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Conservatives and their Republican legend-bearers aren't really pushing for smaller government so much as they are seeking condensed government. By “condensed” I mean a much more authoritarian system where fewer politicians (those same Republicans, ideally) make more of the decisions from the top down. And when they can't get past pesky interference from opponents or other branches of government -- like, you know, independent agencies or cities and counties -- they devise new means of gumming up the works. Or they simply seize power, knowing that they can if necessary take the issue to selected courts packed with conservatives likely to back them up.

Cream of condensed government is standard operating procedure in banana republics, but in the United States of America? We're getting into banana land, and fast. Latest example: The sordid, cynical, powergrabbers who now run Wisconsin state government with an ideological iron fist and no sense of reasoned consideration, much less bipartisanship.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have over the past three years adopted a new way of implementing academic standards for English and mathematics instruction under the nationwide Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core provides more uniformity in curriculum and testing in an effort to better prepare students for college and the real world.

Now, you can argue that Common Core in general, and uniformity in particular, aren't all that they're cracked up to be, and it's even reasonable to question whether Common Core isn't mostly just more of the same old, same old, in that it relies heavily on testing in pursuit of academic progress. But Common Core isn't rigorously uniform: The program allows each state to set up its own means for achieving the standards. Moreover, Common Core was designed to engage teachers, parents, lawmakers and other stakeholders in the process.

Nevertheless, now that years of planning including public hearings and well-aired proposals have been vetted and new standards are going into place in classrooms, some people on the far right are suddenly although inexplicably concerned that Common Core is really some kind of secret federal government takeover – like Obamacare.

In numerous states where the Common Core standards are well into the implementation phase, numerous critics have emerged to question the effort. More and more of them tend to be from the far right and some of those have tried to characterize Common Core as coming from the Obama administration. In reality, Common Core is not a federal program; it has been a state-led effort, championed by the bipartisan National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

True, some of the critics are not politicians, and raise arguably reasonable issues with  Common Core in principle and implementation of it in their states. But the particular disaffection for Common Core that some political conservatives suddenly have discovered in themselves seems at best generalist and knee-jerk, at worst a tactic calculated to serve as red meat in an election year. But sometimes there's even more method to their madness than is readily apparent, as we shall discuss below.

In any case, Common Core is causing a ruckus. But no bigger ruckus than in Wisconsin, once a public education leader thanks to its progressive traditions. These past several years, however, the Badger state has suffocated under a blanket of right-wing Republican rule, showing signs of devolving into the political equivalent of Texas, or something even less savory.

Read on past the orange book mark to see how Wisconsin's current conservative hegemony is angling to use disaffection for Common Core to bolster its own political power.

In Wisconsin, academic standards and other policy relating to public schools long have been vested in the Department of Public Instruction, which is run by a relatively independent superintendent who is elected in statewide elections. The long-held idea behind this arrangement is that education policy should be shielded from too much political interference.

The state's current superintendent of public instruction (one of those "Chief State School Officers" who worked together on Common Core) is Tony Evers, a thoughtful man who has had to contend with constant tinkering by conservative Wisconsin legislators who clearly are most interested in transferring public school funds to private voucher schools, and punishing any public schools that thereafter falter. Indeed, one proposal that's recently been kicked around in the state legislature would mandate that public schools with performance scores in the lowest five percent each year be completely disbanded, no matter the reasons.

But Evers' latest headache is a bill that is blitzkrieging its way through the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature at super speed, a bill apparently designed to extinguish what's left of Wisconsin's education firewall and hand fundamental (I use the word advisedly) public education policy-making power over to the governor and the legislature.

The idea for the legislation only popped up about a month ago when, in a barely noticed speech, Gov. Scott Walker (yes, that Scott Walker) made casual mention of perhaps creating a state commission that would "advise" Evers on academic standards. Boom! In just days, up popped this bill (and from where did the bill's language come, you might ask. Oh, I dunno. Maybe, hmmm..... ALEC?).

Assembly Bill 617 would appoint the state school superintendent to chair a new commission of 10 members. The superintendent would appoint four of the ten. The governor would appoint six. Can you say, “stacked deck,” boys and girls?

Furthermore, the law would essentially do away with Common Core, leaving Wisconsin to find its own way through the academic standards thicket – with, of course, the heavy-handed "advice" of politicians.

The commission would vote on a set of academic standards, not necessarily limited to English and math. These would be turned over to the superintendent who would choose whether to recommend them to a joint legislative committee for approval. But the legislators could disregard his recommendations and instead pick the board's recommendations  Some “advisory” capacity, that.

But, as is often the case with Republican lawmaking, it gets worse. Here's how the bill crystallizes what Walker called "advisors." From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The bill calls for members of this board to come from different backgrounds, such as a university professor and school principal, but it also calls for members to be appointed from private voucher schools, even though those private schools receiving taxpayer money are not beholden to follow statewide academic standards for public schools.
Thus, if this bill passes both state legislative houses (which seems likely, although the state Senate's slightly more moderate GOP majority may have other thoughts), the foxes will be guarding the hen house. The foxes are made up of two groups: those private schools which, thanks to previous conservative lawmaking, get to dip into Wisconsin public schools for millions of tax dollars but as yet have to face no public accountability to speak of; private schools that would now have direct power to influence cirricula in public schools.

The other group of foxes of course includes the current governor and his political party in the legislature.

So, as Evers rightfully worries, what if a cabal of tea party lawmakers wants creationism to be taught in public schools? Presumably, those lawmakers could get the governor to prevail upon his majority appointees to the "advisory" commission to make that a formal recommendation. The superintendent of public instruction might refuse to submit the recommendation to the legislative committee on the basis that it's anti-science, but the committee by law would be able to overrule him. Just to remind you: That would be the same legislature run by the same political party some of whose members proposed creationism and got mouthpieces on the new “advisory” commission – all appointees of the governor – to recommend it.

A couple of Republican legislators have publicly pooh-poohed concern that any such academic interference could ever happen. And yet the law does seem to allow it. Another reason to be skeptical: Walker originally campaigned for governor saying he wanted to work with public employee unions before he “dropped the bomb” (his words) on them. Also, many public school teachers are unionized, and Walker is simply not on friendly terms with them.

Ironically, the pending legislation would still require a regular statewide student test on whatever academic standards do emerge in Wisconsin, which is a main reason people in other states are concerned about Common Core. What a concept! Replace a standardized test that many people dislike with … another standardized test! That'll fix everything. But of course, the main purpose of this bill isn't to fix anything; it's to grab power.

For his part, Walker has already spoken favorably about the bill, suggesting he would sign it. His explanation? Again, from the Journal Sentinel: "I think Wisconsin standards should be higher than where the discussion is nationally and I think they should be set by people in Wisconsin and not people outside the state, and I think this offers a mechanism to do that." So while a huge majority of other governors are placing their faith in Common Core, Walker is placing his own faith in himself, instead.

Hey, governor, here's a better idea. Quit messing around with local public schools by seeking to amass more direct power over them. Instead, if you truly believe Wisconsin public schools should have higher academic standards than the nation as a whole, return the nearly three billion dollars and more you've already swiped from their budgets. In other words, put your money where your mouth is.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the bill:

Originally posted to Ron Legro on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 01:24 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If he's agin it, we're fer it ? (6+ / 0-)

    To say that Common Core is "controversial" among American educators is one hell of an understatement ...

    And that's BEFORE we start discussion IMPLEMENTING it in the classroom  (without methods and materials reference books , curriculum guides, and model lesson plans) ... much less USING it in high-stakes testing to evaluate teacher adequacy.

    Here in NY ... CC is regarded largely as a way of getting rid of older, more expensive, "professionalized" union teachers, as much as possible,  and replacing them with fresh faces,  short-timers and Teach for American Volunteers -- and, of course, a way of proving the superiority of religious and charter schools to public ones.

    The superiority of CC in producing/evaluating "College and Career Readiness" is largely a product of Common Core's publicity materials and marketing promises.

    So ... while Gov. Walker is not so much "a stopped clock" as an erratic one ...

    He might (gasp) even be right on this one.

    •  I hear you, but.... (4+ / 0-)

      You don't have to be "for" Common Core to see that this bill in the Wisconsin state legislature replacing it would be far worse. And that, besides mucking up public education, it would devolve political power in the state into fewer, higher hands. High-handed high hands, indeed. Furthermore, I can assure you that if Common Core was a surefire way to eliminate teachers unions, Scott Walker would be for it.

      •  Ever hear of B're Rabbit and Briar Patch " ? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JanL, rduran, Creosote

        Common Core is not BY ITSELF a way to break unions ...   it's just one sharp tool in the toolbox used toward that end.  Without high-stakes testing of students to determine teacher adequacy it is, at worst, just another educational "good idea" like "New Math" and "Open Classrooms."  It may, in time even be an enhancement -- if anyone teaches the teachers how to use it.

        If ALL Walker was up to was avoiding Common Core ... there would be no problem.

        And if ditching Common Core altogether would frustrate  Scott Walker from concentrating power, breaking unions, and "reforming education" in BushCo-like ways ... it would be a small price to pay.

        But embracing Common Core because Gov. Walker is such a  REDACTED  REDACTED ...

        Better give some thought to the possibility that Walker and Co. are capable of cooking up TWO kinds of mischief at the same time.

        1) Control the school system
        2) Control the curriculum.

        One is bad, the other is worse.  

        •  Not buying it (0+ / 0-)

          I'm sure Common Core could be misused. In fact, my blog post is all about how Walker is trying to do that to do just that. But I don't think Wisconsin School Supt. Tony Evers is at all about union busting or screwing teachers. There's always a chance that bad people will distort and contort well-intentioned programs (and Common Core is a program, not a law). If your state has poor educational managers, they might well be up to mischief. Wisconsin's aren't, which is why Walker is going to do "their" work for them. At least that's my view of the matter.

      •  Ever hear of B're Rabbit and Briar Patch " ? (0+ / 0-)

        Common Core is not BY ITSELF a way to break unions ...   it's just one sharp tool in the toolbox used toward that end.  Without high-stakes testing of students to determine teacher adequacy it is, at worst, just another educational "good idea" like "New Math" and "Open Classrooms."  It may, in time even be an enhancement -- if anyone teaches the teachers how to use it.

        If ALL Walker was up to was avoiding Common Core ... there would be no problem.

        And if ditching Common Core altogether would frustrate  Scott Walker from concentrating power, breaking unions, and "reforming education" in BushCo-like ways ... it would be a small price to pay.

        But embracing Common Core because Gov. Walker is such a  REDACTED  REDACTED ...

        Better give some thought to the possibility that Walker and Co. are capable of cooking up TWO kinds of mischief at the same time.

        1) Control the school system
        2) Control the curriculum.

        One is bad, the other is worse.  

  •  You speak far too highly of Common Core (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JanL, rduran, I Lurked For Years

    I recognize this piece was about Scott Walker. I don't want to derail it with a discussion of + or - 's of common core.

    There are no pluses. There are too many minuses.  I, hater of Scott Walker, would even support him if he got rid of Common Core. That is how odious that program is.

    There are many misrepresentations in your description of it. I certainly am not being rude, because in truth, they mirror my impression of a year ago.

    But since then, looking into Common Core has opened my eyes.  It must be stopped at all costs, even if that means supporting Scott Walker.

    As I said, you force me to choose between the two worst evils on this planet.  Scott Walker is the lesser one...

    •  As I noted in the blog... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow

      ...I am quite skeptical of uniform student testing to prove academic progress, which only ends up driving school systems to force teachers to teach to the test. So don't think I'm a big Common Core fan. But neither do I think it's evil. It's a tool, and no doubt a flawed one. But instead of trying to reform it or replace it with something better, we're letting dudes like Walker define it as something that must be totally upended and repalced with more authoritarian decision making from politicians, rather than less. Walker is not the lesser evil. On that we may just have to disagree.

    •  As a teacher, I despise CC and was once an avid (0+ / 0-)

      supporter.  Would I support Walker on anything? Hell no. However, CC has been a disaster for many, many reasons and I hope it becomes a distant memory.  

  •  Couple of things: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    1. Look at how Indiana is undermining their elected Democratic Superintendent.

    2. There is so much wrong with Common Core from a Liberal side. I suggest you read Diane Ravitch

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 02:23:11 PM PST

    •  Lots wrong with Common Core (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Plantsmantx, madcitysailor

      But lots more wrong with conservative reaction, which is overbearing and opportunistic. Let's stick to the issue here. What would a REASONABLE public policy maker do about Common Core? And where were these dudes when the process to figure out implemention was underway? Waiting in the weeds to leap out with their weedwhackers, that's where. Nature abhors a vacuum, and politics does, too. Not to decide is to decide. If Common Core is flawed, citizens need to demand sensible alternatives, not kowtow to the destroyers who use it as lever to achieve other ends. Which, indeed, was the point of my blog.

      Again, this blog post should be read as a cautionary tale. If you dislike Common Core, don't wait for the extremists to fix it for you; they'll claim that is what they're doing, but don't accept that claim at face value, no matter how sugary sweet they make their efforts sound.

      •  When it comes to Common Core, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mike Kahlow

        I fight with the Badass Teacher Association.

        Look us up.

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

        by zenbassoon on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 03:09:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nice web site! (0+ / 0-)

          Teachers these days get little respect or input on what's ailing education, when they're the ones on the front line. I tend to regard come-and-go, policy-du-jour type programs like No Child Left Behind and Common Core as ways to look like someone is reformist without having to spend any real resources to address the real problems.

          But Walker and his crowd are still the real bad asses, and not in the good sense, like your group. ;)

        •  Wow! (0+ / 0-)


          Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

          by Mike Kahlow on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 07:56:04 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I am happy to recommend Diane Ravitch (0+ / 0-) anyone seriously concerned not only about public education but American democracy in general. Her blogs on Common Core can be found at

      I'd also like to use this space to skin back my snarky comment in the blog post about the Walker law possibly being written by ALEC. If you search on ALEC along with Common Core, what you'll find is that this ultra-conservative, anti-democracy group originally drafted anti-Common Core legislation but then had a big internal fight lasting several years over whether to support or fight Common Core. It's a complicated issue, at least for ALEC, because (from what I am able to tell) it perfectly bissected the inherent contradiction between ALEC's mission of promoting authoritarianism and its suspicion of big government. Useful lessons. Take notes, because there may be a quiz later in the semester. In any event, apparently Scott Walker decided ALEC wasn't being strident enough and chose to take his usual "bold" approach to fixing things in Wisconsin -- precisely not by empowering teachers or local schools but by disempowering them some more.

  •  Funny, Fitzgerald said in December (0+ / 0-)

    that he would not bring these up in the Senate. I wonder what changed his mind.  

  •  Could be the wolf knocking on their door (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JanL, Jollie Ollie Orange

    Thus they're hurrying to implement every manner of bad public policy they can, as soon as possible, before Walker and their majorities evaporate. Of course, they've always been in a hurry. Anyway, there's no accounting for the situational ethics of politicians like Fitzgerald.

  •  Both ALEC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mike Kahlow

    and the Republican Governor's Association supported Common Core until...

    •  That's an important point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mike Kahlow, Plantsmantx

      Besides condensing government, these guys are all about constantly revising history, setting up straw men and red herrings and then abruptly shifting their story lines. Common Core arguably was very much like health care reform in that conservatives thought of it, pushed it, made it sound reasonable and won bipartisan support. At which point, the red brigades begin pulling the rug out from under. It's the "Overton window" idea of constantly moving a narrow field of vision with respect to public policy. Or, in terms of retail salesmanship: Bait and switch.

  •  Thanks for the diary rlegro! (2+ / 0-)

    Whatever one may think about Common Core, it was developed nationally with input from a broad range of constituencies. As a college faculty member, at least I know what students were expected to learn.

    As you point out, the current bill not only guts Common Core but strips the State Superintendent and the DPI of power and gives that power to the governor and the legislature - neither of which I trust no matter who holds power.

    Screw John Galt. Who's John Doe?

    by Mike Kahlow on Thu Feb 20, 2014 at 07:53:47 PM PST

    •  Minor update (0+ / 0-)

      My own dislike of Common Core is with how it transforms test scores into a measure to be used in teacher evaluation. Dumb. But that would be like a spring breeze compared to Walker's alternative, which is sly, snarky and seditious.

      The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this morning reported that the governor's office wrote the proposed bill, and started in on it even before he casually mentioned the possibility of a far weaker bill of the same sort in that speech. Which doesn't mean he didn't get the idea from ALEC, which is my own supposition. We'll find out when and if other governors try similar stunts.

  •  A postscript (0+ / 0-)

    I forgot to mention how ironic it is that while tea partiers are really upset that (and they're fantasizing, here) Common Core might be a stealth attempt by Barack Obama to grab more power, their solution in Wisconsin -- promoted by the state's chief tea party dude and presidential wannabe Scott Walker -- is to grab more power for themselves. And the difference would be....?

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