It won’t be long before the needle on Milwaukee education outcomes starts moving for the better in ways that can be measured.
The three co-chairs of Milwaukee Succeeds, the broad-based effort to improve the educational outcomes of Milwaukee children, gave that encouraging assessment Thursday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session before a full house of more than 200 people in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.
“I think we’re going to see success much sooner than we thought because we’re going to start to implement things,” said Jackie Herd-Barber, a retired engineer who is involved in a wide array of civic efforts.
Mike Lovell, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said that Milwaukee Succeeds has brought together large numbers of people from many of the important sectors and organizations in the area and they have been preparing fresh efforts around important goals. “A year from now, when we measure, the needle is going to be moved just because there are so many people involved,” Lovell said.
And John Schlifske, CEO of Northwestern Mutual, said, “I think you’re going to start seeing some meaningful outcomes, that we’re going to start implementing things that will start moving the needle.”
Now in its third year, the Milwaukee Succeeds effort has focused on laying the groundwork and has not done much so far that is visible to the general public. The three co-chairs said it was necessary to build their efforts carefully because of the size and depth of the issues they are tackling. The effort has brought together leaders from education institutions, community groups, the business sector, and non-profit and philanthropic groups.
Several focal points for the work have been laid out, such as getting more children ready to do well before they enter kindergarten and getting more kids reading on grade level by third grade. Specific goals include such undertakings as coordinating tutoring and mentoring programs so that they provide help that is better tailored to specific kids and schools, thus having more impact. The leaders have tried hard not to get caught up in the rifts on Milwaukee’s education scene, such as differences over the city’s large private school voucher program.
Milwaukee Succeeds is modeled in large part after an effort in Cincinnati known as StriveTogether. The work here has been housed at and largely spurred by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
The three co-chairs used several key phrases often in Thursday’s discussion: Everyone is at the table. This is a marathon and not a sprint. The effort will be strongly data-driven.
In answering the question from Gousha about when results would be visible, Schlifske said, “The three of us are all action-oriented people. . . . I’m getting impatient, to be honest with you.” He said he was not impatient with the work that was being done because it was so complex, but with the need to do something to improve educational results as a whole in Milwaukee. “Every school year that goes by is a lost opportunity,” he said.
Alluding to efforts that have not succeeded in the past and the dismal state of some education statistics for Milwaukee, Herd-Barber said, “We’re only going to get one more shot at this, and this is it.”
Schlifske said he was shocked when he found out that 84% of Milwaukee third graders were not reading at proficient levels in recent state tests. “Our work is really cut out for us,” he said.
Lovell said the low ACT scores of students entering UWM is “the biggest challenge we are facing.” The average score for Milwaukee Public School students who took the test in the 2012-13 school year was 15.9, well below college-ready levels. Lovell said 51.5% of UWM freshmen in the fall of 2012 had to take remedial classes in reading, math, or both. (He said later he did not have figures specifically for students from Milwaukee.)
Asked by Gousha what people can do to help with the educational needs of the city, all three urged people to get involved – to volunteer, to donate, to become active in education efforts, and to be generally supportive of work aimed at getting more kids on a successful track that leads, as the full, formal title of Milwaukee Succeeds put it, from cradle to career.
The conversation with the three may be viewed by clicking here.
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Having worked with Milwaukee Succeeds nearly from its inception, I can affirm that the information and beliefs shared by Mike Lovell, Jackie Herd-Barber, and John Schlifske yesterday qualifies as right on the money. Even so, a one-hour or so session simply cannot adequately convey the extraordinary infrastructure that has been built to date primarily through the various strategy networks. Progress on the four main goals (which are essentially rooted in early childhoood, K-12, post-secondary, and support systems across these developmental stages) has been genuinely significant. Like the panelists, I’m also hopeful that as measurement becomes a reality we will see the achievement needle move. There are so many excellent community organizations and dedicated and talented professionals and caring citizens working on the goals that it seems nearly inevitable to me. At the same time, though, I want to urge patience as the work proceeds, because the achievement gap has proven to be an intractable problem in literally every urban context in our nation. But as the panel members rightly suggested, it is NOT impossible to solve. And in my estimation, Milwaukee Succeeds gives us best hope for doing so.