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Grade Inflation Eats Away at the Meaning of College by George C. Leef

The Year Was 2081 and Everyone Was Finally Above Average.

Every so often, the issue of grade inflation makes the headlines, and we are reminded that grades are being debased continuously.

That happened in late March when the two academics who have most assiduously studied grade inflation — Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy — provided fresh evidence on their site GradeInflation.com that grade inflation continues.

The authors state, “After 30 years of making incremental changes (in grading), the amount of rise has become so large that what’s happening becomes clear: mediocre students are getting higher and higher grades.”

In their database of over 400 colleges and universities covering the whole range of our higher education system, from large and prestigious universities to small, non-selective colleges, the researchers found not one where grades had remained level over the last 50 years. The overall rise in grades nationally has brought about a tripling of the percentage of A grades, although some schools have been much more “generous” than others.

Or, to look at it the other way, some schools have been much better than others in maintaining academic standards. For instance, Miami of Ohio, the University of Missouri, and Brigham Young have had low grade inflation. Why that has been the case would be worth investigating.

In North Carolina, Duke leads in grade inflation, followed closely by UNC. Wake Forest is in the middle of the pack, while UNC-Asheville has had comparatively little.

But why have American colleges and universities allowed, or perhaps even encouraged grade inflation? Why, as professor Clarence Deitsch and Norman Van Cott put it in this Pope Center piece five years ago, do we have “too many rhinestones masquerading as diamonds?”

Part of the answer, wrote Deitsch and Van Cott, is the fact that money is at stake.  “Professors don’t have to be rocket scientists to figure out that low grades can delay student graduation, thereby undermining state funding and faculty salaries,” they observed.

It might surprise Americans who believe that non-profit entities like colleges are not motivated by money and would allow honest academic assessment to be affected by concerns over revenue maximization, but they do.

But it is not just money that explains grade inflation. At least as important and probably more so is the pressure on faculty members to keep students happy.

History professor Chuck Chalberg put his finger on the problem in this article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Chalberg writes about a friend of his who had completed her Ph.D. in psychology and was working as a teaching assistant to a professor and graded the papers submitted by the undergraduates “with what she thought was an appropriate level of rigor.” But it was not appropriate, she soon learned. The professor “revised nearly all of the grades upward so that were left no failures, few C’s, and mostly A’s and B’s.”

Had she underappreciated the real quality of the work of the students? No, but, Chalberg continues, “the students thought that they were really, really, smart, and would have been quite angry and thrown some major tantrums if they got what they actually deserved.”

Thus, giving out high but undeserved grades is a way of avoiding trouble. That trouble could come from students who have an elevated and unrealistic view of their abilities and will complain about any low grade to school officials.

It could also come from their parents, who have been known to helicopter in and gripe to the administrators that young Emma or Zachary just can’t have a C and if it isn’t changed immediately, there will be serious repercussions.

Another possibility is that faculty will give out inflated grades to avoid conflict with those school administrators.

Low grades affect student retention and at many colleges the most important thing is to keep students enrolled. Back in 2008, Norfolk State University biology professor Stephen Aird lost his job because the administration was upset with him for having the nerve to grade students according to their actual learning rather than giving out undeserved grades just to keep them content. (I wrote about that pathetic case here.)

Could it be that students are getting better and deserve the higher grades they’re receiving?

You’d get an argument if you ran that explanation by Professor Ron Srigley, who teaches at the University of Prince Edward Island. In this thoroughly iconoclastic essay published in March, he stated, “Over the past fourteen years of teaching, my students’ grade-point averages have steadily gone up while real student achievement has dropped. Papers I would have failed ten years ago on the grounds that they were unintelligible … I now routinely assign grades of C or higher.”

Professor Srigley points to one factor that many other professors have observed — students simply won’t read. They aren’t in the habit of reading (due to falling K-12 standards) and rarely do assigned readings in college. “They will tell you that they don’t read because they don’t have to. They can get an A without ever opening a book,” he writes.

We also have good evidence that on average, today’s college students spend much less time in studying in homework than students used to. In this 2010 study, Professor Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks found that college students today spend only about two thirds as much time as they did some fifty years ago. That’s hardly consistent with the notion that students today are really earning all those A grades.

On the whole, today’s students are receiving substantially higher grades for substantially lower academic gains than in the past.

Grade inflation is consistent with the customer friendly, “college experience” model that has mushroomed alongside the old, “you’ve come here to learn” college model. For students who merely want the degree to which many believe themselves entitled, rigorous grading is as unwelcome as cold showers and spartan meals would be at a luxury resort. Leaders at most colleges know that if they don’t satisfy their student-customers, they will find another school that will.

