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Milwaukee Public Schools Struggle to Close Achievement Gap Between Students of Color

Wisconsin has the United States’ worst black-white achievement gap. According to the Nation’s Report Card, black students scored 47 points lower on exams than white students. There is a persistent disparity in the academic achievement between white and black students in the US, and between high-income students and low-income students. 

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have implemented programs over the years to combat the issue. The latest one is the Achievement Gap Reduction (AGR) program. The program was created in 2015 to improve low-income students’ academic performance and is on a five-year renewal cycle. It aims to decrease class sizes to provide closer instructional coaching and assist in the growth of student skills.

AGR schools must implement at least one of the three prescribed strategies in each grade:

• Small group discussion and reduction of class sizes to 18 with one teacher or no more than 30 students with two teachers

• Data-driven coaching by licensed teachers who have expert knowledge of math and reading instruction

• Data-informed one-to-one tutoring during regular school hours to struggling students by licensed teachers

Having smaller class sizes has allowed teachers to efficiently assess each of their students’ needs. This ensures that no student falls behind on class work and is something parents also like knowing when choosing their children’s schools.

In the recent Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative (WEC) 2020-21 report, the AGR had a significant impact on kindergarten reading growth. 

AGR schools showed higher reading and math scores, especially in Black and Hispanic students, than non-AGR schools. AGR schools demonstrated a 0.11 standard deviation increase in test scores of children in grade school compared to only a 0.05 standard deviation increase.

The lack of funding continues to be an issue for teachers and staff to efficiently prepare students to transition to the next year. The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program was in place up until the end of the 2017-18 school year when AGR replaced it. 

There was a lack of funding from the state in SAGE programs to allow smaller classes and more staff. This year, the 64 schools have renewed the AGR contracts for another cycle which will be in effect until 2025-2026. 

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Tags: students schools Milwaukee learning achievement gap MPS POC


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