One College Refuses to Accept College Entrance Exams

Hampshire College - Amherst, MAPhoto credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Hampshire College – Amherst, MA
Photo credit: Kevin Rutherford (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Hampshire College in Amherst, MA decided last year to not accept ACT or SAT scores from students seeking admissions. As a result U.S. News and World Report has dropped the school from their rankings.

Valarie Strauss published a guest piece from the school’s president, Jonathan Lash, that explains why they made that decision.

We completely dropped standardized tests from our application as part of our new mission-driven admissions strategy, distinct from the “test-optional” policy that hundreds of colleges now follow. If we reduce education to the outcomes of a test, the only incentive for schools and students to innovate is in the form of improving test-taking and scores. Teaching to a test becomes stifling for teachers and students, far from the inspiring, adaptive education which most benefits students. Our greatly accelerating world needs graduates who are trained to address tough situations with innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and a capacity for mobilizing collaboration and cooperation.

We weighed other factors in our decision:

• Standardized test scores do not predict a student’s success at our college.

• SATs/ACTs are strongly biased against low-income students and students of color, at a time when diversity is critical to our mission.

• We surveyed our students and learned not one of them had considered rankings when choosing to apply to colleges; instead they most cared about a college’s mission.

• Some good students are bad test takers, particularly under stress, such as when a test may grant or deny college entry. Multiple-choice tests don’t reveal much about a student.

• We’ve developed much better, fairer ways to assess students who will thrive at our college.

This is a different approach from test-optional schools that some have accused these schools as using this as a way to become more exclusive under the guise of being more diverse.  The Hechinger Report published this accusation last August:

After all, research has shown that standardized tests such as the SAT often put low-income and minority students at a disadvantage. Low-income students, unlike their more affluent peers, don’t have the money to spend on expensive test-prep classes that teach tricks students can use to increase their scores. Therefore, it would appear that low-income and minority students would have a better chance of being admitted at test-optional schools.

In practice, however, colleges have used these policies to become even more exclusive than they previously were. Here’s how schools do it: by freeing prospective students from having to provide SAT and ACT scores, they tend to attract more applicants, many of whom may have scored poorly on the tests. (The University of Georgia study found that these schools “receive approximately 220 more applications, on average, after adopting a test-optional policy.”) For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.

In addition, by going test-optional, schools can artificially inflate the average SAT and ACT scores that they report to magazines that rank colleges, such as U.S. News & World Report.

They may be the case for some, but it doesn’t appear one can accuse Hampshire College of this since they are not taking them all together and they’re being dropped from the rankings.

Idaho Businessmen Suing State Over Smarter Balanced

idaho-state-flagThe Idaho Business Alliance, a group of conservative businessmen, is planning to sue the state of Idaho saying their payments to and membership in Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is unconstitutional.

On their website they write:

The Common Core Case is a taxpayer lawsuit against the Governor, State Superintendent of Schools and President of the State School Board, as members of the Executive branch of the State of Idaho. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment and injunction preventing the State of Idaho from continuing to pay membership and student assessment testing fees to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, (SBAC), and requiring the State of Idaho to withdraw from SBAC, on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional compact between States, in violation of Article I, §10 of the U.S. Constitution. The expenditure of Idaho taxpayer funds in support of that entity therefore constitutes an illegal use of those funds under Article I, §3 of the Idaho Constitution.

The lawsuit is grounded in several parts of the Constitution. The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of parents to direct and control the care, custody and education of their children. Historically, administration of elementary and secondary schools, including decision making as to curriculum, has been reserved to the States.

In the legislation creating the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Congress specifically prohibited that agency from involvement in the decision-making process of parents and State and local governments in the administration and curriculums of elementary and secondary education within a State’s borders. In legislation spanning 50 years, Congress has repeatedly stated that the Federal Government does not have a proper role in determining curriculums or in the administration of state and local school systems.

Those interested in donating to the effort can do that here.  This group appears to be taking the same approach as what we saw with the successful lawsuit in Missouri.  Let’s hope it works in Idaho as well.

USED Official Admits Federal Curriculum Violation in Bush-Supported Race to the Top

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

The arguments made by establishment proponents of Race to the Top and Common Core, including some presidential candidates continue to implode.  The well-worn chant that these were “state-led,” “voluntary,” “hijacked by the federal government,” and especially that Common Core is “only standards” and “has nothing to do with curriculum” is dissolving into thin air.   That particular claim about curriculum has been absolutely shredded in the admission by former US Department of Education (USED) official, Joanne Weiss in an essay discussing the “lessons learned” from the whole effort to nationalize education standards via Race to the Top (RTTT).  Weiss actually brags that RTTT, a federal government program, produced curriculum:

In addition, new curriculum materials funded through Race to the Top and released in 2014 are already in use in 20 percent of classrooms nationwide. (Emphasis added).

