Public Policy Forum Blog

Racine school district holding itself accountable to goals, but academic achievement still lags peer districts

Racine Unified School District (RUSD) implemented a district-wide vision for improvement in March 2009. Called the North Star vision, it is intended to specify "the path to successful completion of high school for all RUSD students with an ultimate goal of every graduate being ready for a career and/or college.” It includes performance targets at each grade level to be used in creating school improvement plans and in setting school-level learning targets.

The vision is the result of a collaborative effort by the school board, district administrators, the teachers and administrators unions, and the support staff union. A simple graphic illustrating the measures of focus at each grade level has been widely distributed to parents, teachers, and district stakeholders.

 In this year's version of our annual report comparing RUSD and its ten peer districts across the state, we highlight RUSD’s visions and targets for each grade level, starting with the most advanced grades. For each measure, we present several years of trend data, starting with the 2008-09 school year as a baseline in most cases. We note where RUSD met or exceeded its 2010-11 target, as well as where it has fallen short, and we analyze the goals for 2011-12.

 We find:

  • Of the North Star goals, only in writing has the district surpassed its target for all students. There has been progress toward some of the other goals for some subgroups of students but, on the whole, large racial and socio-economic gaps in performance persist and entire grade levels are falling short in math and reading.
  • The large and persistent achievement gaps are concerning because RUSD serves a lower-income, less-educated population than most of its peers and the state as a whole. RUSD ranks first among peer districts in student poverty, as measured by free or reduced-price lunch eligibility. In addition, 54% of RUSD students belong to minority racial or ethnic groups, ranking RUSD first among the peer districts in terms of minority enrollment.
  • Long-term trends in math and reading continue to cause concern, although the 72% of RUSD 4th graders proficient or advanced in reading in 2010-2011 is up slightly from 2009-10, as is the 76% of RUSD 8th graders proficient or advanced in reading. However, the 52% of 10th graders proficient or advanced in reading is a slight decline over the previous year. Improvements in math scores were not seen in 2010-11 in 4th, 8th, or 10th grades.

We applaud RUSD for established the North Star vision and making impressive improvements in writing proficiency. Transparently holding itself accountable to these goals allows all stakeholders to envision the path to higher achievement, and the efforts that will be needed to get there. Click here to download a copy of the 14th Annual Comparative Analysis of Racine School District. The report was sponsored by Education Racine Inc. and the Johnson Foundation.

Anneliese Dickman