12th 2015
Can’t We Just Get Colorado on the CER Tax Credit Report Card… Please?

Posted under Federal Government & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Parents & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

Imagine this scenario: The teacher has posted the grades for the final exam on the wall outside the classroom. There, standing and staring at the paper is a young student crying. “What’s the matter? Did you not get a passing grade?” the passerby asks. The weeping student, struggling for composure, simply shakes her head. “Then what’s wrong?”

Finally, the answer comes out. The student explains that she was sad not because she got a poor grade, but because she never got a chance to take the course, and thus received no grade at all.

That’s kind of how I felt upon seeing the Center for Education Reform’s new Education Tax Credit Laws Across the States Ranking and Scorecard 2015.

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9th 2015
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Jeffco’s Ken Witt Pokes Recall Advocates

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Journalism & School Board

Friday Fun Day has arrived yet again. I don’t have super-secret materials to share or an inspiring video to show you today. But I do have something pretty darn entertaining: A school board reformer in Jeffco calling the bluff of recall proponents in Jeffco by filing a complaint against… himself.

Yes, that’s right. Tired of accusations that the board majority members have violated state sunshine laws, Jefferson County Board of Education President Ken Witt filed an ethics complaint against himself with the Colorado Ethics Commission. In his words:

This recall election will cost the district between $100,000-$200,000. That’s money that won’t go to our classrooms and our students. They have spent well over $100,000 gathering tens of thousands of signatures. … But not one is brave enough to sign a complaint? Out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have spent, they couldn’t spend the 49 cents for the stamp to send a complaint? And they accuse us of wasting money.

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8th 2015
Tennessee Study Sequel Pours More Cold Water on Pre-K Enthusiasm

Posted under Early Childhood & Federal Government & Journalism & learning & Research

I’m going to be honest with everyone. Getting education policy right is hard work. There are no silver bullets out there. Some things (like school choice) show small but consistent benefits in study after study. Other practices (like paying teachers to earn masters degrees) represent large outlays of money with no return.

Today I’m looking at pre-K or early childhood education. Some recent research further calls into question the prevailing line on increasing tax subsidies for preschool. Chalkbeat Tennessee last week reported on a landmark study that challenged some conventional wisdom. Since as a 5-year-old edublogging prodigy I tend to be more than a little unconventional, it seemed like a reasonable idea to bring it to your attention:

A new Vanderbilt University study suggests that public pre-kindergarten programs in Tennessee might actually negatively impact students as they advance through school, surprising experts and advocates alike. But the study’s lead researchers say that policymakers shouldn’t abandon pre-K as they seek to close the achievement gap between minority and lower- and higher-income students.

A careful read through the executive summary of the Vanderbilt University report raises some significant caution flags. Studying a randomly assigned group of more than 1,000 kids, researchers essentially found that the initial advantages provided to Tennessee pre-K participants washes away by the end of kindergarten. By first grade, teachers observed worse “non-cognitive” (aka attitude and behavioral) outcomes for the pre-K kids, followed by a similar statistically negative result in “cognitive” (or academic) results in second grade.

This study, which follows its subjects through third grade, is not the original. It’s a sequel. Continue Reading »

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7th 2015
Harrison’s Successes Continue Under Pay-For-Performance System

Posted under Accountability & School Accountability & Teachers & Testing

A few months ago, I wrote about how important it is to use the right metric—fairness for teachers— when evaluating the success of pay-for-performance compensation systems. That post was a response to a rather biased Denver Post article on the subject, which featured as one of its subheadings the assertion that these systems provide “No Benefit to Students.” It also completely failed to mention perhaps the state’s most interesting example of pay for performance in practice: Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.

As it turns out, that was a serious omission. 9News ran a story yesterday about Harrison’s success at elevating its minority students. From that story:

The Harrison School District has more minorities than most districts in Advanced Placement courses. It has more Black and Latino students in Gifted and Talented classes. Harrison has a consistent graduation rate of Black and Latino students of higher than 75 percent. And, testing data shows that this district located on the southern end of Colorado Springs has the smallest achievement gap between white students and students of color.

