New Standardized Testing Causes Controversy

board-361516_1280.jpgA couple weeks ago, I met with a concerned group of parents about the new standardized tests being administered in Illinois schools. These “PARRC” tests are based on the federal Common Core standards, which Illinois adopted several years ago. The tests are given mostly on computers instead of paper, and they involve roughly twice the amount of testing time as the Iowa Basics or the ISAT tests, which the PARRC tests replaced. The PARRC tests are intended to be more challenging than the ISAT tests.

The Chicago Public Schools were so against the PARRC tests that they attempted to refuse to administer them, backing down only when faced with the loss of $1.4 billion in state and federal funding. In New Jersey, teacher’s unions even ran TV ads attacking the PARRC tests and the Common Core.

In our area, the moms and dads were worried about a host of issues with the test. Some parents had concerns about the wisdom of the federal Common Core standards, an issue of great debate in the country today. Some were worried that kids who are not proficient in the use of a computer would be frustrated or get a lower score than they should, since the rules apparently prevent a teacher from helping a child who has a question about the test. Some had special needs children and were worried about how they would react to the test, particularly due to its extra length and more difficult questions.

Kids today can refuse to take a particular test, but in some school districts, they must do so verbally, by themselves, each time the test is given. A parent note won’t work. Short of taking your kids out of school that day, there’s no way for parents to speak for their children against the test in many parts of Illinois. The way this opt out process was described to me, it sounded a lot like the process of invoking your “right to remain silent,” not what should be expected when a parent wants to opt their third-grader out of a test.

Because of these parental concerns, there is now a bill pending in the General Assembly that would allow parents to opt their kids out of the test, for any reason. I absolutely support fixing our opt-out practice in Illinois.

However, this new proposal runs squarely against current federal and state law requiring schools to test all their students. There are some good reasons for such a law: first, to ensure that each school is meeting the expectations of parents of the schoolchildren and, second, to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth as they pay for the increasingly expensive education of our children. Some advocacy groups are concerned that an opt-out privilege may be abused, possibly skewing test results if those kids expected not to perform as well on the test are urged to opt out.

As well, there are some in the federal government who say that a state that falls below 95% testing could lose all federal funding—this would be a massive financial hit for a state’s school districts. The proposed measure also requires that a school provide alternative instruction for any kids opted out, not just a study hall or the like, potentially forcing schools to call in substitute teachers to teach class to the opted-out kids.

All this said, the testing is going on this month, so parents can and should talk with their kids right now, to see what the kids think about the test and the way it is administered. No matter where you live, your representative and senator should hear about the practical experiences of your kids and grandkids in taking the test. I’d invite you to call my office at 630-403-8135 or contact me through my website, reppeterbreen.org, to let me know your story. I’m focused on providing a world-class, individually-tailored education for every child in Illinois. Because any opt-out bill will likely be effective only for the next school year, your feedback will help me and your other elected officials craft a bill that will best serve all our children.


Pop Quiz for “Economic Recovery” Plans

IMG_2122.PNGPresident Reagan once joked that, “government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

Government injecting itself into every crevice of our lives goes against the idea of freedom and the very ideals of the American experiment. However, for over a decade in Illinois, our elected leaders have sold increased government involvement as a remedy for the state’s economic woes.

The results speak for themselves. We’re at the bottom of nearly every ranking of economic health.

When you talk to these politicians, it’s not that they have malice in their hearts. In fact, most of them mean well. But the problem is not in their hearts: it’s in their heads. They lost the view of the rules that govern economics. Certain policies generally grow an economy; others generally shrink an economy.

We know there’s no time to waste in turning the state around. Serious substantive actions need to be taken immediately. Governor Bruce Rauner has laid a solid list of specifics. Others have set forth alternate views.

As public officials debate whether a certain policy will fix or ruin our economy, the real test is whether the policy is in tune with sound principles. As you’re evaluating the various fixes proposed for the economy, I’d urge you to view them all in light of four key tests:

1. Does it Limit or Expand the Size and Scope of Government? President Reagan said “man is not free unless government is limited.” One of the key problems with big government is that it tends to be wasteful. When a business wastes money or makes bad decisions, it gets punished in the marketplace. When government programs fail, the typical response is to spend more money. Not every expansion is bad, of course, but every expansion has a cost.

