Archive for August, 2008

August
29th 2008
Momentous Showdown between Michelle Rhee and D.C. Teachers Union

Posted under Denver & School Choice & Teachers & Urban Schools

I earlier told you about the tough teacher union negotiations here in Denver that got resolved at the last minute. But there’s even more momentous negotiations going on in Washington, D.C. – a school district that has earned a poor reputation for wasteful and corrupt bureaucracy and dismal academic performance.

New D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (of Teach For America fame) is trying to clean house, though, as the Washington Post‘s Steven Pearlstein notes:

Negotiations are stalled over Rhee’s proposal to give teachers the option of earning up to $131,000 during the 10-month school year in exchange for giving up absolute job security and a personnel-and-pay system based almost exclusively on years served.

If Rhee succeeds in ending tenure and seniority as we know them while introducing merit pay into one of the country’s most expensive and underperforming school systems, it would be a watershed event in U.S. labor history, on a par with President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981. It would trigger a national debate on why public employees continue to enjoy what amounts to ironclad job security without accountability while the taxpayers who fund their salaries have long since been forced to accept the realities of a performance-based global economy.

It’s a pretty radical proposal that Michelle Rhee is putting on the table. Trading tenure for the opportunity to make more performance-based money? Sounds like what was attempted (unsuccessfully) in Colorado’s rural Ignacio School District about 5 years ago, but on a much larger and more dramatic scale.

Spurred by Denver teachers and leaders in tough schools, Colorado has made some small progress toward reforming the union contract – mainly through the Innovation Schools Act. But as far as imagining the real possibilities for instituting effective reform in challenging urban districts, all eyes should follow what transpires in Washington, D.C. Best of luck to Rhee and the reformers there.

More freedom, competition, accountability, and efficiency in our Colorado schools would be wonderful to see, too.

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August
28th 2008
Your Handy One-Stop Guide to What School Choice Research Says

Posted under Research & School Choice

I haven’t really gotten into list-making yet. Learning to read and write has to come first. But for those of you who are interested in finding out what the research has to say about school choice, having all that information in one place in a list would be handy. Right? What about a list of all the different lists?

Writing over at Jay Greene’s blog, Greg Forster has come up with “The Meta-List: An Incomplete List of Complete Lists” (now, that’s a mouthful). The lists are broken down into sections of research on:

  • Effects of school choice on participants (for example, how much more is the voucher kid learning?)
  • Effects of school choice on public schools (does competition bring improvements?)
  • Racial segregation in voucher programs vs. public schools
  • Tolerance and civic values of voucher students vs. public school students

Of course, more lists might yet be added to the incomplete “meta-list.” But the next time you are bugged by a question about what the research really says about vouchers and education tax credits, you have a handy one-stop online resource (have you bookmarked it yet?). That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?

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August
27th 2008
Compromise Boost to Denver ProComp Accepted; Now It’s Time to Ratify

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Teachers

The kids in Denver were big winners when the local school board and teachers union headed off a potential strike at the eleventh hour. They also won when it was agreed that tense negotiations would be averted for another three years. But how well did they fare from the actual terms of the final compromise agreement made between DPS and DCTA?

Considering what might have been, Denver Public Schools students came out pretty well. Why? As the editors of the Rocky Mountain News pointed out yesterday, the school district’s nationally-known teacher performance pay program got a boost toward meeting its original purpose:

First, it dramatically increases the incentives available under ProComp. Several key bonuses for early and mid-career teachers will more than double, from $1,000 to $2,345 a year each. These incentives reward teachers who choose difficult-to-teach subjects, work in hard-to-staff schools and whose students improve in the classroom.

In that regard, a new incentive will be available to teachers in the schools ranking in the top 50 percent in growth of student achievement.

These changes will ensure that, compared with the existing agreement, much more money provided by the ProComp mill-levy will wind up with top-performing teachers and not sit in the bank.

The district now also will be better equipped to offer more in starting salary to attract high-quality candidates into the teaching workforce. Both of these factors are steps in the right direction. They address some of the weaknesses in the original ProComp, as highlighted by our own education policy analyst Ben DeGrow.

It now is up to the school board and teachers union members. For the sake of the students, their charge is clear: to ratify the agreement and move forward.

