December
8th 2016
New PISA Results Bring the Same Old Disappointing News

Posted under International & Research & Student Achievement

Have you heard of PISA? No, it’s not some delicious Italian dish you can buy in a restaurant. It’s the preeminent international assessment of student performance in more than 70 countries across the world. A project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA is administered to a representative sample of 15-year-olds in these countries every three years.

Sadly, the recently released results of the 2015 PISA assessment are significantly harder to swallow than tasty Italian food.

For those of you who are particularly wonky, you can find the full report on the most recent PISA results here. Other folks may prefer to surf OECD’s curated topline results and interactive map, which can be found here. If you are culturally insensitive and only interested in the results for the United States, those can be found here. If you really, truly don’t want to be bothered with all those numbers, don’t fret. We’ll cover the big stuff right here in this post. Continue Reading »

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December
1st 2016
DeVos, Delusions, and Difficult Decisions

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

Welcome back, friends! I apologize (again) for my absence (again) in recent days, but I had some important policy business in Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, President-elect Donald Trump wanted to meet with yours truly to gather my deep and inspirational thoughts on the future of education in America.

Okay, that’s not true. But I really was in D.C., and I really do want to talk about Donald Trump and education.

I wrote recently about what we could expect in the realm of education from a Donald Trump presidency. In that post, which admittedly led to an awful lot of question marks and few firm answers, I said that “a strong pick for secretary of education that seriously redefines and redirects the department could lead to significant improvements.” As it turns out, we got exactly what I was hoping for on that front. Continue Reading »

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November
22nd 2016
A Field Trip to Aspen View Academy

Posted under Douglas County & Educational Choice & Field Trip & Public Charter Schools

It’s almost Thanksgiving! Everyone is slowly starting to unwind from the last few weeks of frantic activity. Most are preparing to stuff themselves silly with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and many, many other delicious treats. But Thanksgiving isn’t just a time to test how much food the human stomach can hold. It’s also a time to reflect on the things you’re thankful for.

Of course, all the usual suspects are on my list—friends, family, plenty of food, light-up shoes, Juicy Fruit gum, etc. But as an education guy, I’m also incredibly thankful for all the talented educators who wake up every day and go to work for the next generation of Colorado citizens. With that in mind, and because we haven’t been on a school field trip for a while, I thought today might be a good day to spotlight the work some of these educators are doing at Aspen View Academy in Castle Rock.

I went to Aspen View a couple of weeks ago to chat with the charter school’s principal, Jason Edwards, about the school and its work in Douglas County. It was an awesome trip! Continue Reading »

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November
21st 2016
Constants and Changes: Colorado’s New Political Landscape in 2017

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & State Board of Education

I apologize for my absence last week, friends. I was helping my policy friend Ross Izard wrap up another major publication—and trying to finish wrapping my head around the previous extraordinary (and extraordinarily confusing) political week. I’m not sure anyone fully understands what happened this November, but it’s clear that something has changed. This week was something of a watershed in modern American politics. Exactly what kind of watershed—and what it means going forward—remains to be seen. President-elect Trump is still a question mark when it comes to education, and all we can do is wait and see what happens in 2017.

In the meantime, we should remember that national-level elections weren’t the only nail-biting contests in 2016. In fact, I think I could make compelling case that they weren’t even the most important. Truthfully, we should be far more interested in what happened at the state level in Colorado, where political tides and the policy shifts they bring can immediately and directly impact our lives. Let’s catch up on those important changes today.

For those who don’t follow state-level politics very closely, here was Colorado’s landscape heading into the 2016 election:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 34-31 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Republican majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

After the election, things look the same in some ways and importantly different in others. Here’s the new breakdown:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 37-28 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Democratic majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

As usual, these results gloss over some important details. We discuss some of those details below.

Continue Reading »

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November
9th 2016
So… What Happens Now? Thoughts on What President Trump Means for Education

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & State Board of Education & United States Supreme Court

Something happened last night. I was already in bed, of course, but I could hear strange shouting downstairs. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like someone saying, “Wisconsin?! What?!” This morning I found my dad still awake, sitting in an arm chair with bleary eyes and a strange expression that I’m not sure I’ve seen on his face before. It was weird. It was really, really weird.

I am, of course, referring to Donald Trump’s utterly astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton in last night’s presidential election. He deserves a hearty congratulation for defying the political odds and, in the end, pulling off exactly the kind of map-changing, crushing victory he said he’d accomplish. Truthfully, I never thought I would write the words “President-elect Trump.” But here we are. Continue Reading »

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November
4th 2016
New Finance Paper Sheds Light on Complicated Issues

Posted under Publications & Research & Ross Izard & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Just last week, we were talking about the record number of local school-related tax increases on the ballot and how those increases fit in the context of school finance overall. I even had a reader named Larry write in to correct me on a misspelling of Michael Phelps’ name. I incorrectly thought his name was Michael Phelp (with no “s”). I suppose that’s what I get for not watching swimming. I am dreadfully ashamed of the error, and hope Mr. Phelps (and Larry) can find it in his heart to forgive me.

