Our endorsement for Department of Public Instruction superintendent: Evers

5:23 PM, Mar. 28, 2013  |  Comments
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Voters are not often faced with as clear a choice in a statewide election as they are in the race for superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction.

Incumbent Tony Evers has proven himself to be an extremely effective leader and a pragmatist of a kind that is in short supply in Madison. He's forged coalitions and worked with politicians of both parties to improve the state's schools. His opponent, state Rep. Don Pridemore, R-Hartford, appears to be an ideologue with only the vaguest notion of the real-world effects of the education policies he advocates, and no record at all of working with those who see the world differently than he does.

The last two years have been an extraordinarily fertile time for education reform in Wisconsin, following years of policy stagnation. Evers was not solely responsible for these changes - Gov. Scott Walker deserves credit for some of the push, as does the Obama administration's Race to the Top incentive fund - but Evers has managed them deftly, with a real understanding of both the stakes of getting these policies right and the importance of having the buy-in of broad, bipartisan coalitions.

It is true that Evers opposed Walker's Act 10 budget reforms, as did roughly half of the state. But while some on the left urged him to use his position to work against the Walker administration, Evers chose instead to work constructively to help shape policy reforms that will affect the way the state evaluates teachers, the way it teaches reading to young students and the way it collects student achievement data.

In some of these cases, notably Walker's reading initiative, Evers worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle as well as teachers unions, administrators and school board representatives. But he was no captive of any interest group; he also worked on the policy that would change the state's teacher evaluation policies despite the fact that unions did not participate. Together, these reforms helped the state win $22.7 million in Race to the Top funds late last year.

Pridemore's campaign has been marked by gaffes and bizarre decisions. Readers may agree or disagree with Pridemore's stated position that schools should invite community volunteers to serve as armed security guards; to us it feels like a strange thing to make a campaign priority. His advocacy for local control of schools sounds reasonable and has some upsides, but in our interview he was utterly unprepared to think through the implications of having a patchwork system where different school districts were free to embrace wildly different curricula or even different graduation standards.

Pridemore is a strong supporter of the controversial school voucher expansion proposal put forward by Gov. Scott Walker, which has received criticism from members of both parties. But instead of building a case for the policy, Pridemore simply dismissed research showing that the program has not led to significant educational improvements for Milwaukee students. There are ways to read the data that show some benefits to the program. But it's hard to understand why Pridemore would not at least be conversant with the research on the policy he strongly supports.

Finally, it is difficult to take seriously Pridemore's calls for transparency and openness at DPI when he distributed a media "blacklist" comprising some of the state's top reporters to his campaign staff with orders that the campaign refrain from giving interviews to them. Pridemore's campaign has been disorganized and marked by staff turnover; we see little to inspire confidence in his ability to manage the much, much larger organization that is DPI.

Evers has been one of the state's most effective leaders; Pridemore's campaign has been a shambles. The choice is obvious: We endorse Evers.

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