Often at Odds, Wis. Governor, Educators Join To Unveil School-Improvement Plan
After more than three months of close&door meetings, Wisconsin leaders have unveiled an education reform plan that would sot up a new statewide testing system, allow principals to revoke student work permits, and provide incentives for longer school years.
The proposal was put forward this month by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert J. Grover, and groups representing the state's teachers, administrators, and school-board members.
"This package will go a long way toward improving the schools," Mr. Thompson said.
The agreement on the package was unusual because Governor Thompson, a Republican, has often been at odds with the Democratic state schools chief and with some of the state's powerful education groups.
"Rather than fighting, for the purposes of this package at least, we decided to be in agreement," observed Thomas Fonfara, Mr. Thompson's education aide.
The new plan avoids some of the more controversial education proposals the Governor has made in past years, such as statewide school choice and a plan for dividing the Milwaukee school system into four or more districts.
Over all, the package would boost state spending for education by $91 million over two years.
It proposes a process for setting state education goals and a comprehensive means of measuring student progress in meeting those goals. The new testing system, expected to cost more than $1.6 million, calls for performance-based tests for students in grades 8 and 10 and student portfolios in grades 4, 8, and 10.
The package also proposes setting aside $7.5 million in state grants for schools that agree to lengthen the academic year by at least 20 days.
It also would allow school principals to revoke the work permits of students who have failing grades or disciplinary problems.
Another $2.9 million in the plan would supplement the federal Head Start program. Schools would be given first preference for the grants over private, nonprofit Head Start providers. Another $300,000 is sot aside for pilot preschool programs in which schools and social-service agencies work together.
Several new initiatives designed to encourage school districts to give more authority to teachers and administrators at the building level are also contained in the plan.
Although the plan was put together with the help of major education groups, some lawmakers and others in the state have faulted the way in which it was formulated. Critics said more parents, legislators, and academics interested in education issues should have been involved.
"The debate on the future of education doesn't belong in the back room of the Governor's mansion," said Mary Sowinski, an aide to Assemblywoman Sue Rohan, a Democrat. "It should be a public forum."