“Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools”

The latest Forward Institute study has been released, titled “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” (full study in pdf at link). The full raw data set will be posted in the coming days.

The following is the text of remarks from Scott Wittkopf, lead author of the study, at the press conference this morning in Spring Green with State Senator Dale Schultz(Power Point at the link):


Why are we here today? It may seem odd to release a study about Milwaukee schools in Spring Green. In truth, public education is about community. In fact, public schools are the heart of the community – and as goes a community, so go the public schools. Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress. That fact is true whether the “community” is considered rural, urban, a state or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.

This study, while focused on Milwaukee School Report Cards, tells us something critically important about what is happening in the Milwaukee education system. Our study of significant factors associated with Report Card Scores, why 2R charter schools APPEAR to have higher Report Card Scores, and how publicly subsidized “opt-out” schools impact public schools has statewide implications. As Milwaukee now serves as the laboratory for education experimentation in Wisconsin and the nation, we can extrapolate what is happening in Milwaukee to examine the impact of such a system if it were to be expanded statewide – into rural districts like River Valley. 

Summary of most significant findings

1. School to school comparisons:

  • MPS/2R raw scores – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy and student poverty rates. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter school type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • 2R/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy rates and higher rate of fully licensed teachers. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • MPS public/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that MPS public schools have higher disabled enrollment, teacher experience, and student poverty rates than MPS charter schools.  When we equalize for these factors, we find that the difference BECOMES significant. This means that MPS public school Report Card Scores actually ARE higher than MPS charter schools. 

2. The most significant factor in the Milwaukee School Report Card scores is habitual truancy (Truancy effect slope figure). We can explain almost the entire effect on Report Card scores by three significant factors – habitual truancy rate, student poverty, and the percent of teachers with at least five years of experience. It is important to underscore that “Percent of Teachers with 5 years experience” have the same POSITIVE effect with scores as student poverty has negative effect. The negative truancy effect is 3 times that of the teacher and student poverty effects.

3. The negative effect of truancy is equal across schools. No school type counters these effects through educational effectiveness. 

4. The data presented in this study along with other cited research indicates a strong likelihood of student selectivity (“skimming”) by 2R charter schools. This factor creates perceived positive effects which are overstated and unrelated to school type. 

5. We suggest that school and parental bias factors are theorized to have a negative effect on the students left behind by an opt-out system which functions as a new form of segregation based on prior student achievement, parental participation, and schools picking “desirable students.” (Power Point Slides on truancy) 

  • 9-year truancy trend – WI and MKE stable, as student poverty increases; 2R sees 50% decrease.
  • Zip Code – Community level – 2R charters not characteristic of community school. 53210 – stark difference in truancy rate/report card score.
  • 2012 – 2013 – Effects of truancy across all schools. No school type counters effect, only through selection. 

The big picture presented in this study is consistent with a large body of research which tells us that these multiple levels of selection bias are occurring in “opt out” parallel school systems as in Milwaukee. It also tells us a great deal of how that system is fundamentally flawed, and that expansion of this type of system statewide would have devastating effects on community school districts like River Valley.

Connecting the dots

                1. There is strong evidence that 2R charter schools have selection biases which reinforce each other, and have nothing to do with educational efficacy – confirming theorized “skimming” effects.

2. Recent published research (Dr. Kern Alexander, U of I, Journal of Education Finance, Fall 2012)[1] confirms what is now known from 20 years of Cognitive Science research[2] – that people make decisions based on deeply held values, beliefs, and cultural biases – not from best information. This is critical in understanding how ANY publicly subsidized, parallel education system is based on a false premise – that people will select a school based on educational effectiveness. THIS IS FALSE. In education decisions, as in economics, people do not behave as rational actors. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

3. The system in Milwaukee is leading to selection bias on the part of schools and parents, which is causing predictably higher performing students to opt out of public schools for multiple bias reasons, leaving higher concentrations of higher needs student in the public schools.

4. Higher concentrations of higher needs students places more stress on a school, requiring more resources – which are not there because of funding required for the parallel, publicly subsidized schools which are skimming funding as well as students.

5. The cycle is now continuous as funding for higher needs, public school students continues to be cut. These are the schools in our most distressed communities which will be faced with closure, only to be replaced by 2R style charter schools which do NOT offer a better education for a more select group of students – leaving many behind.

