Boots & Sabers

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0739, 13 Sep 22

Step 1: Admit that you have a problem

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The first step in the renowned twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that you have a problem. One cannot begin the path to recovery if one does not admit to having a problem. Well, Wisconsin has a huge problem. Our government education system is utterly failing our kids and it is getting worse every year. Our governor, Tony Evers, with a lifetime spent in government education, accepts such failure as normal and acceptable. It is not.


According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, every significant benchmark of student achievement is in freefall since well before the abysmal response of government schools accelerated the decline. Student proficiency on the ACT is down.


Between 2016-2017 and 2020-2021, the percentage of Wisconsin eleventh graders who were proficient or better on the English language arts part of the ACT, which measures understanding of English, writing, and knowledge of language, dropped from 39.5% to 33%. That is a 16.4% drop in scores in five years.


Math scores are even worse…




But let us step back from the cold numbers for a moment and put them in perspective. The fact than only 33.7% of Wisconsin’s students between third and eighth grades are at least proficient in English language arts is abysmal. According to the DPI, the Forward Exam tests what, “students should know and be able to do in order to be college and career ready.” That means that barely a third of Wisconsin’s students are meeting grade-level standards to be ready to attend college or start a career. Only one in three of Wisconsin’s kids are proficient in English or math — two key skills for success as an adult.


What the heck are we doing? Is that really good enough? Two-thirds of our kids are falling behind and we collectively shrug and accept it? Have we been so cowed by the government education bullies that we are willing to accept that their failure is normal and satisfactory?


Our governor thinks it is. On his campaign website, he brags about his accomplishments on education. As proof, he noticeably fails to mention anything about student achievement. Instead, he cites the fact that the state spends more money than ever on K-12 education. If the spending is not resulting on better results for our kids, then what is the point?




Like any addiction, spending more money on it makes it worse because the spending obscures the real problems. In Wisconsin, we have been failing our kids and making ourselves feel better about it by spending more money on them. They do not need more money. They need a quality education and our government education establishment is increasingly unable or unwilling to give them that education.


It is time to stop. Stop the excessive spending. Stop the pretending that our government education system works. Stop accepting abysmal performance as normal or acceptable. Stop rewarding failure. Admit that we have a real problem and we are failing our kids at every grade level.


0739, 13 September 2022


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