Archive for September, 2008

16th 2008
Figuring Out Why the Union President (and Her Kids) Back Barack Obama

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Federal Government & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Teachers

Kim Ursetta, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) tells this little story yesterday:

One of my twins (6 yrs. old; first grade) was really sad when he came home from school today. It seems that another boy in his class told him he was “stupid.” I asked why the boy would say something like that, and my son was so upset. He told me that the boy “was just mad ’cause I won’t vote for McCain… I’m only voting for Obama!”

I’m not going to tell you who my mom and dad plan to vote for President. It’s not important for me to do so. But I know I’d be in trouble from them if I called anyone “stupid” – especially just because they might support someone different than my parents do. It simply isn’t nice.

I’ve told you about the Presidential campaign before. On the issue of education, there are reasons to be hopeful about both candidates (as well as reasons to be skeptical).

But I had to scratch my head and wonder why the Denver teachers union president has her kids so excited about Barack Obama, especially after the NEA convention she attended booed Obama for his comments on performance pay and charter schools.

My Education Policy Center friend Ben then suggested it might have something to do with the luxury skybox view of Obama’s Invesco Field speech that she and other union leaders received, compliments of the dues and fees of hard-working teachers union members–and even some non-union members.

I am thankful that my own teacher doesn’t talk to us about her political views. I don’t know if she supports John McCain, Barack Obama, Ralph Nader, or Bob Barr, for that matter. But I wonder if some of her money is going to help support political candidates she doesn’t like.

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15th 2008
Come Out Friday!: Democrats Who Want to Stop Cheating Kids Like Me

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Choice

Earlier, I told you to save the date for a great event my friends at the Education Policy Center are putting on. Well, if you’re looking for anything to do this Friday, here are the details:

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.

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

The name for the event is “Democrats are Standing up to the Teachers Unions: Can this be True?” Kids like me aren’t going to get all the public and private school choices we need, unless we convince political leaders in both major parties – Republican and Democrat – to join us in the cause. It’s exciting to see Mr. Williams carry the banner for school choice and reform on the Democrat side, while others in the Republican Party do the same. Because nobody should be cheating us of the opportunities provided by a high-quality education.

Still haven’t been convinced to come? Well, guess what? Maybe it’s because you haven’t heard the best news of all: My mom and dad said I could come on Friday. I hope if you’re in the area you can make it, too. If you happen to see a 5-year-old boy with or without binoculars, it’s probably me.

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12th 2008
Phoenix’s Millennium Worldwide Academy Sets Bar High for 5-Year-Olds

Posted under Early Childhood & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & Urban Schools

A lot of my Education Policy Center friends have been on the road this week at something called the State Policy Network conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Okay, so I don’t exactly get what it’s all about, they told me about a visit they had yesterday to a couple of excellent schools in the area. I’m only going to talk about the one today, because it seems this Millennium Worldwide Academy in south Phoenix has a pretty special approach to educating kids in my age group.

No, it’s not in Colorado, but maybe there are some school leaders or entrepreneurs looking to start a school who could learn a thing or two from Ms. Kelmer and her success with helping low-income kids from preschool to 4th grade.

My Education Policy Center friends said they were amazed to watch the knowledge put on display. They heard about the “Are You Smarter than a Kindergartener?” challenge. Not too many adults could name all 43 U.S. Presidents in order like the small group of 5-year-old children at Millennium Worldwide Academy did yesterday. The older kids knew the planets in our solar system and their distances from the Sun, as well as had a solid understanding of how the human digestive system worked. Wow!

Hey, I’m 5 … I better start learning all the Presidents’ names, too!

Thanks to Ms. Kelmer and her Millennium Worldwide Academy staff for their accommodations (apparently, they only moved into the new makeshift building less than a week ago), and to Liz Dreckman from the Alliance for School Choice for arranging the memorable outing. Next time I hope the Education Policy Center folks take me along.

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11th 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: Vista Ridge High School

Posted under Innovation and Reform & School Choice

I still need to learn how to add and subtract, but someday I may want to learn a lot more about math and science. A good place to look is the new Colorado Springs high school that has a special focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In addition to a comprehensive high school curriculum, sports, and extra curricular activities, Vista Ridge High School offers several technology-based career academies: Engineering, Biomedical Science, and Information Technology.

The engineering program is based on the Project Lead the Way curriculum, which is comprised of hands-on, real-world projects designed to make math and science relevant for students.

