Archive for March, 2013

March
27th 2013
Looking to the Next Wave of Learning Innovation, and Doing It “My Way”

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

How many education programs do you know that make Frank Sinatra songs pop into your head? At least that’s what some of the big people I know tell me. (H/T Ed News Colorado) Well, the Colorado Springs Gazette‘s Carol McGraw today featured such an online program from the Widefield School District that is tailored to families looking for options:

D3 My Way, unlike some programs, allows students to take nine-week blocks, so not as many courses have to be taken at once.

It’s been a boon for military families, athletes in training, older students who must work, children with medical issues, those needing a personal learning environment, and others who find the flexible schedules and studying at their pace ideal.

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March
26th 2013
Indiana Supreme Court Ruling a True, Lasting March Madness Victory for Kids

Posted under Courts & Parents & Private Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

Update, 3/27: For more perspective on the magnitude of yesterday’s court victory, read this redefinED commentary by Institute for Justice attorney Bert Gall, who argued the Indiana case.

I’m feeling just a little jealous of Indiana today. Just a little now–this is Colorado after all. I’m not talking about the fact that the Hoosiers made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16, while neither the CU Buffaloes or CSU Rams made it past their second March Madness contest. Although the results on the basketball court haven’t helped, it’s actually news from a different kind of court that gives me extra smiles today:

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice hailed today’s ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court, which declared the state’s school voucher program constitutional. The announcement ends a nearly two-year-long review of the nation’s largest voucher initiative, for which more than half of the state’s student population qualifies.

The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the program by a vote of 5-0, ruling “the voucher program expenditures do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with school-children by providing an opportunity for such children to attend non-public schools if desired.”

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March
25th 2013
All This Talk about Course Choice Makes Colorado Debates Seem So 20th Century

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

While the big school finance reform legislation at the Colorado State Capitol explores reshuffling the dollars in a 20th century system — and dashing my youthful hopes along the way — other states continue to plow ahead with the idea of course choice. Students are enabled to customize their education by choosing courses regardless of school and district boundaries, mainly through the use of digital technology.

Well, count Florida among the states seriously looking at revamping a system to promote flexibility and reward student mastery, rather than just continue to fund learning based on seat time. With Utah and Louisiana already pioneering in this area, it’s great to hear redefinED’s Ron Matus talk with national blended learning guru Michael Horn about the new world where the change might lead us and speculate how it might unfold: Continue Reading »

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March
22nd 2013
New Digital Learning Report Card Charts Familiar Path for Colorado to Improve

Posted under Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Teachers

It’s time to send Colorado home with another report card (figuratively, I mean — not sure how you would do that literally). Back in January I pointed out the release of 3 national education policy report cards. Colorado got a C from Student First for some key teacher and choice policies, a B from the Center for Education Reform for the quality of our charter school law, and a D from the National Council on Teacher Quality for our educator preparation system.

Not to be outdone, yesterday Digital Learning Now released the 2012 Digital Learning Report Card. As usual, with this sort of thing, there are two kinds of news to share. Since we’re heading into the weekend, let’s end with the good news and go with the bad news first: Colorado earned a D-plus. Some of our state’s key shortcomings? Continue Reading »

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March
21st 2013
Guess No “Vouchers” in SB 213, Really Not Much Backpack Funding, Choice at All

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Principals & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

Update, 5:10 PM Extra audio added.

So some of you may have been missing me since a couple days ago when I asked a dozen questions regarding the major school finance bill, SB 213. Many of my questions remain unanswered, and the first committee vote on the bill itself isn’t slated until this afternoon. But a couple interesting conversations sprung up around the first question I asked:

To what extent does the legislation provide for true course-level choice?

Especially since it won’t go into effect unless voters approve a billion-dollar tax hike this November. That’s when I saw a document handed out by state senator Michael Johnston‘s office to explain the bill. On page 3 in the left-hand column it lists “High School Voucher for 9-12″ as a component of base funding in the newly proposed formula.

Well, you can guess that perked up my hopes, the idea that a new school finance system might offer students breakthrough opportunities to take a portion of their funding and choose courses from private schools or other providers. At Tuesday’s nine-hour marathon hearing, dozens of witnesses came before the Senate Education Committee. Senator Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley) surprised one of them, CEA executive director Tony Salazar, by asking about the concept of “high school vouchers.”

Johnston chimed in to point out that was not the intention of the bill, which culminated in a “you said-you said” disagreement between Johnston and Renfroe and the teachers union leader reiterating his organization’s opposition to the idea of private school choice. (Listen to the 5-minute audio clip here.) Continue Reading »

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March
19th 2013
Big SB 213 School Finance Bill Hearing Keeps Me Watching, Brings Out Questions

Posted under Courts & Denver & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Principals & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Legislature & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

When it comes to the world of K-12 education in Colorado — you know, what keeps my little eyes busy watching — today (this week!) is all consumed in the political debates over Senate Bill 213, the big school finance overhaul tied to a billion dollar tax increase. So I invite you to follow the clever, quippy (is “quippy” a word) Eddie on Twitter today starting at 2 PM Colorado time. Or just tune into the hash tag #CoSchoolFund.

