UW-Madison, Division of Extension and the School of Education bring together faculty, staff and community members to discuss educational disparities in Wisconsin

Addressing the vast disparities across Wisconsin when it comes to educational attainment and achievement will take fresh looks at what research is needed, at what outreach is missing, at what action all of us can take as members of an academic community and social communities.

“We’re not just observers, Wisconsin becomes ground zero for some of these challenges,” said Dr. Jerlando Jackson, Chief Research Scientist of Wisconsin’s Equity & Inclusion Laboratory.

Jackson was one of a panel of experts invited to lead “Exploring Education Disparities in the State of Wisconsin,” the third event in a series between UW-Madison Division of Extension and Campus units centered on how research and outreach can benefit communities across Wisconsin, focused on these questions and more. Faculty and staff from UW-Madison Extension, School of Education, and other Campus units joined activists and community members across the state earlier this month to discuss educational disparities plaguing our state.

Organized to create prompts for unique research and action, “Exploring Education Disparities” provided space for discussion around collaboration and new ways of addressing the root causes of disparities.

“Bringing people together from UW-Madison, from across the state, is going to make a real difference because it’s only partnerships that are going to help us solve these persistent problems in the state,” said School of Education Dean Dr. Diana Hess.

Teacher shortages and the causes of educator retention are key to understanding struggles in communities to address disparities, said Wisconsin Association of School Boards Executive Director John Ashley. Research indicates between 48 and 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years, Ashley said.

“If we don’t have enough teachers, then we aren’t able to provide the necessary services that [students] need,” Ashley said. “It’s harmful to have turnover in our classrooms, it impacts staff cohesion and culture, and most definitely impacts student achievement.”

The event put a spotlight on the work being done in the Human Development and Relationships Institute of Extension. The Institute’s director, Dr. Danielle Hairston Green, highlighted the mission to facilitate and develop research-based educational processes and programs in Wisconsin for individuals, families and communities – including programs such as Literacy Link, Raising a Thinking Child and Digital Parenting.

“One of the most significant impacts that education has on society is that it gives the people the skills they need to compete in the global market,” Hairston Green said.

Dr. Armando Ibarra, Associate Professor of UW’s School for Workers, said research gives insight into some of the lived realities of Latino families and the anxiety that students, and even entire communities, face. Immigration status is one of the major barriers that Latino families across the state are dealing with.

“When we talk about immigration status and the way it impacts families and youth, if we use the eight percent of all students in the country who have at least one parent who is an immigrant who is unauthorized, then we see that in the State of Wisconsin there’s about 900,000 students in the K-12 system,” Ibarra said. “That measure would give us about 72,000 students who have at least one parent that’s unauthorized.”

In addition to a panel discussion, facilitated discussions created collaborative opportunities on a range of topics, including opportunity gaps, tribal nations, immigrant families, STEM education and more.

“We don’t want this to be a one and done event. We want this to be the beginning of this group and the campus moving forward on this issue both here and across the US,” said Dr. Karl Martin, Dean and Director of UW-Madison Extension.

View a recording of the event’s live stream.

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