Archive for September, 2008

30th 2008
Are Kids Too Busy? School Choice Isn’t the Only Important Parental Decision

Posted under Parents & Research & School Choice

I’m having my friends write in a hurry today, so forgive the short post this time. There’s a great article from Sunday’s Washington Post that raises the question again, Are today’s kids too busy with activities? The Post talks about new research that shows the super-busy kids are happier and have less stress (H/T Joanne Jacobs):

A new wave of research into the lives of middle-class children bucks conventional wisdom and concludes they are not the overscheduled, frazzled generation that many believe them to be.

It might be only that their parents are on overload, one researcher suggests.

Sorry, mom and dad. And sorry to all of you, because I have to run to soccer practice, piano lessons, then Cub Scouts. (Maybe I need to do some activities but not quite so many. Choosing the best school isn’t the only important decision parents have to make for their children.)

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29th 2008
Jeffco Voters Need Clearer Information to Decide Funding Proposals

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & School Accountability & School Finance & Suburban Schools

Colorado’s largest school district is one of many asking voters this year for more operating tax revenue and for bond debt to fund school construction. An article in Sunday’s Denver Post quoted one of my Education Policy Center friends with concerns about Jefferson County’s proposals (designated 3A and 3B):

“They are asking taxpayers to build in a district with declining enrollment,” said Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute think tank.

Referendum C, a five-year timeout from TABOR revenue restrictions passed in 2005, and a 2007 law that allowed local property taxes to grow should be providing “a lot more revenue” for Jefferson County and other school districts, DeGrow said. Referendum C provided more than $300 million to K-12 education in 2006-07.

No one doubts that Jeffco and other school districts need a certain amount of money to provide educational services. So it’s not a simple matter of voting Yes “for the kids” (like me) and voting No “against the kids.” If funding were attached directly to the student, and the parents could decide where to send their children, there would be a stronger case for that simplified line of thinking.

However, that’s not how the system currently works. Tax and bond money that would be raised through these proposals runs through the central administration of Jeffco Public Schools. What if the district had to post its checkbook and credit card transactions online so voters could judge whether the tax funds they already provide are being used appropriately and effectively?

It’s called transparency, and there’s momentum in Colorado toward making it the policy of government. Voters need more information before they can be confident in supporting 3A and 3B.


26th 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: Kaplan Academy of Colorado

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Choice

Some really smart people think online schools are the wave of the future that will completely innovate and transform the way we do and think about public education. I don’t know if they’re right or not, but the growth of online public schools in Colorado certainly makes their case a little stronger.

Take for example Kaplan Academy of Colorado, new for 2008-09. Kaplan is an individualized, tuition-free, accredited program authorized by the Garfield School District in Rifle, Colorado:

Imagine learning in a flexible, results-oriented environment that allows you to learn at your own pace—one that is free of the distractions of the traditional classroom.

Learning from home, students can take a number of different courses, including “Language Arts, Foreign Languages, Health, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Electives such as Art History, Computer Applications, Journalism, Web Design, and more.” Go to the Kaplan website to sign up for more information.

According to my friends at the Education Policy Center, you can also now see a brand new page on the School Choice for Kids website that shows all the home-based public online education programs in Colorado – hosted in places from Denver to Branson to Julesburg (and now) to Rifle. But in most programs, enrolled students can log in from anywhere in the state. The world certainly is changing!

Here is the complete list of new schools I’ve featured for 2008-09.

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25th 2008
Colorado Might Just Be Getting Even Smarter about Education Reform

Posted under Denver & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Principals & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & State Legislature

I hope that I get smarter as I go through school some day. Likewise, despite its success with advancing school choice and accountability so far, Colorado also needs to Get Smart(er) about education reform. At least that’s the premise behind a new group called Get Smart Schools Colorado.

As the Rocky Mountain News reports:

The idea behind Get Smart Schools is similar to school initiatives in Chicago and New York – one group pooling expertise and funding to help promising new school models get off the ground.

That’s because research shows it’s typically more effective to start good new schools than it is to transform existing schools that are failing.

In Colorado, the focus will be on importing quality school models that have been successful elsewhere and on helping promising new schools find facilities, an obstacle for many.

Believe it or not, this sort of group really is needed. We know the importance of smaller schools, autonomy (big word!), strong leadership, high-quality instruction, research-based curricula, parental involvement (i.e., choice), and focus on student improvement. But with an experienced and qualified staff of its own, a group like Get Smart Schools Colorado can show new schools how to get it done and succeed without being bogged down by the well-meaning but counterproductive bureaucracy.
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24th 2008
Challenge Grows for Michelle Rhee’s Washington DC Teacher Innovations

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Teachers & Urban Schools

Washington, DC, schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is fast approaching a critical crossroads that will put her bold leadership to the test, as her showdown with the teachers union reaches the moment of truth. The Washington Post reports that union leaders are giving in to cries from older tenured teachers insecure about their professional abilities:

[Union president George] Parker said many older teachers believe that they have been targeted for dismissal by Rhee, who has proposed a two-tiered salary plan that would pay many instructors more than $100,000 annually in pay and performance bonuses.

