Assignment: Education-Turnaround Contracts

While on the campaign trail a few months ago, Governor Walker talked about this document "The Walker Plan: To Make Wisconsin's Education System World Class." The governor plans to unveil the ideas in this document as part of his education reform package in late March or April.

"Making sure every kid has access and an opportunity to great education is imperative for us," said Governor Scott Walker.


One way Governor Walker hopes to achieve this goal is to reform failing schools. He wants to do this by grading schools on a scale of A to F.

"For us, it's really ultimately about identifying what schools in our state are succeeding or scoring the best and how do we replicate that everywhere else across the state," said Walker.

The governor wants grades awarded based on criteria such as graduation rates, passing rates, enrollment in Advanced Placement Courses, Standardized test scores and teacher and administrator evaluations.

"My concern around those first four is... okay, if it is important that every student pass then they'll all pass. If it's important that we have AP classes, we'll have AP classes. If that becomes the criteria for whether this is a good school district there's easy solutions," said Executive Director for Coulee Region United Educators Gerry Roethel.

The fear among some educators is that expectations may be lowered in the classroom to make sure kids pass and, therefore, schools get passing grades. Educators are also concerned about a system where a school gets credit for a student who can achieve the "easy A," but may not get as much credit for a teacher who was able to pull a D student to a B student. Governor Walker says his legislative committee is looking to make considerations in those situations.

"For us, it's about... certainly not going to penalize someone who takes an A-plus-type student and makes sure that they continue to be an A-plus student, but it shouldn't penalize somebody who gets a kid that starts out maybe below their age group on some categories but moves them up. There should be some added consideration for people who started out with a challenge and were able to bring those kids up even if it's not an A-plus, but several grades from where they were at before," said Walker.

If a school is labeled a persistently failing school, schools will be required to sign turnaround contracts. In exchange for a commitment of resources and support from the state, school boards and administrators will select one of four turnaround models. The first one asks for administrators to be replaced.

"I don't know that they're going to have the capacity to walk into a building and lead, because they won't know the terrain. They won't know the family. They won't know the situation. Just because they're some expert from the outside doesn't mean things will work better, necessarily," said Roethel.

Option two asks for administrators and no less then 50% of the staff to be replaced.

"If we're walking out of the building half of that staff that knows the children, knows the families, knows the situation of the community, and we have 50% new staff, new teachers, I'm not sure where that gets us. How that gets us to a situation that's better for children," said Roethel.

"Most of the schools in this state are overwhelming successful, but for the handful that are failing, and failing miserably, we've gotta give those superintendents and school boards the ability to come in, just like you would in an emergency situation, you take things over. You bring in a new team and try something completely different," said Walker.

Option three looks at closing a school and reopening it as a charter school.

"That was the solution for all of these problem schools in the Milwaukee Public School system. So, we established all these private charters. Test scores are no better. I don't see it as a viable option. Not a good option. Not one that's going to do better for kids," said Roethel.

The final option is closing the school and sending kids elsewhere.

"That is really a problem in the rural areas. There is no school around the corner," said Roethel.

Governor Walker says if closing a school or turning a school into a charter isn't an option in a particular school district, than they would choose a different turnaround model which is part of the flexibility of this proposal.

"This gives support for school boards and administrators to select one of a number of turnaround options. It gives them the power to do... that they're just not locked into the status quo right now which is where they don't really have any of these options," said Walker.

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