The Common Core Report Card: Scott Walker Gets a D+

In our Common Core report card, we graded Scott Walker and all of the GOP candidates based on the three following criteria: fighting the Common Core, protecting state and local decision-making on education, and defending child and family privacy. Then we averaged the three grades together for one final grade.

What does each grade mean?

A … Champions the issue, e.g., offers legislation, makes it a centerpiece issue.
… Professes support, but has not provided leadership or otherwise championed it.
C … Has neither helped nor hurt the cause.
D … Has an overall negative record on the issue.
F … Robustly and consistently works against the issue.

So how did Scott Walker do?

Ending the Common Core System: D+
Protecting State and Local Decision Making: D+
Protecting Child and Family Privacy: D+

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Overall Grade: D+

Until recently, Governor Walker’s rhetoric on Common Core has been good. He admits that, when he ran in 2010, it wasn’t on his radar and that’s certainly understandable given how the standards were pushed into the states. He rightly gives credit to the state’s citizens for making it an issue, something that may not seem like a big deal, but it is to activists who have been ridiculed as irrational by elitists in both parties.

Walker’s comments on Common Core include:

September 25, 2013 (Wisconsin State Journal): “I’d like to have Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established and what’s been talked about at the national level.”

The above statement — made on the heels of increasing activism and debate about the Common Core — seems to be the first time in which the Governor spoke publicly about the Common Core. Subsequent statements by the Governor include:

July 17, 2014 (Press Release): “Today, I call on the members of the state Legislature to pass a bill in early January to repeal Common Core and replace it with standards set by people in Wisconsin.”

July 18, 2014 (La Crosse Tribune/Associated Press): “Whatever is adopted may not differ significantly from Common Core standards. It’s one of those where they’ll have to adjust some things, some of the things may very well parallel, other things will be different.”

December 18, 2014 (The Blaze): “[My goal is to] remove any mandate that requires a school district to abide by Common Core standards.”

January 17, 2015 (WLUK FOX 11 Green Bay/Appleton): “I also want [the legislature] to make it perfectly clear in the statutes that school districts do not have to use [C]ommon [C]ore, and that we take it a step further and we work with the legislature making sure there aren’t things like the Smarter Balanced test going forward that require the schools to use a test that’s based on the Common Core.”

In The Federalist (Dec. 2014), Joy Pullmann (a Wisconsin native) summed up Walker’s approach to Common Core:

. . . Now, there’s a huge difference between a governor issuing a statement and a governor putting muscle behind his statement. Anyone can say anything, and they usually do. The trick is to tell when a politician means something. Walker doesn’t appear to mean anything except “please don’t withhold votes from me as I continue to ignore you, GOP base.” Both state lawmakers and local GOP leaders in Wisconsin have told me Walker’s been essentially running away from Common Core ever since it became an issue.

Sometimes legislation gets watered down despite the intrepid efforts of its proponents. At other times, a nominal proponent gives it lip service but fails to fight and, thereby, actually signals that he will not raise an objection if the legislation is defeated or watered down. On the Common Core, Walker is in the latter category.

He has not fought the issue with vigor and has thus paved the way for the status quo. If there were any question in that regard, he has resolved it by arguing that he “put in my budget language that said, that pulls back on it and says no school district has to use it….” He argues that this the budget language acts as a repeal of the Common Core because, “What it does, the language we put in explicitly says school districts don’t have to, and that the language in there… there is not a law that says they have to do Common Core.” However, as Breitbart’s Dr. Susan Berry wrote, Walker’s response is somewhat misleading:

Many states make state standards advisory in nature, allowing local school board a semblance of autonomy. What is almost never advisory, however, is the state test. In fact, for most states, the state test is always mandatory, which makes Walker’s argument that his proposal “ensures locally-approved standards set at the local level by local administrators, educators, and parents,” disingenuous.

In other words, Walker’s response is true but misleading,” Wurman added. “Wisconsin school districts retain the theoretical authority to adopt their own standards, but since they will be judged by a Common- Core-like state test on Common-Core state standards, this is a fake authority. What Walker is saying is ‘Sure, you can select any standards you want, but you will still be judged on my test, aligned with my standards.’

Stop Common Core Wisconsin has issued a letter, signed by 58 activists, criticizing the governor’s actions and his failure to provide true leadership on the issue.

Governor Walker’s lack of leadership to secure the support of the Wisconsin legislature to advance proposed bills protecting the privacy of student data, while simultaneously procuring their support to fund expanding data collection systems, has negatively affected his overall score on the issue. For example, Walker failed to champion AB 616, introduced by Wisconsin Representative Tom Larson, which would have prevented the collection of student biometric data (e.g., retinal scans, facial expressions, heart rate monitors, etc.). Likewise, after passing the State Assembly, AB 618, introduced by Representative Don Pridemore to curtail the Common Core and related data collection, died in the Senate after it failed to get a “hand up” from Walker. His lack of leadership on the matter was noteworthy.

Nonetheless, Walker was willing to use his power and influence to secure funding in the state budget for the State Student Information System (SSIS), which is essentially the linchpin for enhanced data flow. SSIS expands collection, storage, and flow capabilities to keep up with increasing data coming from formative and summative assessments, daily assignments, etc, in relationship to Common Core and workforce development initiatives.

At the heart of it, Walker brings the Common Core issue back to square one: the propagation of an invalid message for the purpose of advancing a public relations message and premised on the idea that a public relations message will crowd out the facts. In the beginning, the invalid message was that Common Core is state-led, of high quality, etc. and the objective was to make Common Core inevitable and swamp arguments to the contrary. Now, the invalid message is that Walker led Wisconsin out of Common Core and that the movement against Common Core and federal overreach should support his candidacy.

 Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.