Fuller, Howard L. 1941–
Howard L. Fuller 1941–
Howard Fuller is the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University and the co–founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. He has dedicated his career to improving educational opportunities for low–income African–American children. He is nationally known as a proponent of programs that increase parents’ choices for their children’s education, such as charter schools and private school voucher programs.
Howard L. Fuller was born on January 14, 1941, in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was an only child who was raised by his mother, Juanita Smith, and his grandmother, Pearl Wagner. His mother worked at a variety of jobs, including as a laborer and a beautician. When Fuller was six years old his family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There his mother spent 25 years working as a county employee at the Milwaukee hospital.
Fuller attended St. Boniface Catholic School until the seventh grade, when he transferred to public school to play basketball and be with his friends. “I never really thought about the difference between public and private schools,” Fuller told Full Court Press. “My mother and grandmother clearly thought private schools were better. But they also fully supported my decision.” Attending a public high school called North Division High, Fuller became involved in numerous school activities. Notably, he was president of the student body at every school he attended. His favorite subjects in school were history and civics. Fuller knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in social work. “In high school I knew that I wanted to pursue social work,” Fuller told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). “I was involved in an Urban League program that emphasized responsibility to the community. I knew I wanted a career where I could give something back.”
Fuller was an avid basketball player. His skills on the court and his academic achievements led to a college scholarship at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Although Fuller had attended a predominantly black high school, he purposely chose to attend a predominantly white college. “I was encouraged by activists in my community to attend an all–white school to facilitate integration,” Fuller told CBB. “I made a conscious decision to break that barrier.” Carroll College also appealed to Fuller because of the type of scholarship it offered him. It was called a Trailblazer scholarship and was based on academic performance, athletic performance, and work. When Fuller was a senior in high school he had torn the ligaments in his ankles, so his future in basketball was uncertain. With the Trailblazer scholarship Fuller could count on his academic abilities to keep his funding, even if he was no longer able to play basketball. Fuller also worked as part of the scholarship. He held a job in the dish room and worked as a counselor. He returned to Milwaukee every summer to work and save money for the following school year.
At a Glance…
Born Howard L. Fuller on January 14, 1941, in Shreveport, LA; divorced; three children. Education: Carroll College, BA, 1962; Western Reserve University, MSA, 1964; Marquette University, PhD., 1985.
Career: Urban League, Chicago, IL, 1964; Operation Breakthrough, Durham, NC, 1965–70; Malcolm X Liberation University, Durham and Greensboro, NC, 1970–1974; labor organizer, Durham, NC, 1974–76; office of Educational Opportunities, Marquette University, director of special services, 1976–83; Wisconsin Dept. of Employment Relations, secretary, 1983–86; Milwaukee Area Technical College, dean, 1986–88; Milwaukee Dept. of Health and Human Services, director, 1988–91; Milwaukee Public School District, superintendent, 1991–95; Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University, director, 1995–; Black Alliance for Educational Options. co–founder, 2000–.
Memberships: Board member, Transcenter for Youth; Greater Milwaukee Education Trust; Crusade to Save Our Children; Johnson Foundation; Pew Forum on Standards–Based Reform; Black Alliance for Educational Options.
Awards: Trailblazer Scholarship, Carroll College, 1958–62; Whitney Young Scholarship, Urban League, 1963–64; Honorary Doctorate, Marion College; Honorary Doctorate, Milwaukee School of Engineering; Honorary Doctorate, Carroll College; Honorary Doctorate, Edgewood College.
Addresses: Office— Institute for the Transformation of Learning, 750 N–18th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233.
Fuller graduated from Carroll College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1962. He told CBB that his years at Carroll were a “mixed experience.” On the one hand, he had received an excellent education and had made lifelong friends. On the other hand, it was difficult to be the only black student on campus. Fuller was the first black male graduate of Carroll College. After participating in this effort at integration, Fuller decided to continue his education in a black city. He chose to pursue his master’s degree at Western Reserve University, now Case Western Reserve, in Cleveland, Ohio. “My experiences at Carroll were tough,” Fuller told CBB, “and I wanted a more comfortable environment. I also wanted to focus on community organization social work, which was available at Western.” Fuller received a Whitney Young scholarship from the Urban League to study at Western Reserve. He graduated with a master’s degree in social administration in 1964.
As a condition of his scholarship Fuller worked for the Urban League in Chicago for the next year. In 1965 he moved to Durham, North Carolina, to work for Operation Breakthrough, a community action program under the Poverty Program. He spent the next ten years working on issue–oriented community organization. He was also involved in the Black Power and African Liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Because of his activism Fuller was invited to give a speech in support of the African Liberation Movement (ALM) in Tanzania in 1971. This turned out to be quite an adventure for Fuller, because during the trip he was caught in a skirmish between Portuguese soldiers and guerrillas fighting for the independence of Mozambique. He had to hide in Mozambique with the guerrillas until it was safe for him to return home, so his two–week trip was involuntarily extended to more than month. When Fuller returned to the United States he became even more involved in the ALM. In 1972 he organized a rally to support the movement and more than 40,000 people attended.
Fuller gained a reputation as a community organizer and was soon hired to train college students to become organizers. One group of students from Duke University whom he had trained as organizers had taken over a building at Duke and demanded that African studies be incorporated into the curriculum. Fuller worked with these students to found the Malcolm X Liberation University, an independent black school. The school existed in Durham for three years and then moved to Greensboro for one year before closing. In 1974 Fuller moved back to Durham to organize maids, janitors, and hospital workers.
