What is your view of Common Core and what would you do about it?
Well, I would like to get rid of Common Core, but I realize that it’s pretty much embedded right now and it’s probably not going to change for several years. A lot can happen in that time. One of the things that I discovered somewhat recently is that the policy that the board has in place calls for the district to adopt the state standards, period. That’s not what the law requires. The law requires that the district adopt standards acceptable to the superintendent of public instruction. That’s a little different. So in Germantown we have the Germantown school board creating their own standards. So it’s not necessary for the district to adopt the state standards at this time. And it wasn’t when Common Core came out. But that’s the policy of the district. That’s one policy I would like to change. But if we change it, that means they could keep Common Core if the state adopts something else.
That always comes up. The reality is Common Core is a state law and as a sworn public official, I swore to uphold the law. So whether I like it or dislike it or whatever, I took that oath to uphold the law. Until something changes, that’s the law.
Common Core in itself, if you look at standards, if you look at the way the standards are written out, it’s descriptive. What does that mean? That means a student will be able to read at such and such level. It doesn’t prescribe exactly what a student will read, it doesn’t prescribe exactly what subject that student will read. On the basis of it, Common Core it is a standard and you gotta have a standard. You may disagree with the standard, you may want to increase the standard, whatever the case may be, but it’s a standard. And having reviewed the actual standards, the way it’s written, it’s as I mentioned, descriptive in nature.
What causes a lot of people to be, I guess for want of a better word, concerned is two things. One, where did these standards come from? And if you start asking questions about where these standards come from, it starts giving you a sense of unease. In Wisconsin, the legislation, the law firmly believes that local school boards should have control over curriculum, standards, and so forth. With that in mind, I perfectly understand why the taxpayers of our community want to ask, “Well where did this standard come from? We didn’t come up with this standard, we didn’t make it up.” So that’s a valid concern.
And the other concern is, because the standards are descriptive and not prescriptive, you can get yourself in, for want of a better word again, trouble easily. For instance, U.S. history. The classic example is you’ll never find an Abraham Lincoln high school in Georgia. Why? Because in the South, what we call the Civil War is called the War of Secession. And there’s still a lot of hard feelings there about those “dashed” Yankees, and those “dashed” carpetbaggers. So what they will teach in terms of U.S. history will be different from what we’ll teach. Because here, Wisconsin was part of the Union, Wisconsin has a proud heritage of being part of the Union, yadda yadda yadda. So that’s where the trouble lies. It says the student will be able to read such and such, then there’s room for somebody, whoever it may be to say, “Okay, you gotta read this.” And some books, depending on where you are, might stir up controversy. And that’s the second part of Common Core that causes people concern. I totally understand where people are coming from.
Again, when you look into where Common Core came from, is it really, I’m not saying it is, but is it really something mandated by the federal government? And if it is, then why is the federal government dictating what us, West Bend community, is teaching in our schools? So those concerns are, I believe to be totally valid. And then the same thing with the descriptive part. That’s why Wisconsin, as a general policy, tends to allow the local school board to identify its curriculum and so forth.
Having said all that, I circle back to point one, which is, it’s the law. And as a sworn public official, I put my hand on the Bible, and I swore that I would uphold the law. I have to uphold the law.
That’s actually a more complex question than you think. Common Core standards are just academic standards, that’s all that they are. I’ve read the standards; they’re available for you to read online, too. They’re not all that lengthy, although as the years progress they become more complex in math and English.
I don’t think that it’s wrong to have standards; in fact we always have. When I was in high school, we took Iowa Basic Schools Tests. Those were standardized tests back then. So that the schools could measure, how much are we getting across, are we being successful in teaching what we think we’re teaching? I don’t view Common Core standards as any different than that.
What becomes complex is that now we have regulation that’s tied to the success rate on those standards, and that’s really where the problems set in. How do we track how well we’re doing with meeting standards? How do we track how much information our students are really comprehending if we don’t measure? And if we do measure, and the only way to do that is through assessments and quizzes and tests, then how much is too much? Because I think the general sense is that there’s too much associated with us trying to track our success. But by the same token, politicians are imposing sanctions and tying funding directly to that success and directly to those measurements.
So how do wrap our arms around the need to track what we’re teaching, the need to comply, and yet the very important need to take care of our students and not impose upon them any more duress than necessary to accomplish those tasks. So it really is a lot of issues all bundled into one when someone says Common Core. Frankly, whatever set of standards is put forth, we’re going to have those same issues as long as we’re tying those things together. Whether it’s Common Core, whether it’s Iowa Basic Skills, whether it’s Nevada Basic Skills; whatever the standardized threshold for learning is, we’re going to still have struggles with how we track how well we’re doing. And frankly that is one of the complex issues that this board has to deal with going forward. We have to measure all of those needs and we have to come to a resolution of what is best for our students. At the end of the day that is all we’re trying to do.
– Interviews and transcriptions by Alyssa Birkeland, Current Staff
Read more about Vinney Pheng, Monte Schmiege, and Therese Sizer at The Current, including their full responses regarding tension at WBHS and testing.
The school board election is Tuesday, April 7.