Sounding the alarm: a wakeup call with directions

Part of the “Refocus Wisconsin” project commissioned by the Wisconsin
Policy Research Institute, this issue paper is a smack in the face to
the standard education regime far beyond the Badger State. After
depicting the discouraging state of Wisconsin education, AEI’s Rick Hess
and Olivia Meeks point to seven areas in need of improvement: teacher
quality, curriculum, accountability implementation, excellence
recognition, discipline and safety, charter school expansion, and
interventions in low-performing schools. They then offer three
feather-ruffling suggestions meant to address the structural barriers
that impede dramatic leaps in K-12 productivity.  First, the “Gold Star
Teachers” initiative would allow high-performing teachers to voluntarily
take on additional students in exchange for greater compensation. This
would give more students access to great teaching while reducing
personnel costs. The second recommendation would create a bonded system
of performance guarantees for charter operators. (Operators that failed
to meet agreed-upon performance goals would owe considerable money back
to districts.)  This would reduce district risk and encourage
collaboration with outside operators. Finally, the authors propose
“education spending accounts” that would allocate a chunk of per-pupil
funds directly to parents to spend at their discretion—on tutoring,
language classes, or other electives. The rationale: By introducing
choice into the system, such accounts would stimulate healthy price
competition and reduce the burden on districts to meet children’s
varying educational needs. Though each comes with its own implementation
challenges, all three suggestions are concrete enough to be feasible
and amount to a fresh breeze through current, stale solutions.

Frederick Hess and Olivia Meeks, “Sounding the Alarm: A Wakeup Call with Directions” (Hartland, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, 2010).

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