Archive for May, 2009

29th 2009
National Spelling Bee Covers Cross Section of Educational Backgrounds

Posted under Homeschooling & Just For Fun & Middle School & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools

Forgive me if I act a little sleepy today. I stayed up past my bedtime last night to watch the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. And after that, I was too excited to go to sleep. When I’m old enough, I want to be on ESPN and national TV, too — competing for the top prize as spelling champion. Think I can do it?

For now, I look forward to rooting for Tim Ruiter in 2010. The homeschooler from Centreville, Virginia, finished as runner-up this time around. (Next year, maybe Colorado spellers will advance farther, too.)

I like Tim’s attitude. He told the Washington Post:

Tim said that he plans to be back next year and that he’ll take only a short break — “I’ll go to bed” — before he resumes word study. “I’m glad that she won, because this was her last year,” he said.

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28th 2009
Fixing How Colorado Teachers Are Evaluated an Important Reform Piece

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

Hooray for Nancy Mitchell, and so glad she is working at Ed News Colorado these days. Her latest investigation probes the value of our current teacher evaluation system at identifying effective teachers, weeding out ineffective teachers, and providing support where necessary.

The results? Not very good:

Education News Colorado requested teacher evaluation data from the six largest districts, all in the metro area, which serve more than 40 percent of public school students statewide.

The analysis found little difference between the results of evaluations given in affluent, high-performing Douglas County and those doled out in urban Denver Public Schools, where large numbers of students perform below average on state exams.

Fewer than 2 percent of teachers in either district – or in Adams Five-Star School District or in Jefferson County Public Schools – were told they needed to improve their instructional skills.

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26th 2009
Kansas Teacher Independence Story Makes National Headlines Again

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Rural Schools & Teachers

A couple months ago I told you about the Kansas teachers local that fought for and won its independence from the state and national union.

I’m excited, because the podcast I posted up there was quoted in the latest edition of School Reform News:

In a March 30, 2009 interview with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank based in Golden, Colorado, [Riley County Educators] spokesman Gary [sic] Sigle explained that last year only 14 of the county’s 56 teachers were NEA members, which gave those 14 members exclusive bargaining power. Others wanted a greater say in what was going on locally.

Sarah McIntosh, the writer of the story, also interviewed my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow to get his take on the issue: Continue Reading »

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22nd 2009
Parents Need to Learn about School Choice? We’re On It Here in Colorado

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Parents & School Choice & Urban Schools

A new Education Sector report by Erin Dillon suggests that too many parents (especially the poorer ones) don’t know enough to make the right decisions when they have school choice options:

Reformers working to improve banking and food services in the district’s low-income neighborhoods and around the nation have already learned these lessons. In recent years, they’ve moved aggressively to provide sophisticated market analysis to private sector firms, making the case that poor neighborhoods represent an untapped source of profits. They’ve forged strong connections with local community organizations that reach out to new consumers and help customize services to meet local needs. They’ve provided crucial start-up funds for small businesses and have encouraged these businesses to be flexible in how and where they serve residents. And they’ve worked hard to build knowledge and expertise among the consumers who drive demand.

Joanne Jacobs agrees:

School choice proponents should learn how to help low-income parents recognize high-quality schools and avoid the duds.

Both Dillon and Jacobs should take a look at what’s going on in Colorado, and see what my friends in the Education Policy Center have created and marketed to many of the families and communities in the Denver area and beyond: the School Choice for Kids website. I’d love to know what they think of it.

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22nd 2009
School Spending Transparency Opponents Are Running Out of Excuses

Posted under School Accountability & School Finance & State Legislature

It’s been a couple months now since the Democrats running Colorado’s House Education Committee went out of their way to double-super kill school spending transparency. But no matter how uncomfortable it may make some politicians feel, the issue simply is not going to go away.

The Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell points us to a new Education Week column that explains why school officials really are without excuse when it comes to true financial transparency: Continue Reading »


21st 2009
Talking Temper Tantrums & Teacher Pay

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Following the Boulder teacher “sickout” that roiled the community recently, my Education Policy Center friends Pam Benigno and Ben DeGrow discuss the problem of public employee strikes and the need to reform teacher pay in a brand-new iVoices podcast:

Whatever you think about how teachers ought to be paid, trying to make a point through a collective temper tantrum was not the way to go. If I tried that, I’d at least get sent to my room without dessert. Even worse, I might be grounded and not allowed to play with my Legos or Gameboy Advance.

Though they haven’t gone down the path Boulder teachers have taken (at least not yet), similar disputes in Jeffco and Greeley look like they may go unresolved into the next school year.


