Sunday, January 22, 2012

Governor Walker's Gratuitous Reforms

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unveiled another round of largely gratuitous education reforms this past week. Most bothersome, Gov. Walker proposes more government-mandated measurements to allegedly make schools, teachers, and administrators more accountable.     

The cost of such accountability initiatives should be at the forefront of this legislative discussion. However, Gov. Walker neglected to provide the important financial details about his latest education proposals. In the wake of radical education budgetary cuts, it is reckless to heap expectantly expensive accountability measures on Wisconsin’s DPI, local school districts, and charter schools.

The business-minded Gov. Walker usually promotes initiatives for smaller government and less regulation—yet paradoxically seems to have no qualms creating more unproven, bureaucratic regulations for local public education. I am sure Gov. Walker and his reform supporters will argue that these measures are additional “tools” for parents in seeking out the best public education for their children. However, this free-market thinking applied to public education is dubious, at best. I contend Governor Walker’s accountability measures, like previous attempts at accountability,  are a waste of precious educational energies and dollars.

A student’s education is largely a complex, intimate, qualitative experience. Students, parents, and educators working collaboratively is paramount to meaningful student learning. Expensive, quantitative rating systems proposed by Gov. Walker are a blow to the collaborative, intimate, caring communities educators are trying to create in classrooms and schools. State-mandated regulations are not the answer to the educator accountability question.

In fact, if Gov. Walker is sincerely in search of better schools, he and other accountability-obsessed reformers need to start asking the more important questions. They should not be asking how government can better regulate schools, but rather how society can better support educating all students. I yield in this final argument to Chris Nye of the Whole Child Initiative.

We need to shift the paradigm and refuse to conduct discussion with the implicit agreement that accountability-focused thinking will ever be able to get to what is most important in child development and education. Accountability for any large, bureaucratic system necessarily means quantitative measures. What we want for our own children...integrity, inquiry, intuition, initiative, creativity…doesn't fit that paradigm. (Chris Nye, blog posting)

Most educators I engage with have already made this important paradigm shift for better schooling. Wisconsin educators now need our elected officials to support us in supporting our students.

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