News You Can Use:

The Oregonian, “Senate Approval of Opt-Out Bill Shows Leadership Vacuum on Education”: The Oregon State Senate’s vote on Thursday in favor of an opt-out bill “not only undermines the state’s push for higher standards, but also could cost Oregon’s poorest schools millions of dollars in badly needed federal funding,” the editorial board writes. “The chamber bowed to the teachers’ union by overwhelmingly passing House Bill 2655, which allows parents to opt their students out of statewide standardized testing for any reason at all.” The bill would also require schools to notify parents of their right to opt-out, “practically inviting families to join the anti-testing rebellion.” Noting Smarter Balanced exams are designed to better measure student progress, the editorial says, “Students, who have been shortchanged for years by low investment coupled with even lower expectations, are the ones who will continue to pay the price for an education policy that pursues the path of least resistance.” “Are we satisfied that Oregon graduates spend extra time and money taking remedial classes in college for material they should have learned in high school?… If legislators [in the Senate] fail to turn [the bill] back, Gov. Kate Brown will face a high-stakes test of her own.”

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the most powerful tools for teachers and parents to monitor student development and to identify and address learning needs before they become problematic. A recent Teach Plus study found 79 percent of teacher participants believe new exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced are better than those their states used before. Many states, including Oregon where as many as 75 percent of community college students need remediation, have begun to close Honesty Gaps by implementing these new assessments. The opt-out legislation in Oregon would undermine the effectiveness of those tools, making it more difficult to ensure students are on a path to graduate college- and career-ready.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Education Board Votes Down ACT Switch”: The Arkansas Board of Education voted 7-1 on Thursday against authorizing the state to switch to student assessments developed by ACT. The decision runs counter to the recommendation of a review panel that advised replacing the PARCC exam, a plan endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The Education Board members criticized the process as being rushed and voted to keep PARCC tests in place. “It feels a little political,” said Vicki Saviers, one of the Board members. “And the people that end up paying for it are the teachers.” Gov. Hutchinson said he was “disappointed” by the decision. “I determined it best to make the change for the next school year for the sake of long-term stability for the teachers, school districts and for the sake of our students,” he said in a statement. Deborah Jones, an assistant commissioner at the State Department of Education, said, “We need to make a decision that will stand and be consistent for many years.”

What It Means:The decision in Arkansas demonstrates state control of education issues, even if the process is messy. Both PARCC and ACT exams are high-quality assessments that will hold students to the high learning goals espoused by the Common Core. Policymakers are working to ensure teachers and students have stability in the classroom, and they should resist allowing politics to influence any decisions. Rigorous assessments like PARCC provide educators and parents with one of the strongest tools to measure student development, and those designed to support Common Core Standards will ensure more students have the support they need to ultimately graduate high school prepared for college or a career.


Correcting the Record:

CATO at Liberty, “Misinformed on Common Core? This Won’t Set You Straight”: Neal McCluskey, education director for the CATO Institute, criticizes conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin’s rebuttal to a recent op-ed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Whenever someone declares opponents of the Common Core ‘misinformed,’ get ready: there’s probably a lot more misinformation coming your way,” McCluskey says. In response to Rubin’s point that Race to the Top did not insist that states adopt the Common Core, McCluskey argues, “The Race to the Top that provided the primary impetus for states to adopt the Core de facto only allowed the Core – not ‘other standards’…Only the Core met [standards-and-assessments consortium] criterion, and it was clearly the intent of many Core supporters and the Obama administration to have RTT push the Core specifically.” In response to Rubin’s assertion that it’s problematic for governors to tout success in their schools while the Common Core was in place, McCluskey says “everyone should refrain from crediting or blaming the Core for outcomes even after it has been in place for years.” Finally, McCluskey says “the delineation between ‘standards’ and ‘curricula’ is no bright line…In this vain, the Core explicitly calls for instructional ‘shifts’…More important, federally funded tests go with the Core…and what they ask will likely de facto fill in curricular specifics over time.”

Where They Went Wrong: McCluskey seems to dismiss the fact that opponents have largely mischaracterized the Common Core by perpetuating myths, a reality addressed by many experts like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. While the Obama administration made the mistake of incentivizing adoption of comparable standards, states voluntarily decided if they would move forward with implementing the Common Core. In fact, nearly half the states adopted and continue to implement Common Core despite having never been awarded ‘Race to the Top’ funds. Additionally, objective analysis has repeatedly rejected the idea that the standards drive curriculum or promote ideology. While there is no possible way to raise standards and not affect teaching, the Common Core State Standards give educators the freedom to choose how they will teach to the higher standards. While some states have chosen to offer model curriculum – like EngageNY – teachers have the freedom to decide how they will ensure their students are learning to the standards, as seen in classrooms across the country.


On Our Reading List:

NJ Spotlight, “Christie Touts Education Record in New Jersey During Policy Address in Iowa”: In a speech at Iowa State University yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laid out a 15-point education plan spanning from K-12 to college. Gov. Christie touted the passage of tenure-reform law in his state and promoted the idea of merit-based pay for teachers. The speech praised “heroic” teachers while criticizing unions, the article notes. “When the unions said that only more money could reform K-12 education, here’s what I said to them: We need accountability, competition and choice,” Gov. Christie said. The article notes, “There were some notable omissions in the speech…Topping the list was that there was practically no mention of the Common Core State Standards.”

Colorado Springs Gazette, “Colorado Education Board Chief Resigns from ‘Dysfunctional’ Board, Slams Colleagues”: Colorado State Board of Education Chairwoman Marcia Neal resigned on Thursday citing frustrations with discord, dysfunction and delayed decision-making, the article reports. “Unfortunately, I do not see that the current board is interested in working together and reaching consensus,” Neal said in a letter. She will vacate her seat July 31. Neal explained her decision stemmed from frustrations over decisions regarding the state’s assessments. “We’ve caused significant confusion in the field by indicating we could grant waivers from the state’s assessment system . . . only to find out through a formal attorney general’s opinion that the board had no legal authority to take such action,” Neal wrote.