Wisconsin’s Race To The Top

Wisconsin appears to be a strong contender for Race To The Top funds.  A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from November 3 reports the following:

During a visit to Madison [November 4], President Barack Obama will highlight Wisconsin’s movement toward education reform and talk about how the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition is spurring other states to do the same, a spokeswoman for the White House said this afternoon.

Melody Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a conference call that the president on Wednesday will ‘applaud positive steps forward’ on education reform in Wisconsin, such as the bills pending in the state Legislature that would remove the ban on using student achievement data to evaluate teachers, and another that would share student data between K-12 institutions and higher education.

What “positive steps forward” does one find in these pending Wisconsin bills?  Here, for example, is the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of Assembly Bill 533:

Current law directs school districts to administer certain standardized examinations to pupils enrolled in the 4th, 8th, and 10th grades. Current law prohibits a school board from using the results of the examinations to evaluate teacher performance; to discharge, suspend, or formally discipline a teacher; or as the reason for the non-renewal of a teacher’s contract.

This bill allows the results of the state-required standardized examinations and the standardized examinations required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act to be used for the evaluation of teacher performance if certain conditions are met. The school board must develop a teacher evaluation plan that includes a description of the evaluation process, multiple criteria in addition to examination results, the rationale for using examination results for evaluating teachers, and an explanation of how the school board intends to use the evaluations to improve pupil academic achievement. This bill also requires a school district to bargain collectively over the development of the teacher evaluation plan.

Bold, cutting edge stuff, huh?

And then there is Assembly Bill 534.  The analysis of this bill states:

This bill provides that if the state superintendent of public instruction determines that a school or school district is in need of improvement, the state superintendent may direct the school board to do one or more of the following in the school or school district:

1. Implement a new curriculum. 2. Implement a new instructional design, including expanded school hours, additional pupil supports and services, and individual learning plans for pupils. 3. Implement professional development programs focused on improving pupil academic achievement.  4. Make personnel changes that are consistent with applicable collective bargaining agreements. 5. Adopt accountability measures to monitor the school district’s finances or to monitor other interventions directed by the state superintendent. The bill directs the state superintendent to promulgate rules establishing

criteria and a procedure for determining whether a school or school district is in need

of improvement for the purpose of exercising this authority. The school board must

seek input from school district staff on implementing any of the above directives.

The bill also authorizes the state superintendent to withhold state aid from any school district that fails to comply to the state superintendent’s satisfaction with any of the above directives.

Wow.  Talk about a game-changer.

OK, so I am cynical.  One wonders: has Arne Duncan vetted these and other pending bills to determine if they represent the kind of change that will meet RTTT criteria? Presumably the answer is yes, or why would President Obama travel to Wisconsin for the purpose reported by the Journal Sentinel?

Keep in mind that throughout the NCLB era Wisconsin distinguished itself mainly as having some of the country’s least demanding proficiency criteria on state tests.  As I noted in an earlier post on this topic:

There is scant evidence that Wisconsin is poised to make the kind of decisions that represent real reform.  As education reporter Alan Borsuk wrote recently, “There it was again last week: A chart from a reputable national education organization that put Wisconsin at the top of the list, provided you were standing on your head.”

Borsuk continued, “The New Teacher Project…created a scorecard of the chances of each state to win some of the $4.35 billion to be given out by the U.S. Department of Education to places where there are bold, well structured plans to improve low-performing schools.  Wisconsin had the worst scorecard of all 51 candidates (including the District of Columbia).

Further, he noted, “A couple of years ago, Education Sector…rated the states on how they were dealing with the No Child Left Behind education law. Wisconsin was rated as doing the best job in the country of evading the consequences of the law. The organization called it the Pangloss index, after a fictional character who believed everything was in its best possible condition even when it wasn’t. We were the most Panglossian state, so to speak.”

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