Category Archives: Unfair To Tax Payers

CCSS Are Unfair to Tax Payers

Jeremy Thiesfeldt’s Bill to Silence School Boards, Principals, and Administrators

jeremy-thiesfeldt

If man is going to rescue himself from a future intolerable existence, he must first see where his unmindful escalation is leading him.” - Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle (1969)

Rising to the Level of His Incompetence

It pains me deeply to say this, but Jeremy Thiesfeldt, since his appointment as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Education, has become one of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s clearest illustrations of the Peter Principle, often summed up as “rising to the level of one’s incompetence.” Having jettisoned any shred of backbone that he had previously demonstrated, Thiesfeldt has now become little more than a shill, doing the bidding of education deformers in state government and their federal and corporate buddies.

The first major sign that Thiesfeldt had ejected his own backbone was his “authorship” and advancement of a deeply flawed accountability bill early this year. His defense of the bill before his own newly minted committee was nothing short of embarrassing. It was clear to everyone watching that he had little understanding of what was in his own bill, much less the mechanics or validity of what it proposed. He demonstrated even less comprehension of the bill’s detrimental implications.

His most recent actions, however, should cause more than alarm in parents, school board members, and others. To be frank, they should spark outright revolt.

AB 239, a bill Thiesfeldt introduced last spring–and which passed in the Assembly on October 27th in a troublingly amended form also submitted by Thiesfeldt–contains language that directly prohibits school board members, principals, administrators, and others from advising parents to opt their children out of standardized assessments.

Here’s the language. See for yourself…

Section 4. 118.30 (2) (b) 8. of the statutes is created to read: 118.30 (2) (b) 8. No school board, school district administrator, principal of a public school, operator of a charter school…or governing body of a private school participating in the [voucher] program may encourage or counsel a parent or guardian to make a request…to excuse a pupil from taking an examination.

“Helping Parents” by Gagging Their Local Representation

AB 239 (and its identical companion, SB 193, helpfully introduced by Senator Duey Stroebel) ostensibly began as a means of protecting parental rights. It was drafted last spring, after a Fond du Lac mother was told that she would not be permitted to opt her child out of Common Core-aligned assessments. Based on outdated and poorly worded language in state statutes, school officials insisted that only parents of children in certain grade levels had the right to say no to the assessments.

Thiesfeldt leapt to the rescue, drafting legislation that expanded the number of grades covered in statute. Yet, despite abundant evidence that children are being assessed at younger and younger ages, the proposed language failed to protect K-2 students and their parents.

While I would not call Thiesfeldt’s solution exactly damaging, neither was it particularly strong or valuable. In fact, it left room for precisely the same difficulties that had prompted Thiesfeldt to act in the first place. Moreover, it continued to frame opting out as a privilege granted by the state. Quite simply, opting out is a parental right. Thus, a far better approach would have been for Thiesfeldt to propose striking the problematic language altogether, replacing it with, if anything, a passage affirming the right of parents to opt their child out of any assessment at any grade level–at any time and for any reason.

In June, after Thiesfeldt’s bill had already been introduced and widely touted as a protection of parental rights (which, as I’ve already explained, it really wasn’t), Thiesfeldt quietly offered a substitute amendment. For those not familiar with that terminology, substitute amendments are significantly re-drafted bill language. They replace in full a bill’s original language.

The language cited above magically appeared in Thiesfeldt’s substitute amendment. Its effects are manifold, but none of them are positive. In fact, the language is the height of hypocrisy several times over.

Kicking Parents and Local Control in the Teeth

For starters, the bill claims to protect parental rights while simultaneously curtailing the rights of the very people elected to represent parents at the local level–their school board members. So, while Thiesfeldt claims to champion local control and parental rights, his language would actually deal a serious blow to both. It amounts to a state edict, prohibiting local school board members from achieving key aspects of what they were elected to do: consider and represent the best interests of local parents and taxpayers.

School boards aren’t a one-way street. They are a local manifestation of representative government. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to be. Not only are school boards elected to represent the will of parents and taxpayers, they have an ethical and fiduciary duty to communicate with those constituents when they have reason to believe that policies or initiatives would cause harm to a district’s students or to their educational opportunities and experience. Yet, Thiesfeldt’s language would curtail this necessary and ethical communication of school boards should it contravene or become inconvenient to the state’s desire to keep the assessment machine running and the stream of personally identifiable student data flowing. It’s one more example of the degree to which local control has become an utter fiction in Wisconsin and that its death has been shepherded not just by Democrats but with the full assistance and initiative of Republicans.

