New Jersey Legislature Unveils Plan to Eliminate Hundreds of School Districts

The New Jersey Legislative leaders unveiled a plan that would eliminate hundreds of school districts. NJ.com reports:

The proposal, unveiled by state lawmakers Thursday, suggests regionalizing all of the state’s elementary and middle school districts into larger K-12 districts. The plan would consolidate a total of 278 school districts serving 303 municipalities, according to an NJ Advance Media analysis. 

The idea is just one aspect of a sweeping study by a panel of tax experts and economists that includes dozens of recommendations for how to improve New Jersey’s fiscal stability. Top lawmakers have yet to say which of those suggestions they will support.

 Regardless of whether the suggestion moves forward, it shows just how inefficient experts think New Jersey’s school system is. The plan would consolidate some of the state’s smallest districts but also some with thousands of students. 

From a fiscal point of view, I can certainly understand why they suggest this. Iowa, where I live, has K-12 districts only, so I’m sure property taxes are a mess. School finance, in general, is a mess regardless of where you live. It also doesn’t seem like it helps the school non-teaching staff glut we are experiencing nationwide.

That said, forced consolidation and the further centralization of education erodes local control. Bigger is not, and in fact rarely is, better when it comes to public education. In fact, larger school districts tend to have an even greater administrative glut.

Common Core and the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Race

montana-supt-public-instruction-candidates

Elsie Arntzen, Melissa Romano

The Billings Gazette previewed the Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction race between Melissa Romano, a Helena teacher and math coach, and Republican Elsie Arntzen, a legislator and former Billings teacher.

Here is where they are at on Common Core:

In 2011, Montana adopted a new set of education standards that largely reflect Common Core. The standards provide benchmarks at every grade level and are largely recognized as more rigorous. The standards were adopted at the state level and produced by a consortium of states, but have been criticized as a top-down approach pushed by the federal government. Any new standards in Montana are subject to final approval by the Board of Public Education, but the superintendent usually plays a heavyweight role in the process.

Romano, a teacher for 12 years, was involved with writing Common Core standards and believes they provide a high bar for students.

“They’re so superior to the old standards,” she said. “They’re rigorous, they’re high expectations for every single kid, they set a very defined end goal for where we want our kids to be at the end of the year. There’s a clear path for teachers to follow.”

Arntzen, who spent 23 years teaching and is a state senator representing Billings, has expressed skepticism about Common Core and the assessment developed based on the standards, Smarter Balanced tests. But she’s stopped short of saying she would push for new standards.

She did say she’s glad the standards have become a hot topic.

“It brought the discussion of education into coffee,” for the general public, she said.

Romano, however, said there’s been a lot of misinformation about Common Core, which has also rubbed off on testing.

First of all I have to ask is how exactly was Romano involved in writing Common Core? Here is the list of people who served on the development teams. Her name isn’t there. If she means she provided feedback to the state before they adopted Common Core wholesale that is a far cry from helping write the standards.

In Romano’s defense it would seem the Billings Gazette is overstating her involvement with Common Core and not Romano herself. From her website:

Romano participates in the National Education Association Common Core Working Group, helping to ensure that local guidance, insight and expertise is incorporated into the implementation of nation-wide education standards. Romano was also selected to work with educators throughout America as a juror and evaluator for the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products with Achieve, an independent organization dedicated to working with states to raise standards.

The NEA had little to nothing to do with writing Common Core.

Secondly on the issue of Common Core you have a cheerleader for Common Core (Romano) vs. someone who has been skeptical, but according to the Billings Gazette hasn’t said she would push for new standards (Arntzen).

Looking at Arntzen’s website I’m not sure that is entirely accurate, but voters should also consider her record as a state legislator not just what her website says.

Arntzen on her issues page says she supports “Montana-Made Solutions.”

We all know that Washington is broken. Instead of catering to the arbitrary standards and out of touch curriculum D.C. bureaucrats try to force on our students, Elsie will work with local school districts on Montana-made solutions that reflect the needs of our local communities.

On local control her website states:

The best decisions about our children’s education are made at the local level – not by bureaucrats in Helena or D.C. Elsie will ensure that parents and teachers are involved in the unique educational issues facing our children.

