MPS to reduce charters

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  • Milwaukee Public Schools wants to close two or three charter high schools in its North Division.
  • Closings are due to low test scores and inadequate facilities.

Milwaukee Public Schools' North Division branch of charter high schools may be reduced in the near future. A March 26 board meeting will determine how many schools will close due to inadequate facilities and low student test scores.

Charter high schools within MPS have more flexibility than regular schools. Charter schools can determine their own enrollment procedures, transportation limits, wait lists and other regulations separate from other restrictions.

Last Tuesday, a school board committee meeting was scheduled to discuss the matter. It ran late into the night and did not conclude until early Wednesday morning.

According to a press release issued by MPS, the North Division schools scored lower test averages than others within the rest of MPS and do not adequately meet the needs of the 960 students within the division.

According to the release, four schools in the North Division Complex on 1011 W. Center St. — Genesis, Truth, Metropolitan and the Milwaukee African American Immersion High School — are in jeopardy of closing prior to the 2009-'10 school year due to these test scores.

MPS administration

recommended Truth and Genesis be closed at the end of the 2008-'09 school year, with MAAI continuing as a traditional high school for one year to determine the best future model for the revised complex.

A resolution from School Board Directors Michael Bonds, Charlene Hardin and Jeff Spence said one all-inclusive and better-funded high school could adequately replace the current complex.

MPS took the resolution to close Metropolitan at the end of this school year with Genesis and MAAI continuing for one more year with their charters removed. The status of Truth is still unknown, and the March 26 meeting will determine the official course of action.

Eugene Jones, assistant board clerk for the MPS School Board, explained what MPS hopes to accomplish with these proposals.

"Genesis would operate as a separate, intact small program within the comprehensive program for 2009-'10 school year," Jones said. "Another part the committee adopted was to terminate the charter for Genesis and MAAI and to convert their two traditional programs."

"The board adopts the administration's recommendation to increase the enrollment to 750 from 462 (at MAAI) and to guarantee accommodations for students currently in North Division complex," Jones said.

Philip Harris, a spokesman from the MPS Office of Communications and Public Affairs, said any changes would be made in hopes to restore a sense of history to the North Division. He said the first North Division High School was opened in 1907 and a new facility was opened in 1978.

"It would try to engage the North Division Alumni Association community with proposals for the design and focus of the African-American high school," Harris said. "It also said to change the name of the facility back to North Division High School."

Harris said last Monday's meeting merely outlined new proposals, and nothing is set in stone until the next board meeting.

Martin Scanlan, an assistant professor in the College of Education, said the decision to close an underperforming school is sometimes warranted if it exceeds other possible reform options.

"A lot can be done to improve a school so student learning outcomes improve," Scanlan said. "Test scores are one measure of these outcomes, but other important outcomes at the secondary level include attendance rates, retention rates, graduation rates and success of graduates."

Scanlan said schools can change their strategies for teaching students to help them improve and reduce closings.

"When schools strive to cultivate professional learning communities they adapt their strategies to help students improve," Scanlan said. "They do not blame students or their families for the low test scores, but rather, they change their approaches to more effectively educate the students."

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