August
11th 2015
Let Me Repeat Myself Once Again: Colorado Needs Course Choice

Posted under High School & Independence Institute & Online Schools & Rural Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools

It has been said far more than once: “Repetition is the key to learning.” Given the number of times I’ve been told the importance of cleaning my room and eating my vegetables, my parents are firm believers in this statement.

But hey, little Eddie gets it, too. Sometimes you have to make the same point over and over again — in new and creative ways, or just to new audiences. The lesson applies today to the subject of Course Access, or Course Choice.

Back in 2012, my Education Policy Center friends published the paper “Online Course-Level Funding: Toward Colorado Secondary Self-Blended Learning Options.” The idea? Allow education funds to be unbundled so students can take a portion of the money to complete their learning path with their own selection of quality course providers.

At the time Minnesota, and especially Utah, were the models for Colorado to study and follow in order to ensure a highly flexible and student-centered system of funding and delivering education. Many kids get all they need from their home secondary school — whether it’s traditional public, charter, or private; brick-and-mortar, online, or blended. Continue Reading »

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August
7th 2015
New Reason Foundation Video Explains Important Union-Related SCOTUS Case

Posted under Courts & Teachers & Union

Happy Friday, friends! I’ve written a lot of words this week, and I suspect you all need a bit of a reading break. You know what that means: Video time! Fortunately, the Reason Foundation has provided a great new video that will suit our needs perfectly.

Yesterday, we talked about how much teachers unions dislike being treated like everyone else—particularly when it comes to recruiting and making sales pitches. As it turns out, they are similarly disinclined to allow teachers to get out of funding them in many states, even if those teachers don’t actually belong to a union and would rather not give money to organizations with which they strongly disagree.

Frustrations with teacher tenure protections convinced public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs that she didn’t want to support the teachers union. Yet she was still forced to pay them a bunch of money through “agency fees” after she opted out of membership. That (rightfully) made her pretty mad, and resulted in a suit against the California Teachers Association challenging the practice. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case, called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, on the basis of Friedrichs’s 1st Amendment complaint. Here’s her story in her own words:

Continue Reading »

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August
6th 2015
Union Complaints Obscure Need for Fair, Level Playing Field

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Journalism & Teachers & Union

It’s hard not being the only game in town. In two of Colorado’s largest school districts, the unions are used to having a privileged role in helping to run new teacher induction sessions.

This week leaders of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) and Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) complained to the media about this year’s changes, which give them the same treatment as other groups.

Colorado Public Radio first reported the story on Monday. It didn’t sit well with Denver union officials that they no longer sponsor the breakfast for their district’s new teacher orientation session.

Meanwhile, the JCEA spokesperson essentially acknowledged that his group has been accustomed to running the show. Not only has the union hosted a lunch but according to their spokesperson Scott Kwasny, they also “would sign in all the new teachers, collect their email addresses, and pass them on to the district.” Continue Reading »

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August
5th 2015
New Study Highlights Success in New Orleans

Posted under Accountability & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers & Union

You know what’s way more fun than debunking silly arguments about charter schools? And almost as exciting as celebrating fair funding for charter students in two of my favorite districts? New research showing huge improvements in New Orleans, which has the nation’s first all-charter system.

Well, almost all charter. Over 90 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in charter schools. For those roughly 40,000 kids, things are looking pretty bright. A new Education Next study by Douglas Harris finds some fairly staggering academic gains in the wake of sweeping reforms that followed New Orleans’ near-total destruction in Hurricane Katrina. Here’s a quick overview of those reforms from the study:

What happened to the New Orleans public schools following the tragic levee breeches after Hurricane Katrina is truly unprecedented. Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and most attendance zones were eliminated. The state took control of almost all public schools and began holding them to relatively strict standards of academic achievement. Over time, the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs) that, in turn, dramatically reshaped the teacher workforce …

…. School leaders in New Orleans talk frequently about how critical flexibility in personnel management is to their overall school success. Free of state and local mandates and constraints from union contracts, leaders reopening schools after the storm could hire anyone they wanted, including uncertified teachers, and dismiss teachers relatively easily.

So yeah, the New Orleans reforms were a pretty big deal. They also happen to be rather controversial, so a great many people on both sides of the aisle have been watching the city rather closely. Continue Reading »

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July
31st 2015
A(New)PUSH for Truth in American History

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Board

Yesterday, I highlighted a brave Jeffco mom who was willing to go on camera and thank the Jefferson County Board of Education majority for standing up for reform. I also ran through a distressingly lengthy list of inaccurate claims—maybe “fabrications” would be more appropriate—and downright disturbing revelations about the recall. Included on the list was a mention of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework, which I’d like to spend some more time on today.

Many of you remember the teacher sickouts and student walkouts last fall. Initially, we were told—amid many “ums” and “uhs”—that the protests were about the board’s move to a performance-based raise model. You already know how much (and why) I support pay-for-performance systems, but this one was exceptionally innocuous, providing raises to 99 percent of Jeffco teachers. Yes, 99 percent.

