19.5.16

UNCONTROLLED POLICY EXPERIMENTATION.

Barbara Miner's Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City begins with the Milwaukee Braves winning a World Series and ends with the Madison protests prior to the attempted recall of Republican governor Scott Walker.

The history overlaps some with my own.  I started kindergarten in 1959, and was in a class that was bussed intact (not because of integration, as later became the case, but because there were more students in my neighborhood school than there were classrooms.)  Later I attended a new high school that featured a planetarium and the "superior ability" classes offering college-prep plus.

I finished in 1971.  The city, the high school, and the Milwaukee Public Schools, all came apart sometime after.  Ms Miner documents all the ways Milwaukee changed: the immigration from the black South and the Third World, the flight of the factories and the once-unionized jobs to the black South and the Third World, the flight of the white ethnics (primarily Polish and German extraction) to the suburban counties.

It's not that the policy activists -- Ms Miner is clearly sympathetic to the recall movement, and to the advocates of school integration or diversity or however you want to frame it -- didn't protest and agitate and elect.  It's not that the school administrators didn't try everything -- you'll read about intact bussing and integration and open enrollment and magnet schools and voucher schools and charter schools and for all I know schools of smelt -- and yet Milwaukee "collapsed" badly during the 1980s and didn't recover.

And yet, Book Review No. 6 suggests the Lessons from the Heartland are incomplete.  We end with the usual suspects occupying the Capitol, and yet the governor survived the recall election, and won re-election two years later, and the Milwaukee Public Schools are no better, and the work of evaluating the policy experiments remains for other writers to do.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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