Congratulations on your election as Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ever since your election I have been reassuring my more conservative colleagues – skeptics all – that Tony Evers is up to the task of reforming education. “Sure he had the support of WEAC but the Tony Evers I’ve known and watched will be his own man,” I told them.
So it was no surprise that waiting for me Saturday morning was an email from a doubter. “Obama and Duncan have $4.3 billion burning a hole in their pocket for states that are serious about reforming education. Wisconsin isn’t one of them. Let’s see what your Tony Evers does now.”
Well Tony, you and I know that Wisconsin has been resting on a rather dated reputation of educational quality for years. In spite of a string of governors, legislators, mayors and editorial boards espousing reform, little seems to have changed.
Then along come President Obama and his education guy Arne Duncan. In less than six months they have exposed serious weaknesses in Wisconsin’s education system: weak assessment standards, a weak system for recruiting and retaining good teachers and principals, weak data systems and a half-hearted attempt to turn around low performing schools. This new tone from Washington is refreshing, since President Bush never really had the stomach for reforming education.
Obama and Duncan speak in the language of Washington: money - lots and lots of money. They are dangling $4.3 billion to states who want to join in the “Race to the Top,” which to the rest of the world means educational reform.
But here’s the thing Tony, Wisconsin has never been fully committed to reform. All of the weaknesses the Obama people say they want to fix are alive and thriving in schools throughout Wisconsin. Yet our leaders seem content to do nothing and Team Obama is telling us that if we continue to do nothing our share of that $4.3 billion will go somewhere else.
There is no better example of our slavish determination to do nothing than the Wisconsin state law that Team Obama is using as the poster child for doing nothing; the law that says the information from student tests cannot be used to evaluate teacher performance. At WPRI we’ve long advocated the need to expunge this ludicrous law and now two legislators – Davis and Hopper – both Republicans, have drafted a bill to expunge it. Who would have guessed that the left-leaning President would join us in advocating this simple reform? Arne Duncan calls the Wisconsin law, “simply ridiculous.” But the reality is that, without your advocacy, nothing is likely to happen. Wisconsin’s hope of reform will grow dimmer and dimmer. You see, Legislators of both parties have taken a pass on the issue when they’ve been in charge and in his seven years in office our Governor has chosen to do nothing. It’s up to you.
Will you be joining Arne Duncan and other reformers in supporting the Davis-Hopper legislation? This is the platform that reformers have been looking for. This one change will signal to parents and teachers throughout Wisconsin that the guy in the State Superintendent’s chair is serious, that he’s not a spokesman for the union and he’s not a caretaker. No, all of Wisconsin will come to know that the Superintendent Evers is the real deal – a reformer.
-July 28, 2009