Walker proposes commission on academic standards

Gov. Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker
MILWAUKEE (AP) - Republican Gov. Scott Walker said Friday he will back legislation creating a commission to review and recommend changes to the state's academic standards, adding that he believes they will end up being tougher than national benchmarks.

Wisconsin adopted the Common Core academic standards for reading and math in 2010, and schools gradually have been aligning with them. However, tea party conservatives and others object to the standards and have urged Walker and Republicans to scrap them.

Walker said legislation that he hopes to see approved in the next month or two would create a commission to review the state's standards and recommend changes to Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers, who oversaw adoption of the Common Core.

Evers would chair the commission, and his agency would be responsible for implementing any changes. Evers said the state is not abandoning the Common Core, which is used in 45 states, but the commission may recommend additions that school districts eventually could adopt. The standardized tests that go into effect next fall in Wisconsin still will be based on the Common Core.

Evers noted the state's voluntary standards are "a floor," not goals for its highest-achieving students. School districts already can add to them.

Walker compared the formation of the commission to the process that eventually led Wisconsin to obtain a waiver for federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The law signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, a goal many educators have said is impossible.

Walker said plans call for the commission to have 13 members, one being Evers. Walker and the Department of Public Instruction would each appoint four members, and the four top legislative leaders would each appoint one member. Walker said he hoped to see local school superintendents, principals, parents and others invested in education on the commission.

"We think that's a great way of having the academic standards in this state be standards that we believe are important, and I believe again what you're going to see is Wisconsin adopt standards that are higher and more rigorous than the ones that are being talked about nationally," Walker said.

Sen. Luther Olsen, a Ripon Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee and served on the board that created Wisconsin's first academic standards, questioned Walker's definition of rigor.

"Everybody can say that, but what is going on right now is what we used to teach in sixth grade, we're now teaching in fifth grade, which means it's more rigorous for the fifth grade," Olsen said. "Does he want to make it what we were teaching in sixth grade is now down to fourth grade?"

Olsen also said it wouldn't be wise to deviate too much from the Common Core because college entrance exams are based on those standards.

"For Wisconsin to march to a different drummer probably doesn't help our students when they want to move on to post-secondary education," he said.

Kirsten Lombard, organizer of a Madison-area tea party group, said getting the Common Core on Walker's agenda was a "big win," but she was concerned the commission wouldn't make any recommendations until after the new standardized tests were in place.

"We need to see faster action," she said.

Senate and Assembly committees already have taken a look at the Common Core, generating recommendations that have been turned into pending legislation.

"We all agree that Wisconsin is best served by creating Wisconsin-based educational standards," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement.

But Democrats are likely to resist significant changes to the standards.

"Democrats always support improving education for all Wisconsin children, but given Governor Walker's record-breaking cuts to education, we're reserving judgment until he provides additional details," said Gillian Drummond, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson.

Walker cut funding for public schools by $800 million in the budget passed in 2011 and restored only part of the money in the current budget.