Archive for February, 2010

February
26th 2010
Transparency, Merit Pay and “It’s For the Kids”: A Little Friday Deja Vu for You

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

I know this sounds a little weird, but I think I’m experiencing a bad case of deja vu. The topics of three posts I wrote last week all re-emerged this Friday morning:

  1. On Monday the 15th I noted that the school spending transparency debate had returned to the State Capitol. While Senate Bill 91 here was killed, I see that our neighbors to the Southwest – Arizona – are giving serious consideration to a bill that would bring detailed spending transparency to public school agencies and all other governments.
  2. On Wednesday the 17th I highlighted our new podcast with Harrison superintendent Mike Miles about his district’s groundbreaking performance-based teacher pay program. Today the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) posted their interview with Miles about the very same topic in its weekly Teacher Quality Bulletin.
  3. Last but not least, on Thursday the 18th I brought your attention to Rick Hess’s new blog and promised to cut back on using the “It’s For the Kid” line. This morning the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci observes that it didn’t take very long for NEA to help make Hess’s argument for him.

Here’s hoping the month of March brings something new. Have a great weekend!

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February
25th 2010
How to Push Ben DeGrow’s Buttons in Making Arguments about School Funding

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Choice & School Finance & Teachers

The same day that I promised to stay away from using the “it’s for the kids” line to make an argument, the Denver Post published an online column by University of Northern Colorado education professor Spencer Weiler doing just that:

…Colorado is only as strong as the quality of education children throughout the state receive each day. And the quality of education is directly correlated with the funding the state ensures for its public schools. Money matters when it comes to educating children.

It is with that backdrop that I wish to comment on the state’s failure to adequately fund public schools and the current fiscal crisis. When Colorado passed Amendment 23 in 2000 the state was $696 below the national average in per-pupil funding. We are now over $1,400 below the national average in per-pupil spending and the gap will continue to grow as a result of the current recession….

Let me explain…. No, let me sum up. According to Dr. Weiler, we must take away reasonable controls on the growth of government and the right of citizens to vote on tax increases because Colorado schools aren’t funded as much as in many other states. In other words, it’s for the children. How is a little munchkin like me supposed to argue with that?

Well, whether he realized it or not, Dr. Weiler knew how to push my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow‘s buttons — by leaving crucial facts out of his 650-word essay. Continue Reading »

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February
24th 2010
More Choice Access and Information Would Help Serve Denver Students

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

Ed News Colorado’s top-line story today details the “surprising findings” of a new National Association of Charter School Authorizers report that a majority of Denver Public Schools students attend schools that don’t meet district performance expectations:

“There are 20,000 elementary school students in the Denver Public Schools system who … don’t have a performing elementary school to go to,” said NACSA vice president William Haft. “That’s half the elementary-aged students in the system.”

Discouraging results? In some sense, yes. But we have known that a lot of hard work remains before us in improving educational outcomes for American students, especially poorer students in urban settings. And the fact that Denver actually has been serious about establishing and using a performance framework puts the district ahead of some of its peers. The report is fascinating, with a lot of detailed information, so it’s worth a read.

But one observation highlighted in the Ed News Colorado story caught my attention: Continue Reading »

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February
23rd 2010
Is Colorado Serious about Fixing Our Broken Teacher Tenure System?

Posted under Education Politics & State Legislature & Teachers

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured a great (and timely) editorial piece titled “No (Tenured) Teacher Left Behind” — focusing readers’ attention on an issue that demands policy makers’ attention:

School reformers generally agree that the most important education resource is the teacher. But one of the biggest obstacles to putting a good instructor in every classroom is a tenure system that forces principals to hire and retain teachers based on seniority instead of performance.

California grants tenure to teachers after merely two years in the classroom. New York, like most other states, makes teachers wait a grand total of three years before giving them a job for life. In most cases tenure is granted automatically unless administrators object, which is rare.

Colorado is like New York, in that teachers have a three-year probationary period before career tenure is rewarded. Some object and say that Colorado doesn’t have teacher tenure. If you mean the word tenure as such doesn’t appear in the law books, you’re right. But there are still plenty of bureaucratic hoops to climb that make removing a tenured teacher extremely costly and difficult. Remember this chart? Continue Reading »

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February
22nd 2010
“Private” Public Schools and the Blatant Hypocrisy of School Choice Opponents

Posted under Education Politics & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice

I guess some things in education you’re just not supposed to talk about. Hats off to the Fordham Institute for breaking one of the taboos and reporting on “private” public schools. What, you say? That doesn’t make sense?

It does make sense when you understand what authors Michael Petrilli and Janie Scull are getting at: the fact that 2,800 public schools serving 1.7 million students in the United States have very, very low percentages of poor students in them. As they show, schools funded and run outside the government system aren’t the only ones that can be exclusive.

The list of Denver-area “private” public schools is posted here (PDF). Those who are paying attention closely will note that 5 of the 55 on the list are public charter schools. That’s about in proportion to Colorado’s general school population, which reinforces our understanding that charters in our state cater to no more or fewer middle-class students than their neighborhood school counterparts do.

I’m not saying we need to put an end to all of these exclusive schools — whether they be private or public, traditional or charter. The point is let’s stop bashing proposals to give publicly-funded scholarships (through vouchers or tax credits) so poor kids can attend private schools, while defending the right of many more well-to-do students to attend private “public” schools (or Economic Segregation Academies, if you prefer).

