It's widely acknowledged that Milwaukee boasts one of the widest achievement gaps in the country among public school students.
The next logical question for education-focused groups across the city: how do we move the needle?
One group trying to spur change is Milwaukee Succeeds, a local "collective impact" organization that brings schools and community groups together, to collaborate to improve educational outcomes. Partners include Northwestern Mutual, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and the United Way, along with different philanthropic partners and thought leaders in all spectrums of education -- like Milwaukee Public Schools, Seton Catholic schools and Marquette University.
"There's a huge gap between Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, which therefore makes us challenged in terms of nationally," says Milwaukee Succeeds' executive director, Danae Davis. "But the good news is, because you know where you need to go, it allows you to get there, hopefully, much more strategically."
In order to set goals, coordinate practices and direct resources for those partners, Milwaukee Succeeds relies on data from its annual “progress report,” a summary of where education stands for the city’s kids.
- Kindergarten readiness (immunization rates, Youngstar childcare center ratings)
- 3rd grade reading achievement
- 8th grade math achievement
- High school graduation
- Postsecondary enrollment
- Postsecondary completion
- Social/emotional learning competency
The latest set of data from the 2014-15 school year shows improvement in immunization rates (63 percent, up from 61) and the percentage of students regarded "proficient" or "advance" on state tests for third grade reading -- 26 percent in '14-15, up from 16 percent the year prior.
This is the first year Milwaukee Succeeds included the social/emotional learning indicator in its reporting.
"We had a lot of perspective brought to the table by a variety of community organizations that said, 'you can do all these strategies around academics, but if you don't address the issues our children are facing in the city of Milwaukee -- trauma, violence, homelessness, eviction, health issues -- we're probably not going to be successful as a community in really helping our children be successful in life,'" Davis explains.
This is an example of additional feedback Milwaukee Succeeds plugs into its annual reporting, along with local and national data points. The group engages local educators -- people practicing in today's schools -- to assess progress every year, and talk about strategies for improvement.
Davis says one of the strategies that seems to be working to close the gaps in school success, is differentiation -- tutoring kids one-on-one and addressing their individual learning needs. Schools doing this really well: Davis names Milwaukee College Prep and MPS' Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
In this year's report, Davis wrote: "we must do more to put a stake in the ground, roll up our sleeves, and implement targeted efforts which don't leave any of our children or youth behind."
And, she adds, she feels progress is being made in that direction.
"Unlike the contentiousness of education in Milwaukee in the past, the fact that we are rowing in the same direction for kids -- whether you're public schools or independent charters, or choice schools -- is a really big deal for Milwaukee. So that will pay off," Davis explains.
"While there are discreet goals, what we learn in the ones we advance first, accelerate how fast we get to the other ones."