Exactly what is the problem, though?

Grade inflation could be seen as harmful to the downstream parties, the future employers of students who coast through college with high grades but little intellectual benefit. Doesn’t grade inflation trick them into over-estimating the capabilities of students?

That is a very minor concern. For one thing, it seems to be the case that employers don’t really pay much attention to college transcripts. In this NAS piece, Academically Adrift author Richard Arum writes, “Examining post-college transitions of recent graduates, Josipa Roksa and I have found that course transcripts are seldom considered by employers in the hiring process.”

That’s predictable. People in business have come to expect grade inflation just as they have come to expect monetary inflation. Naturally, they take measures to avoid bad hiring decisions just as they take measures to avoid bad investment decisions. They have better means of evaluating applicants than merely looking at GPAs.

Instead, the real harm of grade inflation is that it is a fraud on students who are misled into thinking that they are more competent than they really are.

It makes students believe they are good writers when in fact they are poor writers. It makes them believe they can comprehend books and documents when they can barely do so. It makes them think they can treat college as a Five Year Party or a Beer and Circus bacchanalia because they seem to be doing fine, when they’re actually wasting a lot of time and money.

Dishonest grading from professors is as bad as dishonest health reports from doctors who just want their patients to feel happy would be. The truth may be unpleasant, but it’s better to know it than to live in blissful ignorance.

This article was originally published by the Pope Center.

George C. LeefGeorge C. Leef

George Leef is the former book review editor of The Freeman. He is director of research at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Florida Rep. Ray Pilon files legislation returning power to parents, teachers and school boards

Florida Citizens Alliance (FLCA) has been working on both a comprehensive bill to restore local K-12 education control and a focused curriculum bill to fix the loopholes in SB 864, passed in 2014 as FS 1006.283.

FLCA in a press release states:

We are very pleased to report that Senator Alan Hays and Representative Ray Pilon are championing companion bills to fix FS 1006.283 and its loopholes:  SB 1018 and HB 899.

The purpose/intent of the original SB 864 was to assign constitutional responsibility for all instructional materials to school boards, and require a transparent policy/process for school boards and parents to remove objectionable materials. Due to several loopholes in FS 1006.283, the spirit and intent of the original bill are currently being ignored by many school districts in Florida.

Here is a brief summary of the loopholes that the two companion bills (SB 1018 and HB 899) that are intended to “fix” FS 1006.283.

FLCA in an email states:

Please use the petition at right to send a “shout out” to Senator Hays and Representative Pilon, thanking them for their leadership, and to urge your Florida House Representative and Florida Senator to co-sponsor their respective versions of these bills.  The petition is also copying your local school board, asking them to aggressively support these companion bills.

FLCA is urging Florida parents, students and teachers to call their house representative and senator to ask that they co-sponsor these bills. Here are FLCA talking points you can use in your call.  Use these links to get appropriate phone numbers for the Florida House and Florida Senate. We strongly suggest that you call now (before Christmas) and again in January as the legislative cycle begins.

Passage of these companion bills will require an aggressive and sustained set of actions to garner support. Here is an expanded set of 5 actions that FLCA urges parents, students and teachers to put into practice in support of these companion bills.

ABOUT THE FLORIDA CITIZENS ALLIANCE:

The Florida Citizens’ Alliance (FLCA) is a coalition of citizens and grassroots groups working together through education, outreach and community involvement to advance the ideals and principles of liberty.  We believe these include but are not limited to individual rights, free markets, and limited government.

“Teachers Cannot Teach What They Do Not Know”

teacher by bes studios

PHOTO BY BES PHOTOS.

How bad is teacher education today? Consider: all states require that teachers be college graduates, but prospective teachers are passing licensure exams with skills and knowledge ranging from the seventh- to tenth-grade levels. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, as colleges of education draw from the bottom two-thirds of graduating classes (and for those planning to teach at the elementary levels, it’s the bottom one-third). Much time in such schools is wasted on fashionable, politically tendentious, but ineffective pedagogy. Think Bill Ayers and Paulo Freire, among the most frequently assigned authors in education courses. Think elementary-education professors specializing in such things as gender identity and post colonialism.

In her new book, An Empty Curriculum: The Need to Reform Teacher Licensing Regulations and Tests, Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita of education at the University of Arkansas, offers a tested model of teacher knowledge, explains why it’s not being used, and describes strategies for overcoming the education establishment’s resistance. Stotsky’s credentials for this task are impressive: in her role as senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from 1999 to 2003, she oversaw complete revisions of the state’s pre-K-12 standards as well as its teacher-licensure standards. Until these standards were replaced by the Common Core in 2010, Massachusetts ranked first among the states in educational achievement.

