Common Core Defenders Disregarding Democracy?

February 24, 2014

by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

So who is afraid of democracy? Apparently defenders of Common Core in Wisconsin should revisit the civics requirements and learn something about the democratic process.

State Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers issued an “Action Alert” last week complaining about a bill that would stop the implementation of Common Core standards for our state’s schools. The bill would create a process for the setting of standards more suited for Wisconsin, and it has Evers claiming it’s preventing him from sleeping at night.

“As a grandfather, I am losing lots of sleep over the idea that somehow legislators on the floor of the Assembly and the Senate will actually be crafting and creating standards for our kids and our schools,” he claimed in his email.

Actually, he should spend a few of those sleepless nights reading the bill. It creates a very public process, one that has great input by professional educators but still maintains the public’s control over the final product.

If passed into law, the bill will create a panel of school superintendents, teachers, parents, and the state superintendent, called the Model Academic Standards Board, to draft new academic standards for the state’s schools. No members of the state legislature would be on the board. After the standards are created, they are passed to the state superintendent who can still reject them and create his own standards.

Only after the standards are created, by the standards board or the superintendent, are they considered by the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR). If the committee rejects them, “JCRAR must prepare a bill that incorporates by reference the proposed model academic standards submitted by the board for introduction in both the senate and the assembly,” according to the legislative reference bureau.

There are three public hearings built into the process before final approval so the public can see the standards and comment on them.

In another op-ed, Evers criticized the bill, “Our children’s education will be subject to the whipsaw of elections every two years when one party or another is in power.” If only. Since, according to Evers in another letter to supporters, “The bill has unrealistic timelines for standards revision and implementation at both the state and local levels” it’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing changes every couple of years. As it is, the bill will just require the board to “review and update each model academic standard at least once every six years.”

Unable to argue against a role for the legislature in setting academic standards, Evers resorted to scare tactics. “Are we ready for our legislators to debate and legislate academic standards related to evolution, creationism, and climate change when they take up the science standards? What about topics like civil liberties and civil rights, genocide, religious history, and political movements when they take up social studies? All of this and more is now on the table with this legislation.”

The writers of the state constitution were wise not to entrust the entirety of educational policy. As State Senator Farrow reminded Evers, Article X of the state constitution states, “The supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the legislature shall direct; and their qualifications, powers, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.”

Evers is not alone in his distrust of democracy. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently echoed Evers, complaining about the opposition to Common Core from Tea Party supporters. Ironically, this comes not long after the newspaper’s editorialists wondered if Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was afraid of democracy because he opposed the terribly flawed RTA bill. Who is afraid of Democracy now?

But for all the scare tactics and finger-pointing at the Tea Party movement, Common Core has critics across the political spectrum. If the Common Core standards have merit, let them stand in the legislative process where they can be debated by the public’s representatives.

Ben Franklin wrote, “No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe while our legislature is in session.” But Franklin would certainly have preferred a legislature making important decisions in the open than bureaucrats and special interests making the decisions of what should be taught in our schools behind Evers’ closed doors.