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Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Found Guilty of Bribery, Extortion, and Money Laundering!

Dear Commons Community,

CBS News and the Associated Press announced this evening that Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty on all counts Monday afternoon in his federal trial on charges of bribery, extortion, and money laundering.

As CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Silver was one of the most powerful men in Albany up until about a year ago – along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Senate leader Dean Skelos, who together with Silver were sometimes called the “three men in a room.”

But at 4 p.m., Silver was convicted of receiving $5 million in improper fees from law firms for referrals. He showed no expression when the verdict was read, Schneider reported.

“Ultimately, I believe after we file the legal challenges, we’ll have a different result,” Silver said.

Silver walked out of court just before 6 p.m. He only said that he was disappointed, and that he will fight the verdict on appeal with his attorneys.

He now faces up to 130 years in prison….

In another Manhattan federal courtroom, the corruption trial resumed for former state Senate leader Skelos. Jurors in that trial are still hearing evidence related to charges that he engaged in extortion and solicited bribes to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son, who is his co-defendant. Both have pleaded not guilty.”

It is a shame that political leadership of New York has been so dishonored.  Silver’s conviction hopefully will begin a process to restore confidence in the NYS system of government.

Tony

 

NY Times Featured Article:  The Rich Use their Positions of Privilege to Reshape Illinois!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article describing how Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, with the help of super wealthy backers, is trying to remake Illinois by focusing on cutting spending, reining in pensions, and attacking public unions.   Here is an excerpt:

“The richest man in Illinois does not often give speeches. But on a warm spring day two years ago, Kenneth C. Griffin, the billionaire founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, rose before a black-tie dinner of the Economic Club of Chicago to deliver an urgent plea to the city’s elite.

They had stood silently, Mr. Griffin told them, as politicians spent too much and drove businesses and jobs from the state. They had refused to help those who would take on the reigning powers in the Illinois Capitol. “It is time for us to do something,” he implored.

Their response came quickly. In the months since, Mr. Griffin and a small group of rich supporters — not just from Chicago, but also from New York City and Los Angeles, southern Florida and Texas — have poured tens of millions of dollars into the state, a concentration of political money without precedent in Illinois history.

Their wealth has forcefully shifted the state’s balance of power. Last year, the families helped elect as governor Bruce Rauner, a Griffin friend and former private equity executive from the Chicago suburbs, who estimates his own fortune at more than $500 million. Now they are rallying behind Mr. Rauner’s agenda: to cut spending and overhaul the state’s pension system, impose term limits and weaken public employee unions.

“It was clear that they wanted to change the power structure, change the way business was conducted and change the status quo,” said Andy Shaw, an acquaintance of Mr. Rauner’s and the president of the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan state watchdog group that received donations from Mr. Rauner before he ran.

The rich families remaking Illinois are among a small group around the country who have channeled their extraordinary wealth into political power, taking advantage of regulatory, legal and cultural shifts that have carved new paths for infusing money into campaigns. Economic winners in an age of rising inequality, operating largely out of public view, they are reshaping government with fortunes so large as to defy the ordinary financial scale of politics. In the 2016 presidential race, a New York Times analysis found last month, just 158 families had provided nearly half of the early campaign money.

Many of those giving, like Mr. Griffin, come from the world of finance, an industry that has yielded more of the new political wealth than any other. The Florida-based leveraged-buyout pioneer John Childs, the private equity investor Sam Zell and Paul Singer, a prominent New York hedge fund manager, all helped elect Mr. Rauner, as did Richard Uihlein, a conservative businessman from the Chicago suburbs.

Most of them lean Republican; some are Democrats. But to a remarkable degree, their philosophies are becoming part of a widely adopted blueprint for public officials around the country: Critical of the power of unions, many are also determined to reduce spending and taxation, and are skeptical of government-led efforts to mitigate the growing gap between the rich and everyone else.”

Make no mistake that the aim of Rauner and his backers is to use their wealth to maintain their positions of privilege  in Illinois.

Tony

 

Kendall Paine:  The Harrowing, Narrowing Effects of Data in Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

Kendall Paine, a teacher in the Seattle public schools, has an essay in the current online version of the Teachers College Record, that points out the effects of data-driven practices in K-12 education.  While commenting on the positive effects of data-based decision-making, she also points out its subtle problems.  Here is an excerpt:

“It will not come as a surprise that, in this era of accountability, schools are saturated in data. But what might be less apparent to outsiders is that educators are using this data to refine and narrow their focus in unprecedented ways.

