Wisconsin, Like All States, Has Always Been In Control of Its Standards


Next month, Wisconsin voters will choose whether they want to keep their current Education Superintendent Tony Evers at the helm or elect a newcomer, Dr. Lowell Holtz, to lead the Department. Evers and Holtz recently debated one another on a local news program where Holtz implied that Wisconsin’s Academic Standards were a mandatory “federal intrusion” and he believes the state “had no choice” but to implement them, according to Madison’s Cap Times.

However, enacted in December 2015 with bipartisan support, ESSA was specifically designed to give control over education policy back to state and local officials. States have already taken ownership of their education standards, reviewing them and making adjustments to meet their students’ needs.

Since that time, Wisconsin teachers and parents nationwide have defended the use of high, comparable standards and Wisconsin has reaffirmed its support for them.

Candidate Holtz’s argument that the Wisconsin Academic Standards were part of some sort of federal mandate is a tired political move. That theory has been debunked over and over.  In fact, Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in the past that under the Common Core, “the curriculum and teaching methods are decided locally.”

The federal government played no role in the development of Common Core State Standards. Recognizing the old patchwork of education standards often left big discrepancies in classroom expectations, experts and educators from 49 states and territories began to develop a set of learning goals that would serve as a baseline for student achievement.

These efforts produced a shared set of expectations that states and districts could use to accelerate adoption of high standards and continue to build on. States voluntarily adopted rigorous, consistent standards – and nearly all continue to tailor and build on them further to ensure their students’ needs are met

If Dr. Holtz won’t accept those facts, he should take some comfort in Congress’ passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA specifically forbids Washington from either encouraging or discouraging states to adopt specific learning goals or assessments. In fact, the law requires states to develop plans to show full ownership of their standards and accountability systems.  ESSA gives state and local leaders all the opportunity to step up and ensure their students’ needs are met.

Should Dr. Holtz be chosen as Wisconsin’s next education superintendent, we are hopeful he will follow the path of Secretary DeVos and the states that are moving on from the old “federal mandate” myth to earn political points.  Instead of a wild goose chase to repeal non-existent “federal” standards, he should be focused on finding ways to raise classroom expectations even higher to prepare young people for the demands of college and careers.  High, comparable standards can meet that objective.