Archive for February, 2012

29th 2012
Taking a Few Leaps to Promote Excellent School Leadership in Colorado

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & International & Principals & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers & Urban Schools

Since today is February 29, I’ll take a timely leap from some of my usual fare to point you to two new podcasts produced by my Education Policy Center friends. In the first, Gina Schlieman explains how school-level autonomy has empowered some positive changes in Britain. In the second, foundation president Tom Kaesemeyer highlighted a program rewarding high-poverty Denver-area schools that are getting good results, and observed that exceptional principal leadership was at the top of the list of common school factors.

Next, a recently published op-ed by Ben DeGrow, who hosted both of the aforementioned podcasts, explains one of the key merits of Colorado’s 2010 educator effectiveness legislation:

Principals as instructional leaders will share accountability with classroom teachers for promoting student growth, which must make up at least half of educator evaluations.

In an unusual step, legislators and Governor Hickenlooper recently ratified some of the details for the state’s coming new educator evaluation system. It’s by design, not by accident, that the policy holds principals to similar standards as teachers. Such a system gives school instructional leaders more reason to retain or remove teachers based on their professional effectiveness at helping students learn. Will it be perfect? No. Are there any devils in the details? Maybe. But I’ll do my part to keep things focused in the right direction. Continue Reading »

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28th 2012
Comprehensive Milwaukee Voucher Study Shows Some Positive, No Harmful Results

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

The big news from the education reform world this week is the release of the School Choice Demonstration Project’s final reports evaluating five years of matched student comparisons between the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Milwaukee Public Schools. What can we learn about vouchers from the results of this program?

The American Federation for Children summed up the top-level findings in a Monday press release:

Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students, according to a comprehensive evaluation of the program released today.

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27th 2012
Senate Bill 82 Shows Utah Serious about Treating Teachers Fairly

Posted under Independence Institute & Principals & State Legislature & Teachers

Many Colorado schools and teachers impart to their pupils the importance of fairness, whether through formal lessons, classroom conversations, special events or codes of conduct. Meanwhile, school officials could glean some important ideas about fairness from legislation being considered by our western neighbors in Utah. The grassroots reformers at Parents for Choice in Education are supporting Senate Bill 82, which “strengthens the Equal Access law for all employee associations.”

What do they mean by “Equal Access”? Rather than trying to explain the problem that needs to be solved, I’ll just direct you to point number 8 in my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s 2011 issue backgrounder “Nine Key Changes at the Bargaining Table”:

Nearly all of Colorado’s existing certified education employee bargaining agreements grant union agents exclusive access to school district property, events or information that is denied to other union or non-union membership groups. Common provisions include specified union authorization to contact teachers through workplace mailboxes, bulletin boards and district email systems; or special privileges to use district facilities for meetings at no cost.

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24th 2012
February a Month to Remember (or Forget) in National K-12 Standards Debate

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Research

Last spring I told you about a growing movement to oppose the Common Core standards and accompanying assessments, as well as the momentum toward a national curriculum. Well, a recent spate of evidence suggests that the Common Core cause has fallen on hard times, to say the least:

Since before I pointed out the anti-national curriculum petition nine months ago, many key Colorado education leaders (including my Education Policy Center friends) have added their names. The momentum (and the case) against the Common Core push continues to grow stronger. Depending on which side you take, February 2012 will be a month to remember — or a month to forget.

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22nd 2012
“Education Justice League” Sums Up Research, Points to School Choice Future

Posted under Edublogging & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice

Once in awhile an article comes along that makes you stand up and cheer. For me, the latest is a new Education Week column signed by “nine scholars and analysts” that lays out clearly what the research says about school choice. I was tempted to re-post the whole thing, but the big people in my life assure me that wouldn’t be right to do. So I’ll sum up.

The article observes that a number of high-quality studies have been done measuring academic results for students in choice programs, somewhat less rigorous studies examining the competitive effects choice has on the surrounding public school system, and a few studies of the fiscal impacts on public schools. The clear consensus of the highest-quality research is that vouchers and tax credits show modestly positive results on all three fronts, with none demonstrating negative effects. Results for charter schools are decidedly more mixed in the academic and competitive results, with more positive impacts in the earlier grades.

But the highlight and big takeaway of the jointly-authored Education Week piece is this: Continue Reading »


21st 2012
Can We Put the Schools “in Charge”? Colorado’s Falcon 49 Shows a Different Way

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & State Board of Education & Suburban Schools & Teachers

A good thought-piece to read this week is John Katzman’s new Education Week article “Putting the Schools in Charge.” While I don’t agree with everything in the piece, the author has a laudable vision about sweeping systemic K-12 changes and makes some very sound assessments of the best ways to get there. And as I so often like to do, his main point particularly has a strong Colorado connection worthy of highlight.

