Archive for October, 2012

31st 2012
A Better Approach to K-12 Budget Issues: Don’t Yell at TABOR, Fix PERA

Posted under School Board & School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

I may risk inducing a heart attack or two with two straight days of spooky posts. But yesterday I produced some school funding data to debunk the idea that Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is the cause of apparent “devastation” for school budgets. Today I want to introduce a too-often overlooked factor into the conversation: PERA, also known as the Public Employees Retirement Association.

Lately, the issue keeps popping up. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton penned an op-ed highlighting the fiscal pressure placed on school districts by steadily increasing contributions to employee retirement plans. Here’s a scary phrase the Treasurer offered to explain the ramifications of failing to reform the problem:

A budget hole will continue to grow that no tax increase can fill.

Gulp. Meanwhile, I can almost see some critics looking for a distraction, pointing in a different direction and shouting abruptly: “Squirrel!” or “TABOR!” If PERA were left alone and TABOR completely gutted, officials would continue coming to voters for more taxes while services would still be in jeopardy. Continue Reading »

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30th 2012
TABOR Looks Less Spooky Next to Colorado School Finance Data

Posted under Journalism & School Finance & Urban Schools

With spooky Halloween almost upon us, it’s probably not terribly surprising to witness the one-sided horrible picture of TABOR painted in yesterday’s Colorado Springs Gazette (H/T Complete Colorado). Under the headline, “TABOR has decimated education, critics say,” we are given such insights as the following:

“It’s been devastating,” said Gustafson, Colorado Springs School District 11’s chief financial officer.

When asked about TABOR, Gustafson nearly exploded. He said that over the past six years, his district has lost 
$35 million because of 
TABOR. In response to the spending restrictions, he said, the district has slashed teacher salaries, closed nine schools, increased class sizes twice, eliminated new programs, haven’t updated technology or books, dropped maintenance hugely, and even lowered school temperatures in the winter.

“Our grounds look like crap because we can’t even afford to water them,” Gustafson said.

I’m glad he didn’t explode! When you make comparisons afforded by the most recent available numbers from the Colorado Department of Education, the devastation becomes, well, less apparent for District 11. From 2000-01 to 2010-11: Continue Reading »

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29th 2012
Colorado Teachers Unions Number One in Political Giving to State Candidates

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & State Legislature & Teachers

Halloween is this week, which means it’s almost time for little old me to don the green paint and flex my growing muscles as the Incredible Hulk. (I can hear some of those murmurs out there: “Yeah, incredible is right!”) All right, so maybe just because I put on the costume and go door to door, no one is going to ask me to pick up a car — except for possibly one of those “smart” cars — and hurl it at the bad guys. You may have figured out I’m not really that strong.

But how strong is the teachers union in Colorado? It’s a topic you hear about plenty from my Education Policy Center friends. Well, today the Fordham Institute released the most thorough study of its kind: “How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-by-State Comparison.” If Mike Antonucci says it’s a “much-needed reference work,” then you know it’s worth your attention.

The authors looked at everything from what percentage of teachers are members to laws about tenure and collective bargaining. Adding up all the categories, Colorado ranked 35th overall. That means our state is just inside the bottom third, which represents the weaker state unions. However, in one category our state’s teachers union finished number one: Continue Reading »

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26th 2012
Colorado Initiative’s Early Success Raises the Math and Science Bar (Gulp)

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Sciences & Teachers

I occasionally get accused of being some kind of verbal prodigy. Less often do I get asked about my math and science skills. And frankly, it’s fine with me not to go there. But I get the scope of the problem associated with not enough students qualified and ready for careers in science, math and engineering. And so does the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), which I told you about last December.

The difference is NMSI is doing something about it — something remarkable and effective, something that has begun taking off in Colorado, as their new 4-minute video shares: Continue Reading »

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24th 2012
K-12 Education System as Jobs Program? Let’s Agree on Something Better

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Teachers

In a lot of the debates Colorado has had about school funding (and more are sure to be had), the question lurking in the back of my mind is: What do we want our education system to be? What do we want it to do? Well, a new study from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice sends a blunt message about one key thing the education system in at least 47 states has been: a jobs program.

The School Staffing Surge highlights a couple facts that would probably stun the average parent or other taxpayer:

Between FY 1992 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students nationwide grew 17 percent while the number of full-time equivalent school employees increased 39 percent, 2.3 times greater than the increase in students over that 18-year period. Among school personnel, teachers’ staffing numbers rose 32 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 46 percent; the growth in the number of administrators and other staff was 2.7 times that of students.

