The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
The Miseducation of Madison
Nelson Mandela once said, “No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.”
If the latest report by ProPublica is any indication of this country’s education of our children — our future citizens — then our development as a nation is in
ProPublica is a nonprofit committed to investigative journalism on the important issues of the day. It released a comprehensive report recently on U.S. schools
entitled simply Miseducation. The report looks at racial disparities in educational opportunities and school discipline in 96,000 public schools (including
charter) within 17,000 districts. The data was collected from the U.S. Department of Education and analyzed by the ProPublica team.
Some of the data may already be familiar to you, but the report allows you to compare schools in the district and districts in the state. The dismal picture of
students of color, bound in poverty, languishing in public schools should hang heavy on the city of Madison’s soul.
The first fact that smacked me upside the head was that Black students are 4.3 grades
behind Whites in the Metropolitan Madison School District (MMSD). Now if that isn’t
arrested development, I don’t know what is.
Given the above fact, the next one won’t seem unbelievable. White students are 3.5
times as likely to be enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement class as Black
students. If one is four academic grades behind, how could they ever qualify for an
advanced or honor class? They are destined to be a stat in the next depressing fact.
Black students are nearly eight times as likely to be suspended as their White
counterparts. When you’re out of school for days at a time, you get farther behind.
And when you get so far behind, you’ll end up in the camp of some other ugly stats:
school push-outs or prison residents. Neither of those will get us to a civilized and just
society that values the potential and participation of all its citizens.
MMSD’s new strategic plan to improve academic outcomes for African American
students looks like the old plan adopted in 2013. The tendency is to talk about the
good stuff like the number of National Merit Scholars or how ACT scores are higher
than the state and national averages. Tooting these horns are okay if they don’t mask
what is happening to the 18 percent Black students — or better said, what is not
happening to Black students.
Now comes a new governor who has some insight into Wisconsin’s education
matters. Governor-elect Tony Evers was a classroom teacher who became the state
superintendent. He campaigned on support for greater funding in education, but it’s
not all about the money.
Wisconsin must look at its education system through a racial lens if there’s going to
be any substantive, measurable changes in the gaping academic gap between Black
and White students. Otherwise, get ready for the state to be humiliated in the next