• WisBusiness

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why the business community should take notice of WEAC’s school reform plan


By Tom Still
It’s easy to be cynical about the plan for school reform offered by the statewide teachers’ union… almost too easy.

Yes, the proposal by the Wisconsin Education Association Council could have been floated at any time during the eight-year term of former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat the union supported.

Yes, WEAC could have put forward its ideas for improving teacher quality, rewarding top teachers and fixing Milwaukee Public Schools last year before the federal government rejected Wisconsin’s application for “Race to the Top” money.

And, yes, the leadership at WEAC certainly saw the handwriting on the chalkboard when Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated Legislature swept the November elections.

Everyone knows all of that, however, so it doesn’t take Prince Machiavelli to plot the obvious politics surrounding the WEAC plan. Simply put, the union is trying to stay ahead of the train.

But what really matters is that front-line educators have signaled they’re ready for school reform – changes that could build a smarter, better-prepared workforce for Wisconsin. It’s an offer that should not be shrugged off with an early dismissal bell.

For the first time, WEAC has endorsed reforms it previously opposed. Those include:

* Dropping a teacher pay schedule that rewarded longevity and advanced degrees but little else. The union now supports “merit pay” based on performance, national certification, leadership roles, and how teachers handle more difficult assignments such as bilingual or special education, or teaching in under-performing schools.

* Adopting student test results, a peer review panel, mentoring and other factors to root out ineffective teachers.

* Breaking up the state’s largest school district, Milwaukee Public Schools, into six smaller units within four years.

After WEAC’s announcement last week, Walker praised the proposal and even telephoned the union’s president, Mary Bell, to congratulate her. Then again, that olive branch was quickly followed by Walker’s budget adjustment bill proposals to dramatically limit the power of public employee unions – including the teachers’ union itself.

For now, let’s assume a foundation for constructive conversation still exists. What should be the role of public education’s ultimate consumers – businesses and the communities in which their employees live and work?

That role should be to support school reform, which is vital to Wisconsin’s economic prosperity.

Study after study has revealed that American schools aren’t producing enough students who can compete in the global economy. That’s true even in Wisconsin, which prides itself on above-average performance in college placement scores, high-school graduation rates and more.

Trouble is, students in other nations are pulling ahead of their American counterparts by most measures – especially in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called “STEM” disciplines. According to federal data, job openings requiring expertise in STEM fields will increase by 18.3 percent through 2014. Many of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing industries and its highest-demand jobs are in fields that require rigorous training in science, technology, engineering and math.

Unless Wisconsin can produce more high-school graduates who are proficient in those disciplines and more, state businesses won’t be able to fill critical jobs. Businesses that cannot find the workers they need close to home are often forced to expand elsewhere – hardly a formula for success. Poorly educated students rarely become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

That is particularly true in the Milwaukee area, where the state’s largest school district is failing to educate many children. The largest city in Wisconsin cannot prosper without good schools, which are necessary over the long haul if Milwaukee hopes to renew its economy and its civic life.

It’s easy to be cynical about WEAC’s new-found religion, but it’s also important to understand how the union works. Its leaders have been open to change for years, but have typically encountered stiff, behind-the-scenes opposition from old-school local bargaining units. On the other hand, about one-third of all WEAC members identify themselves as Republicans – a demographic that could back reform unless they feel backed into a corner.

The debate has begun over how to improve Wisconsin’s public schools. Late or otherwise, it’s a debate worth having.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Labels:


Comments: 2

At February 16, 2011 at 9:05 AM, Blogger james said...

Well written. There is an opening here for a much needed discussion. I can only hope that all sides will recognize this and not let this opportunity slip by. Now is the time to remember that our leaders are elected to govern and not to rule.

 
At February 16, 2011 at 9:50 AM, Blogger Kronosaurus said...

You are buying into the narrative that our school's are broken and the cause of our weakening economy. That is narrow-minded and shows you are a tool. Our school system teaches to multiple societal needs, STEM is one among many contending values the public expects our schools to deliver. Many of the high scoring nations on the international exams are looking to America for inspiration to reform their own, test-driven school systems. China for one is actively trying to develop more creative and innovative thinkers and they are looking toward America. Funny thing is, we are going toward a Chinese model of testing, testing testing and the more we do so the less creative and innovative our students will be. That's fine though since right-wing policies are driving us toward a low-wage, low-skill economy where everyone will work in either a sweatshop or Walmart.

 

Post a Comment

Back to BizOpinion main page

: See newer blog items : : See older blog items :

BizOpinion site feed
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

wisbusiness.com Social News

Follow Us

Site Sponsors

ARCHIVE

· January 2009
· February 2009
· March 2009
· April 2009
· May 2009
· June 2009
· July 2009
· August 2009
· September 2009
· October 2009
· November 2009
· December 2009
· January 2010
· February 2010
· March 2010
· April 2010
· May 2010
· June 2010
· July 2010
· August 2010
· September 2010
· October 2010
· November 2010
· December 2010
· January 2011
· February 2011
· March 2011
· April 2011
· May 2011
· June 2011
· July 2011
· August 2011
· September 2011
· October 2011
· November 2011
· December 2011
· January 2012
· February 2012
· March 2012
· April 2012
· May 2012
· June 2012
· July 2012
· August 2012
· September 2012
· October 2012
· November 2012
· December 2012
· January 2013
· February 2013
· March 2013
· April 2013
· May 2013
· June 2013
· July 2013
· August 2013
· September 2013
· October 2013
· November 2013
· December 2013
· January 2014
· February 2014
· March 2014
· April 2014
· May 2014
· June 2014
· July 2014
· August 2014
· September 2014
· October 2014
· November 2014
· December 2014
· January 2015
· February 2015
· March 2015
· April 2015
· May 2015
· June 2015
· July 2015
· August 2015
· September 2015
· October 2015
· November 2015
· December 2015
· January 2016
· February 2016
· March 2016
· April 2016
· May 2016
· July 2016
· August 2016
· October 2016
· December 2016
Copyright ©2013 WisBusiness.com All rights reserved. | WisOpinion.com | WisPolitics.com  |  Website development by wisnet.com LLC  | Website design by Makin’ Hey Communications