February
2nd 2016
Abominable Snowbills Look to Gut Accountability in Colorado

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s snowing outside. Like, a lot. The good news is that the snowstorm means I get to hang out at home, drink hot chocolate, and make snow angels. The bad news is that there is an approximately 63 percent higher chance of attack by abominable snowmen like this one:

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Okay, that’s a lie. Abominable snowmen aren’t real (I hope). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t abominable things afoot—like bills gutting accountability, performance pay systems, and tenure reform.

I’m sure you all recall that my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard is a big believer in accountability and tenure reform. He recently co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on the importance of these things. Last session, he wrote a big, long article on the dangers of Republicans mistakenly teaming up with the teachers union to dismantle accountability systems. Ross is working on updating that article for this year, but we’ll go ahead and get a head start today. Abominable snowbills wait for no one.

The two bills in question are HB 1121 and SB 105. HB 1121 would enable local school boards to pass policies allowing teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to only be evaluated every three years. Currently teachers are evaluated every year, though we still haven’t gotten around to fully implementing SB 191’s strengthened evaluations.

As a quick refresher, SB 191 requires that 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations be comprised of multiple measures student growth data (no, not just from the much-maligned state tests). The other 50 percent is made up of what I consider to be subjective judgments based on observations in the classroom. The student growth data is important, as it pushes back against the “Widget Effect,” which saw nearly 100 percent of teachers rated effective or better year after year under strictly subjective evaluation systems. Unfortunately, SB 191′s evaluation system has been on hold for a while as accountability opponents and the teachers union do everything they can do delay or disrupt implementation.

SB 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years—no extra certification required. Continue Reading »

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January
29th 2016
The Inevitability of Educational Choice

Posted under Magnet School & Online Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

Well, my friends, National School Choice Week 2016 is almost over. I know, I know. Every week should really be National School Choice Week. But let’s be honest, we can’t expect to pull together massive rallies like the one we had yesterday every week. And hey, at least you got to watch some sweet videos and learn a new dance.

As this year’s biggest school choice celebration winds down, I think it’s good for us to pause and consider how far educational choice has come in America. Private school choice experienced explosive growth across the country in 2015, with 15 states adopting or expanding 21 different educational choice programs. More than half the states in America now offer some type of private educational choice option—an astonishing 59 programs in total.

There are now 166,588 kids using school vouchers; 219,833 kids in scholarship tax credit programs; and 7,046 kids making use of education savings accounts in the United States. Sadly, Colorado has yet to unleash the full benefits of private school choice.

Growth in school choice hasn’t been limited to private schools. Public school choice is also expanding rapidly. There are 6,700 public charter schools in the United States. Those schools serve nearly three million kids.

There are an estimated 2.2 million kids being homeschooled in the United States. Another 320,000 students are enrolled in full-time online education, and 2.3 million students take online classes in addition to their brick-and-mortar education. Yet another 2.6 million students attend 3,200 magnet schools found in all 50 states.

Here in Colorado, there are now 226 charter schools serving more than 108,000 students. That’s about 12 percent of total public school enrollment in the state. Roughly 10 percent of PK-12 students in Colorado—nearly 87,000 kids—attend schools outside their districts of residence, and an uncountable number of others attend schools within their district other than their assigned neighborhood schools.

School choice is not just a thing. It is the thing.

And the best part? There’s no going back now. The educational choice movement has fundamentally altered the education paradigm. Now that parents and students have tasted educational freedom, there will be no returning to the days of rigid, monopolistic systems that too often fall short of meeting students’ needs. The Overton Window has shifted, and it will never shift back.

As Andy Smarick recently wrote in a piece fittingly titled “School Choice: The End of the Beginning”: “Increasingly, the conversation is no longer about whether to have school choice. It’s about how to make school choice work.”

We too often find ourselves sitting around tables talking about school choice as if it is still some newfangled, crazy idea. It’s not, and we should stop. We are not an idealistic minority, we are the majority.  Choice in education is the rule, not the exception. We’re the tide, not the sand castle.

Let’s make sure we enter this year’s school choice battles with the right perspective. Victory is, after all, inevitable.

 

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January
27th 2016
Celebrating National School Choice Week 2016

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & Legislation & School Choice & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Tax Credits

Does everybody know what time it is? No, not Tool Time. Do I look like Tim Allen to you?

