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Who’s setting Wisconsin’s academic standards?

By   /   August 8, 2013  /   3 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Sure, officials with the state Department of Instruction met with higher education stakeholders in crafting programs for college and career readiness as part of Common Core State Standardsbut is that spectrum wide enough?

Some educators don’t think so.

Steffen Lempp, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert in training elementary and middle-school teachers, told Wisconsin Reporter that nobody came to him for input before signing on to Common Core.

LEMPP: Would like to help set college readiness standards, but wasn't asked.

LEMPP: Would like to help set college readiness standards, but wasn’t asked.

“They don’t come to the math department. They go to the school of education,” Lempp said. “They very rarely consult with the math department. They’re afraid we’ll tell them things they don’t want to here — like their tests suck.”

Common concerns

No one claims the new standards are a panacea, but they are heralded as “rigorous” and “internationally benchmarked.” Both supporters and detractors agree that Common Core improves upon current Wisconsin Model Academic Standards.

One of Common Core’s more ambitious goals  is for students to graduate with knowledge and skills that leave them prepared for entry-level, credit-bearing college courses and workforce training programs.

Due in part to the seemingly murky way in which Common Core was adopted in Wisconsin — the fact that there was never a public hearing on the standards — tea party activists have asked lawmakers to halt implementation. A similar movement populated by progressives, libertarians and conservatives is popping up in several states across the nation, including most recently Indiana, which backed out of the Common Core national assessments this week.

Bill Evers, a researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said Hoosier State education officials should seek input from the state’s colleges and universities on how to improve existing academic standards, and not adopt the Common Core, according to StateImpact, a reporting project of National Public Radio.

Patrick Gasper, spokesman for DPI, described Wisconsin’s 2010 adoption of Common Core as a fluid process that involved “the public, education leaders, and many partners in Wisconsin” and at the national level. He also said the process dates back to earlier initiatives to rewrite state standards.

Gasper pointed to the Collaborative Council, a group convened by DPI and made up of representatives from teacher unions,

INPUT: Did DPI collaborate with higher education officials before signing onto Common Core?

education cooperatives, the UW System and public school administrators and officials. He also sent a link to Common Core endorsements from presidents of the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences, who write the new standards “are an auspicious advance in mathematics education.”

“An additional group convened by DPI was the Mathematics Common Competencies Committee, which back in 2009-2010 reviewed the direction of the Common Core Standards as part of their own vision to better prepare students for post-secondary education,” Gasper wrote in an email. “That committee affirmed its consensus that achieving the skills and understandings identified in the Common Core State Standards will provide the preparation needed for students to enter college credit-bearing coursework in any of Wisconsin’s postsecondary institutions.”

That committee included a dozen mathematics professors throughout the state, although it didn’t include anyone from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s largest university.

In 2010, UW System President Kevin Reilly, the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities President Rolf Wegenke and Wisconsin Technical College System President Dan Clancy all signed a letter of intent (starting at page 900) to use assessments to be developed by the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, a state-led group developing assessments aligned with Common Core.

Less than three months later, the consortium received a four-year, $176 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top funds to develop the tests.

Those tests will be piloted in 20 percent of Wisconsin K-12 schools this school year and are scheduled for a full roll-out the following year.

Asked whether DPI consulted with the UW System, comprised of 13 four-year universities and more than 182,000 students, before signing onto Common Core, spokesman David Giroux said the system has always collaborated with DPI and other stakeholders on “important issues related to college preparation.”

“Our goal is to ensure that prospective and current UW students have access to high-quality opportunities that prepare them for success in school, in work, and in life,” he said in an email. Giroux pointed to several goals of Common Core collaboration, but he didn’t answer specifically who in the system worked with “PK-12 partners.”

Eric Key, a professor of mathematics at UW-Milwaukee, said he wasn’t consulted either.

However, Kevin McLeod, an associate professor of mathematics at UW-Milwaukee, sat on the Common Competencies committee.

Rolf Wegenke, who signed onto the Common Core national assessments, told Wisconsin Reporter that DPI put an emphasis on outreach.

“I never thought it was done in the dark, but this is my job,” Wegenke said. “These long and involved meetings and consultations were going on for months and months. It didn’t seem in the dark at all to me, but I can understand how the average person on the street was unaware.”

Lempp said he thinks if implemented properly, Common Core standards hold promise for Wisconsin students.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over anything we’ve seen in Wisconsin,” he said. “Mathematically, it’s a much clearer progression for students.”

Contact Ryan Ekvall at rekvall@wisconsinreporter.com

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Kittle is a 25-year veteran of radio, newspaper and online journalism. In July 2011, Kittle joined Watchdog.org as bureau chief for Wisconsin Reporter. He has spent much of the past three years covering the seismic political changes taking place in the Badger State. Last year, Kittle joined Watchdog’s national reporting team, covering everything from energy policy to governmental assaults on civil rights. Beyond being published in Wisconsin’s daily newspapers and in multimedia news outlets, Kittle’s work has appeared on Fox News, and in Human Events, Reason Magazine, Newsmax and Town Hall. His special investigation into a politically charged John Doe probe, “Wisconsin’s Secret War,” was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze. Kittle has made several appearances on Fox News, including “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. He serves as weekly politics commentator for Lake 96.1 FM in Lake Geneva, and WRJN-AM 1400 in Racine. His resume includes multiple awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, Wisconsin Broadcast Association and other journalism associations. Contact Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org.

  • Buddy Bob

    Those who can’t teach – teach at the University… actually until someone can get the average and low end parenst off their rear end, not much progress will occur regardless of what set of standards are used. The breakdown of parental expectations and their concomitant lack of involvement in their children’s classroom behavior rule the day, Barring that – this fellow and his ilk will continue to be irrelevant.

  • scott

    I agree that lack of involvement is ruining kids before they even get to school. I have a young cousin who is 4 who can’t even hold a crayon to color because his mother says that the school will teach him everything so there is no point for her to even try. On the other side, I know parents who have their kinds reading and writing at that age.

  • Arjay Fischer

    The need of rigorous standards is not in debate. The problems are federal overreach in the process, the mandated sharing of student data that is required and the cost of implementation. Will there be any local control left.