Lassa: State Can’t Repeal Common Core
By State Senator Julie Lassa
Our public schools face enough real challenges without some political leaders needlessly creating new ones.
Case in point: the ruckus over Common Core, a set of national educational standards that the majority of school districts in Wisconsin have chosen to adopt. Recently, some politicians have called for the state to “repeal” Common Core and replace it with standards approved by state lawmakers.
The big problem with that idea is that the state really can’t repeal Common Core. It was adopted voluntarily by school boards representing communities throughout the state. What the Legislature could do is vote to overthrow those local decisions, disrupt the efforts of schools that have been implementing the standards for two years now, waste millions of taxpayer dollars and take schools all over the state back to the drawing board.
Why? What is so bad about the Common Core standards that we have to take control away from local school boards, force them to abandon millions of tax dollars that have already been invested and throw our schools into chaos? I have not heard the critics of Common Core point to even one clear reason why the standards are deficient or what needs to be improved. Indeed, up until about a year ago there was broad bipartisan consensus that these standards were better and more rigorous than the ones they replaced in Wisconsin.
Common Core was designed by a consortium of 49 states and territories, including Wisconsin, beginning in 2009. The effort was led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It was part of a movement to address uneven academic expectations across states and make education more effective by creating widely agreed-upon grade level goals. These standards for math and English were completed in 2010, and have since been adopted by 45 states, including most of the school districts in Wisconsin.
Common Core’s critics only make vague comments about the need to have “standards set by people in Wisconsin.” That sounds nice, but what does it mean? Do addition, subtraction and multiplication work differently in Wisconsin than in other states? Are our schoolbooks written in a different language than the ones in Illinois or Minnesota? And does anyone seriously think the Legislature will do a better job than educators in creating learning standards?
Indiana’s experience is instructive. It was the first state to respond to the trumped-up furor about Common Core by dumping the standards and creating their own “state-specific” learning goals. The new academic standards they came up with are almost identical to Common Core.
There are risks to playing games with educational standards. College placement tests will soon be based on the national education standards; if Wisconsin came up with a set of standards that actually were significantly different, it could place our high school graduates in jeopardy. And if the standards aren’t going to be significantly different, why bother?
I think my friend and colleague Senator Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, acknowledged as one of the true experts on education in the Legislature, said it best. “I have to believe people in this state have a lot more faith in their local school board than they do in the Legislature in Madison,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s all political and the sad thing is at the end of the day it doesn’t show true leadership.”
We can only hope that, once the elections are behind us, cooler heads will prevail and we can let our schools concentrate on teaching our kids.