Fact Check And Analysis Of DPI Superintendent Underly’s State of Education Address

Underly ignores Wisconsin’s education crisis, mentions dismal scores only once

Underly acts like a politician, targeting conservatives for fault, absolves herself and the education establishment of blame


Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Jill Underly gave her second State of Education address last week in Madison. With academic achievement steadily declining the last few years and the disastrous push by the education establishment to virtual learning only making the decline worse, Underly’s speech should have focused solely on this crisis and what her plan is to fix it.

Instead, Underly’s speech was an attack on anyone who suggests schools should refocus on teaching children the basics and without political indoctrination. The speech was jam-packed with virtue signaling to every radical group on the left. 

A successful student is an activist

Early in her speech, Superintendent Underly said that a successful student, a nurtured and well-prepared student, is a student prepared to be active civically and to be a “future active participant in democracy.” The fact that Underly starts her State of Education speech by focusing on something other than actual academic metrics is telling. By doing so, she immediately let everyone know this was going to be a partisan speech whose purpose was to target political opponents, not find common ground or practical solutions.

Underly didn’t say, ‘I want our children to graduate being able to read, write clearly or operate at grade level in math.’ Instead, Underly literally leads with ‘I want my students to be activists.’ 

Shouldn’t our top education official believe that a well-prepared student is one that is proficient in English Language Arts or math? As DPI Superintendent, shouldn’t she advocate for genuine academic mastery of the core subjects that are the building blocks of lifelong learning?   


Test scores are unimportant

While it was shocking and disappointing that Underly did not spend the entirety of her speech addressing our declining proficiency scores and low literacy rate, she actually took this denial to a new level when she said it was unfortunate critics would “latch onto test scores.” Test scores she said which showed “exactly what we knew they would.” Underly knew test scores would show the failure of the school system she controls, but she doesn’t want to talk about it, and she doesn’t want anyone else to mention it. 

This deliberate attempt to divert attention away from our educational crisis is the type of tactic we have come to expect from politicians. But then again, Underly is a politician, not an educator as she proclaims.


“It’s unfortunate that critics will latch onto test scores when so many other things should have taken precedence in a once in a lifetime, or once in a century, pandemic.”

Jill Underly


Department of Public Instruction

State of Education Address

September 2022


With less than a third of our students proficient or advanced in either math or English Language Arts, you can see why Underly would try to downplay test scores but that does not make it right. Two-thirds of Wisconsin students are not proficient in reading and 34% of our kids score below basic in reading while Underly tells us all to look the other way.


To use Underly’s own words, it should be a “moral imperative,” her moral imperative, to be honest with parents and taxpayers about the true state of K12 education in Wisconsin. It is her moral imperative to advocate for real solutions to our real problems. Instead of demeaning the public and demonizing those who disagree with her, Underly should take her own advice and act morally by NOT hiding from the poor scores or deliberately ignoring the depth and breadth of the crisis. 

This is not just a couple of students doing poorly or a one-time decline caused by the pandemic. Our K12 education system is in a full-blown crisis that has been growing for years. 

Since Underly brought up morals, how is it moral to teach young children to hate the United States? How is it moral for educators to blame every challenge we face on racism? How is it moral to give boys and girls in grade school access to graphic and detailed sexual materials? How is it moral to encourage children to declare themselves pansexual? How is it moral to help children transition to a different gender without involving their parents? 


None of this is moral and Underly knows it is not moral. It is indefensible. That is why she did not talk about the racist Critical Race Theory (CRT) by name, the hyper-sexualization of our children, or the push to encourage children to pursue alternative gender identities before they are capable of making such a difficult decision and without the knowledge of Mom and Dad. 

Underly also spent quite a bit of time in her speech asserting that a sign on a wall will save lives. We all agree with Underly that our schools should be “welcoming learning environments”. Parents, however, want politics out of education and political signs distract from what is most important – that all are welcome here to this school, to this classroom, to learn so you can go out into the world and pursue your dream, whatever your dream may be.

Our kids should feel safe in school because it is a positive, orderly, and encouraging learning environment, not because of a sign. Our kids should feel safe in school because their teachers, the administrators, the support staff, the parent volunteers, every adult in the school cares about each of them and is there to help each of them succeed whatever it takes. 

Underly should have talked at length during the STATE OF EDUCATION ADDRESS about how she plans to stop covid learning loss and to catch our children up academically. But, Underly acts just like any other politician.


More taxpayer money will solve everything in education 

What does our Superintendent of Public Instruction think should take precedence over making sure schoolchildren continue to learn?  Money, of course.

Underly repeatedly claimed in her speech that Wisconsinites need to give more taxpayer dollars to education in order to fix education. She even went so far as to say that over the past 12 years, schools have been “historically defunded” and condemned Legislative Republicans for defunding schools.

This is a blatantly false statement. In the last budget, state support for K12 education reached historic and unprecedented levels. Wisconsin taxpayers now invest over $7 billion a year in K12 education. A year.


Does $7 billion a year seem like we are “starving our education system”?

At the same time, while taxpayers have increased our investment, the number of children in the K12 system has decreased. So we have increased our K12 spending by billions of dollars on fewer students. Think about that for a second. A lot more money on fewer kids with rapidly declining academic achievement to show for our efforts. 

Yet, Underly has the gall to deliberately ignore this emergency in her public speech. Underly has the audacity to tell parents who question what we are teaching our children or how we are educating them that they are “problematic – and racist.” Underly attempts to create a fake enemy to blame for her failures – heartless and closed-minded conservatives. It really is disgraceful.

