Of the Wisconsin school districts with an achievement gap, Madison’s is one of the worst. According to 2018-19 Forward Exam scores, only 34.9% of Madison students are proficient in English, well below the statewide average of 40.9%. But in Madison only 10% of African-American students are proficient in English, compared with 57.2% of white students. Only 79% of African-American students graduate from Madison public high schools within five years, compared with 94% of white students.
Those who graduate aren’t necessarily better off. Parents say there is no accountability when the district graduates students it has failed to educate. “Yes our black kids are being left behind,” says Jewel Adams, whose son graduated from La Follette High School in 2016. “They are getting passed along without the knowledge they need to be passed along with.”
The racial disparity in Madison extends to school safety. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty recently examined emergency calls to 911 originating from Madison public schools and found that black students are more likely than whites to attend dangerous schools. Brandon Alvarez graduated in 2018 from La Follette, where there was one 911 call per seven students from August 2012 to May 2019. His sister started high school this year and he advised his parents to take advantage of Wisconsin’s open-enrollment program and send her to school in another district. “I told my dad it wouldn’t be a good idea for my sister to go to La Follette,” says Mr. Alvarez. “She should go to a district that focuses more on academics and is safer.” Mr. Alvarez drives his sister to high school each day in neighboring Monona Grove.