Archive for June, 2008

30th 2008
Breaking the Law to Continue Social Promotion Doesn’t Really Help Kids

Posted under Denver & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Research

Holding back kids who have failed, rather than just pass them on to the next grade and the next teacher, is an education policy that strikes a lot of people as good common sense. But, of course, good common sense does not prevail so often in large public education bureaucracies.

Apparently, in some cases, following the law can be a problem for public education bureaucracies, too. The brilliant Jay Greene writes about Georgia school officials who flouted a law that required students to pass a test in order to move up to the next grade:

In Clayton County 97 percent of students who failed the re-test to get promoted or simply didn’t take the re-test were promoted to the next grade. When asked about why these students were promoted, the District issued a statement that said, “the philosophy of prior administrators was to promote students who failed and provide them remediation.”

Oh. I see. The law says that students unable to pass the state’s test ought to be retained but Clayton County school officials had a different philosophy. Their philosophy was that they don’t have to follow the law.

Jay knows this is more than just a problem of disobeying the law. From his earlier research, he has found that the anti-social promotion reform strategy actually works:

In a study I did with Marcus Winters that was published in Education Financial and Policy, we found that retained students significantly outperformed their comparable peers over the next two years. In another study we published in the Economics of Education Review, we found that schools were not effective at identifying which students should be exempted from this test-based promotion policy and appeared to discriminate in applying these exemptions. That is, white students were more likely to be exempted by school officials in Florida from being retained, but those students suffered academically by being exempted.

So some Georgia school officials are ignoring a state reform that would actually benefit students? I’m still young enough to be shocked by this, I guess.

All this makes you wonder why the state of Colorado or Denver Public Schools doesn’t pursue this type of reform, a key part of the ongoing Bruce Randolph School success story. A lot of adults out there seem to want to “help” kids by promoting them for not having learned what they should. Are you really helping us, though? Self-esteem can’t be manufactured; self-esteem follows success.

Speaking of which, my Colorado Rockies could use a real self-esteem boost, and soon.

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27th 2008
Oklahomans Give Thumbs Up to School Choice – What Would Colorado Say?

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & School Finance

The Friedman Foundation is one of the biggest supporters of school choice for parents in the U.S. Lately they have been going from state to state asking people their views about education. Their most recent stop is Oklahoma. Some of the findings were quite telling:

Nearly two out of three Oklahomans are content with current levels of public school funding. A large majority of voters (64 percent) say Oklahoma’s level of public school funding is either “too high” or “about right.” At least 67 percent of the poll’s respondents underestimate the state’s actual per-pupil funding, which suggests that the funding satisfaction level is probably a conservative figure.

More than four out of five Oklahomans would prefer to send their child to a school other than a regular public school—only 17 percent say a regular public school is their top choice….<

Oklahoma voters value private schools—they are more than twice as likely to prefer sending their child to a private school over any other school type. When asked “what type of school would you select in order to obtain the best education for your child?” 41 percent of respondents selected private schools….

Interestingly, these results are largely consistent with the findings of the Friedman Foundation’s surveys in seven other states. Some details vary from state to state, whether citizens more strongly favor a voucher system, tax-credit scholarships, or charter schools.

But the point is that demand for school choice is growing among parents across state boundaries. Maybe someday one of these surveys will come to Colorado, and we can get a clear idea just how strong residents here support more educational options. I would guess support here is at least as strong as in Oklahoma and other places.

In the meantime, we’ll keep helping Coloradans understand just how important choice is to ensuring the best possible education for thousands of kids like me.

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26th 2008
Florida Initiative Raises Question of Mixing Good Policy and Popular Politics

Posted under Education Politics & Research & School Choice & School Finance

When it comes to school choice and education reform, quite often good politics and good policy are at odds with each other. That’s one thing to draw from reading this post from Tampa Bay education writer Jeffrey Solochek about an initiative on Florida’s ballot this year:

Teachers unions and their traditional allies filed suit against Amendment 9 two weeks ago, but they aren’t the only ones taking issue. A couple of prominent education researchers also see something wrong here.

Jay GreeneJay Greene and Frederick Hess can hardly be accused of being fellow travelers. Greene is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Hess directs education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. But neither are fans of the “65 percent solution.” And neither likes the way Amendment 9 – pushed by Jeb Bush stalwarts on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission – melds the 65 percent idea with a different policy issue involving vouchers.

