When the issue of Common Core State Standards came to the surface a year or so ago, like many other Wisconsin citizens, I wondered how it had happened that state academic standards had been adopted and basically no one knew about it.
However, the more we looked into the Common Core State Standards issue, the more I came to realize the reason this happened and no one was aware is that almost universally we do not pay attention to local government. We just don’t, especially not school boards. People tend to think local government is bland, unexciting and kind of takes care of itself. That’s wrong! They think the big evils and most exciting areas are, in this order, federal government and then state government.
To be blunt, the more remote the level of government, the less impact and influence we have as individual citizens. The closer the level of government, the greater our impact and influence—of course, that assumes we are informed and actually involved.
I’ve talked to a lot of people about Common Core State Standards in this state. Most of them are furious at Tony Evers as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They’re furious at the entire Department of Public Instruction, and the state legislature. They are demanding swift and sweeping action, and quite honestly I’m not sure they are going to get what they want.
What I do know is if all of us took an interest in our school boards and the people we elect to represent us on those school boards much of the furor over Common Core State Standards would have likely been avoided.
What many Wisconsin citizens do not know is that the state law requires that every school district in this state must adopt academic standards, but the law does not stipulate which standards a district adopts. That’s all about local control. Not one of our 426 Wisconsin school districts was forced to adopt Common Core State Standards, even though Tony Evers adopted them at the state level.
Having served on a Wisconsin school board for five years, I can say with authority that any standards considered by any school district must be approved by the school board. Had citizens been engaged with their elected members of their school boards, they would have known that the districts were in the process of adopting new academic standards. They could have attended curriculum committee meetings, meetings of the full school board, made calls to individual school board members, met with the district superintendent, and organized their community to action—all at the local level. I can almost guarantee you that we would be in a different situation right now regarding Common Core State Standards in many school districts across the state had that happened.
So, what can you do to change this situation? School boards and all local government offices are elected in the spring. The deadline for filing to run for these offices in 2014 is Monday, January 6, 2014. Perhaps you are qualified to run for a seat on your school board. Or perhaps you know someone who is qualified to run. Look, if we want different outcomes from our government—at all levels—we have to get different people elected, people whose worldviews, belief systems, and values are more like ours. Until and unless we do, we are going to get more of the same. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
I’ve said for years, we need to recruit out of the pews of our churches. If we can’t find qualified and willing candidates for school boards, city councils, town and village boards, and county boards out of our churches, then where, pray tell, will we find them? It’s time, in fact it’s past time, that we figure this out. At a minimum, you need to make up your mind that you will be a committee of one, if it comes to that, to read school board minutes, go to the meetings, get acquainted with school board members and district administrators, and then recruit others to join you.
We’re too often directing our frustration at the wrong place and at the wrong time when it comes to government. This Common Core State Standards issue is a perfect example of that. We missed a golden opportunity to really exercise local control. Look, you are a taxpayer, a citizen, a Christian. You have a responsibility to be involved. Do it. Don’t wait for someone else. You be the one. When we individually do this, we will become true difference makers right where we live. Until then, others will make a difference—and we probably won’t like the difference they are making.