Wisconsin Assembly changes to accountability law are a step backward
I don’t always agree with the Wisconsin Legislature on matters of public education, but Wisconsin got it right when it adopted the current state law promoting school accountability for all publically-funded students. The current law is thoughtful, fair and it lets parents and taxpayers make an apples-to-apples comparison of performance for publically-funded students, whether the students are in public, voucher or private schools. We’ve waited for this legislation for more than 20 years, since the first voucher schools were created in Milwaukee.
That’s why an accountability proposal just introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly, Assembly Bill 1, while well intended, is just plain wrong. Less than a year after a comprehensive school accountability law was enacted – and before it has even been put fully into practice – the Assembly wants to change it. This proposed change by the Wisconsin Assembly is a step backward. It provides less transparency, creates confusion, punishes public schools and their students and takes control away from locally elected school boards.
• Under the current accountability law, all publically-funded students take the same tests so taxpayers and parents can make a true comparison of results. It’s good common sense. Assembly Bill 1 would create a hodge-podge of tests schools could take, making it impossible for anyone to see if schools were truly effective and impracticable for parents to determine which schools are performing best.
• Schools working hard to improve wouldn’t receive assistance under Assembly Bill 1, they’d be punished, closed and taken over by privately run charter schools. MPS’ experience has been that structured intervention and additional supports help low-performing schools improve and we’re seeing that transformation in several of our schools including Franklin, Grant, Curtin, Carver and Gwen T. Jackson. There are also cross sector efforts underway now to improve outcomes for all students.
• Locally-elected and locally-accountable school boards know their schools and communities best. Assembly Bill 1 would remove local control by appointing a non-elected, statewide accountability board that would determine which schools stay open and which are closed and turned over to private companies to run.
I believe strongly in holding schools accountable when they fall short. Since the 2011-12 school year, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors has voted to close or terminate the contracts of 31 MPS schools. While never easy, each of these decisions was made in the best interest of students using comparable data to make decisions.
Just as importantly, MPS has also developed a plan to help those schools that struggle the most. MPS has identified 14 Commitment Schools. These are some of our lowest performing schools and they receive additional help and support to improve student achievement. In addition, all of our schools with the lowest ranking on the most recent state report card are receiving additional assistance.
Taxpayers and parents have the right to know how well publically-funded schools are performing. Assembly Bill 1 is a step backward and takes the wrong steps to improve student achievement.
Michael Bonds, Ph.D.
President, Milwaukee Board of School Directors