Education Reform Urgent, Evers’ Ability to Advance Changes Uncertain

Change in education is coming, says State Superintendent Tony Evers – but we can’t tell you exactly what that change will be until after November’s elections.

Evers, speaking at his second annual State of Education address last week, discussed the work he’s done in the past year as well as his intentions for the 2010-2011 school year. The address laid out the state’s goals in areas like funding, graduation requirements, teacher certification, and standardized testing.

The speech expressed the superintendent’s pride in Wisconsin’s public schools, but also discussed his plans to improve education in the next year. These plans included:

  • An increased commitment to “Every Child a Graduate” to make high school graduation more prevalent and meaningful in Wisconsin – including raising minimum graduation requirements above the national average.
  • Replacing the WKCE with a more comprehensive standardized testing program.
  • Increasing the amount of National Board Certified educators in the state.
  • Reforming educational funding through “Fair Funding for Our Future,” which would equalize funding in a transparent way that does not raise state taxes.
  • Increasing the availability of post secondary credits in public high schools.

Evers also lauded recent changes that he called “the biggest reform in ten years” in Wisconsin; a bill that allows the superintendent to aggressively intervene in school districts where the state’s bottom 5% of schools lie. This program gives Evers the authority to influence administrator personnel decisions, establish programs to help teachers improve, and impose tougher performance evaluations. However, the measure itself is still fairly limited in its power and reach, and the idea that it is the strongest education reform in the past decade truly speaks to how stagnant Wisconsin’s reform agenda has become.

The superintendent noted that during his tenure change has come, and that he expects more as time winds on. However, we won’t know exactly what he has in store until November, and the state’s recent history of reform suggests that major change will be an obstacle. In fact, with $250 million in federal Race to the Top funds hinging on important changes, the state idled in mediocrity while other states like Arizona and Hawaii rose to the forefront. While Evers’ influence cannot be questioned, his ability to provide meaningful reform is still up in the air.

By Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Policy Reform Analyst