Those choosing the “green tier” would be required to spend a year on probation, risking termination. Teachers have the option of selecting a “red tier” that would allow them to keep tenure and accept lower raises.

Union leaders can’t only be concerned about the promising young teachers in their midst. They have to fight for the interests of mediocre and overpaid teachers, too. It’s the nature of the beast.

Michelle Rhee is going to need a lot of focus, resolve, and determination to bring major innovation to one of the nation’s poorest school districts: promoting high-quality instruction as a priority for the district’s neediest and most disadvantaged students.

Will the interests of students win out? Stay tuned.

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23rd 2008
Delaware Is More Proof that Strong Standards and Parental Choice Work

Posted under Grades and Standards & Homeschooling & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice

A couple months ago I told you about the state of Florida’s amazing success in improving early reading test scores. Here were the main things to which former Gov. Jeb Bush attributed the successful gains:

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….

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….

But blogger Charlie Barone says, hey, wait a minute, let’s take a closer look at Delaware, too. It seems that the First State has shown remarkable improvement, as well. As Matt Ladner points out, some of the same success story themes emerge that have come from Florida:

It turns out that Delaware is discretely a haven for parental choice. Delaware has the nation’s 7th ranked charter school law according to the Center for Education Reform, and active inter and intra district choice programs. Add all of those up, and 15.5% of all K-12 students in Delaware are exercising choice through public options.

Delaware also has a large number of students attending private schools, and a little less than 2% home-schooling. Combine those, and you get over 20 percent of students exercising private choice.

If you add it all together, 35.7% of Delaware students are attending schools other than their assigned district school.

It just goes to show- standards and parental choice are two great tastes that taste great together.

I don’t know anyone who has ever been to Delaware, but it sounds like good things are going on there. I hope Colorado lawmakers are paying attention. The same sort of authentic, systemic reform that took place in a large Republican state like Florida also took place in a small Democratic state like Delaware. Are we paying attention to what works?


22nd 2008
Missed Friday? Watch Joe Williams on Democrats and Education Reform

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform

If you didn’t make it to our fabulous event Friday evening, you not only missed a chance to meet me, you also missed our exciting speaker Joe Williams from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Maybe you also missed the chance to listen live online.

Well, you’re still in luck. The main page of the Independence Institute website includes the complete video of Williams’ presentation. Audience members asked many important questions and offered some conservative and libertarian challenges to the speaker’s message that Democrats could step up, take on the teachers unions and bureaucrats, and help to bring about real education reform.

Mr. Williams also announced the formation of the first state DFER chapter: Colorado Democrats for Education Reform, headed by State Senator Ron Tupa. Senator Tupa was kind enough to come to unfamiliar turf as a guest and engage in some lively conversations.

If you only have time for a quick read, Joe Williams sat down for a five-question interview with Nancy Mitchell from the Rocky Mountain News.

My friends at the Independence Institute said they really appreciated being able to have so much access to Mr. Williams’ time while he was here in Colorado (he also recorded an episode of Independent Thinking with Jon Caldara and Pam Benigno to be aired later, and a podcast with Ben DeGrow that will go online soon). At least Mr. Williams got home to New York City in time for a family birthday and for the last game ever at old Yankee Stadium.

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19th 2008
Exciting News: Georgia to Debate Universal School Vouchers Next Year

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Choice

Economic times are rough. Many state budgets look to be short of money. Having recently passed one of the nation’s most generous tax credit scholarship programs, lawmakers in the state of Georgia have a bold idea they plan to bring forward early next year:

Republican State Senator Eric Johnson plans to introduce legislation in January 2009 that would give each public school student a voucher equal to the money the state currently spends on his or her education. The voucher could be used for tuition at the parents’ school of choice — public, private or religious.

The Fox News article is talking about universal vouchers, an idea first introduced by the great economist Milton Friedman in 1955. It represents more choice, more opportunity, and a major change to the education system that puts parents and consumers back in charge. Of course, there are critics:

[Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesman Tim] Callahan says voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., have failed to deliver promised results, and Georgia lawmakers should focus on strengthening public schools instead of creating incentives to leave them.