This is a clear violation of three federal laws that prohibit federal involvement in curriculum – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA – 20 U.S.C. § 7907(a)], The Department of Education Organization Act [20 U.S.C. § 3403(b)], and the General Education Provisions Act [GEPA – 20 U.S.C. § 1232(a)].  Here is a sample of the language from GEPA, which is quite similar to the other two:

“No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, or personnel of educational institution, school, or school system…”  (Emphasis added).

Weiss’ statement quoted above is a direct admission that USED is violating federal law.  It also completely contradicts statements from presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his now former group The Foundation for Excellence in Education, that Common Core, adoption of which was all but required for cash-starved states to be able to compete for Race to the Top funds, is only a set of standards and has nothing to do with curriculum.  The claim that Bush’s foundation was attempting to debunk here is now shown to be truer than their so-called “fact:”

Claim: “Common Core means federal control of school curriculum, i.e., control by Obama administration left-wing bureaucrats.”

Fact:  Common Core State Standards are not a national mandate or a national curriculum.  States voluntarily chose whether or not to adopt the standards and retain full authority for implementation, preventing the possibility of a federal takeover. State leaders, accountable to their constituents, can withdraw their states from the standards at any time.

This revelation comes on the heels of an excellent article by Jane Robbins of American Principles in Action, quoting the same essay by USED’s Weiss that that federal coercion was present from the beginning with the Race to the Top grant program by requiring alignment to the program:

“…by the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education — by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.”

Robbins rightly and clearly explained:

But how to persuade the states they should adopt the Common Core national standards? Benchmarking [for Success] had a suggestion for that too: “As soon as possible, the federal government should offer new funding . . . to help underwrite the cost for states to take the [reforms] described above related to standards and assessment, curriculum, human capital, and accountability.” (Emphasis added).

So the coercion described so cheerily by Weiss was actually part of the plan all along. By pushing particular standards and assessments onto the states through ties to RttT money, USED was able to impose its policy preferences, and those of the private entities that were calling the shots (indeed, Weiss herself had worked with one of those entities before being brought to USED by Secretary Arne Duncan).

As chronicled by Emmett McGroarty also of American Principles in Action, Bush was complementary of Obama’s efforts to use federal money for grants to expand the federal role in education:

I think Secretary Duncan and President Obama deserve credit for putting pressure on states to change, particularly the states that haven’t changed at all. They’re providing carrots and sticks, and I think that’s appropriate.

The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition has documented much of the copious evidence of Jeb Bush’s cooperation with the White House to help spread Common Core like a cancer across the nation   

…and to defend it and help the deceptive rebranding efforts in Florida saying to Secretary Arne Duncan in an email:

“He [Governor Rick Scott]  is fearful of the rebellion. Wants to stop using the term common core but keep the standards. Wants to get out of PARCC.”

…and trying to say while campaigning for Governor Scott that Florida is out of Common Core while at the same time saying that the changes to Common Core were “not substantial:

Bush now says that Race to the Top is a problem of federal overreach, but that kind of rhetoric has only emerged since he started getting serious about running for president and especially since he started plummeting in the polls.  As shown above, in our analysis of the first debate, and chronicled by other writers like Stanly Kurtz of National Review, it is completely hollow and disingenuous. 

The evidence that this strategy is not working is showing up in poll after poll.  As of September 23rd, Bush is behind in both state (including his home state of Florida where his unfavorable ratings are higher than his favorable ones), and national polls to candidates that have strongly and publicly repudiated Common Core and expanded involvement in education:

In addition, the public and Republican primary voters are not fooled by the governor’s new-found love affair with the Tenth Amendment as evidenced by him receiving boos when speaking of Common Core and “high standards” at an event in South Carolina as well as polling data showing significant opposition to national standards not labeled Common Core:

“The latest decline in support for these standards does not arise simply from a politically tainted Common Core ‘brand.’ Among a second group of respondents who answered the same question but without the phrase ‘Common Core,’ support for the use of shared standards across the states slid from 68% in 2014 to 54% in 2015.” (Emphasis added)

Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times also provided evidence of that falsehood in an article titled Jeb Bush’s bond with Barack Obama on education poses 2016 challenge for him in January of this year that described Bush’s support for federal involvement:

“I’m excited … because I think for the first time in my political life, there seems to be more consensus than disagreement across the ideological spectrum about education reform,” Bush said during a 2009 speech at an education forum in Nashville. “I’m very encouraged about Secretary Duncan’s advocacy of challenging the status quo, and I’m excited that Republicans seem to be not wanting to get into a food fight about this but to join forces and to find common ground. . . . This is a huge opportunity.”

