October
1st 2014
School Choice Programs Save a Ton of Money: Where Could It All Go?

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Tax Credits

I talk to you a lot about how expanding access to more schools through choice programs could help Colorado Kids Win. But the truth is that these choice programs also have another benefit: they help save money for the states that adopt them. What does that mean?

More dollars left over for each student who remains in the public school system, or funds available for other things state governments pay for, or even maybe money back to taxpayers. Who knows? In any case, the point is that as students exercise choice and leave the system, they wouldn’t take out as much money as it costs to educate one more student. Here’s the kicker: Continue Reading »

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September
29th 2014
Jefferson County’s Ongoing Case of the Blue Flu

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Teachers

Whatever Jeffco’s teachers have, it seems to be pretty contagious. First it spread like wildfire through two high schools, then it infected thousands of Jeffco high school students. Now, it’s made its way to teachers in two more schools. We should probably start making warning posters: “The blue flu is active in this area. Symptoms include sign making, shaking fists, excessive use of words like ‘disrespect’ and ‘secrecy,’ and irrational protesting about non-existent threats to 1st Amendment rights.”

Eek! I’m not sure mom’s advice to wash my hands before eating is going to help with this one. What will help, though, are thoughtful pieces like the one posted earlier today by my friend Ross Izard of the Independence Institute.

Izard uses the piece to take apart the two most commonly cited reasons for the protests: Censorship of the new AP US History (APUSH) curriculum framework and the new pay-for-performance system in the district, which readers will remember I wrote about in detail when news of the sick outs first broke.

According to Izard, the censorship argument is a straw man. After all, the opposite of censorship is community discussion, and that’s exactly what the board proposal in question called for before being tabled. Continue Reading »

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September
26th 2014
How Much Video Fun is an Education Policy Wonk Allowed to Have?

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Urban Schools

Thanks to Choice Media for making my Friday life easier. It’s been a crazy week with the Jeffco union using kids as pawns. More on that later, but for now, here’s a 5-minute video from the American Enterprise Institute to catch your attention: Continue Reading »

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September
23rd 2014
More Research Could Highlight Real Promise of Blended Learning

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Research & Teachers

Today seemed like a good day to get out of the hot kitchen and look at a topic I haven’t addressed in awhile: blended learning. You know what I mean. According to the Clayton Christensen Institute, it’s:

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; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

Fittingly, then, a new piece by the Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn shares how his group is partnering up with Evergreen Education “to find more districts that are obtaining good results for students—concrete and objective—from blended learning.” This is just the kind of needed project to track the particulars of an emerging education program trend. What’s working, what’s not, etc.? Continue Reading »

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September
19th 2014
Jeffco Teacher “Sickout” Has Me Feeling Sick… And Confused

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & learning & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Having to write this kind of post makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. Why would some teachers walk out on kids, enough to close down two Jeffco high schools? The headline from a 9News story points to the only two possibilities I can see: AP US History or teacher pay raises.

What… some teachers don’t like pay raises? I doubt it. But the plan approved last night by the Jeffco school board gives 99 percent of teachers a boost in take-home pay. For 98 percent of teachers, it’s either a 2.43% increase if they earned an effective rating, or a 4.25% increase if they earned a highly effective rating. In fact, many weeks ago, the board agreed to increase the total amount available for employee pay increases — from $11.7 million to $18.2 million!

Is that so terrible? Only 66 less-than-effective teachers are left out of the extra salary, but even they get all of their increased PERA retirement costs covered by district taxpayers. New teacher base salary was raised from $33,616 to $38,000. And in an unusually generous move, teachers on the highest end of the scale ($81,031) get a one-time stipend based on their evaluation rating. Continue Reading »

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September
17th 2014
Russian Dolls and Education Policy: New Study Looks More Closely at Teacher Evaluations

Posted under Principals & Research & School Accountability & Teachers

Ever heard of a matryoshka doll? You may not have heard the name before, but I bet you’ll recognize the concept. You start with a big doll, break it open, and discover a smaller doll inside. That doll contains a still smaller doll, and inside that one is an even smaller one. You’ve got to dig down through an awful lot of layers before you reach the center. (Do you feel the education policy analogy coming on?)

Teacher evaluation is like the center of many education policy matryoshka dolls. In particular, strategic compensation and tenure policies are heavily dependent on the reliability and validity of the teacher evaluations being used. That realization raises some big questions regarding evaluation, some of which I’ve written about before.

