Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Quotable in Wisconsin's Common Core K-12 debate

3 quotes that sum up a lot of things going on with the K-12 education debate in Wisconsin, and why you shouldn't allow people who are hostile to public education be the ones designing education policy.

First off, the state's Select Committee on Common Core standards released the results of a statewide survey of superintendents on Common Core today. Statements from GOP Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and GOP Rep. Dean Knudson tended to focus on the cost that has already been done to adopt the nationwide standards, and expressed a desire to have legislators change the standards if they felt it wasn't fitting the state's needs.

The problem with these statements (well, in addition to Reps. Thiesfeldt and Knudson not understanding the concept of "sunk cost") is that the report included the actual testimony of the superintendents and other school officials, and they were overwhelmingly positive about Common Core, with many claiming it raised standards in the state, and that it would be foolish to go back on keeping those standards after districts have spent so much time and money getting the correct curriculum in place. One of my favorite quotes comes from John Engstrom, who's the District Administrator at the K-8 Friess Lake school district in Hubertus (which feeds into Hartford High School), and it makes up the last 2 pages of the Common Core report.
I am not a wholesale supporter of the Common Core. I have concerns about an overly standardized curriculum, an over reliance on standardized testing and the rise of a “Testing Industrial Complex,” a narrow focus on the role and purpose of K-12 education, and a lack of attention on the #1 problem impacting the educational experience of too many young people today- poverty.

If the Wisconsin Legislators were raising these types of concerns about the Common Core, I would be with them. However, the concerns I’ve heard from legislators have been quite different. At least one legislator chose to show an alarmist video in their local office that spewed lies and distortions about the Common Core. I would expect this sort of nonsense from an interest group or a private citizen, but not from an elected official.

Then, we moved to the hearings. The hearing I attended in Fond du lac left much to be desired. It did reveal some true colors, as it served as a platform for riling up the types of folks who think it is appropriate to distribute detestable packets of information- including a pamphlet entitled “20 reasons why Christian parents should get their children out of Wisconsin’s WEAC-run government schools.” Open the pamphlet up and the first thing you see is a verse from Matthew 18:6: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drown in the depths of the sea.” Then, just for good measure, there’s a picture of a millstone. Get it?

Truly Horrible. And yet, sadly, this type of garbage was very much in line with the prevailing sentiment of the anti-Common Core crowd at the Fond du lac hearing. I will state with a high degree of confidence that most of the people who attended that hearing to oppose the Common Core have no connection to a public school.
And Superintendent Engstrom continues in this vein, mentioning that "We have not had one concern, not one complaint, about Common Core" from Friess Lake parents, despite being located in arguably the most Bagger-ific part of the state (one which supported DON PRIDEMORE for State Superintendent).

Bergstrom's criticism echoes the smackdown Dem Rep. Christine Sinicki gave the committee 6 weeks ago, when she resigned from serving on it, denouncing it as a Tea Party-organized sham. Fellow Dem Assemblywoman Sondy Pope has also consistently hammered on the Common Core Committee, and she immediately responded to the release of the report by urging Republican reps to make policy based on what education professionals had to say, and not politics.
Today, the results of a survey that was sent to school district administrators on behalf of the Assembly Select Committee on Common Core was released by Chairman Thiesfeldt. The letter asked administrators to answer four questions regarding their experience with the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately, members of the committee have cherry-picked quotes to fit their own partisan goals.

“If this committee does decide to implement a review of academic standards, it must be done in a fashion that protects the constitutional authority of the State Superintendent and guarantees fact and reason is put ahead of politics,” said Rep. Pope. “Any legislative body will struggle greatly with that task as evidenced by the workings of the current Common Core review committees.”

Many of the superintendents surveyed voiced their support for the continuation of the Common Core standards and emphasized their desire to keep politics away from any review process related to Wisconsin’s academic standards.
In the meantime, there are real issues to be dealt with in regards to public schools, such as achievement gaps and inequities in funding, but it seems that the Baggers in the Legislature really don't care about digging deep into solving that problem- they'd just rather beat up on the public schools and funnel money to their campaign contributors in the voucher lobby. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout goes into this in a lengthy interview with Heather DuBois Bourenane at Monologues of Dissent .

