We worked hard over the past two years to improve education—particularly in reading. Research shows kids learn to read through third grade and then read to learn in the following grades and for the rest of their lives. Those who struggle with reading at this age are already fighting an uphill battle.
Governor Walker convened the Read to Lead Task Force in 2011, which was comprised of reading teachers, researchers, advocates, legislators from both parties, and others. Due to recommendations from this taskforce, legislation passed in 2012 which:
- Requires all students to take an early childhood reading screener in kindergarten;
- Requires the state Department of Public Instruction to improve the rigor of the licensure exam for new elementary school reading teachers and coaches by 2013-14;
- Created the Governor’s Read to Lead Development Council, a public-private partnership with the statutory authority to raise money to support reading initiatives statewide;
- Worked with the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Children & Families to link reading to the state’s childcare rating system, Youngstar, which resulted in the state winning a $22.7 million grant from the federal Race to the Top program.
Nearly a quarter of all adults in this state have some college credit without a degree. For many, time and money are barriers to finishing that degree. One major innovation of the past year is the UW Flexible Option—the first public program of its kind—which will allow Wisconsinites to complete their college degree even on a tight schedule or tight budget.
The UW Flex Option allows adult learners to earn degrees in targeted fields and to get credit for their experience. It will help prepare more people to fill the critical needs we have in the workforce.
Additional Budget Flexibility
Budget flexibilities granted to school districts have saved school districts hundreds of millions of dollars, resulting in teacher jobs saved, programs maintained, and new innovative partnerships not possible under the old rigid system. According to a teachers’ union survey, the 2011-12 school year was the best of any year in the past decade when it came to fewer layoffs, smaller class sizes, or the maintenance of extracurriculars and the arts. Meanwhile, property taxes actually went down for the first time in over a decade. Governor Walker provided even greater mandate relief to school districts when he signed 2011 Act 105 and worked with State Superintendent Tony Evers to receive increased flexibility under the Federal Government’s No Child Left Behind law. He will continue to work with educators and district leaders to continue to focus on student learning, not bureaucratic state mandates.
More Options for Parents
During the 2011-12 Legislative Session, Governor Walker’s reforms removed arbitrary enrollment caps on the Milwaukee choice program, allowed more schools and middle class families to participate, and expanded the program to Racine. Charter schools have also seen a boost through 2011 Act 17, which gives charter schools access to school buildings, which had been empty for years in some cases. This bill has already yielded results when the successful San Jose, CA charter operator Rocketship Education chose Milwaukee as its first expansion city. Governor Walker also allowed for greater public school choice in both traditional and virtual settings through the expansion of the state’s Open Enrollment program and the removal of an arbitrary enrollment cap on virtual schools.
Shortly after taking office, Governor Walker began work with State Superintendent Tony Evers, the heads of state teachers’ unions, school boards, school administrators, and others to develop a comprehensive and fair teacher and principal evaluation system. Holding adults accountable is important, but it must be done in a way that rewards, rather than punishes, teachers for taking on a group of students with additional challenges. The new system, based 50 percent on measures of educator practice and 50 percent on student outcomes, will provide teachers and principals the constructive feedback they deserve. It gives local school boards and superintendents the ability to recruit, retain, and reward top talent. In the area of improving and supporting our teaching workforce, Governor Walker also:
- Signed legislation to hold both traditional and alternative licensure programs accountable for results through a new report card;
- Worked with the State Superintendent to allow those with private sector experience, especially in high need areas like math and science, the ability to share their expertise in the classroom.
- Created the Governor’s Read to Lead Development Council, which will be given statutory authority to raise money to support reading initiatives statewide;
Preparing Students for the Workforce
In 2012, Governor Walker signed an executive order to create the College and Workforce Readiness Council – a bipartisan board tasked with reducing dropouts, closing achievement gaps, opening more opportunities for college-level work in high school, and finding other ways to address workforce challenges including the skills gap. The group issued a number of recommendations that are under consideration for the 2013-14 Legislative Session. In addition, Governor Walker worked to align our education system with workforce needs by:
- Strengthening the Second Chance program, a competency-based, on the job learning opportunity for at-risk high school juniors and seniors who would likely not otherwise graduate;
- Creating a Technical Diploma to allow high schools to offer rigorous nationally-recognized certifications or partner with local employers to develop programs delivering the skills employers want.
Setting Higher Standards
In fall 2011, Governor Walker convened a diverse, bipartisan group of school teachers, administrators, researchers, and others to design new report cards for schools. These report cards are already letting parents and community members know how their local schools are performing and growing relative to other similar schools and state expectations. Wisconsin is also working to adopt higher standards to prepare students to compete and succeed in a 21st Century economy. In fall 2014, we will replace the outdated WKCE standardized tests with responsive, modern assessments to give parents and teachers an improved understanding of how students are performing and, more importantly, what they can do to help them do even better.