Like most districts across the country, Milwaukee Public Schools has shuttered school doors due to the Coronavirus. Still, Crystal Manuel of Milwaukee is mystified that her son had yet to hear from his teachers while friends and family outside the city have hit the ground running with online instruction.
In fact, until late last week, “there were no actual assignments, no interactions with teachers and no clear explanation of expectations.”
For a district that is more than 80 percent Black and Brown students with some of the most prolonged learning disparities in the U.S., you’d expect the district and local teachers’ union, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, would be racing to find solutions.
You’d be wrong, on one count at least.
On a union blog, MTEA president Amy Mizialko writes that MTEA is using the COVID-19 crisis to “strip back what has been wrongly imposed on our students—relentless standardized testing, scripted curriculum, one-size-fits-all online interventions.”
When asked if the “union’s insistence that its members not be required to work during the first three weeks of the shutdown may have contributed to MPS’ delays” she did not address that criticism directly. Instead she demurred, “We were finding our way with our families and students in something that was unprecedented.”
That lack of enthusiasm and optimism isn’t shared by all MPS teachers.
Angela Harris, a first-grade teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. School and head of the Black Educators Caucus is frustrated by the delay, “I’m not saying we should have transitioned on day one. The biggest concern was the lack of planning and direction moving forward. Teachers could have been encouraged in those first three weeks to start identifying families who might be in need (of technology).”
One thing to note: Angela is much more representative of MPS students than the MTEA as about 71 percent of MPS teachers are White. Many suspect this disparity is why, when music programs were being shut for African American students, the MTEA remained silent while the Black Caucus spoke out, as they are now.
MTEA, like many teachers’ unions, is attempting to leverage the uncertainty around COVID-19 to resurrect decades old agenda items, including quelling alternative learning models, online or otherwise. However, as union reporter Mike Antonucci observes, “Their ability to adapt will be put to the test. It’s a new world, and the old rules may no longer apply.”