Wisconsin Public School Districts Rate Average or Worse Compared to the World’s Developed Countries

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Educational Policy Analyst

A new tool allows Wisconsinites to compare their local school districts to countries across the world, and many of the Badger State’s large districts are falling behind the international standard.

The Global Report Card a metric devised by researchers Jay P. Greene and Josh McGee, was unveiled last week by the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Its purpose is to allow for a greater understanding of how America’s schools measure up across the world beyond just NAEP statewide data and comparisons.

The tool shows that Wisconsin’s largest school districts are struggling to keep pace with their developed neighbors.

The Bush Center’s research uses countries like Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom to create comparisons between U.S. districts and competing nations. For this piece, we tracked Wisconsin’s 15 largest districts against the 25 developed countries included in the Center’s Global Report Card. The results suggest that public education in the state’s largest cities is failing to keep pace on a worldwide scale.

WI Districts vs. the World

Of Wisconsin’s 15 largest school districts, Milwaukee and Kenosha fared the worst. Only Oshkosh hit the 50 percentile of all countries in math. This means that 14 of the state’s biggest districts fare worse than the median rate of students worldwide.

This number rose in 13 of the districts when it came to reading scores. The majority of the state’s districts (eight) scored above the 50th percentile in reading proficiency. However, these numbers get even direr if you compare these schools and their students to America’s neighbor to the north.

WI Districts vs. Canada

Not one of the state’s 15 largest districts outperforms Canada’s median rate of proficiency in math or reading. In Milwaukee, the average student is better in math than just nine percent of Canadian pupils. In reading, this figure is just 17 percent.

The results paint a disappointing picture for Wisconsin. Though the report’s 25 developed countries aren’t a comprehensive list, they do provide a solid international metric against which the Badger State’s proficiency can be measured. The inability of Wisconsin’s biggest districts to crack the 60th percentile suggests that the value of the state’s public education is falling behind the worldwide standard. If Wisconsin, a state with a solid, if stagnant, record in the upper half of American education results, is producing mediocre scores, this could present a legitimate issue for the United States as a whole.

While Wisconsin is keeping its head above water on a national scale, several other states have caught up as education reform grew stagnant here. Now, Greene and McGee’s research suggests that other developed nations are beginning to leave the Badger State behind as well. It’s a grim reality that could have major repercussions for the state and the country if it can’t be corrected.