Commentary on Diversity and Academic Goalposts

Ed Hughes:

Madison West students did better in every category where there is a basis for comparison. (The number of Madison West students of two or more races who took the test was below the threshold for DPI to calculate an average score.) So why does Middleton have the higher overall average? This outcome is completely determined by the demographics of the schools. There are more West students than Middleton students in the lower-scoring categories, and this effect overwhelmed West’s clear superiority in the category-by-category comparisons.

There is more evidence of diversity’s negative impact on school comparisons all around us. For example, Google “best schools in Dane County.” You’ll get, or perhaps Zillow, which incorporates GreatSchools ratings. GreatSchools assigns a rating on a 1-to-10 scale to every school around. From all that appears, the GreatSchools ratings are the most commonly referred to sources of information about the relative quality of schools available to newcomers to our area or those contemplating relocation.

The GreatSchools rankings of Dane County schools appear to be entirely based on the results of standardized tests, undifferentiated by school demographics, income levels, or anything else. Not surprisingly, there is a substantial diversity deduction in these rankings. To understand why, we need to focus on how the ratings reflect the achievement levels and preponderance of white students at our schools.

Looking at the standardized test scores of white students provides an evenhanded if partial basis for comparison, unaffected by the schools’ differing demographics. In addition, it is the white families in the Madison area who are in the best position to affect the level of diversity in our schools, primarily through their choices of whether to enroll their students in Madison public schools or suburban or private alternatives. In light of this, it makes sense to tailor the analysis to the considerations that would be most relevant for them, in part so that we can have some basis to assess the validity of a “school quality” explanation for choosing a non-MMSD school.

The following tables shows three data points for the high schools in the Madison area: 2015-16 average composite scores for white students taking the ACT Statewide exam administered to all students in grade 11; percentage of the student body comprised of white students; and GreatSchools ranking on its 1-to-10 scale.

Paul Fanlund commentary. Mr. Hughes served three terms on the Madison School Board. His candidacies were unopposed in each election!

He ran for a fourth term earlier this year in a three way primary, but, withdrew prior to the spring general election.

Ed Hughes (2005): :

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

A few notes on Mr. Hughes’ words:

a. Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results (Mr. Hughes on the District’s reading results in 2016). I see no benefit to muddying the achievement waters until we see substantial improvements in what should be the District’s core mission: reading, writing, math, history and science.

b. Why did he and a majority of the Madison School Board support the expansion of our least diverse schools, rather than addressing the substantial diversity gap in those buildings?