Archive for November, 2009

30th 2009
School Choice Also Helps Reduce Crime, Increase College Attendance

Posted under Research & School Choice

(H/T Jay Greene) A new study of North Carolina by Harvard researcher David Deming finds that school choice for the poorest students — especially African-American males — leads to less criminal activity:

Importantly, the effects of winning the [school choice] lottery persist beyond the treatment years into the peak ages of criminal offending and beyond. After enrollment in the first choice school is complete, youth attend similar schools and live in similar neighborhoods. Yet the impacts persist for seven years after random assignment. The findings suggest that schools may be a particularly important setting for the prevention of future crime.

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25th 2009
I’m Thankful Colorado Teachers At Least Can Request Political Refunds

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Teachers

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, which means I’ll take a little break from blogging. One of the things I’m thankful for are teachers — especially good teachers who work hard, know their stuff, and care about the success and well-being of kids like me. This time of year I also am thankful that teachers in Colorado are free to choose which membership organization best represents them, and that if they join a union they at least have the opportunity to ask for their money back — if they do so by December 15.

What am I talking about? Take 2 minutes and watch this teacher explain it: Continue Reading »

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24th 2009
Colorado Needs Standards for Tax-Funded Union Release Time

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & School Accountability & School Board & School Finance & Teachers

In many Colorado school districts, taxpayers are subsidizing union presidents and/or other officers to take release time from the classroom for union business. Back in 2003-04 the practice cost Colorado taxpayers at least $775,000 (PDF). Since nothing is known to have changed to crack down on the process, the figure must be considerably more these days.

What exactly are union officials doing with their taxpayer-subsidized time, and how can we find out? Bargaining negotiations? Grievance procedures? District committees? Political activities? Continue Reading »

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23rd 2009
Arizona Shows K-12 Tax Credit Program Saves State Millions of Dollars

Posted under Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

Should Colorado enact a K-12 scholarship tax credit program that empowers families to choose private schools? It may sound crazy politically, yet the idea would make sense not only to expand choice for families but also to help the state save money during an especially tough budget year.

What, you say, you don’t believe that it could save Colorado money? Then you simply have to take a look at this: As the Center for Arizona Policy reports, an analysis by Baylor University economist Dr. Charles North shows that Arizona’s education tax credit program saves their state somewhere between $100 million and $240 million!

Arizona’s experience shows that there is a demand out there among families for something better, and that providing the right kind of tax credit incentive can help provide a quality education to more students more efficiently than the existing system. It’s time for Colorado to take a closer look.

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20th 2009
Glad to Have My Skepticism Validated about Denver’s “Boundary School” Idea

Posted under Denver & Just For Fun & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice

Last week I asked what Denver Public Schools was up to with a plan to change the enrollment policies for some of its charter schools, making them into “boundary schools.” What’s up with that?

When you’re 5 years old like I am, you can tend to be insecure about questioning authority so often. Thus I was pleased to see some of the quotes Denver Post education writer Jeremy Meyer posted on his Colorado Classroom blog this week: Continue Reading »


19th 2009
Un-”progressive” Boston Teachers Union Gives Important Policy Lesson

Posted under School Choice

If there’s such a thing as being the opposite of “progressive” when it comes to education personnel practices, this example from the Boston Herald is it:

Grinchlike union bosses are blocking at least 200 of Boston’s best teachers from pocketing bonuses for their classroom heroics in a puzzling move that gets a failing grade from education experts.

The Boston Teachers Union staunchly opposes a performance bonus plan for top teachers – launched at the John D. O’Bryant School in 2008 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Exxon Mobil foundations – insisting the dough be divvied up among all of a school’s teachers, good and bad.

“It’s insanity,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the nonpartisan Pioneer Institute. “They’re less concerned about promoting the interest of individual members than maintaining control over their members.”

Insanity from the perspective of someone whose first priority is education excellence and student achievement. Business as usual for the Boston Teachers Union.

Teachers union power is good for self-preservation: security, membership and the bottom line of the union. Everything else — including rewards for high-quality teaching — takes a back seat. Without significant outside competition, there is little or no incentive for this fact to change, either.

An important policy lesson to be gleaned for those who have yet to learn it. A valuable reminder for the rest of us.


18th 2009
Real Alternative Certification May Actually Help Boost Student Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Finance & Teachers

I’ve told you before about groups like ABCTE that are reaching out to top-notch professionals and making it easier for them to make an effective transition into classroom teaching. But where’s the proof this is a good idea for the bottom line of education?

In the new edition of Education Next, Daniel Nadler and Paul Peterson show that states with genuine alternative teacher certification programs (like Colorado) have experienced greater gains in math and reading scores, and especially among African-American students. Is it a coincidence, or cause-and-effect? Ultimately, it’s hard to say.

But as the authors conclude, the arguments against alternative certification have been eroded:

But the burden of proof would now seem to shift to the plaintiffs in the Renee v. Spellings case, who argue that traditional state certification is necessary to ensure teacher quality. Genuine alternative certification opens the door to more minority teachers, and student learning is more rapid in states where the reform has been introduced. Meanwhile, scientific evidence that alternative certification harms students remains somewhere between scant and nonexistent.

The Race to the Top push in Colorado has brought forth some good ideas, but a truly bold and visionary effort also would have included a stronger push to expanding the variety of certification routes that competent professionals can take to the classroom.

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17th 2009
Hoping Race to the Top Spurs Colorado Funding, Teacher, STEM Innovations

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Federal Government & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & School Finance & Sciences & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Katie Redding at the Colorado Independent reported yesterday on the official recommendations for Colorado’s application to receive Race to the Top federal reform dollars. One of my Education Policy Center friends got a chance to chime in:

Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst for the free-market Independence Institute, found much to like about the application, particularly the suggestions to provide financial incentives to teachers and to attach higher funding to high-risk students (which he noted would give parents more choice about which schools could best serve their students.)

There’s only so much reasonable space in an article like that one, so Ben asked me to revise and extend his remarks a bit. The “higher funding to high-risk students” is really a call for a widespread move to a transparent Weighted Student Funding formula that empowers parents and school-level leaders at the expense of central administration bureaucrats. Ben further cited Cole Arts and Science Academy as Colorado’s premier example of “Turning Around Low-Performing Schools.” Continue Reading »

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16th 2009
Colorado Cyberschool Students Tell What It’s Like To Go To School Online

Posted under Edublogging & Independence Institute & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Colorado is a great place to be for families seeking a free online public education. There are 18 different multi-district cyberschools in the state, in addition to single-district and other supplemental online programs.

Over the past several months I’ve introduced you to insights on the transformative power of online education through a podcast interview with Dr. Terry Moe, and helped give you a better glimpse of this fast-growing type of education with local cyberschool leaders and with Colorado’s Online Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Now you can hear the perspective of those who matter the most: some of the students. Sean, Shannon and Ashlyn Cooney have been enrolled in the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) (the state’s largest online charter school) for several years now. Click the play button below to listen to them talk about what cyberschool life is like on an iVoices podcast with my Education Policy Center friend Pam Benigno: Continue Reading »

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12th 2009
Is There a Third Way in the Debate over Teacher Pensions?

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Research & School Finance & Teachers

Over at Education Next (one of my favorite stops these days), professors Robert Costrell and Michael Podgursky say there may be a way to make a positive move beyond the traditional debate over teacher pensions:

The critics of DB [defined benefit plans] are correct that current plans are seriously underfunded in part because benefits are not tied to contributions. This makes plans vulnerable to gaming and juicing up of benefits formulae when stock market returns are good, which, of course, leaves the taxpayers and employers holding the bag when stock market returns turn south.

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