Will Scott Walker Walk the Talk on Common Core?

Gov. Walker gives his 2015 State of the State Address
Gov. Walker gives his 2015 State of the State Address
Photo source: Scott Walker’s Office (Public Domain)

Is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker truly ready to repeal the Common Core State Standards?  The answer to that question leading up to 2016 not only has implications for his state, but the state of the Republican 2016 horse race that promises to be crowded.

As an Iowan who virtually trips over presidential candidates (figuratively and literally, I almost knocked into Newt Gingrich a couple weeks ago) I care more about action than I do words.

Governor Walker’s debut in Iowa as a prospective candidate was impressive, but that was just an introduction – let the vetting begin.

Walker in the midst of his re-election campaign called for the repeal of the Common Core State Standards.  It became an issue in the election unlike other general elections we witnesses throughout the nation since his Democratic opponent, Mary Burke, held the opposite view.  Prior to the 2015 legislative session start he sent mixed signals talking about an opt-out for school districts instead of a full repeal.

An opt-out will be largely ineffective if the state holds onto Smarter Balanced or any Common Core-aligned exam as their statewide assessment.  He continued the opt-out discussion during his State of the State Address.

I wrote then:

My concerns with an opt-out bill (which has not been filed yet) stands.  So far Wisconsin schools are expected to administer Smarter Balanced.  Then you have a school accountability bill that I believe would eliminate any desire on the part of a school board to opt-out when the accountability is largely based on assessments which will come in the form of Smarter Balanced Assessments.  Also, private schools that receive voucher money are tied into the accountability system outlined in the bill.  Not to mention if a school is considering a failing school as part of their improvement plan they have to use curriculum that is aligned to the state’s model academic standards which is Common Core.

If we are to take Governor Walker seriously then he either needs to call for a full repeal, not just an opt-out of Common Core, and it’s assessment or make it clear that schools can opt-out of Smarter Balanced and the Common Core standards then use another assessment tool.  He also must call for the legislature to amend the school accountability bill to exclude a requirement for failing schools to abide by Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards.

Walker did get my attention by stating he was defunding Smarter Balanced during his budget address.  That would put a little more teeth to an opt-out if, and that is a big IF, a reliable, valid non-Common Core aligned assessment takes its place.  It’s hard to be optimistic with a good number of the assessment development vendors having ties to either Smarter Balanced or PARCC.

But is it possible to have alternative assessments?  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel casts doubt on that possibility:

Instead, the governor’s biennial budget proposes that the state choose a totally different state exam for 2015-’16, and let districts choose between that or one of several approved alternatives.

That’s currently impossible because of agreements the state has with the federal government to issue the same state test to all public-school students.

If you want to place your hopes in No Child Left Behind being sunset this could work, but I’m not going to hold my breath.  If that doesn’t happen we’ll see if he is willing to take on the Feds and fight over it.

If so he’s walking his talk.  Otherwise he’s just looking at the current polls instead of listening to parents outraged by the standards.  That won’t pass the smell test in Iowa.

Shane Vander Hart is the online communications manager for American Principles in Action, a frequent contributor to TruthInAmericanEducation.com and the editor of Iowa-based CaffeinatedThoughts.com.