Shocker! Oregon Dumping Smarter Balanced Exams in High Schools

 

So much for Oregon’ commitment to the Smarter Balanced exams.

In a shocking action, after just two years of using the tests, the Oregon Department of Education has decided to abandon the controversial Smarter Balanced tests at the high school level.

tests

According to Education Week, Oregon will continue to administer the exam to students in grades 3-8 and 11 through the spring of 2018, state education department spokeswoman Tricia Yates told the publication. Starting in 2018-19, only students in grades 3-8 will take the test, she said.

Yates said Oregon will explore using a “nationally recognized” test, such as the SAT or ACT, for high school student going forward. The state will issue a “request for information” this spring to collect ideas from the field, and then issue a “request for proposals” later this summer, she added.

Federal law has long allowed states to use college-admissions exams in place of other summative tests for accountability, but few states have done so. The Every Student Succeeds Act invites states to use “a nationally recognized high school test” for accountability instead of state-developed or consortium-designed exams.

The popularity of the consortium tests has eroded particularly at the high school level. Trying to cut back on testing time and boost students’ motivation to do well on a high school test, states are increasingly opting to use the ACT or SAT.

Oregon’s decision is particularly significant because leaders of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium drew heavily on Oregon’s experience with computer-adaptive testing when they set out to craft the new exam in 2010, Education Week said.

The state’s decision likely has the support of the Oregon Education Association (OEA), which has aggressively opposed the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. In June 2015, Gov. Kate Brown pleased the OEA, but exasperated and angered many school officials, when she signed a bill making it easier for children to opt out of standardized tests, including the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

 

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Union Members Can Stop Subsidizing Liberal Candidates and Causes

 

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A question to conservative Oregon union members (I know you’re out there): Why are you contributing to union political funds when most of the money ends up supporting liberal Democratic candidates?

About 18% of the electorate across the country was from union households in the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump captured 43% of those union-household voters.

In Oregon, 14.8 percent of the wage and salary workforce belonged to a union in 2015. It’s not clear how they voted, but it’s likely, based upon national patterns, that a decent share voted Republican.

Still, Oregon’s unions overwhelming endorsed Democrats. For example, all but two of the AFL-CIO’s 2016 Legislative endorsements in Oregon were for Democrats (one was an independent, one a Republican), as were all the statewide candidate endorsements.

Similarly, in the 2016 election, political contributions from Oregon’s unions went overwhelmingly to Democrats. For example, SEIU’s PAC, Citizen Action for Political Education (CAPE), spent $2,001,758.89 on the 2016 election. Of that, $706,750.00 went to Defend Oregon (the group pushing Measure 97), $205,000 to the Committee to Elect Brad Avakian, $180,000 to the Kate Brown Committee, and $37,380 to The Real Mike Nearman Committee (created to defeat Republican Mike Nearman).

So why don’t more union members who disagree with their union’s political stances decline to contribute to their union’s PAC and opt out of supporting the union’s political activities. It’s not that hard to do. All a union member has to do is become an “agency fee payer”, sometimes also called a “Fair Share Payer” or “Non-member.”

Oregon allows public employees who are part of a collective bargaining unit to refuse membership in the union that represents that unit. But because the union still has to negotiate on their behalf, these nonmembers must contribute to cover costs which cover collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment, but not costs associated with political activities.

This worker right was established in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that while employees can be required to pay dues for the direct benefits they get from the union, they can’t be forced to give money to unions for political activities.

According to Steve Buckstein,  Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, even before the 2012 Court decision, a telephone company employee named Harry Beck spent over two decades fighting for the right to opt out of paying the political portion of his union dues to the Communications Workers of America. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in Beck v. CWA and created what are now known as Beck rights. Harry is now retired and lives in Oregon. You can watch him tell his story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a29L3ouJ6tw.

Political spending by unions can be substantial…and influential.

In a Sept. 2015 report to individuals who pay Fair Share fees, the liberal-leaning Oregon Education Association (OEA) said 22.9 percent of its total expenses were nonchargeable for Fair Share fee payers and the liberal-leaning National Education Association (NEA) said a whopping 62.71 percent of its total expenses were nonchargeable for Fair Share fee payers.

