Public Policy Forum Blog

Measuring up education

A common complaint about education reform is the slow pace with which it takes place. I've often heard the analogy, "Improving a school system is like turning a battleship." In contrast, political changes can occur quite rapidily, as this state has witnessed over the past several months. And while the Forum's mission is to conduct timely and topical research, sometimes the policy world moves faster than we had anticipated. Such is the case with the report we release today.

The report, entitled "Measuring Up Education: Community-Driven Accountability in Milwaukee," was commissioned last summer by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF) in a quest to find community consensus on a dozen or so simple metrics that could be used to measure progress in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Since that time, the voters have elected a new governor, and the state legislature has enacted new laws dramatically changing the landscape for local governments and school districts. These changes affirm the need for consensus when it comes to holding the district accountable, yet they also make consensus more difficult to achieve. And, in this case, they perhaps make consensus on turning the ship around less of a priority than simply keeping it upright.

Nonetheless, we believe the report contains important information for those seeking a simple framework through which to view the district's momentum. We suggest several metrics that could find consensus in Milwaukee based on experiences in other urban districts, the priorities Milwaukee education reformers have voiced, and the district's internal and external goals (as reflected in the MPS strategic plan and state and federal regulations).

In the end, while reasonable people will disagree about the specific strategies needed to improve the quality of teaching and learning at MPS, it would be constructive for community leaders at least to agree on how we will measure whether those strategies are succeeding, and how to ensure accountability if they are not.

Anneliese Dickman