Beware Scott Walker’s “Wisconsin Education Miracle”

I hope as an electorate we have learned our lesson about promised education miracles.  First we had the test-and-punish “Texas Miracle” embodied in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.  Then we got the “Chicago Miracle” of Race to the Top and Arne Duncan’s other competitive grant programs that have siphoned off part of the funds in the Title I Formula and brought “reforms” like closing public schools, opening charters, and evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores.  Now Scott Walker is proposing to bring us the Wisconsin Miracle.  Please… no more education miracles.

This blog has recently covered Scott Walker’s education policies twice, here and here.

Why waste so much ink on the education policies of Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker?  Because Walker clearly intends to  transform his education record as governor of Wisconsin into a central part of his presidential campaign.  While he has not yet declared his candidacy, he is actively laying the ground work.  On Wednesday he published an op ed in the Des Moines Register, We Changed Broken Education System, in which he describes his Wisconsin “education miracle”: “Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone.  Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance… Graduation rates are up.  Third grade reading scores are higher.  Wisconsin students now rank 2nd best in the country for ACT scores in states where more than half the students take the exam… Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools, and provided more help for families choosing to home school their children. We also dramatically expanded the 25-year-old Milwaukee Parental School Choice program to add more students, more schools and working class families.  Then, we expanded school choice across the state… Now, more than ever, we need to push big, bold reforms to improve our schools.  If we can do it in Wisconsin, there is no reason we can’t push positive education reforms across the country.”

Scott Bauer of the Associated Press responded to Walker’s op ed. Bauer describes Walker’s policies without the glow of Walker’s own spin: “Walker… inflamed teachers across Wisconsin four years ago when he pushed for a law that took away their collective bargaining rights, while also forcing them to pay more for health and pension benefits, as part of an effort to balance the state budget… Walker’s education policies have included expanding school choice efforts and cutting funding for public schools… Walker’s first state budget cut funding for public schools by $1.2 billion, the largest reduction in state history… Walker has also successfully expanded Wisconsin’s private school voucher program statewide after it debuted in Milwaukee.  Walker’s pending budget proposal would gradually remove the program’s enrollment caps and use tax dollars currently provided to public schools to pay for it.”

Education Week‘s primary federal education reporter, Alyson Klein examines Walker’s claims about rising student test scores and high school graduation: “(O)verall, Wisconsin trend lines in fourth grade reading on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (aka the Nation’s Report Card) have increased during Walker’s tenure but their rate of improvement, from an average score of 220 in 2009, before Walker came in to an average score of 221 in 2013, when he’d been in office for a few years, are almost identical… Graduation rates tell a similar story.  Wisconsin’s gradation rate is up, but the nation’s is up too.  And in fact, the Badger State is growing a little slower than the national average…. (I)t’s hard to say exactly how Walker’s policies have affected things.  After all, the students graduating from high school this year started their educations long before he was in office.”

In coverage of Scott Walker’s education policies in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss quotes a press release from the Wisconsin Department of Education that describes changes currently being logrolled into the state budget to water down requirements for certification of school teachers: “The legislation being rolled into the biennial budget would require the Department of Public Instruction to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject to teach English, social studies, mathematics, and science.  The only requirement is that a public school or school district or a private choice school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in each subject they teach.”  Strauss continues: “That’s not all.  The proposal would require the education department to issue a teaching permit to people who have not—repeat have not—earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area, excluding the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies.  ‘The only requirement would be that the public school or district or private voucher school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject they intend to teach.'”

Strauss quotes Tony Evers, who was elected Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction in April 2009 and re-elected in 2013: “I am troubled that the Joint Finance Committee spent its time and effort designing a plan that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system.  If we want all students to achieve, we cannot continue to ask our public schools to do more with less.  The eventual outcome of that exercise will be two systems of public schools: those in local communities that can afford to provide a quality education through referendum and those that cannot.”