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This is not an “Accountability System”.  It’s an Accountability Avoidance System.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) just released its annual report cards for K-12 Wisconsin schools. They describe this as an “accountability system”.


School districts are graded in four priority areas:

  • Achievement – performance on standardized tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math

  • Growth – performance on standardized tests over time

  • Target Group Outcomes – progress of the lowest performing students (bottom quartile) in achievement, growth, chronic absenteeism, and graduation over time

  • On-track to Graduation – includes chronic absenteeism, graduation rates, English, and Math scores


Each priority area receives a score between 0 and 100 and the school district receives an overall score between 0 and 100 based on a weighted average of the scores in the 4 priority areas.  The 4 priority areas are weighted differently for each district depending on the percentage of “economically disadvantaged” students in the district.


Multiple pages that follow the “results” described above are called the “Value Added Growth Model”.  DPI cautions that it uses “complex calculations” to allow deeper analysis. “Value-added quantifies how much growth students make over time after taking into account factors that are generally beyond a school’s control” including economic status, disabilities, English language proficiency levels, gender, migrant status, and race/ethnicity.


Last Sunday, after the release of this year’s report cards, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught my eye. It was entitled “How MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) Improved its State Rating” and detailed how MPS received an overall rating of “meets expectations” this year while last year achieving only “met few expectations” despite having scored lower in academics, attendance, and graduation this year.  This made no sense, so I dug deeper.


MPS is the largest school district in the state, with over 68,000 students enrolled.  Students are described as more than 82% economically disadvantaged, nearly 20% disabled, and 90% non-white.


The MPS report card puts more emphasis on growth than on actual test scores or attendance.  The true performance of the district is in sharp contrast with the concept of “meeting expectations”.


The overall score assigned to MPS is 58 out of 100 because of the weighting of the 4 priority areas:

  • Achievement – 5%

  • Growth – 45%

  • Target Group Outcomes – 25%

  • On-track to graduate – 25%


The score on achievement, a combination of English Language Arts and Math scores is 27.8 (on a scale of 0 – 100). In ELA more than half of the students are below basic level and nearly 2/3 are below basic level in math.  Academics are given such a meager weighting on this report card MPS is able to claim it is meeting expectations.


As I slogged through the “Value Added Growth Model” I found nothing of value.  It is an exercise in data manipulation that provides no useful information.  It must have been the kind of thing W.C. Fields had in mind when he famously said, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS”.


A word about “economic disadvantage”.  82% of students seemed very high so I set out to understand what this means.  I learned that any family receiving any sort of government assistance falls into this category.  Of particular interest is the inclusion of families who receive an “earned income tax credit”.  This is described by the IRS as a way for low to moderate income families to receive a tax break if they meet criteria. The maximum adjusted gross income for a family with 3 children exceeds $63,000. Economic status does not determine ability to learn. Designating nearly the entire student population “economically disadvantaged” is consistent with the themes of deception and excuse-making that run through this report.


Other important facts about MPS:

  • 58% of students are chronically absent, defined as missing 10% or more of school days.

  • In the 2021 school year, the Milwaukee police responded to 1,310 calls from MPS high schools that included battery, guns, and sexual assault.  This was an average of 7 calls a day.  During this current semester calls are up more than 20%.

  • Teacher turnover rates are high at 15% a year with the highest rates among teachers of color.

  • At the beginning of the current school year, MPS had 234 teacher vacancies.

  • School Choice started in Milwaukee in 1990 as a way for low-income parents to provide educational opportunities for their children not available in their local public schools.  The program has grown to include 52,000 students statewide, with 29,000 of them in Milwaukee.  They offer innovative approaches and create competition. It’s not surprising that a liberal challenge to the constitutionality of school choice was filed as soon as the new liberal Supreme Court was seated.  Enemies of choice say it drains resources from the public schools and they want the Court to take this lawsuit directly rather than work it through the lower courts. 


The report cards that DPI shamelessly produces as evidence of performance are an embarrassment to our state and a betrayal of its citizens.Imagine the frustration of the many conscientious teachers on the front lines who love to teach but are sandwiched between a work environment that is unsafe and filled with students who don’t show up, and the bureaucrats who have the audacity to slap 3 stars and a designation of “meets expectations” on a school district that is so obviously failing.This is not a report for Wisconsin families.It is a report for the bureaucrats who are trying to justify the unjustifiable.The article in the Journal Sentinel puppeted the talking points of DPI.Where are the journalists with the integrity to expose the truth?Where are the legislators who won’t tolerate such abysmal performance and deception?Where is Tony Evers who played a big role in creating today’s DPI?


The kids who are being passed through schools and graduated without achieving the fundamentals they will need to be self-sufficient, productive adults will not get a do-over. The very same liberals who bury the truth today will be screaming about income inequality when the products of our public education system reap the consequences.


There are no easy solutions. Money is not the answer. A good starting point would be admitting we are failing to educate many of our state’s kids. The failure of the nuclear family is a big part of the problem and our schools and society at large cannot compensate when the family fails to raise its children.  We need leaders who are willing to speak the truth, confront the truth, and are willing to tear the system apart to produce meaningful outcomes.  The dishonesty and ineptitude of the bureaucrats who produced this report are stunning.  This is not an accountability system.  It’s an accountability avoidance system.

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