This is becoming a vicious, downward spiral in Milwaukee. Current policy being debated would perpetuate this cycle through inappropriate use of School Report Cards. School Report Cards provide local schools with another rung on the educational ladder of success. They provide insights into what works, and what requires further development and investment to ensure educational opportunity for every child. Instead, there are policymakers who would have the Report Cards be used as a wrecking ball – to literally wreck public schools in our most distressed communities, and replace them with schools that do not provide equal opportunity for every child. 

Policy Recommendations

                1. The entire Milwaukee community (and the state of Wisconsin) should commit to a proactive, wide reaching truancy project. One place to start is the model program “Walking School Bus” which has been successful in getting kids to school in other urban areas.

2. A ten year plan to sunset the 2R charter and any publicly subsidized private schools. A 20 year experiment has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and shown no real educational benefit or effectiveness beyond what is available in public schools.

3. Develop criteria for proper use of School Report Cards as another means for local districts to gauge successes and further needs – not as a wrecking ball.

4. Address the issue of inequitable funding in Wisconsin Public Schools in the face of increasing populations of high needs students.

5. The state needs to begin addressing the real issues facing communities in distress, as schools will follow.

[1] Alexander, Kern, “Asymmetric Information, Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stiglitz”, From the Journal of Education Finance,  Fall 2012

[2] Damasio, Anthony, “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” Penguin Books, 1994

More than one in five wells tested “unsafe” in Kewaunee County recently

Results of recent private well-testing in Kewaunee County show over one in five wells are unsafe, testing positive for E Coli, Coliform, and Nitrates. The tests were conducted by a state-certified lab at the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department, and demonstrate a failure on the part of the DNR to protect the people of Kewaunee County and their water.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has always protected the water we rely on for our very lives. Today, there is strong evidence that the DNR is failing the people of Kewaunee County, leaving the area’s water quality and availability to the whims of powerful corporate agriculture and factory farm interests.

Recent tests conducted on private wells in Kewaunee County show that 15% of wells tested positive for coliform, over 35% tested positive for elevated nitrate levels (12% tested higher than 10 ppm, considered unfit for any human consumption), and 22% were considered “unsafe” due to bacterial or nitrate contamination.

The well tests provide a snapshot in time for a set of wells on an annual basis, usually in the Spring or Fall. The testing has been ongoing since 2004. The full spreadsheet can be found at this link: Kewaunee Well Data

Forward Institute derived median levels of contamination from the nine years of testing data (from the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Department) stratifying for weather conditions, which showed the recent test results to be consistent with the median levels. Of note is that under dry conditions, the percentage of unsafe wells is below the standard deviation, implying that runoff of applied manure is playing a significant role in the contamination. Also noteworthy is the absence of E coli under dry conditions. Under wet conditions, contamination levels increase, particularly E coli. Year-round random tests reported higher than the standard deviation of unsafe wells, implying that a larger random-sample, year-round study should be conducted to better understand the impact on local wells.

Wisconsin has laws that protect our water, and the DNR is looking the other way. Meanwhile, evidence continues to grow that factory farms contribute to contaminating what is a life necessity – water. Additional study and research on the impact of factory farm expansion on water and health should be required before additional permits are approved by the DNR.

Figure 1. Median Wells Testing Unsafe 8/2004 – 3/2013, Stratified by Total Sample, Weather Conditions, and Year-Round Point Samples.


Note: Vertical bars represent one standard deviation from the median of Total Daily Samples.

Table 1. Median Wells Testing Unsafe as Percent and Number.

Total Tested

Median Tested

Median Unsafe

Median Unsafe %

Total Daily Samples





Dry Conditions





Wet Conditions





Year Round Samples





A Forward Institute posting from March examined the health concerns surrounding livestock density and the associated health risks, based on a Johns Hopkins study from early 2013.

Forward Institute Releases Review of Voucher Student Attainment Study

Study analysis shows voucher schools have no significant effect on high school, college attainment – Parental factors are more important.

In February 2012, the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas released a study aimed at discerning whether Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP; voucher) school students in Milwaukee, who were enrolled in 8th and 9th grade in 2006, had higher graduation rates and college attainment rates than matched peers in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Voucher program advocates have used this study to tout “higher graduation rates” of students in the Milwaukee voucher program.

