AFC Mythbusters #7: Failing Schools


“There are no failing schools/school districts in Wisconsin.”


Much like “accountability”, the use of “failing” has been butchered to a degree that the definition is proclaimed by whoever uses it to fit his or her agenda at that moment.

Take Madison School Board member Ed Hughes, for instance, who said, “Most people in Madison would reject the notion that we have failing schools in Madison.” Most people in Madison may very well feel that way, but most people in Wisconsin may call a 53.1% four-year graduation rate for Madison’s African American students “failing”.

Some officials have gone so far as to claim there are no failing school districts in an entire region of Wisconsin. Again, we bet that most Wisconsinites would believe that when just 50% percent of Green Bay’s African American students graduate on time, that school district is failing. What’s more, Green Bay has the largest white-Latino attainment gap in the state: 27.3 percentage points separate white students and students in Green Bay’s fastest-growing population.

When a teacher grades a math test with questions that the student only answered correctly 53% or 50% of the time, the teacher usually removes any doubt as to how the student performed by writing a large, red “F” at the top of the test. Yet, when school district officials speak about a school’s overall poor performance, they cannot bring themselves to use the same grading system that they use on their students.

Unless, that is, these school district officials are talking about the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), which they in unison call a “failed experiment”. The Choice Schools Association recently reminded legislators of the wonderful news that HOPE Christian High School’s last two senior classes each achieved a 100% college acceptance rate. Part of the HOPE Christian Schools network, which serves over 1,200 students in four Milwaukee schools, HOPE’s high school student body is 100% African American.

Now, let’s summarize the establishment’s twisted logic: a school district with a 50% African American graduation rate is not a “failing school district”, but a school with a 100% African American graduation rate is part of a “failed experiment”. Follow that?

The MacIver Institute compiled the various graduation percentages, from Department of Public Instruction data, in the table below (click here for the institute’s full report):
MacIver closed its graduation analysis with this very poignant observation: While it’s become commonplace to put the blame on Milwaukee’s shoulders, a deeper look at the numbers suggest that places like Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Wausau deserve their share of the blame as well.

  • Five school districts (three of which have 10+ D/F schools) have a lower African American four-year graduation rate than Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS); and
  • Green Bay has a lower Latino four-year graduation rate than MPS, and Madison and Racine are hovering just above the MPS rate.

Speaking of Racine, which has a lower African American four-year graduation rate than MPS, its district is run by a superintendent who said, “(African American parents) don’t know how to make good choices for their children—they really don’t. They didn’t have parents who made good choices for them or help them learn how to make good choices so they don’t know how to do that.” Needless to say, if the leader of a MPCP school said this, he or she would have been shown the door immediately. Instead, Superintendent Laing was given a pay raise and a contract extension. Incidentally, 63 percent of Racine public school students attend a D or F school, and there are 16 such schools.

Is the Racine Unified School District, where 30% of all students don’t graduate on time, a failing school district? Well, families are leaving and enrolling in Racine’s established private schools within its new choice program (and are arriving grade levels behind).

Do we really believe Wisconsin families in school districts with inarguably failing numbers should be trapped behind a wall, prevented from accessing better schools?