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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Milwaukee City & MPS Team Up On Early Childhood Education

Emily Files
Reading interventionist Cassandra Kerber leads second-graders in a reading exercise at Gwen T. Jackson Elementary School.

Milwaukee city and school officials say they're renewing their focus on early childhood education. There aren’t many details yet, but the goal is to help more of Milwaukee’s youngest and poorest children learn how to read.

State test scores show that only one in five Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students is proficient in English Language Arts. There is a 35-point proficiency gap between black and white children.

At a press conference Thursday, school and city leaders acknowledged the status quo is unacceptable. And they pledged change.

“It is radical change that has to be made for our young people,” said new MPS Superintendent Keith Posley. “Our young children cannot wait.”

READ: Milwaukee Far Behind Average In Wisconsin Standardized Tests

Posley was joined by Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, who announced the city has hired Dea Wright to lead its new Office of Early Childhood Initiatives.

State Rep. David Crowley and state Sen. LaTonya Johnson also attended and offered their support.

“We’re guaranteeing our support to make sure we do whatever we can to help close those gaps,” said Johnson. “And to make sure a quality childhood education isn’t just reserved for those with privilege, but it’s reserved for every child in this state.”

The announcement was big on optimism, but short on details. MPS parent Leah Noid-Harrington asked why people should believe this effort will actually bring change.

Hamilton said, "The promise is a continued collaboration that whatever it is that we're doing, that we're all going to do it together. And that there is no acceptance of failure. We cannot accept failure when it comes to the future of our children."

Posley said the plan is still a work in progress and more specific steps will be announced later.

“This is a call to action,” Posley said. “We have stated the problem clearly. We are going to sit down and work together to solve the problem.”

Posley was named MPS permanent superintendent last month. He is also spearheading a district-wide initiative to improve reading, writing and math scores across all grades.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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