Archive for July, 2010

30th 2010
Price for State Board to Adopt Common Core Standards Is Simply Too High

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & State Board of Education

Well, Monday is the State Board of Education’s moment of truth: the decision whether or not to adopt Common Core standards. What once looked like an outcome not in doubt has changed in recent days. A great Ed News Colorado story today by Todd Engdahl lays it out well.

Some of the decisions made by the State Board are pretty cut and dry, many of an administrative nature. From time to time they are faced with more momentous choices. Monday’s vote certainly is one of them. My understanding — based on the Ed News report as well as what my Education Policy Center friends are hearing — is that of the Board’s seven members, two are definitely opposed (Peggy Littleton and Marcia Neal) and one is leaning that way. Board chairman Bob Schaffer could turn out to be the deciding vote.

It’s kind of a Catch-22: Voting Yes on Common Core opens up a potential Pandora’s Box of greater federal control and involvement over Colorado parents and schools. Voting No means effectively ruling out Colorado’s chances to bring home up to $175 million in U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top reform dollars. (Note: Over the four years of the grant award, that probably will amount to less than one-half of one percent of Colorado’s total K-12 revenues.) Continue Reading »

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29th 2010
Michigan: Just Another Case of Phony Alternative Teacher Certification “Reform”

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Research & Teachers

From Michigan comes today’s reminder that education “reform” does not always mean real reform. History teacher Ryan McCarl writes for the Education Report that a new bill in his state designed to promote alternative teacher certification, well, really does very little or anything of the kind. In fact, he calls it “meaningless”:

The text of House Bill 5596 exhibits a continuing addiction to strict state regulation of the teacher labor market and a fundamental lack of trust in the capacity of local school officials to use their professional judgment to evaluate prospective teachers on a case-by-case basis, just as hiring professionals do in most fields in the private sector. Michigan policymakers continue to presume that traditional certification provides some sort of quality guarantee that alternative certification does not. But this position is not supported by either evidence or logic.

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28th 2010
Michelle Rhee Inspires Me Again: Special Ed Vouchers, Teacher Dismissals

Posted under Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Choice & Teachers & Urban Schools

I’m getting caught up once again on the news today. And yes, I have to say it, Washington D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee has done my heart good again — she who has helped to inspire my radical education reform side. She remains serious about getting the job done, and even the big Time Magazine cover story a year and a half ago hasn’t slowed her down (I guess they don’t have curses like Sports Illustrated does.)

Anyway, given one of the toughest job assignments out there, Rhee continues to do great things. Two examples have graced the news pages recently:

  1. The Washington Times reported that Rhee is backing vouchers for special-needs D.C. students in the style of Florida’s successful McKay Scholarship program. Matt Ladner explains how such a program would save the school district money while increasing parental satisfaction and improving programs through competition. Congress pulled funding from the voucher program for D.C.’s poor students, but Rhee isn’t letting that be an excuse to give up on school choice.
  2. Then, just a couple days later, the Washington Post reported that Rhee used her upgraded IMPACT evaluation system and newly negotiated powers to remove 165 ineffective teachers from the classroom and put another 737 “minimally effective” teachers on one-year notice. Overdue and badly needed in one of the worst-performing school systems. Glad to see the important story put into proper context, the sage Rick Hess takes his hat off to Rhee.

Once again I’m inspired by the bold leadership and tough love from the D.C. chancellor. Are any other officials out there paying attention?

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27th 2010
iVoices: Rural School “Chief” Gerald Keefe Sounds Off Against National Standards

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Rural Schools & State Board of Education

Well, we’ve reached the week leading up to Colorado’s critical final decision about whether to adopt the Common Core Standards. This decision could end up marking a significant crossroads concerning K-12 education in Colorado.

A few weeks ago I pointed out that the Denver Post had caught up to me in noticing the whole Common Core debate. Their front-page story introduced many readers to Kit Carson School District superintendent (or “chief”) Gerald Keefe, who has led the charge for local control from the rural Eastern Plains.

Keefe very recently joined my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow for a discussion of a resolution his school board has adopted, a resolution for which he has begun to gain support. Listen to the 10-minute iVoices podcast (MP3) as the rural superintendent explains why he is resolved not only to oppose Common Core and national standards but also to break away from state-mandated curriculum requirements. Continue Reading »

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26th 2010
Ben DeGrow Didn’t Copy Off My Paper — Great Minds Just (Mostly) Think Alike

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

Last Tuesday I told you about the need to focus on replicating great teaching rather than shrinking class sizes. The post basically did the following:

  • Noted that, according to research by Mike Antonucci, Colorado has been an exception by not hiring faster than student enrollment growth
  • Point readers to an Education Next podcast highlighting the research on effective teaching techniques by Doug Lemov and Steven Farr
  • Connected Lemov’s and Farr’s ideas to Colorado’s statutory push to enhance educator effectiveness

So how surprised was I to read this new Colorado Daily piece by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow that well, basically makes the same points? Continue Reading »

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23rd 2010
Paul Peterson Wonders if GOP Congress Boosts Obama on Education Reform

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Choice

It’s Friday, and I don’t want to delve into the depths of education policy today. Instead, I’m recommending an interesting Education Next thought piece by Harvard professor Dr. Paul Peterson, a champion of school choice and education reform.

