Milwaukee Public Schools Unlikely to Keep up with Rising Standards

MacIver News Service–[Milwaukee, Wisc…] Milwaukee Public Schools might never be able to reach the standards of No Child Left Behind, according to school board directors who spoke to the MacIver Institute.

On Tuesday the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction announced Milwaukee Public Schools failed to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind and was a District Identified For Improvement (DIFI) for the fifth year in a row.

“It’s no surprise to anybody,” said Director Bruce Thompson.

Within the district, 62 schools are Schools Identified for Improvement (SIFI) compared to 51 last year.  That means they missed the state’s requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two years in a row.  Altogether 78 MPS schools failed to meet AYP this year.

School Directors warn next year will be worse.  That’s because the AYP standards continually increase.  This year 74 percent of students needed to be proficient at reading and 58 percent at math.  Next year the standard will be 80.5 percent for reading and 68.5 percent for math.  In four years the standard for both is 100 percent.  Thompson said that means next year there will be even more schools on the SIFI list and MPS may never reach compliance.

“The standards keep rising each year that tends to catch more people,” he said.

Director David Voeltner has only been on the School Board for a year now, and in that time he’s come to realize “Educating children from a high poverty background, it’s just a very difficult task.”

Given that situation, Voeltner believes education will never become the main priority in many students’ lives, and that means MPS will continue to struggle.

“Unfortunately we’re not going to see any major gains until we see some major changes in the financial and social situations these children come from,” Voeltner said.  “I know you’re going to say we’re passing the buck on this but we’re not giving up when we say these things.  We’re doing things every day, every month to try and change things.”

Thompson points out that although poverty is a major obstacle in education, Milwaukee is faring much worse than other high poverty districts around the country.

“You look at some of the districts, like Boston, Charlotte and Austin, and they do much better, though still not great.  And so we need to look at what those districts are doing,” Thompson said.

In the meantime, incoming superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton has put the district’s comprehensive literacy plan on “pause.”  The goal of that plan is to standardize reading curriculum around the district, and has been in the works since last year.

“It must reflect the latest research, data, and methodology that has been successful in districts like ours,” Dr. Thornton said in a press release announcing his plans to reevaluate the program. “The extra effort spent now will pay great dividends later.”

Thornton said he will bring his plan to the school board later this summer and the program will be in place by the start of the school year.

The MacIver Institute tried to contact Dr. Thornton and the other directors on the School Board, but those messages were not returned by the time of this post.