Archive for September, 2011

30th 2011
Colorado Proposition 103 Tax Hike Blue Book: Not Just for Eddie to Color On

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

A couple days ago my parents received in the mail a little blue booklet. Since most of the things we receive in the mailbox anymore are junk, I was getting ready to decorate it with my crayons when my mom told me to stop. It turns out the “Blue Book” is an election guide from the state of Colorado on a ballot initiative called Proposition 103.

I guess word is out about a misleading pro-103 robo-call (wouldn’t it be cool if it really were a robot calling?). After looking at the “Blue Book,” my mom confirmed that Proposition 103 is a tax increase. She wanted to know why the robo-call doesn’t state that important basic fact. Turns out the “Blue Book” provided some important information. Good thing I hadn’t had a chance to start coloring on it yet.

If you want to dig a little deeper on the only statewide issue this year on the Colorado ballot, doing some math might give you a different opinion than if you just heard the “for the children” speech. (Or if you’re a newspaper editorial board, and heard proposition sponsor Senator Rollie Heath’s pitch.) That’s why you really need to check out Ari Armstrong’s column today in the Grand Junction Free Press, not least of all because he quotes one of my Education Policy Center friends: Continue Reading »

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29th 2011
Harrison School District’s Bold Pay Reform Shows Early Success, Draws Attention

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Teachers

At my Education Policy Center friends’ recent series of Colorado school board candidate briefings, one of the local reforms they highlighted was Harrison School District Two’s groundbreaking pay-for-performance system, known as Effectiveness and Results (E & R). Well, who knew during the briefings that a little sensational news would give certain local bloggers a platform to bash performance pay?

Let’s help put the overeager presumption to rest. First, Harrison superintendent Mike Miles points out that the Sierra High School student walkout is not the first of its kind in the district, and that its connection to the performance pay changes is tenuous at best. Second, as Ben DeGrow noted earlier this year in his issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform, Miles emphasizes the comprehensive approach to performance pay. Effectively overhauling established, inefficient teacher compensation structures is extremely difficult without also taking on other key changes, like Harrison has done: Continue Reading »


28th 2011
Colorado School Districts Part of Mediocre Picture in International Comparison

Posted under Denver & International & Research & Suburban Schools

Last week I pointed you to a provocative new Rick Hess essay that asked whether education reform has paid too much attention to focusing on urban, high-poverty areas and on closing achievement gaps. Well, almost as if on cue, Jay Greene and Josh McGee write in Education Next about their new study on how suburban U.S. school districts compare internationally in math (based on most recent 2007 data):

Affluent suburban districts may be outperforming their large urban neighbors, but they fail to achieve near the top of international comparisons…. White Plains, New York, in suburban Westchester County, is only at the 39th percentile in math relative to our global comparison group. Grosse Point, Michigan, outside of Detroit, is at the 56th percentile. Evanston, Illinois, the home of Northwestern University outside of Chicago, is at the 48th percentile in math. The average student in Montgomery County, Maryland, where many of the national government leaders send their children to school, is at the 50th percentile in math relative to students in other developed countries….

It goes on, but you get the flavor. If you’re wondering about your own school district, you can check out the handy new web tool Greene and company created called The Global Report Card. All in all, it’s an interesting tool that may be worth further exploring. The findings reported by Greene and McGee do raise some cause for concern: Continue Reading »

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26th 2011
Fordham’s Checker Finn: School Districts Ready to Go the Way of Horse & Buggy

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice

It’s less than two weeks past my Education Policy Center friends’ series of school board candidate briefings. In other words, it’s time for education reform senior statesman Checker Finn to raise the challenging and provocative question for National Affairs: Are local school district boards and the 19th century governance structure they represent about ready to wither away and disappear?

Four years ago Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno wrote an article suggesting that online learning technologies were pushing school district boundaries into irrelevance. Of all places, the article was published in the Colorado Association of School Boards’ (now defunct) Prism magazine. (Sadly, no link is available.)

Finn fleshes out the increasing policy and governance dilemmas as online and blended learning begin to skyrocket in popularity: Continue Reading »


23rd 2011
Former Education Policy Center Intern Makes Splash on School Choice Week Blog

Posted under Edublogging & Independence Institute & Parents & School Choice

Little Eddie finally has a run for his money. What do I mean? In lieu of diving into another deep topic on a Friday, instead let’s take a look at the school reform blogging debut of a recent Education Policy Center intern, Devan Crean. Writing on the School Choice Week blog, she asks the ever-important question, “Why School Choice? Why Now?” Here’s a flavor:

What has made America great in the past is the quality of education it was able to provide, but today that is no longer the case. The most troubling aspect of the lack of quality education in America today is that it is an issue that affects us all. This is not just an inner city problem; it is a problem in every community in every state.

