In his bid to unseat Tony Evers as state school superintendent, self-described "kidservative" Lowell Holtz criticizes Wisconsin’s dubious distinction of graduating white high school students at much higher rates than minority students.
On his campaign blog, Holtz says his attention to safety and discipline as Beloit school superintendent from 2006 to 2009 improved the completion rate among high school students of color.
Specifically, he claimed: "Our minority graduation rate went from levels below Milwaukee and Madison, to above 80%."
The statement caught our attention in part because Milwaukee and Madison have well-documented struggles with low graduation rates for black and Hispanic students.
To back up his claim, the Holtz campaign pointed to data collected by the state Department of Public Instruction. It’s the best source of data in this case.
We confined our review to graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students because they make up most of the minority students in Beloit. Black students were 26 percent of the total enrollment there in 2006-’07, Holtz’s first year in the district. Hispanics made up 13 percent of the student body.
Let’s look at the graduation rates from his time in Beloit, spanning three school years:
For African Americans:
2006-’07: 64 percent
2007-’08: 76 percent
2008-09: 85 percent
2006-’07: 74 percent
2007-’08: 75 percent
2008-’09: 84 percent
The figures back up the part of Holtz’s claim about rates climbing over 80 percent on his watch.
What about the contention that Beloit’s graduation rates started out below those of minority students in Milwaukee and Madison?
At that time, 2006-’07, Beloit’s rate for black students was slightly lower than in Milwaukee, but slightly above Madison’s rate.
So that’s a mixed bag.
As for Hispanic students, the graduation rate in Beloit was higher than in either of those two districts in Holtz’s first year.
But if you look back to the year before he arrived, Beloit’s graduation rate for Hispanic students was significantly lower than the rates in Milwaukee or Madison.
Again, some support.
For context, the graduation rate for white students in Beloit was considerably higher than for black students, but the gap between the groups narrowed dramatically by Holtz’s third year. That’s because while the rate for whites improved (topping Milwaukee and Madison), the rate for black students rose more.
There is another aspect to Holtz’s claim -- to what degree did his policies influence the rate?
Specific policy changes he helped enact fueled the progress, Holtz claims, pointing to improvements in safety and discipline.
But experts, and Holtz, acknowledge that students, teachers, parents, elected officials and community members all have to play a role.
That muddies the water on claiming credit.
Holtz says that when he ran the Beloit school district, "Our minority graduation rate went from levels below Milwaukee and Madison, to above 80%."
Rates rose significantly and topped 80 percent both for black students and Hispanic students.
But the picture upon his arrival was not quite as bleak as Holtz claimed.
We rate his claim Mostly True.