As with all trends, this effect is nuanced. On the positive side, schools are streamlining instruction and focusing on core, critical standards. Given that we are living in an age in which classrooms have access to seemingly infinite amounts of information, this clear focus is imperative—among other benefits, it guards against the tendency to become distracted by a constant stream of peripheral content. Data systems, in their effort to track progress on specific learning targets, have played a critical role in this narrowing process (Sloan, 2006). While these controls might initially confine and constrict teachers’ practices, they ultimately develop teachers’ expertise in key content areas, thereby enhancing the professionalism of the teaching force (Apple, 2000). Inevitably, teachers experience this streamlining in various ways—some with enthusiasm, and some with resentment. But the overall impact of all of this data on the quality of education that is being uniformly delivered throughout the United States is long overdue, and overwhelmingly positive.

The picture of the narrowing effect becomes more controversial when we consider not what educators are concentrating their efforts on, but for whom. While data systems are forcing teachers to track and target specific standards, they are also in some cases causing teachers to target specific students at the exclusion of others. In the process of tracking specific standards, schools often implement systems that label and stratify students according to their performance on key indicators. The mechanisms employed are varied—data walls, performance continuums, coded spreadsheets—but almost invariably, students are categorized into some version of “green,” “yellow,” or “red” subsets (Booher-Jennings, 2005). Green students are those who consistently perform at or above grade level, yellow students are approaching grade-level performance, and red students are significantly below the prescribed academic standard for that indicator.

The intentions behind this process are benign, even noble. In theory, by categorizing students for each standard, schools can allocate resources according to need. In practice, however, the allocation of resources happens quite differently. Because high-stakes tests, and therefore school data systems, measure proficiency as a percentage, resources are disproportionately diverted toward the “yellow” students as a means of increasing the school’s aggregate score (Booher-Jennings, 2005). By reallocating scarce resources in this way, schools can create the impression of improvement by augmenting their overall passing rates, even though an entire subset of students—in fact, those who are most at-risk—experience very little movement toward their academic goals, if any movement at all. In effect, these data systems only serve to further entrench students at either end of the spectrum, while tipping middle-of-the-road students toward the higher end of the scale. And it is all happening because educators are, perhaps unwittingly, narrowing their focus to a specific subset of students.”

Her conclusion and recommendation is:

“The potential for data use to effect change is vast—indeed, we are already seeing how data systems have streamlined our focus toward those standards that are considered most critical for students’ development. But in the long run, these advantages can only yield positive results if such focused instruction is delivered equitably to all students—and by a vital, sustainable teaching force. Under our current practices, that vision is simply not a reality. Because schools—and by extension teachers— are measured by concrete percentages of proficiency, certain cohorts of students are being completely sidelined, and teachers’ notions of quality instruction are being turned inside out.

Rather than staying this ill-fated course, it would serve both groups to embed a wider spectrum of growth measurements into all of our data-collection mechanisms. While still focusing on a narrowed set of learning targets, we need to track students’ progress over time, as opposed to dichotomizing student performance as either passing or failing. This will hold educators accountable to all subsets of students, thereby simultaneously giving them more freedom to teach in a way that more closely approximates their constructivist ideas of education. To be certain, this is a lofty and complicated endeavor. Among other challenges, it means fundamentally shifting from a performance orientation to one of mastery (Marsh et al., 2014). Attempts to measure progress over time, as opposed to a blunt percentage, will inevitably undergo repeated cycles of trial-and-error before we achieve a more successful system. But if the alternative means neglecting the education of our most at-risk students, and demoralizing our teachers in the process, we simply cannot afford not to. This is one of the greatest educational imperatives of our time, and we have to engage it now.”

Ms. Paine provides excellent commentary that should be read by all educators and especially those in policy positions at the federal and state levels.

Tony

 

Three Killed and Nine Injured During an Attack at a Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado!

Dear Commons Community,

One police officer and two civilians were killed during an attack on a Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado Springs yesterday.  The officer who died was Garrett Swasey, 44, a six-year veteran of the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs police department.

Nine others — five officers and four civilians — were shot and are in good condition.

The Associated Press and other outlets identified the gunman as Robert Lewis Dear, citing law enforcement sources.  The suspect was taken into custody at 4:52 p.m. local time, after officers inside the building convinced him to surrender. 