Peterson muses that a Republican takeover of Congress this November just might save Obama’s presidency… by saving his education reform program:

Will a Republican majority in the House, coupled with a conservative majority in the Senate, throw the president a lifeline? As the presidential election heats up, many Republicans will urge relentless opposition to everything, even if it fits the education reform agenda. But that backward-looking strategy will only give substance to inevitable Democratic charges that Republicans are negative nabobs of Know Nothing. If the president proposes something school reformers like, Republicans will have to sign on.

It’s an interesting argument. Feel free to chime in. Judging by the way my mom and dad yell at the TV a lot during the political news programs, I’m guessing there isn’t a whole lot that President Obama and Republicans agree on generally. If school choice and education reform is that one thing, then here’s to making some important progress in that area. Because it would be better than the situation we have now in Congress, that’s for sure.

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22nd 2010
Colorado Takes On Tenure and Evaluation Reform… Are “Master’s Bumps” Next?

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Research & School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

Writing over at Education Next, experts Emily Cohen and Kate Walsh explain how reformers should be focused on changing the levers of state policy to improve the quality of teaching, rather than grousing about what locally-negotiated collective bargaining contracts won’t allow them to do. In their piece “Invisible Ink in Teacher Contracts”, Cohen and Walsh pour the spotlight on our backyard:

No legislative success, however, trumps that achieved in Colorado in May 2010. The perfect storm—a charismatic, Democratic legislator who is a Teach For America alumnus, the lure of Race to the Top funds, and a whole array of advocacy groups that included the Colorado chapters of Democrats for Education Reform and Stand For Children—pulled off teacher legislation that was bitterly opposed by the state union and which no one dreamed possible a year ago.

The success of SB 191 is becoming conventional wisdom nationwide, and it’s hard to disagree about its national significance — even if the implementation of the bill is slow and its actual effects promise to be somewhat modest. Maybe the best news s that Colorado achieved this remarkable legislative success despite the fact our state tends more than most toward the local control end of the governance spectrum.

But the article also prompted me to think about what else the Colorado General Assembly might find a way to take on. Here’s my nominee:

The love affair that states have with master’s degrees really cannot be justified, as no study of any repute has ever found that these degrees make teachers more effective, particularly when the degrees are earned in education.

I’ve highlighted this problem before and the fact that Colorado spends about $140 million or more a year on these “master’s bumps” alone. Not exactly the hallmark of a productive education system. Now that Colorado has begun to take on teacher tenure and evaluations, here’s hoping that the state can use whatever leverage it has to tackle the issue of “master’s bumps,” too.

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20th 2010
Let’s Focus on Replicating Great Teaching Rather Than Shrinking Class Sizes

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Research & Teachers

You’ve got to hand it to the teachers unions. They have so many people conditioned to call for more teachers and smaller class sizes as the leading remedy for what ails public schools. The tide slowly is turning to a greater realization of what the abundance of research shows us: namely, that the quality of the individual teacher is far more important than small differences in class sizes.

But what can policy makers do about it? Are great teachers just born that way, and we need to do more to import their natural gifts into the education system? Or are there practical skills and mechanics that teachers can learn from their peers who have achieved remarkable success in the classroom?

With plenty of teaching experience between them, authors Doug Lemov (Teach Like a Champion) and Steven Farr (Teaching as Leadership) make a strong case for the latter. The 12 minutes it takes to listen to the two authors’ new Education Next podcast interview with Michael Petrilli is a worthwhile investment of time for anyone truly concerned about how to make our schools better. Continue Reading »


19th 2010
How Do Common Core Standards Compare to Colorado’s New Academic Standards?

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & State Board of Education

The deadline for the Colorado State Board of Education to decide whether to approve Common Core Standards (CCS) is fast approaching, now only two weeks away. The debate continues to pick up steam. Are these academic standards for K-12 students truly high quality and voluntary? Is there truly a benefit beyond the money tied to adopting Common Core?

One argument against adopting math and language arts CCS for Colorado — besides legitimate fears of opening the doors to expanded federal government influence on local school curricula — is the potential conflict with existing state standards. Only seven months ago the State Board of Education adopted new academic standards in 11 areas. Which raises some natural questions: Do we really need to re-invent the wheel? Are the quasi-national CCS more focused and rigorous than Colorado’s new standards? Continue Reading »

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15th 2010
Glimpsing a K-12 Future: Pension Transparency and Education Entrepreneurs

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

It’s the middle of July. It’s hot outside. If they’re not swimming in the pool, people are more interested in political scandals than education stories. That’s too bad.

Whether we realize it or not, I’m beginning to believe I am lucky enough to be coming of age during a truly transformational time in public schooling and education reform. I mean now. On that note, here are a couple of items I stumbled across today that may not seem to go together. Maybe it’s kind of a hodgepodge, but so what?

First, in the Wall Street Journal (H/T Matt Ladner), John Fund’s Political Diary highlights a speech made by mega-billionaire Bill Gates right here in Colorado at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Continue Reading »

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