Are Wisconsin Schools Better than Those in Texas?

By 03/04/2011

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Education in Wisconsin is a hot topic these days. Accordingly, Paul Krugman of the New York Times has shared with us the thought that low-spending Texas is as a result burdened with rotten schools:  “The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings.”  Following suit, the Economist, once a purveyor of pretty objective information, tells us that on test score performance Wisconsin students rank 2nd in the nation, while Texas is 47th.

But, as a shrewd blogger from Iowa, commenting under the moniker, Iowahawk, points out, the Wisconsin advantage disappears, once you look at each ethnic group’s test score performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress separately.  Iowahawk is careful to point out that he is not saying students of different ethnicities have varying abilities, but he makes no bones about the fact that they come to school with differential preparation and therefore it is appropriate to look separately at how a state’s schools educates each group. Here are the results:

2009 4th Grade Math

White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)

2009 8th Grade Math

White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 292)
Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 266)

2009 4th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)

2009 8th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)

2009 4th Grade Science

White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)

2009 8th Grade Science

White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

Perhaps those unionized schools in Wisconsin are not so hot after all. A careful econometric study of collective bargaining in education by Caroline Hoxby shows that unions drive up the costs without generating any benefits for students.

– Paul E. Peterson

Comment on this article
  • Gordon Epstein says:

    Paul Krugman was citing among other things the drop-out rates. Texas has the worst drop-out rate, and furthermore that appeared to be how they improve their scores in performance… very cynical public school policies.

  • Matt Comer says:

    It’s a strawman argument. Krugman cited dropout rates and ACT/SAT scores which are high school level statistics. Iowahawk counters with statistics from 4th and 8th grade. That’s great, but he’s no longer comparing apples to apples now. What’s interesting, as Iowahawk noted in his blog post, is that it appears a pandemic of stupid hits the students in TX after 8th grade. I believe that is attributed to culture and peer pressure of certain ethnic groups who attend school through 8th grade and sometime during high school they either dropout or stop caring.

    As for Krugman’s assertion that collective bargaining unions produce better students is preposterous and hardly proven by the two simple statistics he provided. If only it were that simple!

  • KPOM says:

    Iowahawk also addresses the dropout issue. The bottom line is that Texas’ dropout rate isn’t great, but it isn’t horrendous, either. Again, broken out by ethnicity, Texas performs reasonably well. We have a larger issue nationwide about Latino participation in the education system. Latinos have the lowest rate of participation in college of any ethnic group, and it shows in the national rankings of both Texas and California (two states with significant Latino populations).

  • H. Green says:

    And how would the drop out rate improve the Texas scores Mr. Epstine? Why don’t you compare the drop out rates of each ethnic group in Texas and contrast that to the drop out rate for each ethnic group in WI. That is the only way you could actually prove what your theory.

  • J says:

    2010 Public High School Event Dropout Rates
    White students: Wisconsin 1.4%, Texas 1.8%
    (national average 2.8%)
    Black students: Texas 6.3%, Wisconsin 7.8%
    (national average 6.7%)
    Hispanic students: Texas 5.3%, Wisconsin 5.4%
    (national average 6.0%)

    The Texas dropout rate is below the national average in all categories and below Wisconsin’s in 2-of-3.

    Where’s the cynicism?

    Hint: Follow the money.

  • Jerry Seinfield says:

    Mr. Epstein,

    Please read here:
    The original article. Check out the “update” where Iowa-Hawk addresses the dropout rate:
    For more inquiries about the article:

    believe these should answer all your questions.

  • Bruce says:

    Read Iowahawks follwup on droput rate. Texas isn’t too far behind for white students, but Wisconson is worse for blacks and hispanics:

    “In fact, [Texas] has below national average dropout rates for all 3 ethnic groups considered, consistently in both 2007 and 2010 measures. Among white students, Wisconsin had the second lowest state event dropout rate (NJ #1), where Texas was tied for 7th. Among black students, Wisconsin was #39, Texas tied for #24. Among Hispanic students, Wisconsin was tied for #21, Texas was tied for #17.”

  • J says:

    @Gordon Epstein

    Actually, the numbers I provided in the previous comment are worse for your insinuation than I thought.

    By your rationale, Texas is stacking the deck in favor of Wisconsin by driving out a higher percentage of students in the best-served group while retaining more students in the two under-served groups.

    I fear the cynicism rests, as usual, with Krugman.

    Per his former ombudsman: “Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.”

    Data in previous comment taken from:

  • mikey says:

    Stats can be used anyway you want them to. Hey, Paul Krugman used to work for Enron, does that say anything. He writes for $$$ nothing more. Union schools have never produced a good product. Most could get into Harvard now.

  • Ed Darrell says:

    So, you’re saying that unionism makes no difference, and that the only difference between Texas and Wisconsin is racial make-up, and that some races “just can’t learn?”

    Apart from the repugnancy of such a claim which by itself is justification for rejecting it, did you think about checking the stats for other states with high minority populations, like California, or New Mexico, or Arizona?

  • […] Degrees-y enough for you? Despite getting my name wrong, I accepted Prof. Peterson’s request and encouraged him to go at my results hammer-and-tongs. His comments are here. […]

  • Thucydides says:

    Ed, your hyper-over-reaction is laughable if not an outright troll. What you’re trying to do here is beneath contempt and deserves to be called out and mercilessly ridiculed. Namely, you’re trying to forestall discussion by improperly raising the spectre of racism. You want to frighten readers and commenters into ignoring a very obvious and necessary correction to a foolish claim by Krugman.