Continue Reading »

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23rd 2012
Parent Trigger Concept Doesn’t Need Discrimination against For-Profit Operators

Posted under Elementary School & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Urban Schools

A few weeks ago I shared with you about a “parent trigger” debate triggered by the release of the movie Won’t Back Down. In that discussion, New Schools for New Orleans’ Neerav Kingsland argued that “the best parent trigger is parent choice between non-governmental school operators.”

Yesterday another division erupted in the “parent trigger” discussion between two supporters of the concept and the legislation. Conservative ed reform guru Rick Hess says liberal supporters lost him when they “needlessly attacked for-profit charter providers in a cheap effort to score political points.” Apparently, it’s okay to empower parents to choose to turn around their children’s failing school, but then limit their choices to operators who won’t seek to make some money along the way?

In a state next door to Kingsland’s, we learn that 35 failing schools are eligible to be converted by a parent petition through Mississippi’s new “parent trigger” law. Meanwhile, parents at California’s Desert Trails elementary are getting ready to select an operator for the school’s conversion process.

As Hess points out, Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin would not be inclined to let those parents choose an operator who happens to be a for-profit entity. Families should have access to a full range of choices to help improve educational outcomes and brighten their futures. Just exactly how this kind of discrimination is helpful to students and parents is beyond me.

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22nd 2012
Antonucci Deconstructs Chicago Teachers Union President’s Post-Strike Answers

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & Teachers & Urban Schools

Call me lazy. Call me a copycat. Call me whatever you want (“sticks and stones,” and all that…). Just read this insightful piece by Mike Antonucci that unpacks the answers of Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis in a post-strike retrospective interview. His piece reminds us that democracy applies more broadly than to union actions, that not only the “experts” get a voice and a vote, and that the powerful trends of education reform persist even after this fall’s labor showdown in the Windy City.

The conclusion? Continue Reading »

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18th 2012
Backpack Funding Could Bridge Colorado’s K-12 Digital Learning Divide

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Board & School Finance

Our friends at Education Next pose an interesting chicken-or-egg question about digital learning and the case for major education reforms: Will the transformative technology unleash itself, or does major work need to be done overhauling K-12 policies and institutions first?

To hash out the details, Education Next has unleashed a couple of the leading lights in education reform to give a point-counterpoint online debate. In the end, though, any disparities between the arguments advanced by the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn and the Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn appear to me more differences of degree than differences of kind.

Finn says we need to overhaul the school finance system — allowing us to fund students, rather than bureaucratic programs and institutions — and traditional “local control” governance “when students assemble their education from multiple providers based in many locations, some likely on the other side of the planet.” Continue Reading »

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17th 2012
Ridiculous: Mich. School Districts Defy Reform Law with $1 Teacher Bonuses

Posted under Innovation and Reform & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

Far too often the world of K-12 education seems like a venture into the ridiculous. Forget the sublime. Some of us would be happy with a handful of common sense. But there’s also a good practical lesson for school reformers in a new from Michigan Capitol Confidential story highlighting a couple school districts’ sarcastic approach to implementing a 2010 teacher compensation law:

Some Michigan school districts think their best teachers are worth $1 more than their worst.

That’s the amount the Davison Community Schools in Genessee County, and the Stephenson Area Public Schools in Menominee County, pay to be in compliance with the state’s merit pay law, which was put in place when Jennifer Granholm was governor. The Gladstone Area Public Schools in Delta County pays its top-notch teachers $3 more than the worst.

As Joanne Jacobs also highlights, a peek at these districts merely scratches the surface, as an estimated 80 percent of Michigan school districts essentially have resisted implementing the pay reform. Four out of five have ignored the law! Continue Reading »

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16th 2012
Denver Post Adds a Little Institute Balance to School Tax Hike Coverage

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Journalism & School Finance & State Legislature & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

When you’re a Colorado reporter looking for a somewhat different point of view on major local school tax increases, where do you go? Karen Auge shows that she read my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s concise new paper “Colorado K-12 Tax Hikes Challenged” in her story’s third paragraph as she covered the issue in yesterday’s Denver Post:

The Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank generally opposed to tax hikes and government growth, said per-pupil spending in districts asking for tax hikes has gone up, even as real income has decreased. [link added]

Continue Reading »

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