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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

MPS Superintendent Introduces Aggressive Reform Agenda

Rachel Morello
MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver

The superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools is putting forward some big ideas for change in her district. This week, Darienne Driver presented the MPS boardwith a slate of reforms designed to boost achievement.

Some of the most attention-grabbing ideas focus on improving student performance. They include a proposal to create a “network” of support and training for staff at for the lowest-performing schools. Dr. Driver also wants to develop an “Office of Black and Latino Male Achievement” that would work to close the achievement gap between those students and their peers.

And she wants to make organizational changes.

The most notable would be petitioning the state to make MPS the only entity in town that could charter schools. Right now, the district oversees about half of Milwaukee’s charter schools. The other chartering authorities are UWM and the City of Milwaukee.

Dr. Driver would also like to put all MPS schools on the same academic calendar, and mandate uniforms across the district.

The push for change and a kick-start to improvement is welcome. In general, immediate reaction is that people need more information before they can pass judgment.

“I and many other people are really, truly looking forward to hearing more of what the meat behind the titled components of this proposal are,” says Danae Davis, executive director of local organization Milwaukee Succeeds. “I hope that none of us throws darts until we know what it is that we’re talking about.”

A conversation has definitely begun about the scope of some of these ideas.

Dr. Driver has said she wants to see her turnaround plans implemented at all of Milwaukee’s lowest-performing schools – not just those in MPS, but at independent charter and voucher schools, too.

This idea of letting MPS create a template for struggling public, charter and private schoolsis bound to stir the pot.

“MPS at its core has a conflict,” says Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. “They are so desperate to keep market share, that they can’t afford to lose many more students, or their financial model implodes.”

“They want to become the only charter authorizer. They want to do that so they can capture cash flow, and count those students in their head count and generate revenue off those students,” Bender continues. “I don’t know that it’s any other purpose for improving education. I think it’s got a lot more to do with the bottom line.”

But even Bender reiterated that we haven’t seen many details for these MPS proposals yet. He says he’s eager to learn more.

The district hasn’t released many details just yet. Some of the proposals might require changes in the law. For example, state Superintendent Tony Evers confirmed last monththat would be the case if MPS wants to tweak its academic calendar.

WUWM has requested to see formal documentation of these proposals, but MPS has not yet provided that information. Reports say the district plans to release more details and a survey to staff and parents shortly.

"Superintendent Driver and the Milwaukee Board of School Directors are excited about the opportunities presented by the administration," district leaders said in a statement. "We look forward to working together in the months to come and implementing programs that will continue our push to further improve outcomes and opportunities for our students."

Dr. Driver introduced these plans on the heels of an announcement that the district is already improving.

Even though school report cards won’t be released until later this month, thestate Department of Public Instruction confirmed that MPS will not be considered “failing” this year. It seems this has given Dr. Driver and her team the momentum to pursue a more aggressive reform agenda.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Driver wanted to introduce all of her ideas now, so that the board could talk through them one or two at a time, as the district moves into its budgeting season. That process commences later this year.

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