Wednesday, July 13, 2016

School may be out, but the criticism of Common Core Isn’t Taking a Vacation

As the school year was winding down, results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, showed flat reading performance, and a decline in math performance among high school seniors compared to their pre-Common Core predecessors. So much for college-readiness.

“Worrisome” and “stalled” were just some of the reactions to the news. As Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project summed up: It’s “Time to Admit the Obvious: Common Core Has Failed Spectacularly.”

But Robbins isn’t alone.

An anonymous teacher leaked questions from a fourth-grade Common Core reading assessment produced by PAARC, Inc. [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers ], a federally subsidized testing consortium that has received nearly $186 million in funding.

The questions show just how developmentally inappropriate the assessment is. On it students were prompted to write essays using advanced structural elements, “Prose Constructed Response,” what the teacher calls “a new pseudo-genre,” and research syntheses – all of which are absent from the Common Core writing standards for fourth-graders.

The questions went viral, and PARCC’s efforts to scrub social media kicked into high gear, which only appeared to make matters worse. But that’s the least of PARCC’s troubles. Since its heyday a few years ago, its member states have dropped from 24 to seven, indicating the growing dissatisfaction with Common Core assessments.

Dr. Kenneth Calvert, Hillsdale Academy headmaster and associate history professor at Hillsdale College, also gave Common Core a failing grade:

"Common Core is one of these well-intentioned pieces of legislation in which the federal government is trying to do something for children. They’ve perceived that children are behind the rest of the world and so let’s create a national legislation that’s not going to be forced on states, but we’ll give them money, and the states will take it. It’s just wrong-headed in so many ways. Number one, it’s unconstitutional. From the get-go there is nothing constitutional about the federal government getting its hand into education. Number two, it doesn’t do what they want it to do.

[The Federal Government] wanted to raise standards in their minds commensurate with, equal with, world standards. Neither the literature nor the science or the math standards come anywhere near that. What Common Core has ended up doing is creating, basically, what they considered to be, the lowest common denominator, the average point which students can be expected to reach"

Then earlier this month ACT, Inc., issued a report that found huge gaps between what Common Core deems “college-and-career-ready” and what real world colleges and employers do across subjects.

Given such momentum, such criticism is about as likely to let up as scorching summer temperatures.


Don’t Blame “Underfunding” for Soaring College Prices

Death, taxes, and rising college prices – these are among life’s few certainties. A new study helps shed light on the latter.

As the Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports:

Using Department of Education data, Seton Hall University professor Robert Kelchen found that inflation-adjusted fees grew faster than tuition at state schools between the 1999-2000 and 2012-2013 academic years. During that time, fees at community colleges soared 104 percent, while tuition climbed by 50 percent. Fees at four-year public colleges skyrocketed 95 percent over that period, eclipsing the 66 percent hike in tuition at the same time.

A common excuse for rising prices is that colleges and universities had to raise prices to offset state budget cuts.

The Cato’s Institute’s Neal McCluskey has shown previously that this excuse doesn’t hold water since college tuition price hikes either matched or more often exceeded budget cuts in most years he studied. More recent data from the US Department of Education confirms this trend.

Using constant 2015 dollars, overall state appropriations decreased 18 percent, almost $14 billion, from 2007-08 through 2013-14 (the latest year available). Combined tuition and fees, however, increased far more, 31 percent, almost $17 billion.

What’s more, those tuition and fees increases outpaced the 10 percent full-time equivalent student enrollment increase over the same period. They’re also more than double the 15 percent growth in overall public postsecondary revenue, which includes grants, gifts, self-generated funds, and other funds in addition to government appropriations, tuition, and fees.

So where’s the money going? There’s been growing criticism of administrative bloat

A recent report covering this time period documents that as the economy was heading south, administrative salaries kept going up (p. 9 and Table C).What’s more, another report finds that the creation of new administrative positions is a leading culprit for the growth in administration.

This trend has gotten so bad that an online University Title Generator has been created that spits out fake (yet credible) administrative position titles along with estimated salaries.

Vice Provost for the Committee on Neighborhood Diversity, with an estimated pretend annual salary of $258,704, is one example. Associate Coordinator of the Office of Dining Technology, with a pretend salary of $82,613 is another. There are plenty more funny examples, but the sad part is these made-up administrative positions aren’t all that far-fetched.

According to Richard Vedder, Ohio University distinguished economics professor emeritus and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity:

...[universities] are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they’re in the lodging business; they’re in the food business. ... Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists...My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally...Why? (Quotation from p. 93 here).

Of course, skyrocketing college prices are no laughing matter–but neither is trying to blame state taxpayers for not shoveling out more funding—particularly when leading indicators suggest this administrative growth will continue unabated.

Postsecondary education administration is projected to grow by 9 percent during the present decade, “faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While enrollment is also projected to increase over this period, it’s likely that if given the option, students would prefer fewer community outreach vice provosts, government liaisons (i.e., lobbyists), and public affairs managers so they could earn degrees that won’t leave them saddled with around $30,000 in debt.


Federal ‘Educrats’ Have Failed America’s Children, New Book Shows

When President Jimmy Carter established the U.S. Department of Education in 1979 as the thirteenth cabinet-level agency, many hailed the move as victory for America’s taxpayers, educators, and school children. More than three and a half decades later, however, the federal education bureaucracy has yet to fulfill its promises, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger. In her new book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, Alger reveals the failures, their causes, and their solutions.

In every major aspect, the federal ‘educrats’ deserve a failing grade, Alger explains. Contrary to their promises, they have failed to eliminate waste from federal education programs (one of the initial rationalizations for the agency’s creation). Their wielding of fiscal carrots and sticks has robbed the states of their independence in setting educational policies and priorities (exactly as critics had predicted many decades ago). And they have failed to make American school children among the best educated in the world. (In fact, 17-year-olds as a group are reading at the same skill level as they were in 1971, and their math skills are only slightly better than they were in 1978.) The one promise that the Education Department has fulfilled, according to Alger, is dubious at best: It has helped make education policy a national issue. Consequently, K-12 schooling and higher education are more politicized than ever.

By international standards, U.S. high-school graduates on average are underperformers. So, what is it that the world’s best school systems have that America lacks? The top ones, Alger finds, feature decentralization and parental choice. Building on this lesson, Alger offers a detailed plan for making fundamental, systemic improvements in American schooling—including a blueprint for dismantling the federal education bureaucracy brick by brick, with some programs transferred to the states and others to be cast atop the dustbin of history. From top to bottom and from kindergarten to the graduation podium, federal involvement in education, Alger concludes, has been a disaster of such magnitude that it warrants a single overarching guideline: “End it, don’t mend it.” Fostering greater decision-making and accountability at the local level and expanding educational options (i.e., more parental choice) would make schools have to compete for customers and would introduce strong incentives to improve educational quality for all.


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