Area school officials want state to stay the course on Common Core
Recent statements by Governor Scott Walker aimed at repealing Common Core standards in Wisconsin have local school districts speaking out unanimously against changing course.
"I wish politicians would stay out of our way and let us do our job," Clinton Superintendent Randy Refsland said. "Politicians have enough of their own important issues they need to address."
Walker has called on the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a bill repealing the curriculum standards, which help school districts decide what should be taught in classrooms across the state.
“Today, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin," Walker said in a written statement July 17.
Common Core is a set of English and math standards that spell out what students should know and when.
Tony Evers, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction superintendent, adopted the standards in 2010. Wisconsin is one of 44 states to have adopted the standards. State tests will be geared toward the standards starting next school year, according to the Associated Press.
Area school officials interviewed by The Gazette said they are not only concerned with the time they have invested in implementing curriculum to meet the standards, but they wonder what the Common Core alternative would look like.
Kim Ehrhardt, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Janesville School District, said the district has been working on revising its curriculum for the past four years. The new standards will be more academically challenging and will prepare students to be more college and career ready, he said.
"I believe that such an about face in curriculum reform efforts would be counterproductive," Ehrhardt said. "A considerable amount of time and effort has already gone into teacher professional development, the purchase of new educational resources and the development of aligned curriculum in preparation for implementation of the Common Core and the administration of the new assessment in the spring of 2015."
School districts in Wisconsin already have spent an estimated $25 million working on Common Core development, Ehrhardt said. Its repeal would cause considerable confusion, disruption and may be perceived as political, he said.
"I believe we need to stay the course with the Common Core, making adjustments and refinements as necessary and not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater as we strive to ensure that our graduates are career and college ready," Ehrhardt said.
Superintendent Timothy Schigur said a delay or repeal to Common Core standards would waste thousands of hours of preparation time and could set the Milton School District back both with time wasted and money spent on books and training materials already purchased.
"A delay would put a lot of things on hold," Schigur said. "You're talking about a whole lot of time and energy and resources put into this."
Schigur said the Common Core provides the district with a curriculum road map, and removing it wouldn't help school districts.
“Governor Walker is about accountability," Schigur said. "Creating standards makes schools accountable. Having a standard gives us something to be held accountable to."
Having standards helps students and people understand the district's course of action, he said.
"School districts are not like Jet Skis that can turn on a dime," Schigur said. "They are like aircraft carriers. A change now would set education back in the state."
Steve Lutzke, district administrator, said Parkview has revised its curriculum over the past two years to incorporate Common Core standards.
"Parkview will implement the Common Core until a new set of standards are approved and mandated," Lutzke said. "Cancelling the Common Core and replacing it with a completely new set of standards would result in another two-year transition."
Lutzke said he has read that Walker feels the standards lack rigor, but he hasn't seen any specific examples. The Common Core standards are "definitely more rigorous" than the standards being replaced, he said.
Jerry Roth, superintendent of the Evansville School District, said his district will change course only if required to do so. Evansville has been working to align its curriculum for a few years, he said.
"Changing course may require a complete overhaul of the work that has been done to this point," Roth said. "I believe it is bad practice for state government officials to turn an education initiative into a political issue."
The Clinton School District has been working to change curriculum to meet Common Core standards since 2010, Superintendent Randy Refsland said.
"I'm always a little amazed at those telling us to get rid of Common Core due to a lack of local control, while they are saying out of the other side of their mouth that test scores are lagging," Refsland said.
Refsland said hundreds of staff hours have been put into implementing curriculum to meet the standards in the district.
Jason Tadlock, Elkhorn School District administrator, said the district has worked diligently to select resources and materials that will prepare students to meet the benchmarks set by Common Core.
It is the job of the district to be sensitive to each child's needs and develop instruction aligned to their instructional level, he said.
"That being said, dropping the Common Core would be a step backwards," Tadlock said. "We have poured time and resources into assuring that our students are achieving at higher levels and meeting or exceeding the new standards."
Tadlock said the changes are long overdue because students need to be able to compete at a global level.
"By having a common set of general bench marks, such as Common Core, districts can leverage our efforts and resources by working with schools across the nation with an assurance that we are working toward similar levels of rigor," Tadlock said. "Prior to Common Core, it was each state on their own and for themselves. It was difficult to share resources with others whose standards differed greatly. It was also difficult to gauge how we were doing as a state and nation."
Tadlock said he couldn't speculate on why Walker would want to repeal Common Core but would like to see state leadership put the same energy into science, technology, engineering and mathematics as it does into debating the Common Core.
If they did, progress could be made in those areas that would benefit all students in the state, he said.