Archive for July, 2015

July
31st 2015
A(New)PUSH for Truth in American History

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Board

Yesterday, I highlighted a brave Jeffco mom who was willing to go on camera and thank the Jefferson County Board of Education majority for standing up for reform. I also ran through a distressingly lengthy list of inaccurate claims—maybe “fabrications” would be more appropriate—and downright disturbing revelations about the recall. Included on the list was a mention of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework, which I’d like to spend some more time on today.

Many of you remember the teacher sickouts and student walkouts last fall. Initially, we were told—amid many “ums” and “uhs”—that the protests were about the board’s move to a performance-based raise model. You already know how much (and why) I support pay-for-performance systems, but this one was exceptionally innocuous, providing raises to 99 percent of Jeffco teachers. Yes, 99 percent.

When that argument fell apart under the weight of pesky reality, the protests morphed into misleading statements about the board’s attempt to “censor” or “whitewash” American history by proposing the creation of a curriculum review committee to potentially examine, among many other things, the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework. You likely recall (heh) that the original, somewhat inflammatory proposal was never even truly introduced at the board table, that there were never any concrete plans to review or modify APUSH, and that no review of the framework was ever undertaken. The only outcome of the controversy was the creation of two new curriculum review committees that better represent a cross section of interested parties and community members.

I am personally of the opinion that no justification was ever required of the board’s desire to review district curricula of any kind given that such power is granted clearly and explicitly by Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution. I would certainly have felt differently had they actually made any true effort to “censor” history, but they didn’t. All that aside, though, it now appears that many concerns about APUSH have been vindicated. Continue Reading »

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July
30th 2015
Jeffco Mom Speaks Truth, Thanks School Board

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

One of the harder lessons I’m learning in my youth is that quite often tall tales can spread life a wildfire before the truth has a chance to catch up and extinguish it. Thanks to lots of help from Complete Colorado, I’ve already pointed out the fact-challenged / math-challenged nature of the Jeffco school board recall. That’s the “wildfire.”

And some of the big people who really follow closely the K-12 educational goings-on just west of Denver — namely, Jeffco Students First — have posted a concise one-page fact sheet that effectively extinguishes some of the more egregious misinformation floating out there against reform-minded school board members.

The icing on this cake of tasty, truth-restoring goodness is a brand new 90-second video of a Jeffco mom thanking the school board for listening to families like hers that have kids who need different options to learn and thrive. Time to cue up Jennifer Butts: Continue Reading »

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July
29th 2015
On Pay for Performance and Using the Right Yardstick

Posted under Accountability & School Board & Teachers

Pay for performance (PFP) is an incredibly hotly debated facet of education reform. I’ve never really quite understood that because, well, rewarding folks for doing great work strikes me as common sense. I mean, I get more allowance money if I do my chores well, and not so much if I “clean my room” by just moving a pile of toys from one corner to another, less visible one.

Yet as a recent Denver Post article highlights, things aren’t always as clear cut for folks who are skeptical of PFP. The article provides very brief outlines of PFP system variants in Denver, Jefferson County, and Douglas County. It also launches a number of thinly veiled assaults against the concept of pay for performance, which means that—you guessed it—Little Eddie feels compelled to say a few things.

Before we get to that, though, I find it interesting (and slightly disingenuous) that the article does not include any mention of Harrison School District’s innovative compensation model. Harrison’s system is certainly the most fully developed and interesting PFP system in the state, and perhaps one of the most intriguing in the nation. Sure, Harrison is significantly smaller than the three largest districts in the state covered by the Denver Post article, but it seems like any genuine discussion of PFP needs to include their work.

Incomplete district list aside, the main thrust of the article (though I’m sure the author would contend that this is not her argument) is that pay-for-performance systems don’t work. That’s something I hear repeated often by folks who oppose compensation reform, but is it true? Continue Reading »

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July
28th 2015
A Tale of Two Standards? Who Can Reject a Proposed Union Contract?

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & Teachers & Union

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. So begins one of the most famous novels of the last 200 years: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’m too little to know what it’s all about. But the idea of making a clear and direct contrast just seemed to fit so well.

When it comes to teachers union leaders’ views, we may have a case of “binding contracts for thee, but not for me.” Double standards can be rather convenient, can’t they?

On the very same day, last Friday, two parallel stories appeared. First, from my favorite education reporter, Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif, about an arbitration hearing between the Thompson Board of Education and the Thompson Education Association: Continue Reading »

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July
24th 2015
New Mackinac Video Reminds Us of the Power of Choice

Posted under Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

Hello, fellow education policy explorers! It’s 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, and your favorite little edu-wonk has quite a few things left to accomplish before he heads into a fun-filled weekend. Unfortunately, that means we aren’t going to have time for an in-depth conversation today. But never fear!  The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has swooped in to save the day with a new video about the importance of allowing families to access educational opportunities their kids need.

