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Don’t Know Much About MPS
Lack of Firsthand Knowledge by the Public Limits Vision

In December, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute released a survey of Milwaukeeans’ opinion on Milwaukee Public Schools. The results give us a window into what people are thinking, but the survey clearly shows contradictions and that the public may know a lot less about our schools is necessary to make informed decisions.

Part of the problem is that many citizens have little connection to the educational system. When asked “How many children under 18 years old live in this household,” 57.7 percent responded “none.” That number doesn’t include parents who may have very young children who are not attending any school. So the number of respondents who do not have children of school age could easily be over 60 percent. Sure, there are a lot of individuals who keep themselves well informed on educational issues even if they don’t have children in school, but consider how they answered the question of charter schools.

When asked if there were any charter schools here in Milwaukee, an astounding 10.7 percent said “no,” and 27.5 percent didn’t know or refused to answer. Given the amount of press on charter schools, it is hard to feel confident in the public’s knowledge of public education when nearly 40 percent of the respondents don’t know there are charter schools in this community.

So when are asked “From what you know, do you favor or oppose Milwaukee’s school choice program?” the public responded “Favor,” I have to ask, just what is the public actually saying? Are they referring to the school voucher program? Open enrollment? The MPS three choice procedure? Or all of the above?

When asked if Milwaukee schools needs fine-tuning or a major overhaul, 60.5 percent said, “Major overhaul.” So you would think the public is ready for a lot of major reforms, and you would be dead wrong. 

What the public wants to do is throw lots of money at the problem, 62.7 percent. And hire a lot more teachers and pay them higher salaries.

Should we fire bad teachers or close failing schools? Not on your life. Instead let us provide more support for teachers (67.3 percent) and more support for failing schools (55.1 percent).

How about a longer school day and school year? Almost two-thirds said they were against a longer school day, and don’t even ask if it means higher taxes. Nearly 70 percent were against paying more taxes for a longer school day, and 64.6 percent said the school year is long enough.

So just what major overhaul would the public support? It is really hard to tell. The answer seems to be to do everything schools are doing now – just do things better.

Politically, the WPRI is right of center supporting school choice and less supportive of teacher unions . So the WPRI may have been pleased with the public supporting school choice, but the public is also pretty traditional supporting teacher unions and existing public education.

We can’t fault the public too much for their lack of understanding of a number of educational issues. After all, education is just one of many issues people have to juggle in their daily lives. In the end, public opinion surveys are only surveys. They can’t be used, in and of themselves to decide public policy. In the end, leaders have to lead. The WPRI survey is useful, but it can’t be used to tell us what to do with our public schools.

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