Archive for July, 2008

31st 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: Early College High School Arvada

Posted under High School & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Suburban Schools

For students or parents of students on the verge of entering the high school years, a new option is opening up this fall in Jefferson County, just west of the Denver city limits. The Early College High School (ECHS) at Arvada begins its first day of classes for 9th-graders only on August 18. Eventually, ECHS will serve all four high school grades, and is scheduled to graduate its first class in 2012.

Authorized by the Charter School Institute board, ECHS at Arvada touts itself as a small school. In fact, the facility space – a former credit union office currently under renovation – will be able to serve only up to 450 students.

But the real appeal of this charter school, located just east of Sheridan Blvd. on 60th Ave., is the design to help kids earn both a high school diploma and up to 60 transferable college credits in their four years. This dual-enrollment program especially is aimed to help young people whose families have limited background and financial resources that would allow them to enter the world of postsecondary education.

It’s not too late to enroll in ECHS at Arvada. If you need to find out more, though, you may attend one of the upcoming information sessions:

  • Tonight, July 31, 7:00-8:30 pm, Regis Room, Carol Hall, Regis University
  • Monday, August 11, 7:00-8:30 pm, the new school building at 4905 W 60th Ave.
  • Thursday, August 14, 7:00-8:30 pm, 4905 W 60th Ave.

ECHS at Arvada also is hosting an open house this Saturday, August 2, from noon to 4 pm.

Other new schools featured: AXL Academy, The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch


30th 2008
New NCTQ Report Rightly Calls for More Research on Teacher Union Impacts

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Research & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

Okay, I think it’s a long and boring paper, but Ben in the Education Policy Center says the new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality is very important.

What it boils down to is there are a lot of rules, mostly written by well-meaning people, that end up negatively affecting how well kids learn in the classroom. The NCTQ report Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining proves the realization that more damage is often done by lawmakers at the state level than by the private union negotiations at the local level.

The report’s authors say there are three major reasons this “preeminence of state authority” is so poorly misunderstood:

  • The old media doesn’t much either understand or pay attention to the issues that govern education–namely, “few have focused on the outsized influence of the teachers union in the statehouse.”
  • Neither school district or union officials have a vested interest in bringing public attention to their private bargaining sessions. Short of threats to strike, the media doesn’t get how the issues that are negotiated locally have an impact on education’s bottom line.
  • Few scholars have researched the impact of collective bargaining on — or “the origin and history of state involvement in” — public education. Into this vacuum, pro-union and anti-union ideologies devolve into shouting matches.

Terry MoeOne good example of research that others could emulate can be found in Dr. Terry Moe‘s Collective Bargaining and the Performance of Public Schools. Interestingly, my friends in the Education Policy Center also are among the few that have paid attention to these issues. The Independence Institute has focused on these broader concerns through local Colorado examples, with such reports as Take Public Funds off the Negotiating Table and Nullifying the Probationary Period.

Because more research is badly needed, the general proposal of the NCTQ report is a great idea:

Better data and more transparency can dismantle myths and assumptions about collective bargaining and the role of unions, calling to task ideologically based positions. It is the surest path to achieving more informed negotiations and responsible results out of statehouses and decisions that are geared toward the best interests of school children.

Hey, that includes me! Okay, I guess I like this report, too.


29th 2008
New CSAP Scores Tell Colorado It’s Time to Advance in School Reform

Posted under Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Accountability & School Choice & State Legislature

There’s a big hubbub today about CSAP results being announced. For those of you who don’t know, CSAP stands for Colorado Student Assessment Program – it’s the battery of tests in reading, writing, math, and science that help people to see how well schools and students are performing. The folks in the Education Policy Center and others like them get really excited on days like this, because of all the new information and what story it might tell. I guess this year is really special, because a new “growth model” has been introduced that allows for better measurement of individual student and school progress from year to year.

Me? I haven’t had to take any CSAPs yet – frankly, I could do without tests altogether. But I understand why many people might think they are important.

