Thursday, July 02, 2015

Delaware Passes Testing Opt-Out Bill

Delaware may be the next state to opt out of Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Last week, Delaware became the latest in growing number of states to push for the ability of parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. These tests were implemented as part of the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards, but parents and teachers alike have been dissatisfied with the amount of time and focus going into test preparation as opposed to more traditional teaching, involving individualized interaction between teachers and students.

Delaware’s HB 50 - surprisingly sponsored by a Democrat - cleared the state Senate and now only awaits a signature from the governor. The bill would codify that parents may elect to opt their children out of the tests, and specifies that there will be no academic or disciplinary consequences for students who make this decision. This comes on the heels of a similar bill recently signed into law by Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, indicating the growth of a larger opt-out movement among frustrated parents.

The trend of individuals deciding not to participate in the standards or their aligned assessments is in part a reaction to the inability of states to extricate themselves from Common Core as a whole. Seemingly promising repeal bills have repeatedly turned out to be disappointments, merely rebranding the standards instead of withdrawing from them. This has been the case in Indiana and Tennessee, where the governors claim to have repealed Common Core, when in fact such reforms are toothless.

Most recently, much was made of Scott Walker’s efforts to defund the Smarter Balanced tests in Wisconsin’s budget. As more details emerge, however, it appears that this has been yet another smokescreen, with the state’s new “Badger Tests” continuing alignment with Common Core. Since parents cannot rely on states to actually repeal Common Core, withdraw from the tests, or even be honest about the legislation they are passing, individual opt outs offer the best chance of meaningful educational freedom at present.

Of course, it remains important that individuals be vigilant in protecting their rights. Even in states where opting out is legal, school officials have been caught bullying students into participating, over fear that they might lose federal funding for failing to meet “participation quotas.” As long as the federal government remains involved in education, states are going to have a hard time avoiding the “strings attached” funding that restricts the ability to set policy at a local level.

The U.S. Constitution outlines no federal role for education, and the most recent attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - while it makes some important reforms - maintains the federal testing standards that are tying states’ hands. That leaves opting out of tests as the best option for parents who want to take back control of their children’s education from a central bureaucracy. If enough people refuse the tests, ultimately the state will have to blink. The power of grassroots action trumps the power of legislation every time.


The Cost of "Free" Community College

A few months ago President Obama announced his hope that “two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” Since then, various cities around the country have begun to implement programs that follow the president’s vision.

On June 23, the District of Columbia City Council held a hearing on Bill 21-55, the proposed Community College for All Scholarship Amendment Act of 2015. The city council writes:

The stated purpose of Bill 21-55 is to establish a scholarship program to provide free tuition and the cost of mandatory fees to students enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, and to require the University of the District of Columbia Community College to develop, adopt, and implement the scholarship program.

Students who receive the scholarship would be required to maintain a minimum GPA and participate in community service.

Councilman Orange, one of the members who introduced the bill, gave an opening statement at the hearing. He argued that the scholarship is “not a handout, it is an investment” to an enthusiastic crowd which seemed to be in unanimous support of the new legislation and President Obama’s proposal for universal free community college, without any explanation for how we will pay for it. Sorry, Mr. Orange, but free community college is a handout, and an extremely unnecessary one which will not have any positive return for the community.

Free community college, despite its outward appearance, is not about access to education and will not create a more educated society. In today’s world, information is everywhere; there is more knowledge at our fingertips than we could ever hope to absorb. Anybody who wants to pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake can do so by taking free classes online (check out classes of all levels on Khan Academy) or going to the library. These resources are free and readily available. The only thing that free community college would do is grow credentialism and promote regulation.

Despite what President Obama and the councilmen for the District of Columbia may promise, sending more people to college will not create more jobs. There will be the same number of jobs and the same positions open; all that will change is the level of education required to fill these positions. In the end, free community college will turn out more people overqualified for the jobs they are working.

Free community college will effectively mandate that students waste two years earning the degree which will prove they have the skills they entered with. This serves to extend adolescence and postpone responsibility that accompanies entering the workforce, all under the false promise of a job waiting on the other end.

The primary reason Democrats promote free community college is because they want anybody, regardless of socioeconomic status, to be able to attend college if they want to. However, this is completely founded in the misconception that money is a barrier to lower class individuals who are qualified and wish to further their educations.

At the hearing, it was claimed that students are turning to community college because they cannot afford a four year institution, and because tuition at four year institutions is growing faster than inflation. In reality, the reason that four year colleges and universities are raising their tuitions is to help pay for the high percentages of students who receive financial aid.

Today, it is standard for schools to meet 100 percent of a family’s demonstrated need to ensure that tuition is not a hindrance to attendance. The University of Virginia says that approximately 34% of students receive financial aid. I personally receive financial aid from a private institution, along with about half of the student body. Admissions are typically need-blind to ensure that the ability to pay full price does not affect a student’s chances of being accepted. In addition to grants from institutions themselves, students can apply for need-based financial aid from the federal government by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Finally, the QuestBridge program connects high-achieving, low-income students with top colleges and universities and the students receive full scholarships.

The real problem activists should be focusing on is publicity surrounding these opportunities; students should know what options are available to them. One of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing testified that staggering numbers of students who are qualified to receive financial aid and would benefit greatly from financial assistance don’t even fill out the FAFSA. Many low-income students simply assume they will be unable to afford college, and they do not have anybody to explain to them how they can access the funds necessary to further their education.

Colleges and universities are also able to continually raise tuition because of the growing importance of getting a higher education. If jobs mandate college degrees, students have no choice but to attend college, and institutions are able to attach any price tag. With increased demand, comes higher prices. President Obama has made this cycle worse by offering student loans with low interest rates, and further increasing the demand for a higher education. And, once again, this is all predicated on the false understanding that college is the best choice for every student.

Finally, we simply cannot afford free community college. Of course, nothing is free. With an ever-growing national debt, we need to be cutting spending, not developing new programs. This will hit the American taxpayer hard. In fact, young people who choose to enter the workforce as opposed to going to college, will end up paying heightened taxes to foot the bill for the free education of others.

Thankfully, there is still time to stop the spread of free community college through the United States. The District of Columbia City Council currently has posted:

written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record. Written statements should be submitted to the Committee of the Whole, Council of the District of Columbia, Suite 410 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004. The record will close at 5:00 p.m. on July 7, 2015.

I encourage you to submit a statement that points out the problems with free community college!


NZ student can't see the point

WHEN a Year 10 English teacher at Napier Girls’ High School set the class the task of giving a speech about something they felt strongly about, no one banked on Anela Pritchard.  And that should be a lesson to them.

The 15-year-old New Zealand teen saw an opportunity, letting rip with a blistering attack on her “lazy” educators and their teaching of “irrelevant information”.

“We have all these teachers that don’t enjoy their jobs and are all angry about the cutbacks in their pay cheques, making us feel like complete idiots and making us feel useless,” Miss Pritchard said in her scorched-earth address to the class.

“It’s teachers like this that make us students want to skip class and not go to school because they think we aren’t good enough for a certain subject. Like we are stupid and will never understand it. Teachers are paid to teach us, not paid to hand out a piece of paper with words on it and sit round and do nothing.”

Just to be sure no one missed the memo — and after delivering the speech to her “rather sad” looking teacher — Miss Pritchard emailed it to other school staff and, naturally, posted it on Facebook, the New Zealand Herald reports.

“Do I honestly need to know what a= 1+rn to the 2nd power is ... in order to get somewhere in life? Do I honestly need to know the structure of a seed and how it works and whatnot? No, I don’t think so,” Miss Pritchard thundered.

“In high school we should be learning about the real world — how to pay my taxes, apply for jobs, mortgage my house, buy a car — things that we will actually use in the future.  “So far, I’ve only learned that whatever I manage to get done in a short amount of time isn’t enough.

“I honestly used to love going to school. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it made me happy to go to school, to meet friends, to learn things that I never knew. But the minute High School starts, it’s either you fly, or you fall. Now I strongly dislike it, and want nothing to do with it.”

The English teacher who set the assignment — described by a supporter as “one of the kindest most compassionate teachers I’ve ever had” — was left in tears, according to reports.

Meanwhile a row has erupted over free speech at Napier Girls’ High, in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay, and whether or not Miss Pritchard’s address had earned her a suspension.

“I do understand that this is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is mine, and that’s why I did it, for me,” she wrote, announcing her punishment on Facebook.

The teen and her father, orchard worker Andrew Pritchard, claim the school told her she was not welcome back. However, principal Mary Nixon denies it, telling The New Zealand Herald she had met with the Pritchards to discuss the matter, admitting staff were “shocked and upset” by the speech.

It has also touched off a wider debate about educational standards across the ditch.

Mr Pritchard, for his part, has backed his not-to-be-messed-with offspring, telling ONE News he “absolutely stands by her”.

“I’ve had a lot of support for what I’ve said but apparently some teachers and students aren’t very happy,” Miss Pritchard told the TV station, which reported the 15-year-old may have been asked to stay away from the school for her own safety.

“I was expecting an apology from the school today and we didn’t get one.”

Mr Pritchard said his daughter was tossing up a move to Australia over the holidays to live with her brother as the media storm clouds darkened. Best not to get in her way.


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