…Today, the notion that the federal government was involved stems in part from Obama’s “Race to the Top” grants that encouraged states to lift education standards and innovate…Bush supported competitive grants, though, his staff stressed, he opposed the overall stimulus from which the money came.

Leary’s article also provided video of the now infamous meeting in Miami in 2011 where Bush introduced President Obama and Obama effusively praised Bush’s education reform efforts: (starting at 5:19) 

Obama – “We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office and somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen, Jeb Bush. We are grateful. We are grateful for him being here.  Aside from being a former governor of this great state, Jeb is best known as being the brother of Marvin Bush. Apparently the rest of the family also did some work back in Washington back in the day.  (Laughter) The truth is that I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service and we are so grateful to him for the work he has done on behalf of education.  So, thank you!”

The brazen fashion in which the Obama administration and Common Core’s proponents in both parties, especially Clinton, Bush and Kasich, have promoted Common Core and the lawless and unconstitutional federal structures that have put those standards, tests, and curriculum in place while riding roughshod over parents and elected legislators is breathtaking.  The parents of America want a presidential candidate that will tell the truth; follow the Constitution and the rule of law; and reduce, not expand the federal footprint in education.

Only One in Five New Yorkers Believe Common Core Has Improved Education

New York State FlagSiena College released a poll last Thursday that shows only one in five New Yorkers believe that the Common Core State Standards have improved public education in the state.

Only 19 percent of New Yorkers say that implementation of the Common Core has improved public education, while twice that number, 40 percent, believes that Common Core has worsened public education and another 24 percent say it’s had no meaningful impact.

“A plurality or majority of voters from every party and the non-New York City regions say that implementing Common Core has worsened public education in New York, with New York City voters being closely divided,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said. “While one in five New Yorkers thinks that Common Core implementation has improved public schools, 64 percent say it has either had no meaningful effect on public education or it has worsened it.

“Given that Common Core was designed to improve educational standards and outcomes, the Education Department and new commissioner certainly have their work cut out for them in trying to convince New Yorkers that Common Core implementation over the last few years has been a step forward in improving public education in the state,” Greenberg said.

Cross tabs for the question discussed:

siena-college-poll

MCAS vs. PARCC

The Pioneer Institute addressed the release of the MCAS scores and a preliminary release of PARCC scores that showed a greater number of students scoring proficient on MCAS with lower PARCC scores.

The release of 2015 MCAS results together with a patchwork of preliminary 2015 PARCC testing results provides little new information to help Massachusetts choose between the two tests.

PARCC supporters claim the test’s rigor is evidenced by the fact that fewer students scored in its top two categories compared to those who took MCAS at some grade levels. But the evidence doesn’t support such a claim. First, school districts were simply allowed to choose which test to administer. Districts also had the option of offering PARCC by computer or on paper. The data released yesterday covers only the 59 percent of students taking PARCC by computer.

Though both MCAS and PARCC are based on Common Core English and mathematics standards, the two can’t be compared. MCAS focuses on reading comprehension and understanding underlying concepts. PARCC test items are difficult to navigate and their supposed “higher-order” components are most often just multi-step problems. PARCC’s focus on computerized testing is biased against students with less familiarity with technology or less developed keyboard skills.

Unfortunately, a longitudinal comparison of recent MCAS results to the performance of Massachusetts students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggests that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been putting its thumb on the scale, weakening the 10th grade MCAS tests. Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester also chairs PARCC’s governing board.    

Over the years, the success of Massachusetts’ reform effort has been validated by the state’s scores on NAEP. Often called, “The Nation’s Report Card,” it validates the rigor of a state’s assessment system by measuring outcomes against a national yardstick and has been used by groups like Education Trust to demonstrate the strength or weakness of a state’s system. The difference between NAEP scores and state assessment results has been called “the honesty gap.”

mcas

What is clear from this graph is that the MCAS is a rigorous (and internationally comparable) assessment through 8th grade but the 10th grade assessment has been diminished as a result of decisions made by state education officials. We urge not only the retention of the MCAS but also a restoration of honesty to the 10th grade test.

