Eye-Opening Snapshot of State-Level Reform Activity

South Carolina has taken today’s testing drama to new heights. A few years back, the governor, chief, and state board chair all agreed to have the Palmetto State become a governing board member of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) testing consortia. But as other states withdrew and new testing options emerged, the state legislature no longer saw participation in a consortium as necessary. So several bills have been filed to force an SBAC departure. The state chief, hoping to find accord with the legislature, recommended that the state board vote to willingly withdraw. The board voted against. Now the state chief has discovered the he has the power to withdraw without the state board’s blessing. Read this letter from the chief to the board. Remarkable stuff.

Indiana is now the latest state to release disappointing results from a new teacher-evaluation system. Though many of us hoped the Widget Effect would disappear, it’s becoming clear that changing statutes and regulations are only a small part of the equation.

In Tennessee, it’s been tough reform sledding of late. The state’s cutting-edge policy on tying certification to value-added scores is no more. Now it looks like the state may back out of PARCC and issue an RFP for future tests. On the upside, new charter-school legislation is making its way to the governor’s desk; it would enable the state board of education to authorize charter schools rejected by local school districts. Of course, it would be preferable for applicants to be able to go to a non-district authorizer first, but this is a step in the right direction—ending the district’s right to fully control K–12 schooling in a geographic area.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, once a fan of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and PARCC, rescinded his support for the standards a couple weeks ago during a failed legislative attempt to end the state’s use of CCSS. Now Jindal is turning against PARCC, signaling his willingness to withdraw from the consortium if the legislature doesn’t require it first. The splintering of the testing consortia continues, and it shows no signs of letting up.

In Kansas, the state’s highest court is requiring funding increases in low-income districts. But rather than simply cutting a check, the legislature is tying the new funding to policy changes, namely tenure reform. The Vergara case in California is largely about the same thing. The plaintiffs (a group of students) are using a tactic employed by unions for decades—go to the courts for changes in K–12 policy when the political branches won’t do what you want. But rather than asking for more money (as has been the relief typically sought), the students are asking for sweeping changes to state-mandated personnel policies, including tenure and LIFO. Interesting article here.

-Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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