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School Reform in Milwaukee: Using Data and Analysis to Support and Guide Urban District Reform

Project Dates: 
July 2008-August 2010
Project Researchers: 
Ken Montgomery
Carol Campbell
Linda Darling-Hammond
Project Funders: 
Joyce Foundation

Milwaukee Public Schools is a district known for having had one of the most aggressive school choice plans in the nation for nearly 20 years, offering private school vouchers, charter options, and within-district public school choice. Over the past 5 years, Milwaukee has attempted to build common instructional practice across this diverse portfolio of schools.

This project developed a multi-method case study based on survey data regarding instructional practice and professional development and qualitative data—including document review; interviews in schools and at the district office; and observations of professional development sessions, school and district meetings, and classrooms. Researchers examined the recent history of reform in the district, the district rationale and strategy for influencing instruction at its school sites, and the district’s professional development and accountability strategies to evaluate how they influenced instructional coherence and quality.

The experience of MPS illustrates the challenges that arise when choice-oriented reforms intersect with capacity-building approaches. This report addresses questions raised by MPS district leaders regarding the success of their reform efforts aimed at improving instruction throughout the district.