An entrenched education bureaucracy remains a formidable obstacle to meaningful educational reform, particularly in the area of standards. Many state education commissioners and staff “are influenced,” Stotsky says, “by the education schools they attended, teacher unions, school administrators’ needs, the interests of professional education organizations, and the pressure of political groups (especially think tanks, institutes, and policy-oriented organizations that claim expertise on educational matters).” Testing companies, educational entrepreneurs, diversity advocates, accreditation agencies, and political ideologues also have a vested interest in keeping standards low. Teacher-licensure tests, intended to protect children from incompetent teachers, set low passing requirements in order to protect teacher-preparation institutions, most of which, Stotsky points out, enjoy taxpayer funding.

Stotsky reminds readers how rigorous America’s education standards used to be. She cites a Michigan teacher-licensing exam in history from 1900, in which sample essay questions asked future grammar school teachers to, for example, “describe Ireland during the reign of Elizabeth” or “briefly state the result and effect of the Battle of Waterloo, naming the leading general.” States relaxed standards after a post-World War II teacher shortage, however, and relaxed them further after job options expanded for women, and further still after the court challenges of racial discrimination in the 1970s. Additionally, political correctness has corrupted subjects ranging from English and European languages to music and literature.

Stotsky calls on legislators and their constituents to revamp the system. To ensure teacher competency, she proposes raising college-admission standards and abolishing credits for undergraduate education coursework, replacing it with four years of academic coursework for core-subject teachers. Educationally high-achieving countries, such as Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, already take such measures. Extensive studies show that a teacher’s subject-matter knowledge is the best predictor of a student’s achievement, in line with the common-sense notion that “teachers cannot teach what they do not know,” as Stotsky puts it. Graduate-level coursework and professional-development courses should also be in the teacher’s subject areas: coursework for an M.S. or M.A. degree is far more intellectually demanding than for a M.Ed. degree. Stotsky also suggests requiring that directors, department heads, and curriculum specialists at the 5-12 grade level hold a master’s degree in their core subject and at least 18 credits of advanced graduate studies in one of the core academic subjects they supervise.

Such practical measures, however, aren’t in vogue. Much of the rhetoric surrounding the 2009 Race to the Top contest for federal stimulus funds focused on improving teacher quality, but the methods for measuring such quality can be dubious—including having students, beginning as early as kindergarten, evaluate their teachers. Georgia’s eight-year-olds assess teachers on such criteria as “my teacher cares about my learning” and “my teacher shows me how I can use what I learn at home and in the community.” The state then ties teacher bonuses to such ratings.

Stotsky’s compact and data-filled book should serve as a useful resource for pushing back against failed education policies and the bureaucrats who defend them.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the City Journal. The featured image is of a Norman Rockwell painting titled “Visit a Country School” dated 1946. Link to Sandra Stotsky’s primer for improving American educational standards: An Empty Curriculum: The Need to Reform Teacher Licensing Regulations and Tests.

Bill Gates and Localizing Common Core and Standardized Testing by Paul DiPerna

“Innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future.” – Bill Gates

The Andrew Carnegie of our time—and as a native of Pittsburgh, I say that respectfully—may want to consider how that same approach can augment education reform. In 2014, the “de facto organizer” of the contentious Common Core State Standards Initiative is now a witness with the rest of us to the mounting challenges to that grand framework—and they’re emerging from local sources.

Indeed, in recent months, outcries have inspired Indiana, Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Louisiana to depart (to varying degrees) from the Common Core, committing to “homegrown” state-based standards and/or tests. As the Hechinger Report and Education Week reported, of the original 45 states that signed up for one of the two big assessment regimes tied to Common Core, 36 states as of now are still participating.

Is that 20 percent drop in state participation the start of a larger reactionary theme to standards, testing, and accountability in education?

To find out, we asked a nationally representative sample of the general population (“American Adults”)—in the latest installment of the Friedman Foundation’s “Schooling in America Survey”—their attitudes and opinions about:

  • developing and implementing academic standards;
  • Common Core (with and without context);
  • standardized testing;
  • who (respondents believe) are accountable to tests; and who (respondents say) should be accountable to tests.

Just as Bill Gates has recognized in agriculture, our findings indicate that local ownership—exemplified by parental input/action and teachers’ roles —also matters enormously in education:

When it comes to developing and implementing academic standards, Americans believe teachers and school district officials should take the lead. Respondents suggest it may be preferable for parents to play a larger role in development rather than implementation. Government officials at the state and federal levels should take a backseat in both.