What exactly is the problem? Well, thanks to the results of numerous top-notch studies, we know school vouchers “are better supported by top-quality empirical evidence than any other education policy.” But the history of vouchers succeeding at the ballot box has been less than stellar. Fresh on reformers’ minds is last year’s 62-to-38 percent defeat in Utah. Going back even further, an attempted 1992 initiative in Colorado lost by an even wider 2-to-1 margin.

Frederick HessOn the other hand, the “65 percent plan” has an initial popular appeal to voters (though Colorado struck it down pretty handily in 2006). So proponents have calculated that tying the two together on the same ballot initiative will help expand school vouchers in Florida. Is it a good political strategy? My friends at the Education Policy Center aren’t sure, but they do know that the “65 percent plan” makes for not-so-good policy (explained by Jay Greene here and by Frederick Hess here).

This year might just give us more proof that successful reform and popular politics don’t always mix.


25th 2008
Account of Ethiopia’s Segregationist Education Gives Needed Perspective

Posted under Independence Institute & International

This post is a little different than many of the usual ones here, but sometimes it’s good to expand our horizons. My parents say that’s an important part of a good education.

Well, anyway, a couple months ago, the Education Policy Center (the whole Independence Institute really) made a new friend in Ethiopian journalist Habtamu Dugo, who fled his homeland to avoid persecution from the government. Here’s a 5-minute video in which Habtamu tells his own story:

Now living in the United States, Habtamu recently wrote about the problems with his nation’s education system, particularly how the government’s repressive segregationist policy is so harmful to the ethnic groups not represented by those in power. Continue Reading »


24th 2008
Denver, Detroit Catholic Schools Save Families Money through Work-Study

Posted under Denver & High School & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & School Choice

The Michigan Education Report, run by a sister think tank Mackinac Institute, highlights an innovative cost-saving, Catholic school model in Detroit:

Tuition costs have been cited as a factor in the closing of more than 1,000 Catholic parish schools across the country in the past two decades. The Cristo Rey model addresses that problem by requiring students to spend four days in the classroom and one full day working each week. Their earnings go toward their school costs. In Detroit, the work-study program will bring down the family contribution to an estimated $2,200 per year, according to Earl Robinson, president of Detroit Cristo Rey. The school will work to help parents who can’t afford even that much.

The Cristo Rey model not only brings costs down, but introduces students to the working world, helps them develop work ethics, assists them in making career choices and, Robinson pointed out, lets them write a resume upon graduation that includes four years of work experience and four references.

At the State Policy blog, John LaPlante suggests this kind of innovation helps to answer the objection that vouchers won’t fully cover private school tuition costs.

Those raising the objection could also look to the foot of the Rocky Mountain West, at Denver’s Arrupe Jesuit High School, which has a similar work-study program that keeps tuition costs down. As a feature in last year’s Denver Post showed, Arrupe Jesuit’s innovative approach – combined with rigorous standards and high expectations – has been making a real difference among a high-poverty student population.

Now if only tax credits or publicly-funded scholarships could be provided to ensure more Colorado students had access to such innovative programs.

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23rd 2008
How the Other Side Keeps Colorado Families from the Schools They Want

Posted under Public Charter Schools

I’ve told you about examples of charter school success in Colorado and about Denver parents demanding more public charter school options. If you’re new to the scene, however, you might be wondering why there aren’t enough charter schools to meet the demands of parents (and kids like me).

In a great post, Colorado Charter Schools guru Denise highlights a teachers union attack on charter schools in Delaware, and then brings the topic closer to home:

Don’t expect the teacher’s union to make a frontal assault on charter schools — not when they’re so popular with parents and teachers. Speaking negatively about charter schools would never work.

Instead, “limit the number of charters,” which in Delaware means putting a moratorium on the number of approved charter applications and keeping the focus on districts’ losing money. Other strategies could include:

  • Limiting the number of authorizers, or eviscerating alternative authorizers;
  • Raising the application approval bar so high that almost no one can meet the requirements (all in the name of holding high standards, of course); and
  • Ensuring that heavy-handed authorizers retain total control in both the big things and little things.

Oh, but that might sound like Colorado and not Delaware…

Denise makes a great point. The teachers union and other establishment groups that would just as soon see charter school competition disappear can’t politically afford to make the “frontal assault.” But they’ve tried (and unfortunately succeeded in) their share of legislative and procedural flank attacks along the lines she describes. All effective ways to severely slow the growth of charter schools and to keep thousands of families on waiting lists rather than allowing them the quality educational options they seek.

