by Christian D’Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst
State Superintendent Tony Evers delivered his State of Education address Thursday afternoon, expressing his disdain for recent cuts in public education funding but pledging to work with legislators in order to put children first in Wisconsin.
Evers reiterated his faith in his Every Child a Graduate (ECAG) Agenda, relying on a four-pronged approach to reform Wisconsin’s failing schools and keep the good ones on the right path. After praising the state’s graduate rates and lauding Wisconsin’s public schools, the Superintendent railed against policies he felt left public education struggling to catch up and discussed his plan on how to fix it.
“Political turmoil has taken a toll on this state in the past eight months,” Evers said early in his address, citing a “toxic political environment.”
Evers would later make it clear that the environment he spoke of wasn’t limited to the partisan sniping of 2011’s legislative session. The Superintendent frequently brought up the challenges of spending reductions and how the state will be working around them. While he didn’t mention the policy changes that have allowed districts to offset budget cuts and their effect on teachers, he did touch on other legislative charges that the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) was undertaking.
This included programs to boost early education reading standards (the Read to Lead program) as well as a system to gauge how schools are performing across the state. Governor Scott Walker’s administration introduced both programs.
Evers, seemingly understanding the tension between participating in these programs while addressing a rotunda packed with public educators, explained his decision. After calling the budget cuts “devastating” and decrying issues like the expansion of school choice, the Superintendent drove home the point that while he didn’t agree with some of the policies that were developed in 2011, he was committed to his work not only to improve schools, but also to put children first in Wisconsin.
“I stand with teachers,” said Evers, “but I am committed to find common ground to improve education for all students.”
The rest of Evers’s speech touched on his ECAG Agenda. This plan promotes the advancement of education through four main tenets.
- Standards and Instruction
- Assessments and Data Systems
- Accountability for Systems and Individuals
- School Finance
Interestingly, Evers’s speech about assessments failed to bring up the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, a test that measures student growth in the state. This exam has been outdated for years now and the continual focus of a DPI task force set out to replace it. However, this has been a more difficult venture than expected – the state is still waiting on a replacement, years into developing an alternative. While they wait, Wisconsin is left without a meaningful metric by which to compare students across the state and nationwide.
The Superintendent’s speech was part recap of this year’s political turmoil and part preview of what Wisconsinites can expect moving forward. While it didn’t cover much new ground, Evers’s words should resonate amongst a corps of teachers who have dealt with a lot in the past eight months regardless of their political stance. The message was simple – finding a common ground to create better education for children.
In a struggling public education landscape, that means change, and while many will argue over whether or not new policies are the correct ones the main focus has to remain on Wisconsin’s future – the students.