I'm a Vinehout fan to begin with, but she's even better in this interview with the level of detail in which she describes the issue. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a passage that sums things up quite well.
VINEHOUT: What’s happening in Milwaukee, the parents who are engaged, the parents who are a little wealthier, the parents who maybe have the resources, are pulling their children out of public schools. I was just at a meet and greet in Wauwatosa, where a fellow who teaches – young guy, really excited – who teaches in MPS, really excited about teaching in MPS, and what he described for me what a student body that was becoming higher and higher need, but the resources were not following that. This is where I see Wisconsin going ten years from now. Diane Ravitch’s book lays it out very clearly. The intention is to create a multitude of options for parents. The only problem is: not all parents have those options. We’re never going to see a [Two Hours] Charter school sit down the road from Alma. There’s not enough people. Just like why AT&T doesn’t want to come out and put out broadband there. Why do we have to have our own rural electrification? Because the utility companies didn’t want to come out there. The density of the population is very low. They can’t make money there.

MoD: Well I don’t’ think these organizations have even expressed an interest in serving kids in these areas. They only want to go into the areas that have large education budgets; that’s been demonstrated nationwide.

VINEHOUT: Absolutely. So to say, “the schools are broken, we need to privatize them” is to repeat the myth of the other side. To say that “poverty is no excuse” is to repeat the myth of the other side. What we need to do is look at what’s actually happening. There’s no evidence that shows us that these schools do any better at educating the same kid when we control for factors like poverty and special education and other factors. And the research is clear: achievement is related to poverty. And how do we solve the problem of achievement in high impoverished areas? We increase the resources. We lower the student/teacher ratio. We use innovative means in a very hands-on, one-on-one if we have to, to help those children. We know the answers to how to deal with these problems, but we can’t seem to get the will of the legislature in this building to pass the changes to the funding formula that recognize that children in poverty cost more to educate....

We need to have a dialogue in communities all across the state about what’s happening, what happens Election Day, what’s happening in the Capitol, and what’s happening in your community related to what’s happening in the Capitol.

When I have those dialogues with people, the first topic that comes up is education. People want a great school. And they’re very worried about what’s happening in the rural schools. And the Republicans see this vulnerability. It’s no fluke of luck that Robin Vos put together a Special Task Force on Rural Schools, and named one of his most vulnerable members, in an area where the schools are being starved of resources, to chair it. If the Superintendent’s uncomfortable, tell me, there’s nobody north of Highway 8 that got a single bit - pennies on the dollar related to that 100 million dollar property tax decrease money going into schools. We know now, from the history, and looking at what happens with property tax and state aid, they’re tied at the hip. If you dramatically decrease state aid, you’re going to increase property tax. Yes, there’s a levy limit, but there’s also a lot of people who haven’t levied to the max – like Alma, and my husband’s on the school board – who are now in the position of saying “We cut as much as we possibly can. If we’re going to continue to provide great education to these students, we’ve got to raise revenue under the levy, and use that space under the levy law.”

We have to be honest – we, the Democrats, have to be honest about what’s happening in the Capitol and how people are being distracted from what really matters. The Common Core hearings were nothing but a distraction.
As usual, Sen. Vinehout is right. Dems need to be upfront over the next year in calling out the pro-voucher GOP for their failed, corrupt education policies, and stand strongly for what traditionally has been one of Wisconsin's few advantages over other states- its high-quality public education system. A voice defending that system is one of the many reasons I support Vinehout entering the Governor's race, and hope her injuries from this weekend's auto accident don't set her back much.

If Dems don't speak up like Sen. Vinehout, and tell Wisconsinites the truth about what GOPs are trying to mess up, they not only will lose on this issue to the privatizers, but Wisconsin will descend into a mediocrity that few will want to move to.

No comments:

Post a Comment