With the beginning of another school year bursting with hope and promise, it is sobering to pause and reflect on just how bad Wisconsin’s schools are. For generations, Wisconsinites have pointed to the educational system as a point of pride. No doubt there was a time when the state’s schools were great and the pride was justified, but it has not been true for decades. We are lying to ourselves.
Yes, there are bright spots, but as a whole, Wisconsin’s education system is failing our children on a monumental scale even as we pat ourselves on the backs, increase the funding, and gaslight ourselves about what a good education our children are getting. If the first step to any recovery is admitting that we have a problem, then Wisconsinites must admit that the schools are failing.
For the 2020-2021 school year, the most recent data available, a mere 39.2 percent of students between grades three and eight were at least proficient in math. Over 57 percent of students cannot do math at their grade level. For the same age group, only 37 percent of students were at least proficient in language arts. Almost 60 percent are not able to understand language at the appropriate grade level.
It does not get better as they get older. In the eleventh grade, over 90 percent of Wisconsin’s students take the ACT exam. On that test for the 2020-2021 school year, only 27 percent of students were at least proficient in math. Only 28.1 percent of students are at least proficient in science. 35 percent of students are at least proficient in English language arts.
For every three kids who enter a Wisconsin school this year, only one of them will end the year proficient in math or language.
Yet, Wisconsin’s schools boast a 90.2 percent graduation rate. Why in the world are we graduating 90 percent of kids when only one in three of them can do math at grade level? How are we looking ourselves in the mirror and telling ourselves that we are equipping our children for the world of tomorrow when we thrust a diploma into their hands despite the fact that over half of them cannot read at an adult level?
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