Archive for August, 2013

30th 2013
New Study Touts Harm to Student Achievement from Teacher Union Impacts

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Research & Teachers

A Friday quickie, with the Harvard Business Review‘s intriguing mention of a new study that merits a closer look:

A 1-standard-deviation rise in teachers’ union dues per teacher is associated with a 4% fall in student proficiency rates, according to a study of 721 U.S. school districts in 42 states….

The study, by the University of Chicago’s Johnathan Lott and the University of Florida’s Lawrence Kenny, raises an interesting point. The authors suggest that the explanation is union lobbying power to block key reforms that may help student achievement.

Whatever the reason, the finding raises the question of why so many school districts in our state — even those without bargaining teachers unions — continue to collect the dues and ship them off to the Colorado Education Association. Many boards could end the practice by adopting a policy like this one. It’s one of nine key reforms local school board leaders can consider.

Five years ago, following Dr. Terry Moe’s “Collective Bargaining and the Performance of Public Schools”, the National Council on Teacher Quality put out the call for more research on teacher union impacts.

One of the few to come in recent years looked at the effects of collective bargaining in New Mexico. The state provided a perfect experiment because the requirement for school district bargaining there lapsed for four years. Benjamin Lindy’s analysis for the Yale Law Journal found mixed results from union bargaining power, better SAT scores but more poor kids dropping out of high school.

How do those findings fit together with the new report highlighted in the Harvard Business Review? If anyone has a copy of the actual study by Lott and Kenny, these little eyes would love to see it.

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29th 2013
Arizona’s #EdDebitCard Begins Opening Doors to Choice and Personal Learning

Posted under Governor & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature

One thing I like to keep my eye on, peering to the southwest, is the progress of Arizona’s unique and intriguing Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Last time we checked, the ESA was one of two Arizona school choice programs set for expansion (unfortunately, the Corporate Tax Credit program expansion was vetoed).

The initial pool of students eligible for ESAs was relatively small (only those diagnosed with special learning needs), and the number of families who actually signed up for one of the Accounts was even smaller. A study commissioned by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, and released this week, gives some insights into how the first families used them. Continue Reading »

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27th 2013
Asking What Parents Want from Schools, Fordham Offers Interesting Market Niches

Posted under Denver & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Parents & Research & School Choice

Once upon a time, there was a boring chick flick called What Women Want (don’t ask me what it was about, but I needed an easy segue). Today the Fordham Institute has taken a slightly different tack, with the release of the paper What Parents Want. They worked with Harris Interactive to conduct an extensive marketing survey to see what families might be looking for when they choose a school.

The idea is an interesting one, and the report really worth studying if you’re looking to start a school, especially in more populated areas. In the end, Fordham’s team identified six major categories, or “market niches,” that emerged, with certain characteristics of parents more likely to fit into one or more of the following: Continue Reading »

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26th 2013
Back-to-Back Anti-Choice Lawsuits Make Me Want to Scream and Pull Out My Hair

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Federal Government & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

I don’t have a lot to write about on this manic Monday. But after venturing over to Jay Greene’s blog and finding not one, but two, closely related news stories that make me want to pull my hair out. Well, how could I not share the experience with you? Irony reigns, the world is spinning out of control, and vulnerable kids bear the brunt of it all.

The first story, which takes us back to last week’s developments in Alabama’s new scholarship tax credit program, makes me want to scream in frustration:

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit Monday contending that low-income students attending failing public schools are being hurt by a new state law that provides tax credits to families that transfer their children to private schools.

Are you kidding me? Of course not. As Jay Greene blogger Jason Bedrick notes: Continue Reading »

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23rd 2013
PDK/Gallup Public Education Survey Has Earned Skepticism, and Here’s Why

Posted under Parents & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits & Teachers

Seeing as how it’s back-to-school season, it must be time for my Third Annual “Let’s Take a Closer Look at the PDK/Gallup Public Education Survey” posting. It will teach you to take the headlines with a grain of salt.

Without time to delve into every issue and inspect every question, there are a few points worth examining about American public opinion on education. The greatest clarity perhaps comes from a result consistent between PDK/Gallup and the new Harvard/Education Next survey, and consistent with previous years: About half of Americans give their local public schools an A or B grade, but only one in five do the same for the schools nationwide.

