May
4th 2016
Inadequate Funding or Inadequate Information?

Posted under Education Politics & Media & School Finance

Welcome back, friends. I apologize for my absence during the second half of last week. Do you have any idea how busy an intrepid policy explorer like myself gets in the closing weeks of the legislative session? Plus, I had to carve out some extra time to watch interesting education TV shows hosted by my Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard. See here for a segment on charter funding equity, and here for one of my favorite Colorado private schools, Arrupe Jesuit High School.

I’m sorry I left you hanging. But now we’re back. And we’ve got some serious edu-policy work to do. Today’s topic: school finance in Colorado. No, no. Don’t run. I promise it’ll be (mostly) painless.

I started thinking about how important it is to get accurate information out there about school finance in Colorado when I read a Colorado Public Radio story about our state’s supposed failure to adequately fund its public schools despite a “booming” economy. Continue Reading »

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April
26th 2016
2016 Legislative Session Sprints Toward Finish Line

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s already the end of April. That means another legislative session is winding down, its drama and intrigue fading quietly into the warmth and relaxation of summer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are 336 bills still pending in the legislature, including 51 that are at least peripherally related to education. All of those have to be dealt with by May 11. Colorado’s lawmakers have a lot left to do under the dome.

Of course, those lawmakers have already done a lot of work, some good and some bad. We’ve talked about a number of high-profile bills over the course of the session, including a couple bad bills on accountability, one of which died rather spectacularly, and a bill intended to bolster floundering civic knowledge. We’ve also discussed a variety of other bills, some of which got pretty interesting.

As the session ramps up for its final weeks, I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on some of the more interesting education-related bills still lingering in halls of the Colorado Capitol. This stuff gets complicated, and tracking it all at once can be a bit like juggling a hundred balls of different shapes and sizes. On fire. With a blindfold on.

We won’t hit everything, but we’ll hit the big stuff. Continue Reading »

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April
22nd 2016
Catching up on Some Exciting Policy Work

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado General Assembly & Edublogging & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

It’s Friday! Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and Little Eddie is wearing shorts at work. That’s right, shorts. I’ll be putting those shorts to good use this afternoon when I head to the Denver zoo for a fun safari.

You probably guessed that all of that information is leading to the part where I say that today’s post will be quick and easy. You are correct. There’s a ton of stuff to talk about, including a disturbingly Masters-like state supreme court ruling on teacher tenure in North Carolina, the Colorado Senate Education Committee’s laudable work in passing Senate Bill 16-188 on equitable charter funding last night, and a whole raft of new and interesting research. We’ll get to all that—or at least a lot of it.

For now, though, I think it would be good to catch you up on some of the very cool work being done by my policy friends at the Independence Institute. In fact, let’s do that with a list. Everyone likes lists. Continue Reading »

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April
20th 2016
Vergara Overturned (For Now), But the Conversation Continues

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Teachers & Tenure & Union

Two weeks ago, I expressed my ambivalence toward the courts (again) while talking about a creative workaround for a Washington Supreme Court decision declaring charter schools unconstitutional. I then mistakenly allowed myself to believe we would be free of legal discussions for a while. No such luck. And this time, stuff’s complicated.

Last week, a California Court of Appeals panel overturned the now-famous Vergara v. California ruling. For those who don’t remember, this ruling struck down California’s teacher tenure statute along with other seniority-based policies like the state’s last-in-first-out (LIFO) dismissal policy, which paid no heed to effectiveness. Why? Because the court determined that those policies disproportionately harm low-income and minority students, thereby violating the California Constitution’s requirement that the state provide a “meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity” to all students.

A raft of evidence presented by the plaintiffs—a groups of students—and their attorneys showed that seniority-based personnel policies, and especially policies like tenure that make it nearly impossible to let ineffective teachers go, are bad ideas. Continue Reading »

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April
15th 2016
It’s Time for Fairness for Colorado Charter Students

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

Earlier this week, we celebrated the addition of some exciting new numbers to a Colorado Department of Education spreadsheet. Today, we’re going to talk about a new bill that will make some existing spreadsheet numbers—numbers with dollar signs in front of them—a whole lot more equitable for Colorado charter schools.

In case you missed it, there was a big press conference down at the Capitol last week, at which a bipartisan group of charter supporters unveiled a package designed to fairly fund Colorado’s charter kids. SB 16-188 would require school districts to—wait for it—actually fund all of their public school students equitably rather than playing favorites. Or, as Chalkbeat put it in the article linked above:

Charter school advocates Thursday launched an effort to gain what they call a “more equitable” share of local funding through two bills to be introduced in the state Senate.

I take issue with the pseudo-sarcastic use of quotation marks around “more equitable,” which seem to subtly imply that there might not be a real problem here. I assure you there is. As a matter of fact, let’s take a few minutes to talk about that problem. Continue Reading »

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April
12th 2016
Turning Over a New Leaf: Better Turnover Figures Make Me Smile

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Douglas County & Education Politics & Jefferson County & School Board & Teachers

There are a lot of exciting days every year. Christmas, Easter, snow days, and my birthday all spring to mind immediately. But for education nerds, there’s no day more exciting than New Numbers Day. Today, my friends, is that day.

Okay, New Numbers Day was technically April 7, when the Colorado Department of Education released brand-new, more accurate teacher turnover numbers for school districts across the state. But we’re going to talk about it today, and one of the benefits of entirely made-up holidays is that you can have them whenever you want. So there.

