March
18th 2016
Dougco Restarts Its Voucher Program, Minus Religious Schools

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Douglas County & School Board & School Choice

Just last week, we covered some Jeffco-tinted news about a student walkout/protest in Douglas County School District.  But those aren’t the only waves Dougco has made recently, or even the most important. No, the most exciting news to come out of the district is that the conservative board majority voted Tuesday to restart its local voucher program, the first of its kind in the nation.

This time, however, those pesky religious schools will have to sit out—along with any of the kids who wanted to attend them. The new program, now called the School Choice Grant Program, explicitly prohibits religious schools from participating. It also revisits the old program’s contentious charter school funding mechanism (and funding amounts), though that’s a conversation for another day. For now, let’s focus on the religious aspect.

Most of you already know about the original Choice Scholarship Program, so we won’t spend a lot of recounting all of the details. It’s been a while since we talked about the Dougco case’s legal slog in any detail, though, so I think it’s a good idea to pause and consider what’s going on here and what it means. Continue Reading »

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March
16th 2016
New Bill Seeks to Bolster Floundering Civic Knowledge

Posted under Education Politics & Social Studies & State Legislature

About this time last year, I wrote a starry-eyed post about how much I love seeing fellow policy explorers on field trips to the Colorado State Capitol. I wrote then:

For those who spend a lot of time at the Capitol, these bright-eyed explorers are sometimes viewed as a hassle. They clog the stairs, block the hallways, and every now and then manage to run smack into someone who probably believes they are far too important to be run into. But we should be careful about looking at these little guys (my people!) as hurdles that must be (sometimes physically) clambered over and worked around in the pursuit of more important business. In fact, I’d like to argue that there is no more important business than introducing our kids to the American system of government.

When I look around at groups of kids touring the Capitol—some of them wearing little ties and doing their best to stand up straight and proud, others struggling just to take it all in—I wonder how many of tomorrow’s leaders I’m looking at. How many future legislators, governors, and justices have I seen? How many activists, teachers, and nonprofit leaders am I watching form right before my eyes? How many of these wide-eyed little tykes will grow into great movers and shakers, military leaders, entrepreneurs, community champions, artists, or scientific pioneers? How many future presidents have I walked right past without knowing?

I still believe that “there is no more important business than introducing our kids to the American system of government.” And you know what? I’m not the only one.

Earlier this month, a broad, bipartisan group of legislators introduced Senate Bill 148, which will require Colorado high school students to pass the 100-question civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test, more colloquially called the “citizenship test,” in order to graduate. Sometime between starting 9th grade and finishing high school (testing schedules and administration are left up to schools), students would have to get at least 60 of the test’s 100 multiple-choice questions correct. Folks applying for citizenship in the United States must answer six of 10 randomly selected questions in order to pass. They also have to complete an English-language section.

If you couldn’t tell from my sentimental words at the beginning of this post, I like SB 148. Honestly, it’s hard not to in light of the very scary data on U.S. students’ civic knowledge.

In 2014, a nationally representative sample of 8th graders took the NAEP civics test. The results were astonishing. Check out the graphic below:

http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/hgc_2014/#civics

From The Nation’s Report Card

Continue Reading »

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March
11th 2016
Shades of Jeffco: Dougco’s Student Walkout

Posted under Accountability & Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board & Union

Yesterday, we covered some very interesting new research on educator evaluation reforms. While we were busy reviewing that study, our friends down in Douglas County School District were busy making news. Let’s catch up on that news today.

First up was a student walkout/protest at Ponderosa High School. Roughly 200 students paraded around with signs blasting Superintendent Liz Fagen and decrying what they see as concerning levels of teacher turnover at Ponderosa and other schools. They blame unfair teacher evaluations and pay under the district’s pay-for-performance system for this turnover. I think I’m having flashbacks to Jeffco’s misguided protests in 2014… Continue Reading »

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March
10th 2016
New Study Examines Impacts of Evaluation Reform Across America, Findings Decidedly Unscary

Posted under Accountability & Research & Teachers & Testing & Union

You know that feeling you had when you were a kid and you got a new book? The excited rush to rip it open and start devouring it? Well, I’m that way with educational research. Some folks might say that makes me a “nerd.” Those folks would be right. Today I proudly embrace my nerdiness and present: Little Eddie’s Thursday Research Roundup.

Okay, “roundup” is probably overselling it a little. I actually just want to talk a single new study on teacher evaluation reform in America. The study, conducted by Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Vanderbilt University, takes a look at the effects of evaluation reform on teacher effectiveness ratings in 19 states across the country. It also digs into the issue a little deeper with surveys and interviews in a large urban school district. Continue Reading »

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March
4th 2016
Little Eddie Talks Big (Union) Money

Posted under Education Politics & Union

Yesterday’s post dealt with the union’s new-found pride in having bamboozled Jeffco voters into supporting a “parent-led” recall effort that wasn’t. I mentioned in the post that I’d hold my tongue about John Ford’s hypocritical accusations of “organized money” and “outside interests” until today. Today is here, so let’s get started.

First, a reminder of John Ford’s conference session description:

Powerful, Prepared, Proactive: Building a Comprehensive Plan to Win – PART 1

In the 2015 election, the Jefferson County Education Association in Colorado beat back the Koch brothers and other outside money and interests in their local school board election by building and working a comprehensive plan to win. In this session, participants will learn the strategies and processes involved in the successful two year plan. Participants will learn how organized people can beat organized money. (It is recommended that participants attend both Part 1 and Part 2).

John Ford

Obviously, this description is hardly the only example of the union touting the “outside interests” and “organized money” narratives. Unions and their supporters adopted the same messaging strategy in districts across Colorado, and bludgeoned voters over the heads with it mercilessly right up through the November elections. When Thompson received a $150,000 grant from The Daniels Fund to defend itself legally against a costly union-led assault on its constitutional local control rights, one pro-union board member decried the gift as “outside control, outside money and outside forces.”

One would assume from all this vitriol that the teacheres unions are opposed to outside money and interests in school districts, and that they themselves would be stalwart beacons of local democracy and interests. One would be wrong. Continue Reading »

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March
3rd 2016
Friendly Neighborhood Union Brags About Involvement In “Parent-Led” Recall

Posted under Education Politics & Union

Hello, edu-friends! I’ve been patiently awaiting word from SCOTUS on the fate of the Douglas County voucher case. I had expected to hear about the court’s decision to hear/not hear the case this week. As I mentioned a while back, I’m not exactly sure how the decision to hear the case will be affected by Justice Scalia’s untimely passing, so I’ve been a little nervous these last few days. Unfortunately, a little bird told me that we’ll be waiting until at least next week for closure. Bummer.

But don’t fret. We’ll pass the time by engaging in one of my favorite activities: sharing the union’s latest escapades. Continue Reading »

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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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