August
5th 2014
Evaluation Valuation: Goals, Issues, and Questions for the Coming Year

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Rural Schools & School Accountability & School Board & Teachers

To students like me, teachers are mythical creatures. Sure, I see them every day, but I can’t see behind the proverbial curtain. I don’t know how they judge their success or failure in different areas, how well they are serving their students as a whole, or how they communicate information about their teaching performance to their peers. In the absence of good evaluation systems, that same ambiguity extends to parents and administrators.

As Ben Orlin recently pointed out in the Atlantic, teachers are only human. Some great teachers may portray their performance as mediocre or poor, and some less effective teachers may be inclined to exaggerate their success. In either case, it’s clear that some kind of evaluation system is necessary if we want our teachers to be fairly and accurately assessed.

Here in Colorado, SB 10-191 ostensibly aims to provide such a system. Among numerous other things, the law requires all Colorado school districts to adopt new yearly performance ratings. These ratings have been in the “practice” phase for the past few years, but are due to be fully implemented in the coming school year. That means that teachers who receive ratings below effective for two consecutive years will lose their tenure. In contrast, teachers who earn effective ratings or better for three consecutive years will be awarded tenure. Continue Reading »

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August
1st 2014
Adults Say the Darndest Things, Too: Jeffco Anti-Charter Edition

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Urban Schools

One night, not too long ago, when I made one of my off-the-wall education prodigy remarks, my dad just smiled and replied, “Kids say the darndest things.” Apparently, there used to be a TV show by that name — or so my grandpa once told me. The premise was to take advantage of youthful innocence and get little tykes like me to repeat things adults wouldn’t say in polite company, or just misuse words in a funny way.

And then the other day I was reading this piece of work from Jeffco School Board Watch, and thought out loud: “It’s not just kids who say the darndest things!” The opponents of expanded choice and charter funding equity in Denver’s western suburbs are really out there grasping at straws now.

You mean they weren’t before? some might say. At least this time it wasn’t one of the minority board members offering a bizarre, phony “compromise.” Their special education argument against charters has been seriously called into question, so they’ve fallen back to a new absurd line of defense. Continue Reading »

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July
30th 2014
Gamblin’ for Children

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & education schools

My father always told me that nothing says “kid-friendly” like a day of gamblin’ at the ol’ horse track.

Coloradans for Better Schools, the backers of Initiative 135, agree. And just this week, it was reported that the initiative has received enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November. Everyone, say hello to Amendment 68 to the Colorado Constitution.

The proposed amendment would allow for a full casino to open at the Arapahoe Park Racetrack. It may also pave the way for limited gambling at racetracks in Mesa and Pueblo Counties in the future. Continue Reading »

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July
29th 2014
Let’s Grow Colorado K-12 Course Access But NOT Reinvent the Wheel

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Research & School Board

Give me Legos, Play-doh, or just a pile of rocks and sticks, and I’ll create something. If you want to know what some of my crazy inventions have been, just ask my poor mom. But let me tell you one thing I haven’t tried to do, and that’s reinvent the wheel.

I’m sure the members of the new online education task force are well aware of that wise maxim. One of the tasks they’re charged to do is authorize pilot programs for digital learning that can and ought to include course-level funding. A couple months ago I pointed them to a quick Fordham Institute manual about the different policy dimensions to consider.

Now I’m hoping even more that they’ll see the lessons gleaned from other states, lessons reported reported last week by Digital Learning Now. The report highlights not only the advantages of Course Access, but also key challenges that need to be addressed, such as “Creating meaningful foundations for system performance review and assessment.” Continue Reading »

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July
25th 2014
1000s Embrace Florida K-12 Choice: When Can Colorado Kids Win, Too?

Posted under Independence Institute & Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Tax Credits

I hope you haven’t forgotten about helping Colorado Kids Win (including giving the Facebook page a “Like”). After all, it’s been two whole weeks since I’ve reminded you about the benefits of K-12 scholarship tax credits that our state’s kids could really use.

And you know that this particular little kid will use almost any excuse he can to get you speaking out for more school choice right here in the great Centennial State. Take for instance some intriguing news from the nation’s largest (and second oldest) scholarship tax credit program:

Students using school choice scholarships now make up nearly a third of K-12 students in Florida private schools.

