Rick Hess and Mike McShane back in the spring wrote in the National Review Online that
At the end of March, Indiana became the first state to repeal the Common Core standards. The aftermath has not been pretty.
And they were right. Hess and McShane noted that
Critics have raised valid concerns but failed to put forward a notion of what happens next. This is a problem. Common Core adoption meant that Indiana schools set in place not only new reading and math standards but also new tests, curricula, instructional materials, and teaching strategies. And the abrupt shift could be a train wreck for students and educators.
Already back in 2011, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation and a few others had tried to map out a strategy for states to exit Common Core.
For some states it has proven difficult to figure out. Back in 2011 Burke laid out some sensible markers:
- Determine how the decision was made to cede the state’s standard-setting authority and use that discovery process to determine the best way to reverse course.
- Prohibit new spending for standards implementation.
But by the time the wave of “repeal and replace” legislation began with Indiana, much more granular “exit strategies” were possible. As Dr. Sandra Stotsky noted in a Breitbart blog, she had made available for free alternate, high-quality ELA standards and also advised state officials on the kind of robust public process that would more likely lead to world-class standards in Indiana. For political reasons that only Governor Pence might be able to explain, the state chose a rushed, Common Core-lite strategy. Stotsky provided more detail on the utter failure to develop higher quality state standards in pieces here, here, and elsewhere.
So what’s a state to do? Well, a lot has changed since Burke and others began thinking through how to repeal and replace the Core. Here are some facts:
- At this point, most states have already spent the dollars they received through Race to the Top (RttT) for Common Core implementation. In most cases the RttT funding for Common Core implementation (mainly for such things as professional development) was only a third to a fourth of the total RttT grant. In Massachusetts case, we received $250 million from the feds, but a lot of it went to districts with little definition, some went for implementation of federally influenced teacher evaluations, and some went for Common Core. Assuming between $75 million and $100 million went to Common Core in the Bay State, that only constituted a small fraction of the total cost to get to the place where the standards and tests can even be administered. A 2011 Pioneer study, which focused on the cost of textbooks, technology, assessments and professional development pegged the cost to the country at $16 billion and to Massachusetts alone at $355 million.
- Many states, including Florida, California and it seems Massachusetts, just to provide a few examples, have run up against technology costs that far exceed what state education officials implied or explicitly disclosed in the past. In Florida, two years ago when Tony Bennett was Commissioner of Education, there was much debate because of discussion of the need for an additional $400 million for technology alone. In Massachusetts, we are seeing overrides at the local level to pay for technology, and there have been quiet discussion about the possibility of using the state’s School Building Authority funding (which is for, ahem, buildings) to fund technology, which is an expense that can be capitalized. That conversation with the SBA has led nowhere to date. Thankfully.
- The Common Core-aligned “consortia” tests, PARCC and SBAC, have lost market share – and how! PARCC has gone from 25 participating states to 13 nominal states participating. I say nominal because Louisiana and other states that are chafing to get out of PARCC are included in PARCC’s list of 13 friendly states. With the loss of market share – fewer students participating – the cost of the test must necessarily go up on a per student basis. Maybe Pearson, PARCC’s preferred (and in some states no-bid) contractor, will be able to hold the line on the pricing in the short term, but that will be a loss leader for them, and the long-term pricing is anything but known.
What those facts tell me are the following three things:
- The feds can no longer hold out the possibility of punishing states that received RttT funding for the Core. The states long ago spent the stimulus money.
- Second, the states have been saddled with a significant unfunded mandate. States and localities fund 90% of educational services, so if there are costs that go beyond the original sum received through the RttT for Common Core, then states and localities will be on the hook for them.
- The future costs of staying with Common Core are unpredictable – and therefore at this point it is more prudent from a budgetary perspective to transition from the Core and the Core-aligned tests.
There are further considerations and experiences that finally allow states to trace out a clear path out from the Core.
Indiana’s repeal and replace bill showed how not to extricate a state from the Core. Governor Pence demonstrated little interest in policy or in educational quality; nor did he evince a clear vision of truly public process. The truncated effort to develop new “Indiana” standards led to an inside job led by proponents of the Core, it started with the Core as a foundational document, and it ended up with a product even worse than the Core, as Stotsky among others clearly demonstrated.
Oklahoma and South Carolina have taken a different path, and they are trying to build new state-led standards with real public processes. Oklahoma had the benefit of state standards that were in fact of higher quality than the Core. They are therefore going back to the drawing board and using the Oklahoma standards as a foundation stone. South Carolina has the benefit of very strong US History standards, but do not have strong ELA and math standards to draft off of.
