By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — If you dare question the Common Core State Standards developed by a handful of people, mostly in secret, without much public input — well, you’re a conspiracy theorist. That’s according to Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, anyway.
At the first of four scheduled public hearings on Common Core standards, Lehman called people in the audience “conspiracy theorists,” the hearing itself “crazy” and “a show” and asked, “What are we doing here?”
His fellow Democrats on the Assembly and Senate Common Core select committees seemed to agree. Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, asked the same question.
After all, “conservatives supported No Child Left Behind,” she said, to a roomful of “no’s” from the crowd, agitated by the slight.
NCLB was former President George Bush’s education overhaul that passed on a bi-partisan basis in Congress. The law expanded federal involvement in public education by requiring annual assessments, school report cards, teacher evaluation and student progress based on high stakes tests and funding changes.
Common Core critics, such as Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University, have called the new standards initiative NCLB on steroids.
“At some point we need to recognize the expertise of these people (at Department of Public Instruction) and let them do their jobs,” said Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Middleton.
Of course, these are the same bureaucrats at DPI that implemented the last set of standards that are supposedly holding down student achievement.
“It is right for the Legislature to review education standards that are being implemented in our schools,” said Senate committee chairman Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee in a statement. “What I am learning from the public is that we in Wisconsin want high standards and want our children to be challenged. We should always strive to do better.”
Indeed, the public packed the hearing room and spilled over into an overflow room. Lawmakers heard testimony for just over eight hours. Many school district administrators, educational bureaucrats and a few teachers turned out in support of Common Core. Opponents ranged from educators, concerned parents, tea party activists and experts who testified at the earlier information hearing, such as Karen Schroeder of Advocates for Academic Freedom, who said higher standards already exist for the state’s choosing.
For all the kookiness that Lehman heard from Wisconsin parents, educators and taxpayers opposed to Common Core, including student data mining and federal overreach into state education, some supporters said they had improved upon the standards in their school districts.
Administrators from Kettle Moraine School District testified their school board held public hearings on Common Core and the standards were well regarded.
Administrators also testified the school district deviates from Common Core in some areas like mathematics, where it teaches algebra in 8th grade. Administrators at other school districts, like Middleton Cross-Plains, said the same thing. They support the standards, but improve upon them in their schools.
Colin Butler, a Kettle-Moraine school board member, said although he “doesn’t want anything told to him from Madison or Washington,” he feels “we need a national standard to work toward.”
Still, he said the potential was there for data mining for commercial purposes in Common Core and urged DPI and the Legislature not to let that happen.
Although state Superintendent Tony Evers said school boards had the choice whether or not to adopt Common Core, former Baraboo school board member Scott Frostman said the implication was the district would lose money if it didn’t adopt the standards.
“We had no opportunity as school board members to discern or discuss the Common Core,” he said.
Edy Eastman, an elementary school teacher in the McFarland School District, asked the committee to scrap Common Core. Eastman said she has spent hundreds of hours reading the standards, writing and aligning curriculum to the standards “and yet I am here speaking against the Common Core.”
“Whoever mentioned earlier that teachers are afraid to (testify against Common Core), I can attest to that. I know many teachers in my district that come to me that know I will speak to what they feel,” she said.
Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action said the state can come up with its own standards.
“The Common Core is a simplistic solution to a complex issue,” she said. “One-size-fits-all standards are not in the best interest of Wisconsin kids.”