June
23rd 2016
Investigating Dougco’s Independent Investigation

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Let’s begin today’s post with a little bit of vocabulary. Merriam-Webster defines the word “independent” as:

a (1) :  not subject to control by others :  self-governing (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit <an independent bookstore>

b (1) :  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent <an independent conclusion> (2) :  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) :  not bound by or committed to a political party

c (1) :  not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood) <independent of her parents> (2) :  being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living <a person of independent means>

Some of our friends in Douglas County, however, have chosen to use a more novel definition of the term when discussing the recent results of an independent investigation into bullying allegations against Dougco school board members Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds: That anyone who finds against their accusations cannot be independent. We’re going to spend some time dissecting that claim today. Continue Reading »

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June
21st 2016
Independent Investigation Clears Dougco Conservatives… And Raises Important Questions

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & Local Reform

Remember that student protest at Ponderosa High School in Douglas County back in March? I wrote then:

The cynical side of me believes that this is but the first step in the march toward a full-blown assault on Dougco’s (now one-seat) conservative majority in 2017.

As is usually (and depressingly) the case, my cynicism was well founded. The protest spawned a fabricated “bullying” fiasco that became the first major political play in what I believe is a wider game to purge conservative thought and policy from Douglas County School District. Now, however, it’s become clear that this particular political maneuver didn’t pan out as the establishment-minded board members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David Ray, and Wendy Vogel had hoped. Continue Reading »

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June
15th 2016
New Report Reviews Research on Educational Choice

Posted under Education Savings Accounts & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits & Vouchers

I know this isn’t a “cool” thing to say, but I get really excited about new research. I eat up statistical analyses like most people eat donuts (I eat those, as well). But do you know what is way more exciting than a single new study on a fascinating education topic? A review of a whole bunch of tasty research.

Enter the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s new edition of “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Written by Dr. Greg Forster, these reports are a great way to stay up to date with the latest research on educational choice. The last report was published in 2013, so this new edition brings a bunch of new information to the table. Continue Reading »

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June
10th 2016
Dougco’s Voucher Lawsuit Muddle Explained

Posted under Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & Douglas County & Legal Issues & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

I got a lot of questions yesterday about yet another ruling on the Douglas County voucher program. Was this good news? Was it bad news? Which lawsuit was this anyway? What the heck is going on in Douglas County?

It occurred to me after about the 50th question that stuff has gotten pretty complicated when it comes to vouchers in Dougco. We’re going to dedicate today’s post to clearing up the confusion. After all, there’s nothing worse than being perplexed over the weekend.

Let’s start from the beginning. Most everyone probably remembers that the original Dougco voucher program was shot down by the Colorado Supreme Court almost a year ago thanks to our state’s icky Blaine Amendment. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the whole process was complicated by the tragic (in so, so many ways) death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the fact that SCOTUS had already taken a Blaine-related case out of Missouri.

The case remains in limbo somewhere in the echoing hallways of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear the case at all. It will likely remain undecided for some time. But Douglas County didn’t want to wait to get a voucher program up and running, so it approved a new version that excludes faith-based schools in March 2016.

For those of you keeping score, this means that there are now two Dougco voucher programs out there. Continue Reading »

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June
9th 2016
Independence Institute Stands Up (Again) for Tenure Reform

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Denver & Legal Issues & State Legislature

I have double good news for my fellow policy nerds on this fine Thursday morning. First, the Colorado State Board of Education voted yesterday to continue disaggregating student subgroup data for accountability purposes. I had some rather strong thoughts on the issue, so this decision makes me smile.

The conversation will continue, and, if Chairman Durham’s comment in the official CDE press release is any indication, may even lead to some thoughtful new approaches. In the meantime, I’m pleased to know that we won’t be sweeping challenging populations of students under the rug or compromising taxpayer accountability to satisfy the edu-blob.

Maybe even more exciting, though, is the fact that the Independence Institute has fired its next salvo in the war to protect teacher tenure reform in Colorado. Continue Reading »

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June
6th 2016
State Board Tackles Not-So-Super Subgroups

Posted under Accountability & Rural Schools & School Accountability & School Finance & State Board of Education & Taxpayers

Mondays are good days to roll up our sleeves and bury ourselves in education policy arcana. This Monday is a particularly good day to do that; on Wednesday, the Colorado State Board of Education will decide the fate of a complicated but important proposal related to our state’s school and district accountability system.

