By Molly Beck
Gov. Scott Walker urged legislators Thursday to pass a bill in January repealing adoption of the Common Core State Standards and to replace them with "standards set by people in Wisconsin," further muddying the future of Common Core in Wisconsin.
It's Walker's strongest statement yet opposing the math and language arts standards, and it came the same week as North Carolina's legislature and the Missouri governor retreated from Common Core.
The statement prompted the Republican leader of the Assembly's education committee to predict eventual passage of a bill to repeal the standards, and said Walker could be motivated by politics.
"It's election time and politicians' No. 1 worry at election time is knocking down anything that might cost them a vote here and there," said Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, referring to the timing of Walker's statement.
Walker's likely Democratic opponent in the November gubernatorial election, Madison School Board member Mary Burke, criticized the governor through a spokesman.
"The transparency of the political nature of this move could not be clearer," Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said in an email. "The Legislature isn't in session. He offers zero explanation for why he wants to undermine efforts to improve our educational standards from 38th in the country and zero plan for moving forward. Why the sudden change of course after three years of (the state Department of Public Instruction) working on implementing these standards?"
Walker's one-sentence statement was issued late Thursday, hours after Sens. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and Paul Farrow, R-Pewaukee, issued a joint statement calling for a delay in using new standardized tests aligned to Common Core.
Later Thursday, Walker spokesman Jocelyn Webster elaborated on the governor's comments:
"Following the vote by the Cedarburg School Board yesterday and given the ongoing issues local school districts face with Common Core, Gov. Walker felt it was important to make his position clear. Gov. Walker will work with the Legislature to repeal Common Core and replace it with strong Wisconsin-specific standards developed by Wisconsin teachers, administrators, and parents."
The standards have becom e increasingly controversial in Wisconsin, with conservatives repeatedly calling for their repeal. In Cedarburg, the school board voted Wednesday to ask lawmakers to delay testing linked to the standards.
A spokesman for the state DPI, which adopted the standards in 2010 and have been helping districts implement them, did not answer requests Thursday evening for comment.
Wisconsin plans to use the Smarter Balanced Assessments beginning this school year, and is one of 42 states and Washington, D.C., that have adopted both Common Core standards.
Since 2010, three states have abandoned them altogether.
Wisconsin schools have spent an estimated $25 million linking their curriculum to Common Core since 2010, when the standards were adopted without much fanfare, in anticipation of new tests during the 2014-15 school year.
Earlier repeal bill failed
Walker's office helped draft a bill to repeal the Common Core standards that failed earlier this year.
The bill did not garner support from the two chairmen of the Legislature's education committees, and no vote was called on the proposal before the legislative session ended for the year.
Kestell said he expects a bill to repeal Common Core will be successful, but only if it did not give authority to the Legislature to approve or turn down standards, like the previous bill did.
He said because of the negative connotation associated with Common Core, he expects Wisconsin and many other states to end up like Indiana, which abandoned Common Core but drafted similar standards.
"This Common Core issue is controversial, because the controversy has been created," he said. "It's really a manufactured controversy if I've ever seen one, but it's there nonetheless and politicians go crazy with fear if there is something they don't understand and can't respond to easily, so the easy way to respond at this point is to say we're just going to get rid of it."
He said it will be tough to find qualified experts to participate in drafting new standards based on how the issue has been "mishandled."
"Credible people are going to be very wary about getting involved in a phony process," he said.
Tests in limbo
To delay new tests linked to Common Core, state law must be changed, DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy said in an interview earlier Thursday. DPI is statutorily obligated to begin using the tests this school year, and the Legislature won't be back in session until January.
"You would need to change a lot of statutes in a very short amount of time," he said.
Common Core has grown from an education policy reform without much debate at the time of its adoption in 2010 in most states to a top issue by which politicians have used to define themselves.
Kestell said that might be why the name, at least, should go away.
"No one has made a valid argument for (abandoning Common Core) based on rationale thought. That just hasn't been done. There's been a lot of rhetoric, there's been a lot of hyperbole," he said. "Maybe the best thing to do is to get it out of the way and move on because people have become obsessed with it. And what it'll amount to is renaming it and calling it something else."
(c)2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)