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Education

Wisconsin Has Nation's Largest Black-White Graduation Gap

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Wisconsin has the largest gap in the country when it comes to the number of African American students graduating in four years versus their white peers.

While 28 states across the country saw the gap between their black and white student graduation rates narrow, Wisconsin's grew.

According to preliminary date released by the U.S. Department of Education, the gap between the number of African American students who graduate from high school in four years compared to their white peers is the worst in the country.

During the 2013-2014 school year, 92.9% of white high school seniors in Wisconsin graduated, while only 66.1% of black students earned a diploma.

The graduation gap is problem the state has struggled with for decades.

John Johnson says in order to tackle the achievement gap, the community has to deal with other systemic problems.  He is director of Education Information Services for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“Wisconsin’s got the highest incarceration rate for black males in the country. Wisconsin has massive wealth and poverty gaps between African American’s and their white peers. Housing is very segregated in our large urban areas by race. It’s not just poverty when it comes to looking at achievement and graduation rates in our state, you have to look at race and you have to talk about race,” Johnson says.

Johnson says it’s not that African Americans are at a disadvantage simply because of color, but one can’t deny that across the state they have less access and opportunity.

Demond Means is superintendent of schools for the Mequon-Thiensville School District. He’s also a member of the Promoting Excellence for All Taskforce the DPI assembled with the goal of finding ways to close the state’s achievement gap. He says there are four key areas school districts must hit in order to improve outcomes and close the gap.

“We have to ensure that every child has effective instruction, they have amazing student teacher relationships, that their family and their communities engage with their schools, and that they have school and instructional leaders that are going to promote amazing work within their schools. That’s what we have to demand of each and every school in Wisconsin,” Means says.

While Wisconsin’s graduation gap grew, 28 states across the country saw theirs narrow. Means says that for too long here, people have fought over ideology. He says it’s time to move on.

“We’ve been trying to figure out which philosophy is going to be the prevailing philosophy in terms of educating children, and what we need to all hone in on is just lock in on the basics and make sure we’re reaching excellence for every single child,” Means says.

He says closing the achievement gap is the real civil rights fight of the 21st Century.

While the gap isn’t simply a Milwaukee problem, the city does have the largest school district and African American population in Wisconsin. Within MPS, 58 percent of African American students in 2013-2014 graduated within four years. That’s compared to 69 percent of white students and 79 percent of Asian students.

Melanie Stewart, director of Student Performance and Achievement for MPS, says the goal of the district is to improve the outcomes of all students.

“All of these children are children of our communities. We along with others throughout the nation, throughout the state of Wisconsin are preparing children to go beyond high school, go beyond their k-12 education. And we need to be certain that they’re ready to meet the demands past high school,” she says.

Stewart says while there’s no one reason certain groups seem to perform better than others, the goal is to ensure everyone succeeds.

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