Archive for May, 2008

May
30th 2008
A Cautious Hooray for the Newly-Signed Innovation Schools Act

Posted under Denver & Governor & Innovation and Reform

It’s always a little scary when the legislature is in session making new laws that affect education. But one bill the governor signed yesterday gives a little hope for some real positive changes:

Bruce Randolph Middle School led the way and now all schools in Colorado will have the opportunity to become autonomous.

“A status quo approach is no longer working and in fact is hindering our ability to graduate our students with skills they need to succeed in a global economy,” said Colorado Senate President Peter Groff.

Wednesday morning, Gov. Bill Ritter was joined by staff members and students at Bruce Randolph during a bill signing that would allow schools to break free of a certain district to have more decision making power as it relates to students, staff, and budget.

National education reform writer Joe Williams took the opportunity to send “bigtime kudos” to Senator Groff for his leadership in bringing forward this bill – known as the Innovation Schools Act.

The bill certainly didn’t end up as strong as it could have, after being watered down by the teachers union. But it should be easier now for schools to break free from some of the red tape that keeps them tied up. Only time will tell just how much easier it will be. But Denise, the Colorado charter school lady, explains why the waivers made available through this new law can be so important to school success – success that will matter to kids like me.

6 Comments »

May
29th 2008
Indiana Teacher Calls 5-Year-Old Names: Could She Be Fired in Colorado?

Posted under School Choice

The education writer and blogger Joanne Jacobs points to a news story about an Indiana public school teacher who was really mean to a 5-year-old boy in her class:

Ignorant. Pathetic. Self-absorbed.

Those are some of the harsh names an Indiana kindergarten teacher called one of her students, and the boy’s parents captured it all on tape.

So what happened to the teacher?:

After 13 years of teaching, Woodward has been suspended indefinitely, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association.

The teachers’ association is defending Woodward, saying that she “lost her cool” that day and hasn’t had a chance to tell her side of the story.

From this story we also learn:

Woodward — who already was planning on moving to Pennsylvania this summer — told Mooney that this situation taught her a lesson: To never teach in a public school again. Mooney said Woodward will consider teaching at a private school with hopes that things will be handled differently.

It’s sure hard to tell a good reason for the teacher to have said what she did, but what if she didn’t already happen to be leaving? In Colorado, the schools would have to go through this long, costly process to remove her. Doesn’t seem right, does it? It seems like there should be better ways to make sure the best teachers are in classrooms for me and my friends.

No Comments »

May
28th 2008
Just Giving Jeffco Schools The Money They Ask for Won’t Fix the Problem

Posted under Governor & Independence Institute & School Choice & School Finance & Suburban Schools

Update: Pam let me know that a couple things quoted from her interview with 9News weren’t quite right. So I’ve marked them below.

Yesterday, Education Policy Center Director Pam Benigno spoke out about a proposal to raise school property taxes in Jefferson County:

“Well, I think this is definitely not a good time,” said Pam Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center within the Independence Institute. The Independence Institute is a Golden-based, non-partisan government watchdog group.

Benigno says the homeowner should not have to shoulder the burden of JeffCo’s increasing costs.

“I think that this is, this is too much,” said Benigno. “However, the system is the problem. They will always need more money.”

Benigno claims that while attending a meeting on the 2004 bond election [it was actually many years before that], a district staffer told her JeffCo plans on a bond issue or mill levy increase once every four or five years.

“As a citizen of Jefferson County, that really makes me uncomfortable to know that they’re planning on raising my taxes every five years,” said Benigno. “And, this time, this has been only four years.”

Benigno says the district should take a hard look at the way teachers are paid and restructure the system so it is more efficient. She says JeffCo should concentrate on offering students more school choice and be a stronger advocate for charter schools instead of just asking for more money from a population that is aging and contains fewer school-aged kids.

“Well, the problem is nobody really knows how much they need,” said Benigno. “Part of the government bureaucracy is to always need more money.”

I know you often hear some people say that they want to do things “for the children,” but in this case it’s not clear actually how much this money will help the children. We’ve seen there is no connection between spending increases and improving student outcomes. Pam is right: Jeffco needs to start responding better to parents’ demands for different kinds of school choices for their kids first.

