Students, teachers need support for successful year
MADISON There is no question that the last eight months of political turmoil have taken a toll on our state, including public schools and educators. Rancor over state funding cuts, the elimination of collective bargaining, unprecedented educator retirements, recall elections, and fears around the national economy pitted many community members against one another. It will take work by all of us over time to heal these wounds.
At the heart of it, these battles were not about education but rather about economics. Every generation of Americans, though certainly not every American, from 1600 to 1970 was economically better off than the generation before. However, since the mid-1970s real wages have stagnated, income inequality has grown and families have had to borrow more to make ends meet. In short, over the last 40 years, the American Dream and middle-class opportunities have gotten further away for many of us. To prosper as a nation, we need a strong middle class, and public education will help get us there.
Statistics from last month tell us that high school dropouts were four times more likely to be unemployed than college graduates. Education made the difference. Great teachers, caring school professionals and parents made the difference. We want our kids to have more than just jobs. We want them to have careers and pathways to the middle class. That is why supporting our teachers and modernizing our educational system is so incredibly important.
Research tells us that the biggest school factor in student academic success is the classroom teacher. And we know that all school staff partner in this work. When viewed internationally, training, independence and respect for teachers are three factors that set top-performing countries apart from the United States. In Wisconsin, our public school teachers all have graduated from a college or university and many have advanced degrees. To qualify for a Wisconsin teaching license, each individual completes a program that helps them develop skills in classroom management, lesson planning, student assessment and how to approach instruction in different ways to meet multiple student needs. According to a recent national poll, the public recognizes the professionalism of teachers; they trust them and have confidence in the work they are trying to do.
There is little doubt that Wisconsin schools are reopening with new challenges and pretty low morale. Our educators are professionals with a wealth of knowledge and classroom experience. We can all find ways, big and small, to support our teachers, school staff and their students.
This means listening to and respecting their opinions about what is needed for public school students. This means increasing dialogues and collaboration with educators about their work and schools. And our schools are great places to volunteer, attend a fine-arts performance, or see an exciting sporting event.
As our 2011-12 school year begins, we must rally around public schools to support our students and all the educators and professionals who daily work to build a more prosperous future for Wisconsin.
Tony Evers is the elected state superintendent of public instruction. Contact him at 125 S. Webster St., P.O. Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707-7841; phone (608) 266-3559.