When that argument fell apart under the weight of pesky reality, the protests morphed into misleading statements about the board’s attempt to “censor” or “whitewash” American history by proposing the creation of a curriculum review committee to potentially examine, among many other things, the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework. You likely recall (heh) that the original, somewhat inflammatory proposal was never even truly introduced at the board table, that there were never any concrete plans to review or modify APUSH, and that no review of the framework was ever undertaken. The only outcome of the controversy was the creation of two new curriculum review committees that better represent a cross section of interested parties and community members.

I am personally of the opinion that no justification was ever required of the board’s desire to review district curricula of any kind given that such power is granted clearly and explicitly by Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution. I would certainly have felt differently had they actually made any true effort to “censor” history, but they didn’t. All that aside, though, it now appears that many concerns about APUSH have been vindicated. Continue Reading »

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July
30th 2015
Jeffco Mom Speaks Truth, Thanks School Board

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

One of the harder lessons I’m learning in my youth is that quite often tall tales can spread life a wildfire before the truth has a chance to catch up and extinguish it. Thanks to lots of help from Complete Colorado, I’ve already pointed out the fact-challenged / math-challenged nature of the Jeffco school board recall. That’s the “wildfire.”

And some of the big people who really follow closely the K-12 educational goings-on just west of Denver — namely, Jeffco Students First — have posted a concise one-page fact sheet that effectively extinguishes some of the more egregious misinformation floating out there against reform-minded school board members.

The icing on this cake of tasty, truth-restoring goodness is a brand new 90-second video of a Jeffco mom thanking the school board for listening to families like hers that have kids who need different options to learn and thrive. Time to cue up Jennifer Butts: Continue Reading »

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July
29th 2015
On Pay for Performance and Using the Right Yardstick

Posted under Accountability & School Board & Teachers

Pay for performance (PFP) is an incredibly hotly debated facet of education reform. I’ve never really quite understood that because, well, rewarding folks for doing great work strikes me as common sense. I mean, I get more allowance money if I do my chores well, and not so much if I “clean my room” by just moving a pile of toys from one corner to another, less visible one.

Yet as a recent Denver Post article highlights, things aren’t always as clear cut for folks who are skeptical of PFP. The article provides very brief outlines of PFP system variants in Denver, Jefferson County, and Douglas County. It also launches a number of thinly veiled assaults against the concept of pay for performance, which means that—you guessed it—Little Eddie feels compelled to say a few things.

Before we get to that, though, I find it interesting (and slightly disingenuous) that the article does not include any mention of Harrison School District’s innovative compensation model. Harrison’s system is certainly the most fully developed and interesting PFP system in the state, and perhaps one of the most intriguing in the nation. Sure, Harrison is significantly smaller than the three largest districts in the state covered by the Denver Post article, but it seems like any genuine discussion of PFP needs to include their work.

Incomplete district list aside, the main thrust of the article (though I’m sure the author would contend that this is not her argument) is that pay-for-performance systems don’t work. That’s something I hear repeated often by folks who oppose compensation reform, but is it true? Continue Reading »

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July
28th 2015
A Tale of Two Standards? Who Can Reject a Proposed Union Contract?

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & Teachers & Union

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. So begins one of the most famous novels of the last 200 years: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’m too little to know what it’s all about. But the idea of making a clear and direct contrast just seemed to fit so well.

When it comes to teachers union leaders’ views, we may have a case of “binding contracts for thee, but not for me.” Double standards can be rather convenient, can’t they?

On the very same day, last Friday, two parallel stories appeared. First, from my favorite education reporter, Complete Colorado’s Sherrie Peif, about an arbitration hearing between the Thompson Board of Education and the Thompson Education Association: Continue Reading »

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July
24th 2015
New Mackinac Video Reminds Us of the Power of Choice

Posted under Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

Hello, fellow education policy explorers! It’s 4:15 on a Friday afternoon, and your favorite little edu-wonk has quite a few things left to accomplish before he heads into a fun-filled weekend. Unfortunately, that means we aren’t going to have time for an in-depth conversation today. But never fear!  The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has swooped in to save the day with a new video about the importance of allowing families to access educational opportunities their kids need.

The video is all about a little girl named Mia, whose dyslexia has made school particularly tough for her. Unable to find the help she needed in the public schools, Mia’s mom eventually placed her into a private school. Mia’s finally getting the necessary support to overcome her learning disability, and she’s thriving in her new environment. Yet Mia’s mom makes clear that while their family was fortunate enough to have the resources to access quality private education, many other families are not so blessed. For kids like Mia whose families can’t access high-quality private educational options when they need them, the outcomes may not be so uplifting.

School choice matters, and I don’t just mean that in the abstract or on a vague philosophical level. I mean that school choice really, truly matters in terms of making real differences in real kids’ lives. With that, I leave you to enjoy the video and your weekend!

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July
23rd 2015
A Worthy Celebration of Instant Gratification: NC Court Upholds Choice

Posted under Courts & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice

Only a few weeks ago we received the long-awaited news on Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Program. While the Colorado Supreme Court narrowly left us to wait even longer and hold out hope for something even bigger and better, today brings some news of instant gratification.

I only have a few minutes to share with you the uplifting news that North Carolina’s highest court has upheld that state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. Check out the release from the Institute for Justice: Continue Reading »

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