By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Call it a quiet controversy.
But there are a lot of people who don’t much care for Common Core State Standards.
Opposition to the K-12 academic benchmarks that some conservatives have described as Big Brother education has swept the nation, and there is a growing core of Common Core combatants in the Badger State. They just don’t seem to get a lot of attention.
Several tea party groups, however, plan to be front and center at 10 a.m. Wednesday in room 411 of the Capitol for an informational hearing on Wisconsin’s implementation of the Common Core. The joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate Committees on Education will include testimony from CCSS advocates and critics, including Tony Evers, state superintendent of Public Instruction and Karen Schroeder of Advocates for Academic Freedom.
Even before it begins the hearing that promises a passionate debate on public education has drawn heat from conservatives.
In a letter this week to Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, chairs of their respective education committees, three dozen conservative organizations criticized the hearing’s guest list, asserting the ratio of experts is heavily skewed to Common Core proponents.
“Out of a total of nine experts invited to speak at the joint hearing, a mere three are known to have serious concerns pertaining to CCSS,” states the letter, also sent to Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “One of those three experts was added only at the last minute as a result of public pressure.”
Olsen spokeswoman Amy Harriman, in an email to Wisconsin Reporter, said the senator appreciates the “help in planning for a diverse group of individuals with various expertise.” She said upon request an additional professional — critical of the Common Core — was added to the list of those scheduled to testify.
Kestell said the hearing isn’t about picking sides; it’s about bringing in people who can answer questions. He predicted the toughest questions for Evers and the Department of Public Instruction, the agency charged with implementing Common Core standards in language arts and math.
“They’re going to have a long day,” Kestell said.
For critics of the Common Core, the more they learn the less they like.
Wisconsin formally adopted the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts in 2010. Those standards followed a year-long effort by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices to “define K-12 academic standards that are aligned with college and work expectations, inclusive of rigorous content and application, and are internationally benchmarked,” according to DPI.
The standards were reviewed and have been worked into curriculum development ever since, essentially by fiat, Kestell said, with Evers leading the initiative. Testing the effectiveness of those standards is expected to come.
Tea party conservatives aren’t the only critics of the Common Core. Progressives who see the standards and requisite testing as an extension of the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, too, are highly critical of Common Core.
But conservatives like Schroeder, who is also a member of Walker’s Educational Communications Board, see the Common Core as a $16 billion government boondoggle that will deliver the same inadequate academic results as the public education system has in recent generations.
“Many have been given the false impression that Common Core State Standards and the International Baccalaureate programs will reform and improve education. However, these two newest educational policies are an extension of old policies that weakened the American educational system and destroyed its international reputation for excellence,” Schroeder wrote in a column for Wisconsin Reporter.
The veteran public school teacher and educational consultant asserts the standards will be weaker than the rigor demanded of 21st century students, causing delays in academic requirements. There’s something more nefarious at work, Schroeder contends — the American identity.
“Experts want more time to focus on encouraging American students to exchange their Constitution and national sovereignty for a submissive role in a world community,” she wrote in the column.
Kim Simac, president and founder of the Eagle River-based Northwoods Patriots, contends the Common Core is an educational prototype, untested and thrown onto the market — a model that “spells disaster” for an already troubled public education system.
Simac, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2011 recall election against then-incumbent Sen. Jim Hoperin, D-Conover, is a principal signer of the letter to the education committee chairmen. Simac said she believes the Common Core is indoctrination of Wisconsin’s children, diminishing the “beauty of our republic.”
“So many things are being taken over and controlled. Our power is being regionalized and taken away from local entities,” she said.
Some conservatives see the Common Core as another extension of the Obama administration push for big government – in health care, education, regulation, and more.
Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, points out that the Common Core is a state-to-state initiative, formulated long before Obama took office.
He sees talk of student indoctrination as the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists who for years have cried out for improved education and higher standards.
“It’s frustrating. When we try to move toward standardized testing we then get characterized by conspiracy theorists that this is some kind of takeover of student minds,” Turner said.
Turner, who is set to retire this summer after 24 years leading WASDA, defended the standards set in the Common Core as more rigorous and more challenging than previous disparate academic standards across the state. Case in point, Turner said, the tumbling test scores in the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Examination after the state modified performance standards to meet the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math. Eventually, the Common Core assessments will replace the WKCE.
Turner called the Common Core “common sense.”
Simac and fellow Common Core opponents recognize they’re trying to slow down a runaway train rolling downhill.
With so much of the system implemented, what can be done to change course?
“That’s a really good question,” Kestell said. “I’m not sure I have the answer. School districts across the state have already invested so much time and resources into developing curriculum in line with Common Core standards, and testing is down the pike.”
Kestell said something has to be done to address what he describes as Wisconsin’s “ad hoc attitude” toward curriculum. If not the Common Core, then what, the lawmaker asked.
“What I am very sure of is it’s not OK to do the same things we’ve always done,” he said.
Simac said opponents of the Common Core have just begun to fight. She said lawmakers need to take a stand, and their position could be a “liability” if they “pick the wrong side.” In other words, conservative lawmakers could face grassroots primaries.
“I feel like our generation has made so many poor decisions for the next generation,” Simac said. “If we do not fix our education for the future what are we leaving our children?”
Contact Kittle at [email protected]