Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is expected soon to announce his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been inconsistent at best on the Common Core State Standards, being for it before being against it. Now he is being called out on his Core position by an unusual coalition of groups and individuals — in an open letter titled “No More Games on Common Core” — that includes tea parties across Wisconsin as well as liberals and libertarians.
The group of signatories to the letter accuses the governor of pretending to be against Common Core but not taking the steps required to eliminate it in Wisconsin. A Walker spokesman says the governor is acting to give Wisconsin school districts the freedom to do what they want on the Core. (See full statement below.)
Here’s some Walker history regarding the Common Core:
In 2011, his first budget for Wisconsin called for creation of a test that was aligned to the Core standards, which were in place in the state before he became governor. A reading task force he chaired issued a report in January 2012 expressing support for the Core, and as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported here, Walker was seen as being “on board” with the Core in the first half of 2013 by Alan J. Borsuk, an education fellow at Marquette University, in a Journal Sentinel commentary.
But things began to change in 2013, when his second budget, while not rescinding the standards, directed the state Department of Public Instruction to stop ordering districts to continue implementing the Core. In January 2014, the Journal Sentinel reported, he said he was creating a commission to take a new look at the standards, and in July of that year, he called for the Core to be rescinded in Wisconsin. That seems pretty concrete, but in early 2015, his message was that he didn’t want Wisconsin districts required to use the Core if they didn’t want to, which is less than an full-out repeal.
In his latest budget request, Walker has defunded the Common Core assessment developed by the multi-state, federally funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and now has the state looking for a new “accountability” test. But there are questions about what the state is looking for in a new test and whether it can still be aligned to the Common Core. If the new state accountability exam is aligned to the Core, districts would have little choice but to choose to implement the Common Core standards, even if they were permitted not to.
Opposition to the Common Core has been rising for years from across the political spectrum with concerns including problems with the content of the standards and the developmental inappropriateness of those for the earliest grades, the design of the new tests, how the new exams were written and by whom, and the federal government’s funding of new standardized tests aligned to the Core. Some far-right wing conservatives have taken criticism of the Core to ridiculous extremes; Phyllis Schlafly, for example, says it actively promotes gay marriage and Glenn Beck has called the standards initiative “evil” and an attempt to impose “communism” on America. The Freedom Project, affiliated with the radical right John Birch Society, has said the Core is an “absolute appropriation of Soviet ideology and propaganda.”
But a coalition of groups – mostly tea parties and other hard-right conservatives — have just issued the letter calling for Walker to take a definitive stand on Common Core and Core testing in language that was sensible enough for some liberals and libertarians to sign on. Here’s the letter, and following it is the full comment from a Walker spokesperson in Madison.
Here’s a comment by e-mail from Laurel Patrick, press secretary to Walker in Madison:
Governor Walker wants high standards for our schools and students and believes those standards should be set by school board members, educators, and parents at the local level. The Governor’s budget proposal will set Wisconsin-based standards and assessments, and it ensures no school district in the state is required to use the Common Core standards. This gives local school districts the flexibility to choose the test that best meets the needs of their students.
The Governor’s budget prohibits the State Superintendent from requiring any school board to adopt or “give effect” to any Common Core standard. The budget also defunds the Smarter Balance assessment and prohibits the State Superintendent from adopting or approving an assessment developed by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.
Under the proposal, school districts will be able to choose an assessment approved by the UW-Madison Value-Added Research Center (VARC). See language from the budget specifically addressing this below:
This bill requires the UW−Madison Value−Added Research Center (VARC) to approve at least three but no more than five alternative examinations determined to be acceptable for statistical comparison with the examination approved by the state superintendent. Beginning in the 2015−16 school year, a school may administer an alternative examination approved by VARC instead of the examination approved by the state superintendent if the school notifies the state superintendent that it intends to do so.
One of the liberals who signed the letter is Timothy D. Slekar, dean of the school of education at Edgewood College in Madison and a public school activist. He co-founded United Opt Out, a group working against corporate education reform and in support of equitable public education for all students. Writing on bustedpencils.com, he explained on Monday why he joined with tea party groups in the letter to Walker:
What’s a good liberal minded progressive to do when tea partiers and libertarians make sense? Seriously?
Well it happened to me today (Actually a few days ago but it was made public today) when An Open Letter to Governor Walker: No More Games on the Common Core was hand delivered to the governor’s office and it was revealed that Dr. Timothy D. Slekar—one of the founding members of United Opt Out and creator of BustED Pencils was the second signature. Yes that’s my name among a sea of mostly tea partiers and libertarians.
And guess what? When I was asked what I thought about the letter (before it was delivered)? I responded that I really liked it. And then when I was asked if I would be willing to add my signature to the letter I did not hesitate to agree.
Why? Well did you read the letter? If you did, isn’t it clear why I signed it? It was spot on. There is nothing in the letter that any liberal or progressive would find problematic.
However, what I found out during the day was that the problem was not the actual letter the problem was with the authors. A few colleagues, friends, allies and Facebook friends wondered if I had known that tea partiers and libertarians would be mostly signing the letter and if so did I really think they supported public education?
For the record I had full knowledge of this fact, however it was the content of the letter that I was signing…. What will I do if tea partiers and libertarians fall back into simple neo-conservative attacks on public schools if (BIG IF) and after they successfully dismantle the Common Core accountability machine?
When and if that moment ever arrives I will deal with it. Right now I still have a bunch of neo-liberal Democrats (including Barack Obama and Arne Duncan) that I am battling against daily for the survival of our public schools.