Now that we have that out of the way, let the conflict begin! American Federation for Children responded quickly to the results of one particular question that alleges 70 percent opposition to private school vouchers:

The poll asked respondents about various other forms of educational choice, including charter schools, homeschooling and online education. In each of those instances, respondents overwhelmingly favored these educational options. When PDK asked respondents about their support for publicly funded private school choice, the question was worded, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?” This question parrots the same false narrative that opponents of educational choice have been using for 30 years. It is not the school that is funded, it is a child, who then attends a school of their parents’ choice.

Continue Reading »


22nd 2013
Learning about Douglas County K-12 Innovation: Read. Watch. Share. Repeat.

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Seeing as how it’s been at least a couple days since I’ve mentioned Douglas County, it seemed like the perfect time to make sure you all also saw my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s new op-ed in the Colorado Observer:

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” Machiavelli wrote in his 500-year-old classic The Prince. The Florentine political philosopher keenly recognized the challenges of undertaking any kind of major reform project.

A conservative area like Douglas County is no exception, where the grievances of displaced interest groups have helped to forge a focused and empowered political opposition. In 2011, two years after reformers swept a majority of seats, Dougco’s school board became the nation’s first to adopt a local private school choice program. The action triggered a costly (but privately funded) lawsuit and the beginnings of a resistance.

Continue Reading »

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21st 2013
Time to Bust Amendment 66 Myths

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Preschool & Public Charter Schools & School Finance & State Legislature & Suburban Schools

At least one popular television series has taken on the challenge of refuting widely held beliefs rooted in misinformation. While I certainly can’t promise you the same level of entertainment value, in the spirit of MythBusters I urge Coloradans to check out a brand-new podcast of my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow on the Amy Oliver Show.

Listen to Ben debunk some of the myths behind Amendment 66, the billion-dollar-a-year statewide tax increase “for the kids.” You will learn how, contrary to claims made by prominent supporters: Continue Reading »


20th 2013
Teacher Engagement Research Adds to Case for Compensation, Tenure Reforms

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Research & School Board & Teachers

Little Coloradans like me have to grudgingly admit that, yes, good ideas and insights can come from Kansas, at least from time to time. In this case, a University of Kansas researcher conducted a study and found that newer teachers are more likely to be engaged at their jobs than many of their senior colleagues. The findings, based on Gallup’s 2012 broad national survey of teachers, bear some examination:

According to [researcher Shane] Lopez, K-12 teachers with less than one year of experience are the most engaged teachers at work, at 35.1 percent, based on survey data. Engagement falls precipitously to 30.9 percent for teachers with one to three years of experience, and it falls further to 27.9 percent for educators with three to five years of experience. Engagement improves slightly for teachers with five to 10 years of experience (30.8 percent) and again for those teaching more than 10 years (31.8) but is still significantly lower than the first-year rate.

It took me awhile to realize that “engagement” referred not to a status of someone who is planning to get married but to active effort, dedication, and focus on classroom responsibilities. Examples of engaged teachers include those featured in this great new 3-minute video by PACE, one of the growing membership options for Colorado teachers: Continue Reading »

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16th 2013
Trying to Measure “Non-Cognitive Skills” Beats “Deja Vu All Over Again”

Posted under Denver & Grades and Standards & Journalism & Research & School Choice

An old baseball player from a long time ago once famously said, “It’s deja vu all over again” (or so my Education Policy Center friends would have me believe). Little voices have been asking me when I’m going to write something about the latest round of TCAP results — Colorado’s annual state testing for different grades in math, reading, writing, and science. But first, I had to figure out what year it was.

Wednesday’s headline at Ed News Colorado started out “State TCAP scores mostly flat….” In August 2012, the same publication reported the release of state test results under the headline “State scores mostly flat….” So I didn’t know how worthwhile it would be to write about last year’s news on a blog that’s already two days behind the curve. Continue Reading »

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14th 2013
For Aspen, Jeffco, and Others, Billion-Dollar Tax Initiative Also Happens to be Unfair

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Rural Schools & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools

The Aspen Daily News yesterday reported on the struggle facing school board members in the upscale mountain community as they ponder whether to support the billion-dollar tax hike headed for November’s ballot:

Board member Elizabeth Parker told Pitkin County commissioners in a joint meeting Tuesday that she would have a hard time throwing her support behind Amendment 66, which voters will decide in November, because it will likely lead to future requests for local tax increases.

Yes, that’s one valid concern. One can imagine how that might make it difficult for a school board official to hesitate in supporting a proposal that means more tax dollars for education programs. Initiative 22 (probably soon to be renamed Amendment 66) puts the heat on a number of districts to ask local residents for more in property taxes. It also provides state dollars to underwrite many local mill levy elections, and creates three new types of mill levy taxes. Continue Reading »

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