Opportunity to Learn – Wisconsin

Wisconsin in the 21st century needs public schools designed to deliver quality education to as many children as possible. Failure is unacceptable because it means our state will be unable to compete with its neighbors and countries around the world and our children will not have the complete and productive lives we want for each and every one of them.

In order to educate all children at the level necessary, Wisconsin needs a rational school-funding system that aligns resources with the needs of all of our children­─no matter where they live─and the high expectations and vigorous standards we know are necessary.

That has been the long term goal for the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. That goal is now embodied in Opportunity to Learn-Wisconsin. Working with the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, a project of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, IWF is trying to change the discussion about public schools and public school funding in order to guarantee all children access to the core standards research says they need to learn in school and succeed in life.

On March 24, 2012, OTL-Wisconsin held a statewide meeting in Madison that formalized that agenda. In addition to discussing the five opportunity to learn standards listed below, the group discussed an agenda that will not only spread the OTL message but also work for the public policy changes that will make it possible.

Over the past year, for example, OTL-WI has:

  • Brought Dr. John Jackson, President of the Schott Foundation for Public Education and leader of the national OTL initiative to Milwaukee for meetings with Wisconsin leaders and community members.  In January 2013 Dr. Jackson will address the Wisconsin Education Convention at a plenary to promote the OTL initiative to school board members and district administrators from across the state.
  • Held a statewide press conference with school district leaders on the need for investment in schools
  • Conducted 27 presentations to groups across the state about OTL goals
  • Began developing a DVD version of the presentation with a toolkit that other groups can present around the state.   The presentation will be adapted and used by OTL organizers in the other four states.
  • Worked with education activists to establish an OTL message plan that ensures consistent framing
  • Created an OTL web-based “communication machine” for effective outreach to the media and sharing of information and materials between individuals and groups. This tool will also be offered to OTL groups in the other states once it’s fully implemented.

Why we need OTL-Wisconsin

Failure to adequately educate most of our children means that more of them will be low wage earners, in poor health, and in prison. Failure to reach most of our young people with high quality education means more of them will be unemployed and there will be less civic engagement. In short, unless our public schools do their jobs, more people will be taking government resources and fewer will be contributing to the common good.

We need to make drastic changes. Although our schools aren’t at the bottom of the list, there is room for improvement. For example, international comparisons show that countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, Russia, England and the Netherlands rank ahead of us in math and science.

Do we need to close the achievement gap between groups of students? Absolutely. Before we can do that, however, we need to close the opportunity gap between children in poverty and those in more well-off communities; between suburban, urban, and rural schools; and between young people of color and those who are white.

In order to do that — to make sure schools have the resources they need to educate all children to a high level — we need to change the conversation from politics and power to education and children. That is the core mission of Opportunity to Learn – Wisconsin … to change that conversation and build the public will to demand change of our elected officials and to hold the accountable.

Those opportunities children need to learn and succeed are the result of vast amounts of research and many years of experience. They won’t just happen, though. We need systemic policy change at the local, state and federal levels to hold elected officials and education leaders accountable for providing every child access to the five research-proven tenets that are necessary to have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn: