The state could more aggressively intervene in the lowest-performing publicly funded schools under a proposed accountability system unveiled Monday.
The system would rate schools on a scale of 0 to 100 based on student performance and growth on state tests, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college and careers. Ratings also would be tied to dropout rates and third-grade literacy levels.
The Department of Public Instruction released a draft application to the U.S. Education Department for a waiver from the 10-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said "has shackled schools by being overly prescriptive and prohibiting creative reforms."
"Wisconsin's request for flexibility from NCLB is driven by the belief that increasing rigor across the standards, assessment and accountability system will result in improved instruction and improved student outcomes," Evers said.
The waiver application provides the first details of an accountability system that Evers and Gov. Scott Walker have been developing for the past six months. Some details, such as how test scores translate to ratings, still have to be designed by a DPI technical committee.
Under the proposal, which would require legislative approval, Wisconsin would for the first time have a system to reward the best and reform the worst public schools — including charter schools and private schools that enroll publicly funded voucher students.
"This is light years ahead of where the state is now," said Doug Harris, a UW-Madison education and public affairs professor who advised the state's accountability reform task force.
Unlike other states like Florida that have developed their own systems for rating public schools, Wisconsin has typically "deferred to districts," Harris said. Under the proposed system, "responses by the state will be more aggressive and more thoughtful than they are now."
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor's office was still reviewing the proposal Monday, but remained "hopeful the waiver will clearly and fairly contain accountability measures that will ultimately help improve education for students all across Wisconsin."
The proposal drew criticism from school choice advocates. For the poorest-performing charter schools and private voucher schools, it calls for revoking their charter or canceling their funding, while for traditional public schools, DPI would directly intervene and make changes.
Sarah Toce, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, said the proposal "effectively nullifies any sort of autonomy that charter schools in Wisconsin have and gives DPI unprecedented power."
Lynette Russell, assistant state superintendent for the division of student and school success, said for legal reasons the state can't intervene in private and charter schools in the same way it can in public schools.
"We've tried to keep it as parallel as we can," she said.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, which didn't participate in the accountability task force but conducted its own listening sessions around the state, offered measured support for the underlying goals.
"The proposed measurement systems are better than what exists today," WEAC President Mary Bell said. "While this is a good first step, there are some areas not addressed in this waiver which we hope might be included in the final application such as measuring the education programs schools offer students, including courses in art, music and other areas that build a well-rounded education."
A public hearing on the proposal before the Legislature's education committees is scheduled for Feb. 2. DPI is accepting feedback until Feb. 3 and plans to submit its waiver application by Feb. 21.