The future of education in Wisconsin is on the ballot
My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
For years the teachers unions and the rest of the liberal education establishment has considered the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction to be their exclusive domain and rightfully so. Almost all previous superintendents in the past several decades have been put into office by the money and power of the teachers unions and each superintendent has returned the support by pushing the union agenda. The current superintendent is no exception. Fortunately, Wisconsin has a real opportunity to make a change April 4 and elect a superintendent whose values and priorities are more in line modern educational thought.
The Department of Public Instruction is a somewhat unusual department in Wisconsin. Although part of the executive branch headed by the governor, the superintendent of the department is a constitutional non-partisan office that is elected every four years. The state constitution simply says that the state superintendent is responsible for the supervision of public instruction and that their “qualifications, powers, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.”
In the 169 years since the office was created, the legislature has granted more and less power to the office and shifted the responsibilities with the needs and wants of the time. The DPI is responsible for a wide swath of responsibilities including distributing state money to local districts, administering federal programs and money, providing operational and technical services to local school districts, crafting curriculum, compiling state education data and many other things. With a budget of over $6 billion per year, it is one of the largest state agencies.
The incumbent superintendent, Tony Evers, is asking for a third term in office. Evers’ agenda for the previous eight years has been to advance the liberal and union education agenda. He has passionately and aggressively fought back against the expansion of school choice in the state. Evers has been in step with the Obama Administration’s federal intrusion into education including pushing Common Core. After eight years of Evers’ leadership, the state’s education infrastructure is still languishing in mediocrity and he has fought every innovation coming from the legislature to try to improve it.
Thankfully, Wisconsin has an excellent alternative to just doing the same tired thing and getting the same disappointing results. Lowell Holtz, a selfstyled “Kidservative,” plans a new path for Wisconsin education.
Holtz has a broad and varied resume. He was a teacher in both private and public schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He was once Wisconsin’s Principal of the Year and was recognized as a National Distinguished Principal. Holtz has been the superintendent or district administrator of three Wisconsin public school districts in Palmyra-Eagle, Beloit and Whitnall. What is interesting about these districts is that they cover a range from rural to urban, small to big and homogeneous to diverse. In every leadership position, Holtz can point to a strong record of making a positive change.
More importantly, Holtz has a vastly different vision than Evers for improving education for Wisconsin’s kids. In fact, Holtz’s vision for education is much more in alignment with what the voters have been supporting as reflected in their choices for state and local leaders in the past several years. Holtz breaks down his vision into three basic categories.
First, Holtz wants to push more control back to the local districts and pull back state and federal mandates – including Common Core. Second, he wants to improve the graduation rate and close the achievement gap. He proposes to do this by providing resources and collaboration to the school districts who need it. Third, Holtz wants to empower teachers by pulling back burdensome administrative hurdles and improving classroom discipline.
Perhaps most importantly, Holtz supports innovation in educational choices including choice, charter, and online school options. Instead of trying to maintain the education establishment of the 1950s, Holtz welcomes a 21st century educational infrastructure to serve 21st century kids.
April 4 is a chance for Wisconsin to force the Department of Public Instruction to look to the future instead of protecting the past. Vote for Holtz.