K-12 education policy too often is the province of powerful special interests. It is important for candidates for public office to speak directly to citizens and parents about what they will do for the next generation of schoolchildren if elected.
That’s why we invited all five Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates to respond to a questionnaire on K-12 education policy. Our purpose is to share their views on eight big education issues relevant to what children learn in the classroom, career and college preparation, and equitable choices for all families.
All of the gubernatorial candidates responded to our questionnaire, with the exception of Martha Coakley. As soon as we receive her responses, we will share them with you as well. A few quick highlights:
- All of the participating candidates support lifting the cap on charter schools.
- Three of the participating candidates expressed support for expanding access to vocational-technical schools.
- Three of the participating candidates support reinstating the US History MCAS exam as a high school graduation requirement.
Question 1: Massachusetts’ 1993 Education Reform Act dedicated substantial new money toward K-12 public education. In return, it also included a number of controversial reforms like MCAS, charter schools and teacher testing. Some issues, like extending the school day and expanding public pre-K offerings, are relatively non-controversial. As governor, what more politically difficult reforms would you push to ensure that every public school student in Massachusetts has access to educational opportunity?
Charlie BakerWe need to directly and urgently address the needs of students who are stuck in the Commonwealth’s lowest performing schools and districts. The Patrick administration deserves credit for the progressive approach it has taken to comprehensive reform in Lawrence. In particular, Commissioner Chester and Superintendent Riley have significantly reduced the size of the central bureaucracy, reallocated resources to schools and empowered principals to make decisions about staffing, budget and programs. Equally important, they have reached out to private partners and charter operators to add capacity and directly manage schools. This strategy of creating a diverse and accountable system of autonomous schools (including charter schools), rather than a centrally managed school system is a model that is working in Lawrence and in a growing number of urban districts around the country. As Governor, I would build on our experience in Lawrence to expand our capacity for similar state-local partnerships, or receiverships if necessary.
Separately, years of research has convincingly shown that there is little or no connection between dollars spent on education and academic outcomes. Of course, we should constantly evaluate whether we are spending the right amount – either too much or too little – in every line item of the state budget, including Chapter 70. But, far more important than how much is spent, is how well it’s spent. I plan to commission independent fiscal reviews of the Commonwealth’s largest school districts to determine how they could restructure their central offices and administrative functions in order to reduce overhead, empower school-level leadership, and free-up resources for increased student learning opportunities, including early education and extended day programs.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukEducation funding has not kept pace with the increasing cost of educating students. In spite of Chapter 70’s requirement that the formula for the foundation budget be updated regularly, it has not been updated in a decade. The basics of funding education seem to be “politically difficult.” My top education priority is to immediately revise the Chapter 70 funding formula to more accurately reflect what it costs to educate a child in the second decade of the 21st century.
Scott LivelyI believe the primary factor in educational success is parental involvement and that government is a poor substitute for parents in raising and educating children. I favor an educational choice voucher system that includes home-schooling as one of the choices. I would shift the emphasis of the department of education to helping families guide and direct the education of their own children. I would dramatically downsize the centralized bureaucracy to free money for more teachers and shift control of public schools to cities and towns. In public schools I would launch a pilot project to introduce a cohort educational model in which groups of children stay together for the core curriculum from start to finish like a family rather than taking classes ala carte (except for electives).
Jeff McCormickFirst, we need to lift the cap on charter schools. Charter schools are designed to bring innovation and experimentation to the classroom to get better results for our kids. The legislature dropped the ball on this issue during the most recent session. As Governor, I will file legislation to immediately lift the cap to provide more opportunities for our students. Secondly, we need to expand the communication between charter schools and traditional public schools to share best practices across districts to benefit all of our students. I have visited districts where there is no communication between the charter schools and traditional public schools. That is not in the best interest of the kids. As Governor, I will hold regional summits on education with all parties involved to make sure we are sharing our best practices across the state at the highest level.
