EDITORIAL: Wisconsin leaves behind minority students, Marquette helps close the gap

Wisconsin has a fine record of educating its young people, that is, if those students live in the right school district or have the financial capability to attend a good school. Often times, these limitations disproportionately hurt the poor and racial minorities.

Wisconsin showed the largest disparity between its white and black students of any state in the U.S., according to the National Association of Educational Association of Education Progress’ 2013 Nation’s Report Card released earlier this month. The report tested 376,000 fourth graders and 341,000 eighth graders in math and reading. The gap between the white and black students in Wisconsin remained the largest in the U.S. in every category: fourth grade reading, eighth grade reading, fourth grade math and eighth grade math.

Milwaukee bears the brunt of these results. The Milwaukee Public School system is put at a disadvantage from the onset. Many of the students it serves come from impoverished families that often have weaker support systems than students living in the suburbs. The majority of students in Milwaukee’s inner city schools ­are black and Latino students. In fact, 85.6 percent of MPS students are minorities while the state of Wisconsin is more than 82 percent white, according to the 2010 census.

Furthermore, in 2011 only 67 percent of MPS students graduated, compared to the state average of 87 percent, and 82.6 percent qualified for subsidized or free lunches, more than twice the state average.

The level of segregation in an area affects upward mobility. Segregation – both racial and socioeconomic – plagues Milwaukee, which is regularly ranked one of the most segregated cities in the United States. This segregation hurts the ability of inner city students, who are relegated to substandard school districts, to improve their economic status.

Race, however, is not the only factor for success. The state needs to do a better job making sure all of its citizens — black, white, latino and others — receive the same opportunities to succeed. Education is one of the most important factors for someone’s ability to improve his or her situation.

This is where Marquette steps in.

The university participates in the Department of Education’s TRiO program through its own Educational Opportunity Program. The aim is to “motivate and enable low-income and first generation students, whose parents do not have a baccalaureate degree, to enter and succeed in higher education,” according to Marquette’s EOP website.

Two of these programs, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math & Science, target eighth graders and ninth graders, respectively. According to the EOP’s website, Upward Bound’s mission is to help low-income and first generation high school students to become a college graduate. All Upward Bound students reside in Milwaukee’s inner city or attend one of the program’s target schools.

The EOP’s Student Support Services seek to enroll students who show a potential for success at Marquette. It includes financial aid, special counseling, tutoring and a pre-enrollment summer program.

These programs seek to bridge racial and socioeconomic gaps and the university should be commended for its effort.

The College of Education and its students are also working to deal with these problems, often on a daily basis.

Most students majoring in education complete student teaching at one of Milwaukee’s inner city schools. By state law, the Department of Public Instruction requires 100 hours of student teaching, but Marquette’s requirements go beyond this depending on what program the student is in.

By training soon to be teachers in an area desperately in need of motivated educators, the College of Education creates students who are motivated to affect change. It is encouraging these students working in a city that desperately needs them and one can only hope these students stay in Milwaukee.

Harvard University economist Raj Chetty asked, “Is America really the land of opportunity?” while speaking at “On the Issues” with Mike Gousha at the Law School earlier this month.

“It depends where you live,” Chetty said. “Some cities in America are correctly characterized as lands of opportunity while others are lands of persistent inequality, generation after generation.”

Chetty came to this conclusion after completing The Equality Opportunity Project, a study that tracked the chances of poor children climbing the economic ladder in cities across the United States including Milwaukee.

“The bottom line for Milwaukee is that, unfortunately at the moment, it is not a very high-opportunity place for those with low incomes,” he said. “If you start out in a family where the parents are in the bottom fifth of the U.S. income distribution, your chance of a child reaching the top 20 percent is only 5.6 percent … far lower than many, many other cities in the United States.”

The Equality of Opportunity Project found the quality of schools and teachers make a real difference in upward mobility.

As an institution of higher learning, the university understands that education is one of the most powerful tools to improve someone’s life. Marquette should be commended for its efforts, but these efforts should not end when we leave Marquette.

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