Unintended Consequences: The Gutting of Education in Wisconsin

By Claudia Felske

I wish this were only a riddle, and not a reality:

What do thalidomide, global warming, and the recent teacher licensure measure by the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee have in common?

Enormously destructive unintended consequences.

blog-unintended-consequences Thalidomide: The wonder drug widely prescribed for nausea in pregnant women during the late 1950’s. Unintended consequence? One of the biggest pharmaceutical debacles in history: thousands of babies born with malformed or missing limbs.

Fossil Fuels: The widespread use of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) heralded as the key to industrialization and economic growth. Unintended consequence? Climate change, dying ecosystems, and jeopardized air, food and water.

Teacher Licensure: The joint finance committee’s measure (slipped into the biennial budget at 1:43 a.m. on a recent Wednesday) awards teaching licenses to non-certified, non-degreed, and even non-high-school graduates purportedly as a way to fill needed teacher positions. Specifically, this measure will:

  • Remove the need for core teachers (English, History, Math & Science)  to have teaching licenses, or a degree in their content area.
  • Remove the need for all non-core teachers (Art, Business, Computer Programming, Foreign Language, Health, Music, Phy Ed. Industrial Arts, Special Education, etc.) to have a degree of any kind, not even requiring a high school diploma.

Unintended (and at this time fully preventable) consequence? The decline of quality classroom instruction and student learning, the plummeting value of a Wisconsin high school diploma (why would top colleges even consider student applicants from Wisconsin if they were taught by unqualified teachers?), and an exodus of self-respecting, teaching professionals from the field.

Now, full disclosure: my thalidomide-global-warming-teacher-licensure riddle only works if this measure is indeed unintended.

By definition, unintended consequences are supposed to be unintentional. Some believe that failing schools, plummeting test scores, and substandard teaching are precisely what the powers-that-be want. Why? To dismantle public education and privatize the industry, to get a piece of the golden egg, the  $632 billion at stake in public education. (see ALEC agenda).


  • Fact: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction already has multiple alternative routes to certification.
  • Fact: Those who have a bachelor’s degree already have fast track university options to become a certified teacher in as little as 6 months.
  • Fact: Those with sufficient experience in the trades can already become certified teachers immediately.
  • Fact: Studies have repeatedly shown that the single most important factor in student learning is the quality of the classroom teacher.
  • Fact: Neither of my elected officials (Representative Horlacher and Senator Nass, both Republicans) support this measure. Both state that it’s bad for kids and it’s a step backwards in educational reform; both have heard from numerous constituents of a similar opinion.

Why, then, is it being pushed by the joint finance committee? Who is supporting this measure? Neither Rep. Horlacher or Sen. Nass could answer that question. When I asked what I could do, Rep. Horlacher, whom I spoke to directly, said call the state leadership. And so, I pass along those words with a link to the contact information for Wisconsin legislative leaders in the Senate and the Assembly.

Is it okay for our children to be taught by someone who has no training in how to teach, who has not demonstrated knowledge of the content they are teaching, who has not attained a degree or diploma of any kind?

We must insist that this measure be removed from the biennial budget.

The unintended consequence of not speaking up? The gutting of quality education in Wisconsin.

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