School reform matters, and Common Core is an important part of that effort

Editorial, Stevens Point Journal, March 5, 2014 -

Don't fall for opportunistic attacks on raising academic standards. The project of reforming Wisconsin schools has taken major steps forward in recent years. And it is an important project. Parents have a right to know how their children’s schools are doing; the state’s economy —today and especially for future growth —needs an education system that works well; and taxpayers have a right to ask that schools are functioning efficiently in a way that benefits all. There are reasonable and understandable reasons to be wary of over-reliance on testing. Standardized test scores are not and cannot be a complete picture of how our education system is functioning. But without data, we simply won’t know how our schools are doing. And without a common set of benchmarks —not a common curriculum but a shared, research-based view of where kids should be at each grade level —that data simply won’t provide a clear enough picture. This is why Common Core State Standards —a set of high educational standards that had broad bipartisan support in Wisconsin until very recently —are so important. A new bill introduced by state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, and supported by Gov. Scott Walker would badly undermine Wisconsin’s progress —and at worst, would lead to unacceptable politicization of what ought to be a science-driven, results-oriented process. Vukmir has been straightforward: Her goal is full repeal of Common Core in Wisconsin, and her bill is intended as a first step toward repeal. It would be a disaster of a law, creating a complex and unnecessary review committee that could literally end with legislators debating the fine points of science curriculum on the floor of the Legislature. That would be a huge embarrassment. What might be less obvious, though, is how integral Common Core is to other education reforms. The bill, which will have a hearing in Vukmir’s Senate committee on Thursday, would jeopardize Wisconsin’s new teacher evaluation system, which for the first time will take test scores into account. It would jeopardize the state’s school report cards, which depend on data that is based on Common Core standards. And for school districts that have spent years on the implementation of Common Core, it would be phenomenally expensive and demoralizing. “It sends a horrible message,” Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers told Daily Herald Media. “The message is: ‘We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.’" Evers has a point. Common Core has been widely agreed upon. The last two biennial state budgets each included specific funding for its implementation. This is the track Wisconsin has been on. To jump off that track now would be a major setback. Legislators should defeat the anti-Common Core bill and keep us moving forward.