Public School Excellence
Wisconsin schools have consistently been ranked among the best in the country. In 2018, the state ranked 13th in the nation with the nation’s ninth highest high school graduation rate (88%) and math and reading proficiency scores that are 15%-25% higher than the national average even though the state’s public schools spend less per pupil. In Milwaukee County, school districts are "unified," which means they include elementary, middle and high schools. In suburban counties, however, there can be separate school districts for elementary and high schools. In these situations, several elementary school districts will feed into a single high school district. Information about the public schools serving the area is provided on pages 57-64 of the current edition of Discover Milwaukee. Click on the "Order Copy Now" button below to receive your free copy, or read the digital edition. The state also publishes report cards for all public schools which can be viewed at: dpi.wi.gov/accountability/report-cards.
Wisconsin public schools rank 13th in the nation overall
with math and reading proficiency scores
15% - 25% above the national average
Wisconsin's public-school open enrollment allows parents to send their children to any public school district in the state, provided the school district they select has openings for open-enrollment students. The application period runs from early February through the end of April. Transportation is generally the responsibility of the parent. Parents can apply online directly from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website (dpi.wi.gov/open-enrollment) or by completing the paper applications available from the DPI or the public-school district.
Parents normally apply for open enrollment for the following school year during the three-month application period. However, if parents miss that window, the state established a procedure by which parents may apply for open enrollment outside of the regular application period, called the Alternative Application.
Parents may submit applications to up to three nonresident school districts for each child during the open enrollment application period. Parents may apply for their children to attend 4-year-old kindergarten if the resident school district also offers a 4-year-old kindergarten program for which the child is eligible. Most students who attended a nonresident school district under open enrollment last year are not required to reapply for the following school year. However, if the student will be entering middle school, junior high school, or high school, parents should call the school district to find out if they will be required to reapply.
Public School Spotlight
Mequon Thiensville School District
5000 W. Mequon Road, Mequon
K4 through grade 12
No. of Students: 3,504
% Attend College: 83% 4 year/8% 2 year
Average ACT Score: 24.7
Telephone: (262) 238-8500
Muskego-Norway School District
S87 W18763 Woods Road, Muskego
K4 through grade 12
No. of Students: 4,854
% Attend College: 74% 4 year / 13% 2 year
Average ACT Score: 22.4
Telephone: (262) 971-1800
Waukesha School District
222 Maple Avenue, Waukesha
K4 through grade 12
No. of Students: 12,600
% Attend College: 51% 4 year / 7% 2 year
Average ACT Score: 20.4
Telephone: (262) 970-1024
Wauwatosa School District
12121 W. North Avenue, Wauwatosa
K4 through grade 12
No. of Students: 7,231
% Attend College: 40% 4 year / 9% 2 year
Average ACT Score: 21.1
Telephone: (414) 773-1000
Charter schools are public schools that are granted greater freedom in their operation so that they can develop innovative programs and curricula that could improve education as a whole. Wisconsin charter schools are non-religious, free to the public, and open to all children in the state. They are created through a contract, or "charter," between the school's operator and the authorizer, which is typically a school board, technical college or university. Examples of charter schools include the Downtown Montessori Academy in Milwaukee, the High School of Health Sciences in Wales and the Waukesha STEM Academy in Waukesha.
Although charter schools are exempt from many of the state laws and rules that govern public schools, they are required to have a licensed instructional staff, participate in the state student testing program and school performance report, and must comply with student health and safety regulations. Charter schools do not charge tuition. For more information, contact the state's Department of Public Instruction at (800) 441-4563 or visit: dpi.wi.gov/sms/charter-schools.
Virtual Charter Schools
Virtual charter schools provide all or a portion of their instruction through the Internet. The students and instructional staff are typically located in different geographic areas. Like other charter schools, virtual schools are publicly funded, nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer their classes online. Pupils typically attend from their homes and communicate with teachers using e-mail or online discussions.
Magnet & Specialty Schools
Specialty or magnet schools attract students from throughout the school district who are interested in a special curricular focus. In language-immersion schools, for example, students learn core subjects in the target language, whether it be French, German, Spanish or something else. Other magnet schools focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), the arts, and specific vocational or career paths.
Because magnet schools attract students from throughout the district, students must apply and meet specific academic and demographic criteria. Not all school districts have specialty schools. Visit the school district’s website, or call the office, to see if there are magnet-school options within the district in which you are interested.
A variety of programs allow high school students to be dually enrolled in high school and college to earn both high school and college credits. These programs can make college more affordable for families and introduce students to college-level coursework while they are still in high school. Wisconsin currently offers courses through the Early College Credit Program. The program allows Wisconsin public and private high school students to take one or more courses at an institution of higher education for high school and/or college credit. For a detailed explanation of the program, please visit dpi.wi.gov/dual-enrollment.
Wisconsin allows a parent or guardian to provide a home-based private educational program for her or his child or children as part of the compulsory school attendance law. This option is commonly referred to as home schooling. Interest in home schooling has increased in recent years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In order to home school, the parent or guardian must complete Form PI-1206 and submit it to the state Department of Public Instruction every school year. State law requires home schooling to provide at least 875 hours of instruction each school year and a "sequentially progressive curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health."