Where is the Urgency in Fixing Milwaukee’s Failing Schools?

Since Means’ Sudden Resignation, Abele and MPS School Board Do Nothing To Save Children Trapped In Bad Schools

July 28, 2016

By Brett Healy
MacIver Institute President

[Milwaukee, Wis…] A month after Demond Means’ resignation from the head of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), crickets could be heard in the halls of the Milwaukee County Executive’s office and MPS. Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Means, the Superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, was appointed by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele back in November 2015 to head OSPP as commissioner. Himself a MPS graduate, some weren’t happy with his appointment, arguing that he didn’t have much experience working with low-income students and that he was too close to MPS to make meaningful (read: drastic) reform.

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For what it’s worth, the criticisms weren’t far off base. Despite the continuing failure of MPS to educate our children, MPS would have played a central role in Means’ OSPP proposal. Critics raised concerns that his plan didn’t go far enough to fulfill the legislature’s intent to turn around five schools a year. If Means’ original proposal didn’t fulfill the law’s intent, MPS’ counter-proposal scoffed at it, going even further away from the original hope of closing down perpetually poor-performing schools and, in their place, replicate successful schools.

After weeks of turmoil, stalling, and plenty of frustration on everyone’s part, Means quit.

You can’t blame the guy. Placed between legislators wanting substantive and meaningful reform and a powerful MPS board desperately trying to keep the status quo and its political power, it wasn’t exactly an easy job.

But it’s a job established in the law, and a job that someone must do. The children of MPS can’t wait while they are stuck in a system that fails to prepare them for college or a career after high school. Parents can’t afford to wait another school year while their children struggle to make the academic progress required to compete in the real world. Wisconsinites can’t afford to wait another year and watch another senior class at MPS graduate less than 60 percent of students in four years.

The question is now: who? Inquiries sent to the MPS board, MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers all had a resounding answer: appointing the OSPP Commissioner is the responsibility of the Milwaukee County Executive. Ask them.

The Milwaukee County Executive’s answer? Crickets. Multiple attempts to contact that office went unanswered.

Meanwhile, the MPS board will hold a retreat today for its members, to “discuss issues related to governance practices and policies of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors.”

We wonder if they’ll discuss how they can allow the more then 28,000 of our children to attend a failing school? Will the MPS school board even talk about this problem, the most important public policy problem facing our great state, at their retreat?

Given the Board’s track record, we won’t hold our breath.