FOX47 NEWS - Racial Disparity in Learning

Jeff Angileri
Jul 14, 2009, 11:14 PM

White students in Wisconsin are outperforming black students at a higher rate than anywhere in the country. The racial disparity goes across the board -- from math skills to reading ability.

"I think the Madison area has some excellent schools, although it certainly has racial achievement gap problems," said Edward Lee, Madison Urban League president.

That gap is bigger in Wisconsin than any other state in the union. According to the National Center for Education Stats, in 2007, whites outperformed blacks in reading by 38 survey points. The national average was 27.

Madison statistics were not available, but a 2008 Department of Public Instruction report mirrors that gap, with white students achieving reading goals better than black students by 32 percent.

"It is a little bit surprising, a little bit disturbing," said Judith Rosario, Urban League Youth manager.

Madison's Urban League is working to close the gap with one on one tutoring.

"These kids need an adult that pays attention to them, spends time with them, sometimes just reading a magazine, reading a book, helping out with a math solution," Rosario said.

More than 700 mentors worked with 2,000 Madison area students this year, something urban league leaders say is showing progress.

"They start reading, they start asking questions, they have the attention of an adult an hour a week," said Rosario.

It's all part of a holistic approach experts say is critical to kids learning. Is starts with fixing literacy problems at home.

The Literacy Network says a million adults in Wisconsin qualify for reading and language assistance, and only 50,000 people take advantage.

"We have to look at the parents, and how the parents are involved and how the parents have the resources and skills and the know-how," said Jeff Burkhart, Literacy Network executive director.

A spokesperson for the Madison Metropolitan School District said the district does not comment on national studies.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recognizes the problem. State officials say they are trying combat it by encouraging early childhood education, and keeping class sizes down -- to get more of that one on one contact.

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