Tuesday, June 2, 2009

National programs aim to help MPS, require monitoring

While we wish Milwaukee’s public schools were gaining attention for being top-ranked, or even just “most-improved”, at least the district’s notable challenges have placed it firmly on the radar screen of a number of national programs aiming to help ailing urban school systems.

Most recently, the Journal Sentinel reported that Milwaukee is the top prospect for expansion of the City Year program, which could bring 55 mentors to MPS’s poorest areas. Milwaukee is also the newest site of Teach for America – a group motivating successful college graduates to devote time to urban teaching – which plans to place 30 teachers. Rounding out the group are programs training school principals, most notably an organization in its second year in Milwaukee, New Leaders for New Schools.

One thing Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools have in common is providing entry into the educational field for non-traditional candidates – those who either lack education degrees or the usual experience to rise through the ranks to attain leadership positions.

As with any program, an intervention is only as good as its outcomes. Recent research on the Leadership Academy principal training program in New York City, different but similar to New Leaders for New Schools, offers a cautionary perspective. An analysis by The New York Times of the city’s report-card system of grading principal performance shows that schools run by Leadership Academy graduates have not done as well as those led by experienced principals or new principals who came through traditional routes. Leadership Academy graduates were less than half as likely to get A’s as other principals, and almost twice as likely to earn C’s or worse. The Times article clarified that, while Academy graduates tended to be placed in low-achieving schools, the grading system has built-in controls to accommodate for that, emphasizing progress and comparing schools with similar demographics.

The New Leaders for New Schools website details some impressive results, so one hopes their outcomes will surpass the similar principal training program in New York City. Milwaukee deserves the attention of national programs like City Year, Teach for America, and New Leaders for New Schools. Still, the Times' analysis underscores the importance of contiuously monitoring the outcomes of such programming.

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