Romano, on the other hand, doesn’t mention local control at all on her website. She doesn’t even mention Common Core in her issues page (Arntzen doesn’t either directly). She does express support for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Every student in Montana deserves the opportunity to be successful. Replacing the outdated No Child Left Behind law frees Montana’s educators from its failed requirements, and allows them more opportunities to be creative in their curriculum to inspire a love of learning in students. The Every Student Succeeds Act gives Montana more autonomy to do what is best for our state, and our education system. Additionally, increased support into Montana’s preschool education will put our youngest students on a path of success.

Arntzen, however, told the Billings Gazette she was concerned with how the state plan was coming together.

Arntzen said that she believes the plan is being rushed without enough time for community input. She criticized the process as being Helana-dominated. The plan is being developed, in part, by a committee who meets in Helena but draws representatives from across the state.

Arntzen may be a wild card in terms of how much she’ll actually fight Common Core, but it’s pretty clear Romano will double down on Common Core and things like it. Arntzen appears to be someone who will, at least, be a stronger champion for local control.

Important Education Bills Before Arizona Legislature

arizona-state-flag

I wanted to share some information emailed to me by Olga Tarro, a parent and education activist in Arizona about some bills that require some attention.

First the good bills….

A bill before the Arizona House and its companion bill in the Senate seek to return local control to schools by allowing them to choose the test they use. This bill will be heard this week.  Here is the bill summary:

HB2544/ SB1321 The state board of education (SBE) shall adopt a menu of statewide achievement assessments to measure pupil achievement beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. The assessments provided must be of “high quality” and demonstrate that they meet or exceed the state board’s adopted academic standards; that the cost to administer each assessment is not more then current assessment cost; and provide a third part evaluation of each assessment to show that it is of high-quality and meets standards.

Then the bad bill….

Apparently some legislators not happy with Diane Douglass have introduced a bill that would shift powers and duties away from the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction to the unelected State Board of Education.

The bill SB 1416 was just added and it is expected to be heard tomorrow.

Arizona friends please contact members of the Arizona House and Senate Education Committees. Their contact information is below:

House Education Committee:  Ask these Legislators to support HB2544 and NOT to support SB1416 

Senate Education Committee:  Ask these Legislators to support SB1321 and NOT to support SB1416

Marco Rubio: We Don’t Need Common Core or a Department of Education

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

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

During the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, IA last Friday U.S. Senator Marco Rubio gave a direct answers about what a federal role in K-12 education should look like when the topic was brought up by Frank Luntz who moderated the forum.

“I agree that our K-12 system in America is deficient and it is not preparing kids to compete in the 21st century, but it really isn’t the role of the federal government to run the K through 12 system that belongs to state and local communities. That’s why we don’t need Common Core, and quite frankly that is why we don’t need a Department of Education,” Rubio said.

He then discussed higher education, in particular trade schools, but then Luntz circled back around to K-12 education.  Luntz talked about how some communities are failing and states differ from one another in quality of education.  He said, “aren’t kids suffering as a result?”

“The answer to that is you better get better state legislators, better school board members, a better governor, because it is the local government… If you put the federal government in charge of K through 12 education you are not going to be happy with the result. Because that means you are going to have to go to Washington, DC and try to influence some unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat at the Department of Education. That means you have to travel to Washington, DC to get Congress to pay attention and they are only going to make it worse,” Rubio answered.

“I honestly, truly and fully believe that it constitutionally belong at the state and local level, but you will get better results when the people making those K through 12 decisions are the people closest to our people,” Rubio added.

Watch his entire answer below:

 

Montana Joins Common Core Fight

Photo credit: Martin Kraft (CC-By-SA 3.0)

Photo credit: Martin Kraft (CC-By-SA 3.0)

The Montana House of Representatives will consider four different bills related to the Common Core State Standards.  They only meet biennially in odd number years so they were unable to consider a Common Core bill in 2014.  State Representative Debra Lamm (R-Livingston) is the primary sponsor of HB 376.  This bill would prohibit membership in any association that results in ceding any control over public schools.

Lamm also sponsored HB 377 which basically voids the Common Core State Standards and establishes an “accreditation standards review council” that would determine new standards.  The language in the bill is similar to review and replace bills we’ve seen in other states.

