They called it the “Canada effect” – the phenomenon in which students from a string of states along the country’s northern border regularly beat the rest of the nation on academic tests.
As recently as 1992, only three states – all from northern climates – had significantly higher average scores than Wisconsin in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math. No states scored significantly better than Wisconsin in fourth-grade math national assessments.
By 2009, this effect was wiped out for Wisconsin’s students. The state’s fourth grade reading scores placed statistically ahead of only 12 states and the District of Columbia. On the fourth- and eighth-grade math tests, the state’s students beat 26 states and the District of Columbia, results that could be considered slightly above average.
“We have lulled ourselves into thinking we’re really, really good,” said state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who will become chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “We’re OK, but we need to get better because other states are doing more at improving.”
With research showing the most important school factor in student performance is the effectiveness of classroom teachers, Wisconsin’s political and education leaders have called louder than ever for improving the quality of the state’s educators.