Slippery slope: Signs that relaxing high school academic standards can reduce value of college degree

Can lower high school academic standards lead to a devaluation of college degrees? Education authority Chester E. Finn, Jr., suggests the answer is yes and the process has already begun. 

In a new article for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Finn writes,

While ersatz “credit recovery” and grade inflation devalue the high school diploma by boosting graduation rates even as NAEP, PISA, PARCC, SAT, and sundry other measures show that no true gains are being made in student achievement, forces are at work to do essentially the same thing to the college diploma.

Observe the new move by CalState to do away with “remediation” upon entry to its institutions and instead to confer degree credit for what used to be the kinds of high-school-level content and skills that one had to master before gaining access to “credit-bearing” college courses.

It’s a short piece, so we encourage you to read it (and don’t want to just reproduce it here – fair use and all that). We will quote once more though:

This will surely cause an upward tick in college completions and degrees conferred (much as credit recovery has done for high school diplomas) but it will also devalue those degrees and cause any employer seeking evidence of true proficiency to look for other indicators. In the end, it will put pressure on many more people to earn post-graduate degrees and other kinds of credentials, thus adding to the length of time spent preparing for the “real world” and adding to the costs—whether born by students, families, or taxpayers—of that preparation.

…But what it really does is perpetuate the illusion of success in the absence of true achievement and weaken all versions of academic standards at the very moment most states have been taking steps to strengthen them.

The erosion of accountability and the consequences of such erosion have concerned us for some time. In our foundation report we wrote,

It’s imperative that the state continue to make improvements focused on better outcomes for students, particularly as it assumes the responsibility for providing a much higher than typical proportion of funding for the K-12 system.

Legislators recently enacted several measures that are expected to increase the probability that public education will better prepare students for 21st century success:

  • 2014: Passed a 24-credit requirement for graduation from high school (to be effective for students graduating in 2019). This better aligns graduation requirements with college-entry requirements.

We also noted the problem of inadequate college preparation.

Of students who graduated from public high school in 2009-10 and enrolled in community and technical college in 2010-11, 57 percent enrolled in at least one pre-college (developmental or remedial) course — most often in math. These disappointing numbers must be foremost in policymakers’ minds as they consider important questions of education policy and funding.

The problems continue. In an earlier post, we cited improved high school graduation rates nationally have not resulted in an increase in career- or college-readiness

The findings are important for legislators to consider, particularly during a session focused on education finance, reform and accountability. The NCSL story concludes by stating,

These numbers and others indicate a misalignment between the bar states set for graduation and the bar for college and career readiness. To better align their systems, states are redefining what it means to prepare students for college and career, and how best to measure their readiness.

When standards slip, it becomes more difficult to catch up. And, we’re seeing, easier to decide that catching up just isn’t worth the effort, leaving too many too far behind. 

Accountability. Standards. Performance. They all matter.

Senate passes budget $43 billion biennial budget along party lines; next move belongs to the House

 On a 25-24 vote, the state Senate last night passed a budget. Reporting for the Associated Press, Rachel La Corte writes,

The Senate on Friday passed a $43 billion two-year state budget proposal that relies, in part, on a statewide property tax earmarked for education, while also making cuts to some social services.

The spending plan, which cleared the Republican-led Senate on a 25-24 vote after a multi-hour, middle-of-the-night debate, would raise property taxes for some, while lowering taxes for others in the state. House Democrats are set to release and pass their own budget proposal next week, and then both chambers will begin the work of negotiating a final compromise that must satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding.

This concludes the first act of the three-act play. The second act, House passage of its budget should close next week. Then we anticipate an extended third act during which the parties and chambers reconcile their competing plans. 

The AP reports,

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler called the budget plan “a great starting point.”

“This budget makes an unprecedented investment in K-12, despite what some would say,” he said.

Democrats argued the budget did not go far enough on education, and Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson said that the plan “does not reflect our values.”

The education funding plan relies heavily on a property tax swap, explained this way by AP.

Under a bill that previously passed the Senate — and which would be subject to voters’ approval in November — the new property tax rate proposed by Republicans would replace local school levies with a statewide uniform rate dedicated for schools. It would be transitioned in starting next year, but would not be fully implemented until Jan. 1, 2019.

