Archive for October, 2011

31st 2011
Interesting Idaho Teacher Merit Pay Plans Inspire Idea for Potato Head Costume

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Rural Schools & Teachers

This spring I told you about some yummy tater-tot-like education reform laws passing in Idaho. Seriously. Well, now Jessie Bonner of the Associated Press reports that one of the key reforms is coming to life throughout the Gem State:

A database compiled by the state Department of Education shows schools districts have adopted a mixture of criteria, giving teachers points for everything from student attendance to graduation rates and writing assessments.

The result: A laboratory of pay-for-performance methods in a state that has long debated whether teacher pay should be tied to things like student test scores.

At least 29 school districts statewide have since developed merit pay plans based, at least partly, on parental involvement.

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28th 2011
A Big “You Got It, Dude” to Pennsylvania Senate for Passing School Choice Bill

Posted under Governor & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

You’ve seen me write before about 2011 as the “Year of School Choice”, right? That summertime proclamation came about the same time as the Pennsylvania legislature stalled on a major proposal to create school vouchers, though so many other states created or expanded educational choice programs. Well, maybe — and let me emphasize maybe — the Keystone State will take the chance this year to redeem itself and put some icing on the “Year of School Choice” cake!

Earlier this week the Pennsylvania state senate voted 27-22 to approve a plan that “provides vouchers to low-income students attending the bottom 5 percent of the state’s worst performing school districts in achievement tests,” reports the American Federation for Children. The legislation also would expand the state’s large and highly successful tuition tax credit program.

Writing for the Daily Caller, Andrew Campanella explains how the momentum behind this legislative proposal shows how school choice has risen above traditional political barriers to find increasing support in “blue states” Continue Reading »

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27th 2011
Cookie Monster Invoked Again, in Great Public Radio Prop 103 Takedown

Posted under Edublogging & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & School Finance & State Legislature

When it comes to invoking the great Cookie Monster in blogging about public policy, who is the king? That’s right. I hate to toot my own horn, but you may remember such famous Eddie posts as:

Well, it appears that I’ve been falling down on the Cookie Monster-blogging job, and someone has had to pick up the slack. That would be one of Jon Caldara’s minions giving little old Eddie a little silent homage with today’s gem about Prop 103 on public radio:

The writing is on the wall for Proposition 103. Rollie Heath essentially failed to sell fresh chocolate chip cookies to a hungry Cookie Monster. Turns out, Cookie Monster couldn’t stomach what Rollie was selling in this economy. Who knew?

So yes. I colored on the Blue Book explaining the arguments for the Prop 103 tax hike. And Prop 103 helped me embrace a newfound love for toppling dominoes (so much better than the dominoes of real jobs falling over!). Now it has invoked the return of the Cookie Monster to Ed Is Watching.

Kudos to the Independence Institute‘s Penn Pfiffner for debating Senator Heath over the tax hike on Colorado Public Radio, just as my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow did earlier on local 9 News television.

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26th 2011
When It Comes to Education Reform, Not All Parent Groups Are Created Equal

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Parents & School Board & School Choice & State Legislature & Teachers

A couple days ago I gave a 5-year-old’s shout-out to well-informed parents and a simplified process for families choosing to enroll their students into a DPS school to which they are not assigned. Any reasonable step we can take to facilitate families to make educational choices that better serve students’ needs is a good thing.

Making effective and meaningful changes to the K-12 system are far more likely to happen when parents are engaged and empowered and (at least somewhat) organized. In an interesting and informative Education Next article, the Walton Foundation’s Bruno Manno highlights the successes of three influential parent groups that are “NOT your mother’s PTA”: Continue Reading »

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25th 2011
Comprehensive National Study Deflates Knee-Jerk Anti-Charter Mythology

Posted under Parents & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Board

In the past couple years some national critics have made a living off distorting the findings of a major national study on public charter schools. If someone has a knee-jerk reaction against charter schools, it’s not surprising they would run with part of the findings that seem to support their conclusion and make sweeping generalizations that don’t stand up so well under the light of scrutiny.

Onto the scene this month comes the most comprehensive analysis of studies on public charter school impacts on student achievement. The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of the Literature, created by Julian Betts and Y. Emily Tang for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, reminds us that the big picture is more nuanced (and positive) than some cranky critics would like us to believe. As quoted in the accompanying press release:

Despite considerable variation among charter schools, there is ample evidence that charter elementary schools on average outperform traditional public schools in both reading and math, and that charter middle schools outperform in math.

