Delaware Legislature Sends Opt-Out Bill to Governor

delaware-state-flagLast week the Delaware Senate approved HB 50 a bill introduced by State Representative John Kowalko (D-Newark) that allows parents to opt their kids out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  It also requires school districts to notify parents about their rights to opt their children out before the assessment is given.  The bill originally passed the Delaware House on a 31 to 5 vote on Tuesday last week.  The Senate later passed the bill on a 15 to 6 vote on Friday.

“This is a sincere and honest attempt to clarify in state law that parents have a constitutionally guaranteed right to direct their children’s education,” Kowalko told DelawareOnline.com.

The desk lands on Governor Jack Markell’s desk.  His Secretary of Education Mark Murphy has warned that the Feds could withhold as much as $90 million dollars.  The 10th Amendment Center reports that the Feds threatened states like Illinois, Colorado, Oregon and Oklahoma who considered opt-out bills this legislative session.  No Child Left Behind requires that school districts within a state assess 95% of their students.  The opt-out measures threaten that, especially in light of how many parents and students were taking this action nationwide before state laws gave them additional legal cover.

Markell has said that he does not support the bill.  The Delaware Constitution says that the Legislature can pass a law vetoed by the Governor with a 60% supermajority (which they have).  The Governor also has 10 days after a bill is presented (not including Sundays) to act on a bill or it will automatically become law.

Pioneer Institute Calls MBAE Out for Conflict of Interest in PARCC/MCAS Study

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisFrom a Pioneer Institute press release:

Recently, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) continued its advocacy for Common Core and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a federally funded testing consortium, with the release of a study concluding that the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) performance is not an indicator of preparedness for higher education success. This study perpetuates a deeply troubling pattern of conflicts of interest marking the commonwealth’s consideration of Common Core and PARCC. MBAE has accepted several hundred thousand dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested more than $200 million in development of, and advocacy for, Common Core. In addition, this most recent MBAE report was co-authored by Scott Marion, who serves as a technical advisor to PARCC and the United States Department of Education, which funded PARCC.

You can see their full statement here or below:

Ohio Legislature Prohibits Funds for PARCC

ohio-state-flagOhio Governor John Kasich could end up line-item veto on the measure, but the Ohio Legislature sent a budget to the Governor’s desk that defunds PARCC.

The language, found on pg. 334 of the budget document, “prohibits GRF appropriations from being used to purchase an assessment developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for use as the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.”

It also prohibits funds from Race to the Top “from being used for any purpose related to the state elementary and secondary achievement assessments.”

Ohio is a governing state with PARCC, and the Common Core-aligned assessment consortium has been bleeding membership and has been plagued with roll-out problems, a high number of students opting out, and received bad PR after admitting it monitors student social media related to the assessment.

The Legislature does require the state to use standardized assessments for elementary and secondary students that are “nationally normed.”

“The PARCC brand name has been so badly damaged that even though people are more comfortable and familiar with it, the anger and the angst over it would still be there and that just wouldn’t be a good environment for things,” said state Education Committee Chairman Peggy Lehner, a Republican, told Politico’s Morning Education.

The budget does not prevent the state from adopting Smarter Balanced however as the consortia no longer uses Race to the Top funds.  Also, the standards are still in place and with the standardized assessment requirement in the budget, as well as, the No Child Left Behind testing mandates it seems unlikely that Ohio will escape the use of some Common Core-aligned assessment whether it is Smarter Balanced, ACT Aspire or one Ohio independently develops.

The good news is that this could put PARCC in a precarious fiscal position.

Kasich is not expected to line-item veto the measures.

Matt Bevin Intends to See Common Core Removed from Kentucky Ed Landscape

matt-bevinShortly after I wrote my piece on what seemed to be a conflict of interest for Matt Bevin, the GOP nominee in Kentucky’s Governor’s race, I was contacted by someone I trust who has worked with him directly on his plan to eliminate Common Core in Kentucky.  They were aware of the facts of this claim which they state is baseless.  Through this contact Bevin provided Truth in American Education his statement.

This company is a small, private company that one of my investment funds made an investment in years ago. It was a “start-up” company and sadly, from an investment standpoint, it still essentially is.

The company formed from the effort of two English teachers collaborating to help English and Literature teachers effectively incorporate and administer the use of technology to assess learning in the classroom, something that has apparently been difficult to do in the modern education era, without devaluing literary content or instruction.

