Civitas Review

Kentucky results: Common Core standards don't enhance college readiness

Jul
29

Kentucky

A lot of eyes are on Kentucky these days.  Mostly because the state implemented Common Core standards before other states. Hence, what happens – or doesn’t happen — in Kentucky may be harbinger of things to come elsewhere as well.

So when Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute  blogged earlier this week on Truth in American Education's web site about Kentucky’s disappointing test scores you can bet the article drew interest.

Innes raises the $64,000 question: Does common core improve college readiness in Kentucky?

If it does, shouldn’t there be a noticeable uptick in college readiness scores?

That’s not what Innes found.

Using test results from Kentucky EXPLORE State Trends 2015  PLAN State Trends 2015 and PLAN assessments — tests designed to give a good indication if students in eighth or tenth grade will eventually be college ready — Innes writes:

The 2014-15 school year EXPLORE test results for Common Core subjects of English, math and reading are all uniformly lower than in several previous years.  For example: English has been in steady decline for the past two years, Reading performance is notably lower now than just last year and actually is also lower than results for all but one year since 2009-10 as well.

Math performance also dropped from 2013-14 and with only one exception, the 2014-15 math Benchmark performance is worse than the  performance in any of the previous five years.

These decays in performance in Common Core subjects raise concerns about the true functioning of Common Core in the Bluegrass State. The latest scores from the 2014-15 term are for the fourth year of full Common Core operation in Kentucky and the state’s education program should be stabilizing. We should not see such decay on a true college readiness test if Common Core is really working in Kentucky. However the graph above indicates that at the eighth grade level, at least, Common Core in Kentucky has a problem.

Things only look slightly better for Common Core in the PLAN results. While math has shown some improvement, both English and reading scores also decayed in the 2014-15 school term

 

Though Innes doesn’t analyze ACT scores, I took a quick peek at Kentucky’s scores. If Common Core standards are positively impacting students, wouldn’t we expect scores would start to rise?  Kentucky’s composite score increased half a point in the last four years. Subject scores improved modestly varying from increases of two-tenths to four tenths of a percentage point.  Also noteworthy is the percentage of students who met all four college readiness benchmarks. In the last four years the percentage increased from 16 to 19 percent. Percentages in English, mathematics and science all increased slightly but the percentage for Reading declined over the last four years.

These scores while they signify modest improvements, hardly reflect the uptick that Common Core advocates said the standards would deliver.

It’s difficult to get a reading on the same impacts in North Carolina, since North Carolina only required 100 percent of students to take the ACT exam in 2013, at the same time Common Core standards were going into the classroom.

If Kentucky is leading the way on Common Core, initial results don’t look good.

NC Senate May Vote to Ignore Draconian EPA Restrictions

Jul
29

From the N&O:

Lawmakers in Raleigh could decide Wednesday whether North Carolina will become one of a handful of states that will ignore new federal limits on emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants.

The expected debate in the state Senate could make North Carolina a testing ground for the nation’s first attempt to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose the limits next month, giving states a year to come up with compliance strategies or default to a plan created by the EPA.

The state Senate is set to debate the EPA requirement that North Carolina reduce the emissions by nearly 40 percent by 2030. The state House voted three months ago to direct state environmental authorities to develop a compliance plan, but a Senate committee last week scrapped that idea. If the Senate plots a new policy course to do little or nothing, the issue would have to go back to the House to become state law.

One of the leading critics of the new EPA restrictions is Donald van der Vaart, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, saying the EPA rules are like "forcing a round peg into a square hole."

A study released in January of this year concluded that the unprecedented new EPA rules would have significantly negative effects on NC, including a loss of more than 32,000 jobs, a fall in disposable income of $3.5 billion and sharply higher electricity rates for homeowners and industrial users.

$15/hr Min Wage No Cure for Poverty Trap

Jul
28

Still more evidence of the power of the government welfare poverty trap:

Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law is supposed to lift workers out of poverty and move them off public assistance. But there may be a hitch in the plan.

Evidence is surfacing that some workers are asking their bosses for fewer hours as their wages rise – in a bid to keep overall income down so they don’t lose public subsidies for things like food, child care and rent.

Full Life Care, a home nursing nonprofit, told KIRO-TV in Seattle that several workers want to work less.

