Assembly to vote on Common Core bills next year

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • December 24, 2013 - 12:10 PM

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin state Assembly plans to vote in February on bills designed to protect student privacy, ban the collection of biometric data including fingerprints and retinal scans, and require public input and review of academic standards.

Whether to keep, repeal or revise the Common Core academic standards — which cover math and English — has been a growing political fight in Wisconsin. Tea party conservatives have urged Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans to scrap them, but supporters say schools are largely supportive of the new standards and say they are more rigorous than those they replaced.

Two legislative task forces created to study the standards issued a series of recommendations earlier this month, but stopped short of calling for repeal. While critical of the standards, Walker and legislative leaders also haven't shown a desire to do away with them.

That hasn't stopped the most ardent opponents, including Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, from continuing to push for the Legislature to undo them.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in an interview last week, said several aspects of how the current standards were adopted frustrate him, but that he does not support repealing the standards and starting over.

"I don't view Common Core as the be-all end-all and I also don't view it as this threat to democracy," Vos said. He said Republican-sponsored bills that came out of the task force's recommendations will be voted on in February.

It's unclear whether any of them will pass in the Senate.

"We are a ways away from reaching consensus on what we are going to tackle," said Dan Romportl, spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

One of the Assembly bills would require a review of the standards every six years. The state Department of Public Instruction would also be charged with creating model academic standards "that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution and Wisconsin Constitution" in regular and advanced math, English, science, social studies and the arts.

Public hearings would be required in each of the state's eight congressional districts. DPI would also have to appoint an advisory panel that includes parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, business officials and others.

That proposal is similar to an idea raised in the report by a Senate task force that studied the standards. Its report suggested that the state create a board to review English, math, social studies and science standards every six years.

The chairman of that Senate committee, Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Village of Pewaukee, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Another Assembly bill would prohibit the collecting of any biometric data, including scans of a student's pupil, fingerprints, or hand or palm geometry. The standards do not require the taking of biometric data, but bill backers have said that because of rapidly evolving technology they need to take action now before abuses occur.

"Sometimes you want to try and address problems before they happen," Vos said.

Democrats accuse Republicans of needlessly generating fear over a false concern.

A third bill focused on protecting student privacy directs DPI to annually post on its website a comprehensive list of every distinct type of data that it collects on individual students and the reason for its collection. The bill would also prohibit DPI from providing such data to any federal agency.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesman Patrick Gasper said the bills needed to be reviewed before anyone could comment, but he reiterated support for the current standards and the process used to implement them.

"Wisconsin school leaders agree, the Common Core set a much higher bar for what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and career," Gasper said in an email. "Higher standards and better tests lead to improved instruction by educators, more information for parents, and provide greater opportunities for all students."

The voluntary standards, adopted in 2010, offer guidelines on what students should know in English and math, but local districts are free to adopt any curriculum they choose. Districts can also enact their own standards, but state tests that go into effect next fall will be tied to the statewide standards. Results of those tests will go on report cards that serve as a measuring stick for how well individual schools and districts are performing.

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