Question 2: In the wake of the Education Reform Act, Massachusetts saw historic improvements in educational achievement. Our students are consistently the country’s best performers and in 2007 they scored among the best in the world in international math and science testing. But since then the data has been far less encouraging. The commonwealth’s SAT scores are down 20 points from their 2006 highs, the percentage of third-graders scoring advanced or proficient on MCAS has fallen to the lowest level since 2009, and the portion of third graders who are proficient in reading is 10 percentage points lower than it was in 2002. As governor, how do you plan to address this stagnating student achievement?
Charlie BakerMassachusetts is rightly recognized as having one of the best public education systems in the country, thanks to the high standards established in the 1990s and the talent and hard-work of our teachers and school leaders. Nevertheless, elementary reading scores have stagnated or fallen, large numbers of high school graduates are not prepared for college or the workforce, and we continue to see staggering achievement gaps between communities and across student sub-groups. There is no silver bullet to fix these persistent problems, but there are promising strategies that are working here and around the country that we should adopt or expand.
First, we need to redouble our commitment to high expectations and accountability for results by ensuring that Massachusetts continues to have world-class academic standards and assessments (see question 3, below). Second, we need to directly and urgently address the needs of students who are stuck in the Commonwealth’s lowest performing schools and districts by expanding the DESE’s capacity to intervene effectively with a comprehensive strategy for whole-system change, building on our recent success in Lawrence (see question 1, above). Third, we need to help districts restructure their central offices and administrative functions in order to reduce overhead, empower school-level leadership, and free-up resources for increased student learning opportunities, including early education and extended day programs (see question 1, above). Fourth, we must strengthen our successful career and technical schools, expanding their capacity and increasing the impact of partnerships with employers, while creating opportunities for all students to develop critical workplace skills with real work experience before they graduate from high school (see question 5, below). Finally, we need to build on the tremendous success of our charter schools by removing the arbitrary restrictions that prevent the growth of successful charters and block the introduction of new talent and innovative school models (see question 4, below).
By the end of my first term, I hope to see the following results from the education reform initiatives described above:
- 1. Significant improvement in the rates of both proficient and advanced performance on the state’s annual assessment and NAEP, especially in elementary reading and among low-income students; significant improvement in graduation rates for low-income students and in the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college without having to take remedial courses
- 2. Effective state-led interventions in the 5 lowest performing school districts and 50 lowest performing schools
- 3. Significant increase in the number of low-income students with access to high-quality early education programs and longer school days or expanded learning time programs
- 4. Significant increase in the percentage of students who graduate high school with meaningful work experience and certified job skills in high-demand occupations
- 5. 50 new charter schools
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukIt was important that in the last legislative session that the cap on charter schools was lifted, while at the same time it is troubling that funding for cities and towns through Chapter 70 continues to lag well behind the need. Improving funding includes ensuring that every school has the resources it needs to help every student who may be at risk of not achieving their potential does so. Last, it is important that education is not overly focused on standardized tests. The skills students require in the 21st century require critical thinking and creativity – excessive reliance on standardized testing undervalues that capacity in both teacher and student.
Scott LivelyI believe in the back-to-basics approach to education along classical lines. Students should be taught how to learn, not what to memorize and given broad freedom and latitude to pursue their own interests within set parameters. I would emphasize critical thinking, debate, research and communications skills in addition to mastery of reading, hard (not soft) science and math. I would require every graduating student to demonstrate familiarity with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and key writings of the Founding Fathers such as the Mayflower Compact and George Washington’s Inaugural and Farewell addresses.
Jeff McCormick43% of our third graders are not proficient in reading. That is unacceptable. Studies have shown that early education increases test scores, lowers drop-out rates, and will pay for the investment over time. I have a plan to provide early education services to all 4 year olds in the state, regardless of income level. This will help working families by lowering childcare costs and allowing stay-at-home parents to return to the workforce sooner. This is not an unfunded mandate on cities and towns because it will be paid for through efficiencies in our state’s healthcare budget. At 42% of the state budget, healthcare currently consumes almost half of our state budget. While we will see improved tests scores over time, we will ultimately close the skills gap and decrease income inequality. I also believe we need to allow teachers and schools more flexibility in teaching and implementing curricula for their particular students. What works in Lawrence might not work in Wellesley.
