Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 16, 2022
By State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt
As Wisconsin’s elected head of the state’s department of education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (DPI) Jill Underly is responsible for a foundering state education agency that has seen only bad news for years. Wisconsin’s reading scores are declining with our once top-five National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP ) rating now at 26. Our racial achievement gap has been among the worst in the nation for a generation. Recent pandemic shutdowns of schools, masking of children, critical race theory curriculum, and veiled manipulation of report card scores have earned DPI even more well deserved negative attention.
If all this wasn’t enough, last week state Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton), tweeted (and quickly deleted) -–
“If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.”
Evidence is mounting from similar comments nationwide that, behind closed doors, Democrats believe they know what is better for children than parents.
The pandemic has awakened a kind of ‘wokeness’ I can support. Parents across Wisconsin are attending school board meetings in droves. They decry the unnecessary shutdowns of schools, and want an end to the liberal, progressive propaganda that they witnessed during online instruction. This academic content is a moral affront to many parents, and it has no place in a general school curriculum, especially a school that can’t even figure out how to get most children to read at grade level.
Superintendent Underly is blowing a golden opportunity to show leadership and change course. Instead of making generational changes, she plagiarizes the actions of her predecessors and legislators and bows to the teacher’s unions by simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
After last week’s Snodgrass snafu, Underly’s bizarre message was to blame her problems on all of those micromanaging parents and (Republican) politicians. She also oddly claimed that public schools are the only place our children can “engage…where this freedom to think critically is encouraged and the skill of critical thinking is actively taught.”
Perhaps Underly should consider actually working with legislative leaders. To date, she has not held a single meeting or phone call with me, and her staff seldom shows up for Education Committee hearings.
Ultimately, parents — not unions, political parties, or even teachers — run schools. It has always been my view that schools exist to assist parents in the education of their children. Parent engagement is the most important component for creating a successful school and should be encouraged. Instead, we had the vice chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Rep. Snodgrass, telling parents their opinions don’t count at a public school, and only those who can afford to home school or go to private school get to ‘have a say.’ Actually, she unwittingly gave a strong promotion of Wisconsin’s school choice programs as being the parent-friendly option.
Your children belong to you, not the state. When school leaders claim to crave parental involvement, test them on this. Show up at school board meetings. Ask serious questions and expect serious answers. Be respectfully persistent. Visit your schools and ask to review curricular materials. If they are not responsive to your child’s needs, be prepared to walk. Other schools would love your engagement. Run for school board; there has never been a better time to challenge an incumbent.
Wisconsin public schools are in crisis, and only parental engagement can turn this around.
Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) is serving his fourth term as Chairman of the State Assembly Education Committee.