Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) will not be required to take part in a controversial state-designed takeover program next year. MPS received news this week of its reprieve via a letter from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers to MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, indicating that MPS is unlikely to meet the criteria for takeover during the 2016-17 school year.
Those takeover criteria and related provisions were enacted as part of the 2015-17 state budget, in which lawmakers created what they termed a Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP). Under the law, certain of the lowest performing, vacant, or underutilized schools in Milwaukee County could have been removed from MPS Board governance and been placed under the management and control of a Commissioner appointed and supervised by the Milwaukee County Executive, beginning in the 2016-17 school year.
The OSPP law was designed to give the appointed Commissioner jurisdiction over the lowest performing schools in the lowest performing districts in the county. To be eligible, schools must be placed in the lowest performing category in the state’s school report card system and be in a district which has also been in the lowest performance category for two consecutive years.
Only Milwaukee Public Schools was eligible in the program’s first year.
However, in his letter to Driver and Abele, Evers indicated Milwaukee schools would not be placed in the lowest category on this year’s report cards, making all MPS schools ineligible. The report cards will be released to the public in November.
One reason for MPS’ improved ranking is that a new formula for grading districts state lawmakers also approved as part of the 2015-17 state budget now takes student poverty and improvement (student growth) into greater account. MPS Superintendent Driver also noted that the work district staff and partners did in raising test scores and closing gaps between students from different backgrounds also played a role in raising MPS’ ranking.
“In our early grades – looking at reading, speaking, writing, listening and how that looks on our standardized tests – we’ve seen some definite improvements there,” Driver said. “And quite a bit of work has happened around increasing attendance and reducing absenteeism.”
Driver said the recent achievements are a first step, and the district has a long way to go.
One of the primary authors of the OSPP law, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) responded to the news in a written statement and pointed to changes in how districts are graded as the primary reason for Milwaukee leaving the lowest performance tier.
While the Milwaukee Public Schools district has made progress, he wrote, “under the previous model, MPS would still be considered a failing district.” Still, Kooyenga said he was optimistic the new grade was a sign of district progress under Driver.
“I am optimistic greater progress can be made if the MPS board empowers the superintendent to make the tough decisions necessary to improve educational outcomes.”
Kooyenga said the Opportunity Schools plan was the right kind of pressure to put on the district, and that it could still be triggered if MPS slides backward in future years.
“Rest assured, there will be more reforms,” he said.