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Leading to Reform

This week’s letter highlights the release of ACT Scores, the latest Gallop Poll on public opinion about America’s schools, and my annual favorite – the Beloit College Mindset. There is also a teaser on Merit Pay in Wisconsin – with a new push for merit pay in Wisconsin School Districts.

The ACT Results are out and Wisconsin students remain among the tops in the nation on the ACT college admissions test, tying with Iowa for the No. 2 spot with 71 percent of the state’s 2012 graduates taking the exam. In fact, the district (Greendale Schools) I served for 16 hears just posted a huge gain in their ACT score while more youth than ever took the exam. The ACT exam is the test of choice for midwestern colleges and really the test that matters for students. This is a test they pay attention to. ACT results for public school students are available by school and by district on the Wisconsin Information Network for Successful Schools (WINSS) website,

From the Sunday Paper: Wisconsin Teacher Merit Pay is front and center again. Journal Sentinel Reporter Erin Richards captured it last week and now the Sunday paper has dueling editorials about how to pay teachers for their work.

Recent changes in the level of school funding, the much necessary demand for better education for all kids and changes in laws governing Wisconsin public school means that compensation plans must change. The question is what is doable and will work long term in Wisconsin. There are two obvious sides pro and con, but I think there is a third or even fourth way that involves differentiation, a focus on important results for kids and parents, bias free for teachers, and sustainability, which hasn’t been considered. I am looking for thoughts and will have some of my own to present in the next few days.

The annual Phi Delta Kappa-Gallup poll on education public opinion split again – which isn’t a surprise. Locally, people are pleased with their local schools, but state and nationally the credibility of public schools is dropping. When Parents are asked to evaluate the schools in their own community, 48% give them an A or B, which is the highest rating in 20 years. They rank schools outside their community lower, which translates into less support for schools at the regional and state level. This doesn’t surprise me because most people want to like their community school and start with that premise. I also know that kids in many schools, especially high performing schools are learning way more than they did even a decade a go and when you see first hand how much kids can do in a good school, it is an easy leap of faith to believe in your school district but struggle with having confidence in the schools around the region.

On the subject of vouchers, there was a surprising increase in the proportion that would support “allowing students to choose a private school at public expense.” It increased from 34% to 44%, which is a big jump. I recommend that future questioning ask about support to allow students “to choose a private or religious school at public expense.” That would be closer to the reality of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana. Full disclosure: Schools That Can – Milwaukee works cross sector with Milwaukee Public Schools, Choice and charter schools creating high performing schools regardless of their station.

Another sign of the first days of schools is the Beloit College Mindset List offering a list of what characterizes the college freshmen class of 2016. The short-item list offers 75 characteristics and observations about what defines the new generation of college students, outside of the fact that they were born in 1994.

All of us who think we get the world of youth might be smart to consider what we may not know – something many I know teachers need to work on and more so, our kids deserve teachers are understand they must teach so kids learn.

For the full list, click here.

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”—Einstein

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