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By Jennifer Meinhardt
Out of 71,000 students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), only 4,544, or 6.4%, can read at grade level.
You could also say it this way: 94% of students can’t read at grade level.
So, if my fourth grader were in MPS, the odds are that she would not have the skills to read classic children’s books such as The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket) or my fourth grader’s current favorite, The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnet).
MPS math scores are even worse: only 3.8% of students are proficient at grade level.
Perhaps, like myself, you’re thinking that this travesty is specific to Milwaukee. What about the rest of Wisconsin?
Across the state, only one-third of children in Wisconsin are grade-level proficient in reading, writing and math. One. Third.
The recent release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that Wisconsin ranks last in the nation for the achievement gap between Black and white students. In reading, fourth-grade white students scored about 22 percent higher than Black students. Math scores showed a similar difference for math with 37 percent of white students scoring higher than their Black classmates.
It is inexcusable and more importantly, a statewide crisis, that a child is more likely to leave school uneducated than educated. No child should have to stay in an environment that is failing them at its most fundamental responsibility: educating.
Clearly, education reform is desperately needed in Wisconsin to give all students a chance at success.
Wisconsin is no stranger to courageously confronting the need for education reform. Wisconsin proudly led the nation in 1990 when it launched the nation’s first school choice program which empowered parents in Milwaukee to send their children to a school of their choosing. Parents across Milwaukee were begging for alternatives to public schooling, and Representative Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee) listened. She famously said “parents have got to be in control of their own home and their own children, and then parents make those decisions. All other houses [White House, state house] should respond and respect what parents want for their children.”
Rep. Williams spearheaded the effort to pass the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that was signed into law by then Governor Tommy Thompson. Courageous legislators and governors in the 30 years since have expanded this successful program to empower parents in Racine and across the state of Wisconsin.
Nonetheless, there are still significant barriers that are keeping students in schools that are failing them.
Across Wisconsin, a wave of parents is once more courageously asking for our elected officials to step up and open wide the doors to education freedom. It is time these officials listen, because, after all, Wisconsin students are counting on us to be able to learn.
Jennifer Meinhardt is the Coalitions Director for Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin.
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