Across Massachusetts there have been major technical issues surrounding PARCC’s online administration that have compromised the reliability of results. There has been no estimate of the additional costs districts and municipalities incurred to administer PARCC during the last school year.

In essence, the pilot Massachusetts administration of PARCC during the 2014-15 school year amounted to an opportunity for Pearson, the nation’s largest testing company, to get free feedback on its failing product. There has been little transparency about PARCC which, as a private entity, is under no obligation to release protocols or test questions, as MCAS has always done in accordance with state law. In the past, testing companies paid states and districts to conduct pilot tests.

With every passing day it is clear, as The Boston Globe said several months ago, that PARCC is in a “death spiral.” It began with approximately 26 states and membership is now in single digits. Recently, the Patriot Ledger urged Gov. Baker and legislative leaders to intervene against PARCC.

They are right. Gov. Baker should remove Massachusetts from the PARCC testing consortia.

Florida Sees Increase in Homeschooling Thanks to Common Core, Testing

The Gustoff Family in Central Iowa

As a homeschooling dad I’ve said before that the ONLY positive I’ve seen with Common Core is how it is prompting more families to homeschool.  I’m not one who believes this is the best option for every family, but if you want to make sure your child receives an education that is tailor-made for their personality, learning style, and ability it is hard to beat homeschooling. Which incidentally is the exact opposite of what you get from Common Core and the standardized testing culture present in public schools.

In Florida, like in many other states, the ranks of homeschooling families is on the rise due to Common Core and over-testing. The Tampa Tribune reports:

Last school year, Florida saw the largest increase in home-schooled students in at least a decade, according to the state Department of Education. More than 58,000 Florida families elected to keep 84,096 students out of school — an increase of more than 7,000 over the previous school year.

In the past five years, the total number of home-schooled students in Florida has increased by more than 21 percent, or almost 15,000 students. The last big surge of home-schooled students came in 2011, when about 6,700 students signed up. That was the year after Florida joined a majority of states in joining the divisive Common Core education standards.

Hillsborough County, the state’s fourth most-populous county, enrolled the third-highest number of home-schooled students in the state last school year — 5,560 students from 3,775 families. That’s almost 7 percent of the student population. Duval County enrolled 6,106 students and Palm Beach County enrolled 5,726 students.

Corey McKeown, director of the Tampa-based Christian home school co-op Trinity Homeschool Academy, said almost half the 230 students that take classes of their choosing at school are new this year. Overtesting in schools and the new Florida Standards, which are based on the national Common Core standards, are among the biggest reasons McKeown hears for families leaving public schools. They also worry about increasing violence and bullying in Hillsborough schools, she said.

“There are a lot of families pulling out of the public system because of Common Core, safety issues in schools and wanting to choose their child’s own curriculum,” Mc­Keown said. “We get that a lot with history; they want their kids to know real American history, not what’s taught in the schools. Typically once they pull them out, most don’t want to go back to public schools. Home schooling isn’t something that’s frowned upon anymore.”

Read more.

HT: Stop Common Core in NC

Rick Santorum Addresses Shrinking Federal Role in Education

2015-09-22 20.00.34-1

Rick Santorum addressing Polk County Republicans in Des Moines, IA.

While in Des Moines, Iowa campaigning on Tuesday former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) made a few comments about the federal governments role in education. First after speaking as part of the Iowa Caucus Consortium Candidate Series Santorum held a press avail, and I was able to ask him a question about the work to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.

“If I had a do-over I would not have supported No Child Left Behind simply because I don’t think there has been any discernible improvement of educational quality in America now that the federal government has gotten involved in education. I am willing to do this radical experiment and let parents and teachers and local communities be back in charge of the education of their children because my guess is they care more about these children than the bureaucrats in Washington, DC and the revolution I called for in my book, Blue Collar Conservatives, is to put parents and the local communities back in charge of education. I think we are going to see, and again incorporating the families into that experience, we are going to see a lot stronger educational results as a result of that,” Santorum answered.

Santorum later yesterday spoke to the Polk County Republican Central Committee where he brought up the U.S. Department of Education answering a question about what he would do to reduce the size of government.