Providing parents with more choices is absolutely an answer to the problem. As Americans, we have the freedom of choice in most aspects of our lives, and the type and quality of education should be no different.

Congrats to Devan. We look forward to seeing more contributions in the near future. Before you forget, here’s your chance to subscribe to the School Choice Week blog. It should end up being one of your favorites, right after this humble little blog here, of course. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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22nd 2011
Is It Really Time to Re-think Education Reform Focus on The Achievement Gap?

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

What’s going on in the world of education reform? Every once in awhile, even a precocious 5-year-old like myself can benefit from stepping back to try to get a better look at the big picture. With a penetrating eye and a nuanced approach, the prolific Rick Hess takes on one of K-12 reformers’ sacred cows–the focus on the achievement gap:

…The legacy of achievement gap mania isn’t necessarily undesirable. Focusing on the neediest students is admirable, as far as it goes. With limited time, talent, and resources, we can’t do everything–and it’s not unreasonable that some think our priority in every case should be the most in need.

The real problem has been the unwillingness of gap-closers to acknowledge the costs of their agenda or its implications. And yet, the groupthink consensus that the business of education is “closing achievement gaps” has made it tough to talk honestly about the costs–for fear of being branded a racist or thought unconcerned with inequities. It has dreadfully narrowed the potential coalition for reform. It has distorted the way we’ve approached educational choice, accountability, and reform. It has warped and retarded the pace, reach, and power of school improvement efforts. And it has yielded a stifling and ultimately troubling vision of schooling.

Before you follow the natural urge to respond, you really also ought to read Hess’s entire National Affairs essay that got this rolling. No one can ever say he is afraid to stir the pot. Continue Reading »

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21st 2011
Utah Lawmaker Charts Bold Plan to Empower Students for Excellent Education

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Choice & State Legislature

Over and over again I have said that serious outside-the-box thinking is needed to push American schooling toward excellence that affords families a wide array of challenging and effective options to serve them best. In that light Matt Ladner brings our attention to a bold and visionary education transformer, who just so happens to be one of our neighbors to the west.

A column in last Friday’s Salt Lake Tribune indicates that the Utah legislature will be considering a dramatic proposal that could greatly empower families to customize education:

Legislation proposed by Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, would give each high school student in Utah an individual education savings account, sort of like a debit card, and that student could use that money any way he or she wanted toward earning a diploma….

Continue Reading »

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19th 2011
The Cartel Creator’s New Choice Media Site Fills Valuable School Reform Niche

Posted under Edublogging & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Choice & Teachers

I’ve got a new, exciting addition to the blogroll to tell you about. Today marks the launch of Choice Media, described in its first official media release as “a non-profit news service devoted to covering all facets of K-12 education quality and reform.” It’s no amateur operation, either. A look at the website will tell you that.

Once you realize that the founder is Bob Bowdon, director of the 2010 movie The Cartel, then you sit up and take notice. Choice Media figures to introduce the message of school choice and education reform to some new audiences. Not only will they be featuring short video news pieces that I’ll be tuning in to, and a decent assortment of news aggregation, blog posts and Twitter feeds, a quick tour of the site also reveals some other interesting features: Continue Reading »


16th 2011
Good News to End the Week: Indiana Choice Program Growing at Record Pace

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & School Choice

While the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program is on hold due to a court-ordered injunction, its Indiana cousin is the source of good news for students and families seeking to exercise more beneficial educational choices. An Indianapolis TV station reported on Wednesday:

The Department of Education said 3,800 students are receiving vouchers, a program created and implemented in less than three months.

“It is the largest uptake of a state-funded voucher program in the history of the United States,” Bennett said.

Most students participating are from low or moderate income families.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Indiana program’s burgeoning popularity. But it’s worth pointing out again as the trend continues. The proof keeps growing that 2011 indeed is the Year of School Choice.

Nice way to end the week on a positive note….

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15th 2011
New Research Adds to “Master’s Bump” Blowout; Time for More Performance Pay

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

How about a little “dog bites man” story for education policy geeks? Hey, you can’t drive the point home often enough when you’re making the case for education transformation! A new issue brief for the Manhattan Institute by Marcus Winters (now one of Colorado’s own) highlights the unsurprising but important research he conducted along with Jay Greene and Bruce Dixon:

Our study, to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Economics of Education Review, builds on two decades of research from a variety of school systems and confirms a consistent finding: external teacher credentials tell us next to nothing about how well a teacher will perform in the classroom….

As with most previous research, we found no relationship between a teacher’s earning a master’s degree, certification, or years of experience and the teacher’s classroom performance as measured by student test scores…. Continue Reading »


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