Archive for October, 2008

31st 2008
Colorado Cyberschool Mom Goes National with New Advocacy Group

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Magnet School & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

In the spirit of the day, I looked for something scary in education to tell you about. But instead of that, I wanted to let you know about an exciting new national group that has formed:

This week a committed group of parents from around the United States officially launched the National Coalition for Public School Options (NCPSO) to support and defend public school options in their states and throughout the country.

The group was officially launched during the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) Virtual School Symposium.

“As parents, we want the best possible education for our children,” said Lori Cooney NCPSO president and parent of online public school students in Colorado. “Our founding board believes parents everywhere should have more public school options available to them, and we will help give those parents a voice in their state capitals and in our nation’s capital.”

Cooney joined two other parents to help form the organization: Briana LeClaire from Idaho and Christine Beard from Ohio, both fellow parents whose children are enrolled in online public schools.

The Coalition supports the creation of public school options, including charter schools, online schools, magnet schools, open enrollment policies and other innovative education programs. Additionally, the organization will advocate for free and equal access without restrictions to these public schools for all children.

Colorado’s own Lori Cooney is at the helm of this parent-led, pro-school choice group. Cooney has served as president of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families. A cyberschool mom, she has been an advocate for protecting the rights and options of students who benefit from an online education program.

The timing is very appropriate. It was almost exactly seven years ago (I wasn’t even around yet!) that Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno published her report saying Colorado needed to “stop the discrimination” in public K-12 online education. Things have gotten better since then, and online education has flourished in our state. But significant challenges certainly remain for those who seek the free and equal opportunity to send their children to an online school.

Therefore, it’s good to see that cyberschool students nationwide – in fact, all students who exercise public school choice – will have a strong advocate from right here in Colorado. Good luck to NCPSO! And I hope that Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families continues its important work, too.

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30th 2008
Barack Obama: School Choice for My Children, But Not Thy Children

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Parents & Principals & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

Rocky Mountain News guest columnist Robert Maranto – an endowed chair at the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform – makes some striking points about some politicians’ school choice hypocrisy. Especially about one very prominent politician in particular:

Candidate [Barack] Obama declares that “We need to fix & improve our public schools, not throw our hands up and walk away from them,” the way Barack and Michelle Obama have with their own children. Candidate Obama’s official education program opposes private school choice, and only under pressure gave a very qualified endorsement to public charter schools.

Instead of letting parents choose, Obama emphasizes bureaucratic programs like teacher certification. Supporters of traditional teacher certification programs, like Obama education adviser Linda Darling Hammond, want all public school teachers to be certified. They argue that no one wants children to be operated on by uncertified doctors, so why should they be taught by uncertified teachers?

Yet unlike medical certification, there is precious little evidence that teacher certification works. Those same rich people who would never send their children to unlicensed doctors choose to pay big bucks to have those same children taught by unlicensed teachers.

Just look at Sen. Obama and other recent presidential candidates.

Sen. Obama’s family chose to send him to Hawaii’s elite Punahou School, which does not even consider certification when hiring new teachers. (I asked their personnel office.) Barack and Michelle Obama themselves rejected Chicago’s notoriously poor public schools, which are staffed by certified teachers, to send their daughters to the much storied Laboratory (“Lab”) School. When asked whether she hires certified teachers, the Lab School’s personnel director said “we do not look at that; it doesn’t make any difference.”

Need an explanation? Insisting that teachers pass through a state certification system is front and center in the National Education Association’s agenda. The benefits for students from this policy are essentially zero. But it gives NEA greater control. NEA also opposes school choice, for the same reason: it threatens their monopoly status. Who cares whether it benefits students or not?

Barack Obama the candidate has no reason to irk a powerful lobbying group that has endorsed and supported his campaign. During the last presidential debate, Obama made the dubious claim that evidence “doesn’t show that [private school choice] actually solves the problem.”

But Barack Obama the parent knows better than to trust the NEA talking points. And he’s not skeptical enough about the data to put his own kids in private schools.

As Robert Maranto points out in his Rocky article, all the recent major Presidential candidates have been products of private school education. And many send their children to private schools. Then why is it so hard for some to support school choice for students whom it really could help?

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29th 2008
Center for Education Reform Grades the Candidates for U.S. Senate

Posted under School Choice

Is the election almost over yet? All the scary political attack ads are giving me bad dreams, and I can’t believe how gullible some politicians are to think they can buy my vote by promising me all sorts of goodies. President whatz-his-name wants to take money from someone else and give it to me. Congressman so-and-so says he’s going to make my life better. Such-and-such amendment on the ballot has to pass “for the children.” (Then again, I wonder if they realize they’re trying to buy the vote of a 5-year-old, but I digress….)

Puh-lease. My parents don’t even treat me like that.

Anyway, in the meantime, if you haven’t voted and you care about school choice and accountability, the Center for Education Reform (CER) has graded candidates for U.S. Senate across the country, based on their support of the D.C. school choice program, federal funds to start up innovative charter schools, and the No Child Left Behind Act. A possible 3 points for each issue makes 9 a perfect score.