The biomedical sciences program is also based on Project Lead the Way curriculum. Students will be introduced to many medical career possibilities through the classes they take.

The information technology program will focus on networking and programming skills.

The school is also piloting the school district’s 7-period modified block schedule. Students will attend seven classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday for approximately 48 minutes each. On Wednesday and Thursday, classes have an extended block of time, with half of the classes meeting on each day. A weekly advisory period and additional elective course will also meet on Thursdays.

The school opened this fall with 9th and 10th grade students but the school will add grade 11 in 2009 and grade 12 in 2010.

Other new schools featured:

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10th 2008
A Glimpse at New Schools: Swallows Charter Adds Early College Program

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

Sometimes my parents take me on field trips. They’ve never taken me to Pueblo, but I know there’s a really good charter school in Pueblo West called Swallows Charter Academy that is expanding its program to include high school students (maybe I’ll check them out when I’m old enough to drive).

This fall Swallows is starting its Middle/Early College Program to provide the opportunity for high school students to study advanced curriculum and receive college credit–for free!

Junior and senior high students will take classes through Pueblo Community College. Swallows will pay for tuition and Pueblo Community College will pay for the students’ books. I think my mom would like that.

To learn more about the Middle/Early College Program at Swallows call 719-547-1627 and request to speak to Chris Beltran.

Other new schools featured:

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9th 2008
Adults Need to do Homework Before Voting on School Bond Elections

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Finance

I deserve to go to school in a safe, well-constructed facility. But my parents and I also deserve a clearer accounting of how the money is to be spent. Colorado school districts are putting a record $2.5 billion in construction bond proposals on this November’s ballot. Do the people going to the polls have the information they need? One of my friends here at the Education Policy Center has good reason to think that isn’t the case:

“My hypothesis is the larger turnout means (districts) are reaching into a voter base that is generally less informed about local issues and more inclined to give money to schools because it sounds like it is the right thing to do,” said Ben DeGrow, education-policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank based in Golden.

Denver Public Schools is asking for $454 million, Douglas County $395 million, and Jefferson County $350 million, not to mention the proposals of 12 other school districts. And not to mention proposed mill-levy increases that add to the total.

DeGrow, however, said he thinks Colorado residents might be growing weary of tax increases.

“Taxpayers keep getting taken for more and more,” DeGrow said. “That adds up and tends to make a difference over time.”

In my opinion, he actually understated the case a bit. Most people want good schools, including well-constructed school facilities, but they also want to see their money spent most effectively. The difference between a Yes vote and a No vote is much more than the difference between someone who cares about kids and schools versus someone who doesn’t. What about:

  • Has the school district found other ways to save money?
  • Has the district accounted for depreciation?
  • Has the district given due consideration to more affordable financing or cost-sharing arrangements?
  • Has a careful analysis of the previous bond election been done to show the impact on students learning and well-being?
  • Has the district prioritized its needs to match its fundamental mission: preparing students academically for future success?
  • Is the district proposing to build a 100-year facility, when it would be wiser to build a 25-year facility, imagining that 21st-century demands on schools might grow to be significantly different?
  • Have charter schools and others been treated fairly and equitably?
  • Has the district been open and transparent to provide parents and other taxpayers with clear and honest answers to these questions?

These are all things voters should have a basic understanding of before casting a Yes or No vote on their local school district bond. I know I’m only 5, but it makes sense to me.

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8th 2008
Supporters of Reading First’s Success in Teaching Kids to Read Fight Back

Posted under Federal Government & Research

Several years ago the federal government created Reading First to fund schools and programs that use scientifically-based reading instruction. The approach has reaped real results in helping kids learn to read in states like Alabama, Washington, and Arizona. But more lately it’s become the source of controversy on Capitol Hill, with Congressional Democratic leaders working to strip funding from Reading First.

While the fight goes on in Washington, D.C., state Reading First directors have banded together to form a new group called the National Association for Reading First. The Association has the goal of “bridging scientific research and classroom practice to increase student literacy achievement,” by promoting and disseminating applied scientific research-to-practice information to guide effective reading instructional practices and interventions for all students.

Parents and others who want to know whether a reading program is designed to do the job effectively should check out this resource from the U.S. Department of Education. Or read this report for more in-depth information on finding out whether a program is really grounded in scientifically-based reading instruction.

