Archive for May, 2011

31st 2011
Fordham Report on Special Education Trends Raises Important Policy Questions

Posted under Federal Government & Research & School Choice & School Finance

If you think American K-12 education policy is a complex and tangled web of laws, bureaucracies, incentives, politics and emotions — and you would be quite normal to do so — then treading into the narrower world of special education services might make your head completely spin. It’s the day after a long and fun Memorial Day weekend, in which most of my time was spent with playgrounds or Legos.

So rather than make any grand interpretations or pronouncements, I want to bring your attention to the new Fordham Institute report by Janie Scull and Amber Winkler, titled Shifting Trends in Special Education. Nationwide, the number and share of special education students peaked in 2004-05 and has been on the decline ever since. The report explains: Continue Reading »

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27th 2011
Michelle Rhee Hits a Denver Home Run While Her Critics Swing and Miss Again

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

Even when you’re forever 5 years old, time flies. I can hardly believe it was last October that I cried to learn my edu-crush Michelle Rhee was leaving her important superintendent job at D.C. Public Schools. Or that it was only a couple months later we all learned she was starting the new national group Students First.

As Ed News Colorado reports, yesterday Rhee was in Denver to keynote a luncheon event for a fantastic local organization known as ACE Scholarships. I’ve heard from one of my Education Policy Center friends who attended that she gave a great speech. But then again, you can see some of it for yourself, like this clip on how she changed her mind (SMILE) about private school choice:

Continue Reading »


26th 2011
Look Closer at Census Spending Data, Big Picture: Colorado’s K-12 Sky Isn’t Falling

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Principals & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

Talk about one of your below-the-fold news stories. Yesterday a Denver Business Journal headline declared: “Colo. near bottom for education spending.” The story references newly-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which shows Colorado fell from 36th in per-pupil spending in 2007-08 ($9,079) to 40th in 2008-09 ($8,718).

There is good news, though. The best I can tell, unlike a certain recent tax increase press conference, no children were harmed — or even used as props — in the making of this article. For that we can truly be thankful.

How do they measure these spending rankings, though? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I missed any local headlines when the National Education Association released its data showing Colorado’s per-pupil spending increased from $9,335 to $9,574 — albeit slipped down one spot in the rankings from 29th to 30th — during the exact same span. And the U.S. Department of Education’s data likely would be different from both NEA and the Census Bureau, as soon as they release their 2008-09 numbers for us to see. Continue Reading »


25th 2011
Michigan School Board Shows Laudable Commitment to Bargaining Transparency

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

The good people at the Education Action Group (EAG) Foundation have provided another interesting update into email inboxes, including to my Education Policy Center friends:

These days, high-stakes contract negotiations between Michigan school districts and teacher unions are as commonplace as a Justin Verlander strikeout. What makes Traverse City’s negotiations unique is that taxpayers are finally able to keep tabs on the progress.

School districts and teacher unions have a long history of conducting contract talks behind closed doors. It isn’t until both parties have signed on the dotted line that taxpayers learn the details of the deal – even though the contract directly impact citizens’ children, community, and checkbooks. Continue Reading »

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24th 2011
Education Sector Report Adds Valuable Perspective on Colorado Growth Model

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Research & School Accountability

The first time I heard of the Colorado Growth Model, I thought maybe it would be a scientific system to help determine how tall I would grow up to be in our high-altitude environment. No, we’re talking about our state’s system for measuring student progress toward proficiency in math, reading and writing, sorted by district and school. So I was more than just a bit off. You could sue me, but it wouldn’t get you very far.

Anyway, the reason I bring up the topic is a brand-new Education Sector report titled Growth Models and Accountability: A Recipe for Remaking ESEA. The report’s hook and chief case study is Denver’s Bruce Randolph School, and a significant chunk of the report is focused entirely on (you guessed it) the Colorado Growth Model. That’s why my Education Policy Center friends gave it such close attention. Co-author Kevin Carey was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with Ben DeGrow to explain a few things and answer some questions.

It’s safe to say the authors of the Education Sector reports are high on the Colorado Growth Model as exemplary for other states to follow. As the report notes, a consortium of 14 states has inexpensively done just that, thanks to Colorado’s use of open-source software to display the data for public consumption. Carey and co-author Robert Manwaring gave our state’s growth model lofty praise for user-friendliness and accessibility: Continue Reading »


23rd 2011
Nevada Teacher Makes Case for Ending LIFO; No More Coin Flips in Colorado?