This means that if annual OEA dues were $600, they could have been reduced to $462.60 and if annual NEA dues were $185, they could have been reduced to $68.99.

Think of it. Workers, rather than union bosses, deciding for themselves how, or whether, they want to spend their money on political causes.

 

Why Brad Avakian could win (sadly)

avakian750xx6016-3384-0-316

“Got ya fooled, don’t I?”

A local pollster told me awhile ago that about 50 percent of eligible voters in Oregon don’t know that the state has two U.S. senators (maybe because there’s only one senate race at a time).

KGW-TV reporter Pat Dooris recently held up two signs, one with the name Brad Avakian and the other with the name Dennis Richardson, and asked passersby in downtown Portland if they knew who the people were. All the answers? Nope. Nope. Nope.

I mention these situations because they demonstrate that a lot of voters are, in fact, a basket of deplorables in terms of political knowledge.

ignorance

Political knowledge levels have been poor for decades, despite increased education and the availability of information on the Internet.

A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey studied the “clueless factor” among voters. The survey found that only 34% of Americans can name the three branches of government, and 30% can’t even name one.

Other studies routinely find that large numbers of voters don’t know which officials are responsible for which issues, a circumstance that makes it hard to hold them accountable for their performance.

All that cluelessness bodes well for Brad Avakian.

Avakian is running for Oregon Secretary of State, but you’d never know it from his campaign. In a classic example of misdirection, instead of emphasizing his fit for the Secretary of State job, he’s running as a champion of liberal causes.

Look at one of his ubiquitous TV ads.

The ad notes that Avakian is endorsed by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the NARAL Pro Choice Oregon PAC, Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter, Oregon Education Association, and the Working Families Party.

Meanwhile, speakers in the ad emphasize how Avakian will protect the environment, break down the walls of discrimination, ensure a woman can make personal medical decisions about her pregnancy, and fight for regular people and not corporate special interests.

These topics have little to do with the job of the Oregon Secretary of State, but they do tug at the heartstrings of liberal voters. And that may well be what attracts enough voters to Avakian to make him the winner (and us the losers).

Who owns Brad Avakian? Unions.

 

bradavakian2

I’m tired of all these wealthy donors thinking that because I’ve been bought and paid for, they own me.                                                                                                                      (With thanks to the New Yorker) 

Brad Avakian, a Democrat running for Oregon’s Secretary of State, insists that one of his highest priorities is campaign finance reform.

“Everyone’s voice should be heard in our democracy – but that’s not happening right now,” Avakian says. “The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a terrible mistake. It’s allowing big corporate donors to drown out the voice of everyday voters…But what can we do about it? Here’s what: Oregon can lead the way. As Secretary of State, I’ll fight to reform Oregon’s campaign finance system.”

Really?

Mr. Avakian conveniently leaves out that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen United Ruling not only removed virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. It also removed virtually any restriction on union money.

So how does Mr. Avakian feel about jumbo contributions to candidates from unions? He seems to be OK with those, based on the union contributions he’s received to date, including:

Oregon Education Association –People for Improvement of Education (142)                                         $95,000

Oregon School Employees Association –Voice of Involved Classified Employees (2307)                                    $65,000

Citizen Action for Political Education (33)                                     $60,000

United Food & Commercial Workers                                                $50,000

Oregon AFSCME Council 75                                                                 $30,000

Pacific NW Regional Council of Carpenters, SSF                           $30,000

Laborers’ Political League                                                                     $25,000

Oregon, South Idaho District Council of Laborers                         $15,000

Local 48 Electricians PAC (4572)                                                          $11,000

Oregon AFL-CIO                                                                                        $10,364

Plumbers & Steamfitters Local Union 598                                        $10,000

DRIVE Committee (Teamsters’ political action committee)      $10,000

American Federation of Teachers-OR Candidate PAC (113)        $  7,500

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees PAC         $  6,000

Working America (Political organizing arm of the AFL-CIO)      $  6,668

Portland Association of Teachers PAC                                                 $  5,000

IUPAT Political Action Together Political Committee                     $  5,000

 

Talk is cheap Brad.