Lamm also introduced HB 501 that will require parental consent before any information can be collected from students and clarifies that parents are the owner of that student data.  She also introduced HB 521 ensures local control by clarifying that content and performance standards are voluntary for local school districts.

All four bills will be heard before the Montana House Education Committee on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 3:00p (MST) at the Montana State Capitol Building in Helena.

Feds Bypass States to Get Local Districts to Sign “Future Ready District Pledge”

1024px-US-DeptOfEducation-SealMissouri Education Watchdog first reported today that the U.S. Department of Education has sent out a letter to Superintendents of local school districts explaining their “future ready district pledge.”

You can find the letter here and I also have the text below:

Dear Superintendent,

As one of more than 16,000 superintendents leading school districts across the nation, you are on the forefront of the transformation of public education. Technology now allows for personalized digital learning for every student in the nation so long as leaders have the technological infrastructure and human capacity in place to ensure success.

The Future Ready District Pledge is designed to set out a roadmap to achieve that success and to commit districts to move as quickly as possible towards our shared vision of preparing students for success in college, careers and citizenship. The U.S. Department of Education seeks to encourage and support superintendents who commit to taking a leadership role in this transition with recognition and resources to help facilitate this transition to digital learning.

In June of 2013, the President launched the ConnectED Initiative to provide 99% of students in the nation with access to high-speed Internet connectivity at the classroom level. Coupled with two billion dollars from the federal E-Rate program, increased flexibility in the use of federal funds, and billions of dollars in additional commitments from the private sector, progress towards improving the nation’s physical infrastructure has already been dramatically accelerated.

However, in order for these resources to leverage their maximum impact on student learning, schools and districts must develop the human capacity, digital materials, and device access to use the new bandwidth wisely and effectively. The Future Ready District Pledge establishes a framework for achieving those goals and will be followed by providing district leaders with additional implementation guidance, online resources, and other support they need to transition to effective digital learning and achieve tangible outcomes for the students they serve.

The U.S. Department of Education is calling on superintendents like you who lead district, charter, and private schools to join us in taking the Future Ready District Pledge and working to develop, implement, and share your technology plan with other districts so they can learn from your successes and challenges along the way.

Thank you for all you are already doing to improve the education for our nation’s students. Do not hesitate to reach out to us for support. We stand ready to help you become a Future Ready district.

Richard Culatta
Director, Office of Educational Technology
Office of the Secretary

Seth Andrew
Senior Advisor & Superintendent in Residence
Office of the Secretary

Here is the text of their pledge:

Future Ready District Pledge

I, _______________________, Superintendent of _________________________ do hereby affirm the commitment of this district to work with students, educators, families, and members of our community to become Future Ready by engaging in a wide range of activities such as:

Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning Within Our Schools.
Future Ready district leadership teams work collaboratively to transform teaching and learning using the power of technology to help drive continuous improvement. We work together to protect student privacy and to teach students to become responsible, engaged, and contributing digital citizens.
Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
Future Ready districts conduct comprehensive diagnostic assessments of the district’s technology infrastructure and develop a sustainable plan to ensure broadband classroom connectivity and wireless access. Future Ready districts work with community partners to leverage local, state, and federal resources to support home Internet access outside of traditional school hours.
Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
Future Ready districts strive to provide everyone with access to personalized learning opportunities and instructional experts that give teachers and leaders the individual support they need, when they need it. Future Ready districts provide tools to help teachers effectively leverage learning data to make better instructional decisions.
Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
Future Ready districts work with necessary stakeholders to ensure that all students and educators across the district have regular access to devices for learning. Future Ready districts develop tools to support a robust infrastructure for managing and optimizing safe and effective use of technology, so students have opportunities to be active learners, creating and sharing content, not just consuming it.
Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
Future Ready districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning. Teachers are able to share, discover, and adapt openly-licensed materials and teaching plans.
Offering Digital Tools to Help Students And Families #ReachHigher.
Future Ready districts make digital resources available that help access expanded college, career, and citizenship opportunities. Future Ready districts promote ways to leverage technology to expand equity through digital activities such as completion of the FAFSA online, virtual counseling services, college scholarship search tools, and online advising access, all of which help to return America to the nation in the world with the highest college completion rate by 2020.
Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.
Future Ready districts work to design, implement, and share their technology plans. Future Ready districts join regional summits, participate in an online Connected Superintendents’ community of practice, and publish their Future Ready technology plan at a site such as www.MyDistrict.org/FutureReady.

