Archive for September, 2015

September
25th 2015
Top Secret School Board Candidate Briefing Materials Declassified

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & School Board

Last night, the Education Policy Center team finished the last of its five school board candidate briefings at the Independence Institute in Denver. This year’s briefings have garnered a fair amount of attention from anti-reform folks, including some pretty interesting conspiracy theories.

I am pleased to report that after talking it over with their evil right-wing overlords, the Ed Center’s staff members have been cleared to make the materials given to candidates publicly available. Not that they were really secret anyway; every school board candidate in the state was invited to the briefings regardless of his or her political opinions. All interested candidates had to do was sign a non-disclosure agreement, forfeit their firstborn children, submit to a lie detector test, and swear fealty to the Almighty Koch Brothers. No biggie, right?

Now, though, everyone can see these top secret materials without having to go through all that stuff. Admittedly, that isn’t terribly fair to the candidates who had to directly endure the aforementioned requirements–particularly those who went through our patented microchip implantation process. But I strongly suspect that others will find the information valuable, and the Education Policy Center is all about providing valuable information to those who need it.

I doubt the written materials will live up to the conspiratorial hype surrounding them, but that’s alright. Maybe the big, scary video (embedded below) featuring 24-year Jeffco teaching veteran Michael Alcorn’s advice for board members will make up for the anti-climactic shock of combing through a 40-page education policy document looking for secret codes that don’t exist.

One last note before I leave you to enjoy the video: There will be no Little Eddie posts next week. I know, I know. You’ll just have to do your best to contain your disappointment. See you in a couple weeks!

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September
24th 2015
Colorado’s ACT Flatline Has Me Worried

Posted under Accountability & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

I feel like I’ve been alienating my fellow edu-nerds in recent weeks by spending so much time talking about the antics of the courts. Most recently, we examined a Colorado Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the “Negative Factor” under Amendment 23. One could be forgiven for believing that I had suddenly changed careers and become the world’s youngest edu-lawyer extraordinaire. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Today, we celebrate my triumphant return to the world of education policy data by taking a belated look at Colorado’s 2015 ACT scores. As most of you know, the ACT is taken by every high school junior in the state under state law. This year, that amounted to 57,328 kids. The ACT is an important test, as it provides the best picture of the “end product” our education system has produced after more than a decade of school for most students.

Unfortunately, Colorado’s ACT numbers this year are flat again. In fact, they’re a little worse than flat, with our overall composite score having fallen from 20.3 in 2014 to 20.1 this year (on a 36-point scale). Other than a very slight increase in science composite scores, scores across all subjects were down.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. The typical achievement gaps we’ve come to expect are still present, with Hispanic students coming in at a composite of 17.3, black students at 17.1, and English language learners (ELLs) coming in at just 13.7. White students, by contrast, achieved a composite of 21.7.

Low-income students also continue to fall behind their higher-income peers. Students eligible for free lunch achieved a composite score of 16.9, and those eligible for reduced lunch prices managed an 18.5. Kids qualifying for neither free nor reduced lunches came in at a composite of 21.6. Continue Reading »

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September
23rd 2015
New Survey, Research Point to Need for Balanced Computer Use in Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & International & Online Schools & Research & Teachers

Given the prodigious quantity of blogging here, some may find the contents of this particular post somewhat hypocritical, or perhaps just a little bit ironic. But I certainly strive to keep things interesting.

Once upon a time, you heard quite a bit more from little Eddie about blended learning — though recently my eyebrows have been raised about the opening of Denver’s Roots Elementary, my dreams rekindled of Rocketship Education landing in Jeffco, and my repetition that Colorado needs course choice was, well, repeated.

For those who need a refresher, one commonly accepted definition for blended learning comes from the Clayton Christensen Institute:

a formal education program in which a student learns: at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

The Christensen Institute’s disclaimer that blended learning is not “technology-rich instruction” should not be brushed aside. It’s not just using more technology in the same structures and practices. Technology, though, is critical to the rethinking that comes with designing and implementing various blended learning models. Continue Reading »

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September
21st 2015
Colorado Supreme Court Nixes Negative Factor Challenge

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & School Finance & State Legislature

We’ve been talking a lot about the courts lately. Between the Dougco voucher decision, the ridiculous silliness going on in Thompson, and Washington’s bizarre decision that charter schools are unconstitutional, there hasn’t been much cause for celebration. I’ll admit to feeling pretty darn frustrated with the courts.