The plan would raise the local school levy in some places, such as Seattle, and decrease it in others, though in the current budget plan Republicans lowered the tax rate to $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed value from the $1.80 originally proposed.

In its weekly McCleary roundup, the Seattle Times reports on rollout of and reactions to the Senate budget, as well as next steps.

The good news for schools: The proposal adds $1.8 billion to K-12 education, and Republican leadership said a new statewide property tax would lower rates for 83 percent of taxpayers, according to The Seattle Times.

The reality: The proposal is pretty much dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled House, in part because a statewide tax would raise rates for some homeowners, especially those in the Seattle area. Democrats would rather tap new sources of state revenue, such as a possible capital-gains tax or carbon pricing, to raise more dollars for schools.

The Republicans steered clear of setting any new taxes and rely on higher revenue from existing taxes, transfers from other state accounts and cuts to some government programs to raise additional money for schools.

 Our earlier reports on the Senate budget can be found here, here, and here.

Friday Roundup: Minimum wage, teacher evaluation, tech apprenticeships, regulation, college affordability and more

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Associated Press: Home health aides: Minimum-wage hike could deepen shortage

It’s a national problem advocates say could get worse in New York because of a phased-in, $15-an-hour minimum wage that will be statewide by 2021, pushing notoriously poorly paid health aides into other jobs, in retail or fast food, that don’t involve hours of training and the pressure of keeping someone else alive…

American Enterprise Institute: Teacher Dismissal in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has one of the most streamlined teacher eval- uation, promotion, and dismissal systems in the United States. Using a process originally implemented in 2009, called IMPACT, DCPS assigns teachers a numeric score based on multiple administrator obser- vations, student test scores, and teaching practices. If teachers do not meet a minimum score threshold, they are red at the end of the school year, and they have limited ability to contest the decision. On the other hand, high-performing teachers may receive bonuses and increases in base pay…

Although IMPACT makes headlines for its focus on student performance, the system provides teach- ers with a core focus on classroom practice and mul- tiple opportunities for feedback on their teaching. The stress of IMPACT evaluation has not noticeably reduced teacher retention in the district. Some stud- ies suggest that student performance has meaning- fully improved for some students as a result. Even critics of the program have credited IMPACT with driving DCPS to focus on student achievement, and it seems that students have come out ahead.

Seattle Times: New tech apprenticeship racks up 1,000 applicants, first two success stories

A new, federally funded apprenticeship program aimed at diversifying the tech workforce in Washington has drawn interest from more than 1,000 applicants in just a few months…

The program, called Apprenti, is being run by an industry trade association, the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). It’s funded in part by a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as with private money. It does not cost participants anything.

WTIA says it is the first registered tech apprenticeship program in the nation. 

The Lens: Alleviating Small Business Regulatory Concerns

After a recent Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) performance audit determined state agencies are falling short when complying with the Regulatory Fairness Act (RFA), lawmakers are pushing legislation to fine tune the law to make sure small businesses aren’t disproportionately affected. At the end of last week, HB 1120received a public hearing for the first time in the Senate, after passing the House unanimously.

Seattle Times: Family and parental leave policies are new front for labor supporters

Efforts to craft a parental- and family-leave law are underway in the state Legislature, while Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González plans to introduce Wednesday a proposal for a leave law that would cover all employers within the city.

And, at least for the statewide legislative solution, there is support from some business groups.

“Passing something at the state level would be easier than having a patchwork of cities having their own paid-leave laws, which we’ve seen happen in the past on several issues,” said Stephanie McManus, a spokeswoman for the Washington Hospitality Association.

…The Association of Washington Business said it supports a legislative solution.

Puget Sound Business Journal: Proposed Washington state law blocks criminal history from job applications

A bill moving through the state Legislature in Olympia would prevent many Washington employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until the final stages of the hiring process.

The Washington Fair Chance Act, Senate Bill 5312, cleared the state Senate earlier this month and is scheduled for a vote in a House committee on Thursday.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: Kentucky Becomes 44th State to Allow Charter Public Schools 

Until Tuesday, Kentucky was one of only seven states that do not allow charter public schools. By enacting HB 520, the Bluegrass state will now allow these tuition-free public schools to open and begin providing students and their families with additional no-cost, high-quality school options.

