by Julia Jacobson
Will Common Core State Standards be the impetus that Wisconsin needs to improve local standards? Or will it be a federal over-reach that interferes with local control and classroom curricula across the state?
The Senate and Assembly Education Committees held a joint informational hearing on Wednesday to answer this very question. The legislators heard testimony from nine experts on the future of Common Core, a set of statewide educational standards, in front of an overflow crowd at the Capitol.
The Common Core Standards is a national initiative to implement new educational benchmarks for each grade level in mathematics and English language arts. The program was adopted in Wisconsin in 2010 and is projected to begin during the 2013-2014 year. Although states voluntarily adopt the program, nearly all fifty states have chosen to take part.
Daniel Thatcher, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Council of State Legislatures said that the reason Common Core is now emerging in Wisconsin is because much of the business community has been pushing for the program.
Thatcher maintained that while the standards would be the same across the states, districts would still have a fair amount of autonomy in how the curriculum or text book choices would be made.
"Whatever pathway a state has created for itself to develop and adopt standards is the best way for that state to go forward...I respect that process" Thatcher said.
"These changes relate to standards, not curriculum...this allows districts to focus on the 'how' instead of the 'what'" reinforced North Fond du Lac administrator Aaron Sadoff.
When questioning Thatcher and Sadoff, legislators raised concerns about the potential low standards of the program, and the lack of support gifted and talented students would receive.
"We have created a basement rather than a ceiling with this program. What are the incentives to reach beyond?" Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) said. Other legislators pointed out that if Wisconsin does not adopt Common Core, schools could potentially lose federal grant dollars.
Karen Schroeder, a retired teacher from Advocates for Academic Freedom said that Common Core would however severely limit the local control of schools. The integrity of school choice programs would be undermined as a result of this policy, she said.
Schroeder also mentioned the censorship of conservative materials and the lack of education students receive about Wisconsin history. She also argued that Common Core standards are not as rigorous as other sets of standards, and may let student creativity fall between the cracks.
"The federal government should not be having the same level of interference in the public education system that they have now had for a very, very long time" Schroeder said.
The Joint Committee on Finance postponed a vote Tuesday on the implementation of the ACT and Smarter based standardized tests in Wisconsin's K-12 schools. Both tests would adhere to the Common Core standards, and their implementation has been endorsed by both Superintendent Tony Evers and Governor Scott Walker. The Finance Committee did not say when it will revisit this budget paper.