It was also telling that in her discussion of and repeated references to our supposedly starving education system, Underly made no mention of the significant amount of savings school districts realized from Act 10. To date, K12 school districts in Wisconsin have saved over $5 billion dollars in health care and retirement costs. That $5 billion dollars did not go back to state government. That savings stayed at the local level to be spent by the local school board on whatever they wanted. 


A challenging curriculum?

 Underly claimed in her speech that she wants our students to engage in a challenging curriculum. Now, if you didn’t know better and you looked at the dismal proficiency scores, you might think that we have a challenging curriculum causing those dismal proficiency scores. Remember, though, that to be proficient in either math or English Language Arts means you are simply operating at GRADE LEVEL. Grade level. It is literally the minimal measure of competency and two-thirds of our children are failing that to meet that basic standard. 

Parents would love it if Underly could just get 90% of our kids to operate at grade level. Forget about a challenging curriculum at this point. 

Parents would also love to know why Underly agreed with Governor Evers’ veto of a common-sense literacy plan this session. After all, in her speech, Underly said “what a gift the freedom to read is.” The problem for Underly is that, according to the nation’s report card, two-thirds of Wisconsin students are not proficient in reading and 34% of our kids score below basic in reading. We all agree with Underly that the freedom to read is the most precious gift we can give our children. Why then, did she look the other way when Evers dismissed a plan that would have identified young children struggling to read early enough that we could get them the help they need to catch up and progress academically? 

And for someone who supposedly believes in a challenging curriculum, it is curious that Underly and DPI recently made our school report cards less challenging so that every school would receive a false passing grade. DPI lowered the grading curve for schools so that a score of 70 is now a “B”. How does a 70 qualify as a B? Intentionally ratcheting down the grading scale is not engaging in a challenging curriculum.  Last time we checked, gaming the system and lying to the public about it is not moral nor is it imperative. 


Source: Department of Public Instruction

The deceptive push for equity and what it means for your child’s education

Underly went out of her way to explain in her speech why she is not a fan of equality, one of the founding principles of our country. She apparently believes that equality in education means that every child receives the same, and only the same, resources and instruction. Underly seemed to imply that schools cannot give an individual student the specific help she/he needs because of equality. That is why she believes that we need to push equity in our schools. This is absurd on many levels.



The state’s education funding system has already built into it extra aid to address challenging situations and to give certain students additional help. Underly knows this. The state gives extra aid for students living in poverty. We give extra aid for non-english speaking students, for kids in need of special education, for kids who live in rural parts of the state, and so on. 

For her to suggest otherwise in her State of Education speech is deceptive and an attempt to create a fake enemy to blame for her failures – heartless and closed-minded conservatives.

Every parent wants the same thing for their child and their education – we  want our child to receive the instruction and help he or she needs to be successful. If our child is struggling to read, can’t quite figure out how the scientific method works, or master the basic concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, we want and expect the schools to work with us to provide the extra help our child needs to master these building blocks. This is, of course, what we assume and expect our teachers and our schools to be doing right now. Parents agree with Underly that teachers and the education system in general should treat every student as an individual and meet their unique needs. Underly seems to suggest that this is not happening right now and this is why we should all embrace the socialist-ideal, equity. 


In reality, what Underly is talking about is entirely different than helping students achieve their personal best and master traditional education basics. She, and many in the education establishment, want to indoctrinate our children, not educate. Underly wants to use Critical Race Theory, equity, social emotional learning et al to change how we educate our children and what we teach our children. Underly and many in the education establishment want to lower the curve to eliminate failure and they want to change the curriculum to infuse Critical Race Theory into every subject so there is no longer a right answer, just the child’s lived experience.

As Underly pushed for equity in her speech, she talked of “important choices about curriculum that can make a difference” and that we need a representative curriculum in our schools.

With proficiency scores and literacy continuing to decline, Underly now wants to change the curriculum because so many of children are struggling. It is easier to shift the grading curve downward than it is to actually educate our children. 


Underly and the radical elements of the educational establishment are using CRT to justify their belief that certain groups of students cannot succeed academically in traditional core subjects like reading, writing, or math.

So instead, in the name of equity, Underly wants all our children to achieve exactly equal outcomes. Of course, the only way to achieve this is to expect less from the students who need the most help, hold them back and to ignore the potential of students who are gifted. The only way to achieve this is to eliminate 2+2=4, right or wrong answers and other immutable facts from education and replace it all with representative curriculum, lived experiences and other non-definitive “learning” that judges the success of a student by that student being present. Remember, for Underly, a well-prepared student is a student prepared to be active civically.

This is playing out in schools across Wisconsin and the nation right now. In the name of equity, schools are eliminating advanced placement and honors courses – it’s no longer acceptable to recognize students who excel because it is racist. To pursue excellence is a character trait of white supremacy. Instead, gifted children or those who do well at school need to be held back. It’s no longer acceptable to discipline disruptive or dangerous students; so the rest of the class is deprived of their opportunity to learn. 


To Underly, equity isn’t about eliminating failure, it’s only about eliminating evidence of failure. That means no longer giving an F if a student – or a school district – is failing, it means not giving grades, not measuring proficiency, not caring if learning is taking place. Equity means asserting that some kids just can’t succeed academically and that it’s racist to expect them to learn.

What a dangerous and depressing view of our children. Hopefully, parents are paying attention to what Underly and the education establishment are trying to change in education. Kids need their parents to speak out now more than ever.