Regular readers of my diatribes will remember that I am not a fan of the way CDE has reported teacher turnover in the past. Why? Because the Department included a whole bunch of stuff that created an inaccurate picture of actual turnover in school districts. More specifically, the state’s old calculations included teachers leaving after riding out their final year of employment under PERA’s 110/110 program, the ones scooped up as additional losses due to differences in reporting timeframes between the district and the state,  those on single-year contracts, and others who were promoted or moved to non-teaching positions in the district.

That last part is especially problematic. Continue Reading »

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April
8th 2016
The Washington Charter Phoenix Rises

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

I have a love-hate relationship with the courts—a fact well known to my readers. From Douglas County vouchers to tire scraps in Missouri to Thompson union battles (even though logic eventually prevailed in that case) to decisions on teacher tenure and forced tribute payment by non-union members, I often find myself befuddled by the apparent lack of ability (desire?) on the part of some courts to do stuff that makes sense.

But even among all that silliness, one decision really stands out as the most surprising in the last couple of years: a decision by the Washington Supreme Court to declare the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. Huh?

I wrote last September about the unpleasant surprise that was the Washington Supreme Court’s charter school ruling. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a court striking down something as firmly rooted as charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,700 public charter schools in America. Those schools serve 2.9 million kids across more than 40 states.  In Colorado alone, charters serve 108,000 kids—about 12 percent of all public school kids in the state—in 226 schools. Charter laws have been around for more than 25 years. Until Washington, the laws had withstood legal challenges in every state where they’d been brought, including Colorado.

Charter schools are not some new-fangled experiment or radical idea. They are an inerasable part of the American public school system. Well, except in Washington, where a panel of unelected judges decided that an obscure ruling from 1909 provided enough of a legal platform to outlaw them entirely. Or at least they thought that would be the result. Continue Reading »

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April
7th 2016
Opting out of What, Exactly?

Posted under Accountability & Innovation and Reform & Opt Outs & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Testing & Union

It’s Thursday again, which (I think) still qualifies as a serious work day. I suppose that means we should do something that amounts to serious education policy-ing rather than just watching a video or something. Oh, stop looking at me like that. You like it when we get nerdy.

If the plan is for us to be serious today, we should pick a super-serious topic. And if we have to pick a super-serious topic, what could be better than opting out of statewide assessments? It is, after all, testing season in Colorado.

I was thinking about opt outs yesterday as I read a Politico article about a new push by the opt-out “movement” to diversify the people who participate. Or should I say who don’t participate? Whatever. The point is that they want the movement to be less white. More specifically, they’d like it to be less white and poorer.

Now why would opt-out folks want something like that? Continue Reading »

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March
31st 2016
Expected but Disappointing: SCOTUS Splits on Important Union Tribute Case

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Teachers & Union

Good afternoon, fellow policy nerds. I’m a little strapped for time today thanks to some exciting stuff going on at the Capitol. The drama surrounding the School Finance Act continues, and I’m going to be watching the second half of SB 148’s Senate Education Committee hearing. If you’ll recall, I’m sort of a fan of that bill. So is my policy friend Ross Izard, who took to the Denver Post to make the case for the bill. (Funny how often Ross’s and my viewpoints line up, isn’t it?)

Anyway, we don’t have much time to chat this afternoon, so today’s post will be a short one. That’s probably for the best; nobody likes to dwell on bad news.

Back in February, I wrote about what Justice Scalia’s tragic death might mean for some important education-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. I (and every other education wonk in the country) predicted then that the 4-4 split between conservative and liberal justices could spell serious trouble for the very important Freidrichs case, which deals with forced payment of “agency shop fees” by teachers. I wrote:

The most immediate ramifications of the tie vote rule work in favor of unions, and particularly the teachers unions. Tough questions asked from the bench during oral arguments in the Friedrichs case led many to believe that a decision against agency shop fees was all but inevitable. Such a decision would have been a significant victory for teachers and other workers forced to pay tribute to deeply political (i.e., Democratic) unions with which they disagree, and would have put a big dent in teachers union budgets in many states across the nation (though unfortunately not Colorado). Justice Scalia’s untimely departure has changed all that. A tie now seems unavoidable, which will result in the unions getting to keep their forced tribute payments for now. Ick.

Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be accurate. Continue Reading »

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March
25th 2016
Better Than TV: Senate Education Committee Gets Interesting

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Testing

I had a nice, easy (read: boring) education policy post planned for this fine Friday afternoon. Then I stayed out way past my bedtime to attend a Senate Education Committee hearing that turned out to be so wild and crazy and fantastically entertaining that I feel compelled to share it with you.

Those of you who have been reading my ramblings for a while probably remember how much time we spent talking about the Great Testing Debate of 2015, in which legislators from both sides of the aisle worked to scale back state testing. The debate ultimately culminated in a couple of legislative compromises (see here and here) that significantly scaled back testing, especially in light of further reductions made on the PARCC side of the equation.

But that doesn’t mean everyone was satisfied. A strange (and somewhat disturbing) mashup of hard-right conservatives and union folks want even deeper cuts—especially after ESSA’s passage created some additional state leeway on the testing front. Ninth grade has become the biggest focal point in that conversation, with SB 16-005 aiming to cut that grade’s test entirely.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on the policy ins and outs of SB 005 itself. My Independence Institute friend Ross Izard made clear last year that the Education Policy Center is supportive of a statewide assessment in 9th grade. I believe some statewide assessment at this critically important high school transition is valuable for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. I’m siginificantly less excited about that assessment being PARCC.

But who cares what I think? Let’s talk about the fun stuff! Continue Reading »

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