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5th 2008
John McCain Plugs School Choice, but Hard Work Happens on the Ground

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Teachers

Yesterday I told you about the Democrats’ national education platform. So what about the other side? I had to go to bed while it was still going on, but my mom and dad said that Republican presidential candidate John McCain gave an important speech last night. He talked about education:

Education — education is the civil rights issue of this century.

Equal access to public education has been gained, but what is the value of access to a failing school? We need…

We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice.

Let’s remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parent — when it fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.

Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have the choice, and their children will have that opportunity.

Sen. Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucrats. I want schools to answer to parents and students.

And when I’m president, they will.

While I think he should give Barack Obama a little (not a lot, just a little) more credit for taking on teachers unions and promoting education reform, I wholeheartedly agree with what John McCain said about education. With the emphasis on choice for parents, I almost could have been the one to have helped him write that part of the speech.

There are some things someone like John McCain could do from the White House to help promote school choice, but the real work happens on the ground. An example of this kind of grassroots effort can be found right here in Colorado, where my friends in the Education Policy Center have created the first-of-its-kind School Choice for Kids website. I can’t mention it enough.

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4th 2008
Joe Williams Helping Charge to Push Democrats toward Education Reform

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Teachers

A recent USA Today article talks about how the Democratic Party’s national platform is taking small steps away from the teachers union-defended status quo:

The ink is barely dry on the official document, which outlines the party’s guiding principles, but it shows that in this fall’s general election, Democrats will stake out a few positions that unions have long opposed.

Among them: paying teachers more if they raise test scores, teach in “underserved areas” or take on new responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers.

Hooray for small favors. But there’s one comment in the article I especially wanted to bring to your attention:

“If ever there’s going to be a time for change, this is it,” says Joe Williams, who heads Democrats for Education Reform, a centrist group with ties to the Obama campaign. He says the new platform has a greater emphasis on educational equity for poor and urban students. “We feel like this is a conversation that Democrats should be in on.”

Democrats for Education Reform was the group that sponsored the recent event here in Denver where Democrat leaders called the teachers union on the carpet. That was neat, but there is more to come.

Even more exciting, you need to save the date for Friday, September 19. Details are being finalized, but Joe Williams is slated to be a guest speaker at an event hosted by my friends at the Independence Institute. Stay tuned for more information. I’ll be posting on that.


3rd 2008
Tony Woodlief Reminds Us That There Is No “Typical” Homeschool Family

Posted under Homeschooling & Parents & School Choice

One option more and more parents take for their kids is homeschooling. Thousands of Colorado kids are being educated at home by their parents. Despite a great diversity in the families that undertake home education and the different kinds of programs used, there’s still a tendency among some to have stereotyped conceptions of what a “typical” homeschool family looks like.

People who want to pigeonhole homeschoolers into a box really ought to read this Pajamas Media column by Kansas parent and writer Tony Woodlief. A key excerpt:

Given preconceptions about this practice, I should note that we are not anti-government wingnuts living on a compound. We like literature, and nice wines, and Celeste would stab me in the heart with a spoon if I gave her one of those head bonnets the Amish women wear. We are not, in other words, stereotypical home-schooling parents. But neither are most actual home-schooling parents.

Even though Ma and Pa Ingalls sent their children off to the little schoolhouse in Walnut Grove, we’ve decided to start our own. In the eyes of Kansas authorities that’s exactly what we’ve done; regulations require us to establish a school and name it. Ours is the Woodlief Homestead School. I wanted to go with something like: “The School of Revolutionary Resistance,” but Celeste said that was just inviting trouble.

The reason we’ve broken with tradition, or perhaps reverted to a deeper tradition, is not because we oppose sex education, or because we think their egos are too tender for public schools. It’s because we can do a superior job of educating our children. We want to cultivate in them an intellectual breadth and curiosity that public schools no longer offer.

We know that kids benefit from having an array of educational choices, but sometimes we don’t realize the diversity within an option or the variety of reasons that lead parents to the particular choice. The Woodlief Homestead School will have different structures and emphases than many of their counterparts, but they’re working toward a similar end. The author effectively makes a point that many still need to get:

Folks in our neck of the woods embrace the proper goal, which is not supporting public schools, but supporting public education — the education of the public, which is only ever you and me and our neighbors. The goal is educated children, after all, not allegiance to some institution or ideology.

Based on the individual needs of the child, there are many ways to reach that goal. Home-based education is an option that just happens to work for many.

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