Moreover, the administrative staff of any given district are–in theory, if not current practice–supposed to be directly accountable to the local school board. If local administrative staff feel that opt-out is in the best interests of their students, teachers, and school/s, then they should absolutely be in communication with the school board and working with them to formulate a plan for responsibly advising parents. Should the school board disagree with those administrators, it should remain a matter to be hammered out locally. The state has exactly zero purview to enforce a gag order on any of these people.

Or are we now living in a soviet?

Are local school boards and administrators really just supposed to be consensus-building apparatchiks for a central authority?

Sure seems like that’s what Thiesfeldt’s legislation aims toward.

But fear not, I’m sure the state will do a far better job at graciously, wisely, and benevolently managing school boards, directing administrators, and representing parents…if they just all prostrate themselves low enough and beg quietly and politely enough.

Kicking the 1st Amendment in the Teeth

Thiesfeldt’s language is likewise a stark violation of First Amendment rights. What business does the state have telling anyone what they can and can’t say–much less what school board members, in particular, can say in the course of executing their responsibilities to a local electorate?

The managerialist impulse is clearly alive and well in Madison, and Thiesfeldt has quickly become one of its eager architects.

Kicking Germantown in the Teeth

And then there’s Germantown…the remarkable breakout school district that legislators, such as Representative Thiesfeldt and many of the Republican co-sponsors of his bill, have claimed to admire.

Germantown remains the only school district in the state to reject the Common Core in order to pursue the creation of its own higher, more developmentally appropriate, non-aligned standards. That stance would be admirable enough on its own, but the school board–yes, the SCHOOL BOARD–took the additional courageous step this past spring of sending a letter to parents, recommending that they opt their children out of Common Core-aligned assessments. That direct communication with parents resulted in the achievement of a district opt-out rate of 81 percent.

Under No Child Left Behind, a mere 5 percent opt-out rate invalidates assessment results and prohibits sanctions from being levied against the any school, district, or state where such invalidation occurs. An 81 percent opt-out rate in even one district–resulting from simple, honest, effective communication between school board members and parents–has unquestionably terrified the state’s education centralizers and standardizers. Why? Because it signals that local control could actually come back from the grave in which many state officials have so assiduously attempted to bury it over the years.

In fact, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction attempted to deliver a smackdown to Germantown last summer, claiming that the school board had violated…wait for it…federal law. That’s hogwash, of course, designed to scare the district back into compliance. There is a seven or eight step sanctions process that would have to ensue before even a dime of federal funding would be lost by any state or local entity. In fact, to date, not one school, district, or state nationwide has experienced a loss of its funding. But the threat certainly gets waved around a lot to scare people into line.

DPI further insisted that Germantown take corrective action to get its assessment participation numbers back up. So far, thank goodness, Germantown continues to tell DPI it’s done nothing wrong and has no need to take any corrective action.

But let’s face it: this language is designed to discourage stories like Germantown’s and has the effect of pointing a gun at that district’s school board and administrators–even if the gun isn’t yet loaded. It signals to school districts across the state that Wisconsin is not interested in maintaining local control–or, indeed, any real, significant, or constitutional separation of powers.

Trading Principle for Status: The Sad Co-Option of a State Legislator

The transformation in Jeremy Thiesfeldt over the past year has been stunning to watch for those engaged in the fight for true education in Wisconsin.

An early champion of those pressing to safeguard what remains of local control and substantive learning in an increasingly top-down, standardized education environment, Thiesfeldt helped to press for and subsequently co-led 2013 legislative efforts to examine so-called education reform in Wisconsin.

Appointed chair of the Assembly’s Select Committee for the Investigation of the Common Core Standards, Jeremy earned true appreciation from many for his efforts to ensure that average citizens and a wide range of informed experts alike would have a chance to contribute to a crucial dialogue on how Wisconsin educates its children. Republican leadership had, in fact, only yielded on public hearings under massive public pressure; it was clear to anyone watching that they would have preferred to continue marginalizing and ignoring the matter. Nevertheless, Thiesfeldt lent a quiet dignity and determination to the investigative process, even though there were clear attempts to undermine his work and that of his fellow committee members.

So where did that Jeremy Thiesfeldt go?

What happened…?

Jeremy rose in rank. That’s what.

