Archive for August, 2015

August
31st 2015
ACLU vs. Nevada Families: Another Big Anti-School Choice Case to Wait Out

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

The Pope is Catholic. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. The grass is green, the sky is blue. And certain parties will sue groundbreaking educational choice programs that promise to help give kids more opportunities.

Two months ago, an ACLU-initiated case against the Dougco Choice Scholarship Program prevailed in the short term, while opening the door to a potential major national victory. A few weeks later, a similar program in North Carolina survived a legal assault.

Before that, the ACLU’s efforts to take away tax credits for K-12 scholarship donations was smacked down in New Hampshire, while the union and school board association in case in Florida has stumbled but lives on in the form of distorted arguments about the Sunshine State’s tax credit scholarships. Continue Reading »

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August
28th 2015
Jeffco Union Prez Wants “Big Lift”; For Kids’ Sake, How About Some Peace?

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Teachers & Union

The school year is underway for nearly all Colorado kids. That includes all students in Jeffco Public Schools. Let’s calm down the heat and focus on a successful school year then, right? I sure hope so, but one group seems to be throwing a wrench into the situation.

Last night the Jeffco Board of Education “unanimously approved an agreement with the teachers union that governs how educators are hired, fired and paid.” We’re talking about a much better, leaner, more flexible union contract than the previous one — as my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explained on Complete Colorado yesterday.

(Don’t tell Ben, but I learned something he didn’t. About the new salaries they agreed to: Because of the way the two sides agreed to fix the pay system to make it fairer, about 1,400 Jeffco teachers — more than one-quarter — come home with big take-home raises in 2015. This, after last year 99 percent of teachers got a salary boost, including 4.25 percent raises for highly effective educators. A total of $20 million this board has ADDED to teacher compensation.)

Beyond the pay increases, the contract opens the door to more important decisions made at the school level, more value on performance over seniority, more fairness and options for teachers, and maybe best of all: Teacher strike averted!

This is the same agreement the Denver Post hailed as a “good agreement” because “both sides aren’t fully happy.” It contains some positive developments for district teachers, and generally is less restrictive. So time to move onward and upward, to focus on excellence in classrooms and school buildings, to strive for more and better learning? Not so fast. Continue Reading »

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August
27th 2015
Respected Voices Highlight Importance of Reform Battles in Jeffco, Thompson

Posted under Education Politics & School Board

Yesterday, we took a look at a major school choice flub in the new PDK/Gallup national education poll. I was all set to offer some further comments on that poll this morning, but we’ll have to come back to that. Today we’ve got important stuff like the hugely important fights over local education reform in Jeffco and Thompson to talk about.

I got a little worked up last week thinking about the criticality of the education reform battles in Jeffco and Thompson. Yet I was long ago categorized as a five-year-old ideologue, so it’s easy enough for reform opponents to write me off by pointing out that my father is Charles Koch, or that I was born in a petri dish in a secret underground lab know only to members of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Neither of which I can confirm or deny, of course.

Now, though, more and more mainstream folks are beginning to talk about the significance of these two districts. Two pieces in particular stood out to me this morning during my daily romp through the news. Continue Reading »

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August
25th 2015
What’s New? PDK/Gallup Survey Flubs School Choice Question Once More

Posted under Journalism & Private Schools & Research & School Choice

For being so young, it feels like I’ve really had to repeat myself a lot lately. Not “Get off my lawn”-type of repetition, but still… it gets a little annoying sometimes. Just in the last couple weeks, the theme applies to Colorado’s need for course choice and the same old results for our state from the Parent Power Index.

Thankfully for you and me both, this one will be short, sweet, and to the point. It relates to the continued bias of an important question in the PDK/Gallup annual public education survey. A couple of years ago (when I was still 5), I pointed out how the following wording fell well short of reasonable expectations of objective answers: Continue Reading »

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August
21st 2015
Meet Colorado’s New PPI Report Card, Same as the Old PPI Report Card

Posted under Research & School Accountability & School Choice & Tax Credits

It’s Friday again, my friends, and that means it’s time for a more colorful look at education policy as we head into the weekend. I really wanted to highlight the American Federation for Children’s “Education Revolution” video, which was released a couple months ago but only just made it to my desk. But you’ll have to watch that on your own. We have colorful interactive maps to play with!

The Center for Education Reform (CER) recently released its 2015 Parent Power Index. It is absolutely stuffed with colorful, clickable goodies that are entirely too much fun to be considered education policy. But I’ll leave you to play with the report on your own time. We have important business to discuss!

If you’ll remember, Colorado came in 12th in the country last year, which was a very slight improvement from 13th in 2013. At the time, CER described Colorado this way:

Parents here are an active lot but have often been rebuffed at the legislative level when trying to expand their choices. That said, there is a strong charter law here. Many elements of digital learning are offered. The citizens of Colorado get to vote in school board elections when they go to the polls for other races. That fact, plus teacher quality measured at average levels, puts the Centennial State higher than average on giving parents power, but not high enough to put it in the top ten.

Not an unfair description. Colorado does have strong public school choice laws, a strong accountability system despite serious efforts to dismantle the system instead of working to improve it, and a very high level of transparency in education. What we don’t have is a lot of progress. Continue Reading »

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August
20th 2015
Eddie’s Crazy Idea: More Colo. Districts Should Pursue Student-Based Budgeting

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Principals & Research & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea! Why not have school districts base their budgeting on students like me (or any student, for that matter)? It just makes sense to do it that way, right? Especially since the whole K-12 education enterprise is supposed to be about the kids.

