State News Review: Tests, Standards, Budgets, and Charters
In case readers discover they can't read more than three lines of non-health-care news before their eyes stray to yet another analysis of the Affordable Care Act decision, State EdWatch has put together fun-size pieces of state education updates. Not everyone has collapsed into their hammocks for the summer just yet, so let's get to the news:
- I've written both for the State EdWatch blog and for edweek.org about the 15 new standardized tests called STAAR exams in Texas, which high school students will need to pass in order to graduate. As I noted previously, hundreds of districts have passed a resolution officially questioning the role of the new high-stakes tests. But one group, the Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, has not been content to see criticisms of STAAR go unchallenged. A report in the Austin-American Statesman focuses on the group's concern that appeasing those concerned districts will end up hurting the state's economy by damaging the quality of its workforce.
In a June 27 press conference, the coalition essentially accused anti-STAAR school officials of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater (full of parents). Bernie Francis, the head of the education task force at the Texas Business Leadership Council, and who runs an information technology and engineering firm in the Dallas area, argued that school superintendents have just "gone about scaring moms" about the impact of the new tests. Still, state lawmakers appear open to reconsidering just how the tests are used, the paper reported. The Texas Coalition for a Competitive Workforce, you may not be surprised to learn, was founded and led by the Texas Institute for Education Reform, which includes charter school and business groups.
- It may seem like an obvious point, but the Common Core State Standards that my colleague Catherine Gewertz and others have been following so assiduously only deal with math and English/language arts. States still have work to do when it comes to reviewing their own standards in other subjects. With that in mind, it's notable that Wyoming officials are beginning their review of the state's educational standards in social studies, science, career education and physical education, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. The review must take place every five years. Recent trends could be affecting how social studies standards are changed. For example, reporter Aerin Curtis says "literacy" could be incorporated into social studies standards, echoing the common core's emphasis on using English-literacy skills throughout various subjects. (Technology could also be part of new social studies standards in Wyoming.) The review and any recommended shifts in the standards are slated to go to the state board of education in 2013. The common core is to be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
- On May 17, my State EdWatch predecessor Sean Cavanagh noted that Missouri lawmakers approved a law allowing the expansion of charter schools in the state but also mandating greater oversight of charter schools. Sean noted that a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, did not say at the time if he would sign it, but on June 27 Nixon signed the measure into law. He captured the dual-purpose nature of the bill when he said that while there were several strong charter schools in the state, it was also "quite clear that there are charter schools where students languish in classroom(s) that don't meet academic standards." A lot of the oversight provisions actually deal with money. Contracts with charter management organizations will come under greater scrutiny, the state will be able to audit the schools, and sponsors will take a more active role in overseeing school finances. The impetus for this new appetite for oversight appeared to be a group of St. Louis charter schools run by Imagine Schools, Inc. that were shut down by the state in the wake of academic and financial woes. But Nixon was not totally on board with parent "choice" in all its forms: He vetoed another bill that would have allowed parents in some districts to have their children bused to closer schools that happen to lie in other districts.
- What's notable about the fact that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new budget into law that will begin July 1? The fact that it seems like a relatively minor prelude in the runup to the momentous November ballot initiative? in November, backed by the Democratic governor, that would increase taxes in the state (in fact, the budget assumes that the initiative will pass). If the initiative does not pass muster with voters, Brown (D) has warned of huge cuts to education funding. I'll have more on this issue in the near future.