The state’s most valuable – and undeveloped – resource
By William Durden, Ph.D.
For a strong future, Wisconsin must develop fully the educational potential of its youth and retain the most talented as future state leaders.
These goals are not being met sufficiently. In several important measures of achievement, college-bound Wisconsin students rank well behind their peers in other states. Among the most gifted Wisconsin students, significant numbers leave for higher education elsewhere.
Educators, parents, and elected officials confront three challenges. First, they must discard the unwarranted complacency and self-satisfaction which exists in many quarters as to the effectiveness of the state’s schools. Second, they must address what amounts to an internal brain drain, with too few of the state’s college-bound children reaching full potential. Third, they must determine if, as some perceive, Wisconsin also is witnessing an external brain drain, with a disproportionate share of talented high school seniors leaving the state.
An overview of current Wisconsin attitude and practice reveals misguided assumptions and inaction in the face of these challenges. This stands in contrast to neighboring states of Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois, as well as numerous others where the educational system is seen as the focus of fundamental reform for meeting future social and economic challenges.
One explanation for Wisconsin’s circumstance is complacency. This is based on lndicators of educational achievement which might lead one to conclude that Wisconsin students are superior to those from most other states. These supposed indicators of high achievement are test results from the College Board Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test Program (ACT).
A more thorough assessment reveals a conflicting conclusion to that offered by SAT and ACT test scores. Further, In the context of efforts which characterize other states’ activities, Wisconsin does not fare well either in the general level of academic preparedness nor in its efforts to match its brightest youth with opportunities to foster emerging talent at an early age. These opportunities include: College Board Advanced Placement programs; gifted and talented initiatives; college-school partnership programs; and other special education initiatives.