October
23rd 2014
Building a Well-Rounded Education: Field Trips and Hamlet with Dr. Jay Greene

Posted under reading & Research & writing

Sometimes my mom pokes fun at my dad for being a little portly. His response is always the same: “I’m just a well-rounded individual.” But while my dad’s goal (every year) is to make himself narrower around the middle, that may be exactly the opposite of what we want to see in our children’s education.

Jay Greene, already one of my favorite academics due to his work on school choice, has most recently taken to arguing for wider ranging liberal (no, not that kind of liberal) education in American schools. He begins a recent post on the topic thusly:

Some people seem determined to narrow education.  I’ve been trying to make the case for a well-rounded, liberal education, but that idea has less support than I realized.  In their effort to maximize math and reading test scores, schools have sometimes narrowed their focus at the expense of the arts and humanities.

That narrowing focus often cuts programs like art, music, drama, field trips, and extracurricular activities. Continue Reading »

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October
22nd 2014
Silly Season Won’t Last, So Find Out Candidate Stances on Key K-12 Issues

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers

Oh, it’s the silliest, silliest season of the year. How do I know? My grandpa muttering under his breath when one more irritating political ad interrupts his otherwise enjoyable viewing of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. And the other night my mom crumpling up the latest campaign attack flier that came in our mailbox and finally telling dad they need to turn in their ballots “to stop the madness.” Yes, it’s less than two weeks until Election Day 2014.

Above the fray comes the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Max Eden noting how little this year’s prospective political officeholders are saying about the things that affect my world, things like Common Core standards, tenure reform, and school choice:

A systematic analysis of campaign Web sites for the 139 major party candidates for governor or U.S. senator (there is no Democrat running for the Kansas Senate seat) shows that most hopefuls have little to say on any of these pressing questions.

Call me curious, or call me crazy. This little piece prompted me to check out Colorado’s own major party candidates — including two guys running for governor and two running for U.S. Senate. What do they have to say about K-12 education matters? After all, maybe we’re part of the exception here, or maybe there’s more to the story that AEI seeks to tell. Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2014
COLA Wars: Yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court Ruling on PERA

Posted under School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

My parents don’t often let me drink soda, but I like to think of myself as a Coca-Cola guy. Pepsi just doesn’t quite do it for me. And don’t even get me started on the off-brand colas. Big K Cola? Yuck!

I have to admit, though, that I haven’t yet tasted this PERA COLA thing I’ve heard so much about. Maybe that’s for the best; judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen to yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling on the issue, I’m thinking I’d probably find it a bit too heavy.

I wrapped up last week’s policy adventures by writing about Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which provides pensions for many Colorado’s public school teachers (roughly  and a large number of other public employees in the state. In that post, I briefly mentioned a 2010 bill that aimed at partially correcting one of PERA’s biggest problems: Unfunded liabilities.

While that bill was a small—perhaps inadequately small—step in the right direction for Colorado, it required some tough changes to be made. Among those changes was a reduction in annual cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for those covered by PERA’s pensions—including the more than 100,000 retirees who are already receiving benefits. More specifically, the bill cut yearly COLA increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent or inflation, whichever happens to be lower.

As you may have guessed, this move made some folks rather unhappy. A lawsuit was filed, legal battles were fought, and the case eventually wound up in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The question: Does the 3.5 percent yearly COLA increase represent a contractual, constitutionally protected obligation for PERA?  According to the Court, the answer is no. Continue Reading »

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October
20th 2014
Serious Discussion: Common Core Missteps Demand a Smarter Response

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Choice

I’ve discovered a new way to make myself the least popular kid on the playground or at a birthday party. All I have to do is just come running in and say with my outdoor voice, “Hey, who wants to have a serious discussion about Common Core?” Rolling eyes. Blank stares. Condescending sneers. Befuddled head-shaking. I’ve seen it all. I might as well be offering to sell my parents’ old set of encyclopedias. But I’m here today to press on and help us get closer to the core of the Common Core debate.

Some of you might be saying: “Look, there goes that [little Eddie] rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Knowing how toxic the name “Common Core” has become, I think it makes sense to migrate straight past stories about inscrutable “Common Core” math algorithms and dismissive retorts from advocates about those hayseed “Common Core skeptics.”

If you want to be far smarter about this controversial topic than all of your friends, and help lead our state to a happy solution, you simply have to start by reading Rick Hess’ new National Affairs piece titled “How the Common Core Went Wrong.”

It’s a fairly lengthy essay, but one that sets the stage with thoughtfulness, candor, and precision. The idea of voluntary common educational standards that states can adopt has a lot of merit. Yet from the top, Hess offers plenty of criticism of the approach taken by Common Core backers. The different pieces come together in a way that reveals not necessarily a bad idea or malicious intent, but something more akin to poor judgment. The standards were: Continue Reading »

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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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