“I’ve heard folks here today express their concern that our students are falling through the cracks. I would submit to you that the children of Milwaukee have been forced through the cracks.”
— Testimony by Amy Mizialko at the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Education Public Hearing on AB 1, January 14, 2015.
January 16, 2016, By Amy Mizialko
My name is Amy Mizialko. I am a proud 23-year special education teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. I have my PhD in urban education and education policy, and I am here today representing thousands of MPS educators who are members of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the people I work for and know best, the children of Milwaukee.
We stand in opposition to Assembly Bill 1. AB 1 will not improve schools or student achievement. AB 1 weakens accountability. AB 1 seeks to hand over our public schools to private charter entities and is an attack on local control and democracy in Wisconsin.
There is no evidence that the proposed solution in AB 1—handing over our public schools to privately run charter schools—works. In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary. 43% of students in Milwaukee currently attend a privately run charter or a voucher school already and 75% of these students perform no better and some perform worse than our public schools. Creating more of these schools is not a solution.
There are hundreds of schools and thousands of students across Wisconsin that need swift support from this legislative body. We don’t have an education problem. We have an economics problem that has caused an education problem.
There is clear evidence that higher socio-economic status increases student achievement and lower socio-economic status, poverty—rural or urban poverty—is directly correlated to lower student achievement.
We know how to improve student learning at our poorest, most under-resourced schools and AB 1 will not improve student learning.
As a 23-year special education teacher in MPS, I can tell you the conditions under which my students achieved and excelled. My students came to me typically several years behind in math and reading.
1. My students achieved more than one year’s growth in one year’s time, sometimes 1.5 years’ growth, sometimes two years’ growth in one year, because I had a class size of 15. They had MY ample individual attention, all day, every day, in every subject, as much as they needed for as long as they needed, until they were solid in whatever subject we were working on.
I had the pleasure of keeping my students for three years. We talked about the concept of 1000 days. I’m your teacher for 1000 days. You’re my student for 1000 days. What can’t we do in 1000 days? I don’t care how behind you are. We’re going to get there. That’s my promise. That’s what I told your parents I’m going to do. That’s what I have to do.
Research shows us that front-loading our investment into our students, age three through grade three has undeniable measurable, positive effects on student learning. We need to restore and fully fund the SAGE program and expand it to K-4. This will provide our kids the individual attention they need from their teachers to get them on grade level. When children have enough individual attention in the early years, I haven’t met a child I haven’t been able to teach how to read, and once my children learn how to read there’s no turning back for them. They’re on their way.
2. My students achieved and excelled when they and their families had access to a full scope of wrap-around services that all human beings need: physical health, mental health, dental health services, ample and proper nutrition, recreation opportunities and books that they can take home and keep in their bedroom to read. The Community School model which has taken hold in many cities across the nation provides just these kinds of supports and strengthens the school, the students, their families and the neighborhoods in which our students live.
We have 3000 students in Milwaukee who are homeless and they come to school every day.
We have students who are legally blind but have no glasses, but they come to school every day.
We have students who have had no dental care and are in pain and they struggle to learn, but they come to school every day.
We have students who don’t own a pair of socks and walk to school every day in the winter.
We have students who are food insecure and are hungry and they come to school every day, and it’s our job to teach them. And we do, and we will and we want to.
We have students who don’t have a mattress to sleep on and these students come to school every day.
This is POVERTY. What don’t you see? This is poverty.
These are many of the students in our schools that struggle the most and they need our support and they need our investment.
As a teacher, I and my colleagues must teach our kids to read, write and problem solve, and we have to help them get glasses when they can’t see. I have to make sure they’re academically proficient and I have to make sure if they came to school hungry they have something to eat. And I also have to make sure, really quietly, really privately and sensitively, that if they need to take some food home at night I provide that.
I’ve heard folks here today express their concern that our students are falling through the cracks. I would submit to you that the children of Milwaukee have been forced through the cracks. Over the past several years, Wisconsin’s public schools, and our children in Milwaukee have been starved of the resources, the human resources, the people, the material resources they need to learn, the resources that each of us wants and expects for our own children. So the schools that this accountability bill would punish are the schools that I’ve always taught at on purpose. I’ve always taught at schools where kids needed more support because that’s where I wanted to work. I could stop working in zip code 53206 and get a job in Shorewood, or Fox Point or River Hills.
This legislature can’t punish and starve our students of the resources they need to learn and then declare our students to be failures. The result we have is the result we have allowed to happen and I want to change that. You can do that. That’s what you’re here to do.
In closing, I encourage you all if you don’t know about community schools and what they do in cities across the nation, please take 15 minutes this week to learn about what that model is and what it does to lift up communities … and what I know that model could do for Milwaukee in particular. The community schools model will provide the wrap-around services necessary to address all the needs of our children and I respectfully must insist that you support our students in Milwaukee, and that you fully fund and expand SAGE to K-4 so teachers can provide the individual attention our students need to excel.