State-of-the-state takes us on a wild ride through the looking glass

Have you ever felt that you fell through the looking glass hand-in-hand with Alice to a place where up is down, north is really south, and wrong is actually right?

If you watched, heard, or read about Governor Scott Walker’s state-of-of-the-state message on Tuesday you might very well have felt you were in Wonderland where most everything you know in your heart of hearts is bad for kids was talked about as education reform.

Welcome to Wisconsin in 2013.

We know schools need to keep improving, just like every other institution, business, or organization. Knowledge is increasing exponentially, technology can’t be slowed down, and the needs of kids are increasing, for example our growing poverty. All of these things affect learning.

Trying to address this onrushing future, however, has been frustrating at best. Schools are expected to meet all the needs of our children that society and some parents too often ignore. We’ve decided that a narrow regimen of testing is the best way to measure children’s knowledge and the whole public school system is being held accountable without the resources needed to reach ever higher standards.

In short, our schools are being asked to do more with less. It might be good rhetoric and catchy political-speak, but it is disastrous for our kids and their ability to successfully maneuver the 21st century.

Gov. Walker’s answer was to pay almost no attention to public schools in his state-of-the-state message. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel devoted only three lines on it– two paragraphs from the end of its story. Maybe that’s a good thing because what he did say doesn’t hold out much hope for the majority of our young people statewide.

He talked about expanding the statewide program that uses tax dollars to send kids to private schools. Originally intended to meet the needs of poor children in Milwaukee, the Governor wants to move the program into other cities such as Green Bay, Kenosha, Stevens Point, and others. Just a few of the problems with that approach are you can’t find many if any credible studies that say these voucher schools actually help, they aren’t held to the same accountability standards,  public schools in the target areas are top-notch institutions, and such a political agenda actually takes resources away from the majority of kids and communities.

In one of the strangest Wonderland moments, the Governor also talked about linking the performance of schools with the aid they get from the state. Again, this flies in the face of logic, experience, and science. The schools that do the best on “the tests” are those that have more local resources and have fewer students with extra needs.   Those that do less well on “the tests” need more resources offset their higher numbers of kids in poverty and with other special needs. The Governor was wise to not release any details because this plan seems to do just the opposite.

So, what is the answer? Really, it’s no big secret: Children need opportunities so they can learn in school and succeed in life. Those opportunities are quality teachers, highly effective early childhood education, rigorous standards and challenging courses, equitably distributed resources, and a wide range of individual learning options.

Instead of giving local school boards the resources they need to deliver those opportunities, the Governor continued to give them political smoke and mirrors.

Here’s an idea:  Last budget you took $800 million in state aid away from public schools and public school children. This budget, give it back so schools can do the job they are there to do.

Post By Tom Beebe (26 Posts)

The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools is a campaign of the the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. The purpose of the network is to work toward the day when all of the state's schools have the resources they need to give every child in the state the opportunities they need to learn in school and succeed in life. IWF is a 501 c(3) non-profit, non-partisan statewide public policy research and community outreach organization dedicated to state policies that benefit middle and low income families. Our mission is rooted in the belief that an educated, engaged citizenry is key to improving individual outcomes. Tom Beebe is the OTL-Wisconsin network coordinator and directs IWF's school-funding reform effort.

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