The State of Wisconsin Education

Cutting through the noise about where Wisconsin education stacks up

How does Wisconsin stack up against other states in K-12 education? An eye-popping list from U.S. News and World Report ranked the Badger State K-12 system as the 8th best in the country. But this rosy picture contradicts other key indicators that Wisconsin students are falling behind. Will Flanders and Dylan Palmer cut through the noise to provide a clear look at public education in the Badger State.


1.) The academic proficiency data used by U.S. News & World Report to rank Wisconsin 8th is from the 2018-19 school year. Notably, this school year featured a transition in the governor’s mansion and was a full year before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Wisconsin schools.
2.) A sophisticated analysis of Wisconsin’s academic proficiency from 2018-19 puts Wisconsin in the middle of the pack. An Urban Institute analysis that controls for demographic factors finds Wisconsin falls out of the top ten in both math and reading on the NAEP scores.
3.) Academic proficiency has fallen significantly in Wisconsin since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in 2020. Forward Exam scores fell by about 4 percentage points in reading and 5 percentage points in math.
4.) Chronic absenteeism in Wisconsin schools reached new heights in the most recent school year. The share of students not regularly showing up for class rose to 16% in 2020-21 school year – the highest in the past five years.
The status quo solution for public school education has been to simply provide more money, which research has found bears little relationship to student performance. In order for Wisconsin school districts to actually be some of the best in the nation, we need education policies that empower parents to make the best choice for their son or daughter. That may include a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school, homeschool, or even innovative education models.


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Will Flanders, PHD

Will Flanders, PHD

Research Director

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