Archive for October, 2009

30th 2009
Taking a Closer Look at Arne Duncan’s School Turnaround Strategy

Posted under Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Urban Schools

An investment in efforts to turn around failing schools is a cornerstone of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s reform agenda, and constitutes one of the key elements of plans state must devise to receive Race to the Top grant funds. But is the turnaround strategy really a promising approach?

Writing in Education Next magazine, Andy Smarick of the American Enterprise Institute stands up and shouts, “Wait just a minute!”:

…Quite simply, turnarounds are not a scalable strategy for fixing America’s troubled urban school systems.

Fortunately, findings from two generations of school improvement efforts, lessons from similar work in other industries, and a budding practice among reform-minded superintendents are pointing to a promising alternative. When conscientiously applied strategies fail to drastically improve America’s lowest-performing schools, we need to close them.

Now look, I haven’t come to any conclusions whether Duncan is right or Smarick is right. As someone so young, my optimistic inclination is to give these bad schools a chance to turn things around. But I’ve also started to learn that older and wiser people like Mr. Smarick can make some valid points, too, by looking at the past and looking at other sectors to make sound policy decisions.

In any case, if we’re going to spend so many federal tax dollars on the turnaround strategy, it seems the least we could do is stop and have a more careful debate about it. For that reason, Mr. Smarick deserves our appreciation.

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29th 2009
Transparent Negotiations: Bringing the Public into Public School Districts

Posted under Independence Institute & School Board & Teachers

Yesterday I reported to you about the latest in teacher contract negotiations in Greeley. Would the public benefit by having greater access to school district collective bargaining negotiations?

One of the best and brightest, Mike Antonucci, today says yes — citing a series of cases of re-appropriated funds, school calendar changes, grievance abuses, and restrictive work rules.

My Education Policy Center friends currently are investigating negotiation policies of school districts across Colorado, but there is no evidence thus far of any districts taking a proactive transparent stance on union negotiations. More often districts have policies expressly prohibiting any sort of openness. Continue Reading »

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28th 2009
Teacher Professionalism Put to the Test in No-Win Greeley Situation

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Finance & Teachers

The Greeley Tribune reported yesterday that the local school board approved its final offer to district teachers, less than three weeks after the union rejected the offer.

I don’t like writing about situations like this one, because let me tell you there’s no winner to celebrate. The district made the least painful choice of funding salary increases for masters degrees and educational advancement — an approach with no ties to improving student achievement. Meanwhile, nothing is done to offer rewards to the best teachers, schools, or principals; removing the most ineffective teachers; or cutting non-core functions or personnel.

Not that anyone can blame officials in a bureaucratic system for avoiding pain and the opportunity of belt-tightening times to make meaningful reforms. It’s just same old, same old … sigh. Continue Reading »

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27th 2009
School Choice for Kids and Ideas to Enhance Community Outreach

Posted under School Choice

My friends in the Education Policy Center are busy not only thinking about how to make schools work better for families and taxpayers, but also on how to communicate their research and ideas to all different kinds of people here in Colorado … and sometimes beyond.

I don’t like to think of myself as part of a communications and outreach strategy — because I just have too much fun blogging (it’s almost as fun as Legos) — but that’s definitely true. That’s why it was interesting to see the Colorado communications firm SE2 weigh in on the local education debate with the brief paper “Reform Isn’t Enough: New School Growth Requires Public Support”.

After surveying recent events and talking to different important people in the field, here is part of what the communication experts came up with: Continue Reading »

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26th 2009
Ben DeGrow Weighs In on Colorado’s Lobato School Funding Case

Posted under Courts & Independence Institute & School Finance & State Legislature

Last week I told you about a new Colorado Supreme Court decision (PDF) that opens up the doors to judicial policy making in our state’s school funding system. Well, now my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow has weighed in with a column for today’s Colorado Daily on the Lobato v State ruling:

The four-member majority in last week’s ruling showed a token amount of concern about overstepping their bounds into legislative turf. The justices said they just want to ensure a “rational basis” exists for the current system.

Nevertheless, Coloradans should have very little confidence in restraint from the Colorado Supreme Court. Continue Reading »

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22nd 2009
Are Douglas County Schools Really Beyond Need of Improvement?

