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Wisconsin Debates Whether DPI or Legislature Should Set Education Standards

School Desks

Wisconsin continues its tug of war over Common Core standards. They spell out what American students should learn and when.  While 46 states signed onto the standards, many are now taking a second look, including Wisconsin. A state Senate committee will listen to what the public has to say on Thursday, about a bill that could halt Common Core in Wisconsin.

The legislation would create an appointed board in Wisconsin to design model standards for English, Math, Science and Social Studies. The state superintendent would also propose standards. Then, a legislative committee would pick its favorite – the superintendent’s or the board’s. Right now, the superintendent’s Department of Public Instruction sets academic benchmarks.  Republican Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt does not like the arrangement.

“DPI just kind of largely decides when they’re going to review them and they just do that, and there’s no timeframe set.  What this bill would do is setup a process so that within a six year period of time the four what you might call major academic areas would all be reviewed and potentially altered during that six year period of time,” Thiesfeldt says.

Thiesfeldt also criticizes DPI for abandoning the new standards it had been preparing for Wisconsin.

“When the Common Core standards came to the forefront DPI simply pushed the revisions they were making aside and adopted Common Core. And that was done without any kind of a process in place. There was little information that was given out to schools. There were no public hearings, and that is a process that needs to be changed,” Thiesfeldt says.

Thiesfeldt insists the bill would not automatically do away with Common Core in Wisconsin.

“Representative Thiesfeldt can say that it’s unlikely to happen, I’m saying it’s likely to happen,” says DPI Superintendent Tony Evers.

Evers says he doesn’t like the fact that the governor and legislative leaders would pick most of the 15 board members. “It’s all about making setting standards in Wisconsin partisan,” Evers adds, and Evers says Common Core is working.

“The school that I was in last week, their math scores almost doubled in the numbers of students that were advanced and proficient. We have evidence that in the state of Kentucky that has been implementing it even longer than Wisconsin that their test scores have gone up also. So if we’re looking at achievement and we’re also looking at individualizing instruction, which these standards help us do this is the way to go,” Evers says.

Despite Evers’ claims of success, Wisconsin is not the only state rethinking Common Core. Michelle Exstrom works for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We’re tracking legislation in all 50 states, and we’re seeing a good number of legislation both addressing whether or not it’s an appropriate action for their state in general, and also a good number of bills that are working to implement the legislation as well,” Exstrom says.

Exstrom says of the 46 states that adopted Common Core, about half are taking, another look.

She says in most states – like Wisconsin, the issue never went before lawmakers, because other state agencies are tasked with setting education standards.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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