Still, seeing Colorado’s largest school district begging for money once again leaves me with a lot of questions, like: How much of the hundreds of millions Jeffco spends gets to the classroom now? How effective is that money being used in the classroom? Shouldn’t it be easier for my parents and other people who pay taxes to see just exactly how that money is being spent? And besides, didn’t the Governor already raise school property taxes?

1 Comment »

May
23rd 2008
Denver Should Go Forward in Rewarding the Best Teachers

Posted under Denver & Innovation and Reform & Teachers

The Denver Post says that the city’s teachers union is about ready to throw under the bus an innovative pay plan, including huge pay raises for newer teachers:

Talks fell apart May 16, and teachers Monday petitioned the Colorado Department of Labor to take over negotiations — an initial step before a strike could be called.

Perhaps the most contentious issue is ProComp — the system that has caught the eye of national education experts as a merit-pay plan embraced by the union….

Under the district proposal, a teacher would get $3,000 for working at a high-poverty school, choosing a hard-to-fill position such as special education or math, or teaching in a high-performing school.

Sixty-three percent of teachers would get three or more incentives, DPS officials say.

On average, teachers would receive $6,000 in incentives, said Tom Boasberg, DPS chief operations officer. Annual starting pay would rise from $35,000 to $44,000.

District officials want to pay teachers more for good performance and to recruit top-notch teachers with higher salaries. Kids like me all over Colorado need high-quality teachers to give us the best educational advantages we can get. I hope the two sides can come to an agreement that benefits Denver’s kids.

No Comments »

May
22nd 2008
Public Education Really Needs to Focus More on Helping Boys, Too

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Research & School Choice

Some people just don’t want to believe that more boys than girls have a hard time in our education system. The really smart Jay Greene points out the problems with such a new report:

The American Association of University Women released a report this week attempting to debunk concerns that have been raised about educational outcomes for boys. The AAUW report received significant press coverage, including articles in the WSJ and NYT.

But the AAUW report simply debunks a strawman — er, I mean — strawperson….

Jay Greene goes on to explain how the AAUW report ignores the problem that boys are under-performing in our schools. Joanne Jacobs says the report is missing a big part of the point, too, and concludes: “Focusing more on the learning needs of boys isn’t necessarily bad for girls.” I still think girls are yucky, but Ms. Jacobs has a point.

The authors of the AAUW report should have read what Independence Institute senior fellow Krista Kafer had to say last year for the Independent Women’s Forum. I agree with Krista: Parents know what’s best for their boys and their girls, and should be given more school choice to meet the unique needs of each child.

No Comments »

May
21st 2008
Charter School Receives Recognition as Top-Rated Colo. High School

Posted under High School & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

The 2008 edition of the Newsweek and Washington Post annual Challenge Index – which “measures a public high school’s effort to challenge its students” – was released this week. One Colorado high school made the top 100 nationwide: Lafayette’s Peak to Peak Charter School, which ranked #40.

The Colorado Charters blog has posted some information from the press release:

The highly accredited college-prep K-12 charter school opened as an elementary school in 2000, and has grown to over 1300 students in grades K-12 in 2007. Peak to Peak High School offers a rigorous liberal arts curriculum including AP classes, highly acclaimed fine arts and state championship athletics. The three graduating classes to date average a 99 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of the 93 graduating seniors in the class of 2008 have been accepted to a college of their choice. The 81 2007 graduates were offered over $4 million in scholarship money. Ten 2008 seniors qualified as National Merit Finalists, over 10% of the senior class, and eight additional students received Commended recognition. Sixty-two students qualified for Advanced Placement Scholar distinctions based on the 2007 AP exams taken last spring.

Even though high school is a long ways off for me, I’d like to congratulate Peak to Peak for the well-deserved recognition. As always, parents can find information on Colorado public schools like Peak to Peak and other options that may be near them at the School Choice for Kids website.

1 Comment »

May
20th 2008
“Minimum-50″ Grade Proposal: Wrong Approach for Colorado

Posted under Grades and Standards

From USA Today:

In most math problems, zero would never be confused with 50, but a handful of schools nationwide have set off an emotional academic debate by giving minimum scores of 50 for students who fail….

Their argument: Other letter grades — A, B, C and D — are broken down in increments of 10 from 60 to 100, but there is a 59-point spread between D and F, a gap that can often make it mathematically impossible for some failing students to ever catch up.

