Wednesday, August 24, 2016

School year starts in Fitzwalkerstan under teacher shortages and major ethnic gaps

As the Summer winds down and another school year is on the horizon, we’re already starting to see hints that it could be a rough one in many of Wisconsin public districts. Despite the fact that college-prep scores remain strong, there are cracks showing in the foundation that used to be one of Wisconsin’s greatest economic and social strengths.

State Superintendent Tony Evers laid out the truth at a pro-public education event in Wauwatosa yesterday, saying the Walker/WisGOP policies of lower state aids and disrespect of public education and educators over the last 5 years is paying off in a very bad way. Most notably, the current school funding situation is leading to a shell game that results in higher property taxes through voter-approved referenda (often required just to keep the lights on and the classrooms upright), and greater disparities in performance among districts.
“And the reason we're passing referenda is because people like you all across the state, are saying, 'this is b.s,’ we have to support our schools, if the state is not,” he said.

But Evers said the downside is that school referendum efforts in some poorer communities like Milwaukee are less likely to succeed, making worse what he calls the gap between have and have-not school districts.

Evers said the Department of Public Instruction will ask Gov. Scott Walker in the next state budget to focus on having an equitable distribution of state aid for schools, noting he understands any additional dollars may be limited.

Evers said he's especially concerned about teacher shortages in some districts in Western and Northern Wisconsin. He said he's engaging stakeholders from around the state to identify and propose solutions that help school districts address critical staff shortages.

"I think it's about money. I think teachers are underpaid," Evers said. "And second of all, the kind of dysfunctional dialogue we have about public schools, where it always seems to turn to the teachers as the villains here. That's a national issue, but I think it's amplified here in Wisconsin.
That teacher shortage led to Evers outlining emergency steps being taken by DPI to get more teachers in the classroom when the new school year begins in just over a week.
Allowing educators near or in retirement to apply for a nonrenewable, five-year license without professional development requirements.

•Increasing the number of days a short-term substitute can be in the same assignment from 20 to 45

•Expanding criteria for renewal of emergency licenses to include attempting required tests for licensure

•Adding new pathways for teachers to add additional licenses based on content tests
I could land a cheap shot here and point out that Wisconsin’s average ACT scores suffered a sizable drop last year (as the headline in this story indicates), but because I’m not a Republican, and therefore not a dishonest a-hole, I think that number can be excused. Those numbers dropped because 2015-16 was the first year all Wisconsin high school seniors took the test, increasing the pool of test-takers by 42 percent (with many of the new test-takers likely to be lower scorers, since they weren’t taking the college board beforehand), so I don't think the scores themselves are major cause for concern. In fact, Wisconsin was 4th out of 20 states that has virtually all of their graduating students take the ACT - pretty good, although behind our neighbors in Illinois and Minnesota.

But what is disturbing is the massive racial gaps that persist in the state listed as “worst in the country for African-Americans.” Not only did all Hispanics, Native Americans and African-Americans score between 3.6 and 5.6 points lower than their white counterparts in Wisconsin for 2015-16, those gaps persist even when limited to high school students who took “an ACT core curriculum” with 4 years of English, and 3 years each of math, science and social studies.

Average ACT scores of Wis students w-core curric.
White 23.2
Asian 21.9
Multi-racial 21.7
Hispanic 19.5
Native American 18.8
African-American 17.3

Then combine the fact that White students are more likely to take a core curriculum (59%) than Hispanics (47%), African-Americans (43%), and Native Americans (35%), and that non-core students of all races scored 2-4 points lower, and it’s an awful double-whammy that leaves minority groups at a significant disadvantage. Maybe that whole ALEC “de-invest and privatize public education and ghettoize poverty the cities” mentality of the last 25 years isn’t working so hot when it comes to bridging the racial divide in K-12, so perhaps we need to try another way.

Unfortunately, that other way won’t come from the current WisGOP wrecking crew that’s owned by the voucher lobby and other haters of public education. In fact, that 262-dominant group wants to keep all other schools in the state second-class, to allow their mediocre selves to stay on top and lessen competition in the workplace. These sliding results and large gaps are just what the ALEC crew want to claim schools are “failing.”, and continue the money funnel from convicted criminal Scott Jensen and other privateers.

Which means if we want to keep our talented teachers and improve our schools for ALL students, we need new blood inside the Capitol. That can only be done by removing as many of these enemies of public education this November. The recent words from Superintendent Evers and the reports from DPI prove that fact more than ever.

1 comment:

  1. Jake,

    I'm glad yourself and more and more other progressives and moderates are saying outright that we need "new blood" in Madison. The current GOP-ALEC crew does not care an ounce for letters, phone calls, or "listening sessions" that tell them to start properly funding public education again. They are blatantly ignoring their constituents and the overwhelming evidence of referenda passing overwhelmingly statewide, year after year. Pretending these anti-public education GOP reps will change at this point is a total pipedream.