What’s particularly striking is that union members accounted for just 14.8 percent of wage and salary workers in Oregon in 2015, but union contributions represent almost 40 percent of the total Avakian has raised in 2016.

So who do you think Avakian is going to represent if he’s elected?

 

Who owns Chuck Riley?

Democrat Chuck Riley’s defeat of Republican Bruce Starr on Nov. 4 for Oregon’s 15th District Senate seat cost a ton of money. Now, like a company that’s gone public, his key supporters are going to expect a return on their investments.

rileySenate

As of Dec. 8, 2014, Riley’s campaign committee, Friends of Chuck Riley, had raised $913,372.33 and spent $889,757.01, according to records on file with the Oregon Secretary of State. The onslaught of campaign cash was so great that the contest ended up being the most expensive state Senate race in Oregon history.

But it was also a very tight race, with Riley finally coming in ahead by just 287 votes out of 39,734 cast. Likely costing Starr the race was the Libertarian candidate, Caitlin Mitchel-Markley, who captured 3,593 votes.

That suggests the next race will be hard fought as well, particularly if no 3rd party candidate runs, and that it will again require a substantial war chest. To create that war chest Riley will have to placate some big givers. After all, it was the big givers who filled his coffers, not the little people.
So who does Chuck Riley owe for his victory?

The biggest cash/in-kind contributors to Friends of Chuck Riley were Riley’s own Democratic Party, unions, a climate change activist, trial lawyers, and two national gun control groups.

The money from the Democratic Party came from two groups, the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund ($174,585.50)
and the Democratic Party of Oregon ($107,577.56), which received significant contributions from some of the same characters as Riley’s committee.

For example, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, donated $75,000 directly to Friends of Chuck Riley and $50,000 to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

Riley’s committee also pulled in $10,000 from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Other big contributors to Riley’s Committee included:

• Service Employees International Union (SEIU) $204,460.39

This includes: $193,661.96 from Citizen Action for Political Education of SEIU Local 503; $10,798.43 from Committee on Political Education of SEIU Local 49.

seiu

• Oregon League of Conservation Voters PAC $191,120.02

OLCV made an in-kind contribution of $127,498.50 in the form of a TV ad. The balance was in the form of: cash; in-kind field work, postage, preparation and production of advertising and a phone program. The TV ad money came out of a $130,000.00 contribution to OLCV from NextGen Climate Action Committee, established by billionaire Tom Steyer to help candidates who support the need to deal with climate change.

Oregon_League_of_Conservation_Voters-270x222

• Oregon Trial Lawyers Association PAC $38,477.87

otla_logo

• Oregon American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 75
Political Soft $17,500.00

afscme

• Oregon Education Association – People for
Improvement of Education $8,342.00

OEA_logo

• Other unions $10,500.00

Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37 Political Fund
$1,750

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local
555
$4,500

Oregon School Employees Association – Voice of
Involved Classified Employees
$1,000

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local
701 Misc PAC
$250

American Federation of Teachers-Oregon Candidate
PAC
$3,000

All of the above contributions totaled $752,563.34. That’s 85 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee.

Compare that with the amount that came in from contributors of $100 or less, about $8000. That’s less than 1 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee. Even if all the small contributors had bundled their money in an effort to enhance their potential influence, they would have been a small player. They might as well have spent their money on a nice dinner out.

So, how are we going to know the influence of the big donors on Riley? It’s not going to be easy.

First of all, it’s not clear that the size of Riley’s war chest was the key determinant in his victory. There’s no hard evidence of a constant linear linkage between campaign money and victory, although a candidate does need enough money to deliver key messages to critical audiences.

But now that Riley has been elected, the major donors are likely to influence positions Riley takes.Equally important, large donations to Riley are likely to give certain interests better access to him to influence public policy in general.

Big donors will also probably have an ability to influence the shape and specifics of legislation that’s before Riley much earlier in the legislative process, when it’s harder for the public to detect.