Authorities are not yet sure whether the gunman intentionally targeted Planned Parenthood.  This center has been the object of a number of protests over the past several months but Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains released a statement Friday stating:

“We don’t yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don’t yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack. We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust,” the statement continued.

Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, released a statement Friday evening.

“Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the brave law enforcement officers who put themselves in harm’s way in Colorado Springs,” Richards said. “We are profoundly grateful for their heroism in helping to protect all women, men and young people as they access basic health care in this country.”

Tony

 

New York’s Andrew Cuomo Shifts Position on Using Test Scores in Teacher Evaluations!

Dear Commons Community,

Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a major shift in his position on using standardized test scores for teacher evaluations.  Whether influenced by national trends or whether he has come to really understand the shallowness of standardized testing for this purpose is not clear.  Regardless, on Wednesday, members of his administration suggested that Mr. Cuomo has begun pushing for a reduction. This would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.   As reported in the New York Times:

“Less than a year ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York proclaimed that the key to transforming the state’s education system was tougher evaluations for teachers, and he pushed through changes that increased the weight of student test scores in teachers’ ratings.

Now, facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Administration officials characterized the governor’s position differently, saying he was waiting for the recommendations of a task force he had set up to conduct a review of the Common Core standards and assessments.

“There is no position of this administration with respect to this issue,” the governor’s director of state operations, Jim Malatras, said this week.

New York’s expected turnabout comes as states across the country are trying to respond to anger over standardized testing, and as the Obama administration is backing off the idea of tying teacher evaluations to test scores.

The idea that Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, is pushing for the changes comes from several different avenues. Two members of the Board of Regents, the body that sets state education policy, said they had also heard that Mr. Cuomo was urging a moratorium on the use of test scores in evaluations. The two board members, Kathleen M. Cashin and Betty A. Rosa, both said they would heartily support such a change.

“I’m thrilled,” Dr. Cashin said. Asked why she thought the governor might have changed his view, she said she thought he might have listened to educators’ concerns about using the tests.

“I think that the governor has done a lot of reflection,” she said. “He’s had a lot of outreach. A person can see things differently the more outreach you do.”

In New York, Mr. Cuomo’s push to give test scores more weight in evaluations helped propel a widespread test refusal movement this year, centered on Long Island. More than 200,000 of the nearly 1.2 million students expected to take the annual reading and math tests did not sit for them in 2015. At some schools, as many as 75 percent of students opted out.”

Better late than never.  Now Governor Cuomo needs to rein in his unabashed support for the privatization of public schooling especially the proliferation of charter schools.

Tony

 

 

A Summary of the No Child Left Behind Rewrite!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Congress is nearing an agreement on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation that was enacted in 2002. The Associated Press yesterday published a summary of the rewritten language.  There are still a number of hurdles which must be overcome but at least there is movement on this bill after years of discussion and debate.  Below is a summary as provided by the AP.

Tony

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What You Need To Know About The No Child Left Behind Rewrite

Jennifer C. Kerr

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law has long been criticized as unworkable, too punitive and in need of repair. After years of trying, Congress is finally on the verge of rewriting the 2002 law.

House and Senate negotiators approved a compromise framework Thursday that merges two different education bills that cleared the House and Senate in July. Votes in the full House and Senate are expected early next month.

The Senate bill passed this summer with overwhelming support. The House measure was more conservative, and narrowly passed.

What you need to know about the compromise measure:

—-

WHY THE UPDATE?

No Child Left Behind was approved with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.

It had lofty goals – to get all children up to par in reading and math by 2014. But when it became clear that the goal was unattainable, the Obama administration began to issue waivers to states. In exchange, the states had to submit federally approved plans to raise student performance.

Republicans and other critics accused the administration of overreach.

The law has been up for renewal since 2007, but contentious disagreement over such things as the role of the federal government in education stymied passage of an updated bill.

TESTING

No Child Left Behind required annual testing of children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. The compromise measure would continue that testing requirement.

However, the bill would let states decide whether or how to use students’ performance on tests to assess teachers, students and schools – ending federal efforts to tie those scores to teacher evaluations.

There have been complaints for years from teachers, parents, students, lawmakers and others about too much testing in the nation’s schools. Even the White House has suggested capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time.

While the new conference bill doesn’t have a mandate about testing caps, it does encourage them.

An amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, says states should set caps on the total amount of time kids spend taking tests. He said federal testing requirements have resulted in additional layers of state and district level tests, and some of those may be redundant or unnecessary.

“We ought to think differently about each test. Testing for teaching and learning needs to be continuous, ongoing, and inform a teacher’s instruction and the principal’s leadership,” said Bennett. “It’s the testing done for accountability purposes that needs serious re-evaluation.” 

FEDERAL ROLE IN EDUCATION

The compromise sharply reduces the federal role in education, giving the states the authority to determine a school’s performance. There would no longer be federal sanctions for schools judged to be underperforming. However, states would be required to intervene in the nation’s lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high school dropout factories and schools with persistent achievement gaps.

The Education Department also would be barred from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as the college and career-ready curriculum guidelines known as Common Core.

Common Core has become a lightning rod for those who sought a reduced federal role in education, even though the standards were created by the states. The Obama administration, however, dangled grants through its Race to the Top program for states that adopted strong academic standards for its students.

PORTABILITY

Republicans had pushed the concept of portability – allowing money to follow low-income students to public schools of their choice. Now, those dollars remain at the struggling schools.

Democrats had fought against the concept and the compromise bill includes only a pilot program that would allow federal money to move with students in some school districts.

—-

SAUL LOEB VIA GETTY IMAGES

 

WHITE HOUSE

The White House had threatened to veto the bill passed by the House in July and also expressed dissatisfaction with the Senate’s version of the bill.

After the compromise was approved on Thursday, it struck a more optimistic tone.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the measure that emerged from the conference committee was an improvement over the versions that passed the House and Senate this summer. But the official, who could not speak publicly because details of the bill were still under review, stopped short of saying whether President Barack Obama would sign in it.

—-

REACTION

-“Today’s conference committee vote is another encouraging step in the process to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and on behalf of state chiefs, I applaud the work of the committee,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “The framework maintains annual assessments and gives states additional flexibility in how to design better accountability systems.”

-“We are on our way to a new environment in public education. The Senate-House conference report resets education policy with a focus on student learning rather than student testing, while maintaining resources to students with the most needs,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “It creates the potential to bring back the joy of teaching and learning and to really prepare our kids for their future.”

—-

NEXT STEPS

The conference committee will have the full bill ready for lawmakers to read by Nov. 30.

The House would vote sometime that week, as early as Dec. 2. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who sponsored the original Senate bill with Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, said he wants senators to have a full week to read the bill before a vote.

 

New York Times Editorial:  Call the Pfizer and Allergan Deal What it is – Tax Avoidance!

Dear Commons Community,

The business world is agog over the announcement of the $160 billion merger of the pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Allergan.  The New York Times has an editorial this morning calling the merger nothing more than a tax-avoidance, inversion scheme.  Here is an excerpt (the full editorial is below):

“The $160 billion deal to combine Pfizer and Allergan, the maker of Botox, does not appear to be illegal. But it should be. This merger is a tax-dodging maneuver that enriches shareholders and executives while shortchanging the public and robbing the Treasury of money that would pay for a host of government programs — including education, scientific research and other services that also benefit corporations.

Pfizer, with a market value of nearly $200 billion, will be acquired by the smaller Allergan, which is run from New Jersey but technically headquartered in Ireland. This will allow Pfizer, which is based in New York, to pass itself off as Irish as well. Once the paper shuffling is complete, much if not most of Pfizer’s earnings — including those that are made in the United States — will be taxed at global tax rates that are generally lower than American tax rates.

In recent years, dozens of American companies have used similar tactics, known as inversions, to reincorporate in Ireland, Britain and other countries with lower corporate tax rates than those in the United States — at a cost to the Treasury conservatively estimated at $20 billion over 10 years. Pfizer’s merger is by far the largest such move.

But if it’s a loss for taxpayers, it’s a great deal for Pfizer. As with other companies that have “inverted,” the only thing it has to lose is its tax obligations. Inverted companies almost invariably keep their headquarters and top executives in the United States. They remain listed on United States-based stock exchanges, where they raise capital under the protection of American securities’ laws. The newly combined Pfizer Inc. and Allergan P.L.C., for instance, will be renamed Pfizer P.L.C. and trade under the ticker symbol PFE, Pfizer’s current symbol, on the New York Stock Exchange, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, inverted companies continue to enjoy the protection of patent laws in the United States, as well as their connections, official and unofficial, with federal research agencies — all of which are crucial to drug-company profits. Contrary to popular belief, much high-risk, pathbreaking research and development can be traced not to the big drug companies but to taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health…

Reincorporating abroad is a sophisticated variation on the old practice of avoiding corporate taxes by renting a post office box in the Caribbean and calling it corporate headquarters. Congress put a stop to those tactics in 2004. It is past time to shut down inversions as well.”