Question 3: Among the parts of the 1993 Education Reform Act that transformed public education in Massachusetts were academic standards in English and math that were aligned with MCAS and became a national model. In 2010, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education jettisoned those standards for ones that were developed by Washington, D.C.-based education trade groups and promoted by the federal government and wealthy private foundations. Do you support so-called Common Core or do you prefer the commonwealth’s homegrown standards?
Charlie BakerThe future of our economy depends on having a highly educated workforce that is second to none, not just in the United States, but globally. Being above average isn’t good enough. Although there is some value in having academic standards that are consistent across state lines, Massachusetts must ultimately control its own destiny to ensure that its academic standards are truly be world class. We can’t settle for anything less. I testified against adopting the Common Core standards in 2010. Today, Common Core is being implemented in classrooms throughout the Commonwealth and the aligned PARCC assessments will be widely piloted in 2015. We must conduct a thorough, rigorous and independent evaluation of the PARCC pilot test results to determine whether we are setting a higher standard. If we are not, I will not hesitate to pull Massachusetts out of Common Core and the PARCC consortium.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukI support MCAS standards rather than Common Core.
Scott LivelyI strongly oppose Common Core and believe it takes us in the wrong direction. We need less not more control of schools and children by government bureaucrats.
Jeff McCormickI believe we need to support the Common Core standards that are stronger than our current standards and jettison those that are weaker. We can’t go backwards when it comes to standards. We need to push everyone in the education system to the top of their abilities. I also believe that local officials do a better job for their town than the state, and I believe the state does a better job than the federal government. When you are on the front lines dealing with problems, you know what the solutions are. That is why I chose Yarmouth Board of Selectmen member Tracy Post as my running mate.
Question 4: Stanford University researchers found that Massachusetts has the nation’s best charter schools and that Boston charters are doing more to close achievement gaps than any other group of public schools in the country. Harvard and MIT researchers have reached similar conclusions about Boston charter schools. Despite these results, an effort to increase the number of charter schools in low-performing school districts recently failed. As governor, what would you do to support the Commonwealth’s charter schools?
Charlie BakerCharters are not only providing thousands of underserved students with access to high-quality schools, they are also empowering low-income urban parents with choices that were once reserved for wealthier suburban families. Denying them these options when they are so readily available is nothing less than an affront to their civil rights. I will work with the legislature and BESE over the next four years to significantly increase the number of charter schools, especially in low-performing districts with failing schools.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukThe cap on charter schools should be lifted. At the same time we must fulfill our responsibility to properly fund our public schools by updating and modernizing our Chapter 70 funding formula to reflect the cost of educating children in the public schools, as well as the costs associated with kids going to charter schools.
Scott LivelyI strongly support Charter Schools and would like to see more of them and a wider variety of alternative models. I graduated in 1976 from an alternative “Free School” in Greenfield that featured a cohort model of 12 students in a cooperative approach. It was a wonderfully rich and exciting environment in which to learn (especially in comparison to my previous standard high school experience that bored me to tears and inspired me to habitual truancy). I would love to give Massachusetts students the opportunity to experience that sort of self-directed learning in a family-style setting.
Jeff McCormickI have visited many charter schools throughout this campaign and have seen their amazing results in educating our kids. Most schools aren’t pristine facilities and don’t have the technology that some of our wealthier districts possess, but they are still level one schools. As Governor, I will push to lift the cap on charter schools but also keep a vigilant eye on the outcomes from these schools. Charter schools are not a silver bullet, but they will receive support from my administration.
Question 5: The performance of regional vocational-technical school students on MCAS has improved by 40-50 percent in recent years and the schools also provide outstanding vocational training. Not surprisingly, the number of applications to these schools is on the rise and most have large waiting lists. As governor, what would you do to provide more students access to high-quality, regional voc-tech schools?
