December 19, 2013
by Christian D'Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst
Wisconsin got some bad news when this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores showed that the state had the largest achievement gap in the country. Now, a breakout of scores in Milwaukee show that while the district produced some improvements, MPS lags far behind the national and big city averages for student performance.
Milwaukee's scoring in fourth and eighth grade reading and math all increased slightly between 2011 and 2013. This followed a trend of small improvements in America's large cities across the country. However, these scores still trailed national benchmarks, leaving MPS well behind big cities like Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles when it came to educating children.
Statistically, these results showed no significant difference between 2011 and 2013 in terms of student achievement.
While MPS presented growth that slightly outgained the United States big city average, the district's scores still trailed their peers by significant margins. The average Milwaukee fourth or eighth grade score ranged from 13 to 19 points lower than similar students in large urban districts across the country.
These scores saddled Wisconsin with a large gap between average scores in Milwaukee and those in the rest of the state. This gap put MPS alongside cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Cleveland in terms of scoring differences within state boundaries. In all, Milwaukee's average scores placed the district 18th out of the 21 cities that were studied by the U.S. Department of Education. MPS outperformed only Cleveland, Fresno, and Detroit when it came to 2013's overall NAEP scores.
These NAEP data also highlighted the continuing problems that the district has faced with the achievement gap between groups of students
While Milwaukee earned some slight gains in 2013, the district trails its peers not just in Wisconsin, but across the country. Student achievement has put the city alongside places like Baltimore and Detroit when it comes to understanding concepts in reading and math. This isn't a problem endemic to all big cities, either. Districts like Charlotte, Austin, San Diego, and Albuquerque have large urban populations but are outperforming statewide averages.
So how can Wisconsin make Milwaukee more like San Diego and less like Detroit? It will take some major changes to earn significant improvements in one of the U.S.'s most embattled urban school districts.