October
17th 2014
The Unfair Retirement PERA-chute: New Group Pushes for Pension Reform

Posted under Education Politics & School Finance & Teachers

Happy Friday, readers. I know we’ll all be starting our weekends in a few hours, but I think there’s time to squeeze in just a little more education policy before then. Today’s topic: reform efforts centered on Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

I’ve written about PERA and some of its pitfalls before, but let’s recap briefly for those who are new to the discussion. PERA is Colorado’s public employee pension plan, and the program covers a variety of public employees. Many of those employees are—you guessed it—public school teachers.

While the phrase “pension plan” sounds decidedly innocuous, PERA has been criticized frequently. Among other things, the scheme has been knocked for tying Colorado to some pretty nasty unfunded liabilities and unfairly penalizing young or new public employees.

Although a 2010 bill attempted to address some of PERA’s problems, it may not have fully righted the listing ship. Now, though, the winds may be starting to shift. Continue Reading »

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October
16th 2014
New Florida Video Sounds the Call for Return of the School Choice Jedi

Posted under Courts & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits & Urban Schools

A little over a month ago I pointed out how the Empire is striking back through the courts against successful school choice programs that help students and satisfy parents. The main front in the attack is Florida, where the teachers union and school boards association have sued to stop issuing tax credits, a way of taking away thousands of K-12 scholarships. Rather than have me explain, let’s turn to Denisha Merriweather:

Continue Reading »

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October
15th 2014
Dangerous Decoration: How Much is Too Much for the Classroom?

Posted under Early Childhood & Just For Fun & Research & Teachers

My English classroom has a fish in it. No, not a real fish. A fish sticker. A shiny fish sticker with glittery scales, blue eyes, and an intriguingly amused expression on his (her?) face. Sometimes it feels like the fish sticker is staring at me. Have you ever tried reading or writing with a shiny fish sticker staring at you? It’s tough. And I often find myself staring back.

As it turns out, I may not be the only little guy distracted by certain classroom decorations. According to an article on NBC News this week, some teachers are beginning to take steps to reduce those distractions by stripping some of their classroom decorations.

The crusade (okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement) against decorations is partially based on a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon that found highly decorated classrooms can affect the learning of young students. Continue Reading »

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October
14th 2014
Two New Columns Bring Us Back to Reality in Jeffco Public Schools

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & High School & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

It’s time to cut through the fog. Pieces of misinformation about the Jeffco school board have become so rampant that, even with your low-beams on, you’re bound to run into one or two of them. To deny the concentrated campaign of union field-tested talking points has been effective at increasing the numbers and volume of the opposition would be to deny reality. Just like it would be to swallow the talking points whole.

As this new Townhall column by Colorado’s own Mark Baisley reminds us: Continue Reading »

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October
10th 2014
News From the Mothership: USDOE’s Response to CO Testing Questions

Posted under Education Politics & innovation schools & Middle School & School Board & State Board of Education

A month ago, I put on my policy explorer cap and attended a Colorado State Board of Education meeting. At that meeting, a panel of CDE employees presented a whole bunch of information on testing in Colorado. More specifically, they went into some depth on the various aspects of local control as they relate to PARCC testing in the state. At the time, the panel was waiting for a response from the mothership (also known as the U.S. Department of Education) on a few of their stickier questions.

Well, that response has finally been beamed back. Notably, the sci-fi analogy doesn’t seem so farfetched when one looks at DOE’s response document—it actually feels like reading a document written in an alien language. Fortunately, Chalkbeat has provided a helpful summary for those who, like me, find legalese to be far more terrifying than extraterrestrials.

After deciphering DOE’s hieroglyphics, the document has some disappointing—albeit unsurprising—answers to the panel’s questions. In brief, Colorado doesn’t have much wiggle room when it comes to testing this year. Continue Reading »

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October
9th 2014
Education Reform Times May Be A-Changin’, But Not for All

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers

A long time ago, during an era known as “The Sixties,” there was a popular song called “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Or so my Grandpa tells me. Apparently, it’s a sort of iconic piece about all the upheaval that was starting during this distant past. I have to say it’s a catchy tune, too.

Because it occurred to me as I perused this latest piece by the venerable long-time education reform Checker Finn, called “Time for a reboot” (my Dad says I should have referenced his old computer’s experience with the “blue screen of death,” but I digress). The pro-Common Core author acknowledges some of the complaints made about standardized testing and says reformers need to back away from “test-driven accountability” as a “primary tool”:

The wrong answer is to give up (or declare victory) and settle for the status quo. Far too many kids are still dropping out, far too few are entering college and the work force with the requisite skills, and far too many other countries are chowing down on our lunch.

Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.

Oh, it sure sounds like the times they are a-changin’! Finn says more emphasis needs to be placed on areas I’ve written a lot about here, including providing more quality choices, using technology to differentiate instruction, and letting the dollars follow the student. Bingo! Continue Reading »

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October
8th 2014
A Show in Jeffco: Last Week’s Meeting and What Lies Ahead

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Teachers

As you may recall, I went to a party last Thursday night. Sadly, I didn’t find the snacks I was promised (though not for lack of trying). What I did find was a relatively small room absolutely packed with cameras, tension, and people wearing cheaply designed custom t-shirts. And snacks or no snacks, I got quite a show.

The meeting began with more than two hours of public comments. Some of these comments were entertaining, but others were so venomous that I felt compelled to cover my little ears. Threats were issued, ultimatums were given, and political potshots were taken. Many (many) thousands of up-twinkles were given. And through all of this, the board majority listened patiently and without reaction. That’s pretty impressive.

But the public comments were just the beginning. Shortly thereafter, the real fun started as the board began discussion on the “censorship” issue” that has rocked the district in recent weeks. Superintendent Dan McMinimee offered a pretty reasonable compromise that restructured the district’s two existing (and rather mysterious) review committees instead of pursuing an amended proposal for a new committee. Continue Reading »

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October
7th 2014
Falling Membership Decline Begs Question: Is Time on the NEA’s Side?

Posted under Education Politics & Teachers

Time is not on my side today, which means I have only a few moments to write something. Which is interesting. Because as Mike Antonucci reports, time doesn’t seem to be on the side of the National Education Association, either: Continue Reading »

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October
3rd 2014
Power to the Parents: Colorado Comes in 12th in CER Report

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Accountability

Today, the battle continues in Jeffco following the school board’s very reasonable vote on the curriculum review controversy. But we’ve talked about Jeffco a lot recently, so I think it’s time to look at something a little more uplifting. And what could be more uplifting than empowering K-12 parents to make good decisions about their children’s educational paths?

Like a zealous English teacher, the Center for Education Reform (CER) loves to grade stuff. Most recently, I wrote about Colorado’s grade (and how it was calculated) when it comes to voucher programs. Now, the organization has released a report ranking each state based on what it calls the Parent Power Index (PPI). The scores are calculated using a variety of criteria ranging from school choice and teacher quality to transparency and media reliability.

Colorado barely missed a top-ten slot in this year’s report, coming in at number 12 with a PPI of 76 percent. Continue Reading »

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October
2nd 2014
Big Screen TVs and Backward Protests: Pass the Popcorn, JCEA

Posted under learning & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

If you haven’t heard the news, boys and girls, there’s going to be quite a party in Jefferson County tonight. And it sounds like it’s going to be a biggin:

Turnout is expected to be so high that the teachers’ union plans to stream video from the meeting room — which holds a couple hundred people — on a big screen in the parking lot outside. Students are making plans to start their protests early in the day.

Big screen TV, you say? I’m sold. But wait, there’s more! Continue Reading »

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