“One department that I would shrink is the Department of Education. We went from 2 percent of education spending when I came to Congress, the federal government was responsible for 2 percent of education spending, it’s now eleven. Does anyone think schools have gotten better over the last 20 years? We need to get rid of that spending, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, all of these things can be taken out of Washington, DC. Shrink the Department of Education and put the money back where it belongs to the states. In fact, get rid of the money and the states and local governments deal with it,” Santorum said.

Common Core’s Commonality a Failure

Photo credit: Jan Jacobsen (CC-By-3.0)

Photo credit: Jan Jacobsen (CC-By-3.0)

Common Core advocates, at least a handful of them, seem to be admitting they failed to meet one of the primary goals of the Common Core State Standards Initiative – that there would be commonality among all 50 states.

From US News & World Report:

After spending millions of dollars adopting and implementing the Common Core State Standards and aligned assessments, states are finally beginning to release preliminary results from the first round of tests administered to students last spring.

But it’s unclear whether the results will have any meaningful impact, as a growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves, a set of rigorous academic benchmarks adopted by 42 states and the District of Columbia,

“One of the selling points of Common Core is that when families saw this new data that was more honest, they could do something about it,” says Chad Aldeman, associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an education policy consulting group. “It’s just not coming to fruition like we would have hoped.”

…”This was always supposed to be a partnership among states, and the fact that they can’t come to an agreement … is a bad signal for this whole undertaking of commonality,” Bellwether’s Aldeman says. “And it shows that even despite all this money, the political problems are just too challenging.”

Fordham Institute Micheal Petrilli does try to hold onto some hope.

“I will definitely concede that we have lost the commonality of the Common Core, and that is only likely to get worse,” Petrilli says. “But I think the testing ecosystem is going to continue to evolve. Every state will eventually review the Common Core standards, and states will make tweaks and changes. Over time the Common Core will be less common, but I still think there will be a core there that will be recognizable.”

Read the rest.

Federal Judge Dismisses Bobby Jindal’s Common Core Lawsuit

Jindal in Iowa

Jindal in Iowa

Well there is at least one federal judge who needs to do her homework when it comes to Common Core.  You may have seen last week that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education was dismissed by a federal judge appointed by President Barack Obama.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick wrote that Common Core is not a curriculum and that federal education laws don’t infringe on states’ rights….

Dick said the federal government never endorsed Common Core and did not help create it. That knocks down a charge made by Jindal and other conservative Republicans across the United States…

Dick, whom President Barack Obama appointed to the bench, disagreed. “The evidence supports the finding that participation in both programs is completely voluntary and not unconstitutionally coercive,” she wrote. The score sheet for the federal government’s Race to the Top grant program “encouraged standards that were ‘internationally benchmarked’ and ‘college and career ready,’ but there was no evidence that the (federal) DOE defined the content of those standards,” Dick wrote.

Really?  No Child Left Behind mandating testing doesn’t infringe upon states’ rights? The federal government never endorsed Common Core????? Seriously? Is this why U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan “pushed back against attacks on the Common Core State Standards?” Is this why he spoke out after the South Carolina Legislature first introduced a measure to block it’s implementation in 2012?  Is this why he is giving a sales pitch for the lower Common Core test scores?

Granted Judge Dick has to examine the evidence she is given (and I haven’t read the case made by Jindal’s lawyers), but to say the U.S. Department of Education did not endorse Common Core is ludicrous.

With the Race to the Top application scorers were instructed to give high points for states who adopt “college and career ready standards” that are being implemented by a majority of states.  They also had to join one of two assessment consortia which were funded by the Feds.  How is that legal?  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Education Provisions Act both state the Feds can not push a national test, but apparently, in the mind of Judge Dick paying a third party of develop one or two is just fine.

Not to mention the U.S. Department of Education used the earmark in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in a way not stipulated by Congress.  If Arne Duncan and company didn’t violate the law they certainly violated the spirit of it.

Last Night’s Debate Was Disappointing

Donald Trump in Boone, Iowa.

Donald Trump in Boone, Iowa.

I watched both debates last night. There were a lot of topics that apparently off the table – including education policy.  I do have to give Donald Trump kudos for bringing up Common Core in a poke at Jeb Bush.

“He’s weak on immigration — by the way, in favor of Common Core, which is also a disaster, but weak on immigration,” Trump said.

That’s it. No mention of No Child Left Behind, no questions about Common Core or high-stakes testing.

Nada zip… but apparently it’s more important to ask candidates their view on marijuana and what their Secret Service code names should be.