Algebra or statistics?

Most new students place into remedial math at California community colleges. Eighty percent will never pass a college-level math course. Some colleges have boosted success rates by teaching statistics and quantitative reasoning, rather than algebra, to non-STEM students.

Florida colleges will let students opt for college-level courses, even if they’ve done poorly on a placement exam. Instead of letting students ignore the placement results, let them try the test again, a graduate student suggests.

If you can’t fire a child molester …

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that was supposed to make it easier to fire teachers charged with molesting students. It would “create new problems,” Brown said in his veto message.

The union-backed bill made it easier for abusive teachers to stall the dismissal process and force districts to settle, charges Larry Sand City Journal. A retired teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

Mark Berndt, a Los Angeles teacher charged with 23 counts of  ”lewd acts” against first-graders, was paid to resign.

Last year, district officials agreed to pay him more than $40,000 to resign in lieu of exercising his “due process rights,” which could have dragged out his termination for months or possibly years—while he continued to collect a salary and accrue pension benefits—through a series of contractually mandated hearings and appeals. This past March, the district announced that it would pay $30 million to the parents of 61 of Berndt’s former students.

In response to the Berndt case, a bill was proposed to let districts suspend teachers credibly charged with abusing students. The state teachers’ unions blocked it.

“The influence of the California Teachers Association was rarely more apparent—or more sickening, editorialized the San Francisco Chronicle. “The union showed its willingness to defend an expensive and cumbersome process for firing bad teachers at almost any cost – even if that means school districts must continue to spend exorbitant sums of time and money to dismiss teachers in cases involving sex, drugs or violence with students.”

California suspends accountability

The shift to Common Core standards has given California’s powerful education unions an opportunity to undo the state’s testing-and-accountability reforms, writes Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist. The unions never liked testing, comparing schools on the basis of test scores (primarily) and, especially, using test scores to evaluate teachers.

A bill backed by the unions, their perpetual ally, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and Gov. Jerry Brown would suspend almost all academic testing immediately and then, the sponsors say, reinstate it in alignment with Common Core in a couple of years.

. . . everything that stems from testing and that the unions dislike would also be suspended and, it’s widely believed, be quietly killed.

Could California abandon statewide testing for good? Or just kill the Academic Performance Index and teacher evaluation plans?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to cut off tens of billions of dollars in federal aid in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill. ”No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan wrote.

The bill’s backers shrugged off the threat and passed the bill, which Gov. Brown plans to sign.

Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat on the Education Committee, in a statement.

Jerry Brown to California’s Children: I Don’t Care About Your Futures is RiShawn Biddle’s headline on Dropout Nation.

It seems inevitable that the switch to new standards and new exams will make test data unreliable and disrupt state accountability systems. Wait to evaluate teachers until there’s enough data from Common Core-aligned tests to do it right, recommends a RAND analyst.

Duncan fails to block state testing law

California will scrap its state testing system to field-test new exams linked to Common Core Standards. That means schools won’t be held accountable for students’ progress and parents won’t see how their children are doing.

The Los Angeles will have to defer plans “to use student test scores to evaluate teachers,” notes the Los Angeles Times. “Such performance reviews would be impossible because the results could not be compared to previous years.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to withhold federal funds, but legislators ignored him, reports EdSource Today.

Veteran education watchers in California could not recall a presidential cabinet officer ever attempting to block state legislation and certainly not in the heavy handed way U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to do on Monday night.

In an extraordinary move, Duncan issued an after-hours statement in an effort to head off a vote by the California Legislature the next day on Assembly Bill 484. The bill calls for administering field tests tied to the Common Core State Standards this spring in place of the California Standards Tests in math and English that have have been a fixture on the California education landscape for 15 years.

California won’t “look in the rear view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Under AB 484,  only the high school exit exam and science tests in three grades, required by federal law, would survive.

It could be three to five years before the state reintroduces an Algebra I or Geometry test, creating a big gap in information on student achievement in those and other subjects.

Students in districts offering the field test would get either the math or English language arts part of the test, not both. Because the new test must be taken on computers, districts that don’t have enough computers wouldn’t participate in the pilot.

Keep the transfer promise

Only 23 percent of California community college students seeking a bachelor’s degree transfer within six years. It’s time to keep the transfer promise — a clear pathway from community college to the California State University system — writes Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Common tests lose support

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are moving forward on Common Core Standards, but support for common testing is eroding, reports StateImpact.

