WI State of the State Is a Wild Ride Through the Looking Glass

By Tom Beebe, Opportunity to Learn - Wisconsin

(This post originally appeared on

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 the State message on Tuesday you might very well have felt you were in Wonderland where everything you know in your heart of hearts is bad for kids was talked about as viable education reform strategies.

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, particularly for the growning number in 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 to 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. Though the program was originally intended to meet the needs of poor children in Milwaukee, the Governor wants to move it 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 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 to support higher numbers of students in poverty or who have other special needs. The Governor was wise not to release any details because this plan seems to do just the opposite.

So, what's 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, Governor: Last budget you took $800 million in state aid away from public schools and public school children. This year you should give it back so schools can do the job they are there to do.

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