Posted under Education Politics & Elementary School & High School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers

As conservative Mike Rosen notes in his column today for the Denver Post, a big school board race is underway in the Douglas County School District. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow researched and wrote a neat report (PDF) last year on the district’s innovative local licensure program.

For those not in the know, Douglas County is Colorado’s third-largest school district and is located immediately south of Denver, a mix of suburban and rural communities with one of the lowest poverty rates in the state. Education reform in high-poverty urban areas typically receives the most attention, and rightly so. But does that mean a district like Douglas County has reached a plateau, and doesn’t need reform? Continue Reading »


21st 2009
An “Educational Clearing House” for Colorado’s Students and Teachers?

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Board & Teachers

Learn an education policy reform idea from Ohio? Not possible, you say? Come on, it’s not as unlikely as all that. Well, my friends in the Education Policy Center ran across a new practice in the Buckeye State that could help Colorado revolutionize the way we deliver education.

In the somewhat obscure Middletown Journal, Ohio state representative Bill Coley writes about the new program created by his sponsored legislation: Continue Reading »

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20th 2009
Civics Lesson: Colorado Supreme Court Asserts School Finance Authority

Posted under Courts & Parents & Rural Schools & School Finance

Update, 10/21: Joshua Dunn dissects the decision in writing over at the Education Next blog. Check it out.

I haven’t had a chance to take a course yet in Colorado civics and government, so maybe I’m just a bit confused. Isn’t the legislature supposed to make the laws, and the courts just supposed to interpret them? Well then, how do you explain this overreaching 4-3 decision from the Colorado Supreme Court?

The Lobato case started in 2005 when large group of parents from eight school districts across the state and 14 school districts in the San Luis Valley sued the state, claiming that Colorado’s school finance system violates the state constitution’s requirement for a “thorough and uniform” public education system.

In March 2006 Denver District Judge Michael Martinez ruled against the plaintiffs, concluding the current system meets the requirements of Amendment 23, isn’t subject to court review and that the school districts didn’t have standing to sue.

A Colorado Court of Appeals panel upheld the district court decision in January 2008.

The high court’s decision Monday overturned all that and sends the case back to district court for trial.

Continue Reading »


19th 2009
Shameless Self-Promotion Better than Repeating Balloon Boy Hoax

Posted under Education Politics & School Choice

So this blog called Online Schools put up a post last week titled “50 Excellent Education Blogs about Education Reform” (H/T Core Knowledge blog). Almost as if I were looking through the wrapped presents under the tree on Christmas morning for the new super Star Wars Lego set, I scanned the list … only to find that Ed Is Watching is nowhere to be found. My little 5-year-old heart was nearly broken.

What do I have to do to get some attention? Have my dad build a tinfoil blimp and call a local TV news station to tell them that I’ve just been launched thousands of feet into the air somewhere over the Front Range? On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

But let me engage in a little shameless self-promotion to explain why I belong on the list. Six months ago I was in the top 20 education policy blogs based on Technorati authority ratings. And read what all the cool people are saying about me on the sidebar to the right.

Maybe the Online Schools blog can fix the situation. I did notice a spot where I could fit in — the Early Ed Watch blog for some reason was listed twice. So there’s really only 49, not 50. And Ed Is Watching sounds awfully eerily similar to Early Ed Watch, doesn’t it? I could fit just nicely under the “Policy” or “Regional” headings.

Pretty shameless, you say? Well, it’s better than me becoming the Balloon Boy sequel. I’m not just doing this “for the show.”

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16th 2009
A Glimpse at New Schools: KIPP Denver Collegiate High School

Posted under Denver & High School & Middle School & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Urban Schools

In what probably will be the final stop on the “A Glimpse at New Schools” tour for 2009-10, I quickly wanted to bring your attention to KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, near West Alameda and Pecos. This August the public charter school opened with a group of 9th graders who are set to be its first graduating class in 2013 before moving on to their goal of college.

KIPP Denver Collegiate, conveniently located next door to the successful KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy middle school, is sharing space with Rishel Middle School (building pictured behind the famous “Knowledge Is Power” slogan from which the KIPP name derives).

I was going to give you more of a detailed lowdown on KIPP Denver Collegiate, but Denver Examiner charter school columnist Donnell Rosenberg already wrote an excellent piece. All the best to KIPP’s first Denver high school as the leaders and teachers work to help students reach college ready to succeed at the next level, and throughout their lives.

Other new schools featured: Continue Reading »

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