MPS scores up; district no longer subject to takeover

The Department of Public Instruction and Milwaukee Public Schools announced Wednesday that – as the result of improved DPI scores – the Milwaukee Public Schools school district is no longer eligible for takeover under the MPS Takeover plan, also known as the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program (OSPP).

“The OSPP legislation was one of the greatest threats to public education Milwaukee has ever seen,” said Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) President Kim Schroeder. “The MTEA applauds the work of all educators, parents, and community members who have worked tirelessly to fight this legislation both through grassroots organizing and direct action.

MTEA President Kim Schroeder

MTEA President Kim Schroeder

“Thanks to the dedication and commitment of MPS educators, parents, and community members, our students are performing against all odds to overcome the effects of failed education policies.

“We know what works in Milwaukee because we are seeing the results of positive, educator-driven initiatives like the Community School model,” Schroeder said. “We see what happens in public schools where parents, communities, students, and educators are empowered to take ownership of their schools to ensure the success of every child. The OSPP legislation, which threatened to take away local control from the Milwaukee community, is another example of a failed policy created without the expertise of educators who work in our schools.

“Every child in Milwaukee has the right to a publicly funded, equitable, and democratically controlled public school. The MTEA is deeply committed to ensuring every child, regardless of their zip code has access to the schools they deserve.

“MTEA members welcome this news and will continue to fight for the public schools every child deserves.”

WEAC President Ron Martin said he is “extremely proud of the work that is going on in the Milwaukee Public Schools.”

“The educators have worked hard and have demonstrated their commitment to the kids and to the community,” Martin said. “This is an example of why legislators need to get out of the business of pretending to know what is best for our kids and our public schools. Let the real experts provide input as to how we improve and make our schools better than they already are.

“We have known all along that when teachers and parents have the opportunity to work together to make a difference in our public schools it is a win-win situation,” Martin said. “We must continue to advocate for fair funding for all our public schools.

“The Wisconsin Education Association Council applauds the work of the educators in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. We care deeply about the success of every child in Wisconsin and we are proud of Wisconsin Public Schools.”

MPS said it received a letter from DPI informing the district it will not have to participate in the OSPP program because the district is no longer in the bottom category in the state school report card. Only school districts in the lowest category of the state report card for two consecutive years are required to participate in OSPP.

“While we are energized by the progress we’re making, we still have significant work to do,” said MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver. “We are working with students, staff and dozens of community partners to better prepare all of our young people for success, particularly at the secondary school level.”

In a statement, MPS said it has committed to rethinking high schools by expanding college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes as well as career and technical education offerings. It added:

This year, 21 percent of all MPS high school students are taking a college-level class. The district also added more than 350 students to a culinary arts program as it expands career and technical education options.

While the details of the state report card will not be released until next month, MPS’ local STAR assessment data shows growth in student achievement and signs that the district is closing achievement gaps:

  • Literacy is improving across all grade levels.
  • The number of students on target for proficiency in reading improved last year by two percent.
  • Early reading skills increased significantly, with 51 percent of all K5 and 1st grade students on target at the end of the school year compared to only 43 percent on target at the beginning of the school year.

“We are heading in the right direction. Our collective focus as a community must be on working together to support our young people,” said MPS Board President Mark Sain. “If we continue to do the right thing for our students, we will not fail.”

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DPI: No MPS schools eligible for takeover this year

Just months after Milwaukee Public Schools rebuffed efforts by a legislatively mandated turnaround district to take control of one of its poorly performing schools, MPS appears to have won a reprieve from the takeover law at least for this year.

MPS rejects takeover plan

The Milwaukee School Board and administration Friday rejected a controversial proposal that would have resulted in the takeover of some schools, saying the plan was vague, the funding plan unclear and elements conflicted with state law. The so-called “recovery district” plan was presented to MPS in April by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and his appointed commissioner, Demond Means.

As an alternative, Superintendent Darienne Driver and MPS School Board President Mark Sain proposed creation of a charter school offering an early childhood program in the former 35th Street Elementary School.

The Abele-Means plan was an outgrowth of a state law drafted by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield and passed as part of the 2015-’17 state budget. The law created what’s known as the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), which critics refer to as the MPS Takeover Plan.

Abele and Means have threatened that rejection of the proposal by MPS could force them to bring in outside operators to run the schools.

In a statement, Driver said MPS has examined the OSPP proposal over the past six weeks and identified the following concerns:

  • The academic and curricular programming lacks detail and clarity.
  • The school funding plan is unclear.
  • The school qualitative reviews outlined in both state law and the OSPP proposal have not been conducted.
  • The request for proposals seeking a school operator was not issued and steps have not been taken to select a school.
  • The OSPP proposal contains elements which contradict the legislation, namely that staff at the OSPP schools will remain employees of the district with little guidance about how this would be compliant with state law.

The statement continued:

Given these concerns, we recently requested a meeting with County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means to discuss an alternative to the OSPP proposal. We know the fundamental needs of our families include greater access to high-quality early childhood education, sustained resources and support, stable school communities, rigorous curriculum led by strong instructional leaders and having a voice in the decisions that impact their children.

With these critical factors in mind, and given that the qualitative analysis as outlined in the OSPP proposal was not completed, selecting a school would be unfair to school communities because they have not had an opportunity to participate in a qualitative review. We have developed an alternative option that will add value and align with the critical work already underway at MPS:

  • Create a high-quality early childhood education program, addressing a community need acknowledged by local leaders and the Speaker’s Task Force on Urban Education.
  • Provide the choice for families to opt-in to OSPP.
  • Locate the program inside the former 35th Street Elementary School, which is well suited to serve our youngest learners; it would share a separate and distinct space in the same building with Assata, an MPS partnership school; this is a model that has been used in the past and allows for improved achievement and better student and family engagement and support at both schools.
  • Next year, as outlined in the OSPP proposal, would be a planning year, with the program opening in the 2017-18 school year.

Improving student outcomes is challenging and much work remains. As a district, we have implemented strategies for school turnaround rooted in collective impact including:

  • Developing intentional, mutually beneficial partnerships.
  • Making data-informed decisions.
  • Implementing research-based programs.
  • Strengthening current infrastructure.
  • Maximizing resources and managing our assets.

Our efforts are yielding results. More students are earning scholarships with a record-breaking $47.8 million awarded this year; more high schools are ranked among the best in the state and nation; and over 100 MPS schools are recognized for promoting positive behaviors by an independent statewide organization. Community engagement is leading to stronger families and a healthier community. With ongoing support from committed community partners, we will continue to see positive results.

MPS is committed to ensuring that all partnerships bring additional value and enhance our current standard of care. In doing this, we must also ensure our school communities are kept intact and we believe our alternative does just that. We are prepared to discuss this alternative with County Executive Abele and Commissioner Means and will continue to keep you informed throughout the process.

Here is a video of the news conference posted by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA):