20th 2015
Change is in the Air — I’m Just Getting a Little Older, Though, Not Going Away

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Parents & School Board & School Choice

Maybe it’s because it’s the Friday before Thanksgiving, or maybe it’s because a couple of my really good Education Policy Center friends are picking up and moving to another state, but I’m not really keen on writing another long post today.

Change is in the air — change that I didn’t wish for, and change that will merit me keeping an eye on. I’m not just talking about the fact that, according to increasingly loud rumors, the Broncos’ great QB Peyton Manning may be ready to hang up his cleats once and for all (thanks to Complete Colorado for helping me to find this piece).

No, more fitting to my world, as part of Election 2015‘s Empire Strikes Back theme, union-backed candidates swept back into power in Jefferson County and Thompson, while reform opponents gained a foothold in Douglas County, the most interesting school district in America. Sad perhaps, but silver linings remain. Continue Reading »

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19th 2015
New Research Shows Negative Union Impact on Education Outcomes

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Board & Teachers & Union

Starting discussions about the role and effects of teachers unions certainly is one way of pouring cold water on a party or social event. A lot of the topics surrounding K-12 education policy and reform can be emotionally charged.

But if you want to step back from the heated discussions and consider what the research has to say… well, frankly, there isn’t a huge record to fall back on. If you remember back a couple years (when I was still 5), I shared about a new study that purported to draw a connection between higher teacher union dues collection and lower student proficiency.

At that time, I also highlighted the only two other known pieces of quality research that spoke to the question. Back in 2007, Dr. Terry Moe from Stanford found that at the local level, restrictive collective bargaining provisions negotiated by teachers unions “has a very negative impact on academic achievement,” especially among more challenging student populations.

Then there’s the ideal state-level laboratory test case of New Mexico, which Benjamin Lindy’s analysis for the Yale Law Journal demonstrated “mixed results from union bargaining power, better SAT scores but more poor kids dropping out of high school.”

Well, a new, rigorous state-level analysis reassures us that Colorado’s education labor terrain stands us in stronger stead to help students succeed than many other states do.

Writing for Education Next, Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen unpack the long-term effects of states that mandate school districts give unions local bargaining monopolies. Removing other factors from the equation, the authors reach some interesting conclusions about the impacts of going to school in a “duty-to-bargain” state: Continue Reading »

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17th 2015
Union Silliness Brightens My Snowy Day

Posted under Education Politics & Union

A little humor is always appreciated on a cold, snowy day like today. I could tell you knock-knock jokes, or show you a video of kittens chasing balls of yarn, or maybe even share a witty meme. Or, I could just talk about the latest antics of the teachers union.

Most of my faithful readers know that I tend to find some type of  entertaining irony—or hypocrisy, or bewildering logic, or ulterior motive—in a great deal of what the teachers union gets up to. Maybe that’s because I’m an evil, mindless Koch puppet, or maybe it’s because the unions are actually prone to saying and doing patently absurd things when they think doing so may help out a political cause. I tend to believe the latter, and would like to offer two further pieces of evidence to support my case this morning.

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of reading an article about NEA’s push to “address income inequality” from Tom Gantert of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center (where, incidentally, my policy friend Ben DeGrow will soon be working). All things considered, such a position isn’t very surprising on its face. Unions of all stripes do, after all, hold themselves out as populist bastions of hope for the working class.

Unfortunately, union leaders seem to be a lot better at talking the talk of the everyman than they are at walking the walk. From the article:

Former NEA President Dennis Van Roekel made $429,509 in salary and had a total compensation of $541,632 in 2014 in his final year as NEA president, according to a financial report the union filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia succeeded Van Roekel as president of NEA in September 2014. She is one of the high-profile signers of the Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality, a movement to collect signatures from celebrities and high-powered professionals in support of national laws addressing issues such as paid sick leave, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit subsidy, and raising the federal minimum wage.

In 2014, as vice president of the NEA, Garcia had a $262,521 salary and a total compensation of $345,728.

Nothing says “man (or woman, if we have to be politically correct) of the people” better than a compensation package of more than $300,000. Continue Reading »

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13th 2015
New PARCC Scores Are Ugly, but the Real Question Is Why

Posted under Accountability & Research & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice & Testing

(An important note for today’s post before we get started: PARCC results cannot and should not be compared to previous TCAP or CSAP results. Seriously, don’t do that. Yes, I’m looking at you.)

