NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Education Reform: Milwaukee's School System

June 6, 2013

In recent years, Milwaukee has earned a reputation for being a pioneer when it comes to educational choice. Since the launch of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990, the city has been at the forefront of efforts to expand options for families and radically rethink conventional school delivery. However, test scores and graduation rates have not moved as reformers had once hoped. If Milwaukee does not act to reclaim the mantle of reform, it will find itself outpaced by districts better able to recruit talent, attract top-shelf providers, garner foundation support and push school improvement forward, say Frederick M. Hess and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Indeed, in a 2010 study, Milwaukee came in 19th out of 25 cities ranked when examining the nation's best and worst cities for school reform.
  • There are developments in Milwaukee schooling that suggest the city has an opportunity to build a dynamic, quality-focused ecosystem that provides for both an array of high-quality choices and a commitment to system improvement within Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).
  • Milwaukee's three active charter school authorizers have all demonstrated a willingness to hold low-performing schools accountable, and schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) have increasingly embraced accountability measures.
  • MPS has shown a newfound willingness to address longstanding fiscal challenges, and arrays of community organizations have demonstrated their commitment to improving the academic quality of Milwaukee's schools.

Milwaukee needs to create an environment that invites new solutions and provides the infrastructure necessary for them to succeed. In the past, the Milwaukee education ecosystem has too often grafted innovative approaches onto antiquated systems. Rather than rethinking and redesigning human resources, budgeting, data or quality control systems to meet the opportunities of a new era, it has too often left outdated systems intact. The role for state and local policymakers (including the MPS board) is, first and foremost, to strip away outmoded policies, regulations and routines that now serve to hinder educators when trying to design schools and practices that can best serve kids.

There are eight pillars of necessary reform to the Milwaukee school system:

  • New schools and innovative delivery.
  • Rigorous quality control measures.
  • Opportunities for creating a recovery school district.
  • A comprehensive approach to talent management.
  • Human capital strategy.
  • Efficient management of financial capital.
  • Robust research and development effort.
  • Effective governance and central management.

Source: Frederick M. Hess and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, "Roadmap for Education Reform," American Enterprise Institute, May 30, 2013.


Browse more articles on Education Issues