ere is one of the great disconnects of our time: 60 percent of Wisconsin citizens rated the public schools in the state, with the exception of Milwaukee, as excellent or good. Two years ago, that number was even higher–just under 70 percent. People don’t seem to believe anything is holding education back in Wisconsin. But there are times when fact interferes with perception and–bad news here–this is one of those times. When compared to 17 other large urban districts including Chicago and New York City, Milwaukee’s students are in the back of the pack–only Detroit’s students score lower in math and reading in fourth and eighth grades. Largely driven by the abysmal performance of many of Milwaukee’s public schools, our state has the most persistent gap in achievement between black and white students in the country.
This isn’t just a Milwaukee problem; it’s a state problem. And the problems don’t end there.
Wisconsin employs more than 50,000 teachers, at an annual cost of approximately $3.65 billion,1 and yet it has no common means of measuring teacher effectiveness. The majority of these teachers have a continuing contract, which is another word for tenure — meaning, with few exceptions, they have that job for life if they want it. This might not be such a bad thing if teachers had to demonstrate their effectiveness in the classroom to get this lifelong contract–but they don’t. To put this in context, is your job guaranteed for life? And if it is, did you have to prove your ability in your job to get it?
Somehow, it has come to pass that most teachers are immune from the realities of the workplace that every other citizen faces. Can you imagine another profession in which it is against the law to fire someone from their job because they are not achieving the desired outcome?