After many, many hours of expert and public testimony about Common Core, it now seems that most of our legislators have totally missed the point of those raising concerns about this homogenization of students and almost abusive increases in standardized testing. There are a few exceptions, Senators Leah Vukmir and Paul Farrow seem to understand that creating standardized minds enforced by ever increasing testing will serve neither Wisconsin, nor our nation well. However, the bills we have seen put forward after the hearings have not dealt with any of these issues. None of them deal with the adoption of standards, the onerous testing being inflicted on students, or the de facto loss of local control that Common Core standardization brings.
The bills we have seen offered to date deal with the collection of biometric data on students and the privacy of personally identifiable data collected on students in Wisconsin. To be sure, there are serious concerns about these issues. It’s easy to see how parents and students would not want their personally identifiable information shared in a global or national database. These bills are necessary to protect our privacy from government and corporate exploitation, but they are nowhere near sufficient for stemming the federal and corporate control of the curricula in our local schools.
We have even seen one bill, offered by Rep. Knudson, that would leave the existing Common Core standards and associated Smarter Balanced assessments in place for several years and starting in 2016 would allow a committee appointed by DPI to determine which standards and assessments need to be in place. This bill allows the legislature to totally ignore by having an unelected committee, hand picked by DPI determine what is best for our children. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! The legislature, our elected representatives, must be the ones that take an active role in setting and vetting any standards used in Wisconsin and they must do it immediately, not several years from now!
I’ve heard many experts, school officials, and legislators claim that Wisconsin is a “local control state.” Under local control of schools, the Department of Public Instruction has the responsibility to develop baseline standards that each school may enrich. It is interesting that in choosing Common Core standards to serve as these baseline standards, DPI already falls short of its responsibility. You see, Common Core Standards are copyrighted by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The copyright itself says that they may only be augmented by fifteen percent and nothing may be deleted from the standards. As such, Common Core standards are a very poor base for local districts to enrich. There is already copyright control that handcuffs local districts, limiting what they are able to do.
From the point of view of the Common Core standards authors this is an entirely reasonable thing to put in the copyright. The whole point of Common Core Standards is to have a standard that is held in COMMON nationwide. If local school districts are allowed to deviate too much from the standard, they would no longer be common and that would defeat the whole point of having common standards. By adopting Common Core standards for Wisconsin, DPI is already asserting a value judgement that districts should hold to common standards and deviate as little as possible. DPI Superintendent Tony Evers adopted these standards immediately after they were first released on June 2, 2010. There was no leglislative input. These was little input sought from parents or school districts about their suitability for Wisconsin’s children. Wisconsin has the dubious distinction of being the very first state in the nation to adopt Common Core! We have an imperial DPI superintendent and a lack of legislative oversight to thank for that.
But local school districts have the right to use alternative standards, correct? Well, like so many things, local school districts have the right but not the ability! Tony Evers has said in his testimony on Common Core that it would not be advisable for districts to choose alternative standards or to augment the Common Core standards significantly because that may cause them to do poorly on Common Core aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments. If they teach too much outside of the standards, they won’t have sufficient time to cover everything in the standards. That would have dire consequences for school districts and could result in school closings, loss of charters for charter schools, or inability to accept vouchers for voucher schools.
Teachers need to teach to the standards as they are or suffer consequences that could include loss of raises, no promotions or even dismissal. Teachers are ranked on value added measures that are heavily weighted to reflect their students’ performance on Common Core aligned Smarter Balanced assessments. Enriching our students beyond the standards is in nobody’s interest… not the teachers’ personal interests, not in the local district’s interest, and not the state’s interest.
Who have they left out of the equation? You’ve got it… the student. The mandated testing enforces the Common Core standards and enriches everyone EXCEPT OUR CHILDREN. We have created a ceiling on what our children are expected to learn and it is nobody’s interest to see our students rise above that ceiling. If a school districts could muster the votes to choose another set of standards, it would be to their and their teachers’ detriment. Of course it is in our children’s and parents’ interest to see our children rise above any artificial ceiling and fly as high as their imagination, creativity, and hard work will take them. But those in control of education don’t want that. The system is rigged to enforce conformity.
Most school boards in Wisconsin suffer from unanimity disorder. There are exceptions, but to a large extent school boards in Wisconsin have been rubber stamping initiatives put forward by school district superintendents and administrations with alarming regularity. They take the input of educational experts on district staff and accept it as gospel. It is rare to see votes on local school boards that are not unanimous. District staff is largely beholden to DPI, CESA’s, and the federal Department of Education in determining what is best for students. Parental, student, and teacher input is given little weight by most school board members when considering policies. Many school boards openly admit how proud they are about how much they agree with the district superintendent. Experts rule the day. The fault for this may lie in the voters themselves for not paying enough attention to who they are electing and for not speaking up with enough regularity so that rubber stamp behavior has been allowed to flourish. So even though local school boards may have the right to stand up against Common Core standards, they do not truly possess the ability. Decades of atrophy have set in so that school boards are now unlikely to stand up against district superintendents much less the state DPI superintendent.
This is why we need to legislature to take a stand. They have funded DPI’s adoption of Common Core standards and the associated Smarter Balanced testing. The legislature must defund Common Core and all associated testing. They must demand adoption of standards that school districts actually can build upon. It will take years to turn over individual school boards so they have people willing to actually be more than rubber stamps for district and state superintendents. By then, Common Core will be firmly entrenched in our state and our state will already be producing standardized minds.
The legislature must take a stand to roll back Common Core. While it’s necessary that the legislature stand up for privacy on personally identifiable and biometric information for our students, it is far from sufficient.
Don’t be fooled by the legislature taking some action. If the legislature does not repeal Common Core and pull out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium your children and our state are at risk. We will need to learn to be comfortable in our mediocrity. We can lay the blame for that at the feet of an imperial DPI superintendent, a fence-sitting governor, and a cowardly legislature, and our own non-involvement over the years.
Wake up and take action today. Encourage Senators Vukmir and Farrow to draft full repeal legislation.
- Do not accept anything less than a full repeal.
- Do not allow the legislature to compound past failures in oversight by continuing with standards that are not suitable for local control and in fact cede control to the federal government and corporations.
- Do not be placated by token legislation.
- Do not be fooled by legislation that pushes decisions about what your children will and will not learn years out into the future.