Charlie BakerAlthough the focus of our education reform efforts over the past 20 years has been rightly on getting more students ready for success in college, we must now pay more attention to ensuring all of our high school graduates are also prepared for success in the workplace. Specifically, we should look for opportunities to expand the student capacity of our existing career and technical schools, while upgrading their curriculum and technology to more closely align with current workplace needs. As Governor, I will also direct the Board of Higher Education to extend the reach and increase the impact of our highest performing career and technical schools by inviting proposals to give them authority to grant associate degrees, either directly or in partnership with a public or private college. At the same time, the state must take forceful action to turnaround those career and technical schools that are failing to meet the needs of their students and the local economy. Career education should not be the sole purview of our career and technical schools; we should also actively explore innovative approaches to creating new career-oriented high schools and pathways within existing schools, in close collaboration with local employers and including extensive co-op or internship experiences.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukDynamic changes like this is part of why the state must be regularly updating the way in which it supports cities and towns with education dollars. We must increase funding for these programs, as they represent an important opportunity for students to get ahead and become productive – taxpaying – members of society.
Scott LivelyVocational schools fill an important role in our educational system that seems to be working. I would like to see more of them and would also facilitate greater involvement of community businesses and industries to allow for a smoother transition from school to work for students on a vocational track.
Jeff McCormickVocational-technical schools must be a part of the education landscape because not all jobs require a two or four year college degree. I recently visited Blackstone Valley Voc-tech in Upton and was extremely encouraged by what the students were learning. These kids are getting real world on-the-job training skills that they can use before they graduate. In addition, they are being taught the soft skills that employers look for like the importance of showing up on time and working hard. As baby boomers retire, we are going to have a real workforce crisis in this state to replace the knowledge base and skills of these workers. That is why my education plan calls for transitioning Madison Park Vocational Technical School in Boston into a healthcare workforces training school with the help of the surrounding world class hospitals and institutions. We know the jobs are going to be available, let’s train our students to have the skills to fill these jobs.
Question 6: Data shows that the METCO program which allows students in Boston and Springfield attend schools in nearby suburbs, is closing the achievement gap and improving educational outcomes. But budget cuts in recent years have resulted in approximately 10,000 students – about three times more than are in the program – being on two-to-five year waitlists. As governor, what would you do to expand access to METCO for needy students?
Charlie BakerMETCO provides urban children of color with much needed school options outside their home districts. As a matter of principle and policy, we should strive to provide all children and their families with as many high-quality school choices as possible. To ensure METCO is sustainable over time, we should explore alternative financing options that do not rely solely on annual state appropriations. We should also consider new incentives for the expansion of other inter-district choice programs, especially for low-income students in and around the Commonwealth’s urban centers.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukThe METCO program has extremely positive benefits for the children who participate. While my main focus is to improve every school district by revising the Foundation Budget, I believe we must take active steps to continue to provide opportunities for parents who want their children to have the opportunity to enroll in a different school through the METCO program. Wait lists for government programs like METCO reflect a need for not just sufficient funding for those programs, but to address the underlying causes of people wanting to join them, which is why it is so critical to revise the Foundation Budget.
Scott LivelyNo Response.
Jeff McCormickAs Governor, I will increase access to METCO for students by increasing funding in the short term but also working with Boston and Springfield to achieve better outcomes so these students can go to school in their own neighborhoods. I am a believer in building communities from the ground up. We need to improve the schools in these areas so kids are allowed to attend school close to home and receive an education on par with those students who live in the suburbs.
Question 7: U.S. history standards and testing were part of Massachusetts’ education reform law. But in 2009, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education cancelled U.S. history MCAS implementation, citing the $2.4 million cost. What is your position on reinstating passage of a U.S. history MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement?
Charlie BakerOne of the central purposes of public education is to prepare young people to be informed and engaged citizens. The Commonwealth acknowledges this mission by specifically requiring all students to study American history and civics – the only such academic requirement under state law. And yet, we do not have a measurable standard for ensuring that all students leave high school with a sufficient knowledge of our history and political system to fulfill their civic duty. I support reinstating the U.S. history MCAS test as a graduation requirement, as soon as possible.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukIt is critical that every child knows the history of this country, and of our state. U.S. history – including civics – should be a mandatory requirement for graduation under MCAS.
