BOSTON What would have happened if the general manager of the MBTA had also chaired the board of Keolis or the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad when the two companies were competing for the multibillion-dollar contract to operate the T’s commuter-rail system? That would never have been tolerated, and neither should a similar situation that is currently playing out in K-12 education in the commonwealth.
Later this year, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester will make a recommendation to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about whether to replace the historically successful MCAS test with those developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
The problem is that Chester chairs PARCC’s governing board. As such, he should recuse himself from any involvement with the MCAS/PARCC decision-making process.
Chester serves as secretary to the state board and oversees the process for choosing between MCAS and PARCC. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that he heads gathers the information on which the decision will be made and conducts the internal evaluation.
Chester has formed a team of PARCC Educator Leader Fellows within the department. According to a memo from Chester, the PARCC fellows, who receive a stipend, should be “excited about … the Common Core State Standards” and “already engaged in leadership work around them.” The department has no MCAS fellows.
Some local education leaders aren’t buying into the charade that the PARCC/MCAS decision remains an open question. Brookline Superintendent and Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents President William Lupini, in a 2014 letter to the town’s school committee, flatly stated that “MCAS will be phased out in favor of either PARCC or another new ‘next generation’ assessment.”
A strong whiff of conflict tainted the process of choosing between Massachusetts’ previous academic standards and Common Core, which preceded the MCAS/PARCC issue.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested well over $200 million in the development and selling of Common Core. To help inform his 2010 recommendation to the board about whether to adopt Common Core, the three studies Chester relied on were all conducted by Gates-funded entities.
Furthermore, a 2010 WCVB-TV (Ch. 5) report described that he and other department personnel accepted $15,000 in luxury travel and accommodations from Common Core supporters before the board’s decision to adopt.
Gov. Charlie Baker has criticized the MCAS/PARCC and Common Core processes. He told the State House News Service, “I think it’s an embarrassment that a state that spent two years giving educators, families, parents, administrators and others an opportunity to comment and engage around the assessment system that eventually became MCAS basically gave nobody a voice or an opportunity to engage in a discussion … before we went ahead and executed on Common Core and PARCC.”
PARCC is also becoming increasingly desperate, which only increases the temptation to put a thumb on the scale. More than 20 states were originally part of the consortium; that number is now down to seven states and the District of Columbia.
The MCAS/PARCC choice is Chester’s last chance to regain the public’s trust in his department’s ability to manage an impartial, transparent and accountable process. As chairman of PARCC’s governing board, the first step is to recuse himself from the decision.
Charles Chieppo (Charlie_Chieppo@hks.harvard.edu) is a senior fellow and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank. This piece first ran in the Boston Herald.