The proposal deals with the use of “super subgroups” (also called “combined subgroups”), which aggregate subgroups of students—minority, at-risk, English-language learner (ELL), and special education—into a single bucket for accountability purposes under Colorado’s school and district performance frameworks (SPFs and DPFs). Pushed by some school districts, interest groups, and the Colorado Department of Education, the shift toward combined subgroups is strongly opposed by a large, diverse coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum. Careful observers will note that one of those organizations is the Independence Institute, which I happen to be rather fond of.

Why is the Independence Institute involved? To understand that, you have to understand the issue in a little more detail. Brace yourself, thar be wonkery ahead. Continue Reading »

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June
1st 2016
COPs and Robbers: A Tale of Two Jeffco Schools

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & Jefferson County Public Schools & School Board & School Finance

It’s been a little while since we talked about Jeffco, but I couldn’t resist chiming in on a CBS 4 story proudly declaring that the district has broken ground on a “brand-new K-8 school” in Arvada’s Candelas development. The construction of a new school wouldn’t normally merit a blog post, but this particular school carries such political baggage and symbolic value that it’s impossible to ignore.

If you dig deep into the locked container in your head labeled “Jeffco Recall 2015,” you’ll probably remember a bit of a kerfuffle last year about the proposed use of certificates of participation to finance new school construction in Jefferson County. COPs, as they’re colloquially known, exist mostly as an end-run around TABOR in that they allow governments to incur long-term debt without voter approval. The Independence Institute’s Josh Sharf explains it like this:

The government, in this case a school district, transfers some asset, usually a building or set of buildings, to a special-purpose entity set up specifically to administer the COP.  That entity – not the school district itself – then floats the bond on the municipal bond market.  It then leases the buildings back to the school district for lease payments that match the bond payments.  It is those lease payments that secure the debt.  In addition, the lease comes up for annual review by the school board which, in theory, could refuse to renew.

If that sounds a little shady to you, you’re not alone. Continue Reading »

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May
27th 2016
Another Friday, Another Goodbye, and a Big Opportunity

Posted under Douglas County & School Board

I hate goodbyes, especially when I have to issue them back to back to people who I think have done good work. Late last week, we talked a little about Commissioner Rich Crandall’s abrupt decision to resign from his position after only a few months on the job. Now we’re saying goodbye to Douglas County’s stalwart superintendent, Dr. Liz Fagen.

Dr. Fagen has been with Douglas County for six years. That’s a pretty good run if you consider that the typical tenure of a superintendent is only about three years—and that’s in districts far less venomous and politically charged than Douglas County. While there is research out there finding that superintendents are not the biggest influences on district performance (see the study linked in the prior sentence), no one can argue with the fact that Dr. Fagen has overseen some dramatic and successful changes in Douglas County. Continue Reading »

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May
20th 2016
Commissioner’s Resignation Shatters Friday Quiet

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Education Politics

Yesterday, we took a philosophically taxing tour through the moral stickiness of education. I had hoped that today would be a good chance to cool off and talk about something a little less heavy. No such luck.

If you pay even a little attention to the education scene in Colorado, you probably heard that Commissioner Rich Crandall stepped down from his post yesterday afternoon. Continue Reading »

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May
19th 2016
Tough Choices and Doing “The Right Thing” in Education

Posted under Edublogging & Graduation & Principals & Teachers

It’s graduation time across Colorado and the nation. Happy kids everywhere are moving up a grade, finishing school, or digging in to do some more work over the summer. I think that’s fantastic, but I was reminded today of a different perspective while I was perusing my daily flood of education news, blogs, and columns.

Brace yourselves. Today’s post is a little squishy. Stop scowling. We five-year-olds are allowed to be squishy sometimes.

Most of you probably know that despite some amazing success stories, I have serious questions about number-gaming when it comes to graduation rates. The same applies to rates of advancement in lower grades. But I will admit that I have not spent a lot of time pondering the issue in terms of the potentially agonizing decisions teachers and school leaders have to make when it comes to sending kids out into the real world—or holding them back.

That perspective, and the important philosophical questions it raises, popped into the ol’ thinker this afternoon as I read a guest post on Rick Hess’s blog. Written by Meira Levinson, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the post puts forward a fictional scenario involving an underprivileged eighth-grader at the end of a school year. The big question at the end: What is the right thing to do? Continue Reading »

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