An updated version of the SCDP study was published in the Policy Studies Journal (PSJ) recently. This updated study resulted in a minimal change of the overall results. There were, however, important specific variables which saw changes in significance. Most importantly, the new report conclusions ignored the statistical significance of gender, parental factors, and test scores that positively affected graduation rates and college attainment, while at the same time overstated the non-significant effect of voucher schools.  The non-significant results are still being used by voucher advocates as evidence of success in the voucher school program, placing ideology over evidence in the ongoing debate over voucher schools. Parental education factors, gender, and early reading scores had greater importance in graduation and attainment than voucher school exposure.

The SCDP study authors acknowledge the studies shortcomings. First, that the ideal study involving a randomized trial is not practical. Second, the study is only able to examine exposure to the voucher schools, as students who started in an MPCP school at 8th grade may have switched to an MPS school prior to graduation. A student who switched would be counted as an MPCP graduate, and vice versa. There is no accounting for students who switched at a given point and to/from what school. Third, only 44% of the MPCP sample remained in a voucher school through grade 12. The study authors have also remained silent on the mischaracterization of their study findings by Milwaukee voucher school advocates.

It is important to underscore the most significant findings of this study that have gone unreported and omitted to advance the ideology of voucher school expansion. There is no significant effect of voucher school exposure on high school graduation rates when controlling for demographics and test scores. In addition, when factoring in parental characteristics, the effect of voucher school exposure on high school and college attainments disappear completely. What is maintained is the high significance of gender (female), math and reading scores, and parental college education. It should be made clear that based on this study, voucher schools have no impact on educational attainment when factored with demographics and parental factors. It is not accurate to conclude that voucher school students have higher graduation and attainment rates than MPS students. The data do not support that conclusion.

The full review and analysis can be viewed and downloaded at this link:

MPCP Attainment Study Analysis


How much of a health risk are “Animal Factories”…aka CAFOs?

Wisconsin has seen unprecedented growth in the number of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) since 2000, with the vast majority of the growth being in the dairy cattle populations.




WPDES CAFO Permits 1985 – January 2010

Note: Beginning July 1, 2002, a single permit issued to Jennie–O Turkey Store (JTS) covered 55 of their operations. Previously, there were 17 separate permits for each of the operations with 1,000 animal units or higher. This reduction in the number of separate permits issued to JTS reduced the number of total permits issued in Wisconsin.

One of the areas of concern that the state of Wisconsin is failing to monitor, regulate, or study is the potential emergence of LA-MRSAs. The state Department of Health does not track or monitor reports of MRSA unless it is the result of an infection or illness contracted from a healthcare facility of provider. A peer-reviewed study published in the November 2012 issue of “Emerging Infectious Diseases” raises issue with the increasing concentration of livestock, and the resulting threat from LA-MRSA to human populations.[1]

 According to the study co-authored and conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands, and using data from a population in the Netherlands, the increased risk is not necessarily associated with direct contact with livestock, but proximity to high-density populations.

Drug resistant strains of staph are on the increase in the United States. In 2005, the US saw 94,000 incidences, resulting in 18,000 deaths. Livestock-associated MRSA is growing in prevalence where they are being tracked. In the Netherlands, 0% of MRSA cases were associated with livestock in 2002. In 2006, LA-MRSA accounted for 21% of cases; in 2010, they accounted for 40%. Again, the state of Wisconsin has no monitoring or mandatory reporting for LA-MRSA occurrences.

The study concluded, in part, “Regional density of livestock is a notable risk factor for nasal carriage of LA-MRSA for persons with and without direct contact with livestock…We found that doubling pig, cattle, and veal calf densities per municipality increased the odds of LA-MRSA carriage over carriage of other types of MRSA by 24.7%, 76.9%, and 24.1%, respectively, after adjusting for direct animal contact, living in a rural area, and the probable source of MRSA carriage. Controlling the spread of LA-MRSA thus requires giving attention to community members in animal-dense regions who are unaffiliated with livestock farming.”  

It is noteworthy the increased odds associated with high density cattle populations (76.9%) as compared to pigs and veal cattle.

