September
23rd 2016
Pizza Pies and Dollar Signs

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Transparency

I love pizza. Do you love pizza? Oh, what a silly question! Of course you love pizza. Everyone loves pizza! But here’s the big question: Do you love pizza enough to spend $2.6 million on it? Denver Public Schools does.

I ran across an interesting article this morning from Kyle Clark, my favorite 9News reporter, who has apparently discovered that DPS has negotiated an agreement with Blackjack Pizza for $886,730 in the first year. If the pizza “meets expectations” (whatever that means given that there is no such thing as bad pizza, only shades of deliciousness), the agreement could be extended for another two years. That brings the grand total to $2.6 million. Continue Reading »

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September
21st 2016
What the Heck is Academic Growth, Anyway?

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Data & School Accountability & Testing

Growth is exciting. I love watching my mom and dad mark another notch on the wall every year, and it’s been crazy to watch my favorite little puppy grow into a full-size dog almost as big as me. Education wonks get excited about growth too, although the growth you often hear policy nerds talking about has nothing to do with how tall someone is and everything to do with how much academic progress he or she is making.

Academic growth sparked a wave of nerdy jubilation yesterday when the Colorado Department of Education (finally) released growth data for our viewing pleasure after the switch to the PARCC assessment. All those juicy numbers are just waiting for you to explore them—assuming, of course, you can successfully navigate the department’s notoriously terrible SchoolView site. For those of you who would rather peruse curated information presented in a more digestible way, Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia put together a helpful story that includes some interactive spreadsheets and charts. You should definitely head over there and see how your school and/or district stacked up.

Those of you expecting me to do a deep dive into the growth scores of various schools and districts are about to be disappointed. We’ll have to save that for another time. Those of you who have absolutely no idea what “academic growth” even means, on the other hand, are in for an educational treat. Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2016
ESSA, Accountability, and High-Achieving Students

Posted under Accountability & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Research & Student Achievement

Happy Friday, fellow policy explorers. I usually try to let you off easy on Friday afternoons when it comes to policy discussions, but this week’s ridiculous distractions in Douglas County forced me to push back a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while about ESSA and how it relates to high-performing students. With the next ESSA Hub Committee meeting scheduled for this coming Monday, it seems appropriate to talk about that interesting issue sooner rather than later. Plus, there’s no such thing as a bad day for policy discussions!

A big focus of the ESSA conversation has been on accountability systems. What will we measure? For whom? How? When? What about weights? In Colorado, we just had a major conversation about the notion of combined subgroups and what they might mean for accountability systems.

All these discussions tend to revolve around how we best help lower-performing kids, schools, and districts. And don’t get me wrong, that’s an incredibly important question for those of us who view education as an opportunity to provide every kid with a chance at a fair fight and an opportunity to build his or her own success story.

But what about the other side of the spectrum? What about our highest-performing students? Is there an opportunity in ESSA to incentivize more attention on those students? The Fordham Institute seems to think so based on a recent report entitled “High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA.” Continue Reading »

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September
7th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Shirks Responsibility, Shafts Citizens

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

I know I’m a little snarky from time to time, but I generally feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled kid. It takes a fair amount to get me mad. But if there’s one thing that is absolutely, positively guaranteed to send me off the rails, it’s when grown-ups entrusted with the levers of power choose to operate those levers to benefit themselves and harm students, parents, and taxpayers.

That is exactly what I saw happen last night when I tuned in for my favorite biweekly Tuesday entertainment: the Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting. As some of you may know, Doug Benevento, a member of the four-person conservative majority on the board, resigned his seat on August 17. He submitted a brief but official “letter” of resignation to Dougco BOE President Meghann Silverthorn, who subsequently informed the other board members of the news. In case all of that wasn’t clear or public enough, Benevento also ran an op-ed explaining his decision in the Denver Post, the largest newspaper in the state.

In addition to that, major news outlets across Colorado covered the resignation, including:

7News

9News

Chalkbeat Colorado

CBS Denver

The Denver Post

That’s only a partial list, but you get the picture. It was no secret to anyone paying attention—and really even to those who had no idea of who Doug Benevento is—that Benevento had stepped down from the board on August 17. You can imagine my surprise, then, when board minority members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David  Ray, and Wendy Vogel—the three of whom collectively form the “Toxic Trio” in Douglas County—blocked a straightforward resolution designed to start the process of filling the seat. Continue Reading »

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September
2nd 2016
Long Weekend, Short Videos: New Freedom Minutes Promote School Choice in CO

Posted under Educational Choice & Just For Fun & Public Charter Schools & Video

It’s the Friday before a holiday weekend, which I know means that you’re all looking for a big, heavy, policy-focused blog post to round out the week. No? That’s not what you want? Alright, fine. We’ll keep it light and fun. And what could be lighter and more fun than a cute kid talking about school choice?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present Jordan Smith in two brand-new Freedom Minutes. The first video is all about Jordan’s charter school in Jefferson County, Goldenview Classical Academy. You may remember that GVCA has been the subject of some pretty ugly attacks recently—attacks that I’ve spent considerable time debunking. But nothing I write could ever be as compelling as hearing about the school from one of its student fans firsthand, so I will simply shut up and allow Jordan to do the talking. Check it out:

In the second video, Jordan uses her charm to promote the newly redesigned School Choice for Kids website. This site is designed to empower parents by helping them navigate the complex educational choice landscape in Colorado and find the best school for their children. And because the Education Policy Center believes in helping as many parents as possible, the site is also available in Spanish. Check out Jordan’s video below, then surf around on the site yourself to see what a great tool it is. Don’t forget to share!