He was offered the plum of a standing-committee chairmanship. And in picking up that plum, he appears to have traded his spine, another couple of valuable-but-unnamed body parts, his principles, and his interest in true representative government, all in exchange for rather less noble aspirations and trappings.

I can’t see into Jeremy’s mind. Only he can know why he’s sold out to such a profoundly disappointing degree. But if I were to lay odds, I would bet that he is motivated by a fear of losing the status he’s now attained. He is likely attempting to avoid being relegated to the outer reaches of legislative space by Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, whose coercive tactics in controlling his caucus have become one of the worst-kept secrets in Wisconsin politics. All too many politicians have whispered to me about those tactics behind closed doors, always ending their alarming tales with, “But you can’t tell anyone I said this. I can’t afford to have it get out that I told you.”

There’s good reason to suspect, then, that the moment he accepted his Education Committee chairmanship, a few key folks started to tell Jeremy exactly what he’d have to do to keep it. In accepting a role he likely thought would enable him to assist people, he unwittingly donned his own choke chain.

If you think I’m going to let him off the hook and ask you to feel sorry for him, guess again.

Time to Grow a Set, Jeremy

When Jeremy Thiesfeldt was elected to office, he undertook constitutional and ethical duties to represent the interests of the constituents of his district. The people who voted for him did so in the belief that he would take difficult but principled positions on the issues. They trusted him to stand tall and represent, not cave in to bullying, not cower in a corner, and certainly not to sell out by doing other people’s bidding.

In these respects, “Representative” Thiesfeldt currently appears to have reached his level of incompetence. In any event, there’s no doubt that he’s failing. He is proving himself utterly unable to stand firm on principle. Quite bluntly, he is proving himself completely incapable of standing at all. The only thing he seems to be good at these days is serving false masters from a prone position.

As a measure of tough love and in a spirit of hope that he can turn himself around and get back on the right path, I would remind Jeremy Thiesfeldt that he wasn’t elected to serve Robin Vos. He wasn’t elected to serve Scott Walker (whose bullying tactics, usually via his legislative liaisons, are also an open secret). He wasn’t elected to serve Tony Evers. When it comes to education, he definitely shouldn’t be serving the pubic-private aims of special interests such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Moreover, despite the messages that he’s undoubtedly received from leadership, the Republican caucus is not his family. He owes his caucus ZERO allegiance. The only people to whom he owes any loyalty whatsoever are his constituents and, in relationship to this specific bill, the parents and children of Wisconsin–all of whom he’s currently betraying.

The question is, will Jeremy find his courage? Will he finally remember his duty to higher ideals and principles such as local control, ethical representation, true education, parental rights, and free speech?

Or will he choose instead to continue his all-too-rapid descent into the bowels of a corrupt political machine?

Here’s the thing, Jeremy, if you are indeed reading this…

Bullies and manipulators don’t go away when you cower. They will continue to pull your strings and levers until you say, “No more.”

Even if it means losing a chairmanship, getting kicked off a committee, or having your bills blocked, isn’t it better to take those knocks while remaining true to your principles and the people you were elected to serve? When leadership starts dealing those blows, we will see you standing strong. Your principles will contrast sharply with the corrupt machinations of others…and they’ll matter. You’ll matter. True success isn’t about clinging to power. It’s about speaking truth to power. Often, it’s about being a monkey wrench in the machinery of power. When you stand up, when you resist, when we see you do it, it’s the start of something bigger. It lights a spark. It feeds a movement. There are plenty of examples out there–including some in your own back yard.

Right now, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. You look like leadership’s broken slave, not a confident champion of the people who’s willing to use his wits to buck a corrupt system.

What matters more to you, Jeremy? Is it your credibility and honor in the eyes of the people you were actually elected to serve? Or the tenuous figurehead status cynically given to you by people who are determined always to jerk you into their preferred line.

What’s it gonna be, Jeremy?

We’re watching, and our patience for the evils to which you are now contributing has run out.

own-it

Congratulations. You Own It.

An Open Letter to Wisconsin State Elected Officials on the Full and Imminent Implementation of Common Core State Standards

April 23, 2014

At the beginning of April, the Wisconsin State Legislature concluded its 2014 floor sessions. Yet, Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—the single most prominent issue of the last year in Wisconsin politics—remains unaddressed. As leadership has announced that the legislature will now take a nine-month hiatus, CCSS is unlikely to see any serious opposition at the state level until at least January of 2015.