Scott LivelyI believe it was Aristotle who first said (and was echoed by Cicero) “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its tragedies.” We must inculcate in our students a knowledge of history. Not the modernist liberal edited version they are getting in classes today, but the real stuff, including heavy emphasis on primary sources, especially as regarding early American history. Testing that does not measure familiarity with the truth is worthless.
Jeff McCormickU.S. history should be reinstated as part of the MCAS to graduate from high school. Too many students, and adults for that matter, don’t know basic history. I believe that to understand the future we need to learn from the past. Also, Massachusetts is the birthplace of the American Revolution and our students need to know the important role our state played in the birth of our nation.
Question 8: The Florida Virtual School is considered the gold standard in on-line learning in America. Despite two legislative efforts to encourage on-line learning in Massachusetts, the Bay State lags 15 years behind leading states in virtual/on-line/blended learning. How would you remedy this?
Charlie BakerThere are currently two virtual schools that have been authorized by DESE for operation in the Commonwealth. We should continue to encourage and approve the development of additional independently managed on-line academies, especially those that address underserved student populations with a high degree of accountability for results. Equally important, Massachusetts must accelerate the development of blended learning school models, which combine web-based tools and content with in-person instruction, by working in partnership with private “accelerators” like LearnLaunch and by inviting innovative charter school applications that reimagine the traditional school design.
Martha CoakleyNo response.
Evan FalchukThe group of leaders we’ll convene will include experts in on-line learning. Given how far this field has come and student’s preferences, on-line learning will certainly be a bigger part of our educational system. However, in order to make this a reality we must first ensure that every school in the Commonwealth has access to broadband internet and every child has access to a computer in their school. I’m extremely concerned about how far behind we are in Massachusetts on this. Prioritizing these important investments and funding them through the reallocation of the huge amounts of money that is currently being misspent is key to my plans to bring about smart, brave reform in Massachusetts.
Scott LivelyI strongly support on-line learning, which incidentally is a big part of most home-schools. My educational choice voucher plan would allow parents who do not home-school to direct their children to private religious an secular schools which offer online learning. I would work to promote online learning in the government schools as well.
Jeff McCormickAs someone who sits on the board of an education company that uses technology to teach kids math in 41 states, we have increased scores across socio-economic groups, race, and ethnicity. The beauty of this program is that it is very cheap to implement. For under $20 per student per year, we have managed to deliver high quality education and increased scores by as much as 30%. As Governor, I will bring these types of solutions to our education system. We need to be a leader in using technology in education as a state.
Stanford University mathematics professor R. James Milgram included an informative e-mail in his packet of information for state legislators when he testified at a hearing on Common Core in Milledgeville, Georgia on September 24, 2014. The e-mail explains why presidents of many of the major mathematical organizations in the country endorsed Common Core’s standards in July 2013. The author of the e-mail seems to believe that the societies themselves would be unlikely to endorse Common Core’s standards, but that readers (i.e., the public) might be misled into thinking they had if they saw that the presidents had endorsed the standards. Consequently, the e-mail wants just the presidents’ signatures because they would “likely” be just as “effective.” The underlying assumption is that the members of these organizations would not be apt to learn what their presidents had done, much less know anything about the contents of Common Core’s mathematics standards.
Appendix A shows the letter that Ron Rosier, Director of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS), sent to all society presidents on June 28, 2013. (Telephone numbers and personal e-mail addresses have been deleted.) Appendix B shows the “support statement” posted on July 24, 2013 by Professor William McCallum, a “lead” Common Core mathematics standards writer. It contains the signatures of all those who were willing to respond to Rosier’s request.
The appendices make it clear that the support statement was to be signed by the presidents of CBMS member societies as a personal expression of support, not on behalf of their organizations. But it is also clear that the presidents were to be identified by means of their organization, not academic affiliation. Nor were they asked to review the Common Core standards but, rather, to provide a promotional statement for the Common Core. The support statement was posted on CBMS stationery less than a month after the initial request for signatures was sent out.
It is worth noting that the somewhat hostile legislators at the Georgia hearing never asked Professor Milgram: “What about these endorsements?”
A front page article by Jamie Vaznis in the Boston Globe today carries the news that all lower-grade Boston district schools will drop the MCAS and adopt the new Common Core-aligned PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) test.
