If you live in the state of Wisconsin and/or follow educational politics in the state, then you’ve heard about Senate Bill 619. Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public instruction, already put his firm opposition to the bill in print, arguing that this would “subjects kids to political whipsaw.” Directly from Senate Bill 619, it “requires DPI [Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction] to adopt state standards only after those standards have been developed and approved by the Model Academic Standards Board.” Of course, this would require a Model Academic Standards Board (MASB); the formation, nature, and task of which is the majority of the bill. It is a short bill and easy to read, accessible to anyone interested and willing to set aside the necessary fifteen minutes.
Many critics of the State Common Core in Wisconsin appear to be rallying around this bill. That would be understandable if the bill were simply rejecting or stopping the move to the Common Core; but there is much more to this bill. It is not just a stop to the move toward the Common Core. It proposes an entirely different way of establishing academic standards in the state of Wisconsin. As I read through the proposed plan, I was most struck by four things.
1. It mandates that the newly formed MASB develop and propose a set of model academic standards for language arts and math within 12 months. In the entire bill, there is no stated expectation that anyone with expertise in math or language arts be involved in the development of those standards. The same is true for other standards, like science, that are required to be proposed within 36 months.
2. Once this board proposes a set of model academic standards and submits them to the State Superintendent, then, if I am reading this correctly, the rest of the review and approval is in the hands of Wisconsin politicians. The politicians would have the final say on model academic standards.
3. While many proponents of the bill praise it for placing the decisions about academic standards in the hands of the local communities, I see nothing in the bill that would indicate such a move. It seems to me that this new bill would keep the work on the state level.
4. Looking at the proposed term lengths for members of this proposed MASB (3 year staggered) combined with the coming and going of politicians, I find it hard to understand how such a board would maintain the stability and consistency to engage in the hard and time-consuming work of developing standards. I can’t imagine that shifting standards with the political winds is a wise move.
As anyone who frequents my blog knows, I am not an unquestioning advocate of the State Common Core Standards. In fact, I am not an unquestioning advocate for the idea of standards as the foundation of an academic program. Standards, like any other technology, have affordances and limitations, and I gladly promote a candid discourse, one that investigates multiple sides and perspectives of such issues. It is in the spirit of such candid discourse that I hope Wisconsin politicians and active citizens will look at Bill 619 as more than a vote for or against the State Common Core. Bill 619 is, in a sense, another State Common Core, one that has significant affordances and limitations.