Saturday 20 December 1997      GENERAL PRESS RELEASE

   From: Leon Todd <>

     To: Alan Brown, MPS Superintendent

Subject: Algebra Standard & Dropouts Statistics

     CC: County Board        Common Council     College Board

         Milwaukee Legislative Delegation

The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is the only public school

system in the U.S. that has implemented a policy that requires

all 9th graders to take algebra in order to pass to the 10th

grade.  This reform initiative has caused the dropout statistic

to be grossly overstated and has resulted in a fabricated

controversy over the performance of the district.

The negative image of the district is being ineptly managed by

your administration, and skillfully exploited and manipulated by

the local media.  Your administration is out of control and

causing great harm to the board and the district.

In November 1996, MPS received an award and additional funding

from the College Board for continuing and expanding the program,

Equity 2000.

MPS received an award for substituting algebra, which many

failing students in all probability  may never use, for consumer

or economic math which employers minimally need students to

master for most twenty first century employment.

Not only will many of these ill prepared students who can't read

above the third grade reading level never learn algebra but they

are denied the opportunity to learn consumer math which will

benefit them greatly.

This school reform, initiated by former MPS Supt. Howard Fuller,

has had disastrous results for many of the districts one hundred

thousand students. In 1993-94 54% of MPS 9th graders passed

Algebra, 1994-95 56%, and 1995-96 54% and only 19% of North

Division 9th graders passed Algebra.

Students that did not pass the exam were held back at the ninth

grade which is not only demoralizing to students without adequate

summer school opportunities in basic reading comprehension but

caused a spurious dropout statistic to be generated for the


This failed reform initiative has had catastrophic results for

MPS, cannot be considered a success for which we should receive a

reward, and has caused great harm to thousands of students for no

good reason.

There is a bulge, not explained by new students to the system, in

9th grade enrollments each year at MPS because thousands of 9th

graders do not earn enough credits to become 10th graders.

Ninth grade enrollment at MPS high schools increased by 1,256

from 93-94, when Algebra became a requirement, to 95-96.

Since your administration makes no attempt to disaggregate new

freshmen from continuing freshman in calculating the drop out

statistic and makes no assessment of which students leave MPS for

other districts where they can earn a diploma without the

necessity of passing the ninth grade algebra test, the

unnecessary and meaningless controversy over the district's

performance will continue unabated into the future.

I believe the formula for calculating the current dropout

statistic was a convention of Susan and George Mitchell.

Perhaps they would do well to  take a MPS algebra course so they

could get the formula right the first time.

These pseudo researcher consultants outrageously use the

difference between MPS 9th grade and 12th grade enrollments as a

MPS graduation or dropout rate.

The MPS graduation rate, measured by seniors who enroll in the

fall of any given year  who graduate in June has been in past

years about 90%, the statewide average.

(In 1994, my most recent data, 7 MPS schools were 91% to 96%) An

accurate way to determine the rate of 9th graders who graduate

later would be to disaggregate the continuing freshman from the

new freshman and recalculate the dropout statistic, assuming you

did not want to use the beginning senior year statistics for a

better measure of dropouts.

Valid dropout studies most often find that students indicate

"personal reasons" for dropping out of school.  It's time for

more research on why students give the personal reason for

dropping out of school and seek to determine what "personal"

really means.

Millions being spent on failed and pseudo school reforms in

Milwaukee are being wasted and should be used reducing class

size, reinstating summer school, resolving the severe teacher

shortage problem and getting certified staff into every

classroom, and providing adequate phonics reading instructional

resources in the primary grades, particularly for the children of

color who desperately need sound direct systematic phonics

reading instruction.

The high pay and high skill jobs of the future that require

algebra and "high" academic skills simply don't exist for most

graduates and especially for poverty class people of color. 

Furthermore, many students are unaware of the high skill high

paying jobs that do exist.

Many times, public schools are scapegoats for our social and

economic problems caused by the loss of family living wage jobs.

And many time there is simply political manipulation of the

truth.  Since the dropout rate, by your own administration's

confessions, have been inaccurate and understated in the past and

we must adjust for them now, the integrity of the database as

well as the integrity of past administrations has been called

into question.

By somehow understating the past dropout rate, past district

numbers have not been as severe as they should have been.  It is

unfortunate that your administration must bear the brunt of the

questions that must be raised about the performance and ethics of

those who ran the district in the past.

Whether the discrepancies were a display of ineptitude or deceit

gives reason for a careful audit of the past and more careful

scrutiny of future data presented to the board and to the public

in the board's behalf.

You may want to seek an outside audit of the data to insure that

the information is indeed accurately presented and all

inconsistencies eliminated.

I continue to be disappointed in the performance of your research

department and your communications department.

Leon Todd Milwaukee School Board member and          414-444-9490

Chair of Accountability and Audit Committee