Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Johnny College Can’t Read

Or add. Report shows which high schools’ grads require remediation from UW System.

By - Oct 3rd, 2016 01:05 pm
Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Rufus King. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

A new report says 61 Wisconsin high schools each had 100 or more of their June graduates enroll as University of Wisconsin System freshmen this fall, and details what percent of graduates from each of those schools needed remedial math or reading instruction.

It showed a big disparity: Only a handful of graduates from six of those high schools needed remedial math help. But more than 30 percent of graduates from eight other high schools needed that help.

Students pay for remedial programs, which increases their college costs and student loans, but they do not receive credit for them.

The report is a controversial backdrop to the raging debate between Gov. Scott Walker, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, legislators, school district administrators and parents over how much to increase state aid to K-12 schools, and to the UW System, in the next budget. It’s also part of the debate over how to train the state’s future workforce.

State aid to public K-12 schools totals $5.25 billion this year, making it the most expensive program paid for with general tax dollars. State aid to private schools through the controversial School Choice program totals another $246 million.

A new law drafted by Republican Rep. John Jagler, of Watertown, required the UW System to publish the first list of Wisconsin high schools whose graduates had the most and least needs for remedial math and English.

Overall, the new report said 20,767 of June high school graduates – or about 35 percent of all Class of 2016 grads statewide – enrolled in UW System schools this fall. Of those 20,767, 18.4 percent needed remedial math, and 6.4 percent needed remedial English.

In a statement, Jagler called the gap between high schools “eye opening.”

“For the first time, we know what high schools these students come from,” Jagler said. “I hope the administrators in the schools that didn’t fare well will take a closer look at their courses and curriculum.”

But parents of high school students who will soon be writing college tuition checks should also pay attention to the report, Jagler added.

“Many parents are surprised when they are told their child isn’t as prepared as they need to be,” the lawmaker said. “Knowing in advance that their school may have a problem preparing students for the rigors of college may prompt some parents to require their children to take an extra math class their senior year, or to seek out tutoring.”

Time to name names.

First, the best performers: The six high schools with 100 or more June grads on UW campuses this fall with the lowest remediation rates in both math and English, according to the UW report, were Memorial in Eau Claire, Bay Port, Memorial in Madison, Marshfield, Marquette University in Milwaukee, and Waunakee.

The nine high schools with 100 or more June grads on UW campuses this fall with math remediation rates of less than 10 percent: Greendale, Middleton, DC Everest, Muskego, Brookfield East, Verona, Wausau West, Whitefish Bay and Lincoln in Wisconsin Rapids.

And the poor performers? The eight high schools with 100 or more June grads on UW campuses this fall with math remediation rates of more than 30 percent were Westosha Central, 33 percent; Janesville Parker, 36 percent, Milwaukee’s Rufus King, 33 percent; Kenosha’s Indian Trail Academy, 31 percent; Madison LaFollette, 33 percent; Oconomowoc, 33 percent; Racine Horlick, 37 percent, and Nathan Hale in West Allis, 41 percent.

Of schools that sent fewer than 100 grads on to UW Schools, eight of the 10 – or 80 percent – of Johnson Creek High grads needed remedial math, according to the UW report.

And Milwaukee public high schools that sent fewer than 100 grads to UW colleges and had high math remediation rates were: Hamilton, 29 students, 65 percent needed remediation; Bradley Tech, 12 students, 66 percent; Vincent, 9, 77 percent; James Madison University, 13, 76 percent; Marshall, 12, 58 percent; High School of the Arts, 40, 52 percent; Milwaukee School of Language, 24, 41 percent; Pulaski, 13, 69 percent; Riverside, 87, 59 percent, and Reagan College Prep, 56, 42 percent.

Milwaukee private schools with high remediation percentages included Messmer High, with 12 of 28 grads — or 42 percent — needing math remediation, and Pius, with 54 students, 40 percent needing remediation. But only a handful of Marquette University’s 101 students now on UW campuses needed math or English remediation. Six or fewer of Wisconsin Lutheran’s 45 grads now in the UW System needed remediation, and that was also true for the 36 graduates of Divine Savior-Holy Angels.

Of all UW System campuses, UW-Madison had the fewest number – 20 — of its 6,430-member freshmen class that needed remedial math. UW-Madison offers no remedial English programs.

Evers had no comment on the new statistics.

But UW System President Ray Cross agreed with Jagler, saying the report on remediation rates should help high school administrators “evaluate and strengthen their efforts in preparing students for success.”

The new numbers should “foster communications, align the curriculum and reduce the need for remedial education,” Cross added, putting the pressure on Evers and high school administrators.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

10 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Johnny College Can’t Read”

  1. Flynn says:

    Did I miss something, or did Jagler have solutions in mind? Or was he just finger pointing?

  2. Jeff says:

    Was the need for remediation determined by a placement test or a deficiency of certain course work ( i.e. Algebra II ) ? Twenty years ago I never bothered to take the placement exam and had a terrible advisor who lazily registered me for remedial algebra. I got stoned every morning before class and still got an A. What a buzzkill when I realized I didn’t earn any credit.
    Anyways, Oconomowoc, get your act together. I’m sure Rep. Jagler didn’t want nice ‘country’ schools getting roped together with all the horrible, lazy ‘urban’ schools.

  3. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Money is not the problem, leadership is. The Left has failed kids, in this country, as they run the schools.
    Since 1970 we have raised funding, tenfold and for 40% fewer kids, yet the scores are worse.
    What is the problem?
    Stupid programs from the Feds, are worthless. We need solid reading programs like our nuns used to use, they worked. Dick and Jane could spell and read. They knew grammar, punctuation and could read the newspaper.
    Until we get back to basics, this country will suffer with large numbers of kids illiterate.

  4. Matt says:

    Link to the report?

  5. PMD says:

    I had nuns for teachers. They were terrible. When you took away the teacher’s edition with all the answers in it, they couldn’t teach. Students used to take them before class and watch the nuns squirm.

    “They knew grammar, punctuation and could read the newspaper.”

    WCD your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are abysmal. As bad as I have ever seen. Is that because of nuns?

  6. PMD says:

    Buzz od this is like texting and reading your logic I see why the nuns couldn’t teach you.

  7. PMD says:

    Get a new name 9:28am PMD. That one is mine.

  8. Tom says:

    For teachers in public school classrooms across Wisconsin, the results of this study come as no surprise.

    Since Act 10, in the majority of school districts across Wisconsin, hundreds of teachers have been non-renewed or fired because they didn’t give high grades away like candy. Many school district administrators manage on the philosophy that “students don’t fail, teachers fail”. For most teachers in Walker’s Wisconsin, the choice is stark. Either inflate grades or face discipline, up to and including termination.

    Governor Walker likes to brag that he made it easier to fire a teacher in Wisconsin than any other state in America. Many teachers who actually held grading standards where students had to earn grades were some of the first casualties of Walker’s goal of making it extremely easy to fire teachers.

    Governor Walker has turned Wisconsin into a place where teachers who want to keep their jobs give out grades like candy at Halloween. The number of students needing remedial courses at college will only grow in upcoming years. No one should be surprised or angry about this. After all, this is what Wisconsin voted for when they put Republicans in charge of this state. Elections have consequences.

  9. mkemillenial says:

    You read so many articles about how competitive UW-Madison is to get into, and yet they’re offering remedial math? Something doesn’t add up there.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    Math is hard.

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