Wisconsin lawmakers push for control over K-12 standards

As in several other states, lawmakers in Wisconsin are considering legislation that would pause, change or eliminate the new Common Core academic standards in math and reading now being implemented in public school classrooms across the country.

But a bill being debated Thursday by the state assembly would go one step further — it would allow the state legislature to get into the business of writing new public school standards. The bill has the support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a tea party favorite and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), and other supporters said the legislation would create more transparency, allowing the public a greater voice in the creation of academic standards. Critics of the Common Core have said those standards were written without adequate input from the public.

The bill’s prospects are unclear. But Tony Evers, the Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, is so unnerved by the proposal that he is making a plea for parents to lobby against the bill.

“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,” said Evers, who has held his nonpartisan job since he was elected statewide in 2009. He was reelected in 2013.

“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.”

In most states, academic standards are created by educators and approved by a state board of education or education agency.

But the bill would put the task squarely in the hands of the state legislature. It would create an academic standards board comprising six appointees named by the governor and four named by the state superintendent. Members would include private schools that receive public vouchers in Wisconsin. The board would propose academic standards to the superintendent, who would then submit recommendations to a committee of legislators, which would have final approval.

“Every educator and parent should be as alarmed as I am about the political litmus tests and legislative debates that could follow this legislation,” Evers wrote. “Beyond the Common Core, 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? All of this and more is now on the table with this legislation.”

The new standards would replace the Common Core math and reading standards that Wisconsin adopted in 2010 and has spent the past year implementing in its kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.

The proposed legislation also calls for Wisconsin to create a new standardized test based on the standards that may develop.

Wisconsin is among 45 states, in addition to the Washington, D.C., that have adopted the Common Core standards since 2010.

In most cases, there was little debate or conflict when the states embraced the standards, which are designed to create consistency across state lines in skills and abilities taught to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. But as the standards began to take effect this school year, leading to wholesale changes in the way math and reading are taught, there has been growing dissent regarding both the standards and the way states and school districts are implementing them.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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