Anyway, the Rocky Mountain News has the basic rundown on the latest CSAP scores, and once again, hoped-for progress is not being achieved:

Results were up in 11 of the 24 tests given in reading, writing and math in grades 3 through 10. Scores were down in seven tests and unchanged in six.

Reading and math scores were generally up, with more grades seeing declines in writing.

Combining all grades, 67.8 percent of test-takers achieved proficiency in reading — considered grade level. In writing, 53.4 percent were proficient or above and, in math, 53.2 percent achieve proficiency.

On the state science exams, given only in grades 5, 8 and 10, 45.8 percent of students scored proficient or above.

Older grades continued to produce the lowest scores. Fewer than half of the state’s ninth- and tenth-graders were proficient in writing and math.

Not so good. The Republicans in the state senate are saying this is all the more reason for advancing education reform, and not taking any steps back:

Senator Nancy Spence

[Assistant minority leader Nancy] Spence, a veteran voice for education reform at the Capitol, also denounced repeated attempts by some legislative Democrats to gut the hotly debated CSAP testing program.

“They don’t like getting bad news. Well, neither do I,” she said. “Just because kids aren’t making significant gains on the test doesn’t mean you throw it out. You don’t shoot the messenger, you fix the problem.”

I can’t help but agree with Senator Spence. Colorado took a small step forward in school autonomy and innovation this year, but it isn’t time to give up on accountability and it’s definitely time to move forward on empowering parents through school choice.

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28th 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: AXL Academy

Posted under Elementary School & Middle School & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

I took a short vacation, but I’m back now. Thanks for your patience while I was gone. Now seems like a good time to continue our introduction to new charter and option schools in Colorado.

The AXL Academy in Aurora, starting with 240 students in Kindergarten to 5th grade next month, is promoting what it calls a “Revolution in Learning”:

All college prep schools expect students to excel in a rigorous academic program. But AXL asks more: that students discover how they learn, that they take intellectual delight and responsibility in their education, and that they gain the courage and integrity to negotiate the futures they create. AXL is committed to preparing all students to succeed in college and careers of their choosing.

Eventually, AXL Academy will grow to serve students up through the 8th grade. Each grade will receive an emphasis in experiential and project-based learning, in addition to character education, from a smiling faculty and staff – including head of school Audra Philippon.

What is different about AXL Academy? While the school is co-ed, the classrooms will be divided between boys and girls. And students will attend on a year-round basis with shorter breaks between each of the three trimesters. Class is in session Monday to Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, except for Wednesdays – which will release early at 1:00 PM.

For information on all your education options in Colorado, don’t forget to check out School Choice For Kids.

Other New Schools Featured: The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch


23rd 2008
Jeb Bush’s Stellar Education Reform Record Worthy of Colorado Emulation

Posted under Education Politics & Governor & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & School Accountability & School Choice

Probably the best state for Colorado or any other to look to as a model in education reform is Florida. Education reform was the primary focus of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during his eight-year tenure, and he was able to make progress on many fronts. The remarkable success yielded by years of systematic advances in school choice, accountability, standards, and teacher pay makes the Sunshine State worthy of emulation:

Government-gathered data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that Florida has outpaced Colorado and the national average in nearly every measure of math and reading proficiency.

Dan LipsIn that light, it was important that Heritage Foundation education policy analyst Dan Lips was able to sit down and interview Jeb Bush (H/T Matt Ladner) at a recent education reform summit in Orlando. Here are a few key excerpts of Bush’s remarks from the interview transcribed at National Review Online:

We need all schools — here in Florida and in 49 other states — to get better for our country’s future. The only way to improve student performance is through continual and perpetual reform of education. America needs a 21st century education system for a 21st century world….

Raising standards, measuring progress, grading school performance, providing educational options and targeting resources to reward success and reverse failure are all tools that are transforming schools and raising student achievement.

However, success is never final. I hope we never stop trying to implement more innovative and audacious reforms….

I also believe we need to better apply free-market principles to the way we deliver education in order to improve the entire system. We should expand educational options so all parents can make the best choices for their children. Teachers and principals should be paid based on performance. Educators that teach subjects with a shortage of teachers, teach in low-performing schools or carry increased responsibilities should be paid more. We should also give merit pay to teachers based on student learning gains and other objective measures….