Most Boston public schools would drop the MCAS next spring in favor of a new online testing system the state is trying out…
The recommendation, being presented to the School Committee Wednesday night, would affect more than 22,000 Boston students in grades 3-8 who must take state standardized tests every spring. Tenth-graders would continue to take the MCAS, which remains a state graduation requirement.
The most important consideration here should be the impact on learning and the pace of reform in Boston’s district schools. With so many of its schools falling in the Level 3 and 4 categories, BPS has no good justification for adopting PARCC across the board in grades 3 to 8. As I noted in Vaznis’ piece,
There is rightfully a lot of pressure from parents to keep accountability pressure on the schools, and implementing PARCC without any accountability function would in essence lessen if not remove the pressure to improve. That’s like giving troubled schools a pass for a year.
But it is worse than that. The adoption of PARCC across the board for K-8 schools resets all accountability and removes the ability to make comparisons of performance. It, in effect, sets back accountability for several years, until we have sufficient spans of data to understand how schools are performing. And for parents what this does is take away a critical tool — a tool that allows them to exert pressure on schools to improve core academic programs (math, science, and English Language Arts). Again, given the number of Level 3 and 4 schools in Boston, parents need those tools to advocate for their kids.
A second consideration is that Interim Superintendent John McDonough’s all-in adoption of PARCC for grades 3 to 8 is an dicey move. It’s not been at all clear how many districts around the state were sticking with the MCAS and how many were going with PARCC. The department suggests in the Globe piece that districts are running 60-40 in favor of PARCC, but outside observers suggest the department is overstating the adoption rate. The Globe piece reports the department’s numbers without question:
So far, 180 Massachusetts districts — including Andover, Milton, and Sudbury — plan to try out the new exams next spring, while 123 others, such as Peabody, Quincy, and Waltham, will stick with MCAS.
The problem here is that many of the districts that are counted in the list of adopters have only partially adopted or chosen to pass the decision off to school leaders. Case in point are Worcester and Springfield, both considered adopters by the department. But the former is piloting PARCC in half its schools and Worcester is leaving the decision to its principals. A fair assessment of the assessment adoption process would call it a draw — and that is remarkable given that the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester is the head of the PARCC assessment consortium and is putting all manner of pressure on districts to adopt the new test. (He went so far as to urge a Board vote, adopted in June, to place a de facto moratorium on charter school expansions in Brockton, Haverhill, Lowell, Somerville and Worcester as an inducement for those urban districts to adopt PARCC. This is what passes for leadership in Massachusetts education circles circa 2014.)
The fact is that many districts are not even close to having the level of technology needed to equitably and efficiently administer the new online tests. Many districts face overrides and long debates as to whether millions of dollars should be spent on technology or teachers.
These are the sorts of questions that have led to a collapse in the number of states participating in PARCC: Membership of the PARCC grouping has dropped from 25 to nominally 13. Included in the remaining 13 “nominal” states are places like Louisiana, which are actively seeking to drop Common Core and PARCC. That does not sound like a test that is gaining adherents or traction. Even architects of Common Core recognize that the test may not survive into the future.
Then there are legal questions. In New Mexico and Louisiana, there are open legal questions — well, actually lawsuits — about the implementation of PARCC and whether state procurement practices were being violated and in particular no-bid contracting was occurring. On this front, an enterprising reporter would delve into Massachusetts’ own procurement of PARCC testing support.
Most importantly for Massachusetts, with its landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, it’s not legal by state statute. The state department of education has chalked up many examples recently of ignoring the law. Earlier this year, my organization wrote to the Commissioner, noting that his attempts to pressure districts to adopt PARCC were in violation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB requires tests for students between grades 3 and 10. At that point the Commissioner sought and received a letter from the US Secretary of Education granting a waiver from that provision of the law.
