May
20th 2016
Commissioner’s Resignation Shatters Friday Quiet

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Education Politics

Yesterday, we took a philosophically taxing tour through the moral stickiness of education. I had hoped that today would be a good chance to cool off and talk about something a little less heavy. No such luck.

If you pay even a little attention to the education scene in Colorado, you probably heard that Commissioner Rich Crandall stepped down from his post yesterday afternoon. Continue Reading »

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May
19th 2016
Tough Choices and Doing “The Right Thing” in Education

Posted under Edublogging & Graduation & Principals & Teachers

It’s graduation time across Colorado and the nation. Happy kids everywhere are moving up a grade, finishing school, or digging in to do some more work over the summer. I think that’s fantastic, but I was reminded today of a different perspective while I was perusing my daily flood of education news, blogs, and columns.

Brace yourselves. Today’s post is a little squishy. Stop scowling. We five-year-olds are allowed to be squishy sometimes.

Most of you probably know that despite some amazing success stories, I have serious questions about number-gaming when it comes to graduation rates. The same applies to rates of advancement in lower grades. But I will admit that I have not spent a lot of time pondering the issue in terms of the potentially agonizing decisions teachers and school leaders have to make when it comes to sending kids out into the real world—or holding them back.

That perspective, and the important philosophical questions it raises, popped into the ol’ thinker this afternoon as I read a guest post on Rick Hess’s blog. Written by Meira Levinson, a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the post puts forward a fictional scenario involving an underprivileged eighth-grader at the end of a school year. The big question at the end: What is the right thing to do? Continue Reading »

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May
13th 2016
New Study Studies Studies on School Choice

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

Well, friends, the 2016 legislative session is officially a done deal. I’ll have an official wrap-up (autopsy?) for you next week, but for now we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the crush of state-level education politics will recede for the most part until the fall. That leaves plenty of time to nerd it up, and nerd it up we shall.

Let’s get the policy party started today with a new study out of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform. Written by M. Danish Shakeel, Kaitlin P. Anderson, and Patrick J. Wolf, the study takes a look at the effects of private school choice programs around the world. Or, rather, the study looks at studies on the effects of private school choice programs around the world. That makes it a “meta-study.” Today’s lesson in impenetrable academic jargon: Studying studies yields meta-studies. You’re welcome.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: I have a love-hate relationship with meta-studies. On one hand, comprehensive examinations of previous research are enormously valuable for those of us who swim in policy waters. On the other hand, they can easily fall victim to cherry picking, or the tendency to pick only studies that agree with whatever point you want to make. Then you have the issue of ensuring that the studies you are studying with your meta-study are actually decent—a question that often leads to screening processes that can, once again, easily fall victim to bias. That’s why you so often see meta-studies on the same subject reaching entirely different conclusions.

As a matter of fact, this particular meta-study is largely intended to correct what the researchers see as flaws in previous reviews of school choice research. Continue Reading »

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May
6th 2016
Waivers, Waivers Everywhere

Posted under Accountability & innovation schools & Public Charter Schools & School Board & Traditional Public Schools

A couple of weeks ago, I provided a rundown of the legislation still pending in the 2016 legislative session’s busy final days. One of the bills lingering out there is HB 16-1343, which seeks to eliminate automatic waivers for charter schools. As I’ve said before, there is little danger that the bill will survive. But that won’t stop the teachers union and its allies from using it as an opportunity to pontificate about those evil, nasty, no-good charter schools.

And pontificate they have. CEA has published all manner of charter-related ugliness on its Twitter account, and has supported 1343 on its website. More recently, the often icky Colorado Independent jumped on the bandwagon with an article accusing charters of “dodging Colorado laws”—likely after all the more credible news outlets declined to become mouthpieces for union propaganda.  But hey, I guess some folks have to take what they can get.

Anyway, the Independent article focuses on the union’s central messaging plank: That the waivers granted to charter schools create an unfair ability to shirk legal requirements that other schools have to follow. Why do charters deserve equal funding, they ask, if they don’t have to play by the same rules as traditional public schools? Traditional public schools do not have a way to waive out of these requirements, after all. Right? Wrong. Let’s talk. Continue Reading »

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May
4th 2016
Inadequate Funding or Inadequate Information?

Posted under Education Politics & Media & School Finance

Welcome back, friends. I apologize for my absence during the second half of last week. Do you have any idea how busy an intrepid policy explorer like myself gets in the closing weeks of the legislative session? Plus, I had to carve out some extra time to watch interesting education TV shows hosted by my Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard. See here for a segment on charter funding equity, and here for one of my favorite Colorado private schools, Arrupe Jesuit High School.

I’m sorry I left you hanging. But now we’re back. And we’ve got some serious edu-policy work to do. Today’s topic: school finance in Colorado. No, no. Don’t run. I promise it’ll be (mostly) painless.