That’s where Ohio comes in. Learning from Indiana’s disastrous effort and the good efforts in Oklahoma and South Carolina, Ohio’s HB597 is a huge step forward in that it not only rejects Common Core’s mediocre offerings, but it provides on an interim basis Massachusetts’ nation-leading standards as the new foundation to draft off of in developing new Ohio standards. The Massachusetts’ standards go into place for two years as Ohio educators, businesses, scholars and parents put their heads together in a truly public process—and develop, we hope, even better standards than what Massachusetts had.
And there are several points to be made in favor of states quickly adopting the MA standards for a two-year interim period while developing their own first-rate standards.
First, two years is ample time to engage local communities and constituencies in the kind of public process that upholds the public trust and also can gain the level of teacher buy-in that will help make new standards effective guidance. No such buy-in is possible with Common Core because of its lack of a public process.
Second, the interim adoption of the Massachusetts standards is a cost-effective exit strategy for Ohio and other states. The fact is that Common Core requires lots of professional development, because there are pedagogical strategies embedded in the Core standards. A couple of examples will suffice: Some of the early grad math requires multiple approaches rather than standard algorithms. The high school geometry standards insist on the use of an experimental method that has not been used successfully in Western high schools. Early grade ELA includes more non-fiction than teachers have used in the past; across the board, there are non-fiction offerings that fall outside the traditional teacher preparation and likely background of English teachers.
On the other hand, Massachusetts standards will require minimal professional development. None at the high school level because the standards reflect the disciplinary background of teachers in English, mathematics, science, and history/U.S. Government. Continuing PD will be needed in reading in K-6 because of the inadequacy of reading methods courses in many schools of education and in some professional development. As Stotsky noted years ago, the Massachusetts standards were developed with teachers’ backgrounds in mind. There is not the insistence on new methods and fads. English teachers, most of whom came out of English lit majors are likely to be pretty comfortable teaching a greater amount of literature rather than jamming in lots of non-fiction extracts. As a result, costs for professional development will be much, much lower.
Third, the organization and clarity of the Massachusetts standards not only can be implemented as interim standards very easily and without lots of professional development, but they also lend themselves to greater ease of understanding to teachers and district officials. In short, they will serve more effectively as a framework for Ohio’s development of new, higher-quality standards.
As for the prohibition of PARCC embedded in Ohio HB597, well, that is just smart. There is no predictability as to whether PARCC will survive and, if it does, at what price point. The Massachusetts assessment, MCAS, is a known entity. It’s been “tested” and proven over a decade. And, as I noted to the Ohio Rules and Reference Committee, the fact is that PARCC is on its last legs. Why stick with a sinking ship? (It is useful to note that there are free test items available from 2001 to 2011 on the Massachusetts Education Department’s website.)
Finally, there is that small detail called quality. School systems will have a head start in using first-rate standards by orienting themselves to the Massachusetts standards.
So, Ohio Representatives Matt Huffman and Andrew Thompson may not only have given Ohioans hope, they may have traced out the core elements of a positive agenda that can replace the Core. And that’s important. In about 25 states, it is not enough for state officials and activists to say no to Common Core. Those states had poor quality standards before the Core and getting rid of it will not lead to higher achievement by their students. Instead, they need to have an exit strategy that says no to the Core and yes to world-class standards.
Adoption on an interim basis of Massachusetts’ standards is a great innovation. Importantly, Huffman and Thompson are not saying that they want to replace the Core with Massachusetts’ standards. They are saying that the Massachusetts standards are in interim step – a great framework that Ohioans will need to make their own. They should. This country was built on a federalist impulse – the idea of competitive federalism. We want states to have different standards, to test what works and what doesn’t. States competing to be the best is a true Race to the Top. That’s a virtuous cycle and very different from the feds’ RttT, which was more like a race to comply with federal definitions of what “innovation” means.
Time to turn the page.
Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.
The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) puts charter schools at the top of their list of “hot issues” in education. The union is strongly opposed to charters, claiming they achieve their impressive results by “cherry picking” and that they drain much-needed funding from traditional public schools. The BTU promotes many recurring myths about charter schools (often drawing on data presented in a report that is five years out of date). The top six are listed below.
Myth #1: Charters “cherry pick” their students.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The law specifically states that if the number of applicants to a charter school exceeds the number of available seats, a lottery must be held to decide who is admitted. The charter cannot pick and choose who they admit.
Myth #2: Charter Schools are not very popular.
The BTU downplays the popularity of charter schools. They dismiss the growing number of students on waiting lists to get into charters, claiming students are counted twice if they apply to more than one school, and that charters do not remove students from waiting lists after they have missed their chance to be admitted. Therefore, the union claims, the totals are misleading. But according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are currently over 40,000 unique students on charter school waiting lists statewide. The rising popularity of charters is also reflected by the number of students attending them in Massachusetts, which has risen every year since they were created two decades ago. Considering total enrollment has jumped from 2,613 in 1995-96 to 37,870 in 2014-15, charters are clearly a popular choice in public education.
Myth #3: Student achievement at charters is inconsistent.
The BTU argues that “students clearly show a tremendous range in the achievement of charter school[s].” But in fact, data from 2013 shows that when charters and traditional public schools in Boston are ranked side by side based on MCAS test scores, the charters consistently place high on the list. While the union points to a CREDO study to show a wide range in achievement among charters nationwide, charters in Massachusetts charters are very successful. And unlike a traditional public school, when a charter can’t live up to its mission, a system is in place to facilitate its closure. This process ensures that only schools that are educating students successfully will survive.
Myth #4: Charters don’t educate low income students.
|Charter District||Total Enrollment||Low Income #||SWD|
|Academy Pacfic Rim||498||272||102|
|Brooke East Boston||288||218||18|
|City on a Hill||286||248||64|
|Excel East Boston||212||151||39|
|Excel Orient Heights||112||94||12|
|MATCH Jr. + High||494||369||82|
|Roxbury Prep Charter||716||558||97|
|Smith Leadership Academy.||243||201||38|
|UP Academy Dorchester||562||482||87|
|Percentages||-||0.7384 (74%)||0.1461 (15%)|
The BTU claims that Boston Public Schools educate more low-income students than Boston charters do. They argue that this gives charters an advantage and explains why charters outperform the city’s traditional public schools. Such a discrepancy does exist, but it is small, amounting to about a four-point difference in the percentage of low income students enrolled. Statewide, however, in the 2013-2014 school year, 53.7% of charter students were low income, whereas only 38.3% of the public school students generally were low income. Rather than ignore them, charters disproportionally HELP low income students in Massachusetts.
Myth #5: Charters can’t properly educated students with disabilities.
The union also complains that public schools educate more students with learning disabilities. Statewide this is true. But charters allow parents to choose the school that is the best fit for their child. Public schools often have more resources to offer students with severe learning disabilities than charters do, therefore it makes sense that students with special needs would choose to attend schools that best meet those needs. This is not an argument against charters, but rather a vindication of the theory behind their creation: parents and students choosing the best schools for their needs.
Myth #6: Charters drain money from public schools.
When a student goes to a charter, a formula dictates how much money is transferred from the district to the charter public school. This money is referred to as “tuition.” Opponents of charters say that this process wreaks havoc on public school budgets and therefore harms students. But this claim is misleading. The reality is that Massachusetts has a very generous formula that reimburses public schools when students leave for charters. Starting in fiscal year 2016, the first year after a student leaves a public school, the district receives 100% reimbursement for the tuition money paid to the charter, and 25% of the tuition for the next five years. This formula will help districts adjust their budgets over time so they can better plan for decreased budgets and student enrollment.
Many charter school myths are often repeated by those who feel threatened by true education reform. Polls show that parents and students realize school choice works. How long until the BTU comes to the same conclusion?
Michael Crupi is a research intern at Pioneer. He attends Boston College where he studies Political Science.
As state legislatures begin to pick up steam in their efforts to get rid of the Common Core octopus, with its many hidden tentacles reaching into the entire curriculum (under the guise of “literacy” standards), Common Core advocates have come up with a new ploy to ward off efforts to repeal Common Core and put first-rate standards in their place. It takes too long and costs too much money, Common Core advocates are now saying, to come up with another set of standards for ELA and math. Here is what was in a newsletter put out by the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.
States that drop Common Core standards under the gun for replacing them: States that drop the Common Core State Standards face the prospect of less time to create new academic standards, and under intense political pressure. Generally, states have years to review content standards and make major changes if state school board members, those usually charged with ultimate approval of content standards, and others feel it’s necessary. The process usually involves lengthy discussions, drafts, and revisions overseen by teachers at each grade level, as well as content-area experts and others who try to ensure the standards connect across grade levels. (OEP Web Links, July 16, 2014).
This is a bogus claim, since nothing like this process took place with the excessively speedy development of Common Core’s standards, violating every civic procedure in place for a state’s own standards but with no complaints by any state board of education or governor. Any state or local school district can come up with a first-class set of college and career-ready standards in ELA and math in a matter of minutes. Many states already had them: MA, CA, Indiana in 2006, Georgia, for example. They weren’t perfect, but they were far better than what Common Core has offered the 45 plus states now stuck with its low expectations and Common Core’s hidden strings.
