The best schools offer outstanding services. Children across Wisconsin have vastly different experiences in school. Some students have the opportunity of having exceptional teachers while others may suffer with ill-qualified individuals. Also, some children learn in small class sizes while others might get by in classrooms of over 45 students. This stark difference in school environments results in not only few “great schools,” but also many schools that either barely meet or fail to meet minimum standards.
We need to ensure that all children have a chance for a better life. Right now, we have an opportunity to, once again, lead the nation in innovation and achievement. We must invest in ALL Wisconsin schools, from rural, to urban, to suburbs because our children and grandchildren deserve the best! I believe to rebuild our schools we must apply real solutions to the real problems facing our education system.
It's time to address the following problems:
Problem #1 - Some classrooms have two to three times as many students than other classrooms. When a teacher becomes overloaded, it is possible that the quality of instruction could decrease and students could possibly fall through the cracks.
Solution #1 - We need a basic standard of student care for all children in Wisconsin beginning with small class sizes. The vision is for teachers to provide individualized attention to each and every child, ensuring their success.
Problem #2 - Not only are there not enough qualified specialists to teach STEM courses in our schools, but schools across the state have also moved away from preparing children for the trades.
Solution #2 - Just as we need to hire the best to become teachers, we also need to hire trade professionals and STEM experts to teach our children. Increasing access to apprenticeships and internships can also afford children to attain job experience while still in high school.
Problem #3 - Too many children do not have access to high quality after-school programs. Lack of these programs can lead kids to boredom and mischief.
Solution #3 - All schools need strong after-school wraparound services such as sports, clubs, and/or tutoring. These services can holistically improve children and make them well-rounded, preparing them to become well-rounded adults.
Problem #4 - There are also vast differences in summer programs. Some summer programs provide enriching experiences while others sit children in front of the television or computer all day. Poor programming and the "summer slide" can lead to achievement gaps and poor performance.
Solution #4 - Create versatile and engaging summer programming for all children. Engaged children build life-long memories and are also kept out of trouble.
Problem #5 - Far too many districts cut important programs including Art, Music, Gym, STEM, Library, and recess for elementary children. Lacking these programs and time for mental breaks can lead to boredom, disengagement, and decreased learning.
Solution #5 - Investing in balanced programs leads to higher levels of student engagement, a love for school, and greater levels of student achievement. Recess also allows children a brain break and increases productivity.
Problem #6 - Excessive testing wastes time and prevents learning opportunities. Students are forced to take too many standardized tests throughout the school year. For example, there are some children who are required to take EIGHT standardized tests in a single year. Standardized tests are so bad that a third grade child spends more time on the Wisconsin Forward Exam than a high schooler spends on the college ACT entrance exam.
Solution #6 - Reduce the number and amount of standardized tests in Wisconsin. Instead, use the time gained from reducing testing to provide a balanced and engaging curriculum for all children.
Problem #7 - Discrimination and bullying prevent too many children from reaching their full potential. According to the CDC, children who are bullied are more likely to commit suicide. Additionally, children cannot focus on learning when their minds are worried about attacks.
Solution #7 - We are obligated to ensure all children feel emotionally and physically safe to learn. Schools need a strong focus on equity and justice. This includes preventing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, name, and/or disability. Hiring more School Psychologists, Guidance Counselors, Nurses, and Social Workers can also ensure that all children have the support they need to be successful.
Problem #8 - Too many school buildings are out of date and/or are not ADA-approved. There are also buildings with asbestos and black mold which invoke health risks.
Solution #8 - We must consider the health, safety, and well-being of all children when thinking of school buildings. Children in quality buildings feel pride and are more motivated to learn in facilities that are sound and maintained. Rebuilding our crumbling school infrastructure is an important step to increasing opportunity and a healthy environment for all children.
Problem #9 - There is also a disconnect in teacher training around special education. We only now developed laws focusing on dyslexia. The teacher shortage also hits special education more than other licenses, leading to unqualified or under qualified individuals teaching our neediest kids.
Solution #9 - Train specialists to work with specific disabilities. We also need to pay bonuses for hard to find positions.
Problem #10 - Districts purchase or adopt "silver bullet" programs in an effort to increase achievement. When they do not work immediately, districts pick new programs with more promises. This constant churn destroys sustainability and burns staff out.
Solution #10 - Empower principals and teachers to develop curriculum based on individualized learning.