Left Behind" reauthorization and other federal issues through the NEA Web site, contact their UniServ office or the WEAC Affiliate Relations Department to find out what activities they can be a part of in their school district or region, and become more involved in their union at every level.

"There is so much we can do," she said. "We must continue the lifelong pursuit of excellence in our profession. And with the same excellence and passion we use for our classrooms, we must become advocates for our students outside the classroom."

Posted October 25, 2007

Education News