Like many of his Republican colleagues, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has had a history of straddling the fence on the Common Core standards. Now that he may be preparing for a 2016 presidential run, however, conservative activists who have been fighting against the education reform initiative will want to see if Walker stands with them or with the GOP establishment.
As Breitbart News reported last July, Walker at that time called upon state lawmakers to pass a bill that would repeal the Common Core standards and replace them with “standards set by people in Wisconsin.” His most recent statements, however, suggest an “opt-out” for school districts rather than a statewide repeal of the standards, an alternative that would not likely rid the state of Common Core.
In Walker’s recent state budget address, he said:
…[O]ur budget removes funding for the Smarter Balanced test, which is connected to Common Core. We also include legal language making it clear that no school district in the state has to use these standards, which are set by people from outside the state.
I want high standards—and those decisions should be made by school board members and parents and others at the local level.
Walker’s actual budget proposal states:
- Additionally, school districts will be allowed to choose student assessments that they feel best fit their locally- developed curricula and student population. Options will include a state test, as well as alternative tests certified by the Value-Added Research Center.
- Move the state toward Wisconsin-based standards and assessments by affirmatively providing that no school district needs to adopt the Common Core Standards, the Department of Public Instruction may not participate in the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, and that SMARTER Balanced Assessments shall not be used in Wisconsin schools.
Interestingly, Walker’s move to defund SBAC comes just one month before the tests are slated to be administered. In addition, there is no language in Walker’s budget to forbid the creation of a new assessment that would be based entirely on SBAC, or even the test developed by the other federally funded Common Core test consortium, PARCC.
The Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that Walker’s proposal that the state “choose a totally different state exam for 2015-’16, and let districts choose between that or one of several approved alternatives” is “currently impossible because of agreements the state has with the federal government to issue the same state test to all public-school students.”
The Sentinel continues:
The chinks in the armor of the new exam are coming to light at the same time that Walker has shifted his position on Common Core — again. Walker has had a complicated relationship with the standards, ranging from tacit early approval to an explicit call for their repeal last summer.
Now he’s eased away from throwing out the standards to booting the examination tied to them.
“But that’s largely a toothless proposal,” says the Sentinel, “because districts already have that authority, and all but Germantown have decided to use Common Core.”
In an email statement to Breitbart News, Walker’s press secretary Laurel Patrick wrote:
Governor Walker’s budget includes a repeal of Common Core. His proposal ensures locally-approved standards set at the local level by local administrators, educators, and parents. It explicitly states no school district in the state is required to adopt the Common Core Standards. The budget proposal also explicitly stipulates that DPI [Department of Public Instruction] may not participate in the Smarter Balance Consortium. The Smarter Balance would be in place this spring, but eliminated for the following spring.”
Kirsten Lombard, a Wisconsin grassroots activist and editor of Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards, admits this is a good start.
“Pulling out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and likewise defunding the administration of the SBAC assessments is an excellent first step on Governor Walker’s part to start pushing education in Wisconsin back in the right direction,” Lombard told Breitbart News. “He is setting a tone for legislators in the budget process.”
“But defunding SBAC really is only a first step,” she added. “An excellent second step would be to tighten the language in the budget to prevent against SBAC’s replacement with assessments that would mimic what the governor’s proposed budget aims to defund.”
Managing editor of The Federalist Joy Pullmann agrees that Walker is taking some positive steps against Common Core – if only because he knows the standards are a hot electoral issue for 2016.
“I am glad that, if two years of heavy pressure from his Wisconsin constituents could not move Gov. Walker into getting serious about eradicating Common Core, his interest in becoming president has,” Pullmann told Breitbart News. “Walker’s proposal to ‘let all districts choose their own standards,’ however, is effectively no different from existing law, and does nothing to break the vice grip of Common Core over schools if all schools must still administer Common Core tests.”
“His measure to eliminate the Smarter Balanced Common Core tests is better proof that he’s willing to loosen the Common Core ratchet on Wisconsin schools,” she added, “but it’s not clear he or the other Wisconsin lawmakers are doing that in response to their citizens’ substantive concerns over the academic mediocrity of Common Core itself.”
Pullmann observes that Wisconsin recently received financial estimates showing the Smarter Balanced assessment would cost the state millions more than budgeted.
“And it is likely to be replaced by another Common Core test with a new name,” she continued. “So it really appears that Walker cares about money and appeasing the education bureaucracy rather than thinking critically and arguing forcefully about the quality and structure Common Core imposes on Wisconsin’s children.”
Similarly, Ze’ev Wurman, former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, explained to Breitbart News that Walker’s response is somewhat misleading:
Many states make state standards advisory in nature, allowing local school board a semblance of autonomy. What is almost never advisory, however, is the state test. In fact, for most states, the state test is always mandatory, which makes Walker’s argument that his proposal “ensures locally-approved standards set at the local level by local administrators, educators, and parents,” disingenuous.
“In other words, Walker’s response is true but misleading,” Wurman added. “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.”
“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,’” he said.
Walker’s failure to totally eradicate Common Core in his state is likely due to the standards’ connection to one of the governor’s main missions – workforce development, or “school-to-work” (STW).
As Breitbart News reported earlier, Walker’s interest in workforce development is shared by many establishment Republican governors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and local state business and industry groups. The Common Core standards and the student data collected through the Common Core-aligned tests will serve as a vehicle to provide big business with a government-guaranteed labor force.
Though Walker stood courageously against the teachers’ unions in Wisconsin, joining with business and industry groups in what amounts to an effort for a planned economy is equally an affront to conservative principles. While government can provide a favorable environment in which business can thrive via low taxes and few regulations, is it the role of government to provide the actual laborers by using student data to target those children who will likely perform best in certain jobs and industries?
Writing at The Federalist, Peter Lawler, Dana Professor of Government at Berry College in Georgia, notes that Walker’s problem is similar to that of perhaps most establishment Republican leaders: They simply don’t understand that a focus solely on workforce and jobs — and an abandonment of classical liberal arts education — actually serves the Left.
[I]f Walker had looked more closely, he would have seen that on most of our campuses political correctness and careerism now go hand in hand. Experts, foundations, administrators, and bureaucrats are all about reducing higher education to the acquisition of competencies relevant to the twenty-first-century global competitive marketplace. So the study of the humanities has to be justified now through the “measurable outcome” of critical thinking or effective communication, competencies that have nothing in particular do with the actual content of history or philosophy. Among the competencies typically is diversity, which is about the kind of multiculturalism that detaches students from special concern for their own culture and its moral and intellectual claims for truth and virtue.
So it turns out that dissing liberal education in the sense of the love of truth and virtue for their own sake serves the forces that the governor opposes. He would deprive students of access to the books and music, the theology and philosophy, and so forth that might allow them to gain a critical distance from the fashionable claims of sophisticated intellectuals these days.
Lawler recommends that Walker “go beyond techno-careerism and political correctness in the direction of the timeless truth, and he should rail against the relativism that devalues genuinely higher education.”