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.
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.