First and foremost, Katzman recommends sparking needed innovation by giving more power to school-level leaders, including greater choice over how and where they purchase central services:

Right now, every state distributes state and federal funds to districts; in turn, the districts distribute funds to schools. Imagine that states instead channel funds directly to schools and require that the schools contract with a school support organization (SSO) for an array of services similar to what its district’s central office now provides….

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20th 2012
Digital Dilemma: Why Can’t All Districts Filter Internet Device Access from Home?

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Rural Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools

One of this blog’s themes that regular readers are familiar with is the power of digital technology to help transform the capability and productivity of public education. Combined with the right policies and innovative direction of resources, this technology has tremendous potential to effect positive change. Digital Learning Now’s Roadmap for Reform released last October — not to mention a forthcoming (or so I’m told) Colorado version — highlights some great ideas.

One policy action endorsed by Digital Learning Now is that the “state ensures all public school students and teachers have Internet access devices.” Definitely a worthy goal, inasmuch as it helps to equip students for a 21st century career. But it also can be a double-edged sword. As a new article by Kristina Iodice in the Colorado Springs Gazette points out, giving students take-home access to iPads is fraught with danger if not done right:

Manitou Springs School District 14 is in the middle of a two-year rollout of iPads to many of its roughly 1,420 students. In the fall 2011, about 490 students in fifth through eighth grade, and 90 high school students, received the devices. About 500 high school students will get them in the coming 2012-13 school year.

Some parents are concerned that the district is not doing everything it could to safeguard students, although school officials insist it is compliant with state and federal law. Internet browsers on the iPads do not include parental controls…. Continue Reading »


16th 2012
National Eye on Colo.’s HB 1238 to Enhance Literacy by Curbing Social Promotion

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Principals & Research & State Legislature & Teachers

Colorado’s legislative bid to enhance early literacy is getting some national attention. The bipartisan House Bill 1238 enlists parents and educators to focus on interventions for struggling readers in the early grades and requires the local superintendent to sign off before a non-proficient reader can advance past 3rd grade. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow was sought out for comment by American Family Radio News reporter Bob Kellogg:

“Something needs to be done to provide consequences and hold schools accountable for helping students learn to read,” he says, “because if students just keep getting passed up through the system and graduate without those skills, we’re not preparing them well for life.”

Also in the story, Ben highlights the success Florida has experienced by cutting back severely on 3rd grade social promotion. Indeed, research by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters shows the average student held back for extra reading help gained more than a half-year’s learning proficiency on struggling students who were pushed up through the system. HB 1238 isn’t exactly the same, nor quite as strong, as Florida’s law. But it does represent a significantly positive step. Continue Reading »


13th 2012
Denver’s Northeast Academy Deserves Full 3 Years to Prove Itself During Turnaround

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Elementary School & Independence Institute & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Board of Education & Teachers & Urban Schools

One of the strengths I’ve touted about the charter school model is the greater flexibility to close down poor performers. In fact, it’s pretty rare for a charter to enter the “turnaround” process instead of being shuttered. But that’s what happened in 2010 with Denver’s Northeast Academy, having suffered through a healthy share of turmoil. The school district authorizer, Denver Public Schools, then signed a three-year contract with Northeast, but since has decided it wants to force a “phased closure” of the school by removing kindergarten and sixth grades.

My Education Policy Center friends took a tour of Northeast Academy (385 students K-8, 87.5% Free and Reduced Lunch) last week and saw some clear signs of progress. New leadership is in place. The Core Knowledge program has been reinstated. The instructional workforce is being reshaped, and many dedicated teachers are getting high-quality, hands-on professional development. Serious discipline problems have declined. Some internal skill assessments show significant student growth since the start of the school year. Is it enough? Only time will tell.

A third grade class Northeast Academy responds to the teacher's question during a class exercise in language arts

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10th 2012
Proposed IRS Rule Bad Charter Medicine, But Hints at Needed Pension Changes

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & State Board of Education & Teachers

There’s a little controversy trickling out of Washington, D.C., that you may not have heard about. A proposed regulation from the Internal Revenue Service would effectively deem charter school teachers to be private employees and not eligible for government pension benefits. Yesterday the Colorado State Board of Education made the bold and unanimous move of expressing opposition to the proposal, as outlined in a press release:

“This regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country,” Board Chairman Bob Schaffer said. “In essence this regulation would strip charter schools of their status as government groups when it comes to retirement system participation.

“If that were to happen, teachers at those charter schools who now participate in the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association would be forced to find jobs elsewhere or forfeit their accrued pension wealth.”

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