The Debate Over Common Core Continues – Will the Standards Survive?

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MacIver News Service | January 20, 2014

[Madison, Wisc…] Legislators moved towards more stringent and specialized K-12 standards last week, as the Senate and Assembly each took up proposals that would affect how the national requirements are put into practice here in Wisconsin.

The Assembly held a public hearing on Wednesday to vet three bills that would protect student privacy and address some of the concerns voiced by the public during this winter’s Select Committee on Common Core hearings. Assembly Bills 616, 617, and 618 change how the state reviews its educational standards, protects confidential data, and uses biometric data in light of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). All three look to tighten up the state’s process of testing students in response to the recent concerns over CCSS, a nationally-normed set of standards that State Superintendent Tony Evers adopted in 2010.

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Wednesday’s hearing allowed opponents and proponents to let their voices be heard about the proposed legislation. While the majority of the speakers who testified agreed that reviewing educational benchmarks and protecting students need to be a priority in Wisconsin, the testimony was split down the middle over whether or not these bills were an effective way to do that.

Much like during the Select Committee hearings, the split between CCSS supporters and opponents seemed to take a common theme. School administrators and the Department of Public Instruction opposed the bills, suggesting that additional legislation would provide hurdles for school districts and potentially prevent them from finding funding and gathering student information for research purposes down the road. Tea Party activists and concerned citizens made up the other side of the debate, rallying for greater safeguards for student privacy and more ways to lessen the impact of CCSS now that it appears that the standards are here to stay in Wisconsin.

The Senate’s Select Committee on Common Core has lagged behind the Assembly, but their executive session on Thursday began tying up the loose ends from the four public hearings that took place late in 2013. The five-person committee met to produce recommendations based on that testimony, but the meeting soon became charged as Senator John Lehman (D-Racine) called the process “flaky” and “inappropriate.” The Senator also dismissed concerns over Common Core as “a right-wing political football.”

That meeting ended without a clear resolution as committee members agreed to gather more information, including a report from legislative council, before putting together their final recommendations. Lawmakers scheduled the preliminary draft of that report for January 22nd. There is currently no estimate as to when the official recommendations will be released.

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Last week’s actions have left a cloud of uncertainty over how the state will proceed with CCSS. The three bills addressed in the Assembly’s public hearing will now have to be passed through the Assembly Education Committee before earning a vote on the floor. Meanwhile, the Senate will wait for a finalized report – as ordered by the 2013-2015 State Budget – before deciding to take any action on Common Core this year.

We’ll have more on these stories as the battle over Common Core wages on in Wisconsin.