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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


by folkbum

You can read the all-a-buzz-buzz story here, but I have only to reiterate what I have written here before: Splitting the Milwaukee Public Schools into (let's say 8) separate school districts means you would go from having the one worst district in the state to having the six worst with two more in the bottom 20. Plus, an exponential increase in administrative costs.

What drags MPS down is not (just) institutional inertia, but rather having by far the most difficult population of students in the state to teach. Consider that the Milwaukee Parental Choice (voucher) Program, which would be the sixth-largest district in Wisconsin at 21,000 students (a quarter MPS's size), performs around or just barely above the level of the public schools when student samples are matched for demographics, according to the last few years' worth of data from the state's study program.

Granted, the voucher program is not, in fact, a district and lacks the kind of singular institutional focus that a district like MPS can--and, under newish superintendent Thorton, I would argue does--have. Yet those schools' performance suggests that better solutions lie in changing the facts of Milwaukee as a community (one of the nation's most segregated metro areas by race and class, significant unemployment and child poverty--the litany is long) than in rearranging the schools.

My standard disclaimer applies: This is not to say that MPS can't and shouldn't be doing better or different things. Indeed, I have written recently on the need to change MPS's teacher evaluation policy and will be writing soon on "hotspotting"--something Milwaukee desperately needs to try. Which is to say that the other two-thirds of WEAC's proposal today--limited merit pay and a revamp of teacher evaluations across the state--are fine by me, such as they are.

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