The Wisconsin State Teachers of the Year Network has a classroom perspective on the current debate regarding Common Core State Standards. For us, this is neither a political issue nor a union issue. Our view is based on our students’ needs.
These higher standards will allow our students to be college and career ready. It is not an attempt to pack our students’ minds with an authoritative list of facts brought down from the mountaintop. Instead, it demands that our students be able to read a complex text and understand it. It demands that our students learn to understand a problem and then use the skills necessary to solve it.
The Common Core is a nonpartisan, grass-roots effort by a wide collection of state educators, state superintendents and governors. We see this as an attempt to strengthen public education — the foundation of our democracy, economy and security.
For several years now, we have studied Common Core State Standards and test driven them in our classrooms, and we believe it holds our students to a higher standard compared to the standards of the past. We embrace the fact that for the first time in our state’s history, Wisconsin students will be held accountable to clear and consistent standards from grades K through 12.
This push to improve public education is not new. In fact, the most recent shift goes back to 1983, when President Ronald Reagan commissioned a report known as “Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” That watershed report fueled the growing sense that education in America was declining. The findings touched off a wave of local, state and federal reform efforts that sparked the current movement.
The drive continued in 2002, when President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, the first nationwide effort to support “standards-based education.” The idea was for states to set high standards, establish an annual assessment, and hold schools responsible for their students’ success. NCLB brought a new era of accountability, particularly in reading, writing and math.
While the NCLB goal of improving student achievement was admirable, it failed miserably across the nation, including Wisconsin. Instead of raising the bar, many states lowered their standards. They gamed the system and failed our students. The poster child for this failure was Mississippi.
Ninety percent of Mississippi students in fourth grade were considered proficient in reading after the 2006-2007 school year. That meant their schools were the best in the nation. There was one problem: When Mississippi parents asked, “How is my child doing?” and they were told, “He’s right where he needs to be,” that was a lie.
When Mississippi students were judged on a nationally normed test (National Assessment of Educational Progress), those incredible test scores didn’t drop, they crashed. Only 19 percent of Mississippi fourth-graders were proficient in reading that same year. Don’t think for a moment that this was solely a Mississippi problem. We use Mississippi’s data because it is so dramatic.
The Common Core State Standards allow our students to compete with those overseas. That’s the first step in improving our state’s education system, since our students are now competing with graduates in China, Germany and Brazil. Because the standards of the past cannot be compared with those of our foreign competitors, Wisconsin’s test scores will drop. This is not a problem we should run away from; this is a problem we should embrace. Our state has never been afraid of facing the major problems of the day. Why would we now? We will know for the first time how our students rate with those in South Carolina and South Korea.
In a collaborative spirit, with ample opportunity for public comment, the Common Core framework for high academic and realistic standards was developed. In an era of political divisiveness where gridlock is the status quo, collaboration should be applauded. We should anticipate growing pains as existing standards are phased out. However, what we should not tolerate is political saber-rattling and delays that undermine the work being done to improve education for all Wisconsin students.
As strong and vocal advocates for public education, we take heart that more than 45 states and territories have agreed to adopt a system that ensures that children in Wisconsin are held to demanding and consistent standards. As state teachers of the year who have been recognized for excellence and innovation in the classroom, we gladly accept the framework the Common Core offers. We need the assurance that all students, whether in rural, suburban or urban classrooms, are held to the same high expectations.
In the words of one of our students, “Those standards make sense. When I moved here from my old town, I spent the first year relearning everything I learned the year before. It was a waste.” Her “old town” was just 15 miles down the road. In a fast-moving, globally competitive world, we cannot afford to waste our children’s time.
Implementation of the Common Core is movement in the right direction. By coming together and having a rigorous and relevant education, we will secure our children’s and our state’s future in an ever-changing world.
The Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Network is a network of past and present Teachers of the Year who have received statewide recognition, through the Department of Public Instruction, for leadership, innovation, and for our contributions to the students of Wisconsin.
Linda Bergh - Special Services Teacher of the Year, 2013 - DeForest School District
Claudia Felske - High School Teacher of the Year 2011 - East Troy Community Schools
Carl Hadar - High School Teacher of the Year, 2007 - Grafton School District
Marsha Herman - Elementary Teacher of the Year, 2012 - Sun Prairie Area School District
Terry Kaldhusdal - Elementary Teacher of the Year, 2007 - Kettle Moraine School District
Sandra Kowalczyk - Middle/Junior Teacher of the Year, 2009 - Sun Prairie Area School District
Leah Lechleiter-Luke - High School Teacher of the Year, 2010 - Mauston School District
JoAnn Miller - High School Teacher of the Year, 2013 - Oconto Falls School District
Beth Oswald - Middle/Junior Teacher of the Year, 2008 - Evansville Community School District
Rachel Rydzewski - Middle/Junior Teacher of the Year, 2010 - Waunakee School District
Mary Tierney-Ley - Elementary Teacher of the Year, 2008 - Rosholt School District
Amy Traynor - Middle/Junior Teacher of the Year, 2013 - Eau Claire Area School District
Peggy Wuenstel - Special Services Teacher of the Year, 2011- Whitewater Unified School District
Kay Lynne Zastrow - Special Services Teacher of the Year, 2010 - Green Bay Area School District