Posted under Principals & School Board & School Finance & State Legislature & Suburban Schools & Teachers

There are just some silly policies out there in K-12 education. One that has justly received a remarkable amount of attention in recent weeks and months is the issue of “Last In, First Out” (aka LIFO). Thanks to many union bargaining agreements and some state laws, many teachers are able to retain their jobs or their positions within a school during seasons of downsizing (not uncommon now), based on their seniority within the school district.

A school principal may have to part with an effective teacher who has less experience — or just hasn’t been around that district as long — while a less effective senior teacher stays in the classroom. You can imagine some of the inevitable problems, such as what Michelle Rhee’s national organization Students First points out concerning the case of Nevada teacher Christine Simo:

Continue Reading »

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20th 2011
What’s Left Unsaid in CTQ Report on Implementing Colorado SB 191

Posted under Denver & Online Schools & Principals & Public Charter Schools & State Board of Education & Teachers

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts about Colorado’s implementation of the educator effectiveness law (SB 191) — including a video from Step Up Colorado — that prompted a lengthy and thoughtful comment from an area teacher who is part of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ)’s New Millennium Initiative (NMI).

Then someone else from CTQ reached out to my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow to notify him of a report, co-authored by Denver-area teachers, with thoughts on SB 191 implementation. I thought it fitting to dig in and follow up, seeing as how it was just last week Ben shared his thoughts before the State Board of Education on this very topic.

Anyway, the CTQ report Making Teacher Evaluations Work for Students: Voices from the Classroom was released earlier this week. Some of the 21 teachers’ main points include: Continue Reading »


19th 2011
D-11 Makes Open Negotiations Progress; Jeffco Board President Defends Secrecy

Posted under Independence Institute & School Board & State Legislature & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Finally, some good news on open union negotiations! The Colorado Springs Gazette reports on the latest developments from School District 11:

The board voted unanimously on a resolution detailing changes to the Master Agreement, including opening all steps of negotiations dealing with financial articles and at least some portions of other negotiations. Additional sessions could be open to the public if the district and CSEA agree.

The agreement adds a joint presentation at the conclusion of negotiations, also open to the public, to the school board and teachers.

Not perfect, but a healthy step forward to be sure. Just a couple questions, though. First, were any changes made to the union perks in Article III of the master agreement? In either case, will the public be able to observe this part of future negotiations?

Second, if Jefferson County Public Schools were legally compelled to open up a bargaining session, and 65 members of the public showed up (as in District 11), would the board of education and teachers union in Colorado’s largest school district finally get the message? Continue Reading »


18th 2011
Please Ask First Before Using Students as Props for a Statewide Tax Hike

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Parents & School Choice & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Perhaps you saw this week’s news that Colorado state senator Rollie Heath and several advocacy groups are “pushing ahead” with a proposal that would take more from wage-earners, investors and consumers all over the state to finance K-12 and higher education:

The plan would raise state personal and corporate income tax rates to 5 percent from the current 4.63 percent. The state portion of sales taxes would go from 2.9 to 3 percent.

The additional revenue could be used only for public schools and the state’s higher ed system and couldn’t be used to supplant existing funding. The measure sets 2011-12 spending for schools and colleges as a floor….

The most interesting part of the story is not the predictable 5-year, $3 billion proposal itself, which so far has had trouble gaining traction among education establishment and business groups. Instead, not only did Senator Heath proclaim the tax increase proposal was “for the children,” but he also propped a classroom of Douglas County 4th graders behind him to drive the point home. As Kelly at WhoSaidYouSaid points out, there is a little problem with that: Continue Reading »


17th 2011
Another “Win-Win” Education Idea: Texas Takes a Look at Taxpayer Savings Grants

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

The movement to grow educational freedom and opportunity seems to be growing all over the nation these days. How many of you guessed Texas would be the next place for a proposal like Taxpayer Savings Grants to pick up steam?

The Taxpayer Savings Grant Program allows parents and guardians of school-age children to apply for a grant equal to tuition at a private school or 60% of the state average per-pupil spending, whichever is less.

Proponents of the program say it’s a “win-win” for students (who get an expanded range of learning options) and taxpayers (who expect to save about $2 billion over the next two years). “Win-win”: say, where did I see that phrase recently? It can refer to a number of different pro-freedom education policy reforms. In fact, Texas’ idea looks sort of like Colorado’s HB 1048 tax credit plan that was recently defeated. Hope they have better luck.

For those of you out there who need to see the numbers and the detailed analysis, the Heartland Institute and the E.G. West Institute for Effective Schooling came together to publish a report that’s worth a look. Among other tidbits, you’ll see that the $2 billion savings is actually a conservative estimate.

It’s not often I write about things going on in Texas, but this proposal is definitely worth some close attention. Lone Star State lawmakers face some compelling arguments in favor of adopting Taxpayer Savings Grants.

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