Last week, the newly formed Wisconsin Coalition for a
The SEED schools embrace the unique model of an "urban public boarding school," premised on the belief that students in disadvantaged inner-city neighborhoods can achieve academic success if they are given a safe and supportive environment in which to study. Students are allowed to stay with their families at home on the weekends, but during the week they live on the SEED campus in a highly structured environment. Unlike elite boarding schools like
The basic idea behind the SEED school is that the primary obstacle standing between most inner-city students and academic success is family, neighborhood, and community circumstances. A substantial body of academic research seems to support this conclusion. Poverty, both at the family and the community level, presents significant challenges for students; a host of studies show that high housing mobility, poor nutrition, parents’ mental health problems, and other complications of poverty are all associated with lower student achievement. By removing children from their distressed communities and providing them with safe housing, quiet study space, and 24/7 support from adult teachers and tutors, SEED’s proponents argue, the boarding-school model can break the vicious cycle by which children inherit their parents’ poverty through low academic achievement.
Although no formal evaluation has been conducted, SEED’s
But the existence of a school that offers unprecedented opportunities to children from Milwaukee’s poorest communities should not trick us into dismissing the need for policies that serve everyone in those communities. A SEED school may make a world of difference for hundreds of students who graduate from its program, but this is just a drop in the ocean compared to MPS’ enrollment of more than 87,000 students. By nature, it cannot be “taken to scale,” or adopted as a model by policymakers seeking to implement change across the public school system. Moreover, SEED’s approach, which begins enrolling students in the sixth grade, does little in the face of evidence that inequalities in test scores emerge even before children enter kindergarten, much less middle school. Promising as it may be, SEED is far from a system-wide solution to the mutually reinforcing problems of poverty and ineffective schooling that confront the most disadvantaged students, and we shouldn’t let its success stories distract us from the important task of rebuilding the communities from which SEED seeks to rescue its students.