At the time the company started, and at the time of my investment, Common Core did not even exist.

This little company has struggled to get off the ground and has never been profitable. Their suite of products have apparently been used both by school systems that are trying to comply with Common Core standards and those that are not trying to comply with those standards.

Ironically, the company was designed to help with assessment by teachers and this has been one of the many weaknesses of CC. I think this is why the company has apparently found itself intertwined with the CC standards. It happens to offer a product that helps with assessment.

My investment in this company is completely illiquid, which means I could not sell it if I wanted to. I truly hope they succeed for many reasons, regardless of who embraces their suite of products. The existence and viability of independent assessment companies are vital to a fluid and autonomous approach to education. Everyone benefits when options and alternative ideas exist beyond the testing giants, and will be especially so as states and districts transition from the monolithic Common Core approach and return to local decision making.

Again, I do not have any involvement with the company beyond an indirect financial investment.

My position on Common Core and its federal encroachment is very public and unequivocal and has never changed. My intent is to see that these standards are removed from the educational landscape in Kentucky.

Matt Bevin – Republican nominee for Kentucky Governor

After reading this I would have to say that I agree the original accusation made by one of his local newspapers is baseless and they didn’t have all of the facts.  If I were a Kentucky resident I would have no problem voting for Bevin.  In Kentucky’s race for Governor Bevin is the only candidate who will move to rid the state of Common Core.  Kentucky friends you should be thrilled that you have a clear choice.

Teaching Experience? Who Needs Teaching Experience?

Students in Computer Lab --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisAS IF we needed more news to make us even more uneasy with the Common Core Assessment Consortia, consider this article from the New York Times about Pearson who is the sole vendor for the PARCC states.

On Friday, in an unobtrusive office park northeast of downtown here, about 100 temporary employees of the testing giant Pearson worked in diligent silence scoring thousands of short essays written by third- and fifth-grade students from across the country.

There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.

No teaching experience necessary… that doesn’t bother me as much provided they grasp the content being assessed.  It’s what they receive bonuses for… hitting daily quality and volume targets.  What?  I agree with A.P. Dillon, this seems very much like a salesperson.

No chance of a mistake happening there I’m sure.  Granted they do have scorers with teaching experience, but Pearson doesn’t have any data on how many currently teach.

Educators, especially those whose review may depend on student assessments, are leery about this process.

…educators like Lindsey Siemens, a special-education teacher at Edgebrook Elementary School in Chicago, see a problem if the tests are not primarily scored by teachers.

“Even as teachers, we’re still learning what the Common Core state standards are asking,” Ms. Siemens said. “So to take somebody who is not in the field and ask them to assess student progress or success seems a little iffy.”

But hey I’m sure they train these temporary employees quite well.

Teaching Literature as Teaching Particular Concepts and Skills

Will Common Core kill students' love of reading?Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Will Common Core kill students’ love of reading?
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Valarie Strauss highlighted a disturbing quote from this New York Times article entitled, “English Class in the Common Core Era: ‘Tom Sawyer’ and Court Opinions.”

“Unfortunately there has been some elimination of some literature,” said Kimberly Skillen, the district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction in Deer Park, N.Y. But she added: “We look at teaching literature as teaching particular concepts and skills. So we maybe aren’t teaching an entire novel, but we’re ensuring that we’re teaching the concepts that that novel would have gotten across.”

Teaching particular concepts and skills is not teaching literature as Strauss points out:

Concepts are general notions, abstract ideas; a skill is a particular ability. Isn’t there more? How about teaching literature so students can learn to examine (not conform to) societal values, expand world views, understand their own and different cultures, appreciate the beauty of strong, eloquent language, develop emotional intelligence?

Literature is a mirror that reflects a society’s values, behaviors, history and culture. Teachers with any hope of capturing students’ attention and getting them engaged in reading Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Faulkner have to think beyond skills and concepts.

Yes you do.  This approach to literature isn’t much better than kids just reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes on a book and calling it a day.

West Virginia Legislator Sues State Board Over Smarter Balanced Funding

westvirginiaflagpicture2West Virginia Delegate Mike Folk (R-Berkeley) filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education in late April in Berkeley County Court to stop funding for Smarter Balanced.  The Governor and the Attorney General have tried to see it dismissed on procedural grounds.  There is a chance, according to an activist in West Virginia, that he will need to refile in Charleston.

