First it was North Carolina, then it was Florida and now it’s Wisconsin swiftly backing away from Common Core, the standards that have been touted as toxic by Republican lawmakers in the past 12 months. Less than three years ago after the set of benchmarks were published and enthusiastically embraced by 45 states, Wisconsin has announced that it is convening a select committee charged with evaluating the new standards and potentially replacing them with something else.
The makeup of the committee illustrates the kind of conflict going on in the party over Common Core. Conservative politicians and lawmakers, especially those who support the Tea Party Movement within the party, oppose the standards on chiefly ideological grounds. They believe that Common Core, although it was designed under the auspices of various state governments, is actually a federal effort meant to undermine the power of the states. However, those in the party who are more centrist, including former governor of Florida Jeb Bush, feel that the benchmarks are a positive step toward better academic outcomes and don’t limit state powers at all.
But notably absent from the committee member rosters are Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake), who chair the Senate and Assembly education committees, respectively, and who already held a recent hearing on the Common Core standards. They both declined to join, a clear sign they’re not on board with the agenda of the latest select committees.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced that the committees on the Common Core will hear testimony on the standards and provide recommendations, including “other alternatives that may be available,” according to a news release from Fitzgerald’s office.
Wisconsin was one of the first to announce that it would adopt the new standards in its own classrooms when Common Core was chiefly showered in praise from lawmakers, politicians and education experts alike. According to Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at least some of the supporters – especially Wisconsin teachers and principals – are still on board, saying that the more rigorous benchmarks will improve the quality of education in the state. However, holding the line has become more difficult in recent months, especially as attacks from the right intensified, and more people on the left-wing also begun including themselves among the critics.
Scott Rausch, chief of staff for the chair of the Senate select committee, Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee), said the governor’s budget bill called for the hearings.
Rausch said modifications might include making the standards more rigorous.
Department of Public Instruction spokesman Patrick Gasper said the Common Core standards in English and math are internationally benchmarked and set a much higher standard than before.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), chairman of the Assembly select committee, said slowing down, abolishing or modifying the standards could all be possibilities. He said at least 50% of the Legislature had turned over since the standards were adopted in 2010, and that lawmakers wanted more information.
“There shouldn’t be an assumption that these meetings will lead to the end of the Common Core,” Thiesfeldt said. “But they could.”