Monday, September 22, 2014

A little rebellion

I'm seeing much excitement on social media over the town of Tewksbury's town warrant article rejecting PARCC and the Common Core, which has been championed by the town's Republican town committee (article 17; scroll all the way to the end):
THEREFORE: We reject the use of the Common Core State Standards and the associated testing known as PARCC (Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) which stifles academic freedom and achievement, and return control over education of the local school district of Tewksbury, Massachusetts. We choose to use the previous Massachusetts academic standards and associated testing, known as MCAS, which has made Massachusetts’ education number one in the nation and competitive with the top ranking countries on international standardized tests.
This is on Tewksbury special town meeting warrant for October 7, along with 16 other warrant articles.

 Let's first of all point out again that if your concern is with the Common Core, insisting on the use of the MCAS exam doesn't avoid the Common Core. The Massachusetts Board of Ed adopted the Common Core standards in 2011; the MCAS has been changing since then to align with them. Whatever test students in your district take in the spring, it will be Common Core aligned. There is no non-Common Core MCAS to return to.
The Mass Board of Ed adopted those standards to replace standards that they had adopted in the 1990's (1995 for most, 1997 for ELA), as part of the 1993 Ed Reform law in Massachusetts. It isn't as though every district in Massachusetts was doing its own thing until recently; we've all been on the same standards statewide for some time. The power to do so is given to the Board by Mass General Laws, Chapter 69, section 1D, which simply states:
The board shall establish a set of statewide educational goals for all public elementary and secondary schools in the commonwealth.
What is to be included in those standards is included in the rest of the section.
Later on in the same chapter is the (oft-cited last year) 1I section regarding testing:
Section 1I. The board shall adopt a system for evaluating on an annual basis the performance of both public school districts and individual public schools...>The system shall be designed both to measure outcomes and results regarding student performance, and to improve the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction.
(If you're interested in this, I'd recommend reading the whole section, as it spells things out in some detail, though I'd question that all of it is actually followed)

My point is simply this: according to Mass General Law, the state gets to set the standards and the state gets to pick the test.

None of this to say that I don't encourage, as Jefferson had it, "a little rebellion now and then." I'd just encourage us to all get our facts straight when we do so*, and to acknowledge against whom the rebellion is taking place. Here, it appears that Tewksbury is rebelling against the Mass Board of Education and the Massachusetts Legislature (through the laws it has passed).In other words, this isn't an action that Tewksbury takes unilaterally; they're challenging the state's authority.

While the vote in Lee County, Florida, to opt their district out of state standardized testing went viral, it also was rescinded within a week, at least in part due to threats to their state funding. I don't know if Massachusetts will do the same to a similar challenge, but it wouldn't surprise me. It's thus important to recognize what else is on the line.
My guess is it starts at about $12.5 million, from Tewksbury's own FY15 budget projections (see slide 8). The town of Tewksbury is receiving that much in chapter 70 state aid for education for FY15. That's a substantial amount for anyone, but it's very significant in a school budget of $48 million. That's before we look at state and federal grants, which are also administered by the state. Is Tewksbury prepared to pick up an additional $12.5 million plus of its school budget? There's nothing about that in the warrant articles.

*I'm limiting my focus here to the possible outfall of passing the warrant article, not the relative merits of the article itself. It's clearly drawing on questionable sources that have incorrect information. Also, setting aside the lack of subject/verb agreement in the last sentence, citing the MCAS as being responsible for any academic success is not well informed.  

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