Interviews suggest a mixed message about the Common Core State Standards. 
Without any context, Americans say they oppose Common Core. However, when providing some context, support increases substantially while the opposition remains about the same.

  • Certain demographic groups set themselves apart either in their support of or opposition to Common Core. Groups most inclined to be supportive with the highest positive margins are: Midwest region (56 percent favor | +21 points), urbanites (60 percent favor | +26 points), Democrats (58 percent favor | +26 points), and African Americans (57 percent favor | +22 points).
  • The views on Common Core are more negative among school parents (44 percent favor | -5 points) and middle-income earners (43 percent favor | -5 points).

There is no mixed message about the most intense reactions to the Common Core items in the survey. Respondents who hold hardened views on Common Core are mostly likely to be negative rather than positive—with or without context.

  • The intensity (defined as the difference between “strongly favor” and “strongly oppose” responses) is negative against Common Core. Without any context and on first impression, 24 percent say they “strongly oppose” versus 11 percent who say they “strongly favor” (-13 points). Even with context, 25 percent say they “strongly oppose” versus 16 percent who say they “strongly favor” (-9 points). The intensity improves with further information but it still is considerably negative.
  • Intensities are more heavily negative than positive for most groups. Just four observed demographics have a positive intensity (and it is relatively mild): urbanites (+6 points), Democrats (+4 points), African Americans (+6 points), and Latinos (+3 points).
  • Intensity against Common Core is strongest among school parents (-21 points), small-town residents (-16 points), rural residents (-18 points), Republicans (-17 points), and middle-income earners (-17 points).

A plurality of Americans (36 percent) said the amount of time spent on standardized testing is “too high,” compared with 24 percent who said “too low.”
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  • Nearly half of high-income earners believe there is too much testing in America’s schools (49 percent too high vs. 15 percent too low). This group registers the highest level of resistance among observed demographics.
  • The groups inclined to say there is not enough standardized testing are low-income earners (24 percent too high vs. 31 percent too low), African Americans (21 percent too high vs. 34 percent too low), and Latinos (28 percent too high vs. 35 percent too low).
  • The most ambivalent groups on standardized testing are westerners (31 percent too high vs. 28 percent too low), urbanites (31 percent too high vs. 28 percent too low), and young adults (31 percent too high vs. 29 percent too low).

More than two out of five Americans (42 percent) believed students spend at least 16 days or more of the school year—roughly 10 percent of the year—on standardized testing activities.

Q21.jpg

  • This response—16 or more school days—is even higher among school parents (51 percent), middle-age Americans (50 percent), and high-income earners (53 percent).


The average American believes teachers are being held most accountable to test results today, more so than other school officials, and far surpassing the proportion who believe students are held accountable to tests.

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Americans appear to support some degree of test-based accountability and believe the focus should be on teachers, students, and school district officials.

Q23-Split-B.jpg

Common Core and standardized testing will remain flashpoints for policy debates in K-12 education. For now, when weighing the most adamant views on testing and Common Core, Americans are resistant and likely to be negative. Interestingly, the parents of school-age children appear to be the most negative toward Common Core and resistant to the current level of standardized testing.

Politicians, especially local ones, tend to respond to the most vocal constituents and grassroots groups. The implications of our polling suggest that Common Core—and standardized testing to a lesser degree—will continue to face loud local and state-level opposition for months to come.

We’ll find out this November and in early 2015, once legislatures convene, whether such upheavals threaten the future of standards-based reform.

It seems Bill Gates and his foundation are taking it seriously, as evidenced by their suggested moratorium on “high-stakes decisions based on tests aligned with the new (Common Core) standards.” Perhaps that signals Gates’ belief in the power and influence of local forces isn’t limited to farming. Regardless, our survey can provide some additional food for thought.

For more on what Americans think about other education-related topics, including how Common Core would affect their electoral considerations, read the full “2014 Schooling in America Survey: Perspectives on School Choice, Common Core, and Standardized Testing.”

ABOUT PAUL DIPERNA

Paul DiPerna is Research Director for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. He joined the Foundation in September 2006. Paul’s research interests include surveys and polling on K-12 education and school choice policies. He has developed and issued more than 20 state polls and other survey projects over the last four years. His other responsibilities include directing and managing all research projects commissioned by the foundation.

Bill Gates Tries to Rally Teacher Support for His Beloved Common Core

One would think that if teachers supported the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), then teachers would take the initiative to rally around said CCSS.

