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John Humphries, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Campaign website photo John Humphries, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Campaign website photo

John Humphries, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Campaign website photo

By Dave Umhoefer February 15, 2017

Humphries changed course on Common Core standards

Two candidates in the Feb. 21, 2017 primary election for state superintendent of public instruction are in a race to replace.

Replace the Common Core academic standards, that is.

Their stances have earned Lowell Holtz and John Humphries the label of "flip floppers" from the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.

We decided to turn to the Flip-O-Meter to determine if the challengers to incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers -- a Common Core supporter -- merit that label.

Adopted by many states, the kindergarten-to-12th grade standards were designed as a rigorous national effort that would base teaching on college and job-world needs and allow comparison of U.S. students to their international counterparts.

In Wisconsin most school districts, if not all, have adopted Common Core as the standards for English and math, said Thomas McCarthy, spokesman for the state Department of Public Instruction.

The Flip-O-Meter, of course, does not rate whether it’s good policy or politics to switch a position. It simply measures consistency in positions over time.

Some argue a change demonstrates an openness to new facts or a willingness to compromise. Others say it is evidence of inconsistent principles or lack of backbone.

So, where does Humphries stand?

Humphries then

Before the election, Humphries’ views on Common Core can be found in letters he wrote on behalf of the Wisconsin School Psychologists Association. He was president-elect.

It’s an imperfect source because the communications don’t necessarily represent his personal views. But he personalized one of the letters using his own experience and has not said he disagreed with their content.

In October 2013, the group praised Common Core to a task force considering implementation of the standards.

The "higher, better" standards were developed with a broad coalition and should go into effect quickly, the letter said.

"There is broad agreement on the positive impact they have had already. I have seen firsthand the significant, positive impact these new standards have had on our work in schools," Humphries wrote.

Humphries told the task force that he was a school psychology consultant for the state Department of Public Instruction before returning to the schools in 2011, working in Dodgeville as a school psychologist and director of special education and pupil services.

The Common Core has required educators to refocus their efforts, he wrote:

"In Dodgeville for example, our staff spent hundreds of hours this summer re-working our curricula in order to align with the new, higher standards."

The letter offered some specific criticisms of Common Core, but said it should be the "baseline" for any new standards.

In March 2014, Humphries and two other officials with the group expressed concerns about proposed state legislation to dump Common Core and start from scratch to develop new standards.

New standards could be less rigorous and take Wisconsin out of the national conversation on educational outcomes, the letter warned, because more time and national expertise would be needed if Wisconsin started over.

Rather, the authors wrote, the state should improve and clarify some areas of Common Core, then provide money to put the "Wisconsin Common Core Extension Standards" into effect.

Humphries now

Jump ahead to February 2017.

On the campaign trail, Humphries said he wanted to "replace" Common Core.

The standards, he said, are too weak. Instead, the state should take two years to develop new standards with state and national expertise.

Good intentions have frequently turned to poor implementation, inadequate communication, and too many decisions being taken away from parents and educators by state and federal politicians, Humphries said in a campaign news release in February 2017.

Humphries’ praise of Common Core had been criticized by some conservatives, and his rollout of a "repeal" was greeted skeptically Feb. 2, 2017 by talk show host Jerry Bader in an appearance on that show.

On that show, Humphries said he disagreed that the 2013-’14 letters were supportive of Common Core.

Our rating

It’s tempting to call this a Half Flip given that the 2013-14 correspondence wasn’t entirely praiseworthy of Common Core. And there’s the problem that Humphries was speaking for hundreds of psychologists, not just himself.

But in our view Humphries downplays and miscasts those letters instead of distancing himself from the positions expressed.

And the contrast is vivid: Common Core was strong, now it’s too weak. Common Core is needed right away, now we can wait two years. Common Core should be the baseline, now it should be dumped.

That’s a major reversal. And a Full Flop.

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Politifact rating logo Politifact Rating:
On using the Common Core standards for English and math instruction
John Humphries
Wisconsin state school superintendent candidate
Campaign statement
Thursday, February 2, 2017

Our Sources

Interview with Tom McCarthy, spokesman, Department of Public Instruction, Feb. 10, 2017

Interview with Brian Schupper, Humphries campaign manager, Feb. 13, 2017

Jerry Bader Show, podcast, Feb. 2, 2017

Humphries campaign proposal, "Humphries Plan for Improved Standards in Wisconsin," Feb. 2, 2017

Humphries campaign press release, "Humphries Calls for Stronger Standards to Replace Common Core," Feb. 2, 2017

Wisconsin School Psychologists Association, Testimony on Common Core State Standards,  October 23, 2013

Wisconsin School Psychologists Association, Testimony on SB-619 (page 163), March 6, 2014

One Wisconsin Now, press release, Jan. 30, 2017

One Wisconsin Now, press release, Feb. 10, 2017

PolitiFact Wisconsin Flip-O-Meter item on Gov. Scott Walker, Jan. 16, 2015

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Truth-O-Meter item on Sondy Pope claim, Oct. 24, 2013


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Dave Umhoefer

Humphries changed course on Common Core standards

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