RACINE - It's been 14 years and not enough has changed.
That's what several attendees said Thursday at a presentation of the 14th annual Racine Unified analysis, where the Public Policy Forum compares Unified to nine similar Wisconsin districts.
The numbers presented might have changed since 14 years ago, but the racial achievement gaps are still there and Unified students still typically perform worse than their peers at the other districts, according to data and several attendees who spoke during a question-and-answer portion of the presentation.
"I'm frustrated," said attendee John Crimmings, vice president of First Weber Group. "When you compare Kenosha and Madison, they have the same issues (as Racine) but get better results."
Crimmings and others wondered how, when Unified has had this analysis for more than a decade, students haven't improved.
Unified officials agreed student achievement leaves much to be desired but said the district is poised to turn a corner academically through data-driven instruction. The officials, who spoke on a panel at the presentation and included interim Superintendent Ann Laing, said reforms are happening but it's rough going in part because the number of minority and low-income students in the district has grown tremendously during the past 14 years.
Compared to the other nine districts, including Green Bay, Kenosha and Madison, Unified has the highest minority enrollment, at 54 percent of students. Unified also has the highest low-income enrollment, with 58 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch, according to the analysis.
Educating those students has been complicated by the turnover of several superintendents who Laing said each came with a different vision and educational plan.
And then there have been changes at the state level like millions cut in state aid and the elimination of collective bargaining for unions, both things that further set Unified back, said Pete Knotek, president of the Racine Education Association teachers' union and an event panel member.
"It's been frustrating to see external factors that hinder our program," Knotek said, adding Wisconsin does not fund schools enough to produce students that meet world standards. "If that (funding) continues to be chipped away, that's very ominous."
There was one bright spot at the analysis presentation though: writing.
Unified students in 2010-11 greatly exceeded state test writing goals, said Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum, a Milwaukee-based nonpartisan nonprofit research entity.
Henken suggested whatever Unified is doing in writing they should try in reading and math, two subjects where state testing goals went largely unmet last year.
Henken gave such analysis during Thursday's presentation, held at the Wingspread Conference Center, 33 E. 4 Mile Road, and attended by about 100 people.