Georgia will use its own exam, instead of the costlier test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Two of Florida’s top elected leaders want Florida to leave PARCC, even though Florida is the fiscal agent for the testing consortium.

Already Alabama, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have left the consortium. Oklahoma plans to design its own test, and Indiana isn’t participating in PARCC governing board meetings right now. State education officials say they’re waiting until after a mandatory legislative review of the Common Core academic standards.

That brings the number of states participating in PARCC down to 18 plus the District of Columbia.

Pennsylvania, Utah and Alabama quit the other testing group, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which now has 24 members. (Some states had joined both groups.)

The crumbling of the testing consortia is a “disaster,” writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall.

Blinded by “technocratic hubris,” common assessment advocates “underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests,” writes Smarick. Governors and state chiefs will be reluctant to spend lots of money for a testing system that will make their schools and teachers look bad, he predicted six months ago.

The Common Core sky isn’t falling, responds Checker Finn, also a Fordhamite. This is “right sizing.”

The forty-five-state thing was always artificial, induced by Race to the Top greed and perhaps a crowd mentality. Never in a million years were we going to see forty-five states truly embrace these rigorous academic expectations for their students, teachers, and schools, meet all the implementation challenges (curriculum, textbooks, technology, teacher prep, etc.), deploy new assessments, install the results of those assessments in their accountability systems, and live with the consequences of zillions of kids who, at least in the near term, fail to clear the higher bar.

It’s “better for states to drop out in advance than to fake it, pretending to use the Common Core standards but never really implementing them,” Finn writes. “That’s long-standing California-style behavior (fine standards, wretched implementation), in contrast with Massachusetts-style behavior (exemplary standards and serious implementation—and results to show for it).”

Most of the drop-out states will keep the standards, but write their own tests or sign up with ACT. They’ll give comparability, “one of the major benefits of commonality,” Finn writes. Some may change their minds later “or face up to the fact that (like Texas and Virginia) they don’t really want to use the Common Core at all.”

Lawsuit attacks teachers’ union dues

A California lawsuit against teachers’ unions could have national implications, reports HechingerEd.

Ten non-union teachers and the Christian Educators Association are suing their local, state and national unions, alleging that the organizations are forcing them to pay to support political activities they do not agree with in violation of their first amendment rights.

The plaintiff’s lawyers are attempting to fast-track the case in the California courts by essentially eliminating the discovery phase and then appealing almost immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision in their favor could turn every state in the country into a right-to-work state, where public employees can opt out of joining a union.

Since 2010, three states – Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin – have passed laws restricting labor rights.

In 24 states, including California, teachers and other public workers can opt out of unions but must pay “agency fees” to cover the union’s collective bargaining efforts. That eliminates “free riders” who could benefit from the union-negotiated contract without contributing to the cost.

Unions can’t charge non-members for political activity. But what’s political?

In the 2012-2013 school year, for instance, the California Teachers Association reported that a $27,860 “Ethnic Minority Early Identification Development program” and $18,079 “special publications” were related to collective bargaining. Also that year, the union hosted a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Conference to “address issues involving GLBT educators, students and community” and found that nearly 87 percent of its cost – or $65,099 – was eligible to be paid for by agency fees.

. . . “Whatever you think about these programs, they are not related to collective bargaining,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the right-leaning organization that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Collective bargaining itself is a political activity, the complaint charges. For example, many teachers unions have opposed merit pay in contract negotiations, while individual teachers may support it.

A 2012 opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in Knox vs. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000 questioned agency fees. “Because a public sector union takes many positions during collective bargaining that have powerful political and civic consequences, the compulsory fees constitute a form of compelled speech and association that imposes a significant impingement on First Amendment rights,” Alito wrote for the majority.

 

Summer classes are back in California

Summer is study time once again at California community colleges. Thanks to new funding, two-thirds of colleges have added classes to avoid bottlenecks and reduce wait lists.

When work disappears

When work disappears for all but the well-educated elite, what happens to society?

Salary Surfer predicts future pay after two and five years for an associate degree or certificate in various fields for prospective California community college students.

Classes are cheap, but you can’t get in

Charging more for community college extension courses during summer and winter breaks is a necessary stopgap, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. While California is starting to restore funding to higher education, it will be years before the state’s community colleges can offer enough courses to meet demand.

Students are having trouble transferring in to the California State University system. San Jose State’s popular animation program accepts only 12 percent of transfers: Students need a 3.85 grade-point average to get in.