According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Milwaukee Public School is no longer required to take part in OSPP, the state's Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.
This comes after months of drama surrounding that initiative, and the resignation of the person who was supposed to head it in Milwaukee.
The state legislature created OSPP in 2015, as a way to turn around struggling school districts across the state. Any district that falls in the lowest category on a state report card, for two consecutive years, is required to participate.
When the law passed, Milwaukee qualified. That meant the County Executive had to appoint a commissioner to oversee the school or schools struggling the most.
There had been a lot of disagreement about how the program would work. Most notably, MPS advocates were concerned about the possibility of a private operator coming in to “take over” public schools.
The letter DPI released Wednesday indicates that MPS no longer qualifies because it has not been in the bottom category on the state school report card for two consecutive years.
DPI will not release details of the report cards until November, but its letter to MPS stated: "Based on the preliminary data and in light of the October 15 deadline, please consider this formal notification there are no districts eligible for the OSPP in 2016- 17. It is unlikely the data inquiry process will alter this result."
The law mandating OSPP has undergone adjustments in how it calculates school and district report cards, and those changes may have affected scores.
What has changed is some of the criteria the state uses to judge the schools. It now considers the number of kids living in poverty, student disabilities and the number for whom English is their second language. When those factors are included in the formula, the scores for MPS have improved.
And the district has made a few advancements.
Representative Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) co-authored OSPP, and he says there is reason to celebrate.
Kooyenga acknowledges MPS has made changes to put the district on a better path – and he credits in large part, the pressure that OSPP applied.
“There’s been an openness to try different ideas from the MPS board,” Kooyenga explains, citing the opening of a number of charter schools, including in the Carmen schools system and at Pulaski High School. “It’s been tough, it’s been a fight, but…that was in part because of pressure from OSPP that said, ‘hey, we need to try something different. If we don’t try something different, there are going to be changes around here.’”
Kooyenga is also effusive in his praise of MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver. He says in the short time she’s been here, she’s managed to create a lot of good will among people across the ideological spectrum.
Driver, along with other MPS leaders, says she’s thrilled that the threat of state intervention has lifted.
The superintendent said Wednesday that she’s seeing the kinds of improvements that lead to better state scores. In particular, she mentioned efforts to increase attendance, as well as positive gains in literacy across grade levels.
And, she says the change was in the works long before the “threat” of OSPP involvement.
“I really want to give credit to our educators and to our community members who have been focused on improving student achievement since 1846 when this district was founded,” Driver told reporters Wednesday.
“I know we’ve had a number of different timelines and deadlines that have determined if we didn’t meet certain benchmarks, certain things were going to happen," she added. "But people have been working hard for years, and I don’t want to take that from anyone who’s been a part of that change.”
Driver added that the district continues to look for ways to improve. She cited efforts to focus on wellness for staff and students, and looking for ways to improve the school calendar as well as early childhood programming.
This latest development does not mean an end for OSPP. The law is still on the books.
DPI made it clear in its letter that there are no districts eligible for OSPP this year. But a district has to be labeled “failing” two years in a row to qualify, and report cards come out annually. So this conversation could return in the coming years, should MPS shift in its performance category.
The state legislature is also about to enter another session come January. In his interview with WUWM, Rep. Kooyenga hinted that lawmakers might try to introduce reforms to speed the rate of progress.