In Wake of Madison Prep Rejection, MacIver Examines Success of Other Charters in the Capital City


Madison Has Few Charters, But These Schools Educate More Poor Students, Produce Stronger Reading Results in 4th Grade

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

Madison is Wisconsin’s third-largest school district, but it has fewer charter schools than places like Oconto Falls, Wisconsin Rapids, and La Crosse. However, the city’s existing charter schools are making strides when it comes to educating low-income students and producing reading results.

Charter schools have made recent news in the capital city. Last month Madison Metropolitan School Board rejected a charter application from Madison Prep, a pair of single-sex charter schools that would have been the first of their kind in the state. These schools would have catered to low-income students and offered an alternative to regular public schools – which dominate the city’s educational landscape.

The state’s capital has nearly 25,000 students enrolled in these public schools. However, the presence of charter schools within the district is distinctly lacking. There are only two institutions – James C. Wright Middle School and Nuestro Mundo Community School – that operate under a charter in Madison. Comparatively, Milwaukee has 55 of these schools to serve just over three times the amount of students.

These two schools provide a very small sample size of how charter institutions are performing in Madison. What we see when comparing them to the city’s traditional public schools is that they are educating a higher concentration of students from low-income families. In elementary school reading, they are producing stronger returns than the citywide average as well.

Both of Madison’s charter schools educate a greater percentage of low-income students than the citywide average. This reflects a trend that we also saw in past reports that examined the charter student population in Milwaukee. An “economically disadvantaged student” is defined as a pupil that receives free or reduced lunch benefits due to their financial background.

A look at Wisconsin Student Assessment Data (WSAS) provides a look into how pupils are reading at these schools. However, since the data set is limited to just the two institutions governed by the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), it’s difficult to suggest that these results would hold true beyond these specific schools. This observational data does seem to fall in line with some of the results that were apparent in Milwaukee.

First, students at Nuestro Mundo are outperforming the city’s average, albeit by a slim margin. Children there are 2.4 percent more likely to score “Basic” or higher on this standardized test and .2 percent more likely to earn a label of “Proficient” or better.

However, this advantage does not hold up at James C. Wright, which houses a larger population of low-income students but lags behind the MMSD average amongst sixth-graders in reading. Students there fell approximately 10 points behind the Madison average in terms of literacy skills.

Similar statistics were seen on a larger scale in Milwaukee. There, charter schools outperformed the regular public school average when it came to reading. However, those higher scores fade as grade level progresses. This difference was much larger in Madison than what we observed in Milwaukee, but may be attributable to the small sample size.

These data show that Madison’s charter school population may be small, but these schools are educating a significant portion of the city’s economically disadvantaged students. At Nuestro Mundo, an elementary school, students are performing above the city average when it comes to reading in fourth grade. James C. Wright Middle School, which has a concentration of low-income students more similar Milwaukee than Madison, is trailing the MMSD average student in sixth grade literacy skills.