Continue Reading »

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July
23rd 2014
Overconfidence, Low Expectations, Little Innovation: Not a Good Mixture

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & International & learning & math & Principals & Research

Remember that clip from the ages-old education documentary Waiting for Superman, where we’re told that American students are behind the pack in math in almost any way you measure it, except for one:

Yes, when it comes to students’ classroom confidence (“I get good marks in mathematics”), a much different story emerges: The USA is #1! Compare that to #32 in actual math proficiency overall, or #28 among kids with college-educated parents. Continue Reading »

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July
22nd 2014
Can’t Get Enough Productivity: Charter Schools Doing More with Less

Posted under Innovation and Reform & learning & math & Public Charter Schools & reading & Research & School Choice & School Finance

If “productivity” is really a dirty word for education, as some critics would like us to believe, maybe that explains why I feel the overwhelming urge to write about it for the second time in less than a week. A kind of “forbidden fruit” thing, you know. Or maybe the connection just was too easy to make during these hot and lazy, hazy days of summer.

Last Friday I took a look at the productivity of Colorado school districts, as measured in a new report by the Center for American Progress (CAP). A couple of this blog’s favorite topics — Douglas County and Falcon 49 — emerged with flying colors.

So right on cue, here comes a first-of-its-kind analysis, comparing the productivity of public charter schools to other public schools in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The University of Arkansas’s “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools” made an across-the-board finding that shouldn’t exactly startle anyone who pays attention. Not only is charter productivity higher in every state: Continue Reading »

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July
21st 2014
Argue Policy, Not Philosophy

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research

Some things don’t mix well. Mustard and chocolate cake, seafood and ice cream, bacon and vegetables—all of these make me wrinkle my nose. As it turns out, hard-nosed philosophy and education policy also do not make a good pair.

Last week, Andy Smarick wrote about the problems that arise when philosophical views collide with education policy discussions. While Andy was specifically discussing the ongoing (and rather nasty) debate over charter schools, I think his point is applicable to education policy more generally.

Instead of arguing over well-supported points or thoughtful positions, education activists and experts too often find themselves battling over philosophical differences. As these debates become increasingly vitriolic, potentially valuable answers to important policy questions are ignored. Sadly, this means that kids like me may be denied the solutions we deserve while the grown-ups we depend on for help point fingers and sling insults. Continue Reading »

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July
18th 2014
Douglas County, Falcon 49, Eaton Top Colorado in K-12 Productivity

Posted under High School & Innovation and Reform & Research & Rural Schools & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools

For some people, the term “productivity” doesn’t belong in K-12 education discussions. They think it’s too scary because it sounds like businesses that make money by selling goods or services. And we know that while education could learn a few more things from the competitive world of independent businesses, the two spheres don’t perfectly equate.

But let’s not freak out here. We’re talking about large sums of public tax revenues in K-12 education. Having a good way to measure how effectively that money is being spent recognizes an important reality. It’s not the be-all and end-all of the K-12 world, by any means, but it does provide a valuable indicator.

Come on now, don’t think it’s just me harping on about measuring “productivity” in education. Ask the Center for American Progress (CAP), which just released the 2014 update of “Return on Educational Investment: A District-by-District Evaluation of U.S. Educational Productivity”: Continue Reading »

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July
17th 2014
Blended Learning Takes Flight in Colo. Districts: How High Will It Soar?

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & learning & Online Schools & Rural Schools & Suburban Schools & Teachers

The great blended learning experiment continues its historic ascension in our beautiful Rocky Mountain state. Independence Institute education senior fellow Krista Kafer has documented it better than anyone. Last year it was The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning in Colorado.

Apparently, the not-so-long-ago, cutting-edge sphere of blended learning has not just made it past the ground level but is heading into the lofty (or should I say friendly?) skies. Just this week my Education Policy Center friends released Krista’s awaited sequel School District Partnerships Help Colorado K-12 Blended Learning Take Flight.

Take flight? Can’t you picture me wearing my goggles, flying a World War I-era Sopwith Camel? Better yet, behind the controls of a state-of-the-art Rocketship heading to explore strange new worlds in outer space? Or maybe just playing in the back yard (away from power lines) with my new kite? Seriously, though, Krista’s report follows the action in some key places in various parts of the state: Continue Reading »

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