The video is all about a little girl named Mia, whose dyslexia has made school particularly tough for her. Unable to find the help she needed in the public schools, Mia’s mom eventually placed her into a private school. Mia’s finally getting the necessary support to overcome her learning disability, and she’s thriving in her new environment. Yet Mia’s mom makes clear that while their family was fortunate enough to have the resources to access quality private education, many other families are not so blessed. For kids like Mia whose families can’t access high-quality private educational options when they need them, the outcomes may not be so uplifting.

School choice matters, and I don’t just mean that in the abstract or on a vague philosophical level. I mean that school choice really, truly matters in terms of making real differences in real kids’ lives. With that, I leave you to enjoy the video and your weekend!

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July
23rd 2015
A Worthy Celebration of Instant Gratification: NC Court Upholds Choice

Posted under Courts & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice

Only a few weeks ago we received the long-awaited news on Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Program. While the Colorado Supreme Court narrowly left us to wait even longer and hold out hope for something even bigger and better, today brings some news of instant gratification.

I only have a few minutes to share with you the uplifting news that North Carolina’s highest court has upheld that state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. Check out the release from the Institute for Justice: Continue Reading »

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July
22nd 2015
NEA’s Push for “Ethnic Studies” Raises Questions

Posted under Private Schools & School Choice & State Legislature & Tax Credits & Teachers & Union

I think it’s great to see people stand up for minority kids. My policy friend Ross Izard’s recent profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School was a reminder of just how powerful those efforts can be, particularly in the context of using educational choice to provide opportunities these kids otherwise would not have.

Some of you may also remember Ross’s other article on testing and teacher tenure, in which he cites the Vergara decision knocking down California’s tenure law. In that decision, the judge commented that tenure’s tendency to keep not-so-great teachers in front of kids who most need great ones “shocks the conscience.” Tenure reform is a critical part of correcting this problem and making sure every kid reaps the benefits of having a great teacher.

But maybe minority kids don’t need all those fancy, newfangled opportunities or consistently fantastic teachers. Maybe they just need some more “ethnic studies” classes. So goes the thinking at NEA headquarters. Continue Reading »

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July
21st 2015
Close Look at Diverse Charter Options Helps to Tell Us What Parents Want

Posted under Denver & Parents & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Urban Schools

What do parents want? I’m not sure why people bring this question to me. Based on my somewhat limited experience, I tend to think the answer has something to do with keeping rooms clean, eating fruits and vegetables, minding manners, and not breaking things. When it comes to a child’s education, I think there’s more to the story.

Looking back over the last year-plus, it’s been a banner stretch for focusing on a diverse body of meaningful charter school research. It started with Marcus Winters’ Denver special education myth-buster. Winters has compiled the findings of his Denver and New York City research in a new piece for Education Next:

The conventional argument that charters enroll relatively few students with disabilities because they “counsel out” special needs students after they enroll is inconsistent with the enrollment data. In fact, students with disabilities are less likely to exit charter elementary schools than they are to exit district schools. More students with IEPs enter charter schools in non-gateway grades than exit them.

Beyond that important research, the following findings make for a fairly comprehensive and insightful list of mostly positive news since mid-2014: Continue Reading »

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July
17th 2015
Friday Decisions: A Furry Friend, Sneak-onomics, and Extra Ice Cream!

Posted under Accountability & Denver & Elementary School & Just For Fun & Middle School & Sciences & Social Studies & Suburban Schools & Testing & Urban Schools

Yesterday the Colorado Department of Education released CMAS science and social studies test results. It’s only the second year the test has been given (science to 5th and 8th graders, social studies to 4th and 7th graders), so you can’t read too much into the trend lines.

The bottom line is that scores are up slightly (except for 8th grade science), but overall Colorado students are not on track in these areas. Colorado Public Radio also notes that, as in other tested areas, there is a sizable achievement gap among ethnic groups.

The overall trend of small gains in 3 of the 4 subject areas generally seems to hold locally in places like Denver, Boulder, Loveland, and Grand Junction. (Thanks to Chalkbeat, you can search scores for individual districts and schools.)

But that’s all just prelude to (finally!) Friday fun time. Continue Reading »

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July
16th 2015
Senate Passes Bipartisan NCLB Rewrite

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Federal Government & School Accountability & Testing

On Tuesday, we visited the faraway land of U.S. Congress, where the U.S. House recently (and narrowly) passed a sweeping reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind. I had planned on using today’s post to offer a brief update on the U.S. Senate’s ongoing NCLB reauthorization efforts today, but then those crafty senators went and passed the darn thing. So yeah, we’re going to talk about that.

The Senate’s effort has been spearheaded by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-Wash), who have been working hard to build a bill that could garner bipartisan support in the Senate. If votes are any indication, it looks like that effort was successful; the bill passed this afternoon on an 81-17 vote. I don’t know how much attention you pay to Congress (or even how much you should), but that’s pretty impressive. Even more impressive is the fact that it appears to have sailed through with relatively little drama on the floor. Continue Reading »

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