People from across the ideological spectrum can agree that improving the quality of education for students from every background, from pre-K through high school, is the great challenge of our time. We need to put partisan rhetoric aside and work together to raise student achievement through reforms that produce measurable results.

Go and read the whole thing. For the sake of myself and other kids, too, it would be great if Colorado could have a leader as bold, articulate, and visionary as Jeb Bush.


22nd 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch

Posted under Elementary School & Parents & Principals & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Today’s post is the first in a series on new charter or option schools opening up in Colorado this year. I’m out there keeping an eye on developments in the world of education that are important to parents. This definitely includes knowing about specific new options that may happen to be in your area or the area of someone you know, with a child who might fit well into the school’s environment.

Our first featured school is The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch – located in the Falcon School District on the east side of Colorado Springs. The Academy is scheduled to open its doors for the upcoming 2008-09 school year. A temporary facility (pictured at right) will be used for the first year, while the permanent site is under construction.

Catering to students in kindergarten through 6th grade in its first year, the Academy will a use the Core Knowledge curriculum, and has school uniform requirements. Check out the school’s website for access to much more information on enrollment, program, staff, and more.

The Academy is the first of two schools being opened by principal and charter school developer Tina Leone, under an operating agreement with the national non-profit Imagine Schools.

For information on all your education options in Colorado, don’t forget to check out School Choice For Kids.


21st 2008
I’m Sure Glad Cars Aren’t Produced Using the Education System Model

Posted under Parents & Research & School Choice

While comparing education to cars isn’t a perfect fit, there is a lot to be learned from the comparison. As a thought experiment, the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson examines the change in costs and productivity in America’s education system and applies it to the automotive world (H/T Joanne Jacobs):

What would the U.S. automobile industry look like if it were run the same way, and had suffered the same productivity collapse, as public schooling? To the left is a 1971 Chevrolet Impala. According to the New York Times of September 25th, 1970, it originally sold for $3,460. That’s $19,011 in today’s dollars. If cars were like public schools, you would be compelled to buy one of these today, and to pay $43,479 for that privilege (2.3 times the original price).

To measure productivity in education this way assumes that the students being taught today are no more or less challenging than the students being taught in 1970. If they are harder to teach, higher costs would be required to maintain the same output. If they are easier to teach, less would be required. (At least that’s what the Education Policy Center people tell me … I’m not that hard to teach, am I?)

Jay Greene and Marcus Winters tried to answer this question with their innovative Teachability Index. You can debate about the factors they used to measure student “teachability,” but they did a fairly thorough job to reach this conclusion:

The Teachability Index shows that students today are actually somewhat easier to teach than they were thirty years ago. Overall, student disadvantages that pose challenges to learning have declined 8.7% since 1970.

In which case, Andrew Coulson may have underestimated how much we’d be paying for that 1970 Chevy Impala today. Even if the Greene and Winters formula is off somewhat, it’s hard to imagine that students are more than twice as difficult to teach today. Coulson leaves readers with a provocative thought:

So, do you wish the automobile industry were run like public schooling, or do you wish that public education was part of our free enterprise system, with financial assistance to ensure universal access to the marketplace?

I’ll take the latter, thank you very much. Of course, a key part of making the transition work is to help families think more and more like education consumers: Our School Choice for Kids website is one of the best tools for this purpose.

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18th 2008
Clint Bolick: Hispanic Electoral Support Hinges on School Choice

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Parents & School Choice

Clint Bolick – one of the heroes of the school choice movement – had a piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week about the political possibilities of reaching out to Hispanics on the school choice issue (H/T Matt Ladner):

Hispanic votes will be crucial in key battleground states, including Florida, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. George W. Bush won 40% of Hispanic votes in 2004, but support slipped to 30% for GOP congressional candidates in 2006. Mr. Obama fared poorly among Hispanics in the presidential primaries, while Mr. McCain carried 74% of Hispanic votes when he won re-election to the Senate in 2004. All that adds up to this: Hispanics voting on school choice could tip the balance of the election.

Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly young and have exhibited a propensity toward political independence — and no issue is more tangible for them than educational opportunity. If Hispanics align their voting with the educational interests of their children, it could alter the electoral landscape — not merely for this election, but permanently.

Of course, a great tool for parents – including Hispanics – to learn more about their Colorado educational options is the School Choice for Kids website … available both in English and en Espanol.

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17th 2008
CNN’s Roland Martin is Right: School Choice Shouldn’t Be Partisan Issue

Posted under Education Politics & Homeschooling & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Urban Schools

Roland MartinCNN commentator Roland Martin hits the nail on the head today by proclaiming the need for more school vouchers, and highlighting the interest group politics that has blocked or slowed down the needed reform (H/T Mike Antonucci). His article is titled “McCain right, Obama wrong on school vouchers,” but the larger point is that it’s time to move school choice beyond partisan politics on a national scale.

Here’s some of what Martin has to say:

I fundamentally believe that vouchers are simply one part of the entire educational pie. There simply is no one sure-fire way to educate a child. We’ve seen public schools do a helluva job — I went to them from K through college — and so have private schools, home schooling, charter schools and even online initiatives. This is the kind of innovation we need, not more efforts to prevent a worthy idea from moving forward.

Obama’s opposition is right along the lines of the National Education Association, and the teachers union is a reliable and powerful Democratic ally. But this is one time where he should have opposed them and made it clear that vouchers can force school districts, administrators and teachers to shape up or see their students ship out.

It is unconscionable to ask a parent to watch as his child is stuck in a failing school or district, and ask him to bank on a politician coming up with more funds to improve the situation. Fine, call vouchers a short-term solution to a long-term problem, but I’d rather have a child getting the best education — now — rather than having to hope and pray down the line.

The current election may yet change the terms of the debate surrounding school choice. For years, acceptance of vouchers and tax credits has grown among minority communities, traditionally represented by the Democratic Party, many of whom have seen the failed schools and the hope provided by choice firsthand. Many in the Republican Party support expanding school choice because of their beliefs in competition or smaller government. But no matter how they come to the conclusion, the time for real and lasting positive change.

This really isn’t the simple partisan political issue some have made it out to be – nor should it be. And after this year, maybe more Americans of all political persuasions and affiliations will come to see we need to stop limiting possibilities and opportunities in education for American students.


16th 2008
Mile High Parent Campaign Should Reward Time on School Choice Site

Posted under Denver & Parents & School Choice & Urban Schools

Lousy parenting is a typical scapegoat of those who resist public school accountability or who make excuses for poor performance. Not all parents fulfill their responsibilities, and certainly none are perfect. But the overwhelming number of parents want to see their kids reach their fullest education potential.

In that light, an idea like this one seems to make sense:

The Mile High Parent Campaign, set to begin on the first day of school this fall, is designed to track the time DPS parents spend furthering their kids’ education. The goal is 5,280 minutes a year, or 30 minutes a school day.

“I’m just hoping to bring a little more awareness of the importance of parent engagement and to celebrate things that we, as parents, do on a daily basis,” said Marlene DeLa Rosa, chairwoman of the Parent Empowerment Council.

Parents who enroll in the program will log their time online or complete a form that details how they assisted their children.

Suggested activities range from reading with a child, attending back-to-school night, helping with homework or taking a child to the museum.

It sure sounds nice on paper, and I wish it the best. The use of prizes and other positive incentives is the best way to promote participation – though it’s safe to assume the first ones who sign up will primarily be the parents who are already most engaged, and that many parents still won’t find any motivation to get involved. But if done right, this proposal has the potential to help many families work toward rearranging their priorities.

And of course, the best form of parent empowerment is school choice. The more a mom and dad is directly involved in their children’s education, the more they can see firsthand whether their child is being well-served at their current school, or whether another option is needed that better suits his or her needs.

It’s only logical then that Denver Public Schools should count the time a parent and child spend together on the School Choice for Kids website toward the 5,280 minutes a year.

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