Archive for May, 2012

31st 2012
Winters: Give K-12 Schools More Freedom to Boost Bang for Taxpayers’ Buck

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Board & School Choice & School Finance

Marcus Winters — whom I will long remember as the author of Teachers Matter and featured presenter at the Independence Institute’s first-ever Brown Bag Lunch — has written a great new piece for City Journal.

Appropriately titled “Better Schools, Fewer Dollars,” Winters’ column addresses the issue of tight budgets and educational productivity. A few weeks ago I highlighted a new 2-minute Education Policy Center video on rethinking Colorado school finance that sounded similar themes.

Winters brings forward data, some more familiar than others, to show how spending per K-12 student skyrocketed in the past generation with very little or no improvements to show for it. The Manhattan Institute senior fellow further undermines the logic of adequacy studies used to inform court decisions like Colorado’s Lobato case. And this is what a Denver judge hangs her cut-and-paste ruling for the state to spend billions more in scarce resources?

Anyway, Winters also reviews the research on cost-saving charters and voucher programs, which show some benefits for students and at the very worst could be interpreted as not doing any harm. Nothing new or surprising there for faithful readers or others who have paid attention to the education reform debate. But his concluding proposal intriguingly demands a closer look: Continue Reading »

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30th 2012
Former Gov. Jeb Bush Headlines Denver ACE Luncheon with Inspiring Message

Posted under Denver & Governor & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers

Has it been a whole year since the last big ACE Scholarships luncheon? Funny. I was still 5 then, too. Last time around it was my edu-reform crush Michelle Rhee, only a few months out of her famous tenure as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, explaining her change of heart about vouchers and praising Douglas County’s choice scholarship program.

The 2012 edition of the ACE Scholarships luncheon featured Foundation for Excellence in Education board chair Jeb Bush sounding the call for more choice as a catalyst to his winning education reform formula. His successful track record as Florida governor from 1999 to 2006 is tied to his focused and comprehensive approach to education reform.

But as Governor Bush famously has said time and time again in various forms, “Reform is never finished because success is never final.” Therefore, the theme of his Denver speech yesterday was focused on the future, as reported by Ed News Colorado: Continue Reading »

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29th 2012
Let’s Discuss Seriously How to Strengthen Successful Tuition Tax Credit Programs

Posted under Journalism & Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Accountability & School Choice & State Legislature

What a hubbub. Having finally read last week’s desperate New York Times attack against K-12 tuition tax credit programs, I was left scratching my head. Really? The Old Gray Lady seems awfully cranky about school choice and short on facts or serious arguments when it comes to this one. In a way, it felt like writer Stephanie Saul was pushing different random hot buttons to get people fired up about… something or other.

As usual, overlooked in the article was the fact that nearly all gold standard academic research shows positive academic or competitive benefits from private school choice programs — and not one shows a negative impact. But that probably didn’t sound as compelling as the overblown assertion that “scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.” Writing for Education Next, Jason Bedrick does the most thorough job of dismantling the implicit argument in Saul’s story. Continue Reading »

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24th 2012
Candidate Romney Proposes Moving the School Choice & Reform Ball Ahead

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers

It’s not every day when my parents turn on the radio and get to hear education policy top the national news headlines. But yesterday Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a big speech to explain why improving education was “the civil rights issue of our era, and it’s the greatest challenge of our time.”

Hardly a coincidence, I’m sure, but the Romney campaign also just released “A Chance for Every Child.” The document outlines his education policy plans, including: Continue Reading »

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23rd 2012
“True North” Report Calls on Denver Public Schools to Refocus, Raise the Bar

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Grades and Standards & High School & Innovation and Reform & Middle School & Research & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

A team of local education reform groups has partnered to release the new report True North: Goals for Denver Public Schools. It’s a quick, worthwhile read for anyone interested in improving the outcomes of American urban education. Denver Public Schools is often cited as a reform model for districts in other cities across the land, but this new report says even DPS isn’t aiming high enough.

True North places a healthy focus on academic achievement as measured by “exit-level proficiency,” or how much students know when they complete elementary, middle and ultimately high school. As Ed News Colorado commentator Alexander Ooms notes, this focus corrects a misplaced obsession on academic growth scores as an end unto themselves. While DPS is above the 50th percentile in growth, not enough students are catching up to where they need be. In some cases, they’re actually falling further behind.

DPS justly has been lauded for the development of its School Performance Framework (SPF) that incorporates a range of meaningful factors to determine how well schools are doing. But the new report makes a great argument that the current bar is set too low. Expecting more DPS schools to earn 50 percent of the available points on the SPF isn’t enough to ensure students are enrolled in a “quality school.” I agree with the report that a quality school should have to reach at least 70 percent on the SPF. Continue Reading »

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21st 2012
Fuller, Coulson and Ladner: Three Views on the Best Choice Policies to Pursue

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice

Perhaps it’s just the school choice geek in me (ok, the school choice geek is me!), but I want to bring your attention to a worthwhile and important discussion. A couple weeks ago redefinED posted comments made by the longtime voucher supporter Dr. Howard Fuller at the recent American Federation for Children national summit. He eloquently reiterated his views that private educational choice programs should be means-tested and targeted to lower-income students.

