What True Education Reform Leaders Think About MCAS & Charters

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An op-ed in Tuesday’s Boston Globe urges Massachusetts policymakers to adopt the Common Core-aligned PARCC test because MCAS is supposedly too outdated to help prepare our schoolchildren for future success. But as Pioneer has argued in our recent book, and numerous reports, op-eds and public appearances, Common Core and PARCC are academically mediocre and inferior to the Bay State’s homegrown MCAS and historically successful standards.

Education leaders and the public should be reminded about the tremendous progress that Massachusetts’ students have made as a result of the implementation of the state’s previous standards and MCAS tests.

At a Pioneer forum in 2013, two of the three co-authors of Massachusetts’ landmark 1993 Education Reform Act questioned the state’s decision to jettison its academic standards in favor of Common Core and PARCC, and called on state leaders to lift the cap on charter public schools in the commonwealth’s lowest performing school districts. Watch the video clips below, of former Senate President Tom Birmingham and former Governor William Weld.

On academic standards, Birmingham said at the time, “The Patrick administration is in the process of jettisoning our tried and true reliance on MCAS and replacing it with unproven national tests and standards called Common Core.  I fear… the political implementation of Common Core.  If there is no strategy… to lift the lower-performing states up to the higher-performing ones, I’m afraid all the political vectors will push the bar down so everyone can clear it… That will be a lower standard than we have set in Massachusetts.”

Weld stated that he opposes Common Core’s focus on so-called informational texts rather than the classic literature that is the centerpiece of Massachusetts’ English standards.  “Common Core proposes… that we cut back on useless appendages like Dickens and Wharton and Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain in exchange for global awareness, media literacy, cross-cultural flexibility and adaptability… The Common Core approach looks to me like an apology for muddle-headed mediocrity.”

Weld added, “I wish we could hire that great law firm of Dickens, Doyle, Wharton and Twain to persuade… Massachusetts not to go down” that road.

After the 1993 passage of MERA, state SAT scores rose for 13 consecutive years.  In 2005, Massachusetts students became the first to score best in the nation in all grades and categories on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and repeated the feat until recently.  And while U.S. students lag behind their international peers, the commonwealth’s 8th graders tied for best in the world in science in the 2007 and 2013 Trends in International Math and Science Study.

Sadly, after five years of Common Core implementation other states have now caught up to Massachusetts on the 2015 NAEP. For the first time since 2005, our 8th graders dropped from the number one spot on the 2015 NAEP testing in reading, trailing New Hampshire and tied for second with Vermont. In 8th grade math, the Bay State declined 4 points; both New Hampshire and Minnesota are right behind us. In 4th grade math, the Commonwealth declined 2 points; this represents the first decline in 4th grade math since 2000. Common Core is having an impact on Massachusetts students – a negative impact.

Pioneer supports retaining and restoring MCAS, or adopting an MCAS 2.0. Our recent report, How PARCC’s False Rigor Stunts the Academic Growth of All Students, shows that a revised MCAS would result in lower costs and more rigorous assessments that would provide better information about student performance. Co-author Sandra Stotsky debated a PARCC proponent on WBUR’s Radio Boston, and the report received coverage in the State House News Service, Associated Press/Boston Herald, CommonWealth magazine, NECN, MassLive, Salem News, and Brockton Enterprise.

The Board of Higher Education’s 2008 “Massachusetts School-to-College Report” found that performance on MCAS correlated with higher-education success and the avoidance of remediation in college. A recent examination by Princeton-based researchers found PARCC no more predictive of college readiness than MCAS, which the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has degraded in recent years.

View Pioneer’s recent appearances in The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Lowell Sun, the Associated Press/Boston Herald, State House News Service, CommonWealth magazine, WBUR, NECN, MassLive, the Salem News, the Brockton Enterprise, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Voice of America, and Breitbart News.

Another article in yesterday’s Boston Globe focuses on an anti-charter public school campaign by the state’s largest teachers unions. In the video clips above, Birmingham and Weld both express full support for charter schools.

Birmingham pointed out that the Senate version of the 1993 Education Reform Act, which he co-authored, included no cap on charter schools.

Weld said, “I testified many times before the legislature and only once did I have the wind at my back in the hearing room. [T]he topic was charter schools.  There were huge cheers behind me, from 350 people… These were inner-city parents who understood that they and their kids were being robbed by the current system of education and charter schools offered them a way up and a way out.” He added, “[w]e have a waiting list of 53,492 kids who want to get into charter schools and can’t because of the cap.  Parents and kids are voting with their feet.  We should respect that…”

For over 20 years, Pioneer has been the leading voice in the Massachusetts charter school movement, because we believe that all children deserve an alternative to failing urban district schools. Read our latest research; and op-eds in CommonWealth magazine, the New Bedford Standard-Times, The Springfield Republican, The MetroWest Daily News, the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise; and our WRKO radio appearance.

Watch: C-SPAN Book TV Video: September 28, 2015 Book Discussion on Drilling through the Core