Wisconsin Report Card Study 2012

In advance of this morning’s press conference at the State Capitol in Madison hosted by State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, the Forward Institute’s 2012 Report Card Study is now posted here, as well as on the “Wisconsin Report Card Study 2012″ page of this website.

Wisconsin Report Card Study 2012

Press Conference statement and Executive Summary

2012 Report Card Study Data final

The following is the press statement and executive summary prepared for today’s press conference:

Study shows Wisconsin Report Card scores closely linked to poverty; identifies need for open and accountable approaches to give every child a chance to prosper.

(Executive Summary follows)

A new study conducted by the Forward Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research and education institute, reveals important findings for the future of educational opportunity in Wisconsin. Our study shows that poverty is closely linked to school Report Card scores, and Wisconsin’s public schools outperform non-traditional charter schools even when adjusting for the effects of poverty. 

Currently more than 4 in 10 school age children in Wisconsin are defined as poor or “economically disadvantaged,” up from about 2 in 10 a decade ago. A student from a family qualifying for “free or reduced price lunch” is considered economically disadvantaged for the purposes of DPI scores – over 350,000 children in Wisconsin schools.

Based on data from the new Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Report Cards, our study showed a clear link between low Report Card scores and economically disadvantaged students who already have significant barriers to educational prosperity. Those schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged students had significantly lower scores on the Report Cards.

The study results show that nearly half of the Report Card score variation from school to school can be explained by the variation in poverty levels from school to school. 

Since higher enrollments of economically disadvantaged students are a significant factor in the scores on the DPI Report Card, current proposals to tie school funding and teachers’ salaries to Report Card scores would unfairly punish schools in high poverty districts. As the study clearly shows, a very significant factor affecting Report Card scores is poverty, something which is outside the control of teachers and schools. 

The data also revealed that contrary to the assumptions that non-traditional charter schools would be more effective through creating competitive choice, Wisconsin’s public schools significantly outperformed charter schools overall. This finding was especially evident in those schools with high poverty enrollment.

In the last four years, public school budgets have been cut by over $1 billion, while in 2012 alone, Wisconsin taxpayers provided $143.6 million to charter schools, the highest amount in state history. These fund increases did not translate into charter school performance over the three years of Report Card data collected.

The Report Card data indicates public schools continue to better educate Wisconsin children than the non-traditional charter schools. Charter schools are underperforming at the core level of their mission – student excellence and achievement, without the taxpayer accountability of public schools.

These findings are important, especially as policy makers look for ways to provide the best educational opportunities for Wisconsin’s children while being mindful of the economic burdens on struggling families. 

Based on the high rate of Wisconsin school children living in poverty and the clear effects of poverty on education, this study recommends policymakers enhance educational opportunities for our children, and save taxpayer money by redirecting educational funds to the schools most effective at meeting the current needs of Wisconsin children, Wisconsin’s public schools. 

Executive Summary 

            This report documents findings from our analysis of the school performance data released through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Report Cards. For the purposes of this study, a charter school is defined by DPI in the Report Card data, indicated as “Y” in the “Charter School indicator” column of the DPI data spreadsheet.[1] These charter schools include instrumentality and non-instrumentality entities. Public schools represent 95% (1,772 schools) of the total data set, charter schools 5% (101) of the total. The data show:

  • Higher DPI Report Card scores have a significant correlation with lower economically disadvantaged (ED) enrollment.
  • Almost half of the variation from school to school in DPI Report Card scores can be explained by the variation from school to school in level of ED enrollment.
  • On average, public schools have outperformed charter schools on DPI Report Card scores.
  • Even when adjusting for poverty (e.g. ED enrollment) in the analysis, public schools performed better on the DPI Report Cards than charter schools.
  • The aforementioned finding becomes most prominent in schools serving the poorest students.

We urge Wisconsin legislators to work with state educational leadership and citizens to address the significant correlation between economic disadvantage and educational outcome. Based on the Report Card data and this study, it is our recommendation that well-informed public policy should address the following:

  • Economic disadvantage should be acknowledged as a significant factor affecting education outcome. Future economic and education policies need to receive equal and collaborative consideration as the highest priority in the state budget. Both have significant impact on each other.
  • Any assessment having direct economic consequences for schools or teachers ought to be conducted independent of the current Report Card scoring system. As the study clearly shows, a very significant factor affecting Report Card scores is poverty, something which is outside the control of teachers and schools. Public policy should therefore necessarily address economic justice as part of any serious effort to improve education, and schools today should not be labeled on the basis of factors beyond their control.
  • A re-evaluation of charter school performance, standards and accountability needs to be conducted and addressed immediately. It is clear from the results of this study that overall, charter schools are underperforming at the core level of their mission – student excellence and achievement.[2] 
  • The data clearly show that public schools are doing a better job offsetting the effects of poverty on education than their charter school counterparts. A concerted effort should be made to ascertain how and why this is the case, replicate that effort in charter schools, and reinforce those standards and methods.

A significant informational campaign should be engaged to inform the public about the results of this report and encourage participation in the future of education and economics in Wisconsin. Teachers deserve to be restored to their place as legitimate authorities on classroom education policies, as well as public policy addressing the local economic impact on students in classrooms.

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