There have been additional recent studies confirming LA-MRSA carriage in persons without direct farm connections, such as in an Iowa daycare facility.[2] Another European study confirms that proximity to increased livestock population density increases risk of LA-MRSA carriage.[3]

The increased density of CAFOs in Northeastern Wisconsin[4] should be of particular concern to residents and health officials in those Counties seeing unprecedented populations of dairy cattle. The Hopkins/Netherlands study provides evidence that Wisconsin Health Officials are behind addressing this emerging health issue.


Forward Institute joins DPI in Jefferson County Education Forum

Forward Institute Board Members Scott Wittkopf and Julie Wells participated in an American Association of University Women (AAUW) discussion on the Walker Education Budget proposals on Monday, March 11 in Fort Atkinson. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction policy advisor Jeff Pertl presented current budget information on school evaluations and proposed voucher expansion. Forward Institute contributed Report Card study findings and new information from the forthcoming poverty and education study.

A local news report was published in the Jefferson County Daily Union. Key quotes from the discussion:

Walker’s proposed 2013-15 budget allocates $64 million in education “performance funding” that would be divided among schools based on their report card score. Schools in the bottom two achievement categories would compete for $10 million of the funding, $24 million would go to schools in the top two categories, and the remaining $30 million would go to schools that improved their report card performance by at least one point.

Pertl voiced concern about the fact that the report cards were being used to make “high-stakes funding decisions.”

“We really didn’t design this instrument for making these types of decisions, so we (the Department of Public Instruction) are opposed, concerned about using this system for that purpose,” said Pertl.

“There’s a really high correlation between poverty and student performance,” said Pertl.

Pertl’s statement is consistent with FI’s Report card study, finding that nearly 50% of the difference in school report card scores can be explained by difference in level of poverty from school to school.

Wittkopf presented data from a Forward Institute study to be released later this month that he said shows that students in Milwaukee’s voucher schools had much lower rates of tenth-grade students reading at proficient or advanced levels than at Milwaukee public school. Milwaukee largely is characterized as being a failing school district.

“If you don’t have students reading at a proficient level by tenth grade, they can’t learn in time to graduate at a proficient level,” Wittkopf said, noting that voucher schools often tout higher graduation rates than public schools. “I think the question we’re raising is, ‘Are you creating a diploma mill?’

“What we would be advocating would be to not increase aid to the voucher schools,” said Wittkopf. “It costs about $7,200 to get a student to advanced or proficient in mathematics in the 10 poorest districts in the state. In the voucher schools, it’s about $14,000.”

The full Forward Institute poverty and education study is expected to be released in late March.

Forward Institute Chair Interview Previews Upcoming Poverty and Education Study


Forward Institute Chair Scott Wittkopf was interviewed on “Drive Home with Sly” (93.7 FM WEKZ) on Tuesday, March 5. The interview discussed the impact of poverty on education in Wisconsin and Governor Scott Walker’s recent education budget proposal. The interview previewed some of the findings which are due to be released later this month in a full report, “Wisconsin Budgetary Policy and Poverty in Public Education, a study of the impact of school funding on educational opportunity.” 

The full interview podcast can be found here:

“Walker’s Double Whammy on Education”

Continue to follow Forward Institute to receive early notification and the full report before the public release.

Milwaukee and Racine DPI Report Card scores and poverty – and about those “growth scores”

In the weeks since Forward Institute released our Wisconsin Report Card Study 2012, charter school advocates and school privatization advocates have pointed to Milwaukee and Racine as examples of charter schools outperforming traditional public schools. The data for both districts show the overwhelming impact of poverty on Report Card scores. The need for public policy that effectively addresses poverty and education policies together should be the highest priority. The data also consistently demonstrates the inherent problems with tying school funding and teacher evaluation to current standard measures of educational outcome.

Figure 1 Mil-Racine graphs

Figure 2 Mil-Racine graphs

As demonstrated in the first two graphs (figure 1 is Milwaukee schools only, figure 2 is statewide schools), Milwaukee and statewide school districts show a significant correlation between the level of Economic Disadvantage and Report Card scores. The higher the level of poverty, the lower the Report Card scores. The plot also shows charter schools at the lowest income levels having lower scores than their public school counterparts – consistent with the statewide data. There is a difference in the data, however – one not addressed by charter school advocates.

