Achievement Gap Task Force is a Step in the Right Direction, but Must Focus on Districts Other Than Milwaukee

Madison, Wausau, Other Cities Face Larger Achievement Gaps

April 4, 2014

by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] State Superintendent Tony Evers announced on Wednesday that he’s forming a special task force to address the ever-persistent achievement gap in Wisconsin’s K-12 schools. However, data throughout the state suggest that his attention cannot be limited solely to Milwaukee Public Schools.

Evers named Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means the head of a 17-person panel that will draft up a solution to the state’s achievement gap issues. The problem has plagued districts like Milwaukee for decades. The city was a subject of national headlines on performance issues when the National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) test results were released. Now, the state is working to move Milwaukee up from the bottom of the national ranks when it comes to the performance of its African-American students.

It is a step in the right direction to address one of the state’s largest problems in K-12 education. However, that issue isn’t limited to just the state’s largest district. In fact, Milwaukee’s achievement gap was one of the lowest amongst Wisconsin’s large school districts when it comes to high school graduation. Take a look at these numbers from the Department of Public Instruction from 2012:

Achievement Gap Table 1.png

While MPS’s overall graduation numbers are low, the gap between students of different races is much lower than the statewide average for districts with more than 7,000 students. Districts like Madison, Green Bay, Eau Claire, and Wausau have significantly more problems with the achievement gap than schools in Milwaukee do.

Achievement Gap Table 2.png

The graph above measures proficiency rates in literacy on the state’s WSAS testing suite in elementary, middle, and high schools. These reading gaps aren’t as large when we examine reading performance as a whole for a district, but it still shows that problems persist beyond Milwaukee. Madison, Kenosha, and Green Bay all showcased poor academic performance for their African-American students when it came to reading and had achievement gaps that were larger than Milwaukee’s. In Madison, that difference was a gap that was nearly 20 points larger than MPS.

Achievement Gap Table 3.png

Singling out math performance on the WSAS shows more problems for Madison, Kenosha, and Green Bay. While these districts outperform Milwaukee’s averages for African-American students, they also have higher achievement gaps in these categories.

Superintendent Evers is hopeful that the solutions the task force creates will be applicable across the state.

“I want our to come up with practical solutions that can be used all across this state to close the achievement gaps in underrepresented groups,” he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I’m looking for specific practices and techniques that can be implemented immediately by local school districts.”

Those practices will be developed from educators across Wisconsin’s larger districts. They include:

• Rasma Barbee, Teacher, Chegwin Elementary School, Fond du Lac School District
• Sam Carter, Principal, Robinson Elementary School, Beloit School District
• Kendra Cerniglia, Teacher, Leopold Elementary School, Madison Metropolitan School District
• Caitlin Dee, Teacher, Nathan Hale High School, West Allis-West Milwaukee School District
• Allison DeGraaf, Principal, Kennedy Elementary School, Janesville School District
• Jennifer Doucette, Principal, James Fennimore Cooper Elementary School, Milwaukee Public Schools
• Julie Erickson, Teacher, Menominee Indian High School, Menominee Indian School District
• Stacey Frank, Teacher, Webster Stanley Middle School, Oshkosh Area School District
• Dean Hess, Principal, John Muir Middle School, Wausau School District
• Erin Hollmann, Teacher, St. Marcus Lutheran School, Milwaukee
• James Kalupa, Curriculum Coordinator, Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Milwaukee
• Theresa Morateck, Teacher, Jeremiah Curtin Leadership Academy, Milwaukee Public Schools
• Fernando Muniz, Teacher, Tenor High School, Milwaukee
• Patricia Olander, Teacher, Notre Dame Middle School, Milwaukee
• Rebecca Panjan, Teacher, Starbuck Middle School, Racine Unified School District
• Jill Schmoldt, Instructional Coach, Westside Elementary School, Sun Prairie Area School District
• Kim Spychalla, Principal, MacArthur Elementary School, Green Bay Area Public School District

While Milwaukee is the most visible area to implement this program, it’s not the one that needs it the most. Any moves that the task force takes must come with cities like Madison, Green Bay, and Kenosha in mind. Any solutions that aren’t portable outside of MPS will ultimately leave thousands of students in the lurch – and continue to turn a blind eye to the achievement gap problems throughout the non-Milwaukee parts of Wisconsin.