The Atlantic: New Report Measures College (Un)affordability

But a new report shows that as many as 95 percent of colleges are completely unaffordable—and thus unavailable—for huge swaths of Americans. For many would-be college students, their choices are delimited by their socioeconomic status before they have even taken the SAT.

In a new report, the nonprofit Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) tackles those issues—and the numbers aren’t good: While students from the highest income quintile (earning around $160,000 or more) can afford about 90 percent of the more than 2,000 colleges studied, low- and moderate-income students (bringing in around $69,000 or less) can only afford 1 to 5 percent of those colleges.

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin assesses Senate budget … and finds much to like

With a Senate vote imminent, the editorial board of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin takes a close look at majority coalition caucus’s budget plan and concludes, 

The Senate plan is a solid foundation on which to move the process forward. The debate, followed by reconciliation, is at hand.

The Legislature, it seems, is finally moving forward with a real plan to fully fund basic education as the state Supreme Court has mandated.

The editorial begins by saying,

The Republican-led state Senate’s two-year state budget proposal appears to take a reasoned approach to fully funding basic public education without unleashing a torrent of new taxes. 

The $43 billion 2017-19 budget plan adds $1.8 billion toward K-12 education, which would come from projected growth in current tax revenue and spending cuts in other state programs. 

The writers acknowledge the levy swap with a parochial comment:

So, from our rural Eastern Washington perspective, this tax shift feels equitable. It taxes those who can most afford to pay it while ensuring that every school in the state has the funds to pay for basic education costs, including teachers’ salaries.

Lawmakers are far from finished, and we share the U-B’s hope that reconciliation is at hand.

Meanwhile, in the Seattle Times, editorial columnist Donna Gordon Blankinship explains what she likes and doesn’t like about the funding plans currently on offer.  

New mobility report provides good data on state highway system performance; the challenge of keeping up with growth.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s 2016 Corridor Congestion Report is the perfect book for a transportation geek’s relaxation and edification. The executive summary opens with a statement that won’t surprise you.

Washington’s economic health is improving, but as it does the overall well-being of its transportation system is worsening. Having more and more drivers heading to work is a sure sign of prosperity but it is also causing slow owing, congested arteries that make it harder and harder for commuters to reach their destinations.

Unclogging commutes on state corridors requires a thorough understanding of congestion and roadway capacity statewide. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) communicates this understanding of system performance through the annual Corridor Capacity Report specifically to guide decision making by transportation policy makers, planners and engineers as they look to improve multimodal capacity and reduce stop-and-go traffic in Washington.

What follows is a compendium of useful data. For example, from a summary slide in the department’s presentation to the Washington State Transportation Commission last month:

In 2015 compared to 2013,

  •   Vehicle Miles Traveled increased 4.3%

  •   Passenger vehicle registrations increased 8.3%

  •   The number of licensed drivers in Washington increased 4%

  •   The drive-alone commuting rate decreased 0.3%

  •   Washington State Ferries ridership increased 6%

  •   Amtrak Cascades ridership decreased 3.2%

  •   Transit passenger miles traveled on urban commute corridors during peak periods increased 6%

  •   Emissions on high-demand urban commute corridors decreased 2.9%

  •   WSDOT’s Incident Response crews provided an economic benefit of $80.2 million

There’s much more. And, with the increased investment made by lawmakers in 2015, we expect to see continued improvement. No doubt, it’s challenging to keep up with the extraordinary population and economic growth in the Puget Sound metropolitan area. WSDOT’s consistent data gathering and transparent reporting helps us measure performance in meeting our Connect (transportation) priority

Analysis of the Senate budget proposal from the Washington Research Council, Washington Policy Center

Yesterday, we offered a roundup of news coverage of the Senate budget plan. Today, we have some analysis and commentary from two statewide policy research groups.

Washington Policy Center analyst Jason Mercier writes,

Yesterday the Senate released its proposed $43 billion spending plan ($85.8 billion all funds). This represents approximately a 13% increase in spending from the current budget. For comparison, the 2015-17 budget increased spending by roughly 14%. The Senate Ways & Means Committee released this summary of the proposal. Full budget details are available here. As for the high level parts of the Senate budget, here are the details provided by the Senate majority party.