“It’s a classic mathematical dilemma: that the students have a six times greater chance of getting an F,” says Douglas Reeves, founder of The Leadership and Learning Center, a Colorado-based educational think tank who has written on the topic. “The statistical tweak of saying the F is now 50 instead of zero is a tiny part of how we can have better grading practices to encourage student performance.”

Hey, it sure sounds good to get half-credit for doing nothing. But I think in the long run it won’t help me to have this kind of policy. I sure hope there aren’t any Colorado school boards that latch on to this idea. Students need truly high standards and high expectations.

No Comments »

May
19th 2008
Roy Romer’s Answer Points to Reason to Come See Flunked: The Movie

Posted under Governor & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform

Roy Romer is the former governor of our state and leader of a national group that wants politicians to talk more about education.

This very important man sat down with Berny Morson from the Rocky Mountain News to answer five questions. Here’s the very first thing Gov. Romer said:

Since ’83, we’ve really made relatively little progress, we’ve really been static. The rest of the world has been going up very rapidly.

Among 30 industrial nations, we’re 25th from the top in math. We’re 21st from the top in science. Other countries have made great progress. Poland, South Korea, Singapore, Finland, Canada – we simply have not kept pace with the progress in education worldwide. Graduation will occur in a couple of weeks, and nearly 1.2 million kids won’t graduate who should have graduated. We have a real crisis on our hands.

A good reminder for people around Denver to come out this Wednesday, May 21, to see Flunked: The Movie. Gov. Romer might want to see the successful innovations featured in the film, innovations that offer hope to America’s public schools.

Time is running out to sign up for this exciting, limited-space event.

No Comments »

May
16th 2008
Arizona Judges Strike Down Opportunity for Disabled, Foster Kids

Posted under School Choice

Yesterday I mentioned that Florida is seeking to get rid of the bigoted Blaine Amendment, which some opponents of school choice use to take away opportunities from kids in need.

But even in states that don’t have the Blaine Amendment, judges can use parts of the state constitution to strike down school choice programs. Witness yesterday’s decision from a court in another state:

It is unconstitutional for the state to give parents money to help pay private-school tuition for their disabled or foster children, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided Thursday.

Kids with disabilities and foster kids? That’s harsh.

The 2006 law violates the state Constitution’s ban on using public money to aid private schools, the panel said.

“The tuition payments aid parents, not schools,” said attorney Tim Keller, who argued to save the tuition payments, known as vouchers. “The intent of the legislation was to help families get their disadvantaged children the best education available.”

This news is sad to see. But at least the good people at the Institute for Justice are going to challenge this case to the Arizona Supreme Court.

No Comments »

May
15th 2008
Florida Looks to Lead the Way in Ending Blaine’s Education Bigotry

Posted under Independence Institute & School Choice

According to the Washington Post, voters in Florida have a chance to remove the bigoted Blaine Amendment from their state constitution. The Post points out that the Blaine Amendment has been used in different states to discriminate against certain kinds of educational opportunities:

Patricia Levesque, the commission member who pushed to add the measure, said she acted because a 2004 appeals court decision cited the Blaine Amendment while striking down then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s effort to allow students in failing schools to enroll in parochial and other private schools at public expense.

Independence Institute senior fellow Krista Kafer, while she still worked at the Heritage Foundation in 2003, noted the background that put the offensive Blaine Amendments in 37 states (including Colorado):

Vestiges of an anti-Catholic movement, these provisions are named after Congressman James Blaine of Maine for his efforts to add such language to the U.S. Constitution. In the mid-nineteenth century, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry found expression in American institutions and politics. The emerging public schools were commonly Protestant in character, requiring, for example, the reading of the Protestant King James Version of the Bible in classrooms. Efforts to secure funding for Catholic schools were resisted. After the Civil War, a new wave of anti-Catholicism found a friend in U.S. Representative James Blaine of Maine, who hoped to prevent the funding of “sectarian” institutions through the adoption of a Constitutional amendment. Although he failed, his efforts and those of similarly minded individuals are felt in thirty-seven states (but not Maine).

I’m watching from Colorado and rooting – like Mike Petrilli on the Flypaper blog – that Florida does the right thing and gets rid of the awful Blaine Amendment.

1 Comment »

Next »