Not so. It seems that we need Bill Gates to tell us that we need CCSS. He did so today (Friday, March 14, 2014), in Washington, DC:

Bill Gates is rallying teachers to support an embattled cause, the Common Core State Standards.

Got that? Teachers support CCSS to such a degree that they need Bill to tell them to do so.

It seems that Gates has once again bought himself an audience; he offered his CCSS-indulging speech to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) at its Teaching and Learning conference.

Why is Gates, a non-teacher, offering his non-expertise to an audience of nationally-certified teachers?

Consolation prize for millions donated.

Gates has paid NBPTS $5 million in the form of two grants, one in 2010, and one in 2013:

Date: May 2010 
Purpose: to score Measures of Effective Teaching videos, enhance the Take One materials and processes and design, and assess the efficacy of those materials as a whole-school approach to improving teacher effectiveness 
Amount: $1,195,639 

Date: July 2013 
Purpose: to support revision of the National Board certification process 
Amount: $3,743,337  

Gates is not a teacher and has never been a teacher, yet he feels he is qualified to make untested judgments about a set of inflexible, corporate- and federal-endorsed “standards” that currently have legislative bodies nationwide in upheaval.

The sadder indictment comes against NBPTS, who allowed Gates this opportunity to showcase his ignorance.

My sincere thanks to education organizations that have not taken Gates money. Thank you for not selling your conference speaking opportunities to well-funded emptiness.

Gates is a billionaire, so he can buy this NBPTS platform in order to push the CCSS that he has spent the last several years purchasing.

And why do we need CCSS, according to Gates?

As Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post  writes,

[Gates] charged that the controversy around the Core “comes from people who want to stop the standards, which would send us back to what we had before.“ [Emphasis added.]

Where “were we before,” Bill?

I’ll tell you where I was– you know, since I’m a teacher and you are not. I was allowed to use standards as flexible guidelines, to adjust them to serve my students– based upon my professional judgment.

That’s where I “was,” Bill. And that is where I must now defend remaining.

Standards are secondary to students. Students (and teachers) should not be forced to fit the mold of inflexible standards.

Forcing students and teachers to contort themselves to suit a set of rigid standards is not “academic rigor.” It is academic abuse.

Going back “to what I had” is a welcome idea, for what I “had” did not preclude my individual expertise as a professional capable of making sound judgments in regard to my own students.

But Bill has his own ideas.

Keep in mind that this is the same very rich guy who has been playing with American education for years as though its his own personal toy and who, without thought for the thousands of lives he has disturbed, is able to casually toss out in a September 2013 Harvard University interview,

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

According to Resmovits, Gates continues his March 14 speech:

Gates argued that America’s education system currently does not prepare students adequately for college, because it’s not asking enough of them. So the transition to the new standards is hard because it has to be, he said, and asked teachers to explain the standards to local families.

First off, “not preparing students for college” presumes that the school exerts overriding control over students and should guarantee that all are processed for the Gates-determined “college ideal.”

Certainly preparation “for college” presumes college completion.

After all, isn’t “college completion” the ultimate mark of “a system’s adequately preparing students for college”?

I find it an incredible irony that Gates himself is a college dropout, and that some spreadsheet could include his name on a list of “failure to complete.”

In his narrow logic, Gates insists that the “problem” is to “ask more of students,” and that this can be accomplished via CCSS.

In Gates’ skewed estimation, CCSS is magic. It will solve the Gates-perceived education problems– unless it doesn’t– and this we “probably won’t know for a decade.”

But we “know” now because Gates says so:

Consistency of the Common Core across states, Gates argued, is a key ingredient in its potential success. Under older standards, he said, a student from Kentucky didn’t have to know the quadratic formula, but a neighbor in Tennessee did. 

I love the reference to “old standards.” Even the pro-privatizing Fordham Institute did not rate CCSS as better than many states’ “old standards.” However, like Gates, Fordham pushes CCSS.

If “consistency” were necessary for educational success, then every elite private school would conform to CCSS. However, these schools are above being asked. No one expects the elite to bow to CCSS. On the contrary, CCSS is for the masses.

Mass production of pseudo-education.

Sci-fi “sameness.”

The bottom line is that no proponent of CCSS has any solid proof of its efficacy, Gates and his billions included. Yet despite having no “consistent” (rigid) educational standards across its 50 states, the United States somehow became a world power and has managed to produce scores of inventions now taken for granted and often considered indispensable to everyday functioning.

Bill, I realize that CCSS is your current “educational cause” and that you are used to having your way via your purchasing power. However, you’re going to lose this one.

