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Politics & Government

Wisconsin Not Alone in Quest For School Accountability

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Wisconsin seems to be on a fast track to hold students accountable for educating students.

This week, an Assembly committee will hold a public hearing on a plan to grade all schools receiving state funding. If public schools did not improve after intervention, the state would convert them into charter schools. If private voucher schools did not improve, the state would cut off their public funding.

Wisconsin is not alone in pressing schools to improve student outcomes, according to NPR’s Education Reporter Claudio Sanchez. He says the idea to hold schools accountable for student performance dates back three decades, to President Ronald Reagan.

Reagan created a commission to gauge how American students and public schools were faring, compared to the rest of the world. The resulting report was called A Nation at Risk, and it set off an alarm in 1983. Sanchez says the scores were not good.

“There was this urgency and sense of crisis that American kids and American schools were falling behind and that that was going to have incredibly important repercussions on the U. S. economy, our ability to compete with other nations, to maintain our standard of living,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez says in 1989, the first President Bush brought together many of the nation’s governors for an education summit. It ended with the phrase “school accountability” becoming part of the national conversation.

“They created six national goals to make sure kids were ready for school and then to send a bigger message which was, we need to make schools accountable for the results. We need to make sure kids learn to read and write, we need to make sure high school graduates are ready for the world of work and college if they’re going to go to college,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez says accountability efforts have since morphed into various forms. They’ve included the No Child Left Behind Act of President Bush number two. It attempted to close the achievement gap through accountability and school choice.

Later, President Obama initiated Race to the Top. It offered incentives to school districts that embraced innovation. Common Core standards have also entered the mix – new benchmarks students should attain at each grade level.

Sanchez says the push to hold schools accountable has become more aggressive in recent times because much is at stake.

“This nation cannot succeed economically or remain an economic power unless our public education system, our colleges and universities prepare young people for the world of work. That’s the message that business and large industries are peddling, to create some sense of urgency and governors have responded to that,” Sanchez says.

Governor Walker says the school accountability bill GOP lawmakers introduced this month, is a priority for him. Florida has a grading system similar to the one proposed here.

Sanchez says other ideas states are trying include taking over failing school districts and creating more voucher programs. They pay for students to attend private schools.

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