Fortunately, I won’t need to make any swimming references today. Instead, I’d like to continue the conversation on Colorado school finance by briefly highlighting a new issue paper published by my Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard. Continue Reading »

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October
28th 2016
Not All Records Are Good Records When It Comes to Taxpayers

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Records are usually good things to set. Consider Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt’s blindingly fast 100m dash record. Or maybe you’d be more impressed by U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps’ record number of individual medals—a record that hasn’t been touched since a guy named Leonidas of Rhodes won his 12th individual event in 152 B.C. That’s right, B.C. as in Before Christ. If you’re more into weirder records, you could ponder the couple who hold the record for most tattooed senior citizens, the man who maintains the world’s largest afro, the cat who holds the distinction of being the world’s longest housecat (at about four feet in length), or the llama who holds the record for highest bar jump cleared by a llama. Yep, that’s a real thing.

But sometimes records aren’t so great. For instance, the record for “worst pandemic” goes to the bubonic plague, otherwise known as the “Black Death,” which killed about a quarter of the people in Europe back during the 1300s. My guess is that few people were excited about that one. And although tax increases are somewhat less terrible than society-ravaging outbreaks of plague (some may disagree on that point), I can’t imagine Colorado taxpayers are super excited to find out that 2016 has set the state record for mill levy overrides and bonds issues on local ballots.

According to Chalkbeat, there are 44 school districts asking their local taxpayers to approve MLOs, bond issues, or both this year. That’s about 25 percent of the 178 school districts in the state. But even more impressive is the number attached to all those requests: $4.4 billion. Egads! Continue Reading »

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October
27th 2016
A Field Trip to SVVSD’s Career Development Center

Posted under Course Choice & Educational Choice & Vocational Education

As most of my readers know, there are few things I love more than field trips. Education policy is great, interesting stuff, but it sometimes becomes too easy to lose oneself in the spreadsheets and numbers and studies and… you get the point. But education is about kids, not statistics or esoteric policy arguments. That’s why it’s so important for us edu-wonks to get out there and see education in action—especially in places where districts are forging ahead on paths designed to provide more options to their students.

With all that in mind, I took a very cool field trip this week to St. Vrain Valley School District’s Career Development Center (CDC) in Longmont. If that sounds familiar to those of you who follow the work of the Independence Institute Education Policy Center, it’s because my policy friend Ross Izard mentioned the center in “Altering Courses,” his most recent private school profile. The profile takes a look at Crossroads School in Longmont, an alternative private school that serves kids who haven’t been able to find a good educational fit anywhere else. Crossroads has an agreement with St. Vrain under which its students can attend classes at the CDC. Very cool.

I knew St. Vrain’s CDC was going to be impressive, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the number of options it provides to students. The place is positively stuffed with programs for kids who may not be interested in going the college route right after high school. Check out the list of classes on offer:

Agriscience

Automotive Technology

Cosmetology

Culinary Arts & Training

Dental Assisting

Engineering Technology & Machining

Floral Design

Health Sciences

Horticulture (Greenhouse Management)

Multimedia

Welding and Fabrication Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2016
Column Promotes Productive Conversations About Testing, Opt Outs

Posted under Accountability & Testing

It’s no secret that I am deeply skeptical of the opt-out movement and its true motivations. I worry that the movement’s leaders are pushing (or maybe have already pushed) us down a road that is ultimately designed to lead to less choice, less change, and less opportunity for students.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are legitimate concerns buried down in the opt-out conversation, and those concerns should be the focus of our conversation. As I’ve often said, we should be careful about using an unpopular testing instrument (PARCC) that has failed to deliver on its promises as a way to argue that no measurement is needed in the enormous government enterprise that is public education. Similarly, we can acknowledge the power and importance of providing parents, educators, and taxpayers with reliable, valid data on educational performance while still recognizing that there are major issues in the current accountability system that need to be addressed.

Sadly, I rarely see anyone attempt to find the reasonable middle ground in these conversations. Many folks are either vehemently opposed to everything or desperately trying to preserve the current system. That’s why I was so pleased yesterday to read a Chalkbeat op-ed from Eric Mason, Colorado Springs School District 11’s director of assessment. Continue Reading »

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October
19th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Talks the Talk, Once Again Fails to Walk the Walk

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Last month, I wrote about how the Douglas County School District Board of Education’s anti-reform Toxic Trio—Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray—abrogated their duties as elected officials by refusing to accept board majority member Doug Benevento’s resignation from the board. In so doing, they signaled their willingness to leave tens of thousands of Dougco residents without representation on the school board and ensure deadlock on most important issues.

Benevento’s resignation was accepted a short time later, but only after Benevento himself felt awkwardly obligated to come back to accept his own resignation—an unprecedented scenario to the best of my knowledge. Since then, the district has embarked on a process designed to fill the vacancy in accordance with board policy and the law.  Meanwhile, the Toxic Trio has continued to incessantly lecture their school board colleagues about the importance of “following policy and the law.” They have continued sermonize at every opportunity about the criticality of transparency and openness with “the community.”

I happen to agree with both points. Policy and the law must be followed, and transparency is critically important. But all this proselytizing begs an important question: Why don’t they put their money where their collective mouths are? Continue Reading »

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