Tag Archives: Education

Common Core’s battle with the political meme

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are beginning to take a deeper look at Common Core with the idea of presenting more factual information here in the Kitsap Sun. Not surprisingly, since that last post there have been more drum beats against the idea behind Common Core standards. For many on both sides of the aisle the program smacks of a federal takeover of education.

And when something like Common Core arouses suspicion, it’s easy to find examples where someone has been perhaps operating under those standards and has done something questionable. It’s what we do. If you don’t like a church you can find examples where church members have behaved badly and say “Aha!” The most recent anti-Common Core meme I’ve seen was a reaction to a book that questioned whether America would be too racist to elect a black president. First off, I agree that the language on the page is at least inexact when it says, “But some people said Americans weren’t ready for that much change. Sure Barack was a nice fellow they said. But white voters would never vote for a black president.”

It’s inexact because someone could read that and see that as questioning whether any white voter would vote for Obama. But the question was whether there were enough white voters who might not vote for him because he was black. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t precedent. Consider the Oct. 13, 2008 story from CNN that asked whether “The Bradley Effect” would rear its head. From that story:

The Bradley effect is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for California governor in 1982. Exit polls showed Bradley leading by a wide margin, and the Democrat thought it would be an early election night. But Bradley and the polls were wrong. He lost to Republican George Deukmejian. The theory was that polling was wrong because some voters, who did not want to appear bigoted, said they voted for Bradley even though they did not.

As it turns out the Bradley Effect was likely overstated anyway, but the question persisted in 2008. To suggest it didn’t is to ignore the facts.

And now we’ve spent all that conversation on something that, as it turns out, is largely not affected at all by Common Core. The decision to use this text book was made locally. Common Core is a set of standards, a program established by governors of American states and business leaders. When states buy into Common Core, they’re agreeing to meet new education standards. And in every case I know of, the new standards are tougher. Each state is still responsible to educate its own kids and establish its own curriculum. What each state is largely agreeing to by joining the Common Core states is ensuring that kids across the country are learning the same basics. How they teach those basics is up to them.

Beyond that is the notion that kids across the nation will be subjected to scary propaganda because of a quest for national education uniformity. If Common Core’s supporters are to be believed, that’s hype and hysteria winning over reality. David Brooks makes that case in a New York Times column in which he describes the Common Core political climate as a “circus.”

On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents “leftist indoctrination” of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was “liberal.” But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

All of this is having an effect on the public. A story in Tuesday’s Yakima Herald-Republic aired some of the concerns educators know about during an education summit in Yakima. And toward the end of the story Chris Barron, who once worked here at the Kitsap Sun and is now communications manager for the statewide education organization Partnership for Learning, said in 2015, when Washington is scheduled for full Common core implementation, there could be lots of negative parental reaction. Kids’ test scores are likely to go down that year. The tests students take now measure basic skills. Tests next year will measure college and career readiness, a higher standard.

President Obama is probably not helping. In some part that’s based on stupid political reasons. His support for the program creates automatic resistance to it. But he’s also linking Common Core to grants and waivers under No Child Left Behind, which you’ll recall was enacted under the previous president. That has the taste and feel of the federal government interjecting itself into local education.

The question in all of this is whether Common Core will succeed or fail on its merits/flaws, or on the political climate at the time. The truth will be in there somewhere.

McCleary responses range from compliant to defiant

You might have read the AP story about legislative pushback coming from both sides of the aisle on the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner has a bill that would shrink the court from nine members to five. Part of it is a response to what he sees as judicial overreach, but he also said it would save money.

During AP’s Legislative Preview earlier in January I wondered if state Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was chafing at the McCleary decision follow-up when he said, “If money were the key to education we’d all long for our kids to be in the Washington, DC schools.” If we were not in the midst of a period in which the court had demanded the Legislature spend more on schools, it would be just another political statement. Coming at this time, however, it seemed like it might be more than partisan posturing.

Jim Hargrove, a Democratic state senator, is also on the record saying he sees “separation-of-power problems” with the court’s approach.

Doug Cloud, who was one of the Republican candidates to replace Jan Angel in the House, said he sees problems with the court’s actions.

If legislators, almost all of whom say they will allocate more money to education regardless, decide to challenge the court’s authority, it could mark a precedential moment in Washington history.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing spending $200 million more from this budget on education, including $74 million that would give teachers a 1.3 percent raise. It would be the first cost-of-living raise since 2008, despite the fact that voters approved annual COLAs in 2000. The governor also cited not just the decision, but the court’s statement that the Legislature was not moving fast enough to get to full funding by 2018.

The governor’s press release follows:
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GET good to go, says Seaquist

It’s a bad year all around for the state’s guaranteed tuition savings program, as Thursday’s story points out. But state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, thinks he has the votes on moves that would save the program for the long term.

The first piece of bad news is high college tuition has elevated the price for college units parents can buy now to save for their children’s future college education cost. The second is that some with a philosophical problem with the Guaranteed Education Tuition program generally have greater power this legislative session and would love o see the program killed.

Seaquist, speaking by phone from Olympia following a committee hearing that spent 75 minutes discussing the program, thinks the philosophical challenges come for two reasons. Some are questioning whether the program pencils. The second reason comes because there are “some people who question, ‘Is this something the government ought to be doing?'”

On the first question Seaquist said he thinks what he heard Thursday should quiet any notion that program is financially troubled. As an earlier story pointed out, the program has liabilities $631 million greater than assets. The Legislature would have to come up with that money only if every person enrolled in GET decided to go to college now. That means everyone from high schoolers on down to babies.

Jim McIntire, state treasurer, said actuarial models reveal a well funded program. It’s not 100 percent, where the state would like to be. But being at 100 percent is rare, he said.

The state actuary estimates there is only a 0.6 percent chance the state would have to pay out of the general fund to cover liabilities in the GET program. This brings up an important point. The state administers the program, but it’s funded by people participating.

McIntire said the fixes needed for the program have already been put in place. The threats, other than a Legislature and governor agreeing that the program should be discontinued, are ongoing tuition hikes and implementation of a differential tuition program.

Seaquist has a proposal to get higher education funding back to a 50/50 split between tuition and state contribution. He also wants to kill off differential tuition, which would allow colleges to charge more for classes that cost more. For example, a chemistry class might cost more than a journalism class. GET investment rates are based on the cost to attend the most expensive state university in the state, either UW or WSU. If the universities started charging more for different classes, the effect would be “catastrophic” to GET, McIntire said.

So Seaquist has a bill to kill off differential tuition. Instead, he favors financial incentives outside of tuition rates for students taking classes in fields the state would like to see filled. He said Thursday he thinks he has the votes. He’s not promising, but he is optimistic.

“If we do the basic job of no tuition increase and we cancel the differential tuition feature, we’ve got a solid program,” Seaquist said. “So to me the GET controversy is over.”