The federal waiver received after the fact by Chester (see our exchange of letters here) still does not absolve him and the department from the need to follow Massachusetts’ landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, which has driven huge gains in student achievement in the Commonwealth for all student subgroups. MERA requires at a minimum testing in grades 4, 8 and 10; see Section II of Chapter 71:
Section II. The board shall adopt a system for evaluating on an annual basis the performance of both public school districts and individual public schools. With respect to individual schools, the system shall include instruments designed to assess the extent to which schools and districts succeed in improving or fail to improve student performance, as defined by student acquisition of the skills, competencies and knowledge called for by the academic standards and embodied in the curriculum frameworks established by the board pursuant to sections one D and one E in the areas of mathematics, science and technology, history and social science, English, foreign languages and the arts…
In addition, comprehensive diagnostic assessment of individual students shall be conducted at least in the fourth, eighth and tenth grades. Said diagnostic assessments shall identify academic achievement levels of all students in order to inform teachers, parents, administrators and the students themselves, as to individual academic performance…
The Commissioner, the Boston School Committee and the interim Superintendent will be in violation of the 1993 Act if BPS adopts PARCC for ELA and math in all lower grade schools, as the grade 4 and 8 requirements of the Reform Act require testing for accountability purposes in those grades.
So, from an educational perspective, the adoption of PARCC for all students in grades 3 to 8 is tantamount to abandoning accountability for the BPS performance. That’s bad. But violating provisions of Massachusetts’ Landmark 1993 Education Reform Act, that’s illegal.
A good test question for the Attorney General and the Inspector General: Are you paying attention to minor details like the rule of law?
Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, visit Pioneer’s website, or check out our education posts at the Rock The Schoolhouse blog.
This past week, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues and once chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which he defended Common Core as a conservative approach to school reform—allowing, he claimed, the preservation of our civic and cultural literary heritage. Several days earlier, Politico published a blog in which David Coleman, now president of the College Board and widely acknowledged as the chief “architect” of Common Core’s English language arts standards, is quoted as claiming that Common Core had been inspired by the work of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation in Charlottesville, Virginia. All of this rightly sounded bewildering to those familiar with The Book of Virtues and the Core Knowledge curriculum—and with Common Core’s ELA standards.
Hirsch has consistently advocated for a content-oriented curriculum, while Common Core’s standards are chiefly content-free (and poorly written) skills. Bennett has long advocated for a curriculum that includes highlights from our civic and cultural literary heritage, a heritage almost nowhere required or encouraged by Common Core’s standards or in the tests based on them. (Sorry, sidebars and footnotes don’t count.)
Not surprising. We have simply become the victims of a confusing propaganda war now being conducted by the Gates Foundation and its funded friends. The public is regularly told that black is white, freedom is slavery, and war is peace. Why? Mainly to portray Gates’s national standards as the victim of critics who are filled with misinformation and myths about what Common Core is and could do for the nation’s children if we only give Jaws a chance to show how well-intentioned the great white shark really is.
For reasons best known to the Gates Foundation and to public relations firms like DCI Group that it helps to fund “to craft the right messages” (a firm Bennett acknowledged paid for his op-ed), they have decided that the English language is the chief problem accounting for Common Core’s nosedive in public opinion. Whether written or oral, words are, they finally realized, intended to mean something. For a list of commonly-used vocabulary items whose meanings are being changed 180 degrees—that is, to their opposite by Common Core propagandists, see http://truthinamericaneducation.com/uncategorized/a-vocabulary-lesson/
Most parents don’t need help in understanding the Gates Foundation’s new lexicon for defending the indefensible (Common Core’s mediocre standards, as well as the curriculum and tests based on them). Enough parents can still read the Common Core-aligned lessons their children are being asked to do in school and have drawn their own conclusions about their worth—and intentions. Enough parents have also read the grade-level lists of specified literary works in the Core Knowledge literature curriculum, as well as the topics to be studied in other subjects. Because they have had eyes to see with, they can see that these literary works and subject area topics are in no way specified in Common Core’s ELA standards or the tests based on them.
Unfortunately for the Gates Foundation, lessons have had to be written down if teachers are to remember exactly what they are to do for the purpose of evaluation. So, when David Coleman claims he was inspired by the Core Knowledge curriculum, parents understand the Orwellian game that is being played on them. So do teachers. Many are leaving the profession after reading what they are to teach and teach to.
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.