Public Policy Forum Blog

Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin: 2013-14

With stadiums lit up on Friday nights, homecoming plans being finalized and a cool tinge in the air, students across southeast Wisconsin are well into the new school year. Against this backdrop of academic exuberance comes a new, comprehensive report from the Public Policy Forum highlighting the academic successes and challenges in the region.

The report, Public Schooling in Southeast Wisconsin: 2013-14, provides updated analyses using new data and trends of student demographics and enrollments, academic achievement, and school district financing. This current iteration is the 29th annual public schools report from the Forum.

Our analysis gives an overview of Wisconsin’s new academic standards and assessments, including the adoption and implementation timelines. We look at single-year and five-year trend data for state assessments with breakouts for race and socioeconomic status, as well as achievement gaps for these populations.

Newly released district report cards enable a district-by-district look at performance and accountability. Additionally, we review postsecondary readiness using Advanced Placement (AP) exams, the ACT, and high school graduation rates. The report also includes a special look at English Language Learners (ELL) and their growing population in southeast Wisconsin districts.

Overall, our 2014 examination of public schools in southeast Wisconsin shows that academic achievement for the region as a whole continues to lag that of the state, in large measure because of the challenges faced by the region’s largest urban districts.  Throughout the region, however, there are also plentiful examples of success and progress, which are highlighted in our detailed, district-by-district data tables.  

Some key findings include:

Poverty in the region is still on the rise. The data indicate 46.1% of students in southeast Wisconsin are eligible for the Free or Reduced Price Lunch program. This is a one percentage point increase from last year’s rate and a 5.1-point increase from the 2009-10 academic year.

The region continues to face problems narrowing achievement gaps. State assessments reveal large racial and economic achievement gaps in student proficiency and graduation rates. New analysis shows little progress in improving racial achievement gaps in the region’s largest districts over the past five years.  

Positive performances on college and career readiness measures. Although ACT composite scores saw little change, ACT participation in the region increased 4.1 percentage points, exceeding the state average. AP participation and number of exams passed increased from 2012. Additionally, graduation rates increased for the fourth straight year.

Enrollment in the region is declining, but at a slower rate. Though enrollment in the region dropped from last year, its decline is slowing down. This year’s decline of 0.1 percentage points represents a decrease of just 225 students, a far smaller decline than in past years. Three counties in southeast Wisconsin enrolled more students than in 2012-13, with MPS experiencing its first enrollment growth in 14 years. Additionally, minority enrollment increased by 0.8 percentage points over last year, now comprising 42.3% of the public school population in the southeast Wisconsin region.

Student participation is still a concerning issue. While attendance remained unchanged, the truancy and dropout rates increased in southeast Wisconsin. In fact, the regional dropout rate is accelerating.

This report comes at a time of significant change and transition for public schools in the state. Recent years have seen the adoption of new academic standards and assessments. Taken together, these initiatives offer the possibility of a more thorough understanding of how effectively Wisconsin public school students are being educated and how their academic achievement could be improved.

Joe Yeado