State Superintendent Tony Evers warns that legislation that is slated to be hurried though the assembly and senate could undo a set of nationwide academic standards that have been implemented in Wisconsin.
The bill, scheduled to be voted on by the Assembly Education Committee, represents the latest in the debate over Common Core State Standards. The bill has the support of Governor Scott Walker and other conservative republicans.
Common Core state standards were adopted three years ago by Wisconsin and, eventually, most other states, to ramp up the expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate. The goal of the standards is to bring some uniformity to what states are teaching to better prepare students for college and careers.
According to Evers, Assembly Bill 617 has been modified from an earlier version that recommended setting up a commission to advise the state superintendent on academic standards. The idea was first hinted at by Walker at the State Education Convention, but the governor and lawmakers were not clear over whether the commission's goal would be to stop Common Core standards that were already being implemented in Wisconsin, or if it was to provide advice about future standards to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
The most recent version of the bill calls for a board made up of professors and school principals, as well as members appointed from private schools. The board would then submit proposals for standards to the state superintendent, who would submit recommendations to a joint legislative committee. Lawmakers on the committee would have the power to reject or choose the board's recommendations.
The proposed legislation also calls for a new statewide test based on the recommended standards.
Evers said his concern is that this bill would have "the ability to completely defeat the Common Core and replace it with something else," and that legislators would be writing the standards.
One of the key senators behind the bill is Leah Vukimir, who says lawmakers on the floor will not change the standards as long as there is compliance with regards to the new board's recommendations.
Governor Walker has expressed his support for the bill. "I think Wisconsin standards should be higher than where the discussion is nationally and I think they should be set by people in Wisconsin and not people outside the state, and I think this offers a mechanism to do that." He dismissed criticisms as a "worst case scenario."
Representative Jim Steineke (R-Kaukuana) says the bill would "lead to more transparency in approving school standards," which would help avoid the debate that arose after the adoption of Common Core. When Evers and the DPI posted the Common Core academic guidelines online for discussion three years ago, there was little to no opposition from those who are opposed today. The standards have support from thousands of principals, businesses and teachers.
While there has been some concern from teachers and parents over the standards' ties to testing, opposition aimed at dismantling the higher and more uniform academic standards has been led by Tea Party Republicans, who believe they amount to federal intrusion in local control of schools.
Experts in education say this is not true and that governors and state superintendents developed the standards.