Elsewhere in the report it is noted: Continue Reading »

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24th 2011
Hurrah for Well-Informed Parents and New Denver Public Schools Enrollment Process

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

Once upon a time I pointed readers to an interesting and thought-provoking article by education guru Rick Hess, titled “Does School Choice Work?” A couple of points Hess made in the article can stand to be repeated. First:

The biggest mistake pro-market school reformers have made can thus be put simply: They have mistaken choice for competition. The conviction that school choice constitutes, by itself, a market solution has too often led reformers to skip past the hard work necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that choice-based reform can provide.

One of his steps to help advance the choice agenda?:

It is not essential for every single consumer to have the knowledge or inclination to make savvy decisions — but providers do need to expect that the quality of their performance will be known, and will matter. Today, unfortunately, it is enormously difficult for parents in most communities to get useful information on school quality….There is a gaping need for third parties to step up and play the role of a Zagat’s guide or Consumer Reports, providing accessible, independent information on K-12 schools. As these examples make clear, there is absolutely value in having multiple providers, perhaps focusing on different educational concerns or kinds of schools.

With that in mind, today on the Ed News Colorado blog, Van Schoales — longtime education reform advocate and executive director of A-Plus Denver — unveiled some great news: Continue Reading »


21st 2011
Ex-High-Ranking Philly Career Public Educator Vouches for School Choice

Posted under Governor & Parents & School Choice & State Legislature & Urban Schools

A Friday quick hit from Pennsylvania… It is noteworthy to see a career public educator, recently retired as superintendent of one of the nation’s largest school districts, go public in her support for expanded school choice not only through charter schools, but vouchers as well. I’m talking about former Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman, whose new online column is worth the read — if for no other reason than its refreshing perspective:

Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school. That requires giving parents comprehensive school choice that includes an expanded charter-school system and a voucher program for low-income parents with children trapped in a failing school.

The debate about improving failing urban schools has raged for decades, but solutions have been unacceptably slow in coming. Unless progress in student achievement accelerates, it will be 2123 before all children are at grade level in reading and math. During that time, we will continue to lose an increasing percentage of African American and Latino males to the criminal-justice system and an increasing percentage of Philadelphians will be sentenced to a permanent underclass requiring increased social services. The lack of quality education harms the community as a whole. We can do better.

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20th 2011
Prop 103 Not Good for Much But Inspiring My New Love of Toppling Dominoes!

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Research & School Finance

A few weeks ago I told you how I colored all over the “Blue Book” explaining the arguments for and against the Proposition 103 “it’s for the kids” tax hike. While that was plenty of fun, I don’t think it compares to what my Independence Institute friends got to do yesterday with Prop 103:

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19th 2011
Research Strongly Suggests Denver ProComp Success, Room to Improve

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

Yesterday Denver-based and national researchers released the big evaluation of Denver’s ProComp teacher incentive pay program, often considered the centerpiece of an array of structural reforms in Colorado’s second largest school district. If you want the soundbite summary of the work by the University of Colorado Denver and the Center for Education Data and Research, Ed News Colorado’s report nearly nails it:

Student achievement is up and teacher turnover is down since Denver Public Schools implemented its merit pay plan for teachers in 2006, but it’s tough to prove a direct link between the two.

In other words, ProComp (not best understood as “merit pay”) almost certainly is having a positive impact on student results in classrooms across Denver, though real world conditions make it very difficult to pin down the effects of one element when many reforms are taking place. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow summarized similar observations made from a 2010 ProComp evaluation in his issue paper Pioneering Teacher Compensation Reform.

Of course, there’s not a magical direct line between having a system like ProComp in place and better student test results. Evaluators observed some improvements in instructional practices, and as was noted in the Ed News Colorado story, more effective teachers hired and retained: Continue Reading »

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18th 2011
Colorado Digital Learning Policies Middle of the Pack with Room for Great Improvement

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Research & School Accountability & School Choice & School Finance

Yesterday I let you know about Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno’s published response to Colorado’s K-12 controversy of the month concerning online education programs. One of the great aspects of her piece was the focus on effective student-centered policy solutions. She directly suggested changes to how students are counted and funded — whether a student spends all, some or none of their course time online.

To keep the conversation moving forward about ways for Colorado to improve, I recommend the Nation’s Digital Learning Report Card, a new and one-of-a-kind web tool to grade states on how well they’re doing putting into place the Ten Elements of High-Quality Digital Learning. The Report Card allows the feature of clicking on individual states for a breakdown of their scores, including comparisons with up to two other states. Continue Reading »

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