Wisconsin seeks to close the achievement gap


GREEN BAY - A new report shows Wisconsin is the worst in the country when it comes to the achievement gap for students of different races.

“It's disturbing. It's disturbing. Every child needs to count,” said MacArthur Elementary Principal Kim Spychalla.

But educators around the state are coming together to try and break down barriers.

A new task force striving for equality in the classroom.

Educators in Green Bay say they work hard to set every child in their classroom up for success regardless of their race.

“With the changing demographics in the area, teachers really work hard and they become and do so much more than what they have in the past,” said Spychalla.

But a recent study from The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked the state of Wisconsin last in the nation for black youth success.

Wisconsin also performed below the national average with Asian youth success.

In comparison, Wisconsin was above the national average for white, Latino, and Native American youth success.

The study looked at several factors, including test scores and graduation rates, but also poverty and unemployment rates.

UW-Green Bay Education professor James Coates says as communities in Northeast Wisconsin become more diverse, teachers need to respond.

“You are now trying to overcome your own personal stereotypes, your own biases, and thoughts that you have been taught over the years over the years,” said Coates. “The individuals being taught need to overcome their own biases about the people who are teaching them, and some of their own stereotypes of, ‘oh that person has this color, this skin tone, so I can't trust them.’”

The Department of Public Instruction is tackling the issue. It's bringing together a panel of educators from across the state who have had success making the achievement gap smaller.

Green Bay MacArthur Elementary Principal Kim Spychalla has been selected for that task force.

“Really looking in-depth into why that's happening. What is being done differently. Why do we have such a difference in our achievement,” said Spychalla.

But Coates thinks schools systems can't shoulder the whole burden.

“That responsibility comes in the form of the students wanting to, with the students wanting to learn, with the students wanting to succeed. But then the school system has to have those individuals in the classroom who are willing to help those individuals succeed,” said Coates.

Area teachers say they hope to work together with students, parents, and the community to make sure the future is bright for every young person.

The Promoting Excellence for All task force will meet throughout the spring and summer. It will release its own report on Wisconsin's achievement gap later this year.