Averting an Education Crisis in
Madison: Where Do We Go from
|Drs. Willie D. & Vivian M. Larkin
By Drs. Willie D. & Vivian M. Larkin, cochairs, Dane County
Chapter of the NAACP Education Committee
Madison is a wonderful city for many to live, but has been
labeled as the worst city in America for academic disparities
and the widest gap for high school graduation rates between
African American and White students. Given the overall
education level of the city and the fact that we live in the midst
of the University of Wisconsin, one of the five top ranked major
universities in the United States, these alarming facts are
incomprehensible. Our community should not be gasping for
breath in terms of equity and fairness among the education
level of White and Brown students. Education is a pathway to a
better life for students and their families, thus, we must
reshape the American Education System.
The question that immediately comes to mind is, who or what is
at fault. The media likes to focus on alleged lack of
self-motivation coming from African American students, and
parents’ lack of involvement. Or, could it be a lack of cultural competences within the ranks of MMSD teachers and administrators? What
about national and state laws, policies and practices that cripple our ability to adequately respond to the educational and cultural needs of ALL
students equally? Finally, could it be that the larger African American community has been disengaged and non-committal in addressing the
plight of educating African American children? Regardless of the root causes of the gap, we all MUST come together to address these issues —
the future of Madison depends on it.
What’s given less attention is the history of segregation and deliberate under-resourcing of predominately African American schools and
communities of systemic racism and discrimination that causes social and economic disparities within the community. We are well aware of
the longstanding success of the Madison Metropolitan School District on the National level in the United States. However, something is
missing and we would like to find out what. There has to be some answers to this bewildering and nagging disparity between African
American and White students.
According to recent statistics from MMSD, African Americans graduate from Madison high schools at a rate of 63.7 percent, while Whites
graduate at about 94.9 percent. The same set of data indicates that Hispanics in Madison graduate at 64.4 percent, while Asians graduate
approximately 93 percent of their kids. Race is often a difficult subject to talk about, but when you look at the facts, it is hard to dismiss the
impact the role racism plays within the educational systems.
As the Dane County NAACP Education Committee examines the plight of African American students, the committee has identified several
contributing factors. The following are challenges that impede the District and the Madison community from successfully fulfilling its obligation
to educate ALL children.
1. Most teachers bring an intrinsic passion for helping children learn and succeed, however some educators lack an in-depth
understanding of the social and cultural diversity of students of color. Institutions of higher education and the MMSD must do a better job of
preparing teachers to work with diverse populations. There is also something to be said about having a more inclusive teaching corps. Along
the same lines, parents want their children to be academically successful, however, some parents need additional guidance and tools to work
with their children at home and advocate within the school system.When parents are actively involved and engaged in their student’s life, the
actions, performance and behavior of the child is markedly better.
2. There are far too many African American children who are placed in special education. Greater care must be taken to make sure that
children who are perfectly normal, not be intentionally misdiagnosed and place in classes that don’t challenge them and take away their
chances to be highly productive citizens within society.
3. Children can’t learn if they are not in school. So, high truancy rates should be tackled and curbed. To do so, parents from
underrepresented and underserved populations must be helped to realize the long-term effects of their children missing school. When young
people don’t attend school, they quickly become a statistic and a member of the permanent underclass in a very competitive society. Let’s
make learning fun, so that all students are eager to attend every day.
4. Every organization in society has rules and policies that govern behavior. In order for effective teaching and learning to take place,
order must be maintained. Therefore, disruptive behavior cannot be tolerated. Parents must insist on and maintain discipline from their
students. An orderly society works better for everyone. Bottom line, parents, teachers and school administrators should work together to
make sure that average kid behavior does not escalate and become a life sentence in prison. It is far better to invest in education than prisons.
5. No one gets off the hook in a thriving and prosperous community like Madison. Everyone should be involved and have a vested
interest in finding solutions to our school disparity problem with skin in the game. To that end, we are promoting unity and community outreach
and engagement. What would Madison and the surrounding areas look like if all of us mentored, coached or in some way encouraged a child
to utilize all of their natural talents?
6. The community must come together to face the serious issues related to the educational gap as we craft a plan and a shared-vision for
the education of African American youth in Madison. We have the knowledge, skills and experience to find a reasonable solution to this
dilemma. It will require all leaders in Madison to work together toward a shared-vision to advance a renewed academic agenda. Competition
for leadership within the community renders us more helpless and ineffective to bring about a change. The ultimate goal is a collaborative and
7. We are not naïve about the racial and political landscape that exists in Madison, and its impact on people of color. We know that racism
plays a significant role in the conditions that so often plague our community. Given the changing demographics of society, it is imperative that
we learn how to address the economic, education, and social needs of all citizens. We are well aware that there are many pre-existing
structural economic inequalities — such as poverty, unemployment, segregated schools and neighborhoods, single parent households,
politics, and a host of other difficulties that plague our communities.
Education is a community affair. There are many community groups and organizations that have service as one of their primary goals, and
should join in to address the academic achievement gap that plagues African American youth.
Madison cannot go backwards! The future is bright for the community and the NAACP Education Committee will start a conversation by
sponsoring two Parent Forums on September 21st and 26th at Wright Middle School and LaFollette High School, respectively. Each meeting
will run from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m. The keynote speakers will be Drs. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Willie D. Larkin. We’re inviting all parents and
interested community partners to come out and support this initial phase of closing the educational gap among students of color.This forum will
offer relevant tips on how to help your child achieve academic success and build meaningful relationships with your child’s teacher. Come be
a part of the education transformation in Madison.