He sent the following statement as an update:

Many of the greatest minds of history held that the ultimate purpose of education is the pursuit of truth and virtue. Unfortunately, our own State Board of Education has turned this pursuit of higher knowledge on its head, into a bureaucratic nightmare for both our children and our teachers of West Virginia. This has been done through a system of education that now requires our children and teachers to soak-up months of the precious school year expending all of their energy on endless ‘assessments,’—including the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA)—which is a key part of the Common Core policy which has plagued our schools. Not only is our education system now burdened with valueless testing, which takes up months of time simply preparing and administering—it is also costing our taxpayers around $24 Million per year, money our state cannot afford in these uncertain economic times.

This is why I have filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education—in order to prevent the harm being done to our children, our teachers, and the taxpayers of our great state.

The merits of the case I have filed are a serious matter. First, the State Board of Education has not followed the law (W.Va. Code § 18-2H-2) in West Virginia, after it blindly adopted both Common Core and all of the prolonged testing that goes with it. Our law requires 60 days of public notice with any “significant” education policy change, and our law also requires at least 4 public hearings be held around the state. This never took place—our law was just simply ignored.

Perhaps most egregious though, entering into the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a violation of the US Constitution’s Compact Clause (Art. I, Sec. 10, cl. 3). Even though the Common Core & SBA was shoved on us by the elites in Washington DC and our own State School Board, the US Congress never held a vote on the SBAC as required by the U.S. Constitution. Our state government cannot simply enter into Interstate Compacts without the consent of Congress and our State legislature—especially agreements that “radically reshape the Education system” (Quote from the SBAC’s own documents on their stated purpose)—without the people’s representatives ever casting a vote.

This cannot be about politics in my mind. Our children cannot be used like guinea pigs in a laboratory experiment for this radical testing, and these radical standards and curriculum now being taught in our schools—all of which is wasting taxpayer money, and squandering precious time our children and our own teachers can spend on real learning and true knowledge.

Above all, I took an oath to defend the US & WV Constitutions. I take that oath seriously. Many times, defending that oath helps the people of our state the most. We must help our children in West Virginia, no matter which political party is wrong. The implementation of Common Core and SBA was forced on our children, without following the law, without any vote by the people’s representatives, and without any clear transparency or deliberation. The days of trying every new group-think fad brought to us by these education elitists needs to end. We need to get back to the basics for our children, allow teachers to actually teach—and pursue real knowledge that will help our children have a better future.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson Directs Withdraw from PARCC

arkansas-state-flagArkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson countered a move by his state’s board of education to continue its use of PARCC after rejecting his order to use ACT and ACT Aspire.  Hutchinson sent a letter to Education Commissioner Johnny Key Monday afternoon directing the Department of Education to withdraw the State of Arkansas from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Consortium since he has not reaffirmed the state’s participation since taking office.

So unless the state board of education find some loophole around PARCC’s memorandum of understanding this should be checkmate.  As I have found with state boards of education lately their hubris knows no bounds though so I’m not going to be surprised if they try to find a way around this.

Feds Threaten to Yank $140 Million Over Oregon’s Opt-Out Bill

Flags-of-usa-and-oregonAs Congress will consider the ESEA reauthorization and discuss what to do with the testing mandate here is something to consider – the U.S. Department of Education just threatened to pull $140 million from Oregon if a parental opt-out bill passes.

The Oregonian reports:

Oregon schools stand to lose $140 million a year or more in federal funding if state lawmakers vote to enable parents to opt out of standardized testing more easily, a top U.S. education official is warning.

Legislation headed for Oregon Senate approval as soon as Wednesday could trigger serious sanctions that include the loss of federal funding, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle said in a May 27 email and letter to Oregon schools chief Rob Saxton.

The House overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2655 in April. Backers want schools to inform Oregon parents twice a year of their rights to exempt children from state reading and math tests for any reason. Supporters also want schools where a lot of students go untested to be protected from the normal consequence of having the school’s performance rating downgraded a notch or two.

This is clearly an abuse of federal power and when the U.S. Department of Education attempt to coerce a state to vote down a bill that strengthens parental rights then Congress needs to provide a stern rebuke by removing that power.