I started thinking about how important it is to get accurate information out there about school finance in Colorado when I read a Colorado Public Radio story about our state’s supposed failure to adequately fund its public schools despite a “booming” economy. Continue Reading »

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April
26th 2016
2016 Legislative Session Sprints Toward Finish Line

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s already the end of April. That means another legislative session is winding down, its drama and intrigue fading quietly into the warmth and relaxation of summer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are 336 bills still pending in the legislature, including 51 that are at least peripherally related to education. All of those have to be dealt with by May 11. Colorado’s lawmakers have a lot left to do under the dome.

Of course, those lawmakers have already done a lot of work, some good and some bad. We’ve talked about a number of high-profile bills over the course of the session, including a couple bad bills on accountability, one of which died rather spectacularly, and a bill intended to bolster floundering civic knowledge. We’ve also discussed a variety of other bills, some of which got pretty interesting.

As the session ramps up for its final weeks, I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on some of the more interesting education-related bills still lingering in halls of the Colorado Capitol. This stuff gets complicated, and tracking it all at once can be a bit like juggling a hundred balls of different shapes and sizes. On fire. With a blindfold on.

We won’t hit everything, but we’ll hit the big stuff. Continue Reading »

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April
22nd 2016
Catching up on Some Exciting Policy Work

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado General Assembly & Edublogging & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

It’s Friday! Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and Little Eddie is wearing shorts at work. That’s right, shorts. I’ll be putting those shorts to good use this afternoon when I head to the Denver zoo for a fun safari.

You probably guessed that all of that information is leading to the part where I say that today’s post will be quick and easy. You are correct. There’s a ton of stuff to talk about, including a disturbingly Masters-like state supreme court ruling on teacher tenure in North Carolina, the Colorado Senate Education Committee’s laudable work in passing Senate Bill 16-188 on equitable charter funding last night, and a whole raft of new and interesting research. We’ll get to all that—or at least a lot of it.

For now, though, I think it would be good to catch you up on some of the very cool work being done by my policy friends at the Independence Institute. In fact, let’s do that with a list. Everyone likes lists. Continue Reading »

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April
20th 2016
Vergara Overturned (For Now), But the Conversation Continues

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Teachers & Tenure & Union

Two weeks ago, I expressed my ambivalence toward the courts (again) while talking about a creative workaround for a Washington Supreme Court decision declaring charter schools unconstitutional. I then mistakenly allowed myself to believe we would be free of legal discussions for a while. No such luck. And this time, stuff’s complicated.

Last week, a California Court of Appeals panel overturned the now-famous Vergara v. California ruling. For those who don’t remember, this ruling struck down California’s teacher tenure statute along with other seniority-based policies like the state’s last-in-first-out (LIFO) dismissal policy, which paid no heed to effectiveness. Why? Because the court determined that those policies disproportionately harm low-income and minority students, thereby violating the California Constitution’s requirement that the state provide a “meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity” to all students.

A raft of evidence presented by the plaintiffs—a groups of students—and their attorneys showed that seniority-based personnel policies, and especially policies like tenure that make it nearly impossible to let ineffective teachers go, are bad ideas. Continue Reading »

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April
15th 2016
It’s Time for Fairness for Colorado Charter Students

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

Earlier this week, we celebrated the addition of some exciting new numbers to a Colorado Department of Education spreadsheet. Today, we’re going to talk about a new bill that will make some existing spreadsheet numbers—numbers with dollar signs in front of them—a whole lot more equitable for Colorado charter schools.

In case you missed it, there was a big press conference down at the Capitol last week, at which a bipartisan group of charter supporters unveiled a package designed to fairly fund Colorado’s charter kids. SB 16-188 would require school districts to—wait for it—actually fund all of their public school students equitably rather than playing favorites. Or, as Chalkbeat put it in the article linked above:

Charter school advocates Thursday launched an effort to gain what they call a “more equitable” share of local funding through two bills to be introduced in the state Senate.

I take issue with the pseudo-sarcastic use of quotation marks around “more equitable,” which seem to subtly imply that there might not be a real problem here. I assure you there is. As a matter of fact, let’s take a few minutes to talk about that problem. Continue Reading »

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April
12th 2016
Turning Over a New Leaf: Better Turnover Figures Make Me Smile

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Douglas County & Education Politics & Jefferson County & School Board & Teachers

There are a lot of exciting days every year. Christmas, Easter, snow days, and my birthday all spring to mind immediately. But for education nerds, there’s no day more exciting than New Numbers Day. Today, my friends, is that day.

Okay, New Numbers Day was technically April 7, when the Colorado Department of Education released brand-new, more accurate teacher turnover numbers for school districts across the state. But we’re going to talk about it today, and one of the benefits of entirely made-up holidays is that you can have them whenever you want. So there.

Regular readers of my diatribes will remember that I am not a fan of the way CDE has reported teacher turnover in the past. Why? Because the Department included a whole bunch of stuff that created an inaccurate picture of actual turnover in school districts. More specifically, the state’s old calculations included teachers leaving after riding out their final year of employment under PERA’s 110/110 program, the ones scooped up as additional losses due to differences in reporting timeframes between the district and the state,  those on single-year contracts, and others who were promoted or moved to non-teaching positions in the district.

That last part is especially problematic. Continue Reading »

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