As the story implies, Harrison’s 2014 graduation data show that 77.7 percent of its black students graduated on time. That number was 75.3 for its Hispanic students. Those paying attention will note that the rate for black students is actually higher than the state’s overall graduation rate of 77.3 percent. For further reference, the state’s overall graduation rates for black and Hispanic students were just 69 percent and 66.7 percent respectively. Continue Reading »

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25th 2015
Top Secret School Board Candidate Briefing Materials Declassified

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & events & School Board

Last night, the Education Policy Center team finished the last of its five school board candidate briefings at the Independence Institute in Denver. This year’s briefings have garnered a fair amount of attention from anti-reform folks, including some pretty interesting conspiracy theories.

I am pleased to report that after talking it over with their evil right-wing overlords, the Ed Center’s staff members have been cleared to make the materials given to candidates publicly available. Not that they were really secret anyway; every school board candidate in the state was invited to the briefings regardless of his or her political opinions. All interested candidates had to do was sign a non-disclosure agreement, forfeit their firstborn children, submit to a lie detector test, and swear fealty to the Almighty Koch Brothers. No biggie, right?

Now, though, everyone can see these top secret materials without having to go through all that stuff. Admittedly, that isn’t terribly fair to the candidates who had to directly endure the aforementioned requirements–particularly those who went through our patented microchip implantation process. But I strongly suspect that others will find the information valuable, and the Education Policy Center is all about providing valuable information to those who need it.

I doubt the written materials will live up to the conspiratorial hype surrounding them, but that’s alright. Maybe the big, scary video (embedded below) featuring 24-year Jeffco teaching veteran Michael Alcorn’s advice for board members will make up for the anti-climactic shock of combing through a 40-page education policy document looking for secret codes that don’t exist.

One last note before I leave you to enjoy the video: There will be no Little Eddie posts next week. I know, I know. You’ll just have to do your best to contain your disappointment. See you in a couple weeks!


24th 2015
Colorado’s ACT Flatline Has Me Worried

Posted under Accountability & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

I feel like I’ve been alienating my fellow edu-nerds in recent weeks by spending so much time talking about the antics of the courts. Most recently, we examined a Colorado Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the “Negative Factor” under Amendment 23. One could be forgiven for believing that I had suddenly changed careers and become the world’s youngest edu-lawyer extraordinaire. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Today, we celebrate my triumphant return to the world of education policy data by taking a belated look at Colorado’s 2015 ACT scores. As most of you know, the ACT is taken by every high school junior in the state under state law. This year, that amounted to 57,328 kids. The ACT is an important test, as it provides the best picture of the “end product” our education system has produced after more than a decade of school for most students.

Unfortunately, Colorado’s ACT numbers this year are flat again. In fact, they’re a little worse than flat, with our overall composite score having fallen from 20.3 in 2014 to 20.1 this year (on a 36-point scale). Other than a very slight increase in science composite scores, scores across all subjects were down.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. The typical achievement gaps we’ve come to expect are still present, with Hispanic students coming in at a composite of 17.3, black students at 17.1, and English language learners (ELLs) coming in at just 13.7. White students, by contrast, achieved a composite of 21.7.

Low-income students also continue to fall behind their higher-income peers. Students eligible for free lunch achieved a composite score of 16.9, and those eligible for reduced lunch prices managed an 18.5. Kids qualifying for neither free nor reduced lunches came in at a composite of 21.6. Continue Reading »

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23rd 2015
New Survey, Research Point to Need for Balanced Computer Use in Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & International & learning & Online Schools & reading & Research & Teachers

Given the prodigious quantity of blogging here, some may find the contents of this particular post somewhat hypocritical, or perhaps just a little bit ironic. But I certainly strive to keep things interesting.