Pfizer represents all that is wrong with corporate America, a company whose greed is unshackled in its quest for profits.  At this time of year, it would be fitting for the executives of this company to read Dickens, A Christmas Carol, and the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.

Tony

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Pfizer’s Big Breakthrough: Global Tax Avoidance

By the Editorial Board, NOV. 24, 2015

The $160 billion deal to combine Pfizer and Allergan, the maker of Botox, does not appear to be illegal. But it should be. This merger is a tax-dodging maneuver that enriches shareholders and executives while shortchanging the public and robbing the Treasury of money that would pay for a host of government programs — including education, scientific research and other services that also benefit corporations.

Pfizer, with a market value of nearly $200 billion, will be acquired by the smaller Allergan, which is run from New Jersey but technically headquartered in Ireland. This will allow Pfizer, which is based in New York, to pass itself off as Irish as well. Once the paper shuffling is complete, much if not most of Pfizer’s earnings — including those that are made in the United States — will be taxed at global tax rates that are generally lower than American tax rates.

In recent years, dozens of American companies have used similar tactics, known as inversions, to reincorporate in Ireland, Britain and other countries with lower corporate tax rates than those in the United States — at a cost to the Treasury conservatively estimated at $20 billion over 10 years. Pfizer’s merger is by far the largest such move.

But if it’s a loss for taxpayers, it’s a great deal for Pfizer. As with other companies that have “inverted,” the only thing it has to lose is its tax obligations. Inverted companies almost invariably keep their headquarters and top executives in the United States. They remain listed on United States-based stock exchanges, where they raise capital under the protection of American securities’ laws. The newly combined Pfizer Inc. and Allergan P.L.C., for instance, will be renamed Pfizer P.L.C. and trade under the ticker symbol PFE, Pfizer’s current symbol, on the New York Stock Exchange, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In addition, inverted companies continue to enjoy the protection of patent laws in the United States, as well as their connections, official and unofficial, with federal research agencies — all of which are crucial to drug-company profits. Contrary to popular belief, much high-risk, pathbreaking research and development can be traced not to the big drug companies but to taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health.

Traditionally, corporate taxation was a way to repay the public for benefits companies received from federal support. But in recent decades, corporate taxes as a share of federal revenue have shriveled. Inversions will only worsen that trend, effectively bolstering corporate profits at the expense of the public.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Pfizer executives, and the executives of inverted companies, don’t put it that way. They say they cannot remain competitive if they have to pay tax on profits at the relatively high United States top rate of 35 percent.

That claim does not stand up. American multinationals routinely take advantage of write-offs that reduce the top rate to a much lower level. Moreover, even an inverted company is supposed to pay tax on earnings generated in the United States at American rates. But by having a foreign parent company in one country — Ireland in this case — while remaining headquartered in the United States, a company can lower its tax bill through an accounting gimmick known as “earnings stripping,” in which profits from the United States are shifted to the foreign parent in the lower-taxed country, thus reducing the American tax bill.

It is not hard to write legislation and draw up rules outlawing inversions, and bills currently in Congress could put a stop to them quickly. What is lacking is political will to tell powerful corporate interests to stop. The Treasury Department under President Obama has issued rules to curb the practice. But the Pfizer and Allergan hookup is expected to get around these constraints. The administration could do more, but even more aggressive executive action would not be as effective as robust legislation.

Reincorporating abroad is a sophisticated variation on the old practice of avoiding corporate taxes by renting a post office box in the Caribbean and calling it corporate headquarters. Congress put a stop to those tactics in 2004. It is past time to shut down inversions as well.

 

Princeton University Students Protest Against Woodrow Wilson’s “Racist Legacy”!

Dear Commons Communty,

About 30 black and white Princeton University students protested inside the school president’s office on Wednesday, demanding changes for the social and academic experience of black students.  As reported in the Associated Press and the New York Times:

The protesters from a group called the Black Justice League want the Ivy League university to publicly acknowledge what they say is the racist legacy of former school president and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. They also want the school to rename buildings and programs named for him, institute cultural competency training for staff and faculty, and add a cultural space on campus dedicated to black students.

