Back to School: Common Core becomes hot political issue

Wisconsin State Capitol (file photo)

MADISON - As we head back to school this year, education standards have become a hot political issue.

The Common Core State Standards have Wisconsin officials divided--even within their own parties.

“I want those standards to be set by people in the state of Wisconsin,” said Governor Scott Walker.

Walker says he wants no more of the Common Core.

“It's not about giving up on standards, it's about wanting high standards we just want them to be set by people in Wisconsin, not by people who are coming from Washington or anywhere else,” said Walker.

The Common Core State Standards show what children should know at each grade level.

National education groups created the English and math standards to improve student test scores.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction started using the Common Core in 2010.

“The local school boards decide whether they're going to be part of this or not,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers.

Evers says almost all public school districts in Wisconsin have since adopted the Common Core.

“I think the issue is more of one of politics than of substance. No one person has come to me and said yes, this standard on page 34 is really a bad standard,” said Evers.

“I'm not saying that common core is all bad. What I'm saying is we can do better,” said State Senator Leah Vukmir.

Vukmir says she has a plan to make standards with more local control.

“It's an open process that allows for input from the public. It does not have any actual legislators on the committees. It has educators and experts and standards, and it, we believe, is the best way to move forward in Wisconsin,” said Vukmir.

The Republican from Wauwautosa proposed the bill to repeal Common Core in March. It failed in committee. Vukmir says she'll try again next year.

But her Republican colleague State Senator Luther Olsen of Ripon says she's not getting his support.

“These standards are basic standards so even if you come up with new standards, they're going to be the same stuff. Because, you know, teaching kids how to add and subtract numbers up to three digits at a certain grade, no matter what standards you have, you can call them the Common Core or the Wisconsin can do better standards, or whatever, they're always going to have those in there. Otherwise, what in the world are you teaching the kids?” said Olsen.

Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay agrees with Olsen. He says the move to repeal common core is political.

“It isn't perfect, and it isn't mandatory for the school districts. They can do more, or they can opt not to do it. So I don't know, making it a big political deal, when school districts have invested a lot of money, a lot of their own money in to Common Core, and now all of a sudden in July of a political year you say you're against it, before you were for it?” said Hansen.

Evers agrees that changing standards is a waste of taxpayer money.

“The fiscal bureau said there was 25 million dollars spent statewide that have been used by local school districts to implement this, and that would be gone, too. This is a distraction,” said Evers.

But Governor Walker has another view.

“If they've wisely spent money on improving their education, they'll be fine. There will be no problems whatsoever. If they've only been spending money on teaching to a specific test, which defies the whole purpose of having higher standards to begin with, then they'll be in trouble,” said Walker.

The Green Bay Public School District says it paid up to 3 million dollars developing new curriculum and preparing for new standardized tests. But administrators say they will continue to roll with whatever changes come out.

“If there was a change at the state level in the standards, then new assessments would have to be developed meet those standards. They'd have to be developed to match how the new things currently map,” said Stephen Miller, Director of Assessments for the Green Bay Area School District.

Whether legislation to repeal common core will be introduced in January remains to be seen. Many say it hinges on the results of the November election.