Wisconsin has largest white-black graduation gap in nation

Posted at 3:35 PM, Oct 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-18 19:41:53-04

MILWAUKEE -- With an almost 30-percent gap between white students and black students graduating in four years, Wisconsin ranks dead last for the widest gap in the country. The four-year graduation gap for white students is 93 percent, but 64 percent for black students.

The State Superintendent calls it "sad." He said it's not for a lack of effort, and said the issue faces districts around the country.

In Wauwatosa, they've kept the gap between white students and black students to three percent. The superintendent, Dr. Phil Ertl, said diversity has increased greatly since he started 12 years ago, and as it's changed they've prioritized equity more and more.

Tuesday, Ertl met with elementary school principals to talk about their goals.

"They have three goals; one is math, one is science and one is equity," he said. "We are certainly the most diverse school district in the top 25 highest performing school districts in the state of Wisconsin," explained Ertl.

He said that's a distinction that comes with challenges that contribute to an achievement gap - including poverty. He said they have students that arrive at school hungry at tired. That's a challenge facing many districts across the state.

"I guess it wasn't surprising, but it's awfully concerning," Ertl said.

Southeast Wisconsin schools have a wide range of graduation gaps.

Brown Deer, which is more than 40 percent African-American and about 30 percent white, has just a 2 percent gap. Milwaukee faces a 13 percent graduation gap. Kenosha and Waukesha have a 16 percent difference. Racine has a 20 percent difference between black and white students.

Ertl feels every district in southeast Wisconsin has a responsibility to help support Milwaukee, specifically. Milwaukee Public Schools tells TODAY'S TMJ4 they're putting focus on helping students graduate in four years and graduating career-ready. They said they're redefining high schools and identifying ways to help students succeed. A major element of that is their credit recovery program.

"There's no need for achievement gaps, we just have to double down our efforts," said Tony Evers, the State Superintendent.

Evers said there is a lack of resources for larger, urban districts that contributes to the achievement gap. But he said race is a problem as well.

"In Wisconsin, race is a huge issue as it relates to achievement and we have to make sure all our kids have the same opportunities," Evers told TODAY'S TMJ4. "And that's not always the case," he added.

Evers said he intends to put more money in his budget for school districts needing it most. He hopes that will help the districts create opportunities for every student. He said Milwaukee Public Schools would like to start the school year earlier to help students catch up through credit recovery programs. Evers plans to ask the legislature for help in that endeavor.

In Wauwatosa, they've succeeded by encouraging every student to aim high.

"Our expectation is that they're going to post-secondary ed," said Ertl. They've successfully enrolled 80 percent of students in Advanced Placement classes. That's up from 60 percent five years ago.

Ertl said it's about fostering a culture where every student has opportunities to reach high expectations.

"We want to make sure everybody that is in our district believes all students can be successful," he said.