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August
26th 2008
Colorado Bright Beginnings: A Service for Families with Young Children

Posted under Early Childhood & Parents & School Choice

With everybody still focused on that big political party going on in Denver, and the news being generally slow, it seems like a good day to bring your attention to a potentially valuable service for parents of kids younger than I am. It’s called Colorado Bright Beginnings, a non-profit group that provides free services to families with their children up to age 3 to help in their long-term development.

From their website: “Our vision is every child in Colorado will be healthy, valued, and ready to learn.” Colorado Bright Beginnings helps thousands of families every year all across the state, with regional affiliates throughout Colorado.

Maybe you don’t have young children of your own, but you can tell a friend about the services they offer, or sign up to volunteer for Colorado Bright Beginnings yourself.

But if you do fit the description of having young children and you live in our state, consider looking up Bright Beginnings Colorado. And remember, it’s also not too early to start looking for the right school to meet your child’s needs.

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August
25th 2008
Some Democrats in Denver Are Willing to Challenge the Teachers Unions

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Choice

There’s a big political party known as the Democratic National Convention going on in the heart of our state this week. Maybe you’ve heard of it. My parents say there’s lots of crazy stuff going on there – things that I’m too young to see, things that could warp my young, impressionable mind or worse.

But I guess there also was a serious and “inspirational” event yesterday in Denver, an event that should give real “hope” to education reformers that “change” might come:

For too long, panelists agreed, the Democratic Party has walked in lockstep with the teacher unions, and has shown little will to take them on.

“As Democrats, we have been wrong on education, and it’s time to get right,” said Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, a rising political star. Booker said he was “practically tarred and feathered” by his local union for even broaching the subject of school choice.

“This is my wildest dream,” Booker said during a panel discussion, looking out at an overflowing Denver Art Museum auditorium. “I never thought I’d see a room full of Democrats interested in doing this (taking on the unions).”

Among those in attendance was National Education Association President Reg Weaver.

Apparently there was no comment from Weaver. Booker and other urban reformers like Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein were joined by the liberal lightning-rod Al Sharpton and local Colorado Democrat leaders past and present – including former Gov. Roy Romer and current state senate president Peter Groff. (Perhaps, more notably, many other Democrat leaders were not on board.)

Yesterday’s enclave could be promising of a really healthy development. Strong leadership from both political parties to challenge the clout of the teachers union – which obstruct school choice and other reforms – is needed to hasten the progress we see around the country. Enough of the status quo.

Are we going to have figured out the best way to deliver public education by the time I get out of high school? Events like the one yesterday give a glimmer of hope that the old politics at least may eventually get out of the way.

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August
22nd 2008
Student Growth Model Enlightens Public … Financial Transparency Next?

Posted under Denver & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Research & School Accountability & School Finance

More clear, accurate, available and usable information about public education is a good thing – good for parents, teachers, policy makers, and taxpayers — and ultimately for students like me. One good example of a step forward in this area is the Colorado Department of Education (CDE)’s new student growth model, featured in today’s Denver Post:

The model shows how students have grown academically compared with peers in the same grades with similar scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program over the past two years.

“The bottom line is, the model tells us how much growth the child has made and whether that growth is good enough to meet state standards,” said Richard Wenning, associate education commissioner.

Other states have adopted growth models, but Colorado is the nation’s first to use percentiles to describe the growth, Wenning said.

Fortunately, the growth model doesn’t just compare students with their peers. It also uses an objective standard: Continue Reading »

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August
21st 2008
Jay Greene Shows Again Debating the Facts is a Winner for School Choice

Posted under Independence Institute & Research & School Choice

If you are going to enter a debate with Dr. Jay Greene over what the research on school choice says, you had better at least come in fully armed. Leo Casey, the blogger for the American Federation of Teachers, made the accusation that Greene cherry-picks evidence, but he probably wasn’t prepared for this kind of intellectual smackdown:

If Leo Casey is going to make the charge of cherry picking and improperly citing evidence, he has to deliver proof of those charges. To the contrary, the facts indicate that Casey is the one cherry picking and improperly citing research.

Is there a union for playing fast and loose with the truth? Maybe Leo Casey should join it. Oh, I forgot. He’s already a member of the AFT.

By the time he had delivered this rhetorical punch, Greene had already dismantled Casey’s arguments in effective and short order. When will they ever learn? Never, of course. Admitting that 9 of the 10 high-quality school choice studies show solid evidence of academic gains would be self-defeating. (Then again, another new study has just shown positive results from the Ohio EdChoice voucher program.)