In Colorado, Republican Bob Schaffer received a 6 out of 9. His scores are perfect on school choice and charter schools. However, he opposed the final version of No Child Left Behind as a Congressman because he said its choice and accountability provisions had been watered down. I’m not sure if it’s fair to mark down Schaffer for that reason or not, but that’s what CER has done.

Schaffer’s opponent, Democrat Mark Udall, received a 3 out of 9. He received one point for weak support of charter school funding, and two points for moderate support of No Child Left Behind. But Udall has won the support of the National Education Association and opposes providing scholarships for at-risk kids in one of the nation’s worst school systems to attend a private school of their choice.

If you live in another state besides Colorado where they are voting on a U.S. Senator this year, the CER report card (I know I get better grades than most of these politicians) has basic information for you, too. Some key states where there is a huge difference between the candidates on education reform are: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

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28th 2008
Amendment 49 Sock Puppets: Maybe Not Too Rich for Your Piggy Bank

Posted under Independence Institute & Uncategorized

My friends at the Education Policy Center usually want me to talk about, well, education. But can I be forgiven if I take a break just for today?

This is your official reminder from Eddie to make a bid on the famous Amendment 49 sock puppets. The bidding is already too rich for my piggy bank, but maybe someone out there will think of me on their Christmas list. On second thought, I’d much rather have a new bike. You can keep the sock puppets for yourselves. But don’t forget to keep bidding for a good cause.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the video that started it all:

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27th 2008
Money for Sarah Palin’s Wardrobe May Be Better Spent on Remedial Math

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & School Finance

I don’t mind that the president of the Denver teachers union uses her office as a platform to bash someone running for vice president of the United States:

Think about it… [Sarah] Palin’s wardrobe allowance would educate a classroom of 23 students for a year in Colorado. We need to “CHANGE” this!

If she wants to complain about the Republican National Committee spending $150,000 on wardrobe for Palin and her family, that’s certainly the Denver union president’s prerogative. But she at least ought to get her math right. Since I’m still working on simple addition, I trusted one of my friends in the Education Policy Center to run the calculation. So you may have to try this for yourself to verify it.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, the state average for public school operational expenditures in 2006-07 (the most recent data available) was $8,754 per student. Run the calculation, and you’ll see that $150,000 divided by $8,754 is a little more than 17 (17.135, to be precise). So let’s try the joke again:

Think about it… [Sarah] Palin’s wardrobe allowance would educate a classroom of 23 17 students for a year in Colorado. We need to “CHANGE” this!

Of course, this is a silly comparison anyway, since it’s hardly a standard practice for political campaigns representing any party to donate their funds to public school operations. But if a campaign ever decides to do so, a remedial math program might be the first place to start.

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24th 2008
Hooray! Sarah Palin Stumps for Federal Vouchers to Special-Needs Students

Posted under Early Childhood & Education Politics & Federal Government & Parents & School Choice

It was about six weeks ago that the very smart Dr. Jay Greene and a wise old Uncle Charley suggested that special-needs vouchers would make a hallmark for the McCain-Palin Presidential ticket.

A few weeks later I complained that Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s debate remarks left me unimpressed with her views on education reform. But then happily, Jay Greene points readers to these inspiring remarks Palin made today to a Pennsylvania audience:

In a McCain-Palin administration, we will put the educational choices for special needs children in the right hands their parents’. Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice — public or private.

Under our reforms, federal funding for every special needs child will follow that child. Some states have begun to apply this principle already, as in Florida’s McKay Scholarship program. That program allows for choices and a quality of education that should be available to parents in every state, for every child with special needs. This process should be uncomplicated, quick, and effective — because early education can make all the difference. No barriers of bureaucracy should stand in the way of serving children with special needs.

Besides Florida, other states that have led the way in pioneering special-education vouchers are Georgia, Arizona, and Utah. Kudos to Governor Palin for getting on board.

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24th 2008
Former CCI Charter Shouldn’t Take Its Second Chance from DPS for Granted

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Principals & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability

Like other public schools, charter schools can fail, too. The advantage is it’s generally easier to shut charters down or to reconstitute them in a way that better ensures success. The Denver Post has a story today about giving just such a second chance:

An embattled Denver charter school has a new name and a new agreement with Denver Public Schools after a vote by the school board Thursday.

The former Challenges, Choices and Images charter school for kindergartners through 12th-graders is now Amandla Academy — named after the Zulu word for strength.

The school voluntarily terminated its charter contract with the district, effectively severing the district and the current school leaders from any financial liabilities incurred by CCI.

“This was all legal stuff to get the new school to go forward without being encumbered,” said Russell Caldwell, senior vice president at the brokerage firm D.A. Davidson. “The good news is DPS financially and legally acted very prudently to allow the new charter to have conditions in which it will grow and flourish.”

The agreement turns the K-12 school of 600 students into a contract school through June 30, and Amandla officials plan to submit an application to become a charter school before the contract runs out.