Among those provisions receiving the most attention are the proposed property tax changes to fund McCleary and the decision to reject the state employee compensation increases made in secret with the Governor

Emily Makings, with the Washington Research Council, comments here and here, She examines categorical spending changes, noting

…the spending increases are concentrated in public schools. NGFS+ spending on public schools would increase by 20.6 percent over 2015–17, while spending on everything else would increase by 5.3 percent. Spending on public schools would make up 50.7 percent of the NGFS+ budget.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill later this week, possibly as early as this evening. 

GOP Budget Roundup: How school districts and taxpayers would fare; what’s being said in Olympia

The Senate majority caucus budget plan released yesterday sparked a lot of news coverage. The Senate is expected to pass the budget on partisan lines this week. Then, House Democrats take center stage next week. 

The Senate Republican Caucus provides links to the relevant documents and an analysis of how the plan would affect school districts and local taxpayers around the state.

Here’s a quick budget news roundup:

Governor Inslee sharply criticized the GOP plan at his media availability yesterday afternoon. The Seattle Times reports,

In a news conference, Gov. Jay Inslee criticized the Republican plan’s reductions for teacher mentoring and early education, as well as the rejection of the state employee contracts, which could affect recruiting to fill key positions at Western State Hospital. 

“In some sense, it’s hard to take this proposal seriously,” Inslee said. 

That’s, of course, similar to what Republicans said about the governor’s budget in December. 

Among the points of contention in coming negotiations will be the Senate’s property tax swap, abrogation of collective bargaining agreements, and treatment of programs outside basic education. 

As the Times reports,

The additional money for education would come from higher revenue from existing taxes, transfers from other state accounts and cuts to some government programs. 

The plan largely rejects the proposed 2017-19 state employee contracts bargained or negotiated last year that include raises totaling about $500 million.


Democrats Tuesday pushed back on the GOP proposal, saying it funds education through an unfair property-tax plan and cuts money to vital state programs.

The headline at KUOW sums it up: Washington Senate Republicans Unveil Budget, Democrats Cry Foul. The story reports legislative Democrats as saying the Republican proposal is “cold blooded” and makes unacceptable cuts to social service programs. However, KUOW reports,

Braun defended his approach and challenged Democrats to actually pass the taxes they believe are necessary. 

“Otherwise they’re not serious,” he said. “They’re not serious about getting done and we are serious.”

In the Spokesman-Review, Jim Camden reports on how the property tax swap would work, as well as other budget detail.

Property taxes would go down in most of Spokane County but rise in Seattle and some other communities under a $43 billion budget proposed Tuesday by Senate Republicans.

The two-year budget plan generates a net increase of about $1.8 billion through a change in the property tax system and adds that to higher-than-expected revenue the state is receiving from other taxes and fees to pay for public school reforms. 

It also calls for most state workers to accept smaller-than-negotiated raises while slightly increasing college tuition and enlarging the number of Washington students that state colleges can accept. It cuts about $96 million from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families through a series of changes to eligibility for that major welfare program, and has a net reduction of $48 million from homeless programs.

“We live within our means and we have paid for everything we spend,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman John Braun, R-Centralia. “We have $3 billion in new money and we prioritize spending that on education.”

The Associated Press also leads with the property tax swap, noting that the increase in state property taxes is offset by a reduction in local levies. 

Senate Republicans on Tuesday released a $43 billion two-year budget that puts an additional $1.8 billion toward education, paid for, in part, by a statewide property tax that ultimately would replace local district levies.

The News Tribune reports on the Republican rationale for how the budget handles collective bargaining, indicating that the dispute is both philosophical and fiscal.

“I’m not saying that we don’t value our state employees,” Braun said Tuesday. “We just think that’s a decision that should be done at the Legislature, in the legislative process.”

Braun said approving the largest labor contracts in state history doesn’t make sense when the state is under a court order to fix the way it pays for schools by September 2018.

And in Crosscut, John Stang writes,

It’s unlikely that the House and Senate will have a budget ready by the end of the session. But if everyone is lucky, the two sides might agree on a shared frame of reference and a common way of calculating figures before Gov. Jay Inslee has to call the Legislature into overtime in mid-April with its first 30-day special session.