After digging into the question of how well school choice works, you may also want to educate yourself about the historical background of School Choice in the United States.

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August
20th 2008
Tom Tancredo Touts Choice and Competition as Education Reform Keys

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Independence Institute & School Choice

Retiring Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo – and former president of the Independence Institute (long before I was even born) – has a great piece published in today’s Rocky Mountain News. Most people associate Rep. Tancredo with the issue of immigration, but his deepest roots go back into education as a former public school teacher and as regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education during the 1980s.

As he gives advice to Colorado’s current governor and one of his recent predecessors, the themes in Rep. Tancredo’s Speakout column are not novel or startling, but they’re important reminders we can’t hear enough:

Last week, Gov. Bill Ritter and former Gov. Roy Romer wrote a column about the state of education in America. In it, I believe they’ve unwittingly made a powerful argument for precisely the kind of educational reform that they have publicly opposed for many years: school choice….

If history has taught us anything, it is that solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems have come only when we have unleashed the power of the free market. The answer to the education problem, simply put, is more choices for parents, and more competition by schools for students. It is not another ambitious big government “solution” put together by the same special interests that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo – a status quo that even Romer and Ritter admit leaves our students lagging far behind youngsters from Seoul and Singapore as they enter a newly competitive global economy.

In case someone reading this post is new to the site, I don’t mind repeating myself, too. The best tool to help parents understand and take control of their educational options in Colorado is our School Choice for Kids website. Check it out!

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August
19th 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: Insight School of Colorado

Posted under High School & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Correction: Insight School is a district choice school, not a public charter school, as originally written. The change has been reflected in this post. We apologize for any confusion caused.

School is getting back into gear for most students across Colorado. An ever more popular and innovative option for parents and students is the online school. The newest – Insight School of Colorado – is authorized by the Julesburg School District in the far northeastern corner of the state.

Technology and cyberspace are ever changing, so you may need to revise your notions of what an online education program looks like for the typical student. Here’s what Insight has to offer:

Enrolling at Insight means having access to the very best online high school education, including

  • A personal mentoring program
  • A nationally recognized curriculum
  • Professional one-on-one instruction
  • In-person meetings
  • Social activities
  • All the administrative and technology support you and your family need

There’s also a video that explains more about the Insight program (free Quicktime software needed). Social activities, you say, at an online school? According to the website, there will be a school newspaper, student government, academic clubs, occasional field trips throughout Colorado, and “Yes, there will be a prom!”

As an online district school of choice, the opportunity to enroll in Insight is open to students age 14 to 20 anywhere in Colorado. But only local Julesburg students have the option to enroll part-time; all others must sign up for at least 5 courses. Students at Insight benefit from the development of an individual learning plan, 24-hour-a-day academic and technical support, and the opportunity for upper-level students to earn as many as 12 college credits through the University of Phoenix Pathways program.

It’s too late to sign up for the upcoming fall semester, which starts next Monday, August 25. But the enrollment process remains open for the coming spring. No matter where you live in Colorado, Insight might be the right fit for your high schooler. Check it out!

Other new schools featured:

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August
18th 2008
West Denver Prep Gets Well-Deserved Attention: An Example to Be Followed

Posted under Denver & Innovation and Reform & Middle School & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Successful schools need to be highlighted, and West Denver Prep Charter School gets the appropriate treatment from Nancy Mitchell in today’s Rocky Mountain News:

West Denver Preparatory Charter School was born over lukewarm coffee in the basement of a church called The Pearl in a graffiti- stained neighborhood at the south end of Federal Boulevard.

In meeting after meeting, a carefully selected and diverse group – The Pearl’s minister, the city’s chief operating officer, a troubled kid from L.A. turned veteran teacher – drew the bones of a school they hoped would change minds about what can be achieved in public education in Denver.

Today, West Denver Prep ranks No. 1 among the city’s 44 middle schools in the academic growth of its students. It stages annual lotteries to select pupils from an overflow of applicants and, from those not chosen, tears are not unusual. [emphasis added]

Read the whole thing. Three cheers to West Denver Prep, and continued best wishes for success. Here’s hoping other schools – as well as education policy makers – take the time to watch, listen, learn, and follow its example.

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