It has been suggested that education is the civil rights issue of our time, and there is no question that the black community continues to lag behind when it comes to all matters of education. This is especially so here in Milwaukee, where MPS reading scores lag behind those of other major urban school districts, state black reading scores are the worst in the nation, and the percent of blacks with a college education is lower here than it is in most other places. These are crisis-level facts.

This has not completely escaped the community’s notice. Everybody understands the importance of improving Milwaukee Public Schools. And while massive disagreement concerning proposed changes ultimately resulted in the prevailing of the status quo, rather than some sort of meaningful compromise or reform, at least the community showed that it was energized and willing to fight for local education.

But one thing that seems to continue to escape notice, maybe since the time that Chapter 220 was created, is the impact that segregation has on education.

Segregation and 4th Grade Reading Scores

The landmark study on segregation by the U.S Census Bureau ranked several dozen metro areas in terms of how segregated each is. Meanwhile, the Trial Urban District Assessment ranked 18 participating urban school districts in various standardized test scores. In total, 14 metro areas, including Milwaukee, were included in both studies. Each of these urban school districts contends with the issues of poverty and parenting that are frequently cited as the primary reasons for MPS’ struggles.

The graph below shows the level of segregation and the 2009 black 4th grade reading scores of the 14 districts that were included in both studies.

The link between segregation and black 4th grade reading scores is “significant” at the 99% level, and segregation “explains” 45% of the variance in the reading scores. Note also that the link between segregation and overall reading scores (for all races) is significant at the 95% level and explains 37% of the variance in the reading scores. Milwaukee black 4th grade median reading score was second worst, ahead of only Detroit.

Segregation and Bachelor’s Degrees

The yearly American Community Survey keeps track of how many people ages 25 and older have acquired a bachelor’s degree. The graph below shows metro area segregation and the percent of the black population within the metro area that has a bachelor’s degree, averaged from 2006 to 2008. The correlation is significant at the 99% level and explains 32% of the variance in the percent of the black population that has a bachelor’s degree.

In this time, 12.3% of the black population in metro Milwaukee had a bachelor’s degree, the worst out of all of the metro areas included in the segregation study.

The graph below shows metro area segregation and the white/black bachelor’s degree disparity, defined as the ratio of percent of white people with a degree divided by percent of black people with a degree. Once again, correlation is significant at the 99% level and this time explains 30% of the variance in the white/black disparity.

Metro Milwaukee’s white/black degree disparity of 2.79 (34.3%/12.3%) was the worst out of all the metro areas in the segregation study.

What Does It Mean?

It is pretty clear that segregation and poor education outcomes correlate with one another. This does not prove that segregation causes poor education outcomes, or even that poor education outcomes cause segregation. But, as is the case with other socioeconomic indicators, segregation can be tied to the problems of Milwaukee that we all experience and are concerned with. It will be hard to move Milwaukee forward in jobs and education without impacting our segregation. With all of the talk about jobs and education during this election season, this is something that ought to be kept in mind.

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Race Matters in Milwaukee

Part I: How Segregated is Milwaukee?

Part Ia: How Segregated is Milwaukee? Part 2

Part II: The Causes of Milwaukee’s Segregation

Part III: The Effects of Milwaukee’s Segregation

Part IV: Segregation and Education