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Chalkboard: Losing Race to the Top called a win for Wisconsin schools

Chalkboard: Losing Race to the Top called a win for Wisconsin schools

  • Updated
Obama at Wright in 2009
President Barack Obama touted his new education reform program in front of a packed audience at Wright Middle School in November 2009.

Wisconsin is fortunate it wasn't a winner in the Race to the Top contest for federal funding. And now it has an opportunity to make really meaningful change when it comes to moving beyond the challenges of No Child Left Behind.

That's according to Damian Betebenner, a national expert on educational testing, who was in Madison Thursday to help kick off the development of a statewide schools accountability system spearheaded by Gov. Scott Walker and state Superintendent Tony Evers. The blue-ribbon task force will focus on developing a comprehensive way to assess and improve education in schools throughout Wisconsin, from pre-K through high school and beyond.

One of a half-dozen speakers at a half-day conference sponsored by the UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs, Betebenner is working with a number of states that won millions in federal education funding through the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative.

Many, he says, are now living with winner's remorse as they struggle to meet the tight deadlines and uncertain methodology for the best way to measure whether teachers and schools are doing a good job educating their students.

"It's been a Faustian bargain," Betebenner says.

When it comes to developing a system for accountability for Wisconsin's schools, including ways to measure whether students are meeting the ultimate goal of being ready for a career or college, Betebenner says, "My advice to you is to go slow ... and be deliberate."

John Johnson, director of education information for DPI, was encouraged by the standing-room-only crowd and the attendance by a number of policymakers, including key legislators, at Thursday's meeting.

"Maybe by wading into school reform rather than diving into the deep end of the pool with Race to the Top, we'll actually be able to swim, instead of drowning," he says.

Both Evers and Walker have said that Wisconsin could develop a national model for assessing student and school performance, although one key voice is missing at the table.

Last week, WEAC, the state's largest teachers union, announced it would not participate on the panel because it mistrusts Walker and the legislative chairs, Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). The union says it will conduct listening sessions throughout the state with parents, students and teachers and will report its findings directly to Evers.


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