In the statewide data, charter schools have a significantly higher percentage of low-income enrollment than public schools (43.6% Charters, 32.7% Public). In Milwaukee, public schools have a greater percentage of low-income enrollment than charter schools (88.5% Charters, 95% Public). (Low income is defined in this study as schools with ED enrollment higher than 48.9%. Middle income is ED enrollment of 30.4% to less than 48.9%. High income is ED enrollment less than 30.4%).

Based on the statewide outcome, we would have expected Milwaukee charter schools to perform better on the Report Cards in the lowest income group than public schools – having a lower percentage of high poverty schools. That is not the case. Figure 3 shows that in the middle and low-income groups, charter schools scored lower than public schools in Milwaukee.

Figure 3 Mil-Racine graphs

At the very least, based on the standard deviation, charter schools scored no better than public schools in Milwaukee. This would suggest that in spite of MPS traditional public schools having more schools with high ED enrollment than charter schools, they are still scoring no worse than their non-traditional charter school counterparts.

A histogram in figure 4 shows the Report Card score distribution for Milwaukee public and charter schools. The distribution is expressed as a percentage of the total to compensate for a larger number of public schools. This graph clearly illustrates that a greater percentage of charter schools had lower Report Card scores than public schools in Milwaukee.

Figure 4 Mil-Racine graphs

In the Racine Unified School District, there is insufficient data on charter schools to effectively draw a comparison between public and non-traditional charter schools.There is also currently no performance data on private voucher schools to draw any valid analysis. It is possible, however, to consider RUSD schools in comparison to the statewide data. Figure 5 shows the overall effect of poverty on Report Card scores is similar to the statewide and Milwaukee models.

Figure 5 Mil-Racine graphs

In the RUSD, 80.6% of all schools have low-income enrollment (ED enrollment >48.9%). Again, this is significantly higher than the statewide low-income enrollment (43.6% Charters, 32.7% Public), yet lower than Milwaukee schools (88.5% Charters, 95% Public). Figure 6 compares the scores stratified by Milwaukee, Racine, and statewide scores, charters and public schools. No MPS schools fall into the “high income” category. (Low income is defined in this study as schools with ED enrollment higher than 48.9%. Middle income is ED enrollment of 30.4% to less than 48.9%. High income is ED enrollment less than 30.4%).

Figure 6 Mil-Racine graphs

The high and middle-income groups show no significant difference in the Report Card scores, consistent with the statewide analysis, although the Milwaukee Charters middle-income group is close to being significantly lower than the Milwaukee public middle-income group.

Of greatest significance is the Racine low-income scores. RUSD low-income schools scored statistically equal to the statewide charter schools score – and higher than the Milwaukee Charter schools of low-income.

The data does not support the claim that Milwaukee Charter schools outperform traditional public schools. At the very least, the difference is not statistically significant. At the most, the mean Report Card scores indicate that Milwaukee Public Schools are outperforming their Charter School counterparts – particularly in the schools of highest poverty. In Racine, the highest poverty RUSD schools are performing on a par with statewide Charter Schools, and only slightly lower than statewide Public Schools.

While we all want better outcome for children of poverty, the data show that continued calls for expansion of non-traditional charter schools and private voucher programs (which have no accountability data to analyze) are nothing more than partisan politics; having demonstrated no evidence of improving educational outcome, particularly for children of poverty.

The Milwaukee and Racine data confirm a consistent link with poverty and educational outcome; and that in the highest areas of poverty, public schools are doing a better job educating children in the most challenging situations. 

A word about “Growth Scores”

There has been a significant push to compare public and charter schools based on the “Growth Score” portion of the DPI Report Card scores, as well as other school-to-school comparisons based on growth scores. DPI assessment experts have pointed out that this is an invalid comparison. Growth scores measure growth within a given school, based on measures within that school. For that reason, each school has a different baseline from previous years, making growth score comparison invalid. An illustration…

A majority of the “Growth Score” index relies on students moving toward proficient or advanced in reading and math tests, from previous years’ performance in that school. The mean growth score statewide is 61.4 for public schools, 62.4 for charter schools. As Milwaukee schools have been the focus in this study and the media, figure 7 shows the significant difference in starting points for public, charter schools, and test subject.

