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September 17, 2015 - Walker Administration Set to Impose 10-year Common Core Sentence on Wisconsin

Common Core got little airplay during last night's second Republican presidential primary debate. However, further troubling news on that very subject and related to one of the candidates standing near center stage broke yesterday.

In an article released yesterday on the Stop Common Core in Wisconsin website, education activist Jeffrey D. Horn took a deep dive into his state's recent acceptance of a bid to develop new standardized assessments. Governor Walker defunded Wisconsin’s participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) via the 2015-2017 state biennial budget he signed in July. However, the new “Wisconsin Forward Assessments” will remain Common Core-aligned.

The winner of the Wisconsin contract is Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), a Minnesota-based company with a branch office in Madison. While most people aren’t familiar with the company, DRC was in on the ground floor of designing Common Core assessments. In fact, along with the American Institutes for research (AIR) and other major players, DRC formed part of the team contracted by SBAC. Wisconsin, then, has essentially swapped SBAC for an SBAC partner/contractor.

The contract award—estimated to be worth $63 million—should cause additional concern, however, in light of the fact that it exudes an odor of corruption.

DRC’s CEO, Susan Engeleiter, is a former Wisconsin Republican state legislator. On its own, this information might raise only a few mild eyebrows; but those eyebrows should rise higher in light of the fact that, just like the disastrous contract with the Educational Testing Service under SBAC, the DRC contract will reportedly cover a 10-year period.

Another 10-year contract? 

…with a contractor for the consortium that Wisconsin just jettisoned because its assessments were such a trainwreck that large portions of those measures couldn’t even be administered?

…a company for whose independent efforts on Wisconsin’s behalf there is not yet any record of success?

…a company, incidentally, that is known to be struggling financially

Alarm bells are likewise tripped when one begins to follow money trails.

On this front, Horn draws attention to recent investigative work done by a blogger at the DailyKos--work that Horn personally took time to verify. The research, which does indeed check out, provides evidence of:

  1. large donations by DRC CEO Engeleiter and close family members to Walker campaign funds and conduits;
  2. both direct and familial connections on the part of Engeleiter to the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation, which is closely tied to the Walker-created, “quasi-private,” and scandal-ridden Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC); and
  3. substantial public funds awarded by the State of Wisconsin to businesses and organizations in which Engeleiter and/or members of her family have a direct financial interest.

The Pulse, a new arm of the American Principles Project, recently released a report card that graded all 2016 Republican presidential candidates on the issue of Common Core. Despite his claims to have “repealed” the controversial initiative in Wisconsin via the 2015-2017 biennial budget, Governor Walker earned a disappointing grade of D+, having done little, on close analysis, to undermine, roll back, or remove the controversial initiative.

In an open letter hand-delivered to their governor and sent to newswires during budget negotiations in early July, nearly 60 Wisconsin-based education activists and organizational leaders from across the political spectrum enjoined him to stop playing games on Common Core. Noting that defunding language in the proposed budget stopped short of prohibiting the State of Wisconsin from adopting another Common Core-aligned assessment, the signatories expressed frustration that all signs pointed to the fact that the state was already, indeed, in the process of seeking aligned assessments. 

Not only have those activists’ concerns turned out to be accurate, Jeff Horn’s latest article raises serious questions as to whether the Walker administration may have left the budget language purposely loose, at least in part in order to reward its friends. Of course, the Department of Public Administration is denying that politicial contributions had anything to do with the selection. Although, it should be noted that DRC so far appears to be the only bidder whose CEO made donations not only to Walker but to the re-election campaign of Wisconsin State Superintendent Tony Evers. (If we should find evidence contrary to this observation, we'll make sure to update this post.)

For the moment, Walker seems to be sinking in the polls, though there’s plenty of time for a comeback. These latest concerns aside, we would advise anyone still considering a vote for him in the primary to look closely at his record in Wisconsin on education matters. It's increasingly clear that his history on Common Core, for instance--never mind School-to-Work--is poor. Like Chris Christie (D+), Walker's record on this front is, at best, indeed probably only marginally less bad than that of another current governor, Ohio's John Kasich (F), or  Jeb Bush (F), the former governor who's reputation in this domain is already so well known. 

Caveat emptor.

NOTE: For those tempted to hitch onto rising star and businesswoman Carly Fiorina (C+) in light of this week's debate, you have reason to be cautious as well. Her record is mixed, there's still a lot we don't know about her, and her grade could fall as more is learned.

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