Educating Milwaukee: How One City’s History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools (Paperback)

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"Over the last fifty years, Milwaukee has seen great change. Per Nelsen, it’s lost 80% of its manufacturing jobs while absorbing many poor African Americans into its population, at one point having the second largest increase among major cities. How does one keep a public education system stable, holding onto middle class students (mostly white, but also black) in the face of changes in educational theory, the increased costs of special education, and the rise of charter schools and vouchers, in the midst of a very segregated urban area. Nelsen chronicles the various solutions of busing, school choice, magnet schools, charter schools, and vouchers, noting that even among African Americans, there has been a split between integrationists and nationalists. Do you make a school better in a bad neighborhood by making it competitive, or do you focus on serving the neighborhood? In some ways, it’s as much about economic segregation as racial segregation, with the middle classes voting with their feet if their child’s school experience isn’t the equal of the best suburbs. And some of our policies have clearly led to a lose-lose situation: kids traveling long distances to go to bad schools. It’s easy to be a critic, but Nelsen shows how one reformer after another has struggled with success. For what might be a dry topic, Nelsen does a great job keeping it interesting, and aside from his clear unhappiness with private vouchers, stays about as impartial as you can get, considering how polarizing education policy can be."

— Daniel Goldin


"Milwaukee's story is unique in that its struggle for integration and quality education has been so closely tied to [school] choice." --from the Introduction

"Educating Milwaukee: How One City's History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools" traces the origins of the modern school choice movement, which is growing in strength throughout the United States. Author James K. Nelsen follows Milwaukee's tumultuous education history through three eras--"no choice," "forced choice," and "school choice." Nelsen details the whole story of Milwaukee's choice movement through to modern times when Milwaukee families have more schooling options than ever--charter schools, open enrollment, state-funded vouchers, neighborhood schools--and yet Milwaukee's impoverished African American students still struggle to succeed and stay in school. "Educating Milwaukee" chronicles how competing visions of equity and excellence have played out in one city's schools in the modern era, offering both a cautionary tale and a "choice" example.


About the Author

James K. Nelsen has a PhD in urban history from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and teaches high school social studies at Golda Meir School in Milwaukee, a public magnet school for college-bound students in grades 3 through 12. As a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, he finds the history of the city fascinating, from its early days in the mid-nineteenth century to the modern challenges of urban life today. As a teacher, he enjoys researching the history of education from colonial times to the present. When not teaching or researching, he enjoys volunteering with youth groups, exploring his city, and following his beloved Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Praise For…

Educating Milwaukee: How One City's History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped its Schools examines the educational history of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the birthplace of the school voucher movement, and an innovator in programs that offer school choice. Paradoxically, a wider range of options does not guarantee a better education for children, an especially corrosive problem given Milwaukee's problems of concentrated poverty and de facto segregation. Author, teacher, and urban history expert offers a close examination of the many different school choice initiatives that have been attempted in Milwaukee from 1967 to 2013, and explains why Milwaukee's children as a whole continue to struggle with academic achievement today. Educating Milwaukee discusses why constructing new schools in the inner city has sometimes compounded its educational woes (the burdensome cost often leads to harsh budget cuts forced upon existing schools, without addressing many of their biggest problems), how "magnet schools" attracting the best and brightest students compounds declining enrollment in general public schools, the problems of outright incompetence and scandals in underperforming charter schools, and more. "...magnet schools and private schools may want to enroll only the intelligent, motivated students and may try to prevent students with disabilities, behavior problems, and low test scores from enrolling... These practices also raise questions about the fairness of setting up a hierarchy of schools - a hierarchy that runs counter to the notion of equal educational opportunity - and about the political motivations behind choice. Surely that was not what reformers intended." Extensive notes and an index round out this thought-provoking, sharply critical history. (Midwest Book Review, Social Issues Bookshelf, February 2016)
Product Details
ISBN: 9780870207204
ISBN-10: 0870207202
Publisher: Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Publication Date: December 15th, 2015
Pages: 288
Language: English