I have grave concern for our children in Dane County and Wisconsin.
We face no greater long-term crisis in America than the widespread underperformance, diminishing motivation and poor preparation of children and young people in our nation’s K-12 schools, and the rapidly declining number of educators available to teach our children.
Student performance in Dane County is troubling. In spring 2021, near the conclusion of our first full pandemic-impacted school year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s website shows that the percentage of proficient readers in grades three, four and five of public elementary schools across Dane County’s 16 school districts was only:
7% of Black students (5% in Madison alone).
13% of Latino students (7% in Madison).
37% of Asian students (25% in Madison).
42% of white students (41% in Madison).
26% of multiracial students (16% in Madison)
This means they tested at or above grade level on the English language arts section of the state’s Forward exam, administered annually to children in Wisconsin in grades three through eight and 10. The remaining students tested below grade level.
The results were very similar statewide in grades three through eight, across all 423 public school districts and 32 independent public charter schools in Wisconsin.
If the percentages above aren’t shocking enough, consider this: When you look at the educational performance of Black students in Dane County by the conclusion of third grade — when reading shifts from learning how to read to reading to learn — just 10% move on every year to fourth grade as proficient readers. Among the remaining 90%, 30% have a partial understanding of reading and language arts while the remaining 60% struggle to read well at all.
We are talking thousands of children attending public schools in Dane County and our state who are way behind academically. Every demographic is affected by this. The matter has only been made much worse by the pandemic, and by the lack of enough educators to effectively address the problem. The situation is worsening by the day and year. It is not getting any better.
All in favor of teaching civics in Wisconsin high schools, say aye — ‘Aye!’
The future of our community hangs in the balance. The massive numbers of job openings across our region and this country are not because people don’t want to work. We haven’t prepared our young people well enough for the jobs that are available, and we have not helped enough of them develop the skills to create a job for themselves.
We cannot build a future and solve the growing numbers of geopolitical, environmental, housing, food insecurity and public health crises with thousands of children who cannot effectively read a restaurant menu, or who attend schools that aren’t preparing them to solve these problems.
We must do better, and I welcome that conversation.