Well, this ought to be embarrassing: The National Assessment of Educational Progress has looked at the gap between African American and white American students and determined the difference between black school achievement and white school achievement is greater in Wisconsin than in any other state in the union.
When educational achievement is measured in terms of reading and math, we are the worst in the nation, behind Mississippi. Think about that: We rank below Mississippi.
What all this means, I’m not exactly sure. I suppose it might be that white kids in Mississippi don’t learn very much, either, so the achievement gap is less pronounced. That could be it, but I don’t think I’d take too much comfort in that explanation.
Or, I suppose we could blame it all on Milwaukee. Except that when high school graduation rates are compared, Madison has a greater gap between black and white than Milwaukee.
I don’t know how we compare with Mississippi. I don’t want to ever have to compare Wisconsin to Mississippi.
As much as I’d like to blame it all on Gov. Scott Walker, it is painfully obvious that the problem didn’t start in 2011 when he took office.
My real problem is that no one outside the educational establishment and a handful of African American leaders seems to care. No one seems to see it as a crisis that must involve every citizen of the state. And that might be indicative of an even scarier problem -- is it just possible that Wisconsin is not the great state we have lulled ourselves into thinking it is?
I mean, we did manage to elect Walker governor not once but twice if you count the recall -- and how can you not count the recall? In his first campaign, he promised to end high-speed rail in the state and curb benefits for state employees. In the recall, he gloried in having achieved those dubious ends.
I don’t blame the governor for setting us on a new path toward mediocrity; I do blame us for endorsing that path. And for providing him with a Republican Senate and Assembly to join him in rolling back every policy that set Wisconsin apart from mediocrity.
Our government is our creation. It reflects who we are. We might try thinking about that.
Our schools are our creation, too. They reflect who we are as a people, what we value, what we strive to achieve. And if we’re sanguine about having a racial achievement gap that places us behind Mississippi and every other state in the union, well that says something about our values.
And what it says is not very encouraging.