2. Does it Keep the Tax Burden on Individuals and Businesses Low? Keeping tax rates on individuals low encourages people to work hard and strive for success, since they know they’ll keep the extra money earned. Lower tax rates put more money in the hands of consumers to spend, which also creates more jobs. As well, the more people spend, the more money that is collected in sales taxes. It’s a win/win situation. For businesses, a corporate tax rate that is higher than neighboring states can drive those businesses and their jobs to neighboring states. As well, when one business gets a break from generally applicable taxes, that drives up the tax burden on other businesses. In particular, we’ve seen instances where large businesses get breaks because of the skill of their lobbyists, not because of demonstrated economic need. This puts an extra squeeze on small businesses trying to compete with those large businesses – and most of our new jobs come from these small businesses. We have to have taxes, but again, there’s always a cost to consider.

3. Does it Reduce a Regulatory Burden? Making it difficult for an entrepreneur to start up a business in Illinois is one of the main reasons our state is perceived to be “bad for business.” And, each regulation means more cost to individuals, small businesses, and big businesses, in order to comply. Like before, some level of regulation is absolutely necessary, but reducing regulatory burdens generally improves economic activity.

4. Does it Promote Competition? The government should promote businesses to compete with one another, without picking winners and losers. This is another one where big or established businesses can use onerous laws and regulations to freeze out small or new businesses, which isn’t good for the economy or consumers. As well, the government can open up some areas for economic activity that were previously closed. For instance, when I was on the Lombard Village Board, I led the efforts to rewrite the taxi ordinance to allow more companies to provide service to residents. That meant more choices for consumers and additional opportunities for individual livery drivers to make a living. Allowing outdoor dining where it was forbidden before also gave customers more options and improved business for our small eateries and pubs.

Over the past decade and more, we’ve had many politicians hawking their “economic recovery” plans – all have failed. While there’s no single magic bullet to create jobs and turn Illinois around, these four tests are a good way to quickly separate the proposals that can work from the proposals that can’t work.

I support many of Gov. Rauner’s economic proposals, because they meet these four tests. But no matter the specific proposal, if we stick to sound principles, we can make “Illinois Turnaround” more than just a slogan and return our state to its rightful place as the best in the country.


COD Scandal Shows Necessity for Transparency and Citizen Involvement

Blog-Post-Screen-Shot-2015-02-02-at-1.18.jpgIt’s all too often that government corruption goes unnoticed. But thanks to two watchdog groups and a brave trustee, the public is very aware of the recent golden parachute scandal at College of DuPage. The outcry is in response to the $763,000 early retirement package just awarded by the COD Board to its president, Robert Breuder.

This is the same guy that used taxpayer funds for his private hunt club membership, a wine cellar, and satellite phones for himself and his companions on an African safari.

Last week, I joined over 500 people in public protest of the re-vote of Breuder’s sweetheart deal. The Board scheduled this meeting because the original vote was handled incorrectly. In my address to the Board, I asked them to change their minds, turn this award down, and start this process over.

In the end, the meeting was all for show. The Board members went against the interests of the residents they are sworn to serve, with a 6 to 1 vote in favor of the deal. How can one vote this way, after hearing two hours of compelling public comments? It’s just baffling.

Lots of news outlets covered the Board meeting on TV and in print, including this great article in the Chicago Tribune.

What can we do?

1. Vote for community college trustees like Kathy Hamilton in the upcoming consolidated election on April 7. Trustee Hamilton has been the one bright spot on the COD board, demanding answers and revealing the extravagant waste of tax dollars by Breuder and the rest of that board. The other members of the COD Board were so angry with her watchdog work that they voted to “censure” her, but Kathy doesn’t deserve a “censure,” she deserves an award for uncovering the truth!

2. Tell your General Assembly members to pass laws to reform our community colleges. At a press conference yesterday, I presented the “Breuder Rule” to ban future excessive severance agreements, defined as more than one year’s salary and benefits. As for current severance agreements, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Contracts Clause, we can’t ban them, but we can make sure that homeowners and students don’t have to pay for these abuses. So, the “Breuder Rule” would forbid a community college board from raising property taxes or tuition for the same number of years as the number of years of salary paid out under a severance agreement. The Chicago Tribune wrote about my plan in its editorial today condemning the COD Board.

To save Illinois, we’re going to need reform measures like these at every level, to try to restore the proper balance between the government and the people. This great effort is inspired by the core idea of our American experiment: that the people are in charge of their government, not the other way around.


The Dream for Illinois

Today, we celebrate and remember the life and the achievements of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was one of the nation’s foremost advocates for racial equality, but even more, he was a champion of the American dream, in its fullest and richest sense.

The American dream is defined by one source as “the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” I wonder today whether Dr. King would recognize the American dream in Illinois.

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