With CCSS presently retaining status as official state standards, and Smarter Balanced assessments scheduled to roll out this fall for the 2014-2015 school year, the legislature’s failure to act means that total implementation of CCSS is now imminent in Wisconsin. Smarter Balanced assessments are the enforcement mechanism that will be used to ensure compliance with CCSS and aligned curricula.

Because Smarter Balanced assessments have not been in place in Wisconsin up to now, our state has not yet experienced the full reality of CCSS. This fact has allowed several individuals in key positions on both sides of the aisle to tout the standards’ alleged benefits in a manner that few in Wisconsin currently have the experience or the courage to refute. The haze created by this well funded and heavily marketed campaign of misinformation has resulted in confusion, inaction, and even active pro-CCSS entrenchment on the part of many state legislators, district and school administrators, the business community, and even some parents and teachers. Meanwhile, the informed parents, teachers, and taxpayers who have explored CCSS beyond the superficial talking points have been championed only by a small but dedicated coterie of legislators. Those legislators who did understand and make an effort to jettison or undercut CCSS found themselves effectively sidelined by those with greater influence and higher positions of authority.

Well done, then, to Wisconsin’s state-level CCSS advocates. You’ve won this round. You successfully convinced many that rejection of CCSS was just an issue of the “fringe” Tea Party. Despite the wishes of constituents, you ensured that a true CCSS kill-bill never saw the light of day. You ensured that other legislation that might help to undermine CCSS was watered down, marginalized, or killed outright. CCSS will proceed on schedule. Kudos to you.

But be careful about celebrating this victory.

Everything is about to change.

With the deployment of the Smarter Balanced assessments, the rosy CCSS talking points upon which you have relied are about to be exposed for what they are. CCSS is going to cause pain in this state. And in the blame game that ensues, those who have facilitated CCSS either actively or by their inaction will quickly become vulnerable.

Congratulations. You own it.

What exactly do you now own?

  • You own the unhealthy and as yet unimagined degree of pressure that will shortly be placed on Wisconsin children to perform on an unending stream of standardized assessments with little validity.  http://bit.ly/tests-hurt
  • You own the fact that even students previously considered high achievers are likely to fail the Smarter Balanced assessments in droves, providing a false measure of both performance and underperformance. http://bit.ly/unending-tests
  • You own the inaccurate labeling of “underperforming schools” and the subsequent school closings that CCSS and the Smarter Balanced assessments have, in part, been engineered to ensure.  http://bit.ly/underperforming
  • You own the injudicious use of student performance on Smarter Balanced assessments to judge wrongly and misleadingly the quality of teachers.  http://bit.ly/teacher-quality
  • You own the shredding of the art of teaching—the reduction of teachers to proctors in their own classrooms—by means of extensive embedded pedagogy within CCSS that doesn’t just demand compliance from teachers concerning what to teach but also how to teach it. http://bit.ly/kills-creativity, http://bit.ly/demoralize-teachers
  • You own the convoluted and bizarre teaching methods embedded within CCSS pedagogy and the ways in which they will cripple many students’ ability to understand and learn.  http://bit.ly/cripple-students, http://bit.ly/not-teaching
  • You own the distress of parents as they realize they can no longer assist their children with homework because not even as competent adults can they understand the methods by which their children are now being taught.  http://bit.ly/parents-dont-understand
  • You own the rejection of individualism that is part and parcel of the CCSS mandate to teach the same and yield the same, regardless of the unique character, learning styles, circumstances, and aspirations of each child. http://bit.ly/different-styles
  • You own the vast frustration with learning that CCSS is guaranteed to yield as well as the utter disinterest in learning that will spring from it.  http://bit.ly/ccss-frustration, http://bit.ly/ccss-dropout
  • You own the widget-factory schools that CCSS will create.  http://bit.ly/ccss-widget
  • You own the fact that the for-profit charter schools intended to replace “failing” public schools will likewise be CCSS-based widget factories, enriching no one but the people who collect the tuition.  http://bit.ly/ccss-for-profit
  • You own the fact that, under CCSS, students who want to reach farther will only be prepared for a two-year non-selective college, not a four-year university.  http://bit.ly/non-selective
  • You own the coming anger of local taxpayers who will soon realize that you have essentially pushed them into an unfunded mandate—CCSS infrastructure and training costs that will likely exceed the expectations and budgets of most school districts.  http://bit.ly/ccss-high-cost
  • You own the additional taxpayer anger that will result when they discover that all of the spending you helped to push them into was for an initiative doomed to failure from the outset.  http://bit.ly/ccss-doomed
  • You own the invasion of student and family privacy that CCSS furthers through its data gathering, data storage, and data mining components.  http://bit.ly/ccss-privacy
  • You own this initiative’s disregard of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government no authority over education, as well as the its disregard of at least three federal laws forbidding the federal government from involvement in school standards and curriculum.  http://bit.ly/ccss-unconstitutional
  • You own the undercutting of Wisconsin children’s ability to determine their own unbounded future. http://bit.ly/biz-demands
  • And much, much more…