“We’re here. We’ve been here. We ain’t leaving. We are loved,” students chanted into megaphones outside of Nassau Hall before moving into President Christopher Eisgruber’s office, according to video posted to social media.

Princeton spokesman Martin Mbugua said Eisgruber and Dean of College Jill Dolan spent about an hour talking with the students and “expect the conversation to continue beyond today’s meeting.”

Wilson was president of Princeton from 1902 to 1910 and served as New Jersey’s governor from 1911 to 1913, when he entered the White House. The Democrat was a leading progressive but supported segregation.

“I agree with you that Woodrow Wilson was a racist. I think we need to acknowledge that as a community and be honest about that,” Eisgruber told the students, according to a video posted to YouTube.

The protest comes as students at colleges across the country rally over race and other social issues.

Tony

 

 

Massachusetts:  Once a Leader of Common Core Testing – Repeals it!

Dear Commons Community,

Massachusetts, for years a leader in education reform and the Common Core Curriculum, has opted out of Common Core testing.  Originally, Massachusetts’participation was seen as a validation of the Common Core and the multistate test. The state’s rejection of that test sounded the bell on common assessments, signaling that the future will now look much like the past — with more tests, but almost no ability to compare the difference between one state and another.  As reported in the New York Times:

“It’s hugely symbolic because Massachusetts is widely seen as kind of the gold standard in successful education reform,” said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, who is leading an evaluation of the national tests. “It opens the door for a lot of other states that are under a lot of pressure to repeal Common Core. Getting rid of these tests is a nice bone to throw.”

The fight in Massachusetts has been dizzying, with a strange alliance between the teachers’ union and a conservative think tank that years before had been a chief proponent of the state’s earlier drive for standards and high-stakes tests. As in other states, conservatives complained of federal overreach into local schooling, while the union objected to tying the tests to teacher evaluations.

Amid the noise, many parents had trouble understanding what the Common Core was, or argued that the nation’s public schoolchildren took too many tests. So while parents and students here did not opt out of testing in the waves they did in places like New York and New Jersey, they also did not express much support…

As states rolled out the new tests over the last two years, parents and teachers pushed back in states from Oregon to Florida. There were technical glitches, as well as complaints that the exams were too hard and too long. When states began reporting poor results, parents and policy makers did not necessarily see the benefit of comparing their schools with others.

But at hearings here this fall, many superintendents and teachers testified that the new test, known as Parcc, for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, had improved what was happening in classrooms. Given the choice between the state’s old test and the multistate test this spring, more than half the state’s school districts chose Parcc.

“If we revert back to the old standards, all this work will have been for naught,” said Dianne Kelly, the superintendent in Revere, who credits the standards for tripling the number of students taking algebra in eighth grade and doubling the number taking Advanced Placement courses.

The opposition came from what might have once seemed an unlikely place, the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank that had been a driver behind the higher standards in the 1993 legislation. It had hired Tom Birmingham, who as a Democratic state senator had been a co-author of that legislation. He warned that the state would be pressured to lower standards as other states hid failure by lowering the bar for passing.

“It becomes not a race to the top but a race to the middle,” Mr. Birmingham said in an interview.

The federal government was not involved in writing the Common Core. But Pioneer, like other conservative groups, argued that the Obama administration had forced it on states by granting money to the national tests. As part of its Race to the Top program, the administration in 2010 awarded about $350 million to design the Parcc and the other national test, known as Smarter Balanced.

That argument persuaded even educators who believed the Common Core was improving what happened in the classroom.

 

“It was almost like extortion — if you want this money, you have to do things the way we want,” said Todd Gazda, the superintendent in Ludlow, near the western Massachusetts city of Springfield.

The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Paul Toner, had supported the Parcc test. But in 2014, the membership elected a new president, Barbara Madeloni, who had campaigned against high-stakes tests, period.

“It is destructive to our students and our teachers and the very possibility of joyful and meaningful public education,” Dr. Madeloni said in an interview.”

The Common Core was a good idea but was poorly implemented and rushed because of pressure by the U.S. Department of Education.  Arne Duncan has no one to blame but himself and members of his department for its failure.  

Tony