What exactly are contract schools? Funny you should ask. Because Marya DeGrow, one of my friends in the Education Policy Center, wrote an Issue Paper three years ago titled Contract Schools Bring Innovative Choices to Denver Public Schools (PDF). A “contract school” is defined in the School Choice for Kids glossary as:

A tuition-free independent school that is not operated by the school district. The school’s operator signs a contract with the local Board of Education to provide an educational program. Contract schools are not under charter school law.

In any case, I certainly hope the school formerly known as CCI has gotten its act together, after some fairly serious problems reported with the leadership and culture of the school. The school can live out its focus on ancient African principles – such as propriety, order, truth, and purpose. For the sake of the kids who benefit from the unique program offered at CCI/Amandla, a second chance like this ought not be wasted or taken for granted in the least.

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22nd 2008
Pennsylvania’s New School Board Transparency Site Gives Good Ideas

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Parents & School Accountability & School Board & School Finance

I get excited to see the ball move forward even a little bit on the issue of school district transparency. Whether it’s the district’s checkbook or its union bargaining sessions, this kind of information should be easily accessible to parents and other taxpayers through the Internet.

Our friends in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation, have launched the latest noteworthy effort (H/T SPN Blog):

As part of a year-long campaign to provide greater transparency in school district labor negotiations, the Commonwealth Foundation has unveiled a new website and blog, will offer insight and advice in the labor negotiations process for school boards and citizens. The site will provide regular posts on issues, news, and best practices in school district labor negotiations, and allows users to comment and create posts on a moderated blog.

The project will also include a “how-to” manual for school board members looking to provide greater transparency during union negotiations and a resource for media covering public school labor negotiations. The guides will provide the important questions to ask and explain the key issues typically involved in labor negotiation contracts.

Besides its regular blog-style updates, School Board Transparency also provides more effective school districts with praise and constructive criticism.

Right now, I’m hoping the folks here in the Education Policy Center will look at promoting a similar sort of project for Colorado. Right now, voters in Jefferson County, Denver and several others would benefit from having transparent, easy-to-access information on how their school districts are spending tax money so they could make more informed decisions on mill levy and bond proposals.

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21st 2008
Flunked: The Movie Continues to Spur Discussion of Public Education Reform

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Choice

Several months ago my friends at the Independence Institute hosted a showing of the brand new exciting education documentary Flunked: The Movie. An Independent Thinking episode with the movie’s producer Steve Maggi and our own Pam Benigno was aired that brought attention to public education reform success stories.

Well, it appears the movie and its producer are really making the rounds from state to state. Blogger Bob Weeks followed up on the Kansas debut of Flunked by interviewing Steve Maggi. It’s a great read if you’re intrigued by the movie or looking for more information on ideas for reforming our public schools.

And for many more resources on ideas for education reform, especially ideas specific to Colorado, remember to bookmark the Education Policy Center on your browser.

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20th 2008
Could Unelected Judges End Up Writing Colorado’s School Finance Laws?

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Finance & State Board of Education

According to the Alamosa Valley Courier, the Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could redefine how (and how much) schools are funded:

A lawsuit initiated by Anthony Lobato and family of Center along with 14 San Luis Valley school districts and other districts statewide will go before the state Supreme Court sometime early next year, according to attorney Kathleen Gebhardt.

Lobato vs. the State Board of education [sic] went before the Court of Appeals in Denver for oral argument Jan. 7 of this year. The Appeals Court quickly returned a decision stating that the State had no jurisdiction in the matter, so the case could not be referred for trial to the appropriate court.

I haven’t had the chance yet to take the course in civics that teaches the different jobs of different branches of government. But I’m told that the legislature is elected to make laws, and the judges are appointed to interpret them. The history of these kinds of school finance lawsuits in other states should teach us this is the wrong path to go down.

But then comes a statement in the Courier article that needs plenty of clarification:

The current Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) law further limits the amount of funds schools receive. TABOR requires that schools set aside a certain reserve in their budgets as a hedge against government growth, requiring that any excess funds in given years be returned to taxpayers.

“This has really ratcheted down the government’s ability to provide funds for schools,” Center Schools Superintendent George Welsh commented. While he feels the law was intended to be beneficial, legislators failed to foresee the negative effects it could have on school funding, he said.

First of all, it’s the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, not the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. And it wasn’t passed by the legislature. It was a constitutional amendment approved by Colorado voters in 1992.

But anyway, what are the supposed negative effects? In 1992-93, when TABOR passed, Colorado spent $5,785 per K-12 student. In 2005-06 (most recent data), Colorado spent $9,897 per K-12 student. After you take away inflation, that’s an increase of 16.7 percent per student. Maybe some school leaders were hoping for a 26.7 percent increase per pupil – in that sense, TABOR would be seen as having “negative effects”. But there’s no doubt that Colorado schools have continued to be funded at reasonable rates.

Whatever the school finance amount should be, let’s leave it up to the people and their elected representatives – not unelected judges.

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