It’s not that simple, however, and it’s not usually the case. Things like staffing formulas and seniority rules — not to mention bureaucratic traditions and old-fashioned accounting systems — generally rule the day. But in Colorado, the practice of Student-Based Budgeting is on the rise:

Through student-based budgeting (SBB), six school districts have prioritized student need over administrative convenience with a cost-effective approach that places more funds under individual school control.

This is from one of those long issue papers by my Education Policy Center friends that little me may never get around to reading cover to cover. SBB isn’t terribly glamorous, nor (like any other reform) is it a silver bullet. Even so, I’ve learned just enough to know that it’s something that very much should be on your radar. Plus, it has a fun and inspiring cover: Continue Reading »

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August
19th 2015
Thompson, Jeffco, and the Battle for the Soul of Colorado Education

Posted under Education Politics & Union

I’m not exactly a fortune teller, but every now and then I surprise myself with my prescience. Last May, I wrote a post just before Thompson’s second vote on an only slightly revised version of the first junky tentative agreement brought back from the negotiating table. The post was called “Thompson Gears up for the Final (?) Battle.” It turns out that question mark meant more than I knew back then.

The teachers union is many things, but timid is not among them. Still, I was legitimately surprised to see the tenacity with which they have opposed the Thompson reform majority’s attempts to make very reasonable changes to the district’s union contract—particularly because their bigger, meaner, more powerful cousin in Jeffco seems perfectly capable of making compromises. Well, other than that whole strike threat thing. While JCEA was busy actually negotiating, TEA was dragging the district into expensive non-binding arbitration proceedings and arguing that the board doesn’t have a right to reject a tentative agreement with which it disagrees under the 2014-15 contract’s “good faith” provision.

Poppycock, you say. Colorado school boards have constitutional authority to exercise local control over their districts, and no statute requires a school board to even recognize a union in the first place. In fact, 140 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have no recognized union at all (you can find a full list of unionized districts here). You’re right, and the arbitrator agrees with you. Sort of. CEA, on the other hand, thinks you’re dead wrong. Continue Reading »

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August
18th 2015
New York Charter Success: You Know How to Spell It

Posted under Elementary School & Middle School & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Testing & Urban Schools

It’s often been said “you can’t argue with success” (or Success). But that doesn’t stop some from trying.

Last year, I pointed out the collective jaw-dropping that took place when test results came back from students in the Harlem Success Academies, a New York City charter network that overwhelmingly serves poor and disadvantaged families. Just to revisit for the record:

Seven out of the state’s 15 top-scoring schools on math proficiency tests this year were Success Academy charter schools….An astounding 93.9 percent of Success students passed the Common Core math exam and 64.5 percent passed the English proficiency test….

After a closer look at the results, all that critics and skeptics were left to stand on was the suggestion that the astounding, off-the-chart scores for poor kids in the Big Apple must have been some kind of a fluke. With the release of the latest achievement scores, as reported by Reason blogger Jim Epstein, that line just became a lot harder to defend. Continue Reading »

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August
14th 2015
Jeffco Leads the Way on Sensible Union Contract Changes

Posted under Innovation and Reform & School Board & Union

I’ve got to be honest, the Denver Post’s Editorial Board has kind of been knocking my socks off recently. First, they wrote good, thoughtful columns on the Dougco voucher decision and the abuse of democracy that is the Jeffco recall. Now they’ve come out with a new column praising Jefferson County School District’s new tentative tentative agreement with the Jefferson County Education Association.

No, the second “tentative” is not a typo. As exciting as this new contract is, it still needs to be ratified by JCEA’s more than 3,000 members. That said, I join the Denver Post in praising Jeffco adults’ newfound ability to “gather their senses,” and I sincerely hope cooler heads will prevail when it comes to contract ratification among union members.

While we wait for the results of the union ratification vote scheduled for August 21, it’s helpful to take a look at why this agreement is such a big deal. From my edu-wonk perspective, it accomplishes some very important things:

  • Prioritizes teacher performance in cases of layoffs or displacements instead of basing these decisions solely on seniority. Under the current agreement, displacement decisions between teachers of equal seniority are decided not by effectiveness, but by “a flip of a coin between the teachers involved by a disinterested third party.” Nope, not kidding.
  • Eliminates the district’s responsibility to collect union dues through its payroll system
  • Eliminates privileged union access to district communication systems and facilities
  • Allows teachers to select their own representation during the grievance process rather than forcing them to utilize JCEA for such services
  • Eliminates taxpayer-subsidized union leave time, including for union officers
  • Significantly reduces the length and intrusiveness of the contract. For example, it lightens the burden of some excessively rigid class-size formulas, which allows for more flexibility at the school level.

Continue Reading »

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August
13th 2015
A Rocketship Visit to Jeffco: More Than Just Eddie’s Big Dream?

Posted under Denver & High School & Middle School & Online Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Board & Suburban Schools

There’s a lot of attention on the school board politics in Jeffco these days. Dealing with it sometimes is a necessity. But to me it’s a shame, given the pockets of great need for students in the Jefferson and neighboring Alameda articulation areas, just west of Denver.

Last November I first highlighted the significant positive efforts for change, then followed it up with anticipation of an important March 5 Board vote to approve a hopeful plan of action. The Board ended up approving it unanimously!

Since that time I have been watching off and on (there are a bunch of things out there that Ed Is Watching), but have been remiss about providing an update. Yesterday, the good people at Chalkbeat Colorado published a piece about some specific efforts to upgrade academic standards at Jefferson High and surrounding schools: Continue Reading »

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