It’s National School Choice Week! This year’s National School Choice Week is a big one, with 16,140 events scheduled around the country, including 318 here in Colorado. Governor Hickenlooper joined 31 other governors and 240 municipal and county leaders from across the country—the mayors of Denver, Aurora, Greeley, Lakewood, Thornton, and county leaders from Sedgwick County among them—in issuing an official proclamation that this week is all about school choice. Awesome.

In keeping with my yearly tradition of using videos to entertain you during this important time rather than relying solely upon my acid wit, we will celebrate here on Ed is Watching by… well, watching some cool videos.

But before you settle in with your popcorn or Sour Patch Kids or whatever tasty snacks education policy nerds eat while watching school choice videos, I have an important announcement: There will be a very big, very fun, and yes, very yellow National School Choice Week rally on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol tomorrow morning (January 28) at 11:30 a.m.  Be there, or forever suffer the knowledge that you missed out on great speakers like former Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien and new Colorado Commissioner of Education Rich Crandall, happy kids, and fuzzy yellow scarves. Continue Reading »

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January
22nd 2016
Begging for Tire Scraps: SCOTUS Takes MO Blaine Case

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Constitution & Douglas County & State Legislature

Yesterday, we talked Dougco. Because I’m a fan of loosely connected thematic writing, we’re going to do the same today in a more peripheral sense. Don’t worry, today’s post will include markedly less discussion about the nether regions of the male body.

Some of you may remember that there was a pretty important—and pretty disappointing—Colorado Supreme Court decision about Dougco’s local voucher program last June. The program was struck down under an incredibly broad interpretation of our state’s Blaine Amendment. The decision was so sweeping, in fact, that Justice Allison Eid had this to say about it in a dissenting opinion:

Today, the plurality interprets Article IX, Section 7 as prohibiting the expenditure of any state funds that might incidentally or indirectly benefit a religious school. This breathtakingly broad interpretation would invalidate not only the Choice Scholarship Program (“CSP”), but numerous other state programs that provide funds to students and their parents who in turn decide to use the funds to attend religious schools in Colorado. The plurality’s interpretation barring indirect funding is so broad that it would invalidate the use of public funds to build roads, bridges, and sidewalks adjacent to such schools, as the schools, in the words of the plurality, “rely on” state-paid infrastructure to operate their institutions.

Yikes! But things weren’t all bad. The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the program opened a potential pathway to challenging discriminatory Blaine Amendments across the country before the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS). And sure enough, Dougco appealed the decision, this time under the legal guidance of legal superstar and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement.

Getting SCOTUS to grant a writ of certiorari, or “cert” for short, is tough. The high court receives about 10,000 applications for cert each year, of which it grants 75-80. In other words, SCOTUS takes up less than one percent of the cases it reviews each year. Obviously, this indicates that the court is a wee bit selective about the cases it takes. So, as compelling as Dougco’s case is, the odds of it reaching SCOTUS have always been long. We won’t know for sure whether SCOTUS will hear the case until sometime next month.

In the meantime, however, SCOTUS has decided to talk about Blaine Amendments by taking up a case out of Missouri. Continue Reading »

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January
21st 2016
Unions, Hackers, and Genitalia Tweets! Oh My!

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & School Board & Union

At six years old, I’m probably a little too young to take classes on detailed human anatomy. Fortunately, the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) recently stepped up to the plate to help me learn this important material. Always thinking of the kids, those folks.

As a healthy reminder that the teachers union holds the moral high ground in education, DCFT’s official Twitter account sent out the following tweet during one of Dougco’s District Accountability Committee meetings. The tweet references an elementary school teacher who happened to be speaking at the meeting.

Ahem. Let’s just allow that to settle for a moment. Continue Reading »

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January
15th 2016
New Study on LA Voucher Program Holds Important Lessons for Choice Advocates

Posted under Accountability & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

Welcome back, fellow policy explorers. I apologize for my absence these past few days, but the start of the 2016 legislative session and other pressing edu-business issues have kept me away from my keyboard this week. We’re back to work today, and will be looking at some new school choice research out of Louisiana.

First, a bit of bad news. We can no longer say no random-assignment study has ever found that private school choice programs have a negative effect on students. Until recently, there had been 12 random-assignment studies on the topic, of which six found positive impacts for all students, five found positive impacts for some students and not for others, and one found no visible effect.

Enter unlucky number 13. A working paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), which provides vouchers for lower-income kids attending public schools with a C, D, or F grade under the state’s evaluation system. Started in 2008, the program was initially limited to just New Orleans—a place that many of you know I happen to see as something of a proof point in the reform conversation. The program went statewide in 2012, and now serves about 7,100 kids.

