February
26th 2015
Reading New ETS Report on Millennials Not Likely to Cheer You Up

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Innovation and Reform & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

A few weeks ago I raised the question: Should I get my hopes up about Colorado course choice again? Today, it seems more appropriate to ask whether I should get my hopes up at all.

Yeah, you might think that sounds kind of depressing. But dare I say you haven’t yet had the chance to drink deep the dose of melancholy that flows through Robert Pondiscio’s new Flypaper post “America’s Millennials: Overeducated and Underprepared.” To his credit, he tries to soften the blow with some lighthearted old sports announcer allusion, but the damage cannot be escaped.

What’s the big downer? Pondiscio points readers like you and me to a new Educational Testing Service (ETS) report America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. The bottom line? While American Millennials are on track to reach the highest level of educational attainment EVER, they are less literate and numerate than both prior U.S. generations and to their international peers. There are also apparent implications about growing inequality in skills between the privileged and the less privileged.

Yikes! I feel Pondiscio’s pain. Even though trailing behind the Millennials in vaguely defined Generation Z, my fellow kids and I will reap some of the consequences. So yes, I do care. Continue Reading »

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February
25th 2015
Exciting Stuff: Jeffco’s Jefferson Area Plan Moves Closer to a Vote

Posted under Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Middle School & Principals & School Board

Many moons ago, in a long-lost time known only as “November,” I highlighted some positive efforts for change in the Jefferson Articulation Area, one of Jefferson County School District’s most challenging regions. The wheels have been somewhat quietly grinding since then, and I’m happy to report that a plan for the area will come up for a board vote on March 5.

In February, a number of principals from schools in the Jefferson Articulation Area—all of whom have been intimately involved with the development of a plan for their schools—presented a plan of action to the board. The plan is the culmination of a massive process that pulled together district officials, school leaders, community members, and parents. I took a fun field trip to one of the community meetings, and I have to say it was very cool to see. Continue Reading »

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February
23rd 2015
In K-12 “Education Reform” Debates, Blind Spots, Blind Spots Everywhere

Posted under High School & Innovation and Reform & Journalism

Welcome to a new week. With all the snow and cold outside, it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the big picture of improving K-12 education. Which takes me straight to a Thursday thought piece by Andy Rotherham, titled “Education Reformers Have a Big Blind Spot.”

What is the big blind spot? The subtitle spells it out: “The people trying to fix today’s public schools were overwhelmingly good at school themselves.” As I see it, the piece raises two key points for discussion: one directly and one indirectly.

But first, allow me a brief moment of personal privilege to note that it’s been a full 2 years and 3 months (back when I was still 5 years old) since Rotherham has appeared on the blog (which by the way, highlights a report that speaks directly to Harrison School District’s powerful Effectiveness and Results program). The long hiatus is over. Continue Reading »

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February
20th 2015
State Board Gets Even Weirder On Testing Issue

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Testing

Last month, we kicked off the 2015 legislative party together. I promised it would be an exciting year, and that has certainly been the case. But I may have been wrong about where that excitement would be coming from. The legislature has its hands full when it comes to education-related issues, but the real party seems to be at the Colorado State Board of Education.

As faithful readers and education followers know, the Colorado State Board of Education got weird in January by voting (along unexpected lines) to grant districts waivers from the performance-based part of this year’s PARCC exams. Those waivers were slapped down by a recent opinion from Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, but that hasn’t stopped the action at good ol’ SBOE.

For starters, the board voted 5-1 (Chairwoman Marcia Neal was absent due to medical issues) to postpone action on the PARCC waiver requests it has received. Judging from comments made during the meeting, this extension is being granted in the hopes that the legislature will “clarify” the issue. According to Chalkbeat, there are currently 20 district waiver requests pending. PARCC’s Performance-Based Assessment is due to be administered next month, which means the extension causes some interesting timing issues.

Most education folks (including myself) thought the matter was settled with the AG’s opinion, but that apparently isn’t the case. Buckle your seatbelts, friends—stuff’s likely going to get weirder on PARCC waivers before it gets… unweirder. Nope, that’s not a word.

Anyway, because the waiver decision extension wasn’t quite weird enough, rogue SBOE member Steve Durham also pulled out another surprising motion: Eliminate penalties for districts who fail to meet the required 95 percent participation threshold on state assessments due to parental opt outs. Continue Reading »

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February
19th 2015
Education Reform Policy Online Boot Camp Just Might Want You!

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & learning

If you’re anything like me (and for your sake, be thankful if you’re not), the idea of a free and open online course on the inner workings of education reform is kind of like Christmas and birthday all rolled into one. I didn’t even ask Santa for such a thing, but lo and behold, the Foundation for Excellence in Education delivered.

Unveiled today, it’s called EdPolicy Leaders Online: Access to Top Education Experts. Assemble some great minds, put their content online, take the free course at your own pace, and Voila!

