Education reform advocates Canada, Legend urge bold changes for Madison schools

2012-12-06T15:45:00Z Education reform advocates Canada, Legend urge bold changes for Madison schoolsMATTHEW DeFOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | mdefour@madison.com | 608-252-6144 madison.com

Two national education reform advocates encouraged about 100 attendees at an Urban League luncheon Thursday to advocate for institutional changes in the school system or "watch your city disappear."

Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, and Grammy-award-winning R&B musician John Legend participated in an hour-long discussion moderated by local television journalist Neil Heinen.

Canada said Madison leaders need to allow more educational innovation, such as charter schools, if it wants to raise achievement for low-income and minority students.

"You've got the cancer, but no one's allowed to do any research," Canada said. "If you care about this city, you're going to end this (achievement gap). There is no future in allowing large numbers of your citizens to fail."

Canada described the problem as a system where schools are trying to get low-income students caught up with affluent peers, but can't fire teachers, can't have a longer school day and can't have a longer school year. All students who attend charter schools Canada runs in New York are expected to attend college, not just graduate from high school.

Legend encouraged allowing principals to treat their schools like a business with the ability to fire ineffective teachers.

"If you don't have authority to hire and fire, to control human resources every day, then you can't reform the school," Legend said.

MTI executive director John Matthews did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, left the luncheon early because he didn't like what he was hearing from the presenters.

"What they're saying, I don't know what it had to do with making our schools better for our kids," Hulsey said. "We need to invest in our schools to hire more teachers, not talk about firing more teachers."

The one area on which Canada and Legend disagreed was the influence of popular culture on student behavior with Canada criticizing a hip-hop culture that glorifies gangs, drugs and violence, and Legend defending rap artists as reporting on what has long existed in their communities.

In general both reinforced a message Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire has been promoting for the past two years as he tried unsuccessfully to win Madison School Board approval for a controversial charter school geared toward low-income, minority students.

Proceeds from the $500-per-plate luncheon are helping fund a new Urban League after-school program for low-performing students and an ACT preparation class.

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(12) Comments

  1. LoriRo
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    LoriRo - December 07, 2012 6:22 pm
    That is funny whenever I see a post from you Norwood I think the same thing. Stick to making your videos.
  2. LoriRo
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    LoriRo - December 07, 2012 6:20 pm
    Last time I checked protecting teachers was the reason MTI was created. It isn't the student union it is the teachers union. Supporting teachers is exactly what it should be doing.
  3. Kenya's Dream
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    Kenya's Dream - December 07, 2012 6:13 pm
    What a fabulous two days of immersion in the potential and possibility for our students here in Madison. Yesterday, though was stellar. The luncheon conversation was so powerful. It is beyond my comprehension that people would hear those two men speak with the passion they have for supporting and educating kids, and find fault with them simply because they speak about the concept of removing poorly performing educators from their positions. (Which by the way was about 45 seconds of the conversation.) Brett Hulsey entered the room late, sat down for maybe five minutes, and then not only left but expected someone at another table to listen to him complain in his ear while the man was trying to listen to the speakers.Arrogant is exactly right...and narrow minded as well. I am so incredibly tired of the supposedly liberal "social justice" white intellectuals (I am white, I am liberal, don't go there folks) in this City who are unwilling to think outside their own little tiny box when generations of kids are suffering decade after decade. The truth is we must elect a new School Board (Norwood, please run!!) and quit having conversations. These two days inspired me to move, to work with others who are ready to take action toward making a difference and not argue about the same tired old things.

    Nearly everyone I talked to yesterday LOVED the luncheon conversation and the Forum. They left inspired and enlivened with a feeling of hope and potential. Our kids need us to move this conversation into an action plan.
  4. Gretna Green
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    Gretna Green - December 07, 2012 11:16 am
    Mr. Canada has it right: Change is necessary or this community is in trouble. Further, teachers who believe all kids can learn and can adjust their practice to serve all are necessary. The size of the workforce needed to staff our public schools as a matter of fact will not allow school district to simply fire bad teachers, even if that were a sound public policy. That is not a good public policy. Some teachers can be eased out or forced out, but that is a very small number of people and won't change much. Mr. Legend needs to tone down that rhetoric. Those statements are offensive to people. When you get down to the ground level most teachers are not "bad," even though many are ineffective and not growing professionally. They work in a system that does not help them, reward them for good teaching, supervise them or focus on outcomes. What do you expect? The problem really is mediocrity and the need to light a fire under all the teachers and appeal to their interests in helping kids learn. When they see the needle move and they reach more kids with good teaching, they will do more of it. We need basic, clear curricula. We need systematic training of teachers and monitoring of their performance through student achievement data in order to GUIDE them to better practices and challenge them to step up their game. We need to define success clearly. We need more time for many students. We need to prioritize the three Rs in the early grades and tightly focus on the big one: Reading. Rep. Hulsey does no one any good by his behavior, which is rude and not good manners. Our kids are voting with their feet by dropping out of school and skipping classes. Should we condone that, too? That is an inappropriate reaction for any community leader at an event such as this.
  5. human
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    human - December 07, 2012 9:52 am
    "Waiting for Superman?" Unbiased? In reality, it's a dishonest hack job; http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/?pagination=false

  6. LifelongBadger
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    LifelongBadger - December 07, 2012 7:36 am
    Norwood44, Right On! Until MTI starts listening to people who really know how to turn a school around, they are doomed. They are too interested in protecting the teachers, both bad and good. All the rhetoric about "it's all for the kids" is just rhetoric. They should see "Waiting for Superman" to see an unbiased look at how the teachers unions pervert the education system.

    As for Brett Hulsey, that is typical of the sycophant Democrats in the state as they toady to the teachers unions.
  7. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 06, 2012 10:26 pm
    Super miss. In 2010 not one single Madison teacher was dismissed. And yet we graduated less than 50% of African American males. Keep whining. And failing to help all kids succeed. It's what you do. And why teachers are losing respect from the Madison community. You are in the wrong side of social justice.
  8. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 06, 2012 10:15 pm
    Super miss. Eight month work year? Please. The rest of America has bosses. You do too. Stop whining and get back to work.
  9. Supermissf
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    Supermissf - December 06, 2012 9:10 pm
    Okay, you want a longer school year and longer school days? Fine. But in what other occupation is it okay to tell employees that their workload is doubled and they WON'T get paid a dime more?? BS!

    ALSO-if you want schools run like a business, then administrators/principals should have degrees and experience in business AND education! Principals are most often inept leaders with degrees in a discipline with ZERO managerial or business experience whatsoever. The idea that principals should be able to fire at will is absurd when they themselves demonstrate extreme incompetence, lack of managerial skills and nepotism.

  10. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 06, 2012 7:46 pm
    Hulsey. Everything wrong with Madison wrapped up in one arrogant fool.
  11. ginrummy
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    ginrummy - December 06, 2012 5:56 pm
    Hulsey had to leave early otherwise his special interest sponsors would've scolded him. This presentation was an outrage to the dying unions and he knew that.
  12. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - December 06, 2012 5:49 pm
    Husley has to go. Appalling white arrogance and tone deafness. He did not even hear what was said.

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