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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Madison’s public schools better Milwaukee’s in recent desegregation statistics

Statistics say Madison Public Schools have become less segregated over the past decade. However, experts are not convinced that the numbers are valid.

A recent study released by researchers from the State University of New York’s Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at Albany found that from 1990 to 2000, school segregation decreased slightly in the Madison Metropolitan School District’s elementary schools.

However, some school officials said the statistics do not hold much weight.

“Segregation in schools has to do with demographics,” said Art Rainwater, Madison Metropolitan Public Schools superintendent. “The only way you make segregation go down is that you reassign people so that you don’t have segregated areas. It has nothing to do with programs of achievement. Segregation has to do with where people live and where they’re assigned to go to school.”

The study examined segregation using a dissimilarity index with a zero to 100 range where zero is complete integration or no dissimilarity. It measured “whether one particular group is distributed across schools in the metropolitan area in the same way as another group.”

When comparing black and white students, the value was 34.8 in 1990, and dropped to 30.9 in 2000. This means that 30 percent “of the members of one of the two groups would have to switch elementary schools for the groups to be equally distributed.” This was characterized by the study as a “fairly low” level of segregation.

Madison Board of Education member Carol Carstensen attributes this low number to the district’s efforts to avoid concentrations of low-income children, as well as preventing the isolation of minority students. Carstensen said the district wants all students to feel a sense of belonging.

The portrait of the students that make up the Madison Metropolitan School District has also changed. In 1990, 80.4 percent of the students were white, 11 percent black, 2.6 percent Hispanic and 5.6 percent Asian. In 2000, the number of white students dropped to 61.7 percent, whereas black students increased to 20.3 percent, Hispanics to 6.6 percent and Asians to 10.7 percent.

Although it appears the district is becoming more diversified, Rainwater and Carstensen agree Madison elementary schools have a long way to go.

Carstensen also commented on the lack of diversity in district extra-curricular activities.

“The non-major sports, when you get outside of football, basketball, track — there is not nearly as much recruitment and draw for children of color as I think we should be doing,” Carstensen said. “This is true also in a number of the other kinds of extra-curricular activities, from debate to drama to chorus.”

Supv. Rainwater cites achievement among minority students, particularly in reading, as the biggest challenge facing the district.

“We’ve made great progress with third-grade reading, and we believe that that’s the first building block for us to make changes for achievement for our minority students overall,” he said.

The school district created a network of reading support for all students that Rainwater said aids the progress of minority students in particular.

Over 800 tutors assist students with reading in the primary schools, and staff members are continually training childcare providers on how to work with early literacy. The district is in the process of developing a similar structure for mathematics.

Other districts across the nation, including Milwaukee, did not measure up as well as Madison did in the national segregation study. In the dissimilarity index, the Milwaukee Public Schools jumped nearly 23 points in the last ten years, from 35.7 in 1990 to 58.3 in 2000.

According to Carstensen, comparing Madison to Milwaukee is not valid, because they are completely different environments. She said the smaller community of Madison consists of more middle-class households and pockets of poverty that are spread equally throughout the district, whereas the bigger city of Milwaukee has some highly concentrated low-income areas which can make desegregation more difficult.

Theresa Vidaurri, spokesperson for UW-Madison’s Multicultural Student Coalition (MCSC), confronts these issues of race relations on a daily basis. She said her organization tries to bring an understanding of minority students to the rest of the student body at UW.

Vidaurri said MCSC’s message is usually well received, but at other times she is confronted with the realization that some people “have a long journey in front of them.”

Carstensen agrees that teaching students to form relationships based on personalities and interests rather than race and economic backgrounds is the key to further desegregating public schools.

“The other thing we have to work at is to make sure that we create the circumstances in which kids from a variety of different backgrounds feel comfortable learning about each other and interacting with each other,” she said.

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