It’s almost like magic. Well, not exactly. But thanks to technology, and some visionary thinking, you too could become a smarter, more effective Education Reformer starting as soon as March 23. According to Patricia Levesque on the Ed Fly blog, the first three courses are as follows: Continue Reading »

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February
17th 2015
Report Card Skirmish: Falcon High School’s Standards-Based Grading

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Suburban Schools & Testing

What’s in a grade? Strange question, I know. From my perspective, a good report card means praise and, if I’m lucky, a cookie or a new toy. Bad grades mean I get a “talkin’ to” from my parents. Those aren’t all that fun. For my parents, report cards are an important way to track how I’m doing, see where I might be struggling, and quantify my improvements. But do the grades on my report card tell a fully accurate story?

Some districts don’t think so. Across the country, schools and school districts are experimenting with something called standards-based grading. This system of grading ties student grades not to a percentage of points earned in a class, but to competence when it comes to specific standards. Check out the video below for a brief overview of the arguments for standards-based grading.

Sounds pretty good, right? But as with all things related to education, stuff may be more complicated than it seems. While some districts in other states are happy to sing the praises of standards-based grading, a recent Colorado Spring Gazette article indicates that Falcon High School parents in Falcon 49, one of Colorado’s most innovation-minded districts, may not feel the same. Continue Reading »

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February
16th 2015
Harrison: More About Real Performance Pay than Former Presidents

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & High School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Middle School & Public Charter Schools & Rural Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

What kind of a holiday is Presidents Day anyway? For many kids, it’s just a great excuse to stay home from school. Speaking of which, yours truly decided to dig up eight little factoids about Colorado public schools named after former U.S. presidents:

  1. Hardly a shock, “Lincoln” is the most popular presidential school name with 10 across the state.
  2. The most recent president so honored is John F. Kennedy, for which a Denver high school is named.
  3. Denver also has high schools named after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, which come in as the next most popular choices.
  4. Colorado Springs 11 has a slew of elementary schools named after former presidents: James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Woodrow Wilson.
  5. Continue Reading »

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February
12th 2015
Keeping the Conversation Going: Independence Institute’s New National School Choice Week Video

Posted under School Choice & State Legislature

I’ve spent a lot of time at the Colorado State Capitol over the last month or so. Committee hearings, meetings, awkward hallway loitering—you name it, this little guy has done it. But by far the most fun I’ve had under the golden dome was the National School Choice Week rally last month. I hope you were there too, because I made a list. Did you really think those bright yellow scarves that your favorite ruggedly handsome policy analysts handed out were just for show?

But just in case you weren’t around to be counted with the hoard of yellow-clad school choice supporters, my friends at the Independence Institute put together a fun little video on the rally. Specifically, Damon Sasso and Justin Longo deserve a huge shout out for their great work filming, editing, and polishing the video. They even managed to make Ross Izard sound good, and believe me when I tell you that’s tough to do.

Ben DeGrow conducted the interviews, and he did so well that I’ve heard he’s been nominated to replace now-disgraced NBC anchor Brian Williams.

Without further ado, here’s the video:

Continue Reading »

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February
11th 2015
AG Slaps Down State Board Waivers on PARCC Testing

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Testing

Last month, we talked about some State Board of Education weirdness that resulted in a vote to allow districts to apply for waivers from the first half of the state’s new PARCC tests. Called the Performance-Based Assessment, this portion of PARCC is administered in March. Since then, we’ve seen some entertaining fireworks at board meetings over the issue, including a particularly fun meeting in Jefferson County that saw a board member illegally abstaining from a vote—an action ironically taken under the pretext that she could not “violate board policy or the law.” According to Chalkbeat, 10 districts have applied for the waiver.

Being the curious policy explorer that I am, I’ve had many conversations with a variety of knowledgeable adults on this topic. What does the Performance-Based assessment do exactly? What happens if we don’t take it? Does the State Board have the authority to provide these waivers? When will our new attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, issue an official opinion?

Other than a CDE statement instructing districts to “continue implementing state and federal law” until an official opinion is issued and an unofficial opinion issued by an assistant AG, the answers to these questions were usually shrugs and various interpretations of one of my favorite parent-defense phrases: “I dunno.”

Well, it looks like we now at least have an official answer to the legality question. Continue Reading »

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February
10th 2015
New ESA Momentum Could Make 2015 “Year of School Choice: Part II”

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

One bit of wisdom I’ve gleaned in my young life is that when it comes to movies, the sequel is most often not as good as the original. There are exceptions, yes, but it’s a good rule of thumb. When it comes to education policy, though, I fully hope and expect the trend to be bucked.

For those who don’t remember, back in 2011 when I was 5 years old (just like I am now) we had the fabulously successful “Year of School Choice,” with lots of new and expanded legislative programs across the nation. A Politico article last Friday caught my attention by strongly suggesting that history may repeat itself in 2015 — sort of: Continue Reading »

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