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February
19th 2010
It’s Time for Accountability for School Employee Union Leave Activities

Posted under Independence Institute & School Board & School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

If I’m in a class some day and the teacher has to take time off because she is sick or has some job to do to learn how to be a better teacher, that would be one thing. But getting paid to take time off on behalf of the union, well, that’s a different story.

In his new issue paper Colorado Schools and Association Release Time (PDF), my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow says that our school districts need to do much better knowing how these leave days are used — especially the paid ones, to make sure money from my parents and other hard-working citizens isn’t misused.

Like taking union release time to campaign for political candidates. That’s what happened in Fort Collins in 2004 (see here and here), and who knows how many other times and places? Do people really think this is okay? Because nobody in charge seems to be asking the questions.

Click the play button below, or follow this link, to listen to Ben discuss with Pam Benigno on an iVoices podcast why greater accountability for the tax-subsidized privilege of union release time is the least that is needed during these trying budget times:

Maybe someday Colorado might decide to follow Utah’s lead and move forward a bill prohibiting paid union release time altogether. But can’t we all agree that for now, a legislative audit and some stronger local policies would be a good idea? If enough people knew this practice was taking place in many of our school districts, I’m sure there would be an outcry for such a commonsense approach.

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February
18th 2010
I Promise (Mostly) to Cut Back on Using the “It’s For the Kids” Line

Posted under Edublogging & Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Teachers

Look, I’m not perfect. Using the “for the children” argument is something I have resorted to only on a few occasions. I’ve even had fun mocking someone for using the counter-intuitive “blame the children” argument. For a little kid like myself, that’s not a bad record.

But now I’ve got to keep on my toes. The sharp and cynical education policy maven Rick Hess now has his own blog for Education Week, and right out of the gate he’s not pulling punches beating on the “It’s For the Kids” (ITFK) mantra — including letting us all know how silly AFT president Randi Weingarten and former U.S. Department of Education officials sound doing it:

Such variants of the IFTK genus are intended to stifle questions by flaunting moral superiority. Playing the IFTK card ignores the likelihood that no one is eager to leave anybody’s kids behind and the reality that policies entail imperfect choices. By squelching honest dissent, IFTK excuses incoherent policy and practice in the name of moral urgency.

So, here’s a wild idea. Can’t we just presume that everybody cares (or admit that we can’t tell the posers from the real deal) and just argue policies and practices instead?

It’s a good reminder to me, as well. I don’t claim (nor do I aspire) to have nearly the sharp cynical wit that Mr. Hess does. But I promise to try even harder to steer clear of using the “It’s For the Kids” line here at Ed Is Watching — unless it’s in support of begging my parents and other faithful readers to help build my Lego collection.

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February
17th 2010
iVoices: Superintendent Mike Miles on Real Teacher Performance Pay in Harrison

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Principals & Teachers & Urban Schools

When it comes to changing the way teachers are paid, many people have heard of Denver’s ProComp. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow wrote an issue paper (PDF) about that performance pay plan and others in Colorado.

But clearly, as far as the extent of innovation goes, Denver has nothing on El Paso County’s Harrison School District. To get a strong sense of why this is, I recommend you click the play button below (or follow this link) to listen to a brand new 17-minute iVoices podcast interview with Harrison Superintendent Mike Miles:

Not only a lot of thought, but also a lot of time and hard work went into Harrison’s “Effectiveness and Results” (E and R) pay program. E and R is set to transition during the upcoming year until all teachers and other licensed employees will be paid based on performance and achievement in 2011-12.

Best of luck to Harrison! I hope other school districts, officials and education leaders are paying attention and taking close, careful notes. The proof will be in the pudding, so let’s study the E and R program to see how successfully and efficiently it helps improve student learning.

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February
16th 2010
If You Missed Randy DeHoff on 21st Century Learning, We Have Video for You

Posted under events & Independence Institute & learning & Parents & School Choice & State Board of Education

Last Thursday my Education Policy Center friends hosted an event on 21st Century Learning with Randy DeHoff from the Colorado State Board of Education. He discussed whether the idea of 21st Century Learning (and skills) is a valid one and how it will affect Colorado’s new standards and (coming soon) assessments. The informative presentation was followed by a lively discussion, with some thoughtful questions that covered a range of topics.

But you missed it, you say? I don’t know what your excuse might be, unless you heard that I wasn’t coming (I had chores to do, and my mom and dad wouldn’t let me stay out late), and couldn’t bear the disappointment. Well, wipe away those tears. While you’ll have to wait for another time to meet me in person, you can go here to watch the official video of Randy DeHoff’s presentation.

Cyberschool mom Lori Cooney also has posted her take on the event, along with a couple more pictures, over at her blog. Thanks, Lori!

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February
15th 2010
School Spending Transparency Debate Returns Today to State Capitol

Posted under Independence Institute & School Finance & State Legislature

It’s the Monday after a holiday weekend. Most federal government workers have the day off, including no mail delivery. State workers are excused from duty for Presidents’ Day. Most schools are closed, too.

What a great time for a state senate committee to hear Senate Bill 91 (PDF), the 2010 version of Colorado’s Public School Financial Transparency Act. The legislation is a new and improved version of last year’s SB 57, which some politicians found a way to double-super-kill. Even Miracle Max couldn’t help us then.

One key difference between last year and this year is the fact that a few Colorado school districts — like Jeffco and Colorado Springs 11 – are showing that real financial transparency can be done at a reasonable time and cost. That doesn’t even include the newest financial transparency site created by Douglas County Schools, which may be the best of them all. Continue Reading »

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