And the saddest part about this long and troubling list of items you’ve just owned?

It was all avoidable.

Apparently, it is not enough for Wisconsin to learn from the experiences of others. Instead, we must have the full experience—sacrificing the education and mental wellbeing of children, breaking the trust of parents, demoralizing teachers, and picking the pockets of taxpayers.

Even a modicum of honest research should have revealed to you precisely what we and many others have found—that despite the billions spent on marketing spin, CCSS is nothing new. It’s merely a doubling-down on every failed education reform of the past thirty years; truly the lipstick-clad pig.

Just a glance to the east would have revealed that full implementation of CCSS has already been a complete train wreck in states like New York and Kentucky, causing massive public outcry from parents, teachers, and taxpayers alike. Conservatives and progressives are fighting CCSS hand-in-hand in those states and elsewhere, as they increasingly will be here. Are you aware that they’re taking names and working to remove people from office in New York and elsewhere over this “education” fiasco?  Do you think that same thing won’t happen in Wisconsin?  Do you think it hasn’t already begun?

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Common Core State Standards are all yours now.

Sincerely,

Eric Shimpach
Wisconsin State Coordinator
Young Americans for Liberty
Morgan Gianola
Young Americans for Liberty – Carthage College
Kenosha, WI
Dustin Hwang
Young Americans for Liberty – Marquette University
Milwaukee, WI
Madelyn Winter
Young Americans for Liberty – UW Green Bay
Green Bay, WI
Savannah Bartel
Young Americans for Liberty – University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI
Charles Hunt
Young Americans for Liberty – UW Oshkosh
Oshkosh, WI
Matt Haase
Young Americans for Liberty – UW Stout
Menomonie, WI
John Linné
Young Americans for Liberty – UW Superior
Superior, WI
Michael Cummins
Dane County Campaign for Liberty
Madison, WI
Alan Scholl
Executive Director
FreedomProject Education
Appleton, WI
Duke Pesta
Academic Director
FreedomProject Education
Appleton, WI
Mary Black
Student Development Director
FreedomProject Education
Appleton, WI
Tina Hollenbeck
The Educational Freedom Coalition
Green Bay, WI
Kristi Lacroix
Parent
Kenosha, WI
Tracie Happel
Teacher & Parent
Onalaska, WI
Dan Curran
Eagle Forum of Wisconsin
Dodgeville, WI
Sandi Ruggles
Eagle Forum of Southeast Wisconsin
Menomonee Falls, WI
Jane Carpenter
Suburban Republican Women’s Club
Milwaukee, WI
Charles Brey
United in Freedom
Beaver Dam, WI
Joana Briggs
Greendale Tea Party
Greendale, WI
Kip Ertel
We The People
Sheboygan, WI
Michael Hintze
Tea Party Patriots
Wisconsin
Earl Hoffman
Clark County Tea Party
Greenwood, WI
Jackie Johnson
Concerned Citizens of Dane County
Madison, WI
Sidney Johnson
Central Wisconsin Tea Party
Marshfield, WI
James Leist
Manitowoc County TEA Movement
Manitowoc, WI
Andrea Lombard
Sauk County Tea Party
Baraboo, WI
Darin Danelski
Lake Country Area Defenders of Liberty
Oconomowoc, WI
Karl Koenigs
Wisconsin TEA Party Committee on State Sovereignty
Peshtigo, WI
Steve Welcenbach
Separately for each: Conservative Insurgency & Menomonee Falls Taxpayer Association
Menomonee Falls, WI
Ed Willing
FoundersIntent.Org
Caledonia, WI
Jennifer London
SpotOfTea.Org
Pete Platt
Columbia County Freedom Coalition
Portage, WI
Ronald Zahn
Northeast Wisconsin Patriots
DePere, WI
Richard Parins
Member of The Brown County Taxpayers Association
Green Bay, WI
James Murphy
Green Bay TEA Party
Green Bay, WI
Greg Luce
The La Crosse Tea Party
La Crosse, WI
Georgia Janisch
Rock County Voter Education Forum
Janesville, WI
David Stertz
Fox Valley Conservative Forum
Appleton, WI
Kim Simac
Northwoods Patriots
Eagle River, WI
Joanne Terry
Ozaukee Patriots
Mequon, WI
Marv Munyon
Rock River Patriots
Fort Atkinson, WI
Kirsten Lombard
The Wisconsin 9/12 Project
Madison, WI
Edward Perkins
Fox Valley Initiative
Appleton, WI
Jeffrey Horn
Prairie Patriots
Sun Prairie, WI

