MPS Gives $3 Million to Consultant Despite Declining Performance

MacIver News Service [Milwaukee, Wisc…] As the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors prepares to vote on a budget proposal that may include layoffs for hundreds of employees, they continue to spend nearly $100,000 a month on a non-profit organization that is failing in its mission to improve performance at five troubled MPS high schools.

Since 2006, the Institute for Research and Reform in Education (IRRE) has collected over $3 million from Milwaukee Public Schools to improve math and reading performance. Meanwhile, student performance at the high schools wherein IRRE is consulting has plummeted.

IRRE focuses on what it describes as five core strategies: Strengthening instruction; Effective use of data; Personalized learning communities; Advocating for students and families; Building system capacity to strengthen and sustain reform. They began working with two MPS high schools in 2006 to set up small learning communities.

It added another high school each year to the program, and currently is working with five MPS high schools. Those schools are Pulaski, Bradley Tech, Custer, Vincent, and Madison.

MPS points out that IRRE is but one of many variables that could impact performance at those schools.

“There could be multiple reasons for that (low performance)” said Roseann St. Aubin, MPS Communications Officer. “There’s a reason we’re trying to marshal resources around those schools.”

IRRE just began working with Vincent last year, but it has had at least two years with the other four schools. That’s where some of the biggest setbacks have occurred.

The biggest decrease in student performance occurred at Pulaski and Bradley Tech, where math proficiency dropped by 13 percent since 2007. At Custer, math proficiency has dropped to the single digits. This year it is at 9 percent.

Madison was the only school to see improvement, 3 percent in math and 11 percent in reading.

Even though the program has not yet seen any success, MPS says it’s being patient.

“These are fairly new efforts,” said St. Aubin. “You can’t expect immediate results overnight when you’re trying to change a culture.”

However, IRRE does claim their methods result in immediate improvement. While IRRE says it only has data for three of the eleven states it’s worked in, they boast that all that data is positive.

“When struggling secondary schools implement its’ core strategies with fidelity, meaningful improvement occurs in student achievement and commitment within two years of implementation, and dramatic improvement can be seen within three years,” states IRRE’s website.

In some of the schools listed on the Institute’s website, math and reading scores have improved by double digits in three years or less. However, at MPS, math and reading scores have nearly uniformly dropped by double digits at IRRE schools during a similar time frame.

Despite the declining test scores, IRRE continues to collect big paychecks from MPS. Last month it billed the district for $92,675.56, nearly $20,000 per month per high school.

In addition to their ongoing contract with Milwaukee Public Schools, IRRE currently works with 14 other high schools in four other states.

MPS is currently working through a $33 million budget deficit from last year, and Superintendent William Andrekopoulos has proposed cutting as many as 680 employees to bridge the gap.

The MPS Board will vote on amendments to the Superintendent’s plan this Thursday.