There are numerous problems with this pledge which Anne Gassel highlights at MEW, but the most troubling aspect to this is the trend of the U.S. Department of Education bypassing states.  They have done it with the District Level Race to the Top program and other federal grants, with the Principal and Teacher Ambassador program, and now this.

Just a reminder… there is no constitutional role in education for the federal government.

MA School Superintendent: We are at a pivotal juncture in this country with respect to education

tony-gazdaThis piece from Todd Gazda, the superintendent of Ludlow Public Schools in Massachusetts,  is worth sharing here.  I wish more superintendents would speak up like this.  Here is an excerpt:

We are at a pivotal juncture in this country with respect to education. Over the past decade, we have seen a dramatic escalation in the involvement of the Federal Government in education. There seems to be the belief in Washington that the alleged problems in public education in the U.S. can be corrected through national standards, increased regulations, standardized testing, and mandates regarding what and how our children should be taught. It seems that government at both the State and Federal levels want to take control of education away from locally elected officials and place that control in the hands of bureaucrats in the various state capitals and Washington.  Nowhere is that practice more evident than here in Massachusetts.

We are drowning in initiatives. Even if they were all good ideas, there is no way we could effectively implement them all. They are getting in the way of each other and working to inhibit necessary change and progress. The number and pace of regulations to which we must respond and comply is increasing at an alarming rate. The following information is taken from the testimony of Tom Scott, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, presented to the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Education Committee on June 27, 2013.  An examination of the regulations and documents requiring action by local districts on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website demonstrates that from the years 1996 -2008 (13 years) there were 4,055  (average of 312 each year) documents requiring action of local districts in response to regulations. The same examination conducted on the four year period of 2009-2013 reveals that there were 5,382 (an average of 1077 each year) multiple page documents requiring action by local school districts. How are we effectively supposed to implement local initiatives and meet the needs of our students when we are mired in this bureaucratic nightmare of a system?

Education is an inherently local pursuit. To view it otherwise is misguided and detrimental to the mission of educating our children. In order for schools to be effective they must be responsive to the culture of the community in which they reside. The culture of those individual communities differ greatly and mandates which dictate uniformity for schools across the state, and now even the nation, are in direct contravention to that reality.  Educational historian, David Tyack, stated that “The search for the one best system has ill served the pluralistic character of American Society. Bureaucracy has often perpetuated positions and outworn practices rather than serving the clients, the children to be taught.”

Read the rest.

HT Diane Ravitch

Sandra Stotsky: Local School Boards Must Take Action Now

Local school boards must take action now. They still have the legal authority in every single state even if they are told they don’t, or think they don’t.

They must, upon petition by parents asap, vote (1) to allow parents to opt-out their children from any Common Core-based test (pilot, field, or regular); (2) to forbid any further implementation of curriculum based on and addressing CC standards; (3) to eliminate use of CC standards in their school district; (4) to develop/adopt any other set of standards in ELA, math, or science they want; and (5) to require their K-12 curriculum to address these other standards once they are developed/adopted.

Every local school board has the legal authority to require these actions. Only the state legislature can pass a bill that eliminates local control/authority. No state legislature will.

I will give 1-2 free days of professional development to develop first-rate ELA standards with the English/reading teachers in any school district in the country that votes the above. All it has to do is pay my travel expenses.

Michigan House Passes Common Core Implementation with Local Opt-Out

michigan-flagHere we see the problem inherent with a full-time legislature.  The Michigan House and Senate passed an omnibus bill that defunded the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  Since the Legislature continues to be in session year-round; Common Core advocates yesterday were able to pass a resolution before the fiscal year started in October that allows the implementation.

It passed 85-21. Courtesy of Stop Common Core in Michigan, here are the Representatives who voted no: Bumstead, Callton, Cotter, Daley Farrington Forlini, Franz, Genetski, Goike, Hooker, Howrylak, Johnson, Kurtz, Lauwers, Leonard, Pettalia, Potvin, MacMaster, McMillin, Rendon, and Somerville.

