May 2, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Childhood Education

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Our children matter the world to us, and we do everything in our power to ensure that each and every one receives the best education possible.  For years, the Milwaukee Public School system has let us down. 

Without a doubt, there are countless talented, individual educators in the MPS working hard to teach our children.  Still, children attending schools inside the City of Milwaukee too often feel that they cannot succeed with the ease of their suburban counterparts.

I don’t need to tell you that the state of affairs resembles anything but justice.  Since the passing of the Budget Repair Bill’s massive cuts to education, matters have hardly gotten any better. 

Still, quite a few groups in Milwaukee are working on improving our educational system.  In particular, I’m thinking of Milwaukee Succeeds, a collective of organizations including representatives from the Boys and Girls Club, the City of Milwaukee, MPS, the YMCA, GE Healthcare and many more organizations. 

Milwaukee Succeeds has recently decided to focus their first major initiative on improving third grade reading.  I greatly admire Milwaukee Succeeds’ wholesale, “cradle to career” approach to education.  Although their collaborative plan to improve Milwaukeean third graders’ reading skills has yet to come to fruition, I am optimistic about their chances.

First of all, they have the right focus.  I could not agree more that early childhood reading skills are of crucial importance.  Ability to read proficiently is step on the road to success.  It is the most basic foundation on which any successful career must be built. 

By attacking the inner city/suburban achievement gap at its source, Milwaukee Succeeds and other organizations stand the best chance of long-term triumphs in education.  The achievement gap in Milwaukee appears early, and it only widens as time goes on.    

Although public school systems can and should take the lead in childhood education, we must remember that we ourselves are not powerless in the struggle to improve the lives of our children.  It is important that we instill in our children a love of reading from an early age.  Now, I might not necessarily be the most avid novel-reader myself, but I believe it is worth the effort to pick up a book every once and a while, if only so that my son can see a positive role model reading for enjoyment. 

We can also make sure that this upcoming summer does not go to waste.  For example, I strongly support the Milwaukee Public Libraries’ plan to run a reading program combating summer break “brain drain.”  Each summer, our brightest students take three months off school and forget much of what they had learned in the past year. 

Studies have shown that 50 to 60 percent of the achievement gap felt by children living in low-income families actually results from the summer “brain drain” effect.  The Milwaukee Public Library program will be called “Super Reader,” and I urge you to involve your young children in the program, or some other reading exercise.  It will be entirely free.  Remember, students who read consistently have the best chance at achieving the future they desire.