April 10, 2008
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
With recent reports of Milwaukee Public Schools graduation rates hovering below 50%, we can all agree that many district schools are not producing the educational results that are both needed and required. The problems of our district have been obvious for some time; however, the solutions are less clear.
After receiving its current evaluation under the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), MPS was designated a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) for the second year in a row. In working with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), MPS devised a strategic improvement plan dubbed “Working Together, Achieving More”.
The plan, approved last fall, requires MPS to increase summer school programs emphasizing reading and math instruction, provide additional training for principals of schools that have not met standards for progress, expand reading and math instruction in those schools, and begin a pilot program next year involving two schools adding at least 30 days to their academic year.
Understanding that there are many factors that impact a student's ability to succeed, we know that this is not going to be a quick fix. However, there must be a sense of urgency in quickly getting our children on a different path to achievement. In a city where two out of five children live in poverty, a district in which well over 80 percent of children qualify to receive free or reduced lunch, it is imperative that we see education as the tool to break the vicious cycle of unemployment and poverty that has a hold on many MPS families.
In addition, we know that the best predictors of a child’s academic success are tied to strong parental involvement. Students benefit most when parents, educators, and the community work as partners regarding educational goals and outcomes. MPS parents and the school board in particular should be kept actively abreast, involved, and measuring the success of the corrective action plan offered by the district.
If MPS is to fulfill their promise of having 70 percent of all district students proficient in math by 2012, the plan must be worked aggressively, with benchmarks, and reports brought back to the community and parents regularly. They must accelerate and expand the program’s early success to all schools with all due speed. Our community, potential employers, economic survival and growth of this state depend on that vigor. The lives and futures of our children require no less!