Too bad Callahan’s statement is misleading. The best research studies show that vouchers help the students who use them and help the public education system to improve through competition. If the improvements shown have all been limited and modest improvements, it’s because the reforms have been limited and modest. It will be interesting to see whether Georgia is ready to take a bigger step in advancing school choice.

In addition to talking about the cost savings and the promise of improving academic performance, Senator Johnson and his allies need to talk about the equal opportunity offered to Georgia’s neediest students and the importance of having families – not bureaucrats – in charge. It will be exciting to see what unfolds in the Peach State in 2009.

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18th 2008
Roy Romer-Bill Ritter Showdown Raises Questions for Friday I.I. Speaker

Posted under Education Politics & Governor & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Teachers

Over at Education News Colorado, Mr. Alan Gottlieb gives a firsthand account of a polite clash over education reform between Colorado’s two most recent Democrat governors:

[Former Governor Roy] Romer laid out the well-known, depressing facts: we are falling behind other nations in education, and we’re going to pay dearly for it soon, if we aren’t already (we are).

“We’re a third world nation in terms of our performance in math,” Romer said.

What got under [current Governor Bill] Ritter’s skin, apparently, was Romer’s repeated insistence that “we” — meaning Colorado and the U.S. are not doing enough to address this predicament. “We’re asleep, we’re kidding ourselves,” Romer said.

Ritter bounded up to the podium like an unleashed dog, and said he wished to “offer a rebuttal, in part, as presumptuous as that may seem.” Colorado is focused on the challenges, despite Romer’s criticism, Ritter said, “in a way perhaps we haven’t been before.”

With that subtle dig at the former governor, Ritter laid out his education agenda, stressing the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4K) legislation that passed this year. He said new standards and assessments are coming, and they will be benchmarked, as Romer suggests, to standards in more educationally advanced countries.

Are the ardent education reformers like Roy Romer – the ones willing to challenge the teachers unions – creating a rift within the Democratic Party? Bill Ritter took more than $50,000 in direct campaign contributions from teachers unions during his 2006 run for office. What has he done to really challenge their grip on the education system?

These are just a couple great questions for tomorrow night’s speaker at the Independence Institute:

Last month, a group of national and Colorado Democratic leaders met in Denver to vocally challenge the teachers union and the status quo in education. Organizer of the event and Democrats for Education Reform executive director Joe Williams will discuss the education reform movement within the Democratic Party, and his book Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education (I hear a limited number of free copies of Williams’ book are available to current teachers who RSVP and attend).

Friday, September 19, 2008

5:30 pm Reception
6:15 pm Program

Members, Educators, and School Board Members Free • All Others $5

Independence Institute Offices
13952 Denver West Parkway (Building 53), Suite 400
Golden, CO 80401

Call Nancy at 303.279.6536 or click email link below to RSVP.

Can’t come? Listen live at
Tune in at 6:15 pm MST.

RSVP for this Event

I hope to see you there!

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17th 2008
Let Parents Choose Single-Sex Classrooms … Who Needs Yucky Girls?

Posted under Elementary School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Choice

An interesting story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette looks at an elementary school that has divided boys and girls into separate classrooms (H/T Joanne Jacobs):

In a typical classroom, the boys are asked to sit calmly in desks, complete story problems and answer questions after raising their hands. But speed, enthusiasm and competition get the pupils in Long’s all-boys class motivated to learn and to participate, she said.

Teachers at Monitor Elementary School in Springdale created classrooms segregated by sex as an experiment to allow teachers to adapt their strategies to each, Principal Maribel Childress said.

The idea of sex-segregated classrooms has been catching on more and more in different parts of the country, though it’s still a fairly rare enough practice that it makes articles like this one of general interest. Like so many other things in education, separating boys and girls into different classrooms isn’t the be-all and end-all answer to our problems. (But it’s not a bad idea. Who needs yucky girls around, anyway?)

One critic quoted in the story – New America Foundation senior research fellow Sara Mead – makes a great point:

The variation among students within each sex is greater than the average differences between boys and girls, she said.

Yes, there’s a lot of truth there. The answer to meet such a wide range of diverse needs and learning styles is empowering parents with more school choice. Krista Kafer (who happens to be a senior education fellow at the Independence Institute) makes this point in her Independent Women’s Forum paper “Taking the Boy Crisis in Education Seriously”:

“There is no one best method of teaching children.” “For some children, single sex classrooms will yield the best results, while a different environment will be most suitable for others. Parents are best positioned to know what’s best for their child and policymakers should focus on making it easier for parents to choose a school for their child,” said Kafer.

There’s a lot of room to debate the effectiveness and value of sex-segregated classrooms. But there is very little to debate about whether parents deserve more power to choose different educational options that suit the needs of their children. Okay, it’s time for me to go talk to my mom and dad about getting into a class with no yucky girls….

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