I hope everyone has a great, relaxing Labor Day weekend. I’ll see you back here next week!

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August
31st 2016
A Field Trip to STEM School and Academy

Posted under Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools

Those who know me know that there are few things I love more than getting out and visiting schools. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life as an edu-nerd. Spreadsheets, data, laws, and studies are very much my bag. But those things can never truly convey the power of education to change lives and help kids reach their full potential. Education has always been, is now, and will forever be a fundamentally human undertaking that has to be observed firsthand to be fully appreciated.

We’ve talked quite a bit about the moving stories of unique private schools in Colorado, which are laid out nicely by my policy friend Ross Izard in his Profiles in Private Education series. But there are plenty of inspiring stories in the public school system, too, and those stories deserve to be told. That’s why I was so excited when I received a comment from a woman named Denise Gliwa on one my posts inviting me to visit a unique charter school in Douglas County School District called STEM School and Academy. Denise works at the school, and she thought I might be interested in seeing STEM in action. She was right.  Continue Reading »

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August
26th 2016
2016 Ed Next Survey Data Released

Posted under Accountability & Educational Choice & Grades and Standards & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & Tax Credits & Teachers & Tenure & Testing & Union & Vouchers

If there’s one thing I look forward to most every year, it’s the release of new survey data on education opinions in America. I’m just kidding. I obviously look forward to Christmas most. But new survey data is a close second.

About this time last year, we were gleefully digging through the results of the 2015 Education Next and Gallup/PDK education surveys. The latter poll, you may remember, is not really one of my favorites when it comes to fairness and a general lack of bias. We’ll have to wait a bit longer to see if this year’s version is a little more credible. In the meantime, we can chew on the generally more convincing Education Next results for 2016.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Education Next poll, it gathers a nationally representative sample of adults (about 4,000 this year) and asks them questions about just about everything you could ever imagine related to education. There is tons and tons of useful, interesting information buried in this year’s results and the accompanying narrative summary and interactive graphs, but we’ll just focus in on the big stuff for today. Continue Reading »

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August
19th 2016
Louisiana’s Lesson: Attacking Private School Choice Hurts Public School Districts

Posted under Educational Choice & Research & School Finance & Vouchers

Buckle up, friends. We’re heading back to Louisiana for today’s post. Figuratively, of course—Louisiana isn’t exactly somewhere I’d like to be in person right now. Here’s hoping everyone stays safe down there.

The good news is that we get to remain dry (literally and figuratively) in our chairs and take a look at yet more research related to educational choice in Louisiana, this time on the financial consequences of scaling back the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). Those who argue that private school choice sucks money out of public education may want to brace themselves; today’s post may cause severe damage to their inaccurate worldview. Continue Reading »

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August
18th 2016
New School Year, New Assessment Data

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

As I mentioned last week, it’s back-to-school season in Colorado. As it turns out, it’s also get-your-test-scores-back season. Yes, that’s right. We have a whole raft of new data to dissect and discuss. Hooray!

I see you looking at your calendar, and I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t students take these tests like, last spring? Well, yes. Yes, they did. And you’re not the only one who finds the delay perplexing. As it turns out, that reporting lag causes some major problems for local school and district leaders looking to make adjustments for the new academic year. To make matters worse, the recently released PARCC scores only cover state-level data. That means district- and school-level data in English language arts and mathematics won’t be available until later this month.

In fairness, releasing the scores in August is significantly better than releasing them in, say, November. And I should mention that scores from the older TCAP tests were also released in August. Still, one of the promises of computer-based online testing was that it would get valuable data into the hands of educators faster. That simply hasn’t happened. Maybe the delay has something to do with the fact that 2015 testing compromise legislation added the option of taking a paper-and-pencil version of the test, but I’m not sure that explanation will do much to bolster support for the faltering PARCC assessments.

But we can save a discussion on the merits of PARCC itself for another time. We have data to look at, including data from Colorado’s own CMAS tests in social studies and science and from the venerable ACT. Continue Reading »

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August
11th 2016
New Dougco Ruling Stretches Logic, Hampers Choice

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Douglas County & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Vouchers

Yesterday, we celebrated the continuing success of public school choice by taking a look at some very encouraging findings in Colorado’s public charter school sector. I mentioned in the post that despite the rapid expansion of charter schools, demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to school choice—there are thousands of students on charter waiting lists and in lottery pools across the state.

Yet even as I type this, between 10,000 and 15,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools. Each of those seats represents the opportunity to change a student’s life, but that doesn’t stop choice opponents from fighting tooth and nail to shut down any attempt to open the door to those opportunities.

Sadly, these opponents scored another win against choice in Douglas County last week when 2nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez—the very same judge who blocked the original Dougco voucher program in 2011—ruled that the district’s new local voucher program, which excludes faith-based schools, is still bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s sweeping 2015 ruling under Colorado’s Blaine Amendment. Continue Reading »

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