Boots & Sabers

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0719, 21 Nov 23

Meeting expectations in Wisconsin’s schools

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has released the legally required district report cards for the 2022-2023 school year. If the results do not make you feel shame and anger, then you do not really care about education.


The annual report card measures school districts, and the schools that comprise them, on several factors including achievement on benchmarking exams, absenteeism, graduation rates, and relative improvement or regression from the prior year. Most of the score, however, is based on performance.


According to the report cards, the Milwaukee Public School District “meets expectations” with an overall score of 58. The West Bend School District also “meets expectations” with an overall score of 68.8. According to the results of the Wisconsin Forward Exam, 45.8% of students in West Bend and 15.8% of students in Milwaukee are proficient at English Language Arts. Similarly, only 55.1% of students in West Bend and 11.5% of students in Milwaukee are proficient in math.


Let us focus on the phrase “meets expectations.” Does the fact that less than half of the kids in West Bend can read or write meet their parents’ expectations? How about the fact that one in ten kids in Milwaukee can do math at their grade level? Does that meet their expectations? Do parents, teachers, and taxpayers in those districts look at these numbers, shrug their shoulders, and say, “meh, good enough”? Apparently, many of them do, but why does this kind of abysmal performance meet the state DPI’s expectations? And why do both districts meet the DPI’s expectations when Milwaukee’s scores are so much lower? Does the DPI’s lower expectations of Milwaukee reveal a soft bigotry?


The fact is that some of you have lowered your expectations so much that you are willing to accept sending ignorant, semi-literate kids into a world in which they are not equipped to be successful. The fact that that “meets expectations” is a stain on our society.


Furthermore, when one compares the spending per student to the report card scores, there is a slight correlation. That is, there is a slight negative correlation. The data shows that the more that a district spends per student, the more likely it is that the district’s overall score will decrease.


For example, the Slinger district spends about $13,730 per student and exceeds expectations. The Monroe District spends about $17,793 per student and just meets expectations. The districts are otherwise similar in terms of racial makeup, number of economically disadvantaged students, number of native English speakers, and other factors. Why is Monroe spending almost 30% more per student than Slinger to get worse results?


Money is not the answer to making education better in Wisconsin. In fact, the data shows that more money makes it worse. There is one thing, however, that has been providing a better education for tens of thousands of Wisconsin kids and the Democrats are trying to kill it.


School choice. For almost 35 years, some kids in Milwaukee have had the opportunity to escape their failed government schools where 11.5% of kids are proficient in math to go to a better school of their choice. That choice was expanded to Racine in 2011 and then statewide in 2013. These school choice programs have opened new, previously unavailable, doors to thousands of kids who are getting an education that meets their parents’ expectations – irrespective of whether or not the educrats in Madison think about their local government schools.


With the new leftist majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a group of leftist Democrats have filed suit demanding that all three Wisconsin school choice programs be ended. The plaintiffs have asked for the Supreme Court to take up the case directly without letting the case work its way through lower courts. Despite the fact that school choice has been ruled legal and constitutional for over 30 years and in courts all over the nation, there is a very real chance that the leftist zealots on the Wisconsin Supreme Court may end school choice in Wisconsin by this time next year.


If the Wisconsin Supreme Court kills school choice, they will force tens of thousands of kids back into the government education gulags where ignorance and failure “meets expectations.” I am ashamed of our state’s poor government schools and angry that so many people find that they “meet expectations.” You should be too.


0719, 21 November 2023


  1. Mike

    Bureaucracies are great at justifying their existence and patting themselves on the back

  2. Merlin

    Makes you wonder how the higher education industry is going to deal long term with applicants who are so deficient in the basics of education. Dumbing down entrance standards keeps butts in the seats short term, but that leads to a pretty grim future for the institutions themselves. Does an undergrad degree become a six year program because the first three or four semesters are spent on incredibly expensive remedial education? That makes for a big price tag for an undergrad degree. I suppose you could spend zillions for new community colleges to feed the universities, but that does nothing to address the failures in primary and secondary public education.

    Raising expectations for public education in an otherwise rapidly devolving society is a huge nut to crack. I’m not optimistic about those odds. Sadly, none of this is new. The obvious relaxation of testing standards and grade inflation began decades ago. The failures of public education have been so institutionalized over decades that a mandated return to, say, 1980s or 1990s success standards would be viewed as downright draconian.

    Children from families capable of removing them from public education will find themselves lightyears ahead of their not-so-lucky peers in adulthood. I’m not talking about wealthy families. We did it for our children along with many other far from wealthy families that recognized a need put their kids on a better life path. When it comes to raising children there are no do-overs. You get it as right as you possibly can and hope your best will be good enough. You just can’t trust others to do that for you.

  3. dad29

    Makes you wonder how the electronics/computer systems/manufacturing/construction/electrical generation/weapons-design & production industry is going to deal long term with applicants who are so deficient in the basics.

    There are a number of thinkers who are VERY concerned about maintaining complex systems with people who cannot read. Air traffic control is one area of great concern.

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