More bureaucracy won’t improve schools

GUEST OPINION

WHAT IN THE NAME of Ronald Reagan is going on with the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature? A party that hails local control as a cornerstone of its philosophy suddenly is talking about creating a new bureaucracy to manage K-12 public education. Specifically, a proposed state Senate education reform bill would create two new state boards to oversee schools and sanction those whose students underperform on standardized tests, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Assembly, meanwhile, dropped its proposed new state board but instead would close poorly performing public schools and convert them to independent charter schools. How this would be an improvement isn’t clear.

Gov. Scott Walker wisely is leery of creating another layer of bureaucracy beyond local school boards and the state Department of Public Instruction.

“To me, the most important sanction is giving parents objective, comparable information so they can make decisions about what’s the best choice for their sons and daughters,” Walker was quoted in the Jan. 15 Journal Sentinel. “I trust parents.”

Walker is right. There is a segment of conservatives who have it in for public schools. There’s also a segment in the private sector that would love to get its hands on the billions of taxpayer dollars now used to support public schools. Whether those folks would be in the long-term best interest of most students is far from clear.

The system we have now is less than perfect, but it is more accountable in the aftermath of Act 10, which gives local school administrators and school boards more freedom to reward the higher-performing educators and when necessary remove those who aren’t cut out for the profession.

Open enrollment is another tool for parents and students who believe there may be a benefit in transferring to another school.

Taking it a step further and giving publiclyfunded vouchers so more students can attend private schools should be a last resort to rescue serious students from schools where chronic truancy and discipline problems make it difficult if not impossible for teachers to move their class forward in their studies. It can’t be said often enough: “Failing” schools are most often caused by “failing” neighborhoods and lack of parenting, problems that in turn show up in the classroom.

A long-running debate is how much weight to place on standardized test results. “Teaching to the test” hinders innovation, some educators say. But without some standardized measure of comprehension in key subjects as reading and math, how do we know if students are progressing with the skills they need to function when they graduate? Critical thinking is important, but more important is knowing how to balance a checkbook and being able to read and write fluently.

Test scores help ensure accountability, which, as Walker noted, is what parents and taxpayers have a right to expect. Schools not accountable or receptive to change will increasingly find themselves struggling as parents enroll their children elsewhere. — Leader- Telegram (Eau Claire), Jan. 26


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