Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oregon Governor Signs Testing Opt-Out Bill

Governor Kate Brown of Oregon has just signed a bill (HB 2655) that would allow parents to opt their children out of the standardized tests that have come as part of the Common Core education standards in the state. Parents can cite any reason they choose for their opt-out decision, and the state is required to inform them ahead of time of their options.

This is a big victory for school choice in Oregon, and shows considerable courage on Gov. Brown’s part. Although the bill handily passed the legislature last week, the federal government has threatened the state with the loss of $140 million in education funding for allowing opt-outs, and Brown faced heavy pressure from liberal groups to veto the bill.

Opting out of standardized testing is legal in many states, but since school districts often face participation quotas in order to receive funding, some school officials have been bullying or intimidating parents into waiving their legal rights on the issue. Increased knowledge and available of the option to refuse testing will empower parents to take greater control of their child’s education, as well as lend fuel to the anti-Common Core movement sweeping the nation.

The increased focus on standardized testing in recent years has led to dissatisfaction among teachers, who must spend less time engaging with children on an individual level, and more time on rote test preparation. One of the country’s top teachers actually resigned over this issue, and elsewhere we have seen massive cheating on the part of teachers in order to inflate test scores.

Unfortunately, the proposed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind still contains federal testing mandates, meaning that states will continue to feel pressure from the U.S Department of Education to force children to take unnecessary tests. Until we can end this requirement, it's going to take governors who are willing to turn their back on federal dollars to make real progress on education reform.

FreedomWorks congratulates Governor Brown for making the right decision and recognizing that education should come from parents and teachers, not in the form of blanket mandates from the federal government.


Third Grader Banned From School Party Because of Common Core Opt-Out

New Jersey parent Michele Thornton's 9-year old daughter, Cassidy, was recently banned from attending an end of the year party for students at her elementary school because Michele had previously opted her daughter out of New Jersey's version of Common Core testing, known as the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers exam (PARCC).

PARCC has been criticized by experts as being part of a wider plan to nationalize school curricula, the primary reason Michele had instructed her daughter not to participate in the test. According to Thornton during her Fox News interview, “They pressured me to make her take it,” she said. “I told them that it was against the law to force my daughter to participate."

Thornton was shocked last week when she discovered the repercussions of her choice to opt her daughter out of PARCC, a decision that would result in her daughter getting excluded from social activities for the other students, and in the form of consistent harassment from school counselors and other administrators. According to a weekly newsletter Cassidy brought home from school:

“Untest afternoon will take place Monday, June 15 beginning at 12:30 pm for children in grades 3-8 who participated in both PARCC assessment..."

Since Cassidy was the only child in her third grade class not to take the exam, school officials were going to place her alone in the school library for the rest of the day, a move which caused quite a stir with Michele, causing her to instead go and pick up Cassidy from school early while the other children went on to enjoy "...gaming trucks, an outdoor play area (soccer and volleyball), cupcakes, juice boxes, and buckets full of prizes for the kids."

The "Untest afternoon" was not the only attempt to guilt Michele and Cassidy over their refusal to take part in PARCC; Cassidy was pulled out of class and drilled with a series of questions as to why she refused to take the PARCC exam. Michele, increasingly frustrated with the administration's treatment of her daughter, launched a formal complaint, which resulted in an investigation showing that "findings indicate that harassment, intimidation and bullying did not occur."

Michele's story of school intimidation to implement Common Core testing is far from uncommon in America today. An Ohio family was at odds with their daughter's local school district when they asked for their daughter to opt out of Common Core testing, which resulted in the Superintendent "refusing to excuse her children from anything at school, then visited her kids’ school, demanding to have the children weighed and measured because their principal had allowed them to opt out from an earlier body-mass index screening."

More disturbing Common Core standards were detected and brought to attention by Wetumpka TEA Party President, Becky Gerritson, in a 2014 Alabama Senate Education Committee hearing. One portion of her testimony highlighted historical revisionism on the part of one Common Core history textbook's writer:

"Dr. Terrance Moore, professor of History from Hillsdale College, dedicated an entire chapter in his book called Story Killers to this very textbook. He does a superb job detailing the misrepresentation of America’s founding, its anti-American themes, and its obvious political bias, as well its mediocre methods of teaching literature."

Common Core is threatening not only parents' rights over their children's education, but is also undermining individual states who have to choose between opting out of Common Core and losing federal grants, or allowing the Department of Education to come in and take control over entire curricula.


States Without Charter Schools Are Falling Behind

All but seven states (Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia) allow for the public funding of charter schools. Charter schools are an alternative to traditional district public schools. Although charter schools are publicly funded, they are free to offer their own curriculum and have more flexibility in management structures. The demand from parents to enroll their children in charter schools is continuing to rise.

Many states limit the number of charter schools allowed or authorized to open in a certain year. Such caps are unnecessary, as the number of charter schools should be permitted to increase and decrease with demand. Charter schools must set high standards in order to attract parents to enroll their children, and they will close if they fail to meet those expectations. Traditional public schools, by contrast, are largely able to stay open no matter how poor their students’ academic achievements may be. According to the Center for Education Reform, the states with the most successful charter school programs do not cap the number of charter schools, allow for the most public funding, and give the schools’ independent administrators the freedom and authority to run their schools without interference from state school boards.

Regulations on the expansion of charter schools are preventing the supply from meeting demand, resulting in lotteries and long waiting lists. More than one million children are on waiting lists across the country in hopes of enrolling in a charter school.

The states without charter schools are largely rural. Charter schools are often seen as being beneficial only to urban areas with low-income families and dense populations. But those states should reconsider, given that nearly all states without charter schools rank in the bottom half of the state education rankings prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The only exception is Vermont, which offers a robust voucher-like system for the state’s rural areas.

School choice creates competition among schools, which drives academic success. In 2015, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) conducted a study of urban charter schools and found students gained an additional 40 days of learning in math and 28 days in reading compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools.

Laws hampering the innovation and expansion of charter schools restrict parents’ ability to enroll their children in schools that best suit their educational needs. Legislators should strive to remove funding barriers for charter schools and other education alternatives, allow unlimited expansion of qualified charter schools with no cap, and ensure a blanket waiver so schools have full control of their operations and remain independent of state school boards.


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