The limits of parent-driven reform
The Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district, like many of its big-city counterparts in other states, continues to suffer from poor student performance. Test results released in May of 2007 serve to illustrate.
Figure 1 presents reading, math, and science proficiency levels for MPS students and students in the rest of the state, respectively, at the fourth, eighth, and tenth-grade levels. At the fourth grade level, only about half of MPS students achieved a level of “proficient” or “advanced” on the mathematics and science portions of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Examination (WKCE) or the Wisconsin Alternate Assessments (WAA). Their counterparts in the rest of the state had combined proficient and advanced levels of about 80 percent. MPS fourth graders performed somewhat better at reading, achieving proficient/advanced levels in the low 60s. Students in other parts of the state also did better, however, scoring in the low 80s.
Over time, these differences become more pronounced. Figure 1 indicates that between fourth grade and eighth grade, the combined proficient/advanced levels for students outside of Milwaukee more or less hold steady. MPS student performance, though, drops considerably. This trend continues through the tenth grade. By that point, just 40 percent of MPS students are at the proficient or advanced level in reading; 30 percent in mathematics; and 27 percent in science.
Given the poor performance of MPS tenth graders, one would not be surprised to find that many of them do not make it to graduation. The most recent data available confirm these suspicions. Only 68 percent of MPS high school students avoided dropping out and successfully earned their diploma. The comparable figure for the rest of the state was 91 percent.