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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September
10th 2014
Not a Walk in the PARCC: Testing and Local Control In Colorado

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & innovation schools & School Accountability & School Board & State Board of Education

I wanted to open this post with a cute joke rhyming joke, but it turns out nothing rhymes with local control, Common Core, or assessments. Unfortunately for you, this means you get serious Eddie today. Maybe it’s for the best—issues surrounding testing, local control, and the Common Core are pretty serious these days.

As the debate over Common Core and its associated assessments continues to heat up, things are likely to get even more serious. The argument for local control in testing is growing louder and stronger, and leaders at every level of the Colorado education system are beginning to ask very serious (and very important) questions about where power ought to reside when it comes to standards and assessments.

Today, those questions were most prominent at a State Board of Education meeting in Denver. Toward the end of a meeting segment aimed at better understanding assessment options in the state, both Vice Chairman Marcia Neal and Chairman Paul Lundeen voiced concerns about increasing federal influence in Colorado’s education system. Lundeen called on Colorado to find ways to return power to the local level while maintaining acceptable levels of accountability.

Both members acknowledged that any major change will take time, further research, and possibly even legislative action.  Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2014
Let’s Take a Smart Ride into a Dynamic Educational Future

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Choice

My vision of Colorado’s educational future certainly looks humble and limited, though let’s be honest, it isn’t ridiculous. Personally I’m a bigger fan of Transformers, but for some the “future” conjures up pictures of a kind of Star Trek sci-fi world. Maybe not enough to convince them to speak exclusively to their own children in the Klingon language.

Or at least, if they do opt for that road less taken, they ought to think twice about running for school board. If for no other reason, prominent education reform thinkers like Checker Finn long have been speculating about the democratic school board model going the way of the horse and buggy. (An unfuturistic futurist?)

Now, writing for the think tank Finn ran until recently, the insightful Andy Smarick takes on the theme again. He writes for the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog about the “obvious problems” with the “unitary system,” in which school districts having control over all public schools in a geographic area. Continue Reading »

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September
8th 2014
Onward and Upward: Jeffco Forges Ahead with New Pay Model

Posted under School Accountability & School Board & Teachers

A while back, I wrote about a proposal in Jefferson County that aimed to reimagine the way the district’s pay structure works. The proposal generated much huffing and puffing by the teachers union. Happily, this has not resulted in them blowing the proverbial house down. In fact, the school board voted last week to press forward on a more sensible pay system.

The most interesting parts of the model’s newest iteration are the details, which a recent story in Chalkbeat outlines rather well: Continue Reading »

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September
5th 2014
Michigan Judge Calls Out Union Opt-Out Policy as Unfair to Teachers

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Teachers

My dad once told me a story about when he was a little kid, not much older than I am now. He saw one of the bigger kids on the school playground holding a few of the smaller kids’ lunch money hostage. This bully said he had taken their money for the privilege of being his friend, and that he might give the money back if they individually came to meet him right after school in the back alley.

Overhearing the bully’s explanation was my dad, who came into the scene, shouting, “Hey, that’s not fair! Just give their money back.” As the story is told, the bully turned to my dad with a clenched fist held up, and a mean look on his face: “Shut up, you little [doodyhead]!”

“If you don’t give them back their money, I’m going to tell the teacher,” my dad bravely continued.

The bully looked even angrier. “Brilliant idea,” he said sarcastically. “If the teacher finds out, we won’t be able to play ball out here anymore. Obviously, you just want to ruin recess for everyone.” Continue Reading »

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September
4th 2014
Make Progress, Not War: Thompson’s Golden Opportunity for Change

Posted under Education Politics & School Board

Cooperation is the key to success. It sounds trite, I know. In my world, most major arguments are settled with wrestling matches or food fights. In grown-up land, however, those aren’t always viable options (or are they?). No, adults have to learn to work together even when they don’t want to. Maybe especially when they don’t want to.

While all school boards have their ups and downs, the Thompson Board of Education has had a particularly hard time cooperating recently. Their meetings are often chaotic, public comments are often invective rather than helpful, and the board has been all but paralyzed by a web of interpersonal and political issues too complex to dig into here.

The end result has been a lack of progress. This has fueled frustration and heightened stress levels, both of which have—wait for it—led to a continuing lack of progress. I think I finally understand the “vicious cycles” my parents are always alluding to.

Yesterday, however, Thompson’s school board took what I hope will be the first of many steps toward a healthier, more orderly, and more productive situation. Continue Reading »

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