Be sure to thank them.  Take note if your Representative was not on the list.

The bill is a mixed bag however, there are some bright spots as it comes with conditions:

  • It allows local school districts to opt-out – so this battle can be fought at the local level.
  • It says that Michigan must be able to add or remove standards as it sees fit.
  • The standards can not dictate curriculum, and local districts must be able to maintain control over curriculum, textbooks, education materials and instructional methods.
  • It requires the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan State Board of Education to issue a report to the Legislature by December 1 that includes a review of all available student assessment tools, information about how they would be used, and how much they would cost to implement.  So there is a possibility Michigan could pull out of Smarter Balanced.

So take this battle local and encourage your legislators to dump Smarter Balanced.  Also, while it will probably be an uphill battle – contact your state senator.

A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education

The Pioneer Institute in cooperation with American Principles Project and Pacific Research Institute released a white paper written by Robert Scott, the former Texas Commissioner of Education.  It is entitled “A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education.”  The preface is by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Here is the executive summary:

In three years’ time, the United States has witnessed a sweeping effort to dramatically alter how educational systems are governed and standards and curricula are developed. With the 2009 announcement of an initiative to develop and implement common standards and assessments across all states, and with subsequent federal incentive programs designed to encourage states to sign on to this new initiative, the federal government has succeeded in fundamentally altering the relationships between Washington and the states. The United States has a history of state and local control in K-12 education, and that local control has always translated into diverse systems of educational governance and diverse standards.

By signing on to national standards and the assessments that will accompany them, participating states have ceded their autonomy to design and oversee the implementation of their own standards and tests. The implications of ceding this autonomy are varied. Not only do some states risk sacrificing high quality standards for national standards that may be less rigorous, all states are sacrificing their ability to inform what students learn. Moreover, the act of adopting national standards has and will continue to disrupt legal and other processes upon which states rely to ensure the adequate and equitable delivery of educational materials and resources. Finally and, perhaps, most distressing, the predicted cost to states of implementing the Common Core is in the billions of dollars, a number that only stands to grow if implementation ramps up.

Drawing generously from the experience in Texas, one of only a handful of states that has thus far refused to join in the Common Core, this paper outlines a brief history of the initiative and the federal programs designed, in part, to incentivize states to join in the effort. It goes on to describe the many costs, financial and otherwise, that come with Common Core, not least of which is the cost to states of sacrificing their autonomy to make decisions about standards and testing  and the many other aspects of education upon which these things touch. This paper ends with a brief discussion of the likely road ahead in national education reform and makes recommendations for how policymakers and concerned citizens might think about the proper federal and state roles in education vis–à–vis national standards and tests.

Here is Senator Grassley’s preface:

The system of federalism outlined in the U.S. Constitution is not a technicality nor was it an accident. It was designed to make the government accountable to the people by placing power locally. The question of what content students should be taught has enormous consequences for children. It should go without saying, but it bears repeating, that no one has a greater right than the parents to determine what is best for their child. As a result, parents should directly control as much of their child’s education as possible. When the government makes decisions that affect children’s education, these decisions should be made at the level of government close to the parents and students affected.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was supposed to be a voluntary effort between states, but federal incentives have distorted the normal state decision-making process. The selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have a realistic chance to compete for funds, the state must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards.” These standards matched the descriptions of the Common Core. The final Common Core Standards were released only two months before a deadline for states applying for Race to the Top to provide evidence of having adopted “common standards,” which cut short any meaningful public debate about whether a state should adopt the standards. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education has also made adoption of standards meeting the description of the Common Core a condition to receive a state waiver under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As a result, states that might otherwise want to revisit their decision to adopt Common Core Standards will have to think twice about risking
their waiver.

I seek to eliminate further U.S. Department of Education interference with state decisions on academic content standards by using Congress’s power of the purse to prohibit any further federal funds being used to advance any particular set of academic content standards. Whether states adopt or reject the Common Core Standards should be between the citizens of each state and their state elected officials. State governments must be able to make that decision, or to change their decision, based on direct accountability to the citizens of their states, free from any federal coercion.

You can read it in full below: