Archive for December, 2008

23rd 2008
Colorado Judges Rule in Favor of Funding Fairness for Charter Schools

Posted under Courts & High School & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Board of Education

Okay, the year is almost over. And you won’t see me writing anything here between now and 2009. So I thought it a good idea to close out 2008 with a post that has some good news.

In yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News, Berny Morson reported on a Colorado court decision that almost got completely overlooked. But it definitely is good news:

School districts must apply the same funding rules to charter schools as they do other schools, the Colorado Court of Appeals has held in a Fort Collins case.

At issue is a provision inserted by the Poudre R-1 school board in the contract that governs the Ridgeview Classical Schools, a charter school.

The provision allowed the district to reduce financial support to Ridgeview when students transfer out. [link added]

Basic and simple fairness, right? Students should benefit from the same funding rules whether they are in a traditional public school or a public charter school. Either it’s a good idea to take funds away from a school when a student transfers after the fall attendance count, or it’s not. It shouldn’t be a good idea for charters and a bad idea for others, or vice versa.
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22nd 2008
I Want to be Out of School for Christmas, but Not for a Teacher Strike

Posted under Courts & Denver & Edublogging & Independence Institute & Teachers

It’s a few days before Christmas, and school is out. Students and teachers are supposed to be home, getting ready for the best holiday of the year. But what about when students and teachers are home when they’re not supposed to be? No, I’m not talking about those fun snow days. I’m talking about teacher strikes.

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today about one state where the problem of teacher strikes is rampant:

Teachers unions routinely claim that the interests of students are their top priority. So we would be interested to hear how the Pennsylvania affiliate of the National Education Association explains the proliferation of teacher walkouts in the middle of the school year.

According to a recent study by the Allegheny Institute, Pennsylvania is once again the worst state in the country for teacher strikes. No less than 42% of all teacher walkouts nationwide occur in the Keystone State, leaving kids sidelined and parents scrambling to juggle work and family, potentially on as little as 48 hours notice required by state law.

The strikes take place despite the state’s ranking in the top 20% nationwide for teacher salaries in 2006-2007 — the most recent data available — with an average of $54,970. Those paychecks go even further when adjusted for the state’s cost of living compared to top-spending school districts in places like California. [link added]

Is making teacher strikes illegal – as 37 states do, and the Journal recommends – the best strategy to solve the problem? Maybe, but it can’t be the only strategy. States are different, and it depends a lot on local conditions.

Colorado is one place where the state courts have ruled public employee walkouts to be legal, and we haven’t had a teacher strike since the one that happened in Denver in October 1994 (ancient history, man!). To learn more about it, you can read the paper “No Work, No Pay” (PDF) by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow.

A few days before Christmas also means I’m almost done blogging about education for the year – tomorrow’s posting will be the last on this site until 2009.

Now, look: Don’t give me a hard time about it. Hopefully, I’ll have a lot of toys (and maybe a new bike?) to try out during the next week. This will take a lot of time to build. And you can’t go wrong buying something for me from this site, either.

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19th 2008
More Types of Schools to Choose From, Like More Flavors of Yummy Ice Cream

Posted under School Choice

So I’ve already written once today, but I just had to let you know about this Education News Colorado blog post. Why? Because not only does the author Karin Piper give a great argument for school choice, she does so by talking about ice cream.

What do I mean? Here’s a little sample, or scoop if you will, to whet your appetite:

A great ice-cream parlor caters to the varied needs of its ranging customers with equal appreciation, just like a sound school district is inclusive of the needs of all its students.

Have you ever been paying for your treat and had some guy hiss at you that your chocolate ice-cream purchase is hurting the sales of strawberry custard? Has someone told you they think less of you for not preferring their favorite ice-cream? I am going to guess no.

So why do some criticize other families for attending different kind of school than theirs? Should we expect parents to sacrifice the schooling choice best suited for their kid, because one type of education should be fine for all? If we flooded all the kids into one type of public school, what are we really accommodating- the kids’ varied needs or some desire to make others conform?

That’s a winning argument, and a yummy one, too. Now if they only will serve us ice cream at school….

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19th 2008
Americans Should Be Generally Happy with New Education Secretary

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Teachers

The American people may not know all the ins and outs of education reform, but enough of them get the big ideas to give me hope for the future. Look at this recent poll from Rasmussen Reports (H/T Mike Antonucci):

But two-thirds of U.S. voters (66%) say the teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – are more interested in protecting their members’ jobs than in the quality of education.

Only 23% of voters say educational quality comes first for the unions, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided….

Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters also believe the secretary of Education should be an advocate for students rather than teachers, but 19% say teachers should be the secretary’s priority. Fifteen percent (15%) aren’t sure. [emphases added]

If we were to put A and B together, it seems that 2 out of 3 Americans should like the idea that President-elect Barack Obama didn’t select the unions’ favorite candidate to be Secretary of Education. There are differing opinions about the mettle of Chicago Public Schools CEO and soon-to-be Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But some are quite confident that he will shake things up to help advance positive education reform:

“The Obama administration, with Arne Duncan at the head of the Department of Education, will lead the charge of breaking the existing ideological and political gridlock to promote new, innovative and experimental ideas in education,” said Joe Williams, executive director of [Democrats for Education Reform].

What do I think? I’m not sure. Sometime after I open my Christmas presents (less than a week away!), I’ll let you know. Remember, your favorite edu-blogging prodigy could use some sporty additions to my Matchbox collections. You can’t really go wrong with Legos, either….

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18th 2008
“Deferred Compensation” for K-12 Employees Needs a Lot of Piggy Banks

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Principals & Research & School Finance & Teachers

I’m pretty smart for a 5-year-old. But sometimes I wander into a topic that’s just over my head. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, but it’s probably just best if I let the big people talk about it themselves.

My friends in the Education Policy Center released a new Issue Paper today, called Deferred Retirement Compensation for Career K-12 Employees: Understanding the Need for Reform (PDF). It was researched and written by Dr. Michael Mannino from the University of Colorado Denver.

Rather than try to explain the paper myself, here’s the summary from the Independence Institute website:

To improve understanding of public K-12 retirement compensation, this Issue Paper provides historical estimates using a substantial sample of retiree characteristics and salary histories. Deferred retirement compensation from a hybrid defined benefit plan is defined as the difference between an employee’s estimated retirement account balance and the greater pension value she expects to receive. When accounting for K-12 employee compensation, large amounts of deferred compensation should be included. For the 846 Denver Public Schools retirees in the sample, average lump sum deferred compensation is $627,570.

Wow, it would take a lot of piggy banks to put that much money in. But I think I get it a little bit now. One of the main points is we could definitely do a much better job of how we pay our teachers, principals, and the other people who work in our public schools. The current system isn’t cutting it, at least not in the best interest of students like me who our schools are supposed to serve.

If you don’t have time to read the report, or you have read it and need some clarification, you really ought to listen to this podcast conversation with Dr. Mannino:

The author has some good, reasonable recommendations to make. Isn’t there a way we can fix this?


17th 2008
Thanks to Friedman, You Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Any School Choice Myths

Posted under Research & School Choice & Teachers

Over on Jay Greene’s blog, Dr. Greg Forster has a valuable update for those of us who want a handy place to go to answer all those objections to school choice:

…the Friedman Foundation has released a set of “myth buster” guides to the research on the six most common school choice myths. For each myth they’ve provided a brief, handy reference sheet and a slightly longer, more detailed guide to the research. Even the detailed version of each myth buster is still less technical than the other lists on my “meta-list” page, compiled by Jay and other scholars, but it does go over the most important technical issues (how do we distinguish the impact of vouchers from the impact of other factors like family influence?) and provides the references you’ll need to dig further if you wish.

Mythbusters, eh? I hear there was a movie made a long time before I was born. Seems it had this memorable song. I think we could rewrite some of the lyrics to fit the topic at hand:

If you’re stuck at school in your neighborhood
Who you gonna call? – Mythbusters!
If the unions say school choice is no good
Who you gonna call? – Mythbusters!…

Anyway, don’t forget to bookmark the page that can put all the facts at your fingertips. Whether you want the one-page summary, a detailed explanation, or even links to those boring full-length research studies, now you know where to go. I ain’t afraid of no myths!

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16th 2008
45 Days to Apply for State Aid to Develop Teacher Performance Pay Plan

Posted under Denver & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

Do you live in Colorado? Does your school district or charter school have a compensation system that rewards successful teachers? If not, could you come up with a plan in the next 45 days? There may be state money in it to help your cause.

Led by Senator Nancy Spence (R-Centennial), the Colorado state legislature earlier this year allotted some money for local education agencies that want to develop their own alternative teacher compensation systems. Now the chance has come to put this piece of legislation into action.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) released an important reminder today:

The program will allow districts to develop their own individual plans to alternatively compensate educators. A result of the passage of House Bill 08-1388, CDE’s Office of Professional Services will manage the program, with money appropriated from the Colorado Education Fund.

A total of $980,000 is available for distribution. There is no maximum that any applicant may request. However, a strong justification for the amount being requested is required….

Applications are due Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 and can be found at Applicants will be notified of awards by Friday, Feb. 6. Awarded school districts will be required to submit a project completion financial report to CDE for the State Legislature before Tuesday, Sept. 30, following completion of the program planning process. [emphasis added]

Quality classroom instruction is the single most important factor our schools can control to do the best for students like me. And performance-based pay is one important policy tool we have to promote effective teaching.

With its ProComp system (PDF), Denver is one of the local school districts leaders in the movement. Others include Douglas County, Eagle County, Harrison, and Fort Lupton. Charter schools like Liberty Common School and The Classical Academy also have been innovators in the area of teacher compensation.

Through the legislature’s initiative and CDE’s administration, more local innovation in how teachers are paid soon may be coming to Colorado.

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15th 2008
Kafer’s Invaluable Advice for Colorado Families Seeking a New School

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Teachers

Yes, I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a big (and maybe the youngest) fan of Krista Kafer. The column Krista wrote for yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News is just the latest reason — even though she does tell readers to do more homework:

While rankings and other analysis can provide the public and parents confidence in charter schools as a whole, school-by-school information is actually more important to individual families. When considering public schools – whether district-run or charter – the [School Accountability Report] is great place to start when choosing a school.

Parents shouldn’t stop there. They should check out other sources of information such as, and Next they should visit the school’s Web site and the school building. You don’t have to be an education expert to recognize student disengagement, apathy or boredom. Kids wandering aimlessly, teachers yelling angrily or trash scattered about the floor – these would be bad signs. Talking to other parents, teachers and students is a must.

Families who want to look for a charter school for their child, or to take advantage of the open enrollment process and find a different traditional public school, you have to read the whole column. This is invaluable advice offered by Krista (an Independence Institute senior fellow) — especially the part about visiting our School Choice for Kids website.

So if your child is not thriving in his current school like you know he can, or you just found the new School Accountability Reports and are wondering what to do with the information, please check out what Krista wrote. It’s a worthwhile read.

And remember… less than 10 days to go until Christmas. Don’t forget your favorite edu-blogging prodigy as you go shopping this year. Matchbox cars are always cool.


12th 2008
Still Too Many Colorado High School Graduates Need Help Catching Up

Posted under Denver & Governor & Grades and Standards & High School & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Rural Schools & Teachers

High school and college are still a long ways off for me, but I found this interesting for those of you who are interested in education.

A recent report from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (PDF) found that 29.9 percent (that’s almost 3 in 10!) of Colorado public high school graduates entering Colorado public colleges and universities in 2007-08 needed remediation. Wow, that’s a mouthful! And as Ed News Colorado points out, it isn’t good news, either:

Remediation costs at least $27.6 million a year, $14.6 million in state tax dollars and $13 million in tuition paid by students, the report said. (The actual cost is higher, because some remediation costs, such as summer school, weren’t included in the total.)

“It’s unfortunate,” said Gov. Bill Ritter, that money is spent on remediation “instead of investing those funds in financial aid, classroom instruction and innovative research. We can and must do better.”

But has Colorado been doing better than in recent years?
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11th 2008
Utahns Quizzed on School Spending

Posted under Parents & School Finance

There’s a neat new site you ought to see if you care about public schools: Utah Education Facts. The highlight of the site is a video where they interview average Utahns and ask them questions about the financing and spending of their state’s education system:

For those who aren’t from Utah, what if somebody asked you these same sort of questions about your state? How prepared would you be? Of course, the point isn’t to pick on individuals for their knowledge or lack thereof. Instead it highlights the misinformation on which poll-based demands for more education funding largely are based. Ultimately, such a project should aim to arm the populace with more knowledge and information. And isn’t that a major part of what education should be about?

Does anyone doubt a similar “man-on-the-street” interview video project here in Colorado would be a good idea? I hope somebody out there is paying attention.

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