2020 State Of Education Address: Stanford Taylor Gives High Praise To Schools And Staff For Work During COVID

Upcoming budget proposal will be “grounded in equity”

Wants to reframe and reimagine schools

 Refuses to answer how DPI will guarantee genuine instruction and learning will occur this school year

September 24, 2020

By Ola Lisowski

Schools have moved mountains, said State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor in her annual State of Education address. Recognizing the work of schools and taking the opportunity to address inequalities were the two core themes of her speech. 

Delivered virtually, the annual state of education speech was unlike any other, for a year like no other. Noting the unique circumstances of the year, Stanford Taylor spent much of her thirty-minute speech praising the education community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She emphasized that as the state shut down, staff delivered Chromebooks and mobile hotspots to homes, and identified public wi-fi locations so students could continue learning. 

These “nothing short of amazing” efforts, the superintendent said, were part of a strategy to “move beyond emergency response” and to work to meet the academic, social-emotional, and nutritional needs of students. 

Stanford Taylor went further, saying that the unique circumstances of the year have provided an “unparalleled opportunity to reframe and reimagine” schools in a more inclusive manner. She linked the summer’s marches about racial and social justice with the work in the classroom, emphasizing that schools must provide space for communities to hold difficult conversations about race and equity. 

Pressed by reporters for more details, she said districts must look at how to pull identities into school curricula, and “reimagine our system so they are more welcoming and embracing of all our diversity.”

She spent several minutes of her speech discussing Wisconsin’s Black-White achievement gap—the  largest in the country—and said the time is now to shed the title. 

To that end, she announced that her forthcoming 2021-23 budget request will be grounded in educational equity. While avoiding specific dollar amounts, she said that her department would request increases to special education categorical aid as well as mental health services. 

Stanford Taylor didn’t discuss overall achievement of students across the state, as just four in ten students are proficient in math or English. Beyond references to identity and inclusion, she did not get into specifics about how exactly her administration would work to close achievement gaps between Black students and their peers. 

The most recent data reveal a 40-point achievement gap in math between White and Black students statewide. In Madison Metropolitan schools, the gap is a shocking 50 points in math, and 47 points in English language arts. 

While Stanford Taylor lauded the work of schools, parent responses were hardly as glowing, especially as schools shut their doors last spring. One report quoted a parent of two Milwaukee-area students as saying teachers were “missing in action” during the early days of the pandemic. Another parent said there was “very little guidance” coming from teachers, resulting in the parent taking the lead on teaching his son. 

Asked directly by MacIver about the work DPI is doing to ensure real learning happens this fall, Stanford Taylor went on the defensive. 

Focusing on last spring’s “crisis mode” response, she praised district responses, however asymmetrical they may have been. 

The answer, unfortunately, mostly ignored the question as well as the very real concerns among parents that fall learning will look more like the spring’s “scramble” than any real learning that occurred before March. Stanford Taylor pointed to DPI’s guidance document for districts, as well as its disbursement of CARES Act funding to assist in professional development. 

Stanford Taylor also announced she would not be seeking re-election after her term is up next year.