Eau Claire Leader Telegram, July 21
No subject exempt from political arena
It's ironic that Republicans in an election year are practically tripping over themselves in their zeal to scrub the Common Core academic standards that almost every state adopted before the political pushback began.
The irony is that these standards were implemented in the first place to address a major problem under former Republican President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law from 2001, which ushered in the era of standards-based student testing.
Under that law, states were allowed to determine their own bar for proficiency on state standardized achievement tests. Some states set the bar high. Others, like Wisconsin, set the bar low.
Common Core is the effort to establish nationwide standards so states can't use soft benchmarks to make every student, teacher and school appear to be above average. These standards also help ensure that students in Florida are learning the same things at the same progression as students in Wisconsin or Idaho.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Indiana, the first state to repeal Common Core in favor of their own standards, came back with their own set of standards that read ... almost exactly like Common Core.
If Walker and so many others dislike Common Core, wouldn't it be more appropriate to specify their concerns and perhaps appoint a panel of experts to see if they could develop something better, then let the public and their legislators decide if their work is any better (or different) than the national standards?
Here are three Common Core reading and language arts standards fifth-graders should know:
1. How to use a dictionary and other reference materials.
2. Ability to identify the main ideas and supporting details in a text.
3. Ability to cite evidence to support an answer.
These sound pretty reasonable. How individual states and local school districts achieve these and other Common Core standards is up to them.
This smells like election-year politics in which Walker and other Republicans are betting that Common Core and anything else tied to Washington in general and President Barack Obama in particular is poison.
Republicans could repeal Common Core tomorrow because they control both houses of the Legislature, but at least one Republican Assemblyman isn't on board.
"The idea that they'd just be able to replace the standards at the beginning of the legislative session is absurd," Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, told the Journal Sentinel. "We're in an election season. People desperate to be re-elected will say anything."
Sounds like Kestell hit the nail on the head.
We've politicized everything else; why be shocked that academic standards are any different?
Sheboygan Press, July 23
Trek ad could have lasting impact
The controversial "Trek" television ad from the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker likely won't be the last — or even the loudest — salvo in his race for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke. It is, however, proving to have some staying power as accusations continue to fly.
The 30-second ad says Trek Bicycle Corp. sends jobs overseas and accuses Burke, a former company executive, of becoming rich on the backs of poorly paid foreign workers, including children. In Walker's ad, a woman reads a storybook to two children about jobs being shipped to China and that some workers in that country earn only $2 an hour.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your fortune grow? By making millions of dollars sending jobs overseas that could have been done in Wisconsin," the ad says.
Burke and her campaign shot back, accusing Walker of trashing a highly respected Wisconsin company and displaying an alarming lack of understanding of how the global marketplace works.
Walker says Trek has not denied outsourcing jobs to foreign countries.
Burke counters that Trek, the world's second-largest bicycle maker, employs many people in Wisconsin and that Walker is using the outsourcing issue to score political points.
About 1,000 of the company's 1,800 workers are employed at three facilities in the state, including its headquarters in Waterloo, according to 2011 figures. Company President John Burke, Mary Burke's brother, said the company does not employ children at any of its facilities, and pays prevailing wages at its overseas plants in China, Germany and Holland.
A new Marquette University Law School poll to be released today is expected to show a close race continuing between Walker and Burke. A similar poll in May showed the candidates about even among likely voters.
The poll results make it likely that neither candidate will back down on this particular ad, nor the key campaign issue it portends — jobs.
There is a strange twist in all of this back-and-forth about the Trek ad. Outsourcing is generally an issue Democrats use to bolster their union support and criticize Republican opponents seen as overly friendly to business interests. Walker is walking in dangerous territory now that the shoe is — at least temporarily — on the other foot.
We have seen in the past, however, that Walker is not afraid to take a controversial, calculated position. His promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs during his first term in office continues to haunt him. Job indices put the actual number of jobs created at various levels but all below the promised figure.
That has not deterred the ever optimistic Walker from claiming that his agenda has moved Wisconsin forward in the jobs sphere.
It is difficult to determine whether his criticism of Burke — and by extension Trek Bicycle Corp. — will hurt or help his re-election attempt. A long ride remains for each candidate between now and the November election, and other controversies likely will intervene.
One thing is certain. Jobs and the economy will continue to be the major issues leading up to November. How each candidate chooses to portray that issue and its significance to the people of Wisconsin will go a long way in determining who will get a better response among state voters.
Appleton Post-Crescent, July 24
Ban e-cigarettes from indoor workplaces
There's a lot we don't know about electronic cigarettes. There's even a lot the Food and Drug Administration doesn't know about them.
The FDA has proposed regulations that would set an age limit for buying them and require them to have a warning label about nicotine addiction. The agency also has done a study that found half of the e-cigarettes tested contained cancer-causing substances.
Here in Wisconsin, we have a ban on selling them to minors, enacted in 2012. The state also has an indoor workplace ban on tobacco cigarettes — and a question about whether it should include e-cigarettes.
Based on what we know about them — and more on what we don't know about them — the ban should be expanded to include e-cigarettes.
Billed as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes, especially for those trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are devices that have a battery and an atomizer. They heat liquid that's infused with nicotine and users inhale the vapors.
What's in them varies — and ingredients aren't required on their labels. So, whether those ingredients are harmful to users is a mystery.
That's a problem for users but — like using tobacco or many other harmful but legal substances — the user's choice.
But what kinds of vapors are released into the air around users — call it second-hand vapor — is a public problem. And that's just as much of a mystery.
As Wendy Vander Zanden, executive director of Community Action for Healthy Living, told Post-Crescent Media, "We don't know what people are being exposed to. It's probably cleaner (than cigarette smoke), but when we compare it to clean air, there's a huge difference."
Just as tobacco smokers have a right to smoke, but are prohibited from doing so inside indoor workplaces because of the harmful effects to others, e-cigarette users should face the same restriction for the same reason.
In this case, given what we do and don't know, it's better to ban them from indoor workplaces until we find out whether they're safe for those who are around users.
And, as in the case with the statewide smoking ban, it can start with communities enacting their own bans.