As it turns out, even “evaluation” may be too big a doll. A new study by Matthew Chingos, Russ Whitehurst, and Katharine Lindquist argues that the area of greatest concern is more specific still: The portion of evaluations based on classroom observation. Continue Reading »

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September
16th 2014
Task Force Talks Testing: The Challenges Ahead

Posted under Education Politics & State Legislature

As you may have noticed, I’ve been talking a lot about testing recently (see here and here). I thought I got it all out of my system, but it turns out blogging about testing is a little like eating potato chips—it’s close to impossible to stop yourself once you’ve opened the bag. It’s like cracking open a greasy, delicious version of Pandora’s Box.

As I continue to eat my rhetorical potato chips and write about testing issues in Colorado, a legislative task force on testing issues has opened its own, much less easily digestible Pandora’s Box.

Born out of a piece of legislation originally designed to give districts testing flexibility, the task force has been, well… tasked with creating a report and issuing recommendations on testing in Colorado. Yesterday marked the group’s third meeting since July. It is required to finish its work by January 31 of next year.

There’s a problem, though: Testing is a massively complex, delicate issue. The task force’s first two meetings were largely gobbled up by information gathering, and it’s still waiting on at least one important study’s results. Even so, the group is only authorized to work for a limited amount of time, and the deadline looms in the not-too-distant future. At the last meeting, one task force member remarked: Continue Reading »

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September
15th 2014
The No-Longer-Invisible Achievement Gap: Challenges for Foster Kids in Colorado

Posted under Research & School Choice

My parents sometimes drive me crazy. They won’t let me drink soda or jump on (or off) the bed, and they stubbornly refuse to allow me to live solely chocolate and bacon (hint of the day: combine the two for double the nutrition). Still, for all the frustrations parents can bring, I know I’m lucky to have them. Some kids are in much worse situations, and those kids face some serious hurdles.

Although many people know that foster children face enormous challenges, it’s rare to see those challenges quantified. Maybe that’s why this story in the Denver Post today is so impactful. The story highlights new research showing that foster kids are facing an even tougher road than we might have thought when it comes to education.

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • Fewer than 1 in 3 Colorado students who were in foster care during high school graduated within four years of entering 9th grade.
  • Although the on-time graduation rate for Colorado students as a whole has steadily improved, the rates for students in foster care remained stable and well below their non-foster care peers.
  • Approximately 1 in 11 students in foster care dropped out one or more times.
  • Students in foster care dropped out earlier in their educational careers than did other unique populations.

Those few bullet points have effectively erased what was previously seen as an “invisible achievement gap.” We’ve known for years about gaps between other student populations (particularly minority and white students), and now we see that there may be other, even wider chasms among our students that need to be bridged.

And so, faithful readers, this week starts with a new education problem for us to tackle—and it’s a big one. As I’ve opined many times before, every child deserves a great education and the opportunities that accompany it. The trick is figuring out how to make that happen. Continue Reading »

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September
12th 2014
Colorado More Leader than Laggard: A Report Card Eddie Can (Mostly) Enjoy

Posted under Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Journalism & math & Public Charter Schools & reading & School Choice & School Finance & Teachers

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know I have a fondness for report cards. A certain kind, anyway. Just as long as it’s not my report card going home to my parents about my performance. Seriously, though, I like to talk about report cards related to education policy — some more helpful or accurate or comprehensive than others.

Today it’s a piece called Leaders and Laggards, put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with the help of a couple American Enterprise scholars, that ranks states on a big slate of K-12 education measures.

The study assigns each state a letter grade for each of 11 major categories, and in a couple of cases compares them to the last release in 2007 (Colorado’s grades listed in parentheses): Continue Reading »

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September
11th 2014
Empire Strikes Back against School Choice in Courts; Don’t Give Up!

Posted under Courts & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

A couple days ago I tossed out a Star Trek reference. Today, it’s going to be a Star Wars metaphor. I hope this doesn’t cause any sort of Sci-Fi universe catastrophes, including but not limited to wormholes, disturbances in the Force, or ripples in the space-time continuum.

All that setup to talk about the Empire striking back. This time, though, it doesn’t include Darth Vader, Death Stars, or Storm Troopers. I’m talking about some large organized adult interest groups with high-paid attorneys filing lawsuits to halt promising or successful school choice programs. A couple weeks ago we smiled together at the good news for New Hampshire kids in surviving that state’s legal challenge.

But my post also featured my reaction to news of a new lawsuit against Florida’s scholarship tax credit program: Continue Reading »

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