The perception of the Madison school district is that it is one of the top urban districts. That’s why it’s so perplexing to find that black students are doing as poorly as they are in Milwaukee in Racine
By Steven Korris
The Madison Metropolitan School District operates a dual system of education for White and African American students. The outcomes for the less-favored group have been awful. Last year, African American dropouts outnumbered African American graduates, 96 to 94. African American grade-point averages in Madison have been about the same as African American grade-point averages in Milwaukee and Racine. The grade point averages of White students in Madison, on the other hand, have been far ahead of the White grade-point averages in Milwaukee and Racine.
The problems are so strong that they overpower economic advantages. On last year’s California Achievement Test in Madison, students from low-income families scored higher than African American students, even though the African American group includ ed middle- and upper-income students.
One of the keys to dual education in Madison is an efficient system for removing, segregating, and punishing African American students. In absolute numbers, the district imposed more suspensions on African American students than on White students last year, although there were more than five times as many White students. More than half of the African American students in Madison’s middle schools, 388 of 771, were suspended.
Suspensions have not been the only tool for removing, segregating, and punishing African American students. Often, special-education programs have served the same pur poses. African American students in Madison were twice as likely as White students to be declared “learning disabled” or “emotionally disturbed” in 1991-92. African Americans were four times as likely to be declared “cognitively disabled.”
Another key to dual education in Madison is keeping African American students away from what they need most – African American teachers. The district employed 46 African American teachers last year, or one for every 75 African American students. The ratio of White students to White teachers was 11 to one.
Every White student in Madison attended a school that employed White teachers, but 986 African American students attended schools that employed no African American teachers. LaFollette High, four of the nine middle schools, and 14 of the 29 elementary schools were operating without African American teachers.
Time is not on Madison’s side as it struggles with the problems dual education creates. The growth of the district’s enrollment has slowed almost to a halt, while enrollments in Dane County’s suburban and rural communities have been booming. The num ber of White students in Madison has already begun to drop. Two years ago, it was 18,484. Last year, it was down to 18,376. This year, it was down again, to 18,253.
Madison’s professional staff has joined in the outward movement. More than a fourth of them were living outside the district last year. Twelve of the 36 administrators at the top of the payroll were living in other districts.
African American families have been moving out, too. Their enrollment in subur ban and rural districts nearly doubled in five years, from 215 in 1987-88 to 428 in 1992-93. African American enrollment in Verona has jumped from seven to 109 in 15 years. African American enrollment in Monona Grove has risen from three to 50 in 14 years.
Madison must do a better job of educating African American students. This report recommends that the board begin to dismantle dual education, with fairness and justice as its explicit goals. It calls on the board and the staff to examine racial disparities in punishment and special education, to engage African American parents in two-way communication, and to desegregate the staff. It also urges the district to seek outside assistance in reaching these goals.