Monday, August 3, 2009

The Money Chase

Today's Wisconsin State Journal (Madison's daily paper) reports that Governor Jim Doyle soon will release a proposal to eliminate the state's existing law that restricts student assessment data from being considered in teacher evaluations. This step is in direct response to the 'ridiculous' label that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan slapped on the state, and an attempt to qualify to apply for competitive Race To The Top funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Governor apparently also will embed within this proposal a series of other policy items, including requiring a third year of math and science for high school graduation (first announced in his 2005 State of the State address) and a push for alternative teacher compensation.

Doyle didn’t say when he would release details of his proposal or whether programs would be introduced individually or as a package. But he said he’ll urge the Legislature to pass the reforms by early next year.

Doyle said he would propose changes that would:

• Better track student performance, from prekindergarten to college. “With that data you can make really sound decisions about what works and what doesn’t work — not based just on what one test shows but on the performance of students that have had certain kinds of schooling over time,” he said.

• Require students to pass three years of math and science before graduating from high school. Currently, a little more than 70 percent of Wisconsin high school students take a third year of math and science. A third of all districts require three years of math, while a quarter of all districts require three years of science.

• Revamp school finance and teacher pay. Doyle wants to let districts get out from under state revenue caps, imposed since 1993, if they work together on union contract negotiations, make employees use the state health plan unless they already use a cheaper plan, and revamp teacher pay, among other things. Money saved can be used to hire teachers and raise student achievement, Doyle said.

Lawmakers and the governor already wiped out the “qualified economic offer,” or QEO, which lets school districts impose a minimum wage-and-benefit increase of 3.8 percent if bargaining fails to produce an agreement.

That move, Doyle said, will spur the development of alternative pay programs.

“You’re finally going to begin to see some innovation in teacher compensation,” Doyle said.

The state teachers union -- the Wisconsin Education Association Council -- is cautiously supportive of the Governor's proposals.

But will these 11th hour changes, if successful, be enough for Wisconsin to race ahead of other states with greater reform credentials in the Race To The Top competition?

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