Once upon a time, you heard quite a bit more from little Eddie about blended learning — though recently my eyebrows have been raised about the opening of Denver’s Roots Elementary, my dreams rekindled of Rocketship Education landing in Jeffco, and my repetition that Colorado needs course choice was, well, repeated.

For those who need a refresher, one commonly accepted definition for blended learning comes from the Clayton Christensen Institute:

a formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

The Christensen Institute’s disclaimer that blended learning is not “technology-rich instruction” should not be brushed aside. It’s not just using more technology in the same structures and practices. Technology, though, is critical to the rethinking that comes with designing and implementing various blended learning models. Continue Reading »

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21st 2015
Colorado Supreme Court Nixes Negative Factor Challenge

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & School Finance & State Legislature

We’ve been talking a lot about the courts lately. Between the Dougco voucher decision, the ridiculous silliness going on in Thompson, and Washington’s bizarre decision that charter schools are unconstitutional, there hasn’t been much cause for celebration. I’ll admit to feeling pretty darn frustrated with the courts.

Now, many of the folks on the other side of reform aisle are also experiencing some court-driven frustration after roughly a year of waiting. Today’s 4-3 Colorado Supreme Court decision in Dwyer v. State of Colorado has cemented the legislature’s interpretation of Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution and the “Negative Factor” it spawned. Continue Reading »

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18th 2015
Granddaddy of KIPP Studies Shows More Success for Growing Charter Network

Posted under Denver & learning & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

I can confess to you that something has made Eddie a little sad lately. That’s just the amount of crazy charter-bashing going on these days.

Some of this craziness gets imported locally by reform opponents who twist themselves in knots to dance around their rage at the Jeffco and Thompson boards of education providing fair, equitable funding for public charter school students.

A quick reminder to all that public charter schools are not a silver bullet solution, nor are they in any way guaranteed success. But in Colorado, charters tend to slightly outperform their traditional school peers and are overrepresented among the highest performers. Unlike their counterparts, struggling charters can be closed down. Meanwhile, some charters — like KIPP — are hitting it out of the park.

Two and a half years ago I smiled at the fresh research showing KIPP middle schools provide significant learning boosts while working with challenging student populations. Just over a year ago, I highlighted some further analysis that unraveled some of the skepticism about the famous charter network’s success. Bottom line? “KIPP is obviously doing something right.”

Well, my friends, this week appears the granddaddy of them all (so far). Again from Mathematica Research, this rigorous study shows that the positive impacts are sustained even as the network continues to grow, or “scale up”. (H/T Choice Media) Continue Reading »

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17th 2015
Thompson Majority Fights On for Local Control

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Teachers & Union

Most of you probably remember that there’s sort of a thing going on in Thompson School District. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. In actuality, Thompson now stands alongside Jefferson County as ground zero for one of the most important education battles in Colorado.

More specifically, Thompson has been engaged in an ugly fight with the Thompson Education Association, backed heavily by legal support from the Colorado Education Association, over the reform-minded board majority’s decision not to accept two junky tentative collective bargaining agreements. At the center of that fight is an incredibly important question: Can locally elected school boards be forced to accept union contracts with which they disagree?

The issue has drawn significant attention from around the state, including an editorial from the Denver Post supporting local school boards’ ability to make judgment calls under Colorado law. It has also resulted in a flabbergastingly awful non-binding arbitration report and, more recently, an unprecedented injunction ruling that forces the district to abide by the 2014-15 collective bargaining agreement—an agreement that the board has rejected in one form or another three separate times.

The board majority isn’t giving up, though. Last night, a 4-3 vote gave the district’s legal team the authority to appeal the injunction or pursue other remedies, whatever “other remedies” means in lawyerese. In practice, a favorable ruling on appeal would free the district of the collective bargaining agreement foisted on it by the Larimer County District Court and allow the board to get back to building policies to take care of its teachers in the absence of a union contract. Continue Reading »


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