All a state or local district has to do (and it takes only a matter of weeks, not years) is adopt wholesale once highly-rated standards and ask high school English teachers to tweak the high school literature standards to reflect state or regional authors and works. Good math standards should be similar across states (to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy marriages are similar), and there is no need for any appointed group to diddle with good math standards right now.
A state board of education could immediately post the standards proposed by a revision committee for a two-week public comment period (the same two-week period allowed for Common Core’s standards) and adopt them in less than a month, at little or no cost to the taxpayers in the state.
Local districts are already beginning to do this since they have had the legal authority for hundreds of years to adopt and implement whatever standards they wish. That is what plucky little Wakefield, New Hampshire’s school board did last spring. Its board decided to adopt the old Massachusetts ELA and math standards (after all, they had an empirical record of effectiveness, unlike Common Core’s) and is already implementing them. The Wakefield school board, school administrators, teachers, and parents all seem to be working together to implement a far more demanding academic curriculum than will be in place in most other New Hampshire communities this coming year, as suggested by our two and one/half hour discussion on July 15, 2014. Their kids will become better readers and writers even if state-sponsored Common Core-based tests use test items that won’t show it.
But Wakefield will face a new hurdle next year. What happens when an appointed state board of education, backed by a commissioner of education, tells a district that it must use a Common Core-based test? And the local board refuses to do so, on the grounds that a Common Core-based test is incompatible with its locally supported and legally approved school curriculum, based on locally adopted standards that are far superior to Common Core’s? And that the local board has more trust in local teacher-made tests than in the unknown quality of a Common Core-based test that scores students’ Open Responses elsewhere, possibly by a computer? We don’t know.
The statutory issue may have to be adjudicated by a state court. Let such a case proceed. There are pro bono lawyers in the country to help local parents make the case that they should decide what they want their kids taught by means of their elected school boards, not Bill Gates and his minions on a state board of education.
The Senate Turns Back the Clock
Today, the Massachusetts State Senate voted against S2262, a bill to lift the cap on charter school enrollment in the state’s lowest-performing public school districts.
The Senate bill would have tied charter school expansion to full funding of reimbursement to sending districts. Under the bill, charter schools would have been responsible for 50 percent of extended day and extended year transportation costs. The Senate also filed dozens of amendments to the bill, which, with few exceptions, would have imposed unrealistic, harmful, and petty regulations on charter schools.
The Senate gets a low grade for the quality of the debate and a failing grade for the misrepresentations made about charter schools. Senator Barry Finegold said it best when he noted that we know what works, what’s working in Lawrence and around the state to bridge the achievement gaps, and it is charter public schools.
Massachusetts charters are the most successful public schools in the country at closing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students, largely because they have flexibility from state regulations in exchange for more school autonomy.
A 2013 Stanford University study found that Massachusetts charter students gain an additional month and a half of learning in English and two and a half months in math each year compared with traditional public schools.
Massachusetts charter schools enroll over 32,000 students, while over 40,000 are on waiting lists. In Boston, 7,000 students attend charters, while 15,000 are waitlisted.
A recent vote by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to change the way school district performance is calculated will impact which districts are considered to be in the bottom 10 percent, reducing the number of students eligible to attend charter schools.
The 2014 Senate seems bent on returning education debates back to 1992. Massachusetts has benefitted too much from the 1993 Education Reform Act to turn back the clock.
Chalk this one up to elected officials representing people other than their constituents, Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke tells MassLive.com all the reasons why he opposed the charter school cap lift in the House a few weeks back.
Vega was asked if he would have supported the House bill if his two favored amendments had been adopted. “I would be more inclined to,” said Vega. “But there are other issues around compensation for the teachers; they’re not unionized.”
So, in Holyoke, where 734 schoolchildren are served in two schools, and where there are 324 schoolchildren on waitlists, he opposes the charter bill because, well, they need to be unionized. Why is that? Yes, you know. In a wonderful demonstration of someone who has a microphone but does not know what he is talking about, Vega asserts that
Admission to the charter schools should be by lottery, not by application…
There are two problems with this. First, both charter schools and district schools have children fill out paperwork. In the charters they accept all children up to the number of seats they have available; if there are more applicants than the school’s capacity, it selects students by lottery. Interesting that Rep. Vega is so uninformed about schools that serve almost 15% of the students in his district. There’s more. When
Asked what he would say to a low-income, academically talented student who wanted to leave a troubled district school for a better charter school, Vega said students still have options. “We do have school choice,” said Vega. “School choice is separate from charter schools. If you have a child who is showing excellence in science or math, they’re going to do well in public school. But they have choice; they can definitely ‘choice out.’”
So, choices means having a choice of classes? File under clueless.
Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.