Generally speaking, the largest group of least advantaged children in the United States, those most in need of protection, are the impoverished descendants of enslaved Africans. We might then ask, when directing our attention to Milwaukee, the largest city in the once progressive state of Wisconsin – and part of the home base of now-politically endangered Gov. Scott Walker – what has come of that duty of care?
The latest release of findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the “gold standard” for such matters, shows that nationally 13 percent of Black students eligible for the National Lunch Program—a good enough proxy for poverty—read at or above grade level in eighth grade. This is half the percentage of White, non-Hispanic, students at a similar family income level and a quarter of the percentage of White, non-Hispanic students from more prosperous households. Less than a third of Black students from families with incomes high enough to make them ineligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in grade 8. The issue appears to be the layering of economic deprivation over racial discrimination in educational opportunities: multi-generational economic deprivation as a consequence of continuing racial discrimination.
In Milwaukee there are considerably higher percentages of Black K-12 than White K-12 students in the city’s schools. There are more than twice the percentage of White than Black college students (and three times the percentage of White male (44 percent) than male Black college students (14 percent)) These distributions are considerably different from national figures, which show approximately equal Black and White enrollment at every level. Just over a quarter of White residents of Milwaukee have only high school diplomas (including equivalents), as do considerably more, just over a third, of Black residents. On the other hand, 34 percent of White residents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but only 13 percent of Black residents have that increasingly necessary qualification.
In a nutshell college graduation is achievable for a third of White residents of Milwaukee, but for only just over a tenth of Black residents of the city. This is unusual. Nationally, although the figure is the same for White, non-Hispanics, it is nearly twice as high as the comparable Milwaukee figure for African-Americans (20 percent?).
Just five percent of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program read at or above grade level in eighth grade. More than half—nearly two-thirds—of these economically deprived Black students in Milwaukee are assessed as being at the “below Basic” level. They can’t read middle school material. Five percent is meaningful beyond its comparative value. It points to chance factors predominating in measurement: students answering questions at random and getting lucky; transfer students from Ghana; children of university faculty; cosmic rays.
For all reasonable intents and purposes the Milwaukee public schools are not teaching Black students to read.
The percentage of Black students in Milwaukee eligible for the National Lunch Program scoring at or above “proficient” in Mathematics in eighth grade is 3 percent. Cosmic rays as a causal factor for this achievement seems most likely.
The Milwaukee public schools are not teaching math to their Black students.
In Milwaukee, African-Americans go to school, but they rarely receive a good enough education so that they can read proficiently or perform elementary mathematics tasks or to take them into and through college. It is not then surprising that the unemployment rate for Black residents of the city is between two and three times that of White residents, that the percentage of Black residents of the city in white collar jobs is half that of White residents, that median Black household income is half that of White household income and that the poverty rate for Black families is nearly three times that for White families.
These issues are so common as to seem abstract, or to be accepted, like the weather. But like the weather, or, rather, the climate, they are not either abstract or acceptable. The condition of the descendants of enslaved Africans now living in Milwaukee is directly attributable to the decisions of politicians at the state and local level. Those decisions have reduced funding for the public schools, segregated housing and employment opportunities, criminalized daily life.
All of this brings us back to Gov. Walker, who is likely to lose his post this November (though, as he has proven in elections past, you can never fully count him out).
He has been governor of Wisconsin since 2011. Before that he was Milwaukee County executive and before that he represented a district in Milwaukee County. He has been responsible for the well-being of residents of Milwaukee, its surrounding area and the state for a quarter of a century. If residents of Milwaukee seek a monument for him, they have only to look around them.