Center for the Study of Systemic Reform in Milwaukee Public Schools

Directors:  Bill Clune and Norman Webb
Funding: The Joyce Foundation, National Science Foundation's Urban Systemic Initiatives program

This project is collaborating with the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to study systemic school reform with the aim of improving student achievement. The Center for the Study of Systemic Reform in Milwaukee Public Schools (SSRMPS) has three principal purposes:

  1. to generate useful knowledge and recommendations for educational policy in the district
  2. to allow impartial observers, funding agencies and system managers to understand the system and its performance at a deeper level; and
  3. to impart analytical capacity to the district so that the research center can be phased out, or assume a reduced role, after a period of years

Studies come out that show that the district is or is not improving, scores are or are not going up. The project's aim is to help set up a system that can provide information that is acceptable to everyone and that people can use to diagnose the problem.

Approximately 100,000 students are enrolled in more than 150 Milwaukee public schools. The student population consists of 50 percent African-American, 24 percent Caucasian, 11 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Asian, one percent Native American, and one percent other. About 65 percent of MPS students receive free lunch. The district employs over 9,000 people, of whom about 6,000 are teachers.

Many challenges face this large urban school district. This research project aims to produce solid research-based knowledge about providing high-standards instruction and creating gains in student achievement. MPS will develop the capacity to collect, analyze, and retrieve information that will continue long after outside funding has ended. Finally, WCER researchers will gain a greater understanding of systemic reform in large urban school districts and greater understanding of how systemic reform can be effectively evaluated.

SSRMPS will conduct a series of research studies on the quality and direction of systemic reform in MPS for two years. The project's guiding vision is that systemic policy is the most promising method of sustaining major gains in student achievement on a continuous basis over the long run. The project will focus on the four major content areas MPS students will be held accountable for by the year 2004--mathematics, science, communications, and community membership. WCER research will be conducted in six areas:

  1. A study of major policies, reform strategies, management procedures, evaluation designs, and accountability structures.
  2. A study of the alignment and effectiveness of the instructional system and student attainment, and a study of the quality of assessment and needs of special education students.
  3. The design, creation, and management of databases and information systems for monitoring systemic reform and judging its continuous improvement.
  4. A study of the effectiveness and improvement of the district's connections with other constituents, including postsecondary education providers, employers, the public, the school board, parents, and the media.
  5. A study of the needs for teacher training in the district, how these needs are being met, and what other effective models for meeting the demands of systemic reform might be considered.
  6. A study of how well schools and classrooms offer students high-quality, standards-based instruction and how they function in accordance with the growing literature on effective schools.