An article in today’s Capital Times details the ongoing saga of Madison Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire’s efforts to create an all-male charter school targeted towards African-Americans in Madison. The story highlights Wisconsin’s need for an improved charter school law.
The school, Madison Prep, aims to use an extended school day, uniforms, and family engagement to get 6th – 12th graders ready for college. The need for a new approach in Madison is great, just 48.3% of African-American students graduate high school in four years. The problem is that charter schools outside of Milwaukee and Racine can only be authorized by school districts and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) has not been eager to authorize Madison Prep.
The issues holding back the authorization of Madison Prep are not education issues. According to the article by Susan Troller, MMSD board vice-president Marj Passman is concerned about “a proposed bonus system” for Madison Prep teachers and wants to know “whether the new school would hire union members for custodial services or as food service workers.”
Two other hiccups appear solved. There is a tentative agreement that Madison Prep teachers will fall under the Madison Teachers Inc. union contract, and that there will be an all-female school offering an identical curriculum. The need for the sister school stems from a state law (120.13(37m)) that allows single-sex schools only if a similar program is offered to the other sex.
Most of these non-education issues could be avoided if a body other than MMSD could authorize the school. A stalled effort last summer to create a state charter authorizing board would have given Caire a path free of union contracts and endless hearings. Another option to improve Wisconsin’s charter law is allowing all state universities and technical schools to authorize schools. Currently only UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College have such authority.
There is no guarantee that Madison Prep will be successful, but unlike traditional schools a charter can be shut down if it fails to meet the academic goals outlined in its charter. The case for Madison Prep comes down to a simple policy question: Is it better to leave kids in schools we know are failing them or to create schools whose very survival is dependent on meeting academic goals?