There’s no doubt about it. Madison is home to an embarrassing gap in achievement between white students and minority students, as well as between the well-to-do and the poor. In most discussions of the issue, the figure that is often used to convey the crisis is the dismal 50 percent graduation rate for African-American students.
That figure, however, represents only the percentage of students who graduate in four years of high school. It leaves out a critical mass of kids who take longer to obtain their diplomas, some through alternative programs.
“If we concentrate only on that number then all of the hard work that you’re doing is being ignored,” T.J. Mertz, a candidate for Madison School Board, told a group of students last week at Operation Fresh Start, a program in Madison that helps high school dropouts obtain their GED or high school equivalency diploma (which is slightly more comprehensive). Participants in the program, which is partnered with AmeriCorps, split their time between working on a job site (either building housing or engaging in conservation projects) and the classroom.
The organization had invited all five School Board candidates to discuss their plans for the district with the students, as well as to take questions from the young adults, who range in age from 16-24. The only candidate who did not attend was Greg Packnett, who is challenging School Board President James Howard.