 

 

 

Tony Evers – I Am Above The Law

when-I-adopt-standards

When the legislature passed the 2013-2015 biennial budget, they included language that required Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction to hold three hearings on Common Core Standards by September 30, 2013 and required the Legislature to hold three hearings on Common Core Standards by November 30, 2013.

That did not sit well with Superintendent Tony Evers!  He sent off a letter to Governor Walker, asking that he line item veto this provision.  Evers states: “the budget bill language requires the State Superintendent to adopt new standards and mandates the process for doing so.  This is a challenge to the State Superintendent’s constitutional authority to adopt standards under the general power to supervise public instruction provided in Section 1, Article X, of the Wisconsin Constitution.”  To his credit, Governor Walker clearly preferred that the people’s voice be heard on this matter.  The requirement for hearings remained in Act 20, the 2013-2015 biennial budget that Governor Walker signed into law.

Unable to convince the Governor to stop the hearings, Tony Evers proceeded to simply ignore the directive from the Legislature and the Governor.  September 30th came and went without any mention of hearings by DPI.  With their head buried in the sand, DPI continued to plan for the implementation of Common Core in Wisconsin without hearing from or answering to the people of Wisconsin.

Rep. Robin Vos and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald took the initiative to form a Select Committee on Common Core Standards to fulfill the legislature’s requirement for hearings in Act 20.  Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Sen. Paul Farrow were named chairs of the committee and planned four hearings to be held throughout the state in Madison, Fond du Lac, Wausau, and Eau Claire.  They took special care to make sure that hearings ran from 1pm to 8pm in these cities so that working parents and teachers could attend to give testimony.  They gave plenty of notice as to where and when the hearings would be held and made every possible accommodation to hear from all interested parties.

During the first hearing, in Madison, Tony Evers reiterated that he alone had constitutional authority to adopt Common Core Standards for Wisconsin.  Both legislative counsel and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) have weighed in to clearly state that it is the legislature, rather than the Superintendent, that has sole power to set standards for our children.  WILL states in an October 16, 2013 press release: “his [Tony Evers'] claim is baseless and without legal merit.  The Superintendent is incorrect about his authority and incorrect about the power of the Wisconsin legislature.  In Wisconsin, it is the elected policymakers in the legislature that have the ability to determine what standards should be set for our children.”  Nonetheless, Superintendent Evers continued to make veiled threats to sue the legislature should they get in the way of Implementing Common Core.

During the course of four legislative hearings on Common Core, it is fair to say that all sides were allowed to present their case for or against Common Core.  A parade of district superintendents made their case that the standards were higher and deeper, much better than Wisconsin’s 1998 standards, and were helping teachers to be more effective.  National experts like Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. James Milgram, and Ze’ev Wurman talked about how Common Core standards were developmentally inappropriate in early grades and did not adequately prepare students for college and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.  Dr. Gary Thompson pointed out that the Smarter Balanced Assessments, tied to Common Core, were actually a form of psychological abuse for our children.  The point is that all sides were heard.  Much of the hyperbole and rhetoric both for and against common core was tested and our representatives were able to get to the truth at the heart of Common Core.  What is more, the legislature did a fantastic job of ensuring that all sides were heard on the issue.

