Tagged ‘Milwaukee Public Schools‘

We Can Do Better: Community Plan to End Youth Violence

Public hearings are great but they’re just the beginning of solving a problem.  Last week’s ‘speak out’ on youth violence (2/28/12 at MPS Central Office) gave people voice.  That’s terrific but the benefit of that exercise lasts about 30 seconds.  In contrast, a professionally facilitated discussion would have led to a community plan.

Let’s look at this in plainer terms.  School administrators and board members left last week’s meeting with a massive list of complaints and ideas, all of which combined to land them squarely in hedgerow country.  This means that they’re going to be wandering around in the maze while the violence continues and more people get hurt.  They’re going to be in hedgerow country because a list doesn’t lead to a plan.

Discussion leads to a plan. A group that large convened to talk about an issue that important could have generated the foundation of a communitywide plan if the discussion had been professionally facilitated.  A facilitated discussion would welcome and honor everyone’s point of view and then help the group organize their ideas into a plan of action.

A key element of a facilitated discussion is that people talk to each other.  They don’t just testify, they discuss, connect, find common ground, build common cause, and become empowered.  After a facilitated discussion, participants leave feeling connected to a solution that they helped craft.  This is a lot different than spending 2 minutes speaking truth to power as we like to say and then going home to watch SVU reruns. 

This community is ready to be genuinely engaged in a citywide discussion about youth violence.  Think Frontier Airlines Center — that’s how big the discussion should be.  Think a dozen trained faciliators supporting discussions on key elements of youth violence.  Think multiple big screens with PowerPoints created by the discussion groups on the spot.  Think about critiqueing and debating and revising and producing. 

This community — this strange, diverse, struggling, wonderful community – doesn’t need another damn list about youth violence.  WE NEED A COMMUNITY PLAN.


The International Association for Public Participation has members who facilitate broad community discussions all over the world.  Read more here.

See the JSOnline article “Community brainstorms helping at-risk youth” at

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Evaluation: Truth or Dare?

“The trouble with facts is that there are so many of them.” (Anon.)

It isn’t really true that numbers don’t lie.  Nor is the opposite true.  Everytime you’re given a report full of numbers, it’s not necessarily intended to bamboozle you. But sometimes it is.

Recently, I used the local decision to grant status as a charter school to Rocketship Education, a California-based enterprised that has reported amazing academic results, as a teaching tool in my evaluation workshop.  Rocketship wanted to establish itself in Milwaukee by providing educational programming in several low-achieving MPS schools.

I distributed an opinion piece to workshop participants written by Milwaukee School Board member Larry Miller that urged the Milwaukee Common Council to delay a quick vote on the charter and look more closely at Rocketship’s evaluation data.

In the very first activity of the evaluation workshop, participants zoomed in on a number of issues, most notably, the schools’ high attrition rate and the low number of students with special educational needs.  They were convinced – there was no way the Milwaukee Common Council would approve a charter for Rocketship to operate in Milwaukee without more information.

Oh really.  The Council approved the charter with only one dissenting vote, an alderperson who suggested that more analysis needed to be done because of the critique of Rocketship’s evaluation put together by Mr. Miller.

A classic case of “My mind’s made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts?” I don’t know.  It was, however, a perfect lesson in program evaluation – how policymakers’ desire to do something meaningful fast can sometimes mean giving the shortest shrift ever to the facts.  Rocketship’s got a cure for MPS?  Great, let’s not waste anytime dickering about the numbers.

We have the capacity in Milwaukee to do a lot more sophisticated scrutiny of proposals like this – a couple of major universities, a lot of public interest research organizations.  We have the ability to compare and contrast, study and analyze, and choose based on good evaluation. 

I think that before we grab hold of the life preserver tossed to us from the new boat, it’d be nice to check out whether it actually floats.

Print pagePDF pageEmail page