Now, many of the folks on the other side of reform aisle are also experiencing some court-driven frustration after roughly a year of waiting. Today’s 4-3 Colorado Supreme Court decision in Dwyer v. State of Colorado has cemented the legislature’s interpretation of Amendment 23 to the Colorado Constitution and the “Negative Factor” it spawned. Continue Reading »

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September
18th 2015
Granddaddy of KIPP Studies Shows More Success for Growing Charter Network

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

I can confess to you that something has made Eddie a little sad lately. That’s just the amount of crazy charter-bashing going on these days.

Some of this craziness gets imported locally by reform opponents who twist themselves in knots to dance around their rage at the Jeffco and Thompson boards of education providing fair, equitable funding for public charter school students.

A quick reminder to all that public charter schools are not a silver bullet solution, nor are they in any way guaranteed success. But in Colorado, charters tend to slightly outperform their traditional school peers and are overrepresented among the highest performers. Unlike their counterparts, struggling charters can be closed down. Meanwhile, some charters — like KIPP — are hitting it out of the park.

Two and a half years ago I smiled at the fresh research showing KIPP middle schools provide significant learning boosts while working with challenging student populations. Just over a year ago, I highlighted some further analysis that unraveled some of the skepticism about the famous charter network’s success. Bottom line? “KIPP is obviously doing something right.”

Well, my friends, this week appears the granddaddy of them all (so far). Again from Mathematica Research, this rigorous study shows that the positive impacts are sustained even as the network continues to grow, or “scale up”. (H/T Choice Media) Continue Reading »

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September
17th 2015
Thompson Majority Fights On for Local Control

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Teachers & Union

Most of you probably remember that there’s sort of a thing going on in Thompson School District. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. In actuality, Thompson now stands alongside Jefferson County as ground zero for one of the most important education battles in Colorado.

More specifically, Thompson has been engaged in an ugly fight with the Thompson Education Association, backed heavily by legal support from the Colorado Education Association, over the reform-minded board majority’s decision not to accept two junky tentative collective bargaining agreements. At the center of that fight is an incredibly important question: Can locally elected school boards be forced to accept union contracts with which they disagree?

The issue has drawn significant attention from around the state, including an editorial from the Denver Post supporting local school boards’ ability to make judgment calls under Colorado law. It has also resulted in a flabbergastingly awful non-binding arbitration report and, more recently, an unprecedented injunction ruling that forces the district to abide by the 2014-15 collective bargaining agreement—an agreement that the board has rejected in one form or another three separate times.

The board majority isn’t giving up, though. Last night, a 4-3 vote gave the district’s legal team the authority to appeal the injunction or pursue other remedies, whatever “other remedies” means in lawyerese. In practice, a favorable ruling on appeal would free the district of the collective bargaining agreement foisted on it by the Larimer County District Court and allow the board to get back to building policies to take care of its teachers in the absence of a union contract. Continue Reading »

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September
15th 2015
Binding Thread? Four-Day School Week Research & Denver’s Roots Elementary

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research & Rural Schools

Sometimes a little edublogger sees two small interesting stories to cover, and leaves it to insightful readers like you to figure out the connection. Today is one of those somewhat interesting occasions.

Let’s start over at Education Week, where a recent post by Liana Heitin caught my attention. A newly published study of 15 rural Colorado elementary schools show that changing the school week from five days to four brought about clear improvements in math and likely has the same sort of effect on reading. (It may even help student attendance, but those results weren’t definitive.)

The average person’s reaction to such news might be a true head-scratcher. The research doesn’t provide any real insights into what causes this counterintuitive result. All these schools are still providing the required instructional hours, just packing them into longer days and extending the weekends.

