Our funding in Milwaukee has ended, but our partnership continues

By Harriet Sanford

Earlier this month, we celebrated the conclusion of the Foundation’s Closing the Achievement Gaps grant funding in Milwaukee. It was an opportunity to look back at the progress these educators have made, to learn from the challenges they faced, and to offer our ongoing support for the continuation of this challenging work.

We funded the proposal from the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and Milwaukee Public Schools back in 2005 because their plan focused on intensive professional development for teachers in 20 low-performing schools.  Their plan mirrored the Foundation’s core belief that teachers are critically important to increasing rates of achievement for all students and that teachers must be the agents of change, not just the objects of it.  The team in Milwaukee understood that teachers needed more time to think together, to learn from each other, and to collaborate.

An important goal was the development of teacher leaders, and a core strategy was to provide additional support to learning teams, outside of regular contract time, to develop plans for school improvement. With the Foundation’s support, Milwaukee developed a workable and replicable structure for innovative ideas to be shared and spread throughout a grade level, a school building and, ultimately, the district.

In one high school, a learning team helped research, promote, and negotiate a new block scheduling arrangement that allowed for time for professional development and collaborative planning.  Principals of the participating schools met as a group with a district coach to discuss school improvement, data analysis, and how to work with learning teams.
This is what collaborative school reform looks like. These are true agents of change.

So, the most important question… After six years, how did the work impact student learning?

Based on the most recent report to the Foundation, 10 schools saw overall reading proficiency rates increase and 13 schools saw an overall increase in math proficiency.

More specifically, Kagel Elementary reported an increase in reading scores of 8.7 percentage points from Fall 2006 to Fall 2010 (moving from 46.8% proficient to 55.5%, during that period).  In math, the increase was even greater, an astounding increase of 23.1 percentage points from Fall 2006 to Fall 2010. And at Keefe Avenue Elementary School, educators reported math scores increased by 12.1 percentage points from Fall 2006 to Fall 2010.

These are solid accomplishments for which the educators in Milwaukee should be very proud.

We would like to thank the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Milwaukee Public Schools, and community partners for their six years of hard work.  We will continue our collaboration and share what we’ve learned from Milwaukee with other brave educators who are undertaking this reform in school districts nationwide.

Left to Right:  NEA Executive Director, John Wilson;  Milwaukee Project Lead, Christine Anderson; Harriet Sanford

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