Because the LSP uses a lottery system to award vouchers at schools with more applicants than available seats, the researchers were able to easily compare randomly assigned (thus, “random-assignment”) voucher recipients and non-recipients in the program’s first statewide year. I’ll let you work your way through the full paper and its methodology on your own if you are so inclined. For now, we’ll settle for a snippet from the abstract:

This comparison reveals that LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement. Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children. Continue Reading »

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January
8th 2016
The 2016 Legislative Session Cometh

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Governor & Grades and Standards & Legislation & School Choice & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

The 2015 legislative session seems like it just ended, but it’s almost time for Little Eddie to once again stalk the shiny hallways of the mythical place known as the Colorado Capitol. Next week marks the beginning of the 120-day sausage-making process that we call the Colorado legislative session. And let me tell you, it’s going to be a fun one. Or maybe that’s the wrong adjective.

The 2016 session kicks off on January 13, which is next Wednesday. If this session is anything like last session, which saw an incredible number of education bills introduced (and an equally incredible number killed), we’re in for a heck of a ride. And this year, that ride may even take us through areas that have little to do with education directly. So, what’s coming down the pike? Here are my best guesses on this year’s legislative edu-themes: Continue Reading »

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January
4th 2016
Tackling the GED

Posted under Adult Education & Edublogging & Grades and Standards & High School Equivalency & State Board of Education & Testing

I hope you’ve all had a little time to decompress after the holiday. We’re officially back in business now, though, so strap on your edu-gear and prepare yourselves for a beefy post. Today, my friends, we talk GED.

A couple of weeks ago, the Colorado State Board of Education voted to approve three separate high school equivalency exams: GED, HiSET, and the TASC. Holy acronyms, Batman!

Assuming the state can successfully negotiate contracts with the relevant vendors—GED Testing Service (now a joint venture of the American Council on Education and testing giant Pearson Education) for GED, Education Testing Services for HiSET, and McGraw-Hill/CTB for TASC—those looking for a high school equivalency diploma will be able to choose which of the three tests they’d like to take. Since the vote, I’ve had a number of people approach me about my thoughts on the idea of a “menu of tests” in the world of high school equivalency.

It has taken me a little time to fully collect my thoughts on the shift, but I think I’m there now. Continue Reading »

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December
31st 2015
Little Eddie’s Look Back at 2015

Posted under Accountability & Edublogging & Education Politics & Just For Fun & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice & State Legislature & Testing & Union

I can’t believe I’m already saying this, but 2015 is almost over! It’s been such a busy, exciting year that it feels like it started just yesterday. I hope all my faithful readers are getting ready to launch into a 2016 full of prosperity, happiness, and better education for Colorado kids! For now, let’s pause and take a look back at the top five most exciting edu-happenings of 2015. Continue Reading »

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December
29th 2015
Little Eddie the Liar?

Posted under Edublogging & Just For Fun & Research & Testing

Have you ever been accused of saying something you didn’t? You know, like the time your mom thought you nodded slightly after she asked if a new dress made her look fat, but you were really just looking at a ball of fuzz on the floor? Or when someone accused you of being a data-distorting Common Core supporter when you actually aren’t?

Wait, you mean that second thing hasn’t happened to you? I guess it must just be me. We six-year-olds are always getting picked on!

I returned from Christmas break yesterday to find a trackback on a post I wrote back in October about what this year’s NAEP results do and do not mean. In that post, I chided anti-reform activists—at that point in full rhetorical tilt just days before the catastrophic November elections—for leaping to unfounded statistical conclusions about the NAEP scale score drops in math that Colorado experienced in 2015.

The trackback led me to a Breitbart article by Ze’ev Wurman, a prominent national critic of Common Core. I was initially happy to see Little Eddie’s informal work picked up by a national education writer, but that excitement evaporated when I looked a little more closely and saw this:

Even before the recent NAEP results were published, Common Core proponents urged us not to engage in what they called “misnaepery” – or, jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions based on preliminary data.

Some were reasonably cautious, others were not beyond presenting visually misleading data to prop their claim that nothing has changed (in these charts, for example, the author draws NAEP with a 50 points/grid, where 10-12 points equal a grade level; in other words, it takes 4-5 grades difference to move the chart one grid. Small wonder the NAEP charts look flat there.)

That third link—the one serving as an example of not being reasonably cautious—leads you back to my October blog post on NAEP scores, apparently concluding that I was deliberately trying to obscure the data, claim that scores didn’t change on the 2015 NAEP, and defend Common Core.

Yeah, let’s talk about that. Continue Reading »

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