Education reform laws pending
As the legislature continues work during its spring floor period, education reform is one of the top issues we are likely to address.
Along with Rep. Steve Kestell and other legislators, I have introduced legislation based on the recommendations of two groups focused on finding the best ways to improve education in the state. One of the groups is the Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force, of which I was a member. The second group is the Department of Public Instruction’s Educator Effectiveness Design Team. These two groups brought together stakeholders with a variety of viewpoints and expertise in different areas. Their work has resulted in legislation that we believe will make fundamental improvements to our schools and help more students succeed.
The Read to Lead Task Force was convened by the governor to address Wisconsin’s long-stagnant reading achievement. While Wisconsin’s reading achievement levels have fallen or at best remained flat, other states have been able to raise their achievement levels. For Wisconsin students to compete nationally and internationally, improving reading skills in the early grades is critical.
The Read to Lead Task Force was comprised of reading teachers, researchers, advocates, legislators from both parties and others. The education reform legislation takes a number of recommendations from the task force’s final report.
To begin, the bill would create a public-private partnership: the Governor’s Read to Lead Development Council with the statutory authority to raise money to support reading and early childhood development initiatives statewide. The bill would also require all students in kindergarten and potentially 4-year old kindergarten to take an early childhood reading screener beginning in 2012-13.
Under the bill, the state Department of Public Instruction would be required to improve the rigor of the reading portion of the licensure exam for new elementary school teachers and special education teachers by 2013-14. Finally it would ensure districts and future teachers know which colleges and universities have teacher preparation programs that produce the best teachers, allowing for feedback that will help these programs improve.
Convened by State Superintendent Tony Evers, the Educator Effectiveness Task Force was aimed at creating a fair and rigorous system for evaluating teachers and principals. The task force was comprised of representatives of teacher organizations, school boards, school administrators and institutions of higher education.
Based on the recommendations of this task force, our legislation would create a framework for a teacher and principal evaluation system that would be based on both student outcomes and educator practice. Teachers would not be evaluated on raw test scores but rather would be evaluated on the value-added growth of their students. This way, the evaluation focuses only on what a teacher can control and does not punish a teacher or principal for taking on a tough assignment.
Under the bill, the new system would be based on two sets of standards: the 2011 Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) Model Core Teaching Standards (for teachers) and the 2008 Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Educational Leadership Policy Standards (for principals).
This legislation is the result of diverse and bipartisan groups working with the singular goal of improving educational outcomes.
As we know, if you cannot read, you cannot learn. Studies have shown that children who cannot read at a proficient level are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time than children who can read at a proficient level. This number jumps to 13 times less likely for children living in poverty.
When combined with the teacher effectiveness piece, this legislation has the potential to have a serious impact on learning across the state. All the research shows that the most important factor in determining student achievement that schools can influence is providing every student with an effective teacher. This legislation will help us figure out who the best teachers are, identify the strengths and weaknesses of our teachers, and use that information to shape professional development.
The Senate and Assembly Education Committees had a public hearing on the bill on Feb. 15, with a vote likely occurring in fairly short order. I am hopeful we will approve this legislation and send it on to the full legislature for consideration.