The pushback from bottom-up defies both your billions and the weight of your overpriced will.

Perhaps you ought to take up reforming the so-called reformers. Hold them accountable to document the successes they so loudly declare. Hold them accountable for the damage their capricious decisions cause.

Now there’s an arena ripe for some standards.

RELATED STORIES: 

Bill Gates loves Common Core for your kids, BUT NOT HIS

Gates is Funding U.S. Department of Education Directly

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of Kees de Vos. This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Call to abolish Florida Department of Education

Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita, University of Alabama.

Sandra Stotsky, Ed.D., former Senior Associate Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Education and Professor Emerita at the University of Alabama, released a statement concerning the upcoming summit called for by Governor Rick Scott on Common Core State Standards.

Dr. Stotsky is known nationwide for her in-depth analyses of the problems in Common Core’s English language arts standards. Her current research ranges from the deficiencies in teacher preparation programs and teacher licensure tests to the deficiencies in the K-12 reading curriculum and the question of gender bias in the curriculum. She is regularly invited to testify or submit testimony to state boards of education and state legislators on bills addressing licensure tests, licensure standards, and Common Core’s standards (e.g., Utah, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida and Texas).

The following is the full text of Dr. Stotsky’s statement:

I have been invited by parent groups in Florida to comment on Common Core’s English language arts standards using the format that Interim Commissioner Pamela Stewart chose to give them.  Although Governor Scott requested meetings at which parents could express their concerns, she deliberately chose a method that in effect prevents discussion and an open forum.  By telling parents that they can comment only one by one, and only on the particular standards in Common Core, in a 3-hour period of time, she is in effect spitting in their faces. Parents can also send in their individual comments by computer, a method that also prevents discussion. If this is how a Department of Education treats the parents of the children whose education this Department is supposed to improve, then there is no reason for Florida parents to support the existence of such a Department. It should be abolished by referendum.

I was a senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999 to 2003.  At no time were critics of the Department’s draft documents treated as shabbily as Florida parents are now being treated.   Public comment was regularly allowed at Board of Education meetings, and the Department held many meetings around the state when it was developing the Bay State’s own standards. And when criticism was received on drafts of standards documents, the Department staff courteously and publicly answered these criticisms. They acted as public servants, not as bureaucrats trying to foist their own untested ideas on other people’s children.

The Massachusetts Department of Education also held a large public meeting on Common Core’s standards to which the standards writers were invited. It was informative for the audience to hear Jason Zimba, the mathematics standards writer, indicate that Common Core’s math standards would not prepare high school students for STEM. I recommend that the Florida Department of Education hold a similar meeting and invite parents and teaching faculty at its own higher education institutions to attend and question Common Core’s standards writers.

WDW – FL contributor Diane Kepus wrote, “Governor Scott recently tossed the parents and taxpayers of Florida a bone regarding implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) leading many to believe he was going to “shut down” implementation of CCSS via his Executive Order Number 13-276. However some are questioning if the EO has any teeth.”

“Governor Scott issues an Executive Order and uninformed citizens believe he is stopping CCSS in Florida. What he did was withdraw Florida from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) only. He stated he was going to hold three hearings for public comments, look into finding someone else for testing and acknowledged concerns regarding the Federal overreach and the data collection of psychological attitudes and beliefs,” noted Kepus.

Kepus concluded the bottom line is: The Florida implementation of Common Core State Standards is untouched, unaffected and on track. It appears former Commissioner Stotsky has come to the same conclusion.

Study calls on US DOE to stop bribing states to adopt Common Core

The United States Department of Education (USED) should be prohibited from making adoption of national English and math standards known as Common Core a condition or incentive for receipt of federal funding, and both USED and organizations like the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, whose dues are paid with taxpayer funds, should make public the amount of time and money they have invested in promoting Common Core according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“Common Core fundamentally alters the relationship between the federal government and the states,” says former Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, the author of A Republic of Republics: How Common Core Undermines State and Local Autonomy over K-12 Education. “States are sacrificing their ability to inform what their students learn.”

To read the full study click here.

Three federal laws explicitly prohibit the federal government from directing, supervising, funding, or controlling any nationalized standards, testing, or curriculum. Yet Race to the Top (RttT), a competitive $4.35 billion federal grant program, gave preference to states that adopted or indicated their intention to adopt Common Core and participated in one of two federally funded consortia developing assessments linked to Common Core.

