How Milwaukee College Prep Helps Students Succeed

By: Libby Sobic

For the last twenty-four years, four public schools have been educating every K4-8th grade student who has walked through their doors, serving a total of nearly 2,000 students a year. These schools have been ranked as some of the highest-performing schools in the City of Milwaukee and they are driven by the strong belief that all students can and will succeed. Teachers and staff are doing this important work for students in Milwaukee—which has been identified as having the largest racial achievement gap in the country for Black students compared to their White peers.

However, despite their positive impact, these schools have been under attack from the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district and the public school establishment. The sole reason for these attacks? These schools, Milwaukee College Prep, are public charter schools.

Over the last few weeks, Milwaukee College Prep (MCP) has received a lot of attention as they are forced to leave MPS as their charter authorizer because of the school board’s attacks on charter schools and unwillingness to provide MCP with the support that their students deserve.

But despite these attacks, MCP will continue to do their important work under their new authorizer—University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

The ways in which MCP instills values in their students are what set them apart. The moment students—or scholars as they are referred to at MCP—walk through the school’s doors, they are given a roadmap for success. These students are to be college bound and character strong and this is the foundation that their education is built around. MCP establishes this with a few key components:

  1. Family partnerships. MCP starts each school year focusing on building bridges between the family, student and teacher. This begins with a dialogue between the family and teacher about the mutual academic goals that will be set for each student. These conversations are centered around the concept of what is best for the child and how MCP can set that child up for success.

These goals are then written down and signed by the parent, teacher and student. This process provides critical engagement for the family and teacher. Most importantly, it gives the student authority over their education—sending a clear message that they are an agent in their own education and that their school is equally invested in their success. This agreement is symbolic of MCP’s entire goal that families are engaged and students are given the tools to succeed.

  1. Focus on accelerating students. Without a doubt, MCP is a college-prep school that is focused on providing clear academic goals for their students while at MCP, but also through college and beyond. Over the last twenty-four years, MCP has shown that they are effective educators. Over the last ten years, 95% of MCP scholars graduate from high school on time and 33% are on track to graduate from college.

But how does MCP ensure that every child can be successful? This begins with an expectation that every child can succeed and if there is an issue, it is the responsibility of the adult to find alternative solutions. Students don’t fail, adults do is a mantra that MCP has held since its inception. This is powerful concept that breaks through the noise about student achievement and the racial achievement gap. With the expectation that every child can succeed, it puts the burden on the adults to find a way to help each child reach their potential.

In practice, Robert Rauh and his staff focus on providing support mechanisms for students which include partnerships to provide additional academic help to students. For example, MCP partners with Milwaukee Succeeds and their Reading Corp program to provide student interventions to help with reading proficiency. MCP also ensures that every campus has a Response-to-Intervention coordinator to help students with specific educational challenges, including special education. Additionally, every classroom from 4K to 4th grade has two educators for the 25 scholars because each classroom has a teacher and an educational assistant.

  1. Mission-based hiring. MCP is focused on hiring phenomenal teachers to execute their mission in the classroom. One focus at MCP is growing their staff through a pipeline of developing educational assistants. MCP works with parents who are interested in this role, supporting them through college and the certification process to get them into the classroom.

This process is through a partnership with Concordia University and has helped grow both teachers and principals. In fact, two out of four of the current principals at MCP campuses started as educational assistants.

These principles are helping scholars achieve academic success every day. MCP not only deserves support from the Milwaukee community, but public charters schools like MCP also deserve more support from the state legislature.

The state should be investing in schools like MCP to help every student access a high-quality education. With the majority of independent public charter schools located in the City of Milwaukee, the state must address some of the barriers that make it more difficult for schools to be expanded statewide. For example, incentivizing and support authorizers to open schools around the state, access to facilities, and addressing the funding disparity that exists between the traditional public districts, public charter and private schools participating in the parental choice programs.

There is more work to be done to support MCP and other public charter schools. Policymakers and community members should embrace by MCP’s philosophy of focusing on the success of the students and placing the burden on the adults to find a way to make this happen for every child.

Sobic is the director of education policy at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. 

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