Responding to Dr. Fuller, who represents the social justice wing of the school choice movement, redefinED asked the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson to provide a thoughtful response from the libertarian wing. Last week’s Coulson column hones on the need to create “universal access to the educational marketplace” while reducing the problem of having a third party pay for the schooling service. Not surprisingly, he comes down in favor of direct tax credits for middle-class families and scholarship tax credits for poorer families.

Today, Dr. Matt Ladner chimes in to offer a compelling case of where the school choice movement should go from here. He strongly supports universal choice, but advocates for a weighted system that underwrites more for students in poverty. As one of the earliest backers of the publicly-funded Education Savings Account model, he explains how it can help alleviate the third-party payer problem. Finally, Ladner notes that choice supporters “need to be more far more ambitious in promoting policies that will foster innovative private-school models.”

So there you have it. Three eminent, thoughtful leaders in the school choice movement with three distinct points of view. I may be inclined to agree with one more than the other two, but I’m not going to let on here. Maybe you can figure it out on your own. The main thing is we need to keep pressing forward to provide a wider range of quality learning options for all students.

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17th 2012
Colorado K-12 Funding for the 21st Century: Toward Mass Customized Learning?

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Choice

I’m a little bit tired today, having Tweeted up a storm at the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Colorado Summit on Blended Learning. I have neither the time nor the energy to recap the great presentations from the likes of iNACOL’s David Teeter, Utah Senator Howard Stephenson, New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather, Colorado Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Amy Anderson and Colorado Senator Michael Johnston.

But I can take advantage of the incredible timing to share a brand-new issue paper from my Education Policy Center friends titled Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options. It’s about following the lead of states like Utah and Florida to give students more freedom of course selection through the power of digital technology and a system that allows the funding to follow: Continue Reading »

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16th 2012
Adams 12 Teachers Fired for Alleged Theft Resurrects Tenure Reform Debate

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Journalism & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

On Monday night, Denver CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger broke a story about Adams 12 dismissing two teachers for allegedly bilking thousands of dollars in PTO funds that were supposed to go for student trips. I never like to see such a story as the one featured in the 3-minute video. Interviewed by Sallinger, school board president Mark Clark made a great point:

We hold our kids accountable. We have them expelled or suspended for their behavior. I think the same rules apply for everybody.

The husband-and-wife educator duo look to be in hot water. According to the CBS4 report, the decision to pursue firing Johnny and Pamela Trujillo followed an internal district audit. I’m not able to comment on the specifics of the case to presume anyone’s guilt, but if further investigation confirms the truth of the serious charges, it also reflects on an important policy: teacher tenure (aka “due process”). Continue Reading »


15th 2012
Tale of Two ‘A’s: Alabama Buries Charter Bill, Arizona Expands ESA Choice

Posted under Education Politics & Governor & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

I’ve been telling you a lot lately about education goings-on in Colorado, and with good reason. There has been plenty to comment on. Yet once in awhile it’s good to step back and take a look at some other states. Today, specifically, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts about new developments from a couple A states. And when I say A states, it’s not that they necessarily deserve a passing grade.

First is last week’s awful news from Alabama. The local Decatur Daily reported:

Proponents of charter schools will likely have to wait at least another year as an Alabama House panel Thursday effectively killed a measure that would have allowed for the creation of the taxpayer-funded, privately-operated schools.

Continue Reading »

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14th 2012
The Bright & Not-So-Bright Spots of Colorado’s Latest 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Posted under Elementary School & Grades and Standards & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Rural Schools & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

Can you believe it? Last week I didn’t write anything about the release of the CSAP TCAP results for 3rd grade reading. The state’s overall share of proficient 3rd grade readers (74 percent) is slightly better than the previous year. Colorado can still do better. To me, this is one of the most fundamental measures of how our schools are doing. If you can’t read well by the end of 3rd grade, future prospects look a lot different.

So I’m not the only one who likes to see what kind of progress we’re making on the CSAP TCAP. In the past five years, 3rd grade reading scores in most of the state’s 10 largest districts have been flat with very slight upticks. The notable exceptions are from the lower performers with greater student poverty. Aurora Public Schools improved from 46 percent proficient in 2007 to 51.5 percent in the latest round.

Even more remarkable, Denver Public Schools has made the leap from 50 percent proficient to 59 percent over the same five-year span. As DPS superintendent appropriately noted in his email announcement:

As pleased as we are with the growth, it is clear that we have much more work in front of us to continue to improve our elementary literacy.

Continue Reading »

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