Large donations may also carry the day on critical votes where Riley’s one vote for or against can determine the fate of a bill. “These low salience critical votes present the most likely circumstances for members to repay groups for their financial support,” according to Lynda Powell at the University of Rochester in a paper on The Influence of Campaign Contributions on Legislative Policy.

One thing is clear – the big donors are going to be keeping an eye on Riley, just like big investors keep an eye on the stock market. All investments carry some risk, but the reward for risk can be a great return.

return-on-investment1

Over the top: Oregon’s $10 million State Senate election

“There are two things that are important in politics,” U.S. Senator Mark Hanna said in 1895. “The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

Candidates for Oregon’s state Senate showed the truth in that observation in their 2014 races, which led to campaign spending of $10 million. That’s right, $10 million to decide the winners of just 16 Senate seats in a state with a smaller population than Kentucky.

Oregon Senate

Oregon Senate

That’s $10 million, enough to cover the annual tuition and fees of 1026 students at the University of Oregon.

But wait. There’s more. Candidates in 3 of those 16 races ran unopposed and candidates in 7 others were in such uncompetitive races that the victor won by more than 15%. That leaves just 6 seats with real races.

Here are the 6, with the expenditures by each candidate and the winning margins:

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 5.42.14 PM

Of the 6 competitive races, the Democrats won 4 and the Republicans 2, giving the Democrats more solid control of the Senate.

Based on filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, the committees of all the candidates for the 16 Senate seats spent a combined total of $7,816,657.33 in the primary and the general elections.

The most expensive race in terms of candidate committee spending expenditures was the one between Bruce Starr and Chuck Riley with total expenditures of $1,794,346.39. That made it the most expensive State Senate race in Oregon history.

Bruce Starr (L) and Chuck Riley

Bruce Starr (L) and Chuck Riley

On top of these candidate committee expenditures, the Senate Republican and Democratic Party Leadership Funds spent a bundle.

Figuring out how much they spent beyond the spending of the candidate committees gets a little tricky here. That’s because some of the money spent by the Senate Leadership Funds came from contributions by candidate committees. These contributions also show up as expenditures by the candidate committees, so counting them also as expenditures by the Leadership Funds would be double counting. Therefore, in order to accurately figure out additional spending by the Leadership Funds you have to subtract the money they received from the candidate committees. Got it?

In the case of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, the contributions it received beyond donations from the candidate committees include $50,000 from Everytown for Gun Safety (former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s operation), $100,000 from the Democratic Leadership Campaign Committee (A Washington, D.C.-based group that works to win state legislative seats and chambers for Democrats), and $50,000 from the Oregon Priorities PAC.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

After the election, Everytown for Gun Safety, which also contributed $75,000 to the successful State Senate campaign of Chuck Riley-D and $250,000 to Gov. Kitzhaber, boasted of its campaign influence. “…the election of Rep. Sara Gelser (who received $186,014.40 from the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund) to the state Senate signals a pro-background check majority in 2015, which clears the most significant roadblock in Everytown for Gun Safety’s work over the past two years to pass a background check bill there,” Everytown said.

The extra expenditures by the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, beyond contributions it received from candidate committees, totaled $1,140,387.53.

In the case of The Leadership Fund for Senate Republicans, major contributions, beyond donations from the committees of the candidates running in 2014, included $15,000 from the Oregon Sportsmens Association PAC, $45,000 from the Oregon Family Farm Association PAC, $25,000 from the Taxpayers Association of Oregon PAC and $20,000 from the Pacific Seafood Group Employee PAC.

The Republican Leadership Fund, just like the Democratic Leadership Fund, also received substantial sums from current state senators not running in 2014. Friends of Ted Ferrioli, for example, raised $305,298.28 in 2014, then turned around and donated $213,500 of that to the Republican Leadership Fund.

Using the same formula as with the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, the extra expenditures by The Leadership Fund for Senate Republicans totaled $1,222,851.

Add it all up and you have $10,179,985.80.

And that doesn’t even count money spent by other groups in support of Senate candidates, including some so-called dark money which will never be disclosed.

Clearly, Oregon is headed for the big time. The question: what are the big contributors going to expect as a return on their investments?