Notes on politics and the achievement gap

Daniel Lennington and Will Flanders

Last week, Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Jill Underly put out a press releasebroadly outlining her plans to address Wisconsin’s racial achievement gap. While it is perhaps a positive to finally see the superintendent addressing the failings of Wisconsin’s public schools, this release offers a disturbing window into the way the public school establishment sees the achievement gap problem, and the misguided ways in which they plan to solve it.

Underly referred to Wisconsin’s racial achievement gap as “egregious” in her release, and indeed it is. According to the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the state regularly has the largest gap in scores between white students and African American students of any state in the country.  On average, African American students scored 47 points lower in math and 39 points lower in English than their white counterparts. But Underly misdiagnoses the cause of this gap, which is almost entirely poverty.

In groundbreaking research released in 2019, scholars at Stanford University endeavored to discover the causes of the racial achievement gap in the United States. They found that concentrations of poverty — not the race of students — was the main driver of achievement differences. This is highlighted in the finding from our research in 2017 that student proficiency in rural school districts which suffer from high poverty is often indistinguishable from that of our urban districts that routinely bear the brunt of scrutiny.

Misdiagnosing the problem means Underly’s proposed solutions miss the mark.

Mandates, closed schools and Dane County Madison Public Health.

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?