New Accountability Program Labels 98 Milwaukee Schools, 10 Madison Schools as “Focus” or “Priority” Schools in Need of Improvement

93% of all priority schools were from MPS

By Christian D’Andrea

MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) released their first list of schools that will be targeted for improvement after posting disappointing educational achievement scores. The bulk of these schools are from some the state’s largest cities – Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, and Kenosha.

These schools were either labeled as “Focus” or “Priority” schools. The priority schools are the state’s lowest performing institutions when it comes to factors like student achievement, graduation rates, growth, and the achievement gap. Focus schools are not in as dire a situation, but will still be targeted for improvement in the future.

These new designations are part of a new school accountability system that Wisconsin will rely on in order to pull away from national No Child Left Behind standards. As the federal regulations became too rigid, it became clear that the state would have to institute its own personalized and dynamic system to gauge progress in their schools. This new low-performance identification system is a step forward in the state’s waiver application to eliminate NCLB influence and to create a more accountable and transparent public education mechanism.

58 out of 1,183 qualifying public schools in Wisconsin earned the Priority label. Of these, 54 were from Milwaukee Public Schools. Two were from Racine, while one was from Green Bay and another was part of the Menominee Indian School District. 12 of these schools were high schools.

Another 118 institutions were designated as Focus schools. This includes 44 MPS schools, eight schools in Racine, 10 schools in Madison, and six in Kenosha. Issues with reading and math achievement were the most common issues tagged for improvement in these areas.

The designation of these schools follows the path that No Child Left Behind had taken in previous years, but a more comprehensive system of evaluation should help the state make strides when it comes to properly identifying progress in the classroom. However, it is unclear just how big of an effect that this program will have in turning around low-performing schools. A Fordham study examined the stigma of failure and discovered that bad schools, even after being labeled and subject to intervention, have a very narrow success rate when it comes to turnaround. That study can be found here:

Still, the identification of these schools will help to empower parents and students and encourage the Wisconsin populace to learn more about their local schools. The pressure of these labels and the additional scrutiny from parents and community members will provide extra incentive for institutions to find new and innovative ways to improve student achievement in their classrooms. While there’s still a way to go in order to connect a low-performing label to a high-performing turnaround, this developing system of school grading is a small step forward towards greater accountability and transparency in Wisconsin’s public schools.