On December 12 the Assembly Committee on Common Core released its recommendations, and though not calling for a complete repeal of Common Core and associated testing, they clearly found that the people’s concern over this issue was well founded.  Shortly thereafter, stronger questions about Common Core started emerging from the state senate.  Senator Paul Farrow called for Smarter Balanced Assessments to be put on hold in Wisconsin for several years to evaluate their efficacy in other states.  Senator Vukmir called for an outright repeal of Common Core and the aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Representative Knudson, the co-chair of the assembly committee, penned an article calling into serious question DPI’s assertion that it gave adequate opportunity for feedback prior to Tony Evers’ adoption of the standards on June 2, 2010.  By the way, Wisconsin was the very first state in the nation to adopt the standards, within hours of the standards being released.  This was done unilaterally by Tony Evers without any consultation with the legislature.

All of a sudden things weren’t going to well for Tony Evers and his plan to make Wisconsin Common Core compliant.  Though DPI clearly thinks they know better than you about what is good for your children and their future, they seem altogether unwilling to listen to you or your representatives about what you want for your children.  They feel that if we can just get contracts for Common Core supplies, textbooks, training materials, and technology signed then the legislature won’t be able to reverse course.  By the way, the cost of those supplies, textbooks, training materials, and technology is estimated to cost school districts in Wisconsin over $150 million That will show up in your property tax bill, as the state isn’t picking up the tab.  Many of those purchasing decisions need to be made by January 1, 2014.  If it wasn’t for that pesky requirement that DPI hold three hearings before the “pause” on Common Core implementation in Act 20 could be lifted, DPI and Evers would be home free in ramming Common Core through on its own inertia.

What’s an ambitious, imperial Superintendent of Public Instruction to do?  Hold some hearings, that’s what.  On the afternoon of Friday, December 13th, DPI announced that they would be holding three simultaneous hearings across Wisconsin.  Each would only run 3 hours, from 3pm-6pm and would be held on Thursday, December 19th.  Unlike the legislature, these hearings would be held DURING peak work hours, preventing working parents and teachers from attending and giving testimony.  Unlike the legislature, these hearings were given only six days advance notice and holding them simultaneously prevented any single person from attending all the hearings.  What is more, the hearings were scheduled only six days from the Christmas holiday and right smack dab in the middle of holiday shopping season.  It seems that Tony Evers scheduled his hearings perfectly to make sure that input from parents, teachers, and experts were kept to a minimum.  This is a vain attempt to comply with the letter of the law in Act 20 while completely disregarding the spirit of that law… that the people should be heard.

To anyone following Superintendent Evers closely, this should come as no surprise.  He clearly feels that he and his experts know better than you what is best for your children and their education.  He doesn’t want to listen to your complaints about Common Core or how your children are being tested too much.  He doesn’t want to hear how students passion for learning is being diminished as we emphasize subjects that can be assessed with standardized tests and de-emphasize subjects like art, music, shop, and creative writing.

I-dont-want-your-input

No, Tony Evers knows best.  He’s ticked off that he has to do these hearings at all.  He doesn’t think he needs to listen to the legislature, the governor, or you.  I suggest you let him know that he damn well better listen and that he is your servant and not your emperor.

Call Tony Evers at 608-266-1771 and tell him that it’s important to listen to Wisconsin on issues that affect our children.  Tell him parents and teachers should be allowed to weigh in on Common Core and that he should hold hearings on three separate days AFTER the Christmas and New Years holidays.  Tell him that those hearings should cover some after work hours so working parents can attend.

What Do Common Core State Standards Mean for Tax Payers, School Districts and States?

Here are some of the dire implications of Common Core State Standards for Tax Payers, School Districts and the States:

  • „Current state adopted textbooks will not align with CCSS approved textbooks – $$$ School Districts and Tax Payers pick up the tab!
  • „CCSS will require extensive professional development of school administrators and teaching staff – $$$ School Districts and Tax Payers pick up the tab!
  • „CCSS will require longitudinal databases to be purchased and operated by states – $$$ States and Tax Payers pick up the tab!
  • „CCSS will require large investments in technology for doing standardized testing at the local level – $$$ School Districts and Tax Payers pick up the tab!

Note that for almost all ongoing costs to implement Common Core State Standards, local school districts will be responsible for the bulk of the cost and states will pick up the rest.  Ultimately the tax payer pays for it all!

Unwritten Tests Present Major Common Core Obstacle

Education leaders are beginning to publicly worry that two coalitions attempting to determine mandatory tests for some 40 million U.S. students by 2014 can’t pull their massive enterprise together by deadline or at all.

This threatens the entire Common Core project, which in 2014 will tie national tests to grade-by-grade education requirements 45 states adopted in math and English in 2010. Two networks, called SMARTER Balanced (SBAC) and Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), are creating separate tests.

