Matt Pommer: Does Common Core stance foretell Scott Walker’s national ambitions?

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Matt Pommer
Sunday, August 10, 2014

Are Gov. Scott Walker’s national political ambitions the key to his plea to scrap Common Core academic standards for Wisconsin schools?

In a one paragraph statement in July the governor said he wanted the next Legislature to repeal the standards in place in 45 states and create a separate approach for Wisconsin. The idea drew sharp criticism from the Wisconsin Association of Schools Boards (WASB), Republican lawmakers who chair Education Committees in the Legislature, and the state’s chief school officer.

“It’s campaign season in Wisconsin and around the country,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, adding the governor’s idea means “politics trump sound policy.”

“It’s time to keep politics out of the discussion and remain focused on what’s most important—delivering a college- and career-ready education to Wisconsin residents,” said Evers.

State Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the call for repeal was full of troubles. First, the Legislature had never enacted the standards. Local school districts had voluntarily adopted the approach across the state.

“I have to believe people in this state have a lot more faith in their local school board than they do in the Legislature in Madison,” Olsen said.

A sharper statement came from Assembly Committee Chairman Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake. “People desperate to be re-elected will say anything,” he told reporters. Kestell, who is not seeking re-election, said a new effort wouldn’t make much difference.

“If you put a bunch of capable people together in a room to rewrite these standards, they’re going to look a lot like the Common Core,” Kestell said. Walker concedes that new standards may not look different.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Association of School Boards said districts across the state “have spent years and millions of dollars revising curriculum to meet the higher standards. That effort will be wasted if the standards are repealed.”

It noted the standards have been developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of State School Officers “to address a hodge-podge of uneven expectations” among schools across the country.

Common Core will “give students, parents and local policy-makers high expectations for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level,” the WASB said in a statement in the wake of Walker’s call.

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense have adopted the standards. The first testing in Wisconsin would come next spring for ninth-graders for measurement of math and language skills. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau says $23 million has been allocated this year for the new tests.

Results could provide a hint of how schools compare both to others in Wisconsin and to students in other states. But there is a fear on the political right wing that significant changes may occur. That was captured in an interview with State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac.

The independence of our schools are (sic) at stake,” he said.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the governor with his call for repeal “is clearly playing to the extreme element in his party.”

Walker won’t have any trouble getting the votes of that part of the electorate in his bid for a second term as governor. But the quick repeal call could further boost him as a tea-party favorite when Republicans select their ticket for president and vice president. He is not waiting until the new Legislature returns in January to get on the anti-Common Core bandwagon.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.

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