By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Like a campaign organizer working at Obama for America, State Superintendent Tony Evers emailed a call to action to educational bureaucrats for the purpose of rallying around Common Core academic standards, now under siege at the statehouse.
Evers omits facts, distorts truths and appeals to emotion rather than reason in his email and Youtube video to educators and bureaucrats. He and his staff at the Department of Public Instruction have long maintained that any opposition to Common Core is nothing but partisan politics.
It’s not the first time Evers played fast and loose with the facts in demagoguing policies with which he doesn’t agree.
Standard operation among Common Core supporters has been to decry opposition as partisan, misguided or ignorant, even in the face of national outrage among education experts, parents and voices of both the political right and left.
How we got here
The effort to undo Common Core is led by Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and made possible by thousands of boots on the ground throughout the state. Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants stronger, Wisconsin-based academic standards.
An assembly education committee is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would scrap Common Core standardized tests and create a Model Academic Standards Board to develop new K-12 education standards.
This unexpected development comes after hundreds of citizens comprised of a healthy representation of parents, tea partyers and education bureaucrats packed four legislative public hearings around the state last year on Common Core.
These were the public hearings that DPI never held when Evers quietly signed onto Common Core before the ink dried on the final version of the standards in 2010. In fact, a recent Marquette Law School poll found that roughly half of Wisconsinites today have never heard of Common Core. That’s nearly four years after the fact.
The same poll found that nearly 2 in 3 Wisconsinites say education standards should be set at the local or state level. Only 8 percent said several states should agree on regional standards, and 23 percent said standards should be national.
Common Core Politics
Common Core was developed by a small group of people backed by tens of millions of dollars primarily from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The standards were produced under the auspices of two D.C.-based national trade organizations, the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association. The standardized tests are being developed by two new organizations which received nearly $200 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education.
Using Common Core political logic, supporters insist that because these private clubs for state officials were involved in adopting standards that Common Core was therefore a state-led process. Incidentally, none of Evers’ campaign literature makes a statement about what he pledges to do as a member of CCSSO.
And I’d be willing to bet that more than twice as many people in Wisconsin have heard of Common Core than the CCSSO.
Two members of the Common Core validation committee, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram, testified the standards were not rigorous and had been rubber stamped by the committee.
Ze’ev Wurman, a former policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Education and who sat on the committee that evaluated Common Core in California, also said the standards were inadequate.
Both Wurman and Milgram said Common Core’s “college ready” math standards actually prepares student to enter a low level community college, but not STEM programs in more selective schools. Jason Zimba, one of the architects of Common Core, confirmed this to the validation committee.
That doesn’t mesh with Evers and DPI’s stance that national Common Core standards are necessary for students to graduate with “21st century skills” — another ambiguous phrase without definition.
In Evers’ latest email, he again dismisses these concerns as meritless and instead resorts to logical fallacies and emotional appeals to incite action.
“Regardless who controls the legislature or governorship, as a grandfather, I am frightened that Wisconsin will turn over what our kids learn to the whims of an increasingly polarized legislature….Please contact your legislators and Governor today to express your strong opposition to this legislation that puts politics before our kids and puts the Legislature and special interests in charge of writing standards,” Evers wrote. (emphasis his)
“The bill would allow four additional nonvoting ‘experts’ to help write the standards, like those out of state ‘experts’ who were brought to Wisconsin by special interests to testify in opposition to the Common Core,” he wrote.
The special interests Evers refers to are Wisconsin citizens passionate about education and Common Core. The “experts” he so disparagingly placed quotation marks around are the people listed above who hold top positions in their field.
He ignores scores of daily news stories from around the country featuring parents and voters upset with the standards and changes to their schools. In places like New York, where the implementation process is further ahead, parents, teachers and school principals are almost in mutiny over Common Core.
Germantown, Wis., a nationally-recognized top public school district, rejected the standards because they think it gives them the best chance of remaining a top school district. Catholic dioceses in the state refused to adopt Common Core in their schools.
Evers would have you pay no mind to all that though. He also contradicts his previous testimony in the first public hearing.
“This places our ESEA waiver in jeopardy and could bring back the broken No Child Left Behind law,” Evers wrote to supporters.
The federal government offered ESEA waivers and Race to the Top funds to states that adopted Common Core and agreed to be tested using standardized tests that hadn’t yet been developed.
Evers had testified, however, that the federal government didn’t coerce states into adopting Common Core. Here Evers uses the fear of consequences of disobeying the federal government as an appeal to educators to support Common Core.
He asks “are we ready for our legislators to debate and legislate academic standards related to evolution, creationism, and climate change when they take up the science standards? What about topics like civil liberties and civil rights, genocide, religious history, and political movements when they take up social studies?”
The innuendo here is that Republicans want to replace all school textbooks with The Bible. Unfortunately school standards are already political to some extent. It’s a function of the state’s control of education. Some schools teach sex education from a Planned Parenthood pamphlet. Other schools teach the hard science of white privilege.
Besides, as Evers and DPI staff pointed out in testimony, standards tell what a student should know or be able to do at a given age. Curriculum — or what resources are taught and how — is up to the local school district.
Now he apparently wants people to think academic standards and curriculum are the same thing.
But these are all really secondary points.
The legislation doesn’t call for nearly any of what Evers claims it does.
It calls for a Model Academic Standards Board to be co-chaired by the state superintendent and a gubernatorial appointee. The superintendent would appoint four members to the board. The governor would appoint six members, including the co-chair. Senate majority and minority leaders would appoint one member each, as would the assembly speaker and minority leader.
It would be comprised of principals, educators, parents and experts, and yes, elected representatives. It appears to be along the lines of what the public wants in standards creation based on the results of the Marquette Law School poll.
The irony is particularly rich because Evers and DPI have spent copious time combating what they characterize as myths about Common Core deliberately perpetrated by opponents. Instead it’s Evers and DPI who are again caught playing politics with education.
Consider this statement from Evers’ Youtube video:
“We’re going to be a national embarrassment for what we’re doing in public education,” said the guy who carried signs around the Capitol in protest of Act 10, warning how it would “harm public education.”
Contact Ryan Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org , call him at 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.