Fuller’s political and community activism took a toll on his personal life. Worn out from his activities, he returned to Milwaukee in 1976. By this time he was separated and had three children to support so he needed to find a steadier job. At first Fuller worked as an insurance salesman. However, he soon found a job in the Office of Educational Opportunities at Marquette University as the director of special services. His office was in charge of tutoring and counseling the college students who came to Marquette through the Office of Educational Opportunities. At about this time, Fuller’s interests in education began to grow. Through his position Fuller was exposed to the disparities between black and white children’s education. He participated in a movement to create a separate school district for black children, but the Wisconsin Senate did not approve the measure. This led Fuller to support the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a voucher program designed to give parents more choices in their children’s education. This experience with the education system would prove to be pivotal in Fuller’s career almost a decade later. “As I got older,” Fuller told Richard A. Melcher and Michele Galen of Business Week, “I realized I couldn’t change the world, so I decided to work on the lives of children. The struggle is to make sure all kids get the best education possible.”
Fuller left the educational arena briefly in the 1980s to pursue other employment opportunities. From 1983 to 1988 Fuller worked as the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations. From 1986 to 1988 he was the dean of the Milwaukee Area Technical College. For the next three years he served as the director of Milwaukee Department of Health and Human Services. Fuller also returned to school and earned a Ph.D. in the sociological foundations of education from Marquette University in 1985.
In 1991 Fuller’s career took an important turn when he was hired by the board of directors of the Milwaukee school district to be its superintendent. This required changing the Wisconsin law that stipulated that superintendents be former schoolteachers or principals. When asked what his agenda was as superintendent, Fuller told CBB, “First the high schools were a mess. I wanted to restore discipline and safety in high schools. I also wanted to decentralize authority and funds. I wanted to revamp the curriculum. I also wanted to give parents options for their kids’ education.” During his four–year tenure, Fuller put a rigorous curriculum in place, developed school–to–work programs, decentralized budgetary authority, and made schools responsible for their own students’ achievements. Fuller’s programs led to increasing attendance rates and elevated reading and standardized test scores.
Fuller also became a vocal proponent of charter schools and voucher programs. As Fuller explained to School Reform News, “What we’re trying to do is create a situation where there can be some advantage for those parents who most need an advantage: the parents whose children now are forced to stay in schools that simply are not working for them.” However, all members of the school district did not embrace his ideas. In particular, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), which was the local teachers’ union, opposed plans to privatize schools and introduce charter schools and voucher programs. When MTEA candidates won four of the nine school board seats in 1995, Fuller decided it was time to resign as superintendent. “I was received fairly well by the system and the community,” Fuller told CBB. “I lasted longer than most superintendents. The average is about two and a half years and I lasted four.”
While Fuller has preferred to let others assess his successes and failures as superintendent, he was proud of the fact that many of the programs that he implemented are still in existence. Fuller told CBB that the fundamental principle that “all children could learn” guided his tenure as superintendent. He admitted, however, that he was not able to accomplish all of his goals. In particular, he was not able to secure funds to build more schools.
When Fuller left the Milwaukee school district he founded the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University, and began serving as its director. The mission of the Institute, according to its Web site, is “to support exemplary education options that transform learning for children, while empowering families, particularly low–income families, to choose the best options for their children.” In this role as director, Fuller has developed programs to provide computer access and education to communities. He has conducted advocacy research to provide information about low–income educational opportunities. In addition, Fuller has traveled extensively giving lectures about educational choices. “There is a fundamental issue confronting African Americans, and therefore all Americans,” Fuller said at the Second Annual Symposium for Educational Options for African Americans. “Parents without the power to make educational choices lack an indispensable tool for helping their children secure an effective education.”
In 2000 Fuller also founded a non–profit organization called the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which now has chapters in 22 states across the country. Fuller’s fight for parental choice in education has been difficult. Voucher programs, in particular, have received mixed reviews by both policy makers and the public. In November of 2000 voters in California and Michigan defeated proposals to introduce private school voucher programs in those states. But in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that vouchers are a constitutional means to educate children. “By empowering parents and their children, the Supreme Court has helped level the playing field,” Fuller stated, on behalf of the BAEO.
Fuller has combined his experiences as a community activist and his education in sociology and social work to fight to improve educational opportunities for low–income and African American children. He has been the creator and supporter of many innovative educational programs in Milwaukee, and is a national advocate for parental options in education. “Fuller’s ideas, enthusiasm, and advocacy for children have made him a potent national figure in American education reform, prompting communities across the country to provide parents with more options for educating their children,” wrote George A. Clowes in School Reform News. Fuller has received numerous awards recognizing his contributions in the field of education, including four honorary doctorate degrees.
Contributor of articles to Current Education Issues, March 1999; December 1999; January 2000.
Contributor of article (With S. White) to Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Report, July 1995.
“The Impact of the Milwaukee Public School System’s Desegregation Plan on Black Students and the Black Community (1976–1982),” Ph.D. Dissertation, Marquette University, 1985.
American Prospect, July 1, 2002, p. 14.
BusinessWeek, April 17, 1995, p. 70.
Economist, March 10, 2001.
Essence, September 2000, p. 153.
National Review, July 29, 2002.
NEA Communications, April 2001.
New Republic, October 8, 2001, p. 31.
School Reform News, May 2001; August 2002.
Washington Post, November 13, 2000.
Work in Progress, January 1996.
Black Alliance for Educational Options, http://www.baeo.org/home/index.php
Center for Education Reform, http://www.edreform.com/
Full Court Press, http://www.educationnext.org/20023/88.html
HRMA January 2000 Newsletter, http://www.hrma.org/newsletter/
Institute for the Transformation of Learning, http://www.itl.mu.edu
Online News Hour, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/law/jan-june02/vouchers_6_27.html
—Janet P. Stamatel
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