In the face of recall, Gov. Scott Walker is continuing to push for changes. His most recent plan calls for education reform, focusing mainly on teacher evaluations and improving reading levels. While these programs will improve Wisconsin’s public education system, Walker would do the state’s students even more good if he looked at reforms happening on America’s coasts.
Improving education is a bipartisan concern, and two governors are making great strides to improve their respective state’s system. Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown of California and Republican Gov. Chris Christie from New Jersey have both released education reform plans that focus on improving education while keeping costs and taxes under control.
Walker’s focus on evaluating teachers is necessary. It is hard to make improvements to a system when there is no standardized way to know how well a vital part is working. If a reliable evaluation system can be created and used, it will help teachers improve, let parents know if their children are in a good school and ultimately help improve the education of Wisconsin’s students.
But evaluating teachers will not be enough. There needs to be follow up to the evaluations, and there needs to be a better way to hire and retain teachers. Christie’s plan, in part, addresses this. He proposes to eliminate arbitrary standards for retaining teachers, such as seniority and graduate degrees. This system will help keep the best teachers in schools.
Evaluating teachers is not an easy task since there are other factors contributing to student success than who is giving the lesson. Parents and children obviously have to do their part in education. Christie acknowledges this fact by calling for improved outreach to parents through e-mail, websites and forums. When parents are able to get involved with their child’s education, students and teachers benefit. Walker’s plan to reach out to parents is limited to displaying school test scores online, which is not enough. Parents need to see more than a grade to make a judgement, just like how you must look beyond a student’s grades to know how intelligent he or she is.
While knowledge is power, something must be done about resource allocation to schools. Many times—but definitely not all the time—failing schools are hampered by poor funding. This is where Brown’s education plan comes in. According to Michael Kirst in an LA Times article, Brown is aiming to get more money to the “neediest students.”
How does he plan to do this in a way that doesn’t take away from schools that are performing well and still need funds to stay that way? They are aiming at loosening regulation on school districts, a problem caused by outdated state funding schemes and No Child Left Behind mandates, which Walker is wisely asking for a waiver from. Wisconsin is not so different from any other state, and there is most likely waste at the state level. Walker should look at his government, as well as the schools, for waste and burdensome bureaucracy. If Walker is able to find even more savings, he should focus on improving schools that have the worst evaluation scores.
Furthermore, Brown’s plan calls for letting school districts decide how to best use their money. When the people closest to the students are able to work how they think best and then be evaluated by the state, there is a better chance at improvement, instead of state-level changes followed by state-level evaluations.
Brown and Christie are both proposing ideas that are reasonable to implement and will undoubtedly let the education system improve. But there is another governor making big changes in the area of school choice, Gov. Mitch Daniels , R–Indiana. Daniels’ idea to expand the voucher system and charter schools is a big change and definitely not one that is easily palatable in Wisconsin. This is evident by the difficulty of the proposed charter school in Madison. But that is the interesting part about the United States, there are different states doing different things. It would be wise to watch and learn how Indiana deals with parents having more options of where to send their children to schools.
Education is vital to Wisconsin staying competitive in the coming decades. Walker has not released exact legislature yet, and he and legislators should use that opportunity to look at what is happening in New Jersey, California and Indiana to help shape his plan and change our education system for the better.
Matt Beaty is a junior majoring in mathematics and computer science. Please send all feedback to email@example.com