USED subsequently made adoption of Common Core one of the criteria for granting states conditional waivers from the accountability provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

In his preface for the paper, Iowa’s U.S. Senator Charles Grassley writes that when gov­ernment makes “decisions that affect a child’s education, these decisions should be made at a level of government close to the parents and students who are affected.” He goes on to criticize how what began as a plan to develop standards that states could adopt voluntarily has become a subject of federal coercion.

Scott notes that the adoption of new standards normally takes years from the time they are initially written by panels of educators, made available for extended periods of public review, and revised until they are adopted. But because of RttT’s deadlines, these periods were reduced to a few months or even weeks.

As a result of the rushed process, states adopted Common Core without knowing about assessments; the outcomes for which students, and in some cases teachers, will be held accountable. Other unknowns include what the passing score will be, who will set it, and whether it will be the same from state to state.

The three most populous states – California, Texas and Florida – also have systematic processes for adopting textbooks. These reviews happen on a regular cycle and would be disrupted and often expedited due to the need to adopt instructional materials aligned with the new standards in time for them to be implemented.

The expedited process by which Common Core was adopted in most states meant teachers had no opportunity to inform the standards’ content. In some states, the new standards are substantially different than what had been taught. In many cases, teachers will be teaching material in different grades than it had been before.

Scott describes all the “learning on the go” Common Core will require as a very expensive gamble. The one-year cost of new technology, instructional materials and teacher professional development is estimated at $10.5 billion for the 45 states and the District of Columbia, which have adopted the standards. With ongoing expenses, the cost is expected to rise to about $16 billion.

Scott also describes why Texas chose not to adopt Common Core while he served as commissioner of education. Disruption of the textbook adoption cycle, the lengthy process of making the standards available to the public and seeking approval from the state Board of Education, and the cost of changing procedures and parts of the education code were among the reasons for the decision not to adopt.

Texas would have been in line for a $700 million RttT grant, but “it costs more than $300 million per day to run public schools in Texas,” Scott says. “Giving up substantial autonomy to direct education policy in return for roughly enough money to run the schools for two days was not a trade-off we were willing to make.”

This report is co-sponsored by the American Principles Project, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Civitas Institute. Pioneer’s extensive research on Common Core national education standards includes:  Common Core Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade,The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers, and National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards. Recent national media coverage includes op-eds placed in The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.

ABOUT THE PIONEER INSTITUTE:

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

Governor Scott comes under fire for his $2,500 teacher pay giveaway

Governor Rick Scott announced that Florida will have a budget surplus in 2013-2014 of $437 million. That is good news. Republicans got to this point of a surplus after years of budget deficits by cutting the size of government programs. The Republican party stands for less government, lower taxes and less spending.

So what does Scott want to do with that money?

He wants to give teachers an across the board pay increase of $2,500, which will spend the entire surplus and more. This idea is drawing boos from teachers unions. It is also drawing fire from other public service employees such as fire fighters, EMS personnel and law enforcement officers. Why teachers and not them? Some are even saying that Scott is buying votes, much like President Obama and members of Congress who increase benefits for government employees and those who take for a living via welfare programs.

Here is something that Scott may not have considered: Why not give the money back to the taxpayers?

It is the taxpayer who carries the burden of the salaries and benefits of public employees. Any salary increase to any public employee is a further long term burden on the Florida Retirement System. The Tampa Bay Times reports, “In a major victory for the state, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against state workers and allowed the state to retain the 3 percent levy on worker salaries to offset the state’s investment into the Florida Retirement System.”  Download Retirement ruling.

Union leaders do not like it when their members have to contribute to their own retirement programs like public sector employees do. So this move by Scott appears to be pandering to one group of union employees. Scott may be giving up hard fought ground based upon the recent Florida Supreme Court decision.

Who holds the bag for any government employee pay increase? Answer: Florida’s taxpayers.

We will see what the Florida legislature does with the budget surplus. Any bets that they will find a way to spend it? Are Republicans morphing into Progressives? What the legislature does with this surplus will be a key indicator of where they stand on taxes and spending.

Grassroots movement to arm teachers gains momentum

Long before Wayne LaPierre held his press conference the internet was alive with practical solutions on how to prevent another Newtown, CT like attack on schools. Most comments coalesced around arming school based administrators and teachers. One idea is to provide concealed carry training to school based administrators and on a voluntary basis to teachers. The school district would cover the costs of the training, license and purchase of an approved weapon.

Virginia is considering legislation requiring teachers be armed.

