Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay Lead the Way Amongst Large Districts in Wisconsin When it Comes to Attainment Gaps Between Students

April 11, 2013

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Madison, Wisc…] On Tuesday, the Department of Public Instruction released the latest round of graduation rate data for Wisconsin. While it showed that more students were earning diplomas in four years in 2012 than they had in 2010 and 2011, there was still a persistent gap in attainment between the state’s white, African American, and Hispanic students. A closer look at that data suggests that this problem is prevalent in the state’s biggest cities – but minimal in Milwaukee.

A survey of 18 Wisconsin districts – all districts that served more than 7,000 students plus Beloit and Superior – showed that double-digit differences in four-year graduation rates persisted in 16 cities. Only Elmbrook, with high matriculation marks across the board, and Superior, which didn’t have enough minority students to comprise a significant sample size, avoided this label. Gaps between African-American students and white students were, on average, 10.1 percent higher than the gaps between Hispanic students and white students in these cities.

Grad Rates by District, Student Group 2013

*Superior, with just 11 Asian, African-American, and Hispanic students combined, did not have enough students in their graduating class to create a viable sample.

Eau Claire led the way with an attainment gap between students that stretched to over 40 percent. Green Bay, Wausau, and Madison all posted graduation rates for white students that out-paced African-American students by over 30 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Elmbrook’s attainment gap between these pupils was just 0.9 percent – though the district only enrolled 24 African-American students in their freshman class of 2008-2009. Milwaukee, Beloit, Sheboygan, Stevens Point, and Wauwatosa all had attainment gaps that were under 15 percent and less than half of the statewide average.

These gaps shrunk when it came to the difference between white and Hispanic students. No district posted more than a 30-point differential in terms of graduating these pupils, but Green Bay led the way with a disappointing 27.3 percent deviation between these student groups. Madison was the only other large city to have a difference greater than 20 points when it came to comparing the four-year graduation rates of white and Hispanic pupils.

Two districts had their Hispanic population outscore their district’s overall graduation rates in 2012. Elmbrook and Eau Claire each saw this student group earn their diplomas at a better rate than their peers. However, each district also had a relatively small population of these pupils – both Eau Claire and Elmbrook had 16 Hispanic students enter their high schools as freshmen in the fall of 2008.

This new data also paints an interesting story for Milwaukee. While the state’s largest district has the lowest four-year graduation rate amongst these big cities, it still graduates more of its African-American students than five of the other districts measured in this review. Madison, Racine, Green Bay, Eau Claire, and Wausau all recorded lower grad rates than MPS in the 2011-2012 school year. In terms of Hispanic students, only Green Bay fared worse than the embattled district in this year’s graduation rate report.

This DPI data supports the narrative that achievement and attainment gaps are a continual problem in Wisconsin’s public schools. Students aren’t being given the support that they need to graduate alongside their peers in several of the state’s largest districts. While it’s become commonplace to put the blame on Milwaukee’s shoulders, a deeper look at the numbers suggest that places like Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Wausau deserve their share of the blame as well.