A Fair Question But Misguided Conclusion

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post asks a fair question: “How can governors of states that have adopted Common Core simultaneously argue 1) it’s awful and 2) their record — with Common Core in place — is terrific?”

Case in point is Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) who in an op/ed in my hometown paper, The Des Moines Register, touted his education record and went after Common Core:

In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.

Best of all, the reforms are working. Schools are better. Graduation rates are up. Third grade reading scores are higher. Wisconsin students now rank 2nd best in the country for ACT scores in states where more than half the students take the exam.

In addition to improving traditional public schools, like the ones my own sons attended, we increased the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin. Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools and provided more help for families choosing to home school their children.

Here he touts reforms to help root out poor teachers and then some school choice measures.  He then goes after Common Core:

Nationwide, we want high standards but we want them set by parents, educators and school board members at the local level. That is why I oppose Common Core.

Money spent at the local and state level is more efficient, more effective and more accountable. That is why I support moving money out of Washington and sending it to states and schools. Students deserve a better education.

And here is where Rubin’s fair question goes off the rails and she comes to a misguided conclusion.

Rubin assumes that Wisconsin’s success with ACT scores and 3rd grade literacy can also be attributed to Common Core because she thinks Wisconsin has had the Common Core implemented for years based off the Wisconsin Department of Education’s website that gives a rundown of Wisconsin’s journey to Common Core.

One shouldn’t assume, just because the standards were released in 2010 and Wisconsin adopted them in 2010, that they have been implemented in the classrooms long enough to make an impact on ACT scores and 3rd grade literacy.  If you look at the Common Core State Standards Initiative map, you’ll see full implementation didn’t occur in Wisconsin until the 2014-2015 school year that just ended.

Oops… so Common Core can’t be rightly credited with any gains in Wisconsin over the last few years.  Walker’s reforms related to teacher tenures and merit hires and pay based on performance do impact teacher quality.  Teachers, not centralizing education around a set of common standards, do make an impact on student achievement.  There is actual data supporting that.  You can’t say the same about Common Core.

Also, I’m sure Walker’s administration would argue, greater school choice has made an impact on ACT scores and 3rd grade literacy as well.

Now I have concerns about the effectiveness of Wisconsin’s Common Core opt-out in light of some other reforms that are suggested (possibly tying teacher evaluations to assessments).  We also are not sure what kind of assessments Wisconsin will offer now that they have defunded Smarter Balanced.  We’ll have to wait and see.

As far as the answer to Rubin’s question, they can tout their experience and go after Common Core since the standards were just fully implemented recently.  If you want to see what kind of an impact they are making – look to New York and Kentucky who implemented early.  You see frustrated kids, parents, teachers and plummeting test scores.  I don’t think those results are anything someone would want to run for President on.

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.