We suspect that’s right. There’s much more detail in all of the linked stories, with more sure to come in the next few days. For all the back-and-forth, we’re confident negotiations will lead to a responsible McCleary fix and sustainable budget before the fiscal year ends June 30. Along the way, though, it’s likely to be messy.

Senate Majority Coalition Caucus releases budget plan: more education investment, levy swap, no general tax increase


The Senate majority coalition caucus has released its 2017-2019 budget plan, incorporating the education funding plan passed earlier by the chamber. The Associated Press reports,

Senate Republicans on Tuesday released a $43 billion two-year budget that puts an additional $1.8 billion toward education, paid for, in part, by a statewide property tax that ultimately would replace local district levies.

The budget plan — which spends about $5 billion more than the current two-year budget — also relies on about $200 million in transfers from other accounts and spending cuts in some state programs. The plan was to move quickly to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which was to hold a public hearing Tuesday, and the full chamber could vote on it as early as Thursday.

Of the changes in property tax levy associated with the plan, the AP writes,

Republican Sen. John Braun, the chamber’s key budget writer, said that 83 percent of taxpayers would have lower property tax rates under the plan.

Collective bargaining agreements, as expected, are not funded in the plan.

The Senate budget puts additional money into mental health and higher education, but it rejects collective bargaining agreements with state employees that would have cost the state about $500 million over the next two years. Instead, the budget proposes funding for a $500 raise for all state agency employees, including those in higher education, starting July 1, and another $500 raise on July 1, 2018. That change would cost the state about $90 million over the next two years.

From the highlights of the Senate Republican plan

The proposed Senate Chair budget for the 2017-19 biennium spends a total of $43.0 billion Near General- State and Opportunity Pathways and represents approximately a $5 billion increase from current spending levels in the 2015-17 biennium (after adjusting for the 2017 supplemental changes).

Pursuant to the four year balanced budget methodology, the projected spending level for the 2019-21 biennium is $50.0 billion. This is the net impact after making both policy level additions and achieving savings from current law requirements.

The spending plan leaves an unrestricted balance of $860 million at the end of the 2017-19 biennium and meets the four year balanced budget requirements by leaving an unrestricted balance of $127 million at the end of the 2019-21 biennium.


Some of the larger policy level increases are: (1) $1.8 billion in 2017-19 ($5.9 billion in 2019-21) for the net changes associated the replacement of the K-12 prototypical school funding allocation model with a per pupil guarantee model; (2) $275 million in 2017-19 ($376 million in 2019-21) for state employee and non-state employee compensation increases; (3) $95 million in 2017-19 ($129 million) for staffing and other increases in the state mental health hospitals and for developing additional community options; and (4) $75 million in 2017-19 ($88 million in 2019-21) for additional higher education enrollments, maintaining the state need grant, and additional medical school funding.

With respect to revenues,

The largest resource item is associated with the K-12 legislation that converts to a pupil guarantee funding model and imposes a new local effort levy by the state on behalf of school districts at a uniform rate. Based on the assumed tax rates, the new local effort levy is expected to generate $1.5 billion in the 2017-19 biennium and $4 billion in the 2019-21 biennium.

The Senate budget also assumes legislation that would appropriate $700 million from the Budget Stabilization Account for contributions toward the unfunded liability in the PERS 1 retirement system. As a result of the actuarial savings associated with this earlier payment, a surcharge on all employers based on the difference in lower contribution rates is imposed. This is expected to generate $56 million in the 2017-19 biennium and $171 million in the 2019-21 biennium.

The Senate budget also assumes $251 million in the 2019-21 biennium from legislation permanently redirecting revenue sources from the Public Work Assistance Account (PWAA) to the Education Legacy Trust Account. Additionally, $127 million in the 2017-19 biennium and $20 million in the 2019-21 biennium are assumed to be redirected from PWAA loan repayment resources. The Senate Chair budget leaves sufficient PWAA resources for approximately $100 million in new projects in the 2017-19 biennium and $100 million in new projects for the 2019-21 biennium.

Here’s the balance sheet:

The House will release its counteroffer next week.