Teachers will not join Walker in education effort

"Just being invited to be a member of that team does not mean that our voices would be heard at that table," said a rep.

Wisconsin’s teachers union will not join Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to create a new state accountability system to replace the federal No Child Left Behind after lingering mistrust following his cuts to their collective bargaining rights.

“We simply do not have the necessary trust or confidence,” union president Mary Bell said of Walker and two other Republicans on the panel–Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell. “Our decision is based on experience with the governor and these legislative leaders over the last four months.”

Walker wanted the Wisconsin Education Association Council’s participation in establishing a new accountability system even if they didn’t support him in the past. Walker joined forces with state superintendent Tony Evers, who also opposed his union plan.

“Improving education isn’t a partisan issue,” Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Friday. “We’ll continue to put aside disagreements on other issues to collaborate with education leaders and improve Wisconsin schools for our children.”

While the governor’s group includes organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the School Boards Association, and district administrators, it wasn’t enough to sway WEAC, which represents more than 66,000 teachers and 98,000 members.

Bell said while considering Walker’s offer, she kept returning to the events leading up to his successful efforts to strip the union bargaining rights of the state’s public school teachers and other public workers.

“Our members wanted to sit down and talk with the governor, they wanted him to hear them out on the reason collective bargaining was so important to our schools, but he refused,” Bell said. “Actions speak louder than words, and through the state budget process we saw that public schools are not a priority with the governor and those who follow him.”

Evers said he had hoped WEAC would be full participants in the Accountability Design Team initiative and will continue to work with the group to make sure it’s included.

“Teachers should absolutely have a voice in the important discussions around student and school accountability,” Evers said. “While WEAC has indicated that they will not be participating in the formal group which will begin meeting next week, I will continue seeking their input as this process moves forward.”

No Child Left Behind requires schools to meet 41 benchmarks for student achievement. A school’s annual yearly progress toward improvement is calculated based on statistics that include test participation, academic achievement and graduation rates. Every few years, the percentage of students who must pass state tests increases.

By 2014, 100 percent of students are required to be proficient in both math and reading. That is a target no one expects schools to meet, which is helping to motivate the push to come up with alternatives.

Walker and Evers envisioned working with a team of education leaders to develop a new accountability system with the goal of creating a system that measures the effectiveness of schools using a variety of tools, including a new statewide test.

The system will identify high and low-performing schools, and Evers said deciding on the penalty to impose on those schools that fail to meet the state’s new standards will be a part of the group’s work.

That alone wasn’t enough for the teachers union to join.

“Just being invited to be a member of that team does not mean that our voices would be heard at that table,” Bell said. “We have absolutely no evidence from our experience with this governor or those particular legislative representatives that the voice of educators–even if we said at the table what we believed–would be heard.”

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