History: A look back at Wisconsin Governor Tony Ever’s 1997 DPI campaign

Heather Smith:

During his rough and tumble 1997 campaign Evers directly criticized fellow Democrat Benson saying he had failed to call attention to the problems in our state’s education system, and that continual promotion of the good without sounding the alarm on the bad “wrecks our credibility.”  Evers said students and districts were in trouble and that “being a cheerleader has its place, but that place is not the superintendent’s chair.”

(Yes, this is the same guy who – in another ad we recently fact checked – is cheerleading a US News ranking putting Wisconsin schools as 8th in the nation while only about a quarter of students statewide can do English or math at grade level.)

But those are not the only striking political moves Evers made in the 1997 race.

He campaigned on recommendations in the Fish Commission that suggested breaking up MPS.  He accused Benson, who opposed charter schools, of trying to bury them in regulations. Evers supported statewide public school choice and said charter schools work, because they “provide local competition, innovation and research.” He called for clear, measurable standards in core academic areas to help districts improve. He said under Benson, “DPI has become a lackey for WEAC.”  Those are not the words of a guy without political aspirations.

And when Benson claimed that the crisis in public education had been “manufactured” Evers asked – again, in 1997, a quarter century ago:  “Is the 40% dropout rate in Milwaukee public schools a crisis or not?   Is the fact that most colleges remediate our graduates a crisis?” 

The 3.8% of MPS students who can do math at grade level and the 6.4% who can do English at grade level are a crisis today, and colleges are still remediating graduates from our “top 10 in the nation” schools. But while politically savvy Evers used school quality as a wedge issue when he wanted to defeat a fellow Democrat, today, he’s doing the same thing he accused Benson of: cheerleading while schools fail students.

During his time as Deputy, Wisconsin was called out for setting “cut scores” low to game accountability measures to make proficiency scores appear higher. DPI had set reading passing levels for 8th graders at the 14th percentile, while states like South Carolina set theirs at 71%. Evers defended the cut scores saying that the 14th percentile was proficient.

And when Education Sector, a national non-profit, ranked states on which used technicalities to be overly cheery about student performance, Wisconsin topped the list. Evers, who had decried this very habit in his run against Benson, defended DPI saying everything they did “had been approved.”

The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

2017: West High Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results 

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“An emphasis on adult employment”

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report[PDF]

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

Friday Afternoon Veto: Governor Evers Rejects AB446/SB454; an effort to address our long term, disastrous reading results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration.

No When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?