Some complementary research from Idaho released a couple months ago shows that making the shift to the shorter school week yields no savings, and in a few cases, actually incurs extra costs. Crazy, huh? Continue Reading »

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September
11th 2015
Independence Institute “Indoctrinates” CO School Board Candidates with Helpful Policy Information

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & School Board & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

It’s hard to believe it’s Friday again. I’ve been scurrying around the Independence Institute office helping my policy friends get ready for their first of five 2015 Colorado School Board Candidate Briefings. This one was held in Loveland, Colorado, last night. Attendees received a presentation on Colorado education policy, and had a chance to ask questions of the policy folks. It was a great time!

But as my friend Ross Izard points out in a recent Greeley Tribune op-ed, Loveland is now ground zero for one of the most important education fights in the state. That means anti-reform forces north of the big city are busy shouting at the top of their lungs about the evils of education reform. Nowhere is that panicked shrieking more evident than on the Thompson School District Reform Watch Facebook page, which is absolutely stuffed with some of the most creative conspiracy theories I’ve ever seen.

Somewhat ironically given the page’s frequent complaints about a lack of transparency, the operators have chosen to remain anonymous. Hey, that’s their right. But because I like to talk the talk and walk the walk, feel free to check out the About Eddie page here on Ed is Watching if you’d like to learn more about me and the grown-ups who help me write these posts.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Among the Reform Watch page’s most recent posts are a number of pokes at the Loveland school board candidate briefing last night. Below are a few of my favorite snippets from posts over the last couple of days (screen captured just in case they get deleted):

The Independence Institute Saga continues…with holding regular seminars and training sessions, sometimes to unsuspecting and gullible citizens and candidates. As with their sister group, the Leadership Program of the Rockies, they are Americans for Prosperity, Friedman, KOCH and ALEC all rolled into one.

Last night the II was in Loveland with their Reform School Board Candidate Training Program. We are trying to get information on who all was in attendance at the Chop House for this event. The rumor mill has named some very interesting people who are not from the TSD communities. (See our Eye Opener post on Sep. 9th for the details of what these sessions are all about). We also know that the TSD candidates were invited.

When you take a look at the II website, remember that you are reading from the Americans for Prosperity Manual. At first, it may look good, but as they say “The Devil is in the Details”. Beware!! Continue Reading »

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September
10th 2015
Wait, What? Washington Supreme Court Finds Charter Schools Unconstitutional

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & Union

I’ve got to admit, Little Eddie’s faith in judges’ ability to fairly decide education issues is beginning to fray. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve moved past fraying, and that my confidence has fully fallen apart at the seams like the blanket I’ve been dragging around with me since infancy.

Back in June, the Colorado Supreme Court made a dangerously broad decision to strike down the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program. Not long after that, a retired Colorado Court of Appeals judge handed Thompson School District perhaps the most heavily flawed “legal” document I’ve ever seen after a questionable (and expensive) non-binding arbitration process related to the district’s negotiations with its local teachers union.  Then, a Larimer County District Court judge contorted herself into a logical pretzel in order to force Thompson to abide by the terms of a contract that the board has voted down three separate times in one form or another.  

But as frustrating as judges have been in Colorado this year, our problems are small compared to a jaw-dropping 6-3 Washington Supreme Court decision that charter schools are unconstitutional. I actually had to read that headline twice to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood.

Sadly, I hadn’t. Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2015
Of Successful Turnarounds, Heavy Hands, and Union Bargaining Power

Posted under Accountability & Denver & Elementary School & Teachers & Union & Urban Schools

It’s much better to have a light touch, rather than a heavy hand, from the state to exert efforts to improve schools. Colorado has its share of schools and districts in need of turnaround, with some serious options on the table (but delayed one year by a 2015 state law).

Whenever possible, I always like to highlight successful examples of struggling schools that really turn the corner and improve dramatically. Colorado Public Radio recently talked to Zach Rahn, a principal called in a few years ago to help turn around a low-performing Denver school:

He says, at that time, the school was on a downward spiral. But, through special programs, community outreach and new practices, the school has shown improvement — both in its culture and the students’ academic performance.

Rahn’s big lesson learned is worth heeding: Continue Reading »

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