Anti-Common Core Activists: Why Didn’t Scott Walker Repeal Common Core in Wisconsin?

In a recent interview at an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event, GOP presidential contender and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he “effectively repealed” the Common Core standards in his state, but anti-common core activists cast doubt on this assertion.

Shane Vander Hart of Caffeinated Thoughts and Truth in American Education interviewed Walker in April and asked him where he stands on the education reform.

“I oppose it,” Walker replied. “I like high standards. I think high standards are a good thing.”

Walker went on to explain it was not until 2013 when parents in Wisconsin expressed concerns to him about Common Core. He continued:

It had been in the law in our state before I became governor, we actually have an independently elected Superintendent of Public Instruction who is not in my cabinet who actually administers it, so we have to change the law to do that. The legislature didn’t pass it, but I put in my budget language that said, that pulls back on it and says no school district has to use it, and we pulled the testing for any money for Smarter Balanced.

Vander Hart asked further, “When you campaigned, you were campaigning on a repeal, and are now pushing, putting forth an opt-out.”

“Well it really is a repeal,” Walker asserted, and added:

There is no law that mandates it. What it does, the language we put in explicitly says school districts don’t have to, and that the language in there…there is not a law that says they have to do Common Core. There is a law that says they have to do standards, and then there is a law … or there is money in the budget for Smarter Balanced. We got rid of that, so that is effectively a repeal.

In response to Vander Hart’s question about which test Wisconsin will end up with if Smarter Balanced – one of the two federally funded consortia creating standardized tests aligned with the Common Core – is not funded, Walker said:

Oh I think what we’ll do is have whole options of things that people can use for testing so people, so school boards, administrators can pick at the local level which option they want to use … but they are not told by the state government exactly what they have to do and they do not have to abide by, they don’t have to be obligated to use Common Core curriculum.

In fact, Wisconsin school districts have always had the authority to choose their own standards, but with the state having one assessment on which they will be evaluated, all except one school district has chosen the Common Core standards.

If one visits the website of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the following paragraph appears:

In June, 2010, Wisconsin adopted the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts. Wisconsin also adopted Standards for Literacy in All Subjects. These standards provide the framework for a Wisconsin Student Assessment System beginning in 2014-15.

The question activists opposed to the Common Core standards are asking is: if the standards are part of the framework for Wisconsin’s assessments, how can Walker say he has “effectively repealed” Common Core?”

Grassroots activists argue that while Walker proposed defunding the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced exam in his budget, the new “Badger Exam” that replaces it will also be aligned with the controversial standards, making it unlikely that many local school districts would opt for non-Common Core standards if their students will be assessed on those standards.

In July, 58 Wisconsin grassroots leaders signed onto an open letter to Walker, asserting to their governor they want “no more games on Common Core.”

Walker’s office press secretary responded to Breitbart News’ request for comment at that time with the following:

Governor Walker wants high standards for our schools and students and believes those standards should be set by school board members, educators, and parents at the local level. The Governor’s budget proposal will set Wisconsin-based standards and assessments, and it ensures no school district in the state is required to use the Common Core standards. This gives local school districts the flexibility to choose the test that best meets the needs of their students.

Once again, however, school districts will still be evaluated based on how their students perform on the state’s “Badger Exam,” which is aligned to the Common Core.

Frustrated, the letter’s signers said, “We’re tired of excuses and half-truths. We’re tired of misleading and hollow rhetoric that repeatedly amounts to nothing more than political loopholes and broken promises.”

Breitbart News asked the Walker campaign about the Badger Exam’s alignment with the Common Core standards and the fact that the DPI website states Common Core is part of the “framework” for the state’s assessments. AshLee Strong, press secretary for Scott Walker for America, responded:

Not only did the governor cut funding for the Common Core-based Smarter Balanced test but he repealed any requirement that local schools use Common Core standards and further ensured schools can choose nationally-recognized tests for their students and are not required to use a test established by the State Department of Public Instruction. Now Wisconsin school districts, with input from parents and teachers, can choose at the local level, their own high standards and a test that works best for their students.

In a post Friday at Stop Common Core in Wisconsin, parent and anti-Common Core activist Jeffrey Horn states Walker has not “repealed” Common Core and has painted himself as a “helpless victim” of an “all-powerful” Superintendent of Public Instruction – namely, Tony Evers.

“There have been quite a few people claiming … Scott Walker and the legislature have done everything possible to repeal Common Core in Wisconsin,” Horn writes. “They claim that the governor and legislature are helpless victims of an ‘all-powerful’ DPI superintendent and that their hands are tied with respect to repealing Common Core.”

In a recent article at Townhall that was critical of what he described as this Breitbart reporter’s “heavily slanted” coverage of Walker’s handling of the Common Core issue, Southern California blogger Arthur Schaper wrote:

Wisconsin state law clearly outlines the state superintendent’s final authority on curriculum. Despite legal realities, Common Core critics expect Walker to stand before the cameras every day and preach the evils of the curriculum (and indeed, there are plenty). However, even if he talked about it at speaking engagements every day, and removed all statewide testing aligned with the nationalized standards, Wisconsin schools districts must adopt the responsibility and adapt their own standards.

“[N]othing could be further from the truth,” Horn writes. “The state legislature makes the laws. If they wanted to take Tony Evers authority down to nothing, they could do that. The only thing they CANNOT do, as determined by case law, is to establish another education office of equal or greater authority.”

Horn asserts that when Walker has wanted legislation – and worked to have it passed in Wisconsin – he has been successful.

“Scott Walker knows how to whip votes for whatever he wants to get done, not to mention anything he wants to stop dead in its tracks,” he wrote.

Horn insists that Walker could ask his Republican colleagues in the state legislature to draft a bill altering Evers’ authority over specific education matters.

“He has done no such thing, and he will not,” he writes. “And why would legislators not act on their own to draft and pass such a bill? Because they know the governor wouldn’t sign it if they did.”

Grassroots activists who have been fighting Common Core in the state say Walker’s decision not to fully repeal Common Core in Wisconsin is based on his devotion to workforce development, an interest shared by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and local state business and industry groups. The Common Core standards and the student data collected through the aligned tests will serve as a vehicle to provide big business with a government-guaranteed labor force.

Horn interviewed Jeff Pertl, senior policy adviser for the Wisconsin DPI, about the new Badger Exam’s alignment to Common Core.

“Federal law requires the assessment be aligned to the state standards,” Pertl said.

Horn further asked, “Even though the state budget says ‘no effect shall be given to Common Core standards,’ it does not go so far as to stop Common Core standards from being the Wisconsin state standards which Dr. Evers put in place on June 2, 2010. Correct?”

It does not change the state’s current model academic standards,” Pertl replied. “Local schools districts can adopt whatever standards they wish.”

Ze’ev Wurman, former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, explained to Breitbart News in February that Walker’s statement that defunding Smarter Balanced is “effectively repealing” Common Core is a misleading one.

“Wisconsin school districts retain the theoretical authority to adopt their own standards, but since they will be judged by a Common-Core-like state test on Common-Core state standards, this is a fake authority,” he said. “What Walker is saying is ‘Sure, you can select any standards you want, but you will still be judged on my test, aligned with my standards.’”

Breitbart News reached out to Pertl for comment, and was referred to Tom McCarthy, who handles media relations for DPI. McCarthy, however, did not respond to a request for comment.


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