Figure 7 Mil-Racine graphs

Notice that charter school students in Milwaukee had a significantly higher percentage of proficient math and reading scores at the start of the measurement in 2008. With the exception of Charters Reading proficiency declining from 2008, the other three groups demonstrate a pattern of modest improvement with decline beginning in 2010 Public Math scores, and all scores declining from 2011-2012.

Further evidence of school-to-school differences can be seen at the highest and lowest growth score schools in Table 1 (RC score = Report Card score, ED enroll = Economic Disadvantage enrollment %, Reading and Math numbers expressed as percent of students scoring proficient):

Table 1 Mil-Racine

First, note the difference in starting points for each school. In both the top and lowest growth schools, charter schools have lower ED enrollment and higher test scores. While the highest growth score for a public school showed an improvement from 2008-2012 (much of it coming in 2011-2012), the other three schools have shown decline or no improvement. Much of the decline has come in the last year, 2011-2012.

While the growth score is useful in looking at growth within a school, it is certainly not an acceptable measure in comparing different schools. Moreover, the growth scores are telling us more about poverty and educational outcome…but that is for another time.

Scott Wittkopf, Chair

Forward Institute

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.

Four Decades of Corporate Personhood

In 1971, soon-to-be US Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell sent his now famous memo (“The Powell memo 1971“) to Eugene Sydnor, then Education Chair of the US Chamber of Commerce. The result was an emerging corporate culture funding and founding hundreds of think tanks, university professorships, and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

A significant effect of this memo was to begin forming the idea that “corporations are people.” It was Powell who authored the landmark majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston vs Belotti which became the foundation opinion for “Citizens United” – supporting the idea of corporate personhood. An opinion harshly dissented by William Rehnquist.

Powell placed a specific emphasis on a more favorable corporate tax structure

In addition to the ideological attack on the system itself (discussed in this memorandum), its essentials also are threatened by inequitable taxation, and — more recently — by an inflation which has seemed uncontrollable.

A false premise has emerged as a result of the “corporations are people” message. It is the idea that taxes in the United States are an undue burden, to the point of being a violation of corporate “rights” to profit. Corporate conservatives and lobbyists have been pushing for a reduction not only in the top tax rate, but in corporate taxes as well.

The message they are sending is that the US has the highest corporate tax rate in the world at 35%. That high rate is an imposition on the “freedom” of the market to make a profit, translating into jobs. The facts on the tax issue do not support their argument.

Just looking at the top rate a corporation could pay, does make it look like the US rate is high:

Comparison of Corporate Tax Rates chart

The problem is, the most profitable companies take advantage of off-shoring, combined reporting, and a myriad of other tax shelters. The effective rate, or total ratio of taxes paid after deductions significantly lowers the percentage paid. Remember, this is an average rate:

US Corporate Tax Rate chart

The US effective rate has hovered around 26%, around average for OECD nations.

A more compelling number is the “Corporate Income Tax as share of GDP.” This number has been on the decline since the 1950′s, with steep drops during the 1970′s and mid-2000′s:

Corporate Income Tax as a Share of GDP chart

In 2010, the corporate income tax fell to less than 2% of GDP. For a frame of reference, here are other Western Industrialized nation’s numbers:

Canada 3.5
Japan 4.3
France 2.8
Germany 1.7
UK 3.4

In reality, US Corporations are paying far less than they have, or even should to the nation that afforded them the opportunity to succeed. Paul Krugman frames it nicely:

This whole fuss is much ado about nothing — or rather, it’s about the ability of special interests to create a firestorm of publicity over the alleged need to do something that, whaddya know, would improve their bottom line.

For a corporation such as GE to pay zero taxes on billions of dollars in profits is, in reality, unpatriotic. Do they not feel a sense of obligation beyond pure profit to the nation and people who provided enormous resources for their success? A new framework on taxes must be developed. Too much of our economic burden has shifted to the shrinking middle class in the US and Wisconsin.

“Our Wisconsin invests in the future – roads, schools, healthcare, science, internet, communications”


“We prosper TOGETHER in Our Wisconsin”


“We built Wisconsin together”