21st 2009
New Friedman Report Highlights Why School Choice Benefits Teachers, Too

Posted under Parents & Research & School Choice & Teachers

For some reason these last days of the school year have me busy. So I don’t have a lot of time to write — except that I wanted to point out something especially for teachers (who must be even busier than I am, I guess).

A great new study released by the Friedman Foundation compares data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Schools & Staffing Survey and traces the attitudes of public school teachers vs. private school teachers on a whole host of issues. Out of the many results highlighted by co-authors Dr. Greg Forster and Christian D’Andrea, I wanted to bring your attention to a short few:

Private school teachers are much more likely to say they will continue teaching as long as they are able (62 percent v. 44 percent), while public school teachers are much more likely to say they’ll leave teaching as soon as they are eligible for retirement (33 percent v. 12 percent) and that they would immediately leave teaching if a higher paying job were available (20 percent v. 12 percent)….

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20th 2009
Rocky Mountain Deaf School Seeking to Build on Special Record of Success

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Middle School & Parents & Preschool & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Teachers

Yesterday a couple of my Education Policy Center friends had the privilege of visiting a local charter school with a special program to serve a particular group of kids with special needs: Rocky Mountain Deaf School (RMDS).

RMDS is located in Jefferson County, but about half of its 61 students live in surrounding districts. That’s a sign of a school having success connecting with deaf and hearing-impaired kids and improving their learning horizons.

The RMDS vision statement highlights the clear focus and special status of the school:

As a high performing, innovative educational program for students who are deaf, we are deeply committed to providing a rigorous, standards-based curriculum. We prepare each deaf student to be literate, academically successful, and technologically competent. We provide a linguistically rich learning environment through the acquisition of American Sign Language and English both inside and outside the classroom.

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19th 2009
Research Shows Information Changes Public Opinion on School Funding

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Finance & Teachers

One of the main things my friends here at the Education Policy Center do is to shed light on the public debate with information. It’s good to see in scientific terms that information makes a difference with people’s opinions about important policy issues related to education.

The new issue of Education Next highlights the research of University of Chicago Professor William Howell and Brown University Professor Martin West — who tested this idea in the area of whether schools should receive more funding. Here’s a sample of what they learned:

The average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, and the median response was just $2,000; but for these respondents, local average spending per pupil at the time exceeded $10,000. When told how much the local schools were spending, support for increased spending dropped by 10 percentage points, from 61 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent.

Howell and West find that these differences in opinion based on exposure to key information are consistent across a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, views about the local public schools, and political ideologies.

“It’s clear that the American public is quite willing to update its views in light of new information about public schools,” Howell and West said.

If people think their schools spend $4,200 per student, when they learn the figure is actually a lot closer to $10,000 per student, it shouldn’t be surprising that a significant number of them change their minds. Now we just need more people to read the report on facts about per-pupil spending in Colorado (PDF) written by Ben DeGrow.

The research by Howell and West also features insights on people’s opinions of teacher salaries and charter schools. Check it out!

Let the people decide. Let them vote. But let’s also make sure they’re not relying on misinformation. We can do better!


18th 2009
Universal Preschool Promises Like Harold Hill’s Shiny New Trombones

Posted under Early Childhood & Independence Institute & Parents & Preschool & Research

I was never really big into the whole preschool thing. My parents decided not to enroll me anywhere before kindergarten. So maybe I’m biased a little bit, but the piece “Does Universal Preschool Improve Learning? Lessons from Georgia and Oklahoma” by Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation really shoots holes in many of the arguments for expanding early childhood education.

Apparently, the idea that universal preschool gives kids an accelerated start into improved learning just doesn’t bear out on any large scale. Especially when you look at the Sooner State (and I think you ought to look at it sooner rather than later):

More than a decade after offering students uni­versal preschool, neither Oklahoma nor Georgia has shown impressive progress in students’ academic achievement, as measured by the National Assess­ment of Educational Progress. In fact, in Oklahoma, fourth-grade reading test scores have declined since 1998 when the state first implemented universal preschool.

Say what? Well, I guess you shouldn’t be too surprised — if you’ve been following what I say for any length of time. Like several months ago, when I pointed out what the brilliant Krista Kafer said about the overblown promises of government preschool pushers. They may not be trying to sell us shiny trombones and gold-striped uniforms for a new boys’ band, like the famous fictional Professor Harold Hill, but the purveyors of universal preschool utopia will be at least as hard-pressed to deliver the goods.

If you find this topic really interesting, you may want to check out the new book Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut by Checker Finn.


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