At the start of 2013, it might have been easy to predict in a general way what some of the top state policy and political stories in education would involve. Surely the Common Core State Standards would continue attracting lots of attention. New school choice initiatives, where introduced, would likely generate interest and controversy. And there would be a few state elections on the ballot, along with the inevitable turnover among state superintendents.
But as Chris Berman of ESPN is fond of saying (with a nod to my Schooled in Sports colleague Bryan Toporek), “That’s why they play the game.”
The past year produced a wide range of good state K-12 news. We saw anti-common-core legislation introduced in a variety of states, and although none of those bills succeeded in their original aim, repercussions are still being felt. And political agitation against the standards seemed to rise, highlighting concerns about student privacy, as well as how the standards will impact students, test scores, and evaluations, a big concern for teachers and others in the traditional K-12 community.
Alabama lawmakers passed a new tax-credit scholarship program with dazzling speed (for a state legislature), resulting in partisan recriminations and lawsuits. California, meanwhile, enacted a groundbreaking new K-12 finance formula, but districts and schools are still waiting to see just how it will impact their future.
As for state superintendents, Wyoming experienced political turmoil when legislators and Gov. Matt Mead ousted elected state GOP superintendent Cindy Hill, who fought back voraciously. New York education chief John King experienced withering common-core backlash. And Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania all got new state chiefs.
But long-time education official Tony Bennett experienced perhaps the hardest fall of all, when the Florida commissioner stepped down in August after an Associated Press report revealed frantic behind-the-scenes work to alter Indiana’s A-F school accountability system back in 2012, when Bennett had the top K-12 job in that state. That story led to closer examinations of school accountability in general.
Without further ado, here’s the top 10 most-read blog posts for State EdWatch in 2013:
Kentucky made big news in 2012 when it became the first state to release scores from tests explicitly aligned to the common core. But in the second year of those scores in 2013, students didn’t make the progress that state officials had hoped, and big score gaps between groups remained.
I wrote this item from a meeting of the National Association of State Boards of Education last summer in Arlington, Va., where during a discussion of teacher evaluations, several people in the audience expressed concern about how the standards’ impact on test scores would, perhaps unfairly, hurt teachers’ evaluation ratings.
New York was the second state after Kentucky to release common-core-aligned test scores. The results caused a ruckus in the Empire State, with teachers’ union bosses claiming that the state had bungled a rollout of a common-core curriculum and others saying the scores did not reflect fairly on educators.
One of the more active states in terms of anti-common-core pushes, Alabama’s debate about the standards at one point featured activists who claim that the common core would be used to implement facial-recognition technology in classrooms and to spy on what students ate at home with their families. This was not the last time this type of claim came up in 2013, and it’s important to note that concerns about student privacy in general grew over the last year.
Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker successfully pushed to have most collective-bargaining rights for public-employee unions eliminated back in 2011 as part of his effort to reduce the state’s budget deficit, but the fight about his controversial Act 10 continues. This blog post dealt with an interesting wrinkle about the ongoing legal battle—a legal argument from some teachers that Act 10 has it right when it comes to unions’ recertification elections.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been one of the most prominent Republican defenders of the common core, and in November he told the Council of Chief State School Officers that while they should adjust how they justify the standards, they shouldn’t “retreat.” But that’s not how he put it during a Fox News broadcast of his show, when he said he was disappointed in many things rooted in the standards.
Michigan came the closest, perhaps in a tie with Indiana, to repealing the common core. After GOP Rep. Tom McMillin unsuccessfully pushed a straightforward common-core repeal bill, he successfully implemented a state spending freeze on the standards that kicked in Oct. 1. But state lawmakers, after reviewing the common core, allowed the state to resume spending on the standards and associated assessmetns.
When Secretary Duncan came to speak to a meeting of the chiefs in March, he was grilled by state officials unhappy at the prospect that the federal government would circumvent state authority and grant waivers from portions of the No Child Left Behind Act to districts. That discussion didn’t undo district-level waivers, and states have plenty of their own NCLB waiver worries to take up their time. The spat not only pointed to the usual tension between the federal government and states, but also unease about relationships between states and local districts.
In one of the most prominent education “scandals” (if you want to use that word) of 2013, Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco obtained emails between former Indiana chief Tony Bennett and his staffers regarding the poor grade an Indianapolis charter school (run by one of Bennett’s campaign donors) received in the state’s accountability system in 2012. This caused frantic activity by Bennett and his staff to change the A-F system’s formula—when LoBianco published a story about these emails in July, Bennett, who had moved on to the top K-12 job in Florida, eventually resigned.
On Jan. 7, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s K-12 advocacy group, StudentsFirst, released a report grading states based on their education policies. The report highlighted states’ position on issues like school choice and unions, but the high numbers of readers for this blog post perhaps also indicate the level of interest in Rhee, both from those who find her policy positions apppealing and those who don’t.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.