A lot of kids my age would love to go to the park on a fine Friday like this one. I, however, feel obligated to spend some time trudging through a PARCC of a different sort today. Buckle your seatbelts for some intense nerdery.

Yesterday saw the release of Colorado’s first-ever PARCC results. For those not in the edu-loop, PARCC is Colorado’s new statewide assessment in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. It officially supplanted the TCAP last school year.

Many of you probably know that PARCC hasn’t exactly been happily embraced. A great many states have run away from it like scalded dogs (note that the number of PARCC states is now six, with D.C. tacked on for good measure) despite recent changes designed to make the test less onerous.

Given all the hubbub, saying that folks on all sides of the issue were anxiously anticipating these results would be an understatement. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), those results were less than flattering. I’ll let you dig through the nitty gritty numbers if you’re so inclined. For now, we’ll just hit some highlights and look at a couple of nifty charts from an excellent Chalkbeat Colorado article on yesterday’s score release. You should definitely go read that article, and this one, if you’re into charts as much as I am. You can also play around with their cool database tool if scrolling through PDFs isn’t your thing.

Chart from Chalkbeat Colorado

Chart from Chalkbeat Colorado

Continue Reading »

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12th 2015
Federal Court Voids Intrusive Anti-Choice Order, Makes Me Smile

Posted under Courts & Federal Government & Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice

In the recent busy season, there hasn’t necessarily been a lot of different things to tell you about. But the coverage has been thick. And after all that — including everything from telling reformers to keep their chins up to unpacking ugly smear columns — little me is eager, practically desperate, to talk about good news and spread a little cheer.

Yesterday I ran across just such a story that made me smile. I first learned of the big judicial win for Louisiana kids from, of all places, the American Federation for Children:

“Today’s decision is a win for children, especially the more than 7,100 children who rely on the Louisiana Scholarship Program to attend a quality school of their parents’ choice,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. “The U.S. Department of Justice attempted to play politics and was caught red handed and reprimanded by this Court.”

Bingo. What exactly is the backstory? Well, I’m glad you asked. Continue Reading »

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11th 2015
Ugly Smear Column Tries, Fails to Shove Conservative Education Reform Aside

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & Privatization & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice & State Board of Education & Teachers & Union

I hope you all enjoyed a nice, long break from recent depressing edu-happenings over the last few days. I also hope that your disappointment is tempered by hope for the future. As my friend Ross Izard pointed out in a recent op-ed—and as my dad always says—it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.

I never have figured out who that fat lady is, but I’m pretty positive it isn’t Michael Vaughn, a former DPS spokesperson turned communications director for Education Post. Mr. Vaughn recently wrote a post-election Denver Post op-ed about the fact that “real” reform is winning in Colorado. It’s a rather nasty piece in which he celebrates reform victories in Denver while all but dancing on the graves of conservative education reformers around the state.

When I look at what conservative education reform folks have pushed for over the past few years in Jeffco, Thompson, Dougco, and other districts, I see a long list of meaningful reforms. New curricula, new charter schools, pay-for-performance systems, equal funding for charter students, collective bargaining reform—you name it, it’s there. But that doesn’t seem to qualify as true reform for Vaughn, who instead offers this definition of the term:

I know there’s no tried-and-true definition of reform, but there are generally accepted reform stances: school choice/charter schools; Common Core; annual, federally mandated standardized testing; teacher and school accountability. So let’s see how the losing candidates stand on these issues.

He goes on to hammer Dougco for applying for a State Board of Education Waiver from PARCC testing, taking school choice to “an extreme” with its local voucher program, “busting the union,” and “jamming” policies down teachers’ throats. He then implicitly extends most of those critiques to Jeffco, and adds an astonishingly unsophisticated take on the A.P. U.S. History fiasco that fails to acknowledge the fact that despite Julie Williams’ blunt approach to the situation, conservative concerns about the framework were ultimately validated by the College Board itself.

Sadly, those flubs are far from the worst the column has to offer. Continue Reading »

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5th 2015
Yes, Election Night Happened, But Keep Your Chins Up, Colorado Reformers

Posted under Courts & Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

Yeah, yeah, yeah, school board elections happened in Colorado this week. Ok, so I promised to give you a full report yesterday. But I got a little busy crying in my Cheerios with some important stuff to do.

