Archive for February, 2016

February
23rd 2016
Failing Schools, Federal Grants, and Turnaround Efforts in Colorado

Posted under Accountability & Federal Government & School Accountability & State Board of Education

We ended last week on a high note, with conservatives banding together to preserve accountability in Colorado even in the absence of federal requirements to do so. Then a Sunday Denver Post story about federally funded school turnaround efforts in Colorado drove home the fact that—brace for impact—federal efforts at school improvement aren’t always all that helpful. From the story:

At best, the results of this nationwide experiment that shoveled money at the country’s lowest-performing 5 percent of schools are unconvincing. A Denver Post analysis of student achievement data and federal School Improvement Grant funds found little correlation between money and academic gains.

The story examines data from No Child Left Behind’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, which is a roughly $7 billion federal grant program under Title I of ESEA. Well, at least it was a roughly $7 billion federal grant program under ESEA. The grant program is not included under the new version of ESEA/NCLB known ESSA. Education sure does love its acronyms…

Anyway, the program was aimed at improving the lowest-performing schools in the country. Basically, the feds awarded money to state education providers (like CDE), and those providers then turned around and offered the money through a “competitive” process to local school districts. In turn, the local school districts were supposed to target the money toward effective improvements in their lowest-performing schools. Continue Reading »

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February
19th 2016
SB 105′s Death Proves Colorado Can Stand on Its Own

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

It’s Friday again, friends. Fortunately, I have good news to share after Monday’s depressing post about Justice Scalia’s passing and what it means for education. One of the “abominable snowbills” I wrote about a few weeks ago has died—and died rather spectacularly—in the Senate Education Committee.

From a previous post:

Senate Bill 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years…

Most of you probably remember that I didn’t much care for those changes, arguing that they would return us to the days when nearly every teacher was rated effective year after year and essentially destroy tenure reform, pay-for-performance systems, and even the basic practice of evaluating teachers annually. My policy friend Ross Izard felt the same (surprise, surprise), and sent a letter to the Senate Education Committee stating:

With the importance of teachers in mind, we believe that educators deserve to be treated like professionals through meaningful performance evaluations, taxpayers deserve accountability in how their education dollars are spent, and every child in Colorado deserves to be taught by a truly effective teacher. Senate Bill 105 represents a dangerous shift away from these goals…

…Put simply, Senate Bill 105 stands to serve the interests of the teachers union rather than those of students, parents, and educators. It represents a radical rollback of tenure reform and accountability in education, and has the potential to severely damage pay-for-performance systems and collective bargaining reform efforts across the state. More importantly, it hurts students by making it more difficult to ensure that every child has a truly effective teacher.

While SB 105 initially had bipartisan sponsorship—including five of the nine members of Senate Education—the bill’s Republican support disintegrated before the committee vote. Two of the bill’s Republican sponsors pulled their support and voted No during the committee hearing. The bill failed on a 6-3 vote that included every Republican member of the committee and Democratic Senator Mike Johnston, who was the original architect of SB 191. Continue Reading »

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February
15th 2016
Justice Scalia’s Passing Leaves Me Sad and Worried

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Constitution & Courts & Union

I would normally start a Monday morning post with a cheerful message. Nobody wants doom and gloom on the first day of the week. Unfortunately, today’s post will have to tackle a decidedly sadder and more concerning event: the surprising death over the weekend of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

For those who don’t follow the proceedings or makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court closely, Justice Scalia was an intellectual and legal titan. Appointed to SCOTUS by Ronald Reagan in 1986, he almost single-handedly led a “conservative revolution” on SCOTUS that has left an indelible imprint on the high court’s thinking and reasoning. A staunch believer in constitutional originalism, he supported the idea that the U.S. Constitution ought to be read in light of what it actually says, not interpreted through the warped lens of the political fads of any given administration or era (imagine that).

In many ways, one could argue that it was Scalia who brought the intellectual firepower needed to push constitutional originalism into the mainstream. His ideas, critiques, and arguments will echo for decades to come, and have forever changed the conversation surrounding constitutional law in America. One day 100 years from now, long after I’ve grown up and lived out my life, my great-grandchildren will learn about Antonin Scalia and the inerasable impression he left on the United States—an impression he left while earning the respect and admiration of even those who vehemently disagreed with him.

Simply put, Justice Scalia was a superhero. To conservatives and believers in the constitution as the Founding Fathers wrote it, he is something of a father figure. He will be dearly missed. Rest in peace, Justice Scalia, and thank you for your service and commitment to our nation.

Sadly, there will be little time to grieve Justice Scalia’s death. Continue Reading »

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February
11th 2016
Winning By Losing: New ECCI Ratings Raise Some Interesting Questions

Posted under Accountability & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

As you probably guessed from the long absence after my last post about two abominable “snowbills,” I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the shiny hallways of the Colorado Capitol talking about the importance of choice and accountability.

Today, I’d like to take a break from politics and get back to policy. We’re going to do that by taking a look at the new Education Choice and Competition Index ratings from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Everybody likes ratings, right?

I’d bet the folks at Denver Public Schools are especially fond of ratings these days. Why? Well, because they sort of won. First, they took third place in a Fordham Institute analysis of America’s best cities for choice. And last week, Denver was revealed to be the highest-scoring large district in Brookings’ 2015 ECCI report—a pretty significant improvement from the district’s fifth-place finish in last year’s report. It was also the second-best district overall, surpassed only by New Orleans. In fact, it only lost out to the pretty awesome “Recovery District” by a single point (81-80) on Brookings’ 100-point scale.

First off, congratulations Denver! Woot! Please conduct the obligatory victory dance now. I’ll wait.

With that out the way, we have to do a little nerding (nope, not a word) and dig into the info. That’s what we do here, after all. Brace yourselves, there be math ahead.  Continue Reading »

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February
2nd 2016
Abominable Snowbills Look to Gut Accountability in Colorado

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s snowing outside. Like, a lot. The good news is that the snowstorm means I get to hang out at home, drink hot chocolate, and make snow angels. The bad news is that there is an approximately 63 percent higher chance of attack by abominable snowmen like this one:

View post on imgur.com


Okay, that’s a lie. Abominable snowmen aren’t real (I hope). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t abominable things afoot—like bills gutting accountability, performance pay systems, and tenure reform.

I’m sure you all recall that my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard is a big believer in accountability and tenure reform. He recently co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on the importance of these things. Last session, he wrote a big, long article on the dangers of Republicans mistakenly teaming up with the teachers union to dismantle accountability systems. Ross is working on updating that article for this year, but we’ll go ahead and get a head start today. Abominable snowbills wait for no one.

The two bills in question are HB 1121 and SB 105. HB 1121 would enable local school boards to pass policies allowing teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to only be evaluated every three years. Currently teachers are evaluated every year, though we still haven’t gotten around to fully implementing SB 191’s strengthened evaluations.

As a quick refresher, SB 191 requires that 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations be comprised of multiple measures student growth data (no, not just from the much-maligned state tests). The other 50 percent is made up of what I consider to be subjective judgments based on observations in the classroom. The student growth data is important, as it pushes back against the “Widget Effect,” which saw nearly 100 percent of teachers rated effective or better year after year under strictly subjective evaluation systems. Unfortunately, SB 191′s evaluation system has been on hold for a while as accountability opponents and the teachers union do everything they can do delay or disrupt implementation.

SB 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years—no extra certification required. Continue Reading »

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