Back to School: The state of education in Wisconsin

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GREEN BAY - Most students in Wisconsin head Back to School Tuesday.

So how well is education doing in our state?

FOX 11’s Kelly Schlicht traveled across the state this summer, probing into the big issues in education. She asked people two questions: What is Wisconsin doing well, and what can the state do better?

People she interviewed said Wisconsin's mostly on the right track.

"I think our schools are good. We’ve been very happy here in Howard-Suamico,” said Stacy Hakes, a parent.

“I grew up in the Green Bay Public School District and I feel that I’m fine,” said Jill Ruelle, a parent from Green Bay.

“I have seen for the first time in my 17 years in education a pretty clear direction in where we have to go,” said Stephen Miller, director of assessments for Green Bay Area Public School District.

“We do a lot of really good things and I am really pleased about this,” said Wisconsin State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers.

But how are students actually performing?

Let's look at the facts. More students graduate from High School in Wisconsin than graduate nationally. Our state has an 88 percent graduation rate. That's eight points higher than the national average.

“That's much higher than a lot of the other states,” said Scott Kirst.

Scott Kirst is a professor of education at St. Norbert College. He teaches people to be teachers.
He says the high graduation rate has a far-reaching impact.

“We have the impact locally on the economy. We also have impacts that happen with our higher education. We have a lot of different ways in which we want our students to have a valuable education so they can not only contribute to the workforce but can contribute as citizens of the United States,” said Kirst.

Wisconsin also performs well on tests nationally.

“We do well on the ACT. We lead the Midwest in students taking advanced placement courses,” said Evers.

In ACT scores, Wisconsin ranks second in the nation behind Minnesota.

Also, two-thirds of students who take an Advance Placement course in Wisconsin pass the test for that course.

"We’re always in the top ten percent of students who actually pass it,” said Kirst.

Kirst says tests scores don't measure the full picture of success.

"It shows a small aspect of what our state is about. Our state is hardworking. It puts a lot of effort on effort, and not on just being raw smart."

Despite work ethic, not all students in Wisconsin are achieving at the same rate.

“Certainly no one can be pleased with the fact that we have the largest achievement gap between African American kids and white kids in the country,” said Evers.

That's from a study by the Annie E. Casey foundation. It found black youth in Wisconsin ranked last in the nation in success. Achievement was measured by graduation rates, test scores, poverty and unemployment.

“That's not sustainable. Our economy can't be sustained on an achievement gap like that,” said Evers.

Some in education take another view on what that means.

“Achievement gap implies that it's the student's fault that they're not achieving. We like the idea of the opportunity gap. Where it's not that they're not achieving, they're not getting the same opportunities as everyone else in the state,” said Kirst.

But the top education leader in the state remains optimistic for the future.

“I continue to be a glass half full kind of person,” said Evers.

Experts in education say it's important for parents, teachers and students to partner together, to keep education in our state moving forward.