At this point, I hardly know what to expect. After nearly two years of a School Finance Partnership predicated on the idea of a “Grand Bargain”, it comes down to the introduced legislation‘s first big committee hearing this afternoon. With 174 pages of legislation and billions of dollars to be allocated, you can be sure of lots of witnesses, questions, and discussion.

Here are a not-so-dirty dozen questions I hope to see answered (in no particular order): Continue Reading »

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March
18th 2013
Transparency in DougCo School District: Toward a Happy Ending to the Story

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & School Accountability & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Update, 3/25: Happy endings don’t usually come so quickly. But just one week later, Dougco has made and received confirmation on a number of online transparency improvements to now receive an A-minus grade.

If you’ve followed little old Eddie for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of the following two things: open government and the education reform pioneers on the Douglas County school board. So needless to say, when I learned that the group Sunshine Review gave DougCo a ‘D’ letter grade for transparency, I did a double-take. Huh?

After all, this was the first school district in Colorado to open and advertise all its union negotiations so the public could look on. They showed that honest discussions about important but sometimes controversial policies can be held in the light of day without causing any harm or great expense. Sunshine Review didn’t seem to take that much into account.

Going back even further, before the law required them to do so, DougCo and Jefferson County were the two premiere leaders in creating a searchable online database of all expenditures. And if anything, it’s even better and more user-friendly today. Not to mention all the other financial information they’ve appropriately posted online. DougCo also has gone above and beyond with a series of videos to explain the budget and budget process. Shouldn’t that be given more weight?

So what in the Sunshine Review formula downgraded DougCo so badly? Union leaders and other reform opponents hang their hat on a complaint the extra amount of time the Board has to spend behind closed doors in executive session dealing with legal matters. One Board member, Craig Richardson, explained the situation aptly: “I particularly find difficult to swallow the concept that parties can sue and then complain about the amount of time we spend talking to our lawyers.” Continue Reading »

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March
15th 2013
Court Upholds Teacher Removal: Adams 12 Board Vindicated, Taxpayers Pay

Posted under Courts & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

When Colorado and other states pass education reform laws, it’s important to pay attention to what problems are solved and what problems are not. As an example, Colorado’s SB 191, which passed three whole years ago, made some important changes. Effective teacher evaluations soon will be required before earning extra “due process” job protections. How well that works in practice remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, the problems related to tenure live on. Last spring I brought your attention to a disturbing case in suburban metro Denver where the Adams 12 school board fired a couple of teachers for taking thousands of dollars from a fund intended for student field trips.

Today the Colorado Observer reports that the state’s Court of Appeals has upheld the findings against Johnny Trujillo, removed along with his wife from their longtime positions at Northglenn Middle School for “insubordination and immorality.”

Writer Sunana Batra also notes that the school district so far has paid more than $25,000 in legal fees to keep Mr. Trujillo from the classroom. Compared to some tenure cases, that’s not a lot of money. But since we also learn that he plans to challenge his case in the Colorado Supreme Court — asserting that his property right to taxpayer-funded school employment — the bill is almost certain to get significantly higher. Continue Reading »

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March
14th 2013
Court Upholds School Choice: Alabama Kids Win, Now Why Not Colorado, Too?

Posted under Courts & Governor & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature & Tax Credits

A little over a week ago I told you about the brilliant blindside hit for Alabama kids in failing schools and other school choice supporters. Not only did they sack the quarterback for a loss, but the reform team defense forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown!

Well, the coaches for the education establishment didn’t like the call, I guess. Because about the same time I posted the good news, they filed a restraining order to stop the tax credit scholarship legislation from going into effect.

I don’t think true football fans would wait more than a week after the red challenge flag hit the field for the referees to make up their mind, but yesterday’s response from the Alabama Supreme Court actually came pretty quickly for the legal system. Continue Reading »

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March
13th 2013
A Colorado Digital BOCES? Leave the Creative Ideas to Innovative Falcon 49

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Intriguing. The Colorado Springs Gazette today reports that some of the region’s leading education innovators have proposed a new idea to provide specialized oversight and support to online learning programs:

The Falcon School District 49 school board is expected to vote Thursday on a proposal that would create a collaborative education organization that could charter and provide services to online schools statewide. The concept was pitched to the board last week.

D-49 would not have oversight of the proposed Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), but appeared poised to jump start the organization’s creation. District officials said D-49 would not benefit financially from the entity.

The digital BOCES would focus on blended and online learning programs across the state, said Kim McClelland, D-49’s iConnect Zone Leader. It would charter online schools, instead of districts being responsible, she said.

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