How Serious Are Madison Schools With High-Risk Students?

The statistics regarding high risk students in Madison schools are something no one can be proud of,  The numbers are not something taxpayers should accept,  Over and over we hear the statistics on the news, or read about them in the paper.  We continually hear some promise that the district will do better, and yet it never seems to take place for those who need it the most.   Then we turn to others issues, and seem to forget that a large segment of our youth are struggling to find a place they can be proud of on the educational ladder.

In 2010, 89% of White tenth graders in the Madison Metropolitan School District scored proficient or advanced in reading compared to 56% of Latino tenth graders and 48% of African American tenth graders.  In 2011, 50% of Black students and 59% of Latino students graduated from our city’s public high schools, compared to 84% of White students and 85% of Asian students.  There is no way that we should accept that great divide in our public education system.

With that as a background I read with great interest a column today by Chris Rickert in the Wisconsin State Journal.  In a few short paragraphs he summed up very nicely a point that I have wondered about since Governor Walker’s politically-timed tax relief package was siigned into law.  If there is a sincere desire to move the dial on high-risk students why not start by using some of the available funds during this budget cycle.

While Rickert notes that some school board members are aware that the district’s state aid next year would decrease by about 50 cents on each  extra dollar it were to spend out of the property tax cut windfall this year he then correctly makes the grand point that I very much agree with, and espouse myself.

On the other hand, students of color and of modest means have been waiting  for decades for the district to better meet their educational needs, and within  the past few years, their numbers have started to eclipse the number of middle-  and upper-class white students from stable homes with educated parents.

Sure, poverty and other factors outside of the classroom probably deserve  most of the blame for the struggles low-income and minority students have in the  classroom. But then affluence and other factors outside the classroom probably  deserve most of the credit for the success affluent white kids have in the  classroom.

The difference is that the latter group can afford to wait, because they  didn’t need as much help to begin with.

The why of the achievement gap, though, matters much less than the urgency  with which schools address it.

School administrators these days don’t always stick around long enough to  make waiting out their learning curves worthwhile. Politicians and their  policies toward funding schools come and go, and the economy and its effect on  school funding can vacillate wildly from one year to the next.

There’s probably no better example of how unpredictable public education and  its funding sources can be than the last three to five years.

Children, though, tend to adhere to a pretty clear trajectory: They grow up —  fast. And you’d think that if a school district lucked into a sudden opportunity  to provide a boost to the most at-risk children, they’d take it.

The best educators operate on students’ time, after all, not the other way  around.