African Americans' Continuing Struggle for Quality Education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

By Bonds, Michael; Farmer-Hinton, Raquel L. et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
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African Americans' Continuing Struggle for Quality Education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Bonds, Michael, Farmer-Hinton, Raquel L., Epps, Edgar G., The Journal of Negro Education


This article summarizes African Americans' ongoing struggle for quality education in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by utilizing school district data and secondary sources. The historic integration effort in the Milwaukee Public Schools system is outlined and the impact of sustained segregation, in the midst of significant changes to Milwaukee's social and economic context, is discussed. The historic integration movement and the social and economic context are used to contextualize and critique current racially segregated choice programs, which have been touted as remedies for inferior educational opportunities in Milwaukee.

Theoretically, the Negro needs neither segregated nor mixed schools. What he needs is education. What he must remember that there is no magic either in mixed schools or in segregated schools. A mixed school with poor and unsympathetic teachers with hostile public opinion and no teaching concerning Black folk is bad. (Du Bois, 1935, p. 335)

The desire for equal educational opportunity is a long-standing feature of African American communities (Anderson, 1988; Walker, 1996). Unfortunately, their quest for equal educational opportunity has not been realized. From legally segregated schools that offered inferior facilities and resources to modern-day resegregated schools that also offer subpar facilities and resources, African American children have continually faced unequal opportunities to learn (Anyon, 1997; Caldas & Bankston, 2007; Mirel, 1993; Orfield & Eaton, 1996). In spite of its good intentions, the implementation of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which ordered the dismantling of the legal system supporting the segregation of schools, did not lead to sustained integration of most school systems and, ultimately, much of its early impact has been negated by White resistance and White flight from the central cities of large urban metropolitan areas (Caldas & Bankston, 2007; Orfield & Eaton, 1996). Without resolving the problem of unequal educational opportunity, the educational vestiges of urban school districts' segregationist pasts continue to invade its contemporary school systems (Anyon, 1997; FarmerHinton, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Weiler, 1998).

The inability to effectively address educational vestiges is particularly harmful considering the impact of deindustrialization and concentrated poverty on urban communities (Anyon, 1997; Farmer-Hinton, 2002). In fact, Ladson-Billings (2006) argued that our generational divestment of equal schooling opportunities, equal school funding, social justice, and social responsibility from African American communities is the core reason for current achievement disparities. She goes on to argue that the continual refusal to acknowledge the impact of this generational divestment will only lead to further misguided attempts to provide educational opportunities for African American communities (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Market-based school reforms, which use choice and competition as the basis to improve schools, are reflective of these misguided reforms that mask the inherent problem of educational vestiges and unequal educational opportunities (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Wells, 2002). In this article, the authors draw on school district data and secondary sources to discuss the on-going struggle for equal educational opportunity in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This study is organized by three themes that reflect this struggle. The first theme is the perpetuation of school segregation, which summarizes the historic integration effort in the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. The second theme discussed is the changing Milwaukee landscape, which reflects how the shifting social and economic conditions further complicated the historic lack of educational opportunity in Milwaukee. The third theme discussed is veiled opportunities, which outlines and critiques current school choice policies that are disguised as opportunities for African American students.

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