Committed to “promoting pro-justice curricula and policies so that all students in the Milwaukee area are better served,” the Educators’ Network for Social Justice (ENSJ) is an alliance of classroom teachers, student teachers, and post-secondary instructors from schools in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
ENSJ strongly opposes voucher programs designed to enable the parents of children who attend failing, inner-city public schools, to send their youngsters instead to private schools where they would have a better chance of succeeding academically. By ENSJ’s telling, students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) perform “significantly better” than their counterparts who attend private schools with the help of vouchers. Moreover, says ENSJ, “The voucher schools don’t have to (and don’t) serve any meaningful number of students with disabilities. Only about [1.5%] of voucher students have disabilities. About 19% of MPS students do. Expanding the voucher program will make this [imbalance] much worse.”
ENSJ also opposes the use of standardized tests to measure student achievement and aptitude. The organization’s Working Group on Standardized Tests aims specifically “to combat the further implementation of these misguided, damaging tests” which allegedly emphasize rote memory “instead of learning.”
In 2010, ENSJ and the NAACP‘s Milwaukee chapter co-founded the Coalition to Stop the MPS Takeover—an alliance of 28 community, parent, union, educator, civil-rights, religious, and student organizations—all opposed to mayoral control of the Milwaukee Public Schools. At issue was the question of whether the mayor, in an effort to reduce the racial achievement gap in the city’s classrooms, should be authorized to unilaterally appoint the next school superintendent and all school board members. This was a matter of significant consequence because MPS had failed to fulfill multiple elements of a state-ordered educational-improvement plan, and thus was at risk of forfeiting $175 million in federal funding.
In 2008, members of ENSJ and the organization Rethinking Schools convened in the NAACP’s Milwaukee office to co-found a Social Studies Task Force designed to articulate concerns about the content of a social studies textbook series that was up for adoption by the Milwaukee Public Schools. ENSJ’s major objection was that the textbooks devoted insufficient attention to the “racism,” “anti-Semitism,” “stereotypes,” and “discrimination” that, by ENSJ’s telling, had always been a major part of American history. Yet another bone of contention was that the books did not discuss the fact that some early U.S. presidents were slave owners. According to ENSJ, it is impossible to “even minimally understand U.S. history” without exploring “racism,” “the dispossession of Native Americans from their lands,” “slavery and lynchings,” or the “anti-Chinese riots at the turn of the century in which hundreds were killed.” “By omitting the ‘r’ word” from their historical narrative, adds ENSJ, “texts help to obscure racism’s relationship to economic exploitation—whether in the case of slavery, the theft of Indian and Mexican land, the underpayment and mistreatment of Chinese railroad workers in the mid-19th century, or the use of Third World sweatshop workers today.”
An outgrowth of ENSJ’s Social Studies Task Force was the CLEAR Justice Initiative, a district-wide project that “addresses issues of class, language, ethnicity and race.” This initiative features a Multicultural Teacher Council with a representative from each MPS school.