Watchdog Wire has learned that Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond has a potential conflict of interest, springing from his membership on a board of a non-profit doing business with the state.
Hammond has a dual role on the governing board of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), a non-profit that stands to benefit from the state’s participation in its national testing consortium.
In fact, Hammond’s role on PARCC is a direct result of his 2012 decision to join the PARCC consortium.
In April of that year, the State Board of Education voted 4-3 to oppose Senate Bill 12-172, a bill that would have required it to join a multi-state testing consortium as a governing member. The Board recognized that Colorado could create its own state test, and still meet the new testing requirements imposed in 2008 and 2010 legislation. Indeed, a state-specific test would protect Colorado’s cherished local control over educational matters. Joining a multi-state testing consortium would threaten local decision-making.
The requirement was eventually passed into law, and in August, Hammond announced that Colorado would join PARCC as a governing state. As commissioner in a governing state, Hammond would be seated on the PARCC Governing Board, deeply invested in the success of the controversial consortium.
PARCC is a 501(c)3 non-profit, exempt from sunshine laws. The entity was one of two testing consortia created to meet the requirements of the Race to the Top Federal Grant Program. The other was the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Together, both consortia received just over $330 million in stimulus funds to create and support a multi-state standardized test. Prior to Colorado’s joining PARCC as a governing member, it had been a member of both SBAC and PARCC, although without membership on either board.
There does not appear to have been any Board discussion about the decision to join PARCC’s consortium at that meeting. At this time, Watchdog Wire is still investigating the process which led to the decision to choose PARCC over SBAC.
The tests have been widely criticized and protested by many parents, teachers, and administrators. Legislation was unsuccessfully proposed this year to analyze the efficacy of the tests. Commissioner Hammond, on the other hand, has lavishly praised the tests, calling them “the greatest assessment in the history of American public education.”
The contractual requirement of participation in an interstate testing consortium expired at the end of 2013. On April 9 of this year, the State Board of Education formally requested that the legislature remove Colorado from the consortium, in order to remove any doubt as to the state’s status.
In its contract, PARCC states there must be at least 15 participant states in order to maintain the necessary economy of scale for a successful consortium. Without 15 states, the consortium is not valid. PARCC therefore has an incentive to retain as many participating states as possible. In addition, a Fordham Institute study projects the net costs of implementation to be roughly $23 million, although it’s unclear how much of that would flow to PARCC.
Using similar assumptions about ongoing costs, a Pioneer Institute study estimates the compliance cost to be just under $90 million. Colorado’s Legislative Council declined to estimate the cost of participation, arguing that the requirement to participate did not in and of itself impose any additional costs, and that the cost of participation would have to be funded through the normal budgeting process.
CDE spokesman Janelle Asmus was unfamiliar with the situation in Massachusetts; however, she did state that Commissioner Hammond’s presence on the PARCC Board allowed him to better represent Colorado’s interests. And the governing boards of both PARCC and SBAC are composed of state education commissioners, superintendents, and secretaries of education.
Conversely, though, in a state where PARCC employs no lobbyists, the Commissioner of Education can be a powerful advocate for their retention, and the state’s continued participation.
With so much controversy concerning the Common Core standards and evaluations, Colorado should be able to count on a Commissioner of Education free from conflicts of interest in advising the state and implementing its decisions.
UPDATE: From CDE spokesman Janelle Asmus:
The matter has been reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General, which has determined that there is no conflict of interest in the Commissioner of Education serving on the Governing Board of PARCC. Indeed, such service is mandated by state law, section 22-7-1006(1.5), C.R.S. The Commissioner of Education has no pecuniary interest in PARCC or its contracts, and receives only reimbursement of his travel expenses for his service.
Aimie Randall is a Colorado resident who is passionate about preserving the American way of life, even when much of the populace is disinterested in liberty.