Several photographs and photo-shopped signs were circulated graphically demonstrating the popularity of this solution. Two stand out and were the most often received by WDW. Below is a widely distributed photo allegedly depicting an Israeli teacher and her class of elementary school students:

armed teacher in israel

This photo-shopped sign with the caption “Which sign is most likely to deter a school shooting?” is widely circulating on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites:

 GunFreeZoneSign

Comments on these images may be best represented by a common sense approach to the issue. The argument goes something like this – if there is something valuable that society wants to protect and defend then society must have armed guards in place. Examples of protected areas include: government offices at every level, sensitive installations such as military bases or nuclear power plants, airports, banks, prisons and national parks.

Many are asking why we are not similarly protecting our most precious natural resources – our children?

USA Today reports, “About 70% of public schools don’t have [a] police officer and almost 60% don’t have any security staff. Those with police tend to be big and urban schools, according to a USA TODAY data analysis.” Clearly at some point schools decide to have an armed guard present. The only restriction is cost weighted against the potential threat.

Political opponents focus on taking away guns, not on protecting the children as is done for most politicians. History and statistics work against opponents to arming those most responsible for the protection of our children – school based administrators and teachers.

PLEASE TAKE OUR ONLINE SURVEY ON THE QUESTION OF ARMING SCHOOL STAFF:

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School that President Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards

Do We Really Want a Strong Commissioner of Education?

Jeffrey S. Solochek, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, reports, “Florida’s next education commissioner needs to have room to do the job without political interference, state Board of Education members said Friday as they set requirements for the vacancy.”

But do the Commissioners really want to stop political interference?

The Florida Board of Education (BOE) is itself political. Outgoing Chairwoman Kathleen M. Shanahan has held federal and state public policy positions of chief of staff for Florida Governor Jeb Bush, chief of staff to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, deputy secretary of the California Trade and Commerce Agency, special assistant to then Vice President George Bush, and staff assistant on President Reagan’s National Security Council.

Vice Chairman Roberto Martinez, a lawyer, served as Chairman of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission; Special Counsel to Attorney General Charlie Crist; and as Chairman of the District Board of Trustees of Miami Dade College; Chair of Attorney-Elect Charlie Crist’s transition; General Counsel to Governor Jeb Bush during the gubernatorial transition.

Solochek quotes Martinez as saying, “The person has to be able to deal with the political process. But I think all of us … need to understand we need to give that person a lot of autonomy so they can function professionally with minimal interference from the political folks.”

On September 7, 2012 the State Board of Education moved forward with the search for the next Commissioner of Education approving the candidate profile developed by Ray and Associates. The search firm is conducting a nationwide search for Florida’s chief education officer who will be responsible for all aspects of the state’s Pre-K-20 education system. The deadline for applications is Sept. 27, 2012.

The Florida Legislature and Board of Education have come under fire from citizens with two actions that have disenfranchised students, parents and citizens.

The first action was removing citizen participation in the selection of text books used in Florida’s public schools. More recently the BOE unanimously voted to lower school passing scores after 2011 FCAT scores plummeted. This lowering of school passing scores occurred after political pressure from teachers unions, the superintendents association and school boards across Florida.

The Florida based Textbook Action Team (TAT) in May, 2011 became outraged with a provision in SB 2120 lines 118-120, which was passed by the Republican led legislature. The provision cuts out lay people from the State Instructional Materials Committee.

“Today all of Florida’s public school textbooks will be selected by bureaucrats, not citizens and parents” notes Sheri Krass, State Chairperson for TAT. Krass stated in a letter to Governor Scott, “Now, in a boldfaced attempt to avoid having to seat some of these individuals on the Committee, your State Legislature has passed SB 2120 which employs ‘three state or national experts in the content areas submitted for adoption’ to review the instructional materials and evaluate the content for alignment with the applicable Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. This move allows them to continue to deprive our students of the quality education they deserve.”

The second action was lowing the passing scores of public schools statewide.Cara Fitzpatrick, Shelly Rossetter and Jefferry S. Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times in their article “After FCAT scores plunge, state quickly lowers the passing grade” reported, “After conceding that poor communication with teachers could have contributed to the unprecedented plunge in Florida students’ writing scores this year, the state Board of Education voted Tuesday to lower the passing mark for the test.”

Teachers and administrators have known about the new testing standards for over a year. Teachers and school administrations actually write the Sunshine State Standards, the test questions and administer the tests. Many parents and citizens do not accept the premise that there was a communication gap. The new standards require that a student use proper sentence structure, punctuation and spelling. Each of these are fundamental to learning how to write.

All members of the Florida Board of Education are political appointees. How can politics be taken out of the classroom and replaced by empowered parents, students and citizens?

How do you take politics out of education? Perhaps this video from the Reason Foundation titled “The Machine” will help explain: