Knudson cautions against Common Core misinformation
On the heels of being named to an Assembly Select Committee on Common Core Standards, State Rep. Dean Knudson told a group of constituents at North Hudson that they shouldn’t automatically believe all they hear about the standards.
“I would almost bet you that not everything you’ve heard or read about it is actually in the Common Core,” the Republican from Hudson said.
He was responding to claims about the educational standards that have been circulating in some conservative circles. Among the criticisms that have been voiced are that the standards amount to a federal takeover of education, that they aren’t rigorous enough, and that they will require schools to use materials and teach things that are inappropriate.
When asked what he wants to learn as vice chair of the investigating committee, Knudson began with a review of how the standards came into being.
The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, who were responding to calls in the business community for schools to better prepare students for college and the workplace.
Tony Evers, state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, committed Wisconsin to the Common Core Standards by executive order in 2010, Knudson said.
He added that Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t done anything to change the standards.
The standards adopted to date are for math and reading and language arts.
Knudson co-authored a provision in the 2013-15 state budget that required hearings on the Common Core Standards, and blocked the implementation of social studies and science standards without legislative approval.
The first public hearing on the standards is set for Thursday, Oct. 3, at the State Capitol in Madison.
Knudson said one of the questions he wants answered is whether the Common Core Standards are or more or less rigorous than the educational standards the state’s schools have been operating under.
He said his sister is a school administrator in Minnesota, and students in her district did poorly when tested against the Common Core Standards.
Knudson said some teachers in the Hudson School District are “kind of worried” about the new standards, because they think they are more challenging.
Meanwhile, opponents of the standards say they amount to a dumbing down of math education.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this in this committee, because those two things can’t both be right,” Knudson said.
The debate over the standards isn’t really partisan, he said, there are proponents and opponents of Common Core from both parties.
The assemblyman said that Common Core doesn’t dictate curriculum or how to teach a subject, but is a set of expectations for students to be able to do certain things by certain grades.
“Almost anything that goes on, people will say it’s that Common Core again,” he said. “Nope. Not always. Sometimes it is just things that are going on in education.”
Knudson said the standards, particularly for math, aren’t a “terribly long read.” He encouraged people who are worried about them to read them.
The U.S. Department of Education raised concern when it declared that federal education funding would only go to states that have adequate college and career readiness standards, and then said Common Core was the only set of adequate standards it was aware of, according to Knudson.
“I think that having kind of a national framework that each state tweaks to do what they want to do isn’t necessarily bad,” he said. “But here’s what I want to preserve. We are a local control state for curriculum. That needs to stay. That means individual school boards determine the curriculum. End of story. That needs to stay.”
He said Wisconsin was one of a handful of states that adopted the Common Core for math and language arts without any modification. He said he wants to know if changes are needed, and if they can still be implemented.
He said the Assembly committee also will be investigating the cost of moving to the new standards, noting, “Our districts have spent a lot of money moving to Common Core.”
Knudson voiced support for the new statewide test that will replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
The old test didn’t tell educators much about a student’s level of achievement, other than whether he or she could perform to a certain grade level, he said.
He said the new computerized test will adjust to students’ answers, asking easier or more difficult questions to find out exactly what grade level the student is at.
“I think we’ve taken steps to move toward a better test,” he said. “I’m really a believer in these new tests.”
Barb Arnst of rural New Richmond, a resident of the 30th Assembly District that Knudson serves, voiced opposition to a proposed iron ore mine near Lake Superior in Ashland and Iron counties.
Arnst said it would be the largest taconite mine in the world if it is approved and asked what impact it would have on the watershed. She also asked Knudson if he had been to the site.
“I would encourage you to go up and visit. It is unbelievably beautiful,” Arnst said.
Knudson said one of the largest veins of iron ore in the world extends across Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and into Upper Michigan – but Wisconsin hasn’t had active iron ore mining for years.
The new mining law approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Walker requires the state to respond to applications for new mines within a given period of time, but didn’t change environmental standards, Knudson said.
“They will have a very difficult time getting approval up there,” he said of Gogebic Taconite, the company that wants to open the 4.5-mile-long and one-mile-wide open pit mine.
He said the company will need to gain approval from not only the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He indicated that the land has additional protection because it is part of the territory ceded by Ojibwe Indians to the U.S. government in the 19th century.
“We all want to protect the environment, but I think we can have jobs and protect the environment at the same time,” Knudson said.
“I don’t have faith in the process,” Arnst told Knudson. She said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who was appointed by Gov. Walker, doesn’t have an environmental background and favors business interests over protecting the environment.
Celeste Koeberl of Hudson asked Knudson to oppose Senate Bill 302, which would bar the state from considering the cumulative impact of wells in an area when reviewing applications for high-capacity wells.
“I can see both sides of that issue. It is a tough one. We need to find a balance,” Knudson said.
He said that as an owner of lakeshore property, he’s sensitive to concerns about lakes, streams and wells drying up. He told Koeberl he would carefully study the bill.
“I’m kind of open to your position on it,” he said.
A male constituent wanted to know when Wisconsin’s voter ID law, currently held up in court, would go into effect.
“I don’t think the bill we passed will make it through the legal process. We need to change it,” Knudson said.
He said the problem with Wisconsin’s law is that it doesn’t have a remedy for the extremely small percentage of people who don’t have the documentation to prove they are citizens.
He said a legislative fix would be simple, and that the Legislature should do it.
Knudson took an hour and 45 minutes to answer questions and listen to constituents’ comments, even though the listening session was scheduled to last just an hour.
Among those in attendance were St. Croix County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer, North Hudson Village President Stan Wekkin and County Supervisor Tim Hood.