If you’re interested in Colorado education issues, you really should be reading what Denise has to say. Bookmark her site for regular visits.

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20th 2008
Your Summer Homework: Learn about New School Choice Programs

Posted under Independence Institute & School Choice

It’s exciting to see how much school choice has grown lately (even though it would be better to see some of it happening here in Colorado). I’ve told you about new programs in Georgia and Louisiana just in the past several weeks.

Well, if you want to get a sense of all the different private school choice programs out there, you have to check out the Independence Institute’s “Voucher and Tax Credit Programs in the Nation” page. The page has just been updated by Marya, one of the nice people here in the Education Policy Center.

I know it’s summer, so I can’t stand to think much about school either. But if you want to get a good historical picture of school choice in the United States, you also should read the newly-updated report by senior fellow Krista Kafer.

So check out the updated web page and the updated report. Think of it as your homework assignment: a fun homework assignment. Besides, it’s not really that much to read and it’s not due right away either. Back to the playground!

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19th 2008
Colorado Can Do More to Open Teaching Doors to Talented Outsiders

Posted under Research & Teachers & Urban Schools

Are our schools and officials doing enough to ensure that enough skilled and effective candidates are getting into classrooms to teach kids like me? A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests the answer is still No, but a successful program is showing there’s hope for more change:

Unions keep saying the best people won’t go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What’s going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money – the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy. Participants need only pass academic muster and attend the summer training before entering a classroom. If they took the traditional route into teaching, they would have to endure years of “education” courses to be certified.

The American Federation of Teachers commonly derides Teach for America as a “band-aid.” One of its arguments is that the program only lasts two years, barely enough time, they say, to get a handle on managing a classroom. However, it turns out that two-thirds of its grads stay in the education field, sometimes as teachers, but also as principals or policy makers.

The article goes on to point out some of the positive outcomes from a new study on the effectiveness of Teach for America. Brooke Dollens Terry, a friend of the Education Policy Center who does similar work in Texas, followed up with a letter to the Journal that hit the nail on the head:

If America wants to increase learning and help its students compete with other countries, states should examine the Teach for America model closely and evaluate if their state certification policies encourage or deter the brightest individuals from entering the classroom.

Colorado is doing well in some areas of teacher quality, but we certainly can do better.

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18th 2008
Will Congress Really Rob 1,900 D.C. Kids of Educational Opportunity?

Posted under Parents & School Choice & Urban Schools

I recently found this disturbing story about a threat to school choice for needy kids way across the country in the District of Columbia:

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is in doubt. This program—which is currently helping 1,900 disadvantaged kids attend private schools—is set to expire next year if Congress doesn’t extend it. The Post reports that D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is championing an effort to kill the program.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program gives low-income students scholarships worth up to $7,500 to attend a private school in the nation’s capital. It has proven widely popular with parents. Since 2004, approximately 7,200 students have applied for scholarships through the program—about 4 applications for each scholarship.

D.C. parent Maritza White tells what school choice has meant to her son

This piece from Dan Lips at the Heritage Foundation documents the success of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and offers recommendations for improving the program through expanded school choice.

But the best proof that Congress should take its hands off D.C. parents’ educational opportunities comes from a terrific website that lets parents whose kids have benefited from the program tell their own stories. What kind of elected official would want to take away opportunity from these families she is supposed to represent?


17th 2008
Kudos to Rural Colorado Parents for Forging New Educational Opportunity

Posted under Parents & Public Charter Schools & Rural Schools & School Choice

Sunday’s Steamboat Pilot and Today provides a great example of how parents can take the initiative to create a public charter school that has the opportunity to thrive in a more rural setting:

Although its halls have been devoid of students for years, the former McCoy Public School will get a new life as a charter school next fall, serving young minds from Toponas to Wolcott.

In less than a year, what began as a cooperative homeschooling movement for families in McCoy, Burns and Bond “took on a life of its own,” said Dawn Mutchelknaus, mother of 4-year-old Jayden. The effort’s goals and geographic reach expanded to a full-fledged charter school, home to students in kindergarten through third grade, first through an online program and eventually through Eagle County Schools.

Kudos to parents in Colorado’s northern mountains for working together to create a new educational opportunity. If it were me, I’d be thankful for a great school to attend and not have to ride in the bus all those extra hours. What a great idea!

The other good news is that there still is a lot of new wonderful schooling opportunities out there just waiting to happen.

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