Reps. Thiesfeldt And Pope Debate Common Core Standards

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Reps. Thiesfeldt And Pope Debate Common Core Standards

Premiere Date: 
December 13, 2013

Thiesfeldt's Assembly committee didn't recommend an immediate halt to Common Core.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Students and teachers in Wisconsin will not see an immediate end to the state's Common Core academic standards. A state assembly committee voted this week on several recommendations involving educational control, but did not vote to outright dump the standards, despite pressure from Tea Party conservatives. Common Core standards have been adopted in more than 45 states and set more rigorous standards for students to meet. Our guests this week include Republican state representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt from Fond du Lac, who chaired the select assembly committee, and Democratic Representative Sondy Pope from Middleton, who served on that committee. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

You’re welcome.

Frederica Freyberg:

First to you, Representative Thiesfeldt. Despite your clear displeasure, really, with the Common Core standards, recommendations out of your committee did not include scrapping them altogether. Why not?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

Well, I think that ultimately as legislators you have a-- you need to be responsible in your actions. And we have schools across the state of Wisconsin that are two, some of them three years into implementing the standards. A lot of money has been spent, textbooks have been purchased, teachers have been trained. And to turn that around overnight, there's a certain level of irresponsibility with that. And having been a teacher, I understand that. And so we also have-- you know, even if you could do that, if you would be reasonable to do that, there are certain political realities that exist that aren't going to make that-- aren't going to allow that to happen. So I think it's important for us to also understand that there is nothing to immediately replace them. Now, potentially there is, and we're digging into that, but if you were to just say January 1 we will no longer have Common Core in English and math, you got to have something to put in its place and we don't have that right now. So I think that the process that we're going to likely be seeing a bill on is going to take us through what I believe will be a responsible process, where we'll give it a closer examination.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Pope, what do you think of the process? And what was your impression of serving on this committee?

Sondy Pope:

Well, for me the process was fine, but I have been here for-- I'm going into my 12th year, so I was very aware of it, very much involved in it, so it wasn't a surprise to me. I can understand why legislators who weren't here at that time don't understand the process and feel that they weren't a part of it, but they simply weren't here. And as to why the committee was brought together in the first place, I think it was evident from the onset that there wasn't going to be a possibility to repeal Common Core. It just couldn't be done. It was not practical. To replace it right now, or even two years from now, we're going to spend that money again. The taxpayers are going to be paying for new standards. But my concern about this whole process has been the lack of detail, the ambiguity, the questions that aren't answered.

Frederica Freyberg:

You know, I want to jump back to you, Representative Thiesfeldt, and I read something that you had written. You said that “national standards create an unified launching pad which makes it easier to indoctrinate students in the beliefs of the educational industrial complex.” What kind of indoctrination are you concerned about?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

Well, I think it certainly could be a positive or it could be a negative. What you've done is you've created a platform where every state is pretty well operating off of the same, as it said there, platform. And it's going to make it a whole lot easier to share information quickly. And that's not all a negative. Could be positives out of that, too. But there certainly could be negatives. And we've been seeing what I believe is an increase in stories of objectionable lessons that are being taught.

Frederica Freyberg:

Like?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

I don't have the specific story for you here, but I certainly could get that for you. And they're not hard to find, if you go out, search around on the web a little bit. That increase, I believe, is partially responsible-- or partially due to the fact that we have this kind of ready-made platform across some 46 states around the country. And, like I said, I don't think that's all a negative thing, but it certainly could be. And there are ways that that can be avoided. Because if every state has its own set of standards, there certainly are positives out of that, too, because I think we need to have states that are doing something that's different, experimenting a little bit to try and find something that works better for our students and have other states look at that and say, hey, that's something maybe we can do as well.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Pope, you voted against most all the recommendations that came out of this committee, which those recommendations kind of weigh heavily toward legislative control of these academic standards. Why did you vote no?

Sondy Pope:

Because that responsibility does not belong to the legislature. We have a constitutionally-elected officer of the Department of Public Instruction whose duty it is to oversee those issues, not the legislature. If we involve the legislature at the level being suggested, we are politicizing public education to the point where, I think, we're going to see a great deal of discourse, discontent around the state.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about that, Representative Thiesfeldt, talking about politicizing kind of academic standards?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

Well, I don't see it as that because I don't see the legislator's role in this as a legislator sitting at a table debating standards back and forth. The minutia of creating the standards certainly lies within the educational establishment. And they should come to an understanding, an agreement as to what that should be, and then those things should be presented to the legislature. Legislature has a responsibility to be involved in education. The citizens are being taxed for educational purposes, so they certainly do need to play a role in that. And the process that was followed in enacting Common Core in Wisconsin was a process that if you were not a legislator, I think you knew very little about it. And I think that's probably going to be the most positive thing that's going to come out of this, is getting a revision process in place that is going to be open and transparent, That's going to be on paper as to exactly what's going to happen in that process and should take away a lot of the mystery for the taxpayers.         .

Frederica Freyberg:

It does sound as though many of the people who testified before your committee were in favor of the Common Core standards, including the superintendent from your own district in Fond du Lac. And so did being the chair of this committee open your eyes to the idea that, oh, maybe it is a good thing?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

Well, I’ll point out also, the superintendent from my district when I shared with him the recommendations the other day, he looked them over and said he didn't see anything objectionable in them at all. I was not surprised. You have districts in the state who, as I said before, are two to three years into this thing. They obviously are invested in it. And when you put that much time and energy in something, you probably want to see it through. But I think that as a legislator you've got to look at the wider scale here. And that is, long term, what is going to be the impact of what I believe is an ever-increasing federal role in education. And I do not believe the national standards are a good thing. I think Wisconsin should have its own set of standards.

Frederica Freyberg:

I want to give you the last word, Representative Pope, on that.

Sondy Pope:

Thank you. I think there has been a lot of confusion between the difference in the word standards and curriculum. The standards are the baseline requirement for a student's skill knowledge, knowledge and skills, coming out of a particular grade. How they receive that instruction is going to be left up to the school districts, as it had always been, and therein is where the curriculum comes. So what-- what is being suggested, if there's more rigor to be had, that can already be done without changing a thing. It can be left exactly as it is. I counted 160 people who testified or gave support to Common Core during these hearings, all of whom are directly involved in education. There were two people coming out of the education field who testified or spoke against Common Core. It's clearly, clearly supported by the educators in Wisconsin.

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. We'll watch it as it works its way through, potentially to new legislation. Representative Thiesfeldt, Representative Pope, thank you.

Sondy Pope:

You're welcome.

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

As for federal versus state or local control of academic standards, superintendent of public instruction Tony Evers' office today told us this. “The State Superintendent has the authority to adopt educational standards. Adopting is not mandating, and Wisconsin is a local control state. Local school districts have the final say in Wisconsin on the academic standards they will use and the resources and curriculum they will follow.” 


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