Rep. Knudson Raises Questions about DPI and Common Core Process

Did DPI Ignore Teachers Concerns in 2010?

December 12, 2013

by Rep. Dean Knudson

In June of 2010 Superintendent Tony Evers issued a proclamation adopting new model academic standards on behalf of Wisconsin. This decision would eventually have a dramatic effect on the day-to-day activities of public school children across Wisconsin, but the process that led up the adoption of these academic standards involved very little public input, and they were adopted outside of the consideration of the legislature.

The Assembly Select Committee on Common Core has uncovered records that suggest that the decision to adopt new academic standards was made far earlier than previously realized, and records also suggest some Wisconsin educators were concerned that DPI was paying little more than lip-service to their critiques. Yet to this day, Evers maintains that the DPI process was open and transparent, and that furthermore, he alone has control over state academic standards. Evers has said repeatedly that should the Legislature or Governor assert control over academic standards he will immediately file a lawsuit.

I believe he is wrong on the merits, wrong about his constitutional powers, and wrong to shut out the public when the stakes are this high. Wisconsin needs to find a new way to adopt and revise model academic standards, and I hope the legislature acts quickly. Students, parents, and the general public deserve to have a voice when statewide standards are up for consideration. Under current law, there is no such guarantee.

When did Tony Evers decide to adopt Common Core? Was it before Wisconsin educators expressed serious displeasure with the draft standards?

On March 18 of 2010, Donna Pasternak, president of the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English (“WCTE”) wrote to her members only several days after DPI provided an invitation-only preview of the public draft of Common Core:

When initiatives such as the CCS[S] are shaped by organizations that appear to sidestep the members of the professional organizations that will have to enact them, I fear that our silence will be misunderstood as acceptance of the situation. Will our response change having to follow the CCS[S]? I think not, but it may cause for some revision to occur. At the very least, we will be on record that WCTE is not happy with the narrow vision of English studies found in the CCS[S]. I encourage you all to respond to the CCS[S] individually.

Pasternak wrote that the standards “failed to acknowledge the heart of our discipline: humanities.” In the face of an illustrative reading list, the Council was concerned that “school districts will purchase these texts out of expediency to implement an un-funded mandate.” Her criticisms closed with a plea:

WCTE acknowledges the impending reality of the CCS[S] in the State of Wisconsin. We ask the writers of the CCS[S] to implement the changes to the document as it now stands to make it relevant to teachers of English in our state.

On April 2, 2010, Diana Kasbaum, president of the Wisconsin Mathematics Council (“WMC”) wrote the Common Core authors to share her critiques, arguing that the draft standards muddled the learning process.

Students would be “memorizing procedures rather than being able to learn and apply mathematics.” The big ideas of geometry, she wrote, “are not well connected.” WMC teachers had observed that the list of paper and pencil skills could “easily become a checklist of things to do.” “[T]he focus on paper/pencil computation and using the standard algorithm has the potential of short circuiting student understanding.” “[T]he extensive list of topics, especially at grades 9/12 will lead to breadth, not depth–continuing the dilemma of the “mile wide and inch deep” teaching of mathematics.”

Several weeks later in May, Evers signed his name and committed Wisconsin to adopting the Common Core Standards.

But when did he decide that Common Core was right for Wisconsin schools?

If Evers decided to adopt the standards before the March round of public feedback, and before the March 12 request that Wisconsin teachers offer their own opinions to the Common Core authors, his process of soliciting feedback was mere theater, and the request that Wisconsin teachers provide feedback was patronizing at best.

If instead Evers decided to adopt the standards after the March round of public feedback that showed Wisconsin educators had real concerns over the standards, Evers needs to show that those comments were taken seriously by the Common Core authors and rectified by the time the final draft was released.

To date, DPI has been unable to produce any evidence to support that contention.

At what point did DPI receive a copy of the final draft standards? Did DPI conduct a review of the final draft to ensure the standards were rigorous? Did DPI conduct a review of the final draft to ensure that the concerns of Wisconsin educators had been addressed?

Tony Evers won’t say.

Superintendent Evers and his staff continue to make claims about the standards adoption process, chief among them that despite Wisconsin’s status as a “full partner” in the drafting and revising of the Common Core standards, “Wisconsin would reserve the right to make an educated decision about adopting them as the process unfolded.” It seems unlikely that this right would have ever been exercised, and there is evidence that at least some Wisconsin educators suspected the game was rigged.

Given the timeline by which these standards were drafted and then released, it would also seem nearly impossible for the Common Core authors to give serious consideration to the input of every state and the general public. In March of 2010, the Common Core authors released the first public draft of the Common Core standards, and DPI staff wrote to English teachers to let them know that “this is your opportunity to share your perspective.”

Are we to believe that in only a few weeks’ time, the authors of new, de-facto national standards incorporated thousands of comments from teachers, education officials, and parents from across the nation, and then finalized a draft of academic standards that addressed each concern?

This strikes me as implausible, and so I have asked the department repeatedly to show me how my concerns about this process are unfounded. Despite those requests made both verbally and in writing, the Department has yet to do so.

As Vice-Chair of the Select Committee on Common Core, I listened to hundreds of parents and teachers who came to defend the Common Core standards from attacks they believed were certain to come from my colleagues and from me. They seemed convinced that we had come to the table with a decision already made, and that nothing they could say would make us change our minds.

Based on what I have seen, it seems as though that charge would be more aptly aimed at DPI and State Superintendent Evers.
The process by which DPI adopted Common Core is not the way to set statewide, model academic standards, and it is time for a change.

It is the duty of the legislature to set public policy, and we should move immediately to establish a statutory process for the continued review and adoption of model academic standards.

Wisconsin needs a change so that we might ensure that the real concerns of parents, educators, and the public are never left out again.