–submitted by Stan Inhorn; photos by Pete Christianson
A week before the election, Rotarians were privileged to hear the two candidates for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction describe their qualifications and goals for improving educational achievement in Wisconsin.
In his opening statement, challenger Lowell Holtz noted the failure of many schools in minority districts in Wisconsin to achieve reasonable graduation rates. These failures are occurring not only in large urban districts but in rural areas as well.
Incumbent superintendent Tony Evers has headed the Department of Public Instruction for 8 years. He noted that scores on standardized testing have increased through the years and are near the top in several categories. He believes that some of the problem is due to inadequate state funding that has led to citizens voting for local tax referenda.
Five questions were presented to the candidates. In answer to the question – “Why do we need a state department of public education,” Evers noted that federal money for professional development and afterschool programs has been sharply reduced in the proposed federal education budget. Holtz responded by indicating that the federal budget included a significant amount for students with disabilities and for teacher training. In response to a question about innovation, Holtz described a Tennessee innovation zone program that allowed parents and teachers to design a system that improved the climate and culture within the classroom. Evers noted that Pewaukee had integrated special education students into the regular classrooms with extraordinary success.
Regarding transfer of public money to private schools, Evers indicated that funding of public schools is inadequate, so dividing it into 2 to 4 systems will only make public education worse. Holtz pointed to the successes that have occurred in districts where voucher schools are present.
The issue of improving the environment for teachers, including salaries, classroom respect, Act 10 in Wisconsin, is important. Holtz suggested that principals must help create a nurturing environment. Evers recommended that students should also be involved in planning activities that include projects that could evolve into actual jobs. In his summary statement, Holtz indicated that bureaucratic tasks are taking too much classroom teaching time away from teachers. Evers again stated that the state is not doing its fair share in providing funding for public education in Wisconsin.
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here. Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting.