Ouch! Madison schools are ‘weak’? and College Station’s School District

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial

Another national magazine says Madison is one of the nation’s best cities in which to raise a family.
That’s something to celebrate.
But Kiplinger’s, a monthly business and personal finance periodical, also raps ours city schools as “weak” in its latest edition.
That’s troubling.
“Madison city schools are weak relative to the suburban schools,” the magazine wrote in its analysis of the pros and cons of living here with children.
The magazine apparently used average test scores to reach its conclusion. By that single measure, yes, Dane County’s suburban schools tend to do better.
But the city schools have more challenges – higher concentrations of students in poverty, more students who speak little or no English when they enroll, more students with special needs.
None of those factors should be excuses. Yet they are reality.
And Madison, in some ways, is ahead of the ‘burbs. It consistently graduates some of the highest-achieving students in the state. It offers far more kinds of classes and clubs. Its diverse student population can help prepare children for an increasingly diverse world.

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes compares WKCE scores, comments on the Kiplinger and Wisconsin State Journal article and wonders if anyone would move from Madison to College Station, TX [map], which Kiplinger’s ranked above our local $15,241 2009/2010 per student public schools.
I compared Madison, WI to College Station, TX using a handy Census Bureau report.

93.8% of College Station residents over 25 are high school graduates, a bit higher than Madison’s 92.4%.
58.1% of College Station residents over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to Madison’s 48.2%

Madison does have a higher median household and per capita income along with a population about three times that of College Station.
Turning to the public school districts, readers might be interested in having a look at both websites: the College Station Independent School District and the Madison Metropolitan School District. 75% of College Station students took the ACT (average score: 22.6) while 67% of Madison students took the exam and achieved a composite score of 24.2.
College Station publishes a useful set of individual school report cards, which include state and national test results along with attendance and dropout data.
College Station’s 2009-2010 budget was $93,718.470, supporting 9,712 students = $9,649.76 per student. . They also publish an annual check register, allowing interested citizens to review expenditures.
Madison’s 2009-2010 budget was $370,287,471 for 24,295 students = $15,241 per student, 57.9% higher than College Station.
College Station’s A and M Consolidated High School offers 22 AP classes while Madison East offers 12, Memorial 25 (8 of which are provided by Florida Virtual…), LaFollette 13 and West 8.
College Station’s “student profile” notes that the District is 59.3% white, 31.4% are economically disadvantaged while 10.3% are in talented and gifted.
Texas’s 2010 National Merit Semifinalist cut score was 216 while Wisconsin’s was 207. College Station’s high school had 16 National Merit Semi-Finalists (the number might be 40 were College Station the same size as Madison and perhaps still higher with Wisconsin’s lower cut score) during the most recent year while Madison’s high schools had 57.

5 thoughts on “Ouch! Madison schools are ‘weak’? and College Station’s School District”

  1. Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ comment “wonder if Anyone (is) anxious to move from Madison to College Station?” prompted me to have a look at their District’s website.
    I’ve added a few points of comparison to this post.
    Madison significantly outspends College Station per student.
    The census bureau community demographics are worth reviewing.
    I found the College Station individual school report cards worthwhile along with the District budget information.

  2. What a hurtful insult it is to say that what we have here is an image problem. What exactly does the author of the article think is the cause of this image problem – that we want to bash Madison so that people leave our neighborhood schools and hurt our own property value? Why would we do that! The image has resulted from the experience so many students have here. Madison has a denial problem and this extends to Madison’s schools. For example, violent mentally ill children can simply be labeled special ed and their violence tolerated in light of that label, rather than creating therapeutic schools for such children. The denial is a diservice to the ill child and creates an unsafe environment for teachers and classrooms. Similarly, Madisonians have looked the other way while educational standards have deteriorated, honors classes have disappeared in favor of one-size-fits-all education and it is un-PC to say anything against this.
    I am copying below a very cogent comment, written by Lorie Raihala, which appeared in the discussion following the WSJ article, as this statement best reflects the experience of my family and those of many others we know:
    Regarding the “perception” that Madison schools are weak: Hundreds of MMSD students slog through hours of mind-numbing frustration every day in school, so don’t tell them their experience is an illusion! Of course, Madison has vibrant diversity. Yes, we have a large pool of talented students. But it’s hardly the MMSD who helps this diverse range of children cultivate their talent. West High, for instance, chronically rejects families’ pleas for advanced, accelerated classes. Instead, the school insists on channeling all students, regardless of learning level, into one-size-for-all academic courses. This is not a funding issue, but a willful effort to minimize achievement gaps by holding high achievers down. What happens? Parents with resources nurse their children through these years with expensive, time-consuming extracurricular clubs and camps. Those without resources watch their children fall through the cracks. Take a close look at Madison’s lack of services for gifted students, and you’ll discover why increasing numbers of them are heading off to better opportunities elsewhere.

  3. I don’t put much stock in what some magazine editor writes. Neither do I put much stock in comparing Madison to some other city. Who cares if someone says it’s an image problem? Who says West High is somehow the barometer of the MMSD and talented students? If your child is doing well in the MMSD, then that’s great. If they aren’t, then move them. Sometimes it’s got more to do with the child’s environment in both the home and school. We just took our over-the-top achieving child out of Edgewood and moved him back to public school. The public high school offers much more challenge and stimulation within the peer group. What’s good for one kid isn’t good for another. These wide-ranging opinions are just that, opinions, everyone has one of those, you know. That’s why we live in America.
    Samuel Adams
    Brewer, Patriot

  4. Dearest Samuel,
    Not all of us can afford these “options”. That’s the whole point of having public school. For smart impoverished minority students, our public school does not serve.

  5. I’m a strong believer in data and I appreciate the comparison with College Station. Regarding the quality of the Madison schools, I would encourage readers to go the the DPI site (http://data.dpi.state.wi.us/data/) and look at the WKCE reading scores for third grade students of color in Madison and compare them to their peers in Milwaukee. Third graders in Milwaukee perform better than those students in Madison. While Milwaukee no longer outperforms Madison by the fifth grade, these data clearly indicate that the issue is more than just “perception.” Our schools face serious challenges and we’d be better off facing that fact and working together to find solutions that work.

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