Do I really need to review what happened with the Teachers Union Empire Strikes Back? After all, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow donned his Captain Obvious hat for Chalkbeat Colorado, observing “You can’t deny it was a setback for conservative reform at the school board level in Colorado. The unions had their day. There’s no doubt about it.”

Another of my Education Policy Center friends, Ross Izard, did a pretty good job laying it out in more detail. He optimistically notes that conservative education reformers have been bruised, but not beaten by the big recall in Jeffco or setbacks in a number of other districts: Continue Reading »


3rd 2015
Elections and Budget Gaps Make for a Really Interesting Education Week

Posted under Education Politics & School Finance & State Legislature

Tonight is the night, my friends. Tonight is the night that the future of local education reform is decided in our backyards. You can bet that Ed will be watching the events unfold, and that I’ll be giving you a full report tomorrow. You can also watch a few of the big districts, including Jeffco and Dougco, on the nifty Chalkbeat election tracker.

I’m hoping Chalkbeat will add Thompson, Adams 12, and Colorado Springs 11 (and District 38) before tonight, but that probably won’t happen. I’d also love to see Steamboat included, especially given recent developments there. Fortunately, you can follow those results directly (assuming the counties are on their game) through the relevant county websites by clicking the name of the district in the sentences above.

I know we’ve all got some butterflies in our stomachs today, so let’s not linger too long on the elections. Instead, let’s talk about budgeting. Nothing calms people down faster than making them look at a bunch of numbers, right?

Not in this case. Yesterday, Governor John Hickenlooper’s office put forward a new budget plan that forecasts a $373 million funding gap. That alone is likely to raise a few eyebrows and turn some folks red. The proposed balancing remedies may actually cause heads to explode as if someone turned up their phasers a bit too high. You know, like this:


Continue Reading »

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30th 2015
Don’t Fall Victim to MisNAEPery

Posted under Accountability & Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & math & reading & Research & Testing

It’s NAEP season, my friends. The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress results were released this week to a barrage of spin, rhetoric, and general “misNAEPery.” I’ve mostly seen this misNAEPery pop up in the form of certain folks using the data to show that education reform efforts aren’t working. (For now, we’ll ignore the crushing irony of using test scores to prove that testing isn’t valuable.) That’s a bummer, so let’s spend a few minutes today talking about what this year’s results do and do not mean.

First, let’s talk briefly about the results themselves. Chalkbeat ran a pretty good piece on Colorado’s 2015 NAEP scores that included some nifty graphs. Nifty or not, however, I take some issue with the graphs’ reliance on percentages of kids scoring proficient or better rather than scale scores. Not that I blame Chalkbeat for going this way; graphs showing what appears to be actual change are a lot more exciting than what you get when you look just at scale scores over the past ten years. Those graphs look like this:

Continue Reading »

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29th 2015
Look Under the District 38 School Board Campaign Mask

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Union

The week of Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I can practically taste the candy in my mouth right now. One of the perks of being a perpetual 5-year-old is the unending chance to go Trick-or-Treat year after year without any sense of self-consciousness or guilt.

It also happens to be nearing the peak of crazy season with school board elections a mere 5 days away. I wish these two simultaneous happenings were just an unhappy coincidence. There’s more than meets the eye, though.

In the past, little yours truly has dressed as Mr. Potato Head and the Incredible Hulk. This time around, I’m going as a Super Secret Ninja Spy. Yet while Halloween-style dress up and make believe is perfectly fine for the younger set, that’s not so much the case when it comes to important races deciding who sits on school boards.

Coming to mind quickly, of course, is the union-backed “Clean Slate” candidates in Jeffco who claim to be independent in the nonpartisan election, while spending nearly two-thirds of all their campaign funds on Mad Dog Mail, “a Florida-based advertising firm that works exclusively with Democrats.”

Meanwhile, up in Thompson, you have incumbent school board member Denise Montagu not reporting $2,500 given by the Colorado Education Association, and then returning the same-sized contribution from another out-of-town teachers union.

A truly prime example can be found, though, in one of the lower profile Board of Education races, in northern El Paso County’s Lewis Palmer School District 38. There, as in a number of districts this year, some reform-minded candidates are opposing candidates who are more closely connected with the K-12 establishment. Continue Reading »

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