“If they cut down their hours to stay on those subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a burden on the business and given false hope to a lot of people,” said Jason Rantz, host of the Jason Rantz show on 97.3 KIRO-FM. (emphasis added)

The Welfare State creates strong incentives favoring government dependency over work. When confronted with these incentives, the rational choice for many people is to choose continued government dependency, or risk making themselves actually worse off by accepting higher wages or more hours.

Government welfare programs were never intended to "lift people out of poverty." They were designed to create government dependency, and in turn that dependency translates into more power in the hands of government.

Senate Budget Plan Includes Retiree Insurance, Pension Reform

Jul
27

As highlighted in this Asheville Citizen-Times article, the NC Senate budget proposal  includes measures to address two issues very critical to the long-term fiscal health of the state government: retiree health benefits and realistic measures of the state pension fund.

North Carolina lawmakers are looking at changes they say will shore up important benefits for hundreds of thousands of state employees and teachers when approaching retirement.

Some public employee advocates worry the changes will create more uncertainty and erode incentives that attract and retain state workers.

The Senate budget approved last month contained a provision that would prevent retirees hired after 2015 from obtaining or buying health insurance for themselves or dependents through the State Health Plan. Another Senate budget item would automatically decrease a fixed rate of return on state pension fund investments that helps calculate the state's annual contribution to that fund.

….

Senate Republicans say the insurance change would give the state better control over an unfunded liability of $25.5 billion in projected state medical expenses for current and future retirees. The liability has fallen by several billion dollars since 2010. The General Assembly's government watchdog agency will examine the liability in a study being released Monday.

Still, "it is the largest unfunded liability we have in the state right now," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, a health budget-writer, and capping the future retirees covered creates a "fixed number we're targeting and addressing over 30 years."

Civitas has been writing for years about the massive unfunded liability for state retiree health benefits, including these recommendations written nearly three years ago.

And many financial experts agree that most states, including North Carolina, are using unrealistic discount rate assumptions when calculating the state's unfunded pension liability. North Carolina continues to use 7.25%, far above more realistic rates in the 4% to 6% range recommended by firms like Moody's. Another provision in the Senate budget would begin to slightly bring down the discount rate used by the treasurer's office to determine the unfunded pension liability.

These financial issues have been building for a long time and are in urgent need of being addressed.

Progress on H.B. 13, but questions remain

Jul
24

Earlier this week, I wrote on the potential ramifications of H.B. 13, a bill working its way through the NC Senate. While the main theme of the bill is to ensure that students entering public schools at any age undergo a health assessment, it also has the potential to rein in bureaucratic overreach at the Department of Public Instruction and Department of Health and Human Services. Yesterday, the News & Observer picked up on my concerns regarding data gathering and parental consent:

The wide-ranging amount of information collected has mobilized conservative groups to call for passage of House Bill 13.

“When properly understood, H.B. 13 is not such a bland endeavor,” Elliot Engstrom wrote Tuesday for the conservative Civitas Institute. “It is in fact a proposal to rein in a state bureaucracy that, on its own initiative, has launched a program to collect and store intimate data about children in public schools, all while requiring parents to waive their right to be involved in discussions about their child’s health.”

On Thursday, the Senate education committee held a special session just to address H.B. 13. (Normally the committee only meets on Wednesdays). Following the one-man comedy show that was Sen. Jerry W. Tillman (who conceded to the Committee that he's been wrong "one time in [his] life"), the bill passed — but with amendments.

The question, then, is whether these amendments support or undermine the causes of privacy and parental rights. The initial answer is that progress has been made, but questions remain.

The progress comes due to the fact that the bill maintains language restricting the health assessment to certain necessary elements, instead of allowing DPI and DHHS to collect and store data on anything and everything about a child. The bill also makes strides in terms of keeping parents in the know about their child, whereas the present law allows school officials to communicate with student healthcare providers without the parent's knowledge.

Questions remain on two key issues. First, the bill states that doctors can indicate to school officials "whether school follow-up is needed." It is unclear how the school can follow-up with the healthcare provider without parents first giving their consent. Second, the bill still provides that a "development screening of cognition and language abilities may be conducted in accordance with G.S. 115C-83.5(a)." Here again, there is some ambiguity. Any good kindergarten teacher is constantly monitoring things like cognition and language abilities — no controversy there. However, G.S. 115C-83.5(a) has a plethora of potential issues in its own right.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, after which it will return to the House for final approval.

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