    “Apart from the repugnancy of such a claim which by itself is justification for rejecting it…” This is a fallacy, but I’m afraid it needs to be pointed out because I’m seeing so much of it these days. No one made the claim you imagine in the first place, but even if they did merely being “repugnant” is insufficient refuatation. You don’t get to be the arbiter of truth simply by getting on a moral high horse. The Church thought the idea of a heliocentric universe was “repugnant” back in the day.

  • Snattlerake says:

    @Ed Darrell

    Correlation does not necessarily infer causation, Ed.

  • VKI says:

    Ed Darrell, please reread the stats. You’ve completely misread the post.

    No one is saying that Black and Hispanic students are unteachable. No one is saying unionism makes no difference.

    Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics are all being taught more successfully in Texas by nonunion workers than in Wisconsin by union workers.

  • everyonesfacts says:

    According to this logic the United States has the best schools in the world for Asians, blacks, and Hispanics and the second best for Europeans.

    You can get to the VDare report through here:


  • Pat Wilson says:

    Thanks for the instructive summary. The take away from this is that Krugman as well as the NYT cherrypick “facts” to suit their biases and political agenda.

  • Kant feel Pietzsche says:

    Ed is suffering from the common syndrome of “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.”

    When your first response to data that includes a racial breakdown of any kind is to hunt for the racist bogeyman, you will always find him. It’s like a game of “where’s Waldo” for some people.

  • in_awe says:

    Read IowaHawk’s rebuttal to attacks on his analysis at

  • Mark says:


    In *every* state you look at, the same results show up: East Asians outperform whites, who outperform Hispanics, who outperform blacks. The information is available online. Look it up. I did. I’m sure you can manage it. Interestingly, the same pattern is evident with students in Great Britain. That information is also available online.

    Reality does not care if you label it repugnant or racist.

  • Paul E. Peterson says:

    African American and Hispanic students learn a lot more, if schools are performing well.
    Texas is doing better than Wisconsin in this regard, and Florida is doing better than both.

  • […] can read the results on his original blog or on Harvard professor Paul Peterson’s blog. (Peterson basically endorses Bluge’s conclusions.) Bluge defends his methodology here. […]

  • hinky says:

    “Apart from the repugnancy of such a claim which by itself is justification for rejecting it,”


  • Just a guy says:

    2/3rds of Wisconsin’s African-American students go to school in Milwaukee which saw a dramatic increase in voucher schools (non-union) starting in 1990. A 2005 study of 115 of those schools found that some were being run by anywhere from a convicted rapist to an ex-substitute teacher with an expired certificate. Nonetheless there was almost no change in achievement in reading and math for those students it was supposed to help most, low income students of all races. (see Ravitch’s The Death and Life of The Great American School System)

    Texas hispanic students are the majority not minority. Simple logic would follow that curriculum would be more accommodating for their needs such as offering more ELL classes

  • Ecclesiastes says:

    Re: FrontBurner

    Burge. IowaHawk’s name is David Burge. Top right of the page with the copyright notice.

    BTW – lack of proper attribution is actionable under copyright law, where mischaracterization is not.

  • nick says:

    Iowahawk says that Texas has better scores in EVERY ethnic category. so why is there even an argument about Wisconsin being whiter?

    the scores that matter are those who STAY in school

    where texas lags behind,

    in addition to teavhing to the Tests in grade school!

  • John Skookum says:

    Nick, the dropout rate is dealt with in the addenda to Iowahawk’s original post. No surprise, it’s a very different matter when you control for ethnicity and other variables. Texas has a vast number of Hispanics, and their extremely high dropout rate skews the overall averages in Texas as elsewhere.

    The fact remains that a beer-swilling gear-head blogger from Iowa made a Nobel prize winning Princeton economist and New York Times columnist look like a monkey. I can scarcely remember such an embarrassing takedown of a public intellectual.

  • Ed Darrell says:

    Comparing Wisconsin’s Hispanic population education to Texas’s Hispanic population education is not valid on many, many levels.

    Where I teach in Texas, nearly 90% of the students are Hispanic. They experience all the bias experienced a century ago by students in schools dominated by German immigrants, or Italian immigrants, or any other immigrant-legacy populations.

    But to claim that Texas performs better than Wisconsin in dropouts, or virtually any other hard measurement, is an exercise in hiding chairs on the Titanic.

    Texas education is in deep, deep trouble. Teacher layoffs have run about 10% across the board (as out our school), while student populations continue to grow, or explode (25% at our school this year). Comparisons on international tests and the national scorecards do not distinguish Texas above Wisconsin in any appreciable way, certainly in no way that justifies firing well-qualified, successful teachers.

    Anyone who thinks they can improve the morale of teachers with daily floggings lives in fantasy.

  • Ed Darrell says:

    “Ed is suffering from the common syndrome of “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.”

    My students are not nails. Teaching is not a hammer. Your refusal to recognize humans in this process is even more repugnant than the bizarre claims of Iowa Hawk/Burge

  • Ed Darrell says:

    The fact remains that a beer-swilling gear-head blogger from Iowa made a Nobel prize winning Princeton economist and New York Times columnist look like a monkey. I can scarcely remember such an embarrassing takedown of a public intellectual.

    It only appears that way to beer-swilled out-of-gear heads. No other Nobel Prize-winning economists — nor any other economists — seem to have jumped on the bandwagon to say Krugman was wrong. The numbers side with Krugman.

  • […] Degrees-y enough for you? Despite getting my name wrong, I accepted Prof. Peterson’s request and encouraged him to go at my results hammer-and-tongs. His comments are here. […]

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