Milwaukee Schools Something To Talk About

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The Milwaukee Schools’ District is the largest public school district in Wisconsin; it has 207 schools, 6,055 teachers, and 90,925 students. Hot topics in the district are voucher programs, Chinese Language education, and WiMAX, a free broadband internet access for all students and staff.

WiMAX, an emerging wireless broadband technology, is a tool that Milwaukee School officials are hoping to install in the homes of all students and staff members. This technology can reportedly broadcast a signal for miles without needing a clear line of sight. If Milwaukee Schools are successful, they will be one of the first school systems in the nation to use this technology. The pilot program will cover approximately five square miles and is scheduled to be up and running by August 2007. James Davis, Milwaukee Schools’ director of technology, has said he views WiMAX as the way to provide internet access to students whose families are too poor to even afford a phone line. Davis recently told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “without this kind of initiative, these students will fall further behind in competition for college entry and the work force, [which] will increase the digital divide.”

A very exciting new school will be opening in the Milwaukee School District…a Chinese School! There are already at least a dozen such programs in place throughout Wisconsin. Approximately 130 students have signed up so far to attend the “Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language”. James Sayavong, who started this new school, said that he expects to see 200 students enrolled by the fall. To date, many of the school’s students are from the surrounding neighborhood, which is generally African American and low income. Sayavong said that he wants Milwaukee Schools’ children to learn more about one of the United States’ largest trading partners. He believes this will give them an edge later in their careers. Of particular interest, a 2006 Department of Education news release stated that more than 200 million of children in China were studying English, but only around 24,000 of U.S. students were studying Chinese.

One way that the Milwaukee School District is battling to educate low-income, minority students are voucher schools. However, the voucher schools look and feel surprisingly like other Milwaukee Schools. While the program has brought some “fresh energy” to the mission of educating low-income youth, about 10% of the choice (voucher) schools exhibit alarming deficiencies. There’s a lot of taxpayer money going into religiously affiliated Milwaukee Schools. About 70% of students enrolled in the voucher programs attend a religious school. The collapse of four schools and the state’s limited ability to take action against other “alarming” schools has led to some agreement for the need for increased oversight. While the voucher program has both its champions and its detractors, the Milwaukee Schools seem have a lot of work to do to make the voucher program a success.

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