“It’s easy to say Common Core is revolutionary, but implementing it is a completely different story,” said Andy Smarick, a former U.S. Education Department official who is now a partner at consulting nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners. “High-ranking state officials are … betting the farm on PARCC and Smarter Balanced, hoping it’s going to be rigorous and delivered on time. If they have any reason to question any of that, they’re going to have great incentive to pull the reins and say, ‘I’m not going to ask my governor for millions for common assessments’ or ‘We’re not going to depend on someone else’s decision on cut scores.’”

Some big questions include: where the testing groups will get money once federal grants run out six months before the tests appear in classrooms in 2015; whether testmakers and states can handle the technical problems of creating and administering ambitious, online tests; and whether states will tolerate higher passing score requirements.

SBAC’s 25 member states educate 19 million U.S. K-12 students, and PARCC’s 22 member states educate 25 million (a few states are members of both).

Queasy Feeling About Testmakers
A January survey of “education insiders” from consulting firm Whiteboard Advisors found concern growing about SBAC and PARCC. Fifty-five percent thought PARCC was on the right track, while 27 percent thought the same of SBAC.

“Both continue to operate with such opacity it is hard to know where things stand,” the survey quoted from one responder.

“PARCC is focused on providing a higher quality product,” another respondent said.

The insiders include current and former state and federal education department officials, state school chiefs, governors, congressional staff, and education organization and think tank leaders.

“Both consortia are struggling mightily with getting the work done on time and with quality,” another said.

Technical Difficulties
Many school districts do not have the computers, bandwidth, and IT staff to administer Common Core tests, which will be entirely online by 2016-2017. These items are costly, and states are facing growing costs, particularly in healthcare and pensions.

Testmakers are also attempting to pull several testing advances together, which ambition may exceed possibility. This includes attempting to have artificial intelligence score open-ended test answers and create “adaptive” tests that throw up harder questions after correct answers and easier questions after incorrect answers, according to Tony Alpert, SBAC’s chief operating officer.

Even writing the software for such tests is incredibly complex, said David DeSchryver, Whiteboard’s vice president of education policy. It must work on a wide variety of computing devices, operating systems, and internet browsers, and operate simply for non-techies like most teachers and principals.

“If you’re taking an assessment for certain kids at the school [what if] you’re going to shut down wireless access in the cafeteria?” he said. “How do you manage this in a way you don’t have failure? We just don’t know. This hasn’t been tested in reality.”

The massive undertaking has a very small margin for failure, he and Smarick said, because state and school leaders will quickly abandon a glitchy, frustrating system.

Lifting ‘Cut Scores’
A major complaint against previous state standards and tests was that the federal government required states to have all students testing “proficient” by 2014 under the now-defunct 2001 No Child Left Behind law. In response, states set low “cut scores,” or passing grades. The Common Core consortia have promised to set higher standards, but that’s politically tricky because fewer children will pass the new tests, Smarick said.

Elected officials will feel heat from parents and teachers when many more students fail, but lowering standards for that reason essentially means lying to the public about U.S. schools’ quality, Thomas B. Fordham President Chester Finn Jr. wrote recently. States with big differences in average student achievement will likely tussle over setting one pass rate.

Show Me the Money
The federal government jumpstarted SBAC and PARCC with 2010 grants, but that money runs out by fall 2014. This means strapped states must soon pitch money at a new, complicated testing program likely to make their schools look bad, Smarick noted.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s big, it’s expensive, it’s technically challenging. If you get that right, then states are going to continue. If states get concerned about this, we’ll quickly realize the governors, state chiefs, legislators, and board members in power in 2014 are not the same ones who signed on to Common Core.”

The vastness of the project, and its likelihood of changing nearly everything about U.S. education, means a small accumulation of problems can derail it, Smarick said: “Under the best of circumstances it’s going to cause heartburn.”

Learn More
“The Complicated Economics of Testing in the Era of Common Core Standards,” Andy Smarick, January 23, 2013: http://educationnext.org/the-complicated-economics-of-testing-in-the-era-of-common-core-standards/.

“Cutting to the Chase,” Chester Finn Jr. January 24, 2013: http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-weekly/2013/january-24/cutting-to-the-chase.html.

By Joy Pullmann (jpullmann@heartland.org) is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute.  Reposted from this article with permission of the author.