January
6th 2017
New Video Illustrates the Power of Educational Choice

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Private Schools & Vouchers

As you all know, I like to write. We’ve tackled all sorts of policy and politics here on Ed is Watching, usually in the form of blog posts written by yours truly. But even at five years old, I know something important: Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and listen. That’s what I plan to do today as you enjoy this Heritage Foundation video about the power of educational choice.

But first (you didn’t really think I wouldn’t say anything at all, did you?), I do have to say one thing. I wrote not too long ago about what Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, could do to advance the cause of educational opportunity in America. High on that list is the reauthorization—and maybe even the expansion—of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The only federally funded private school choice program in the nation, the OSP has helped and is helping thousands of low-income kids and families desperate for better educational opportunities. Sadly, the program has been left in existential limbo as the Obama Administration and its allies worked against it in previous years.

Mrs. DeVos has a real opportunity to breathe new life into the OSP and to solidify its role in changing lives in the years to come. I hope she does exactly that. Kids like the Battle brothers deserve no less.

And with that, I will shut up. Enjoy the video and your weekend!

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January
5th 2017
New Rankings Should Lead to New, Better Conversations

Posted under Academic Achievement & Research & School Finance

While Education Week’s annual Quality Counts report is just one of many K-12 state rankings out there, it tends to get a lot of attention because it’s more accessible and easier to interpret that data directly from, say, the U.S. Census Bureau or the National Center for Education Statistics. The latest edition of that report was just released, which means we’re about to see a bevy of questionably accurate news articles, accusations, and assertions crop up in the near future. In the meantime, we can talk a little about the latest results and what they may or may not tell us.

Some of you may remember that the Education Policy Center spent some time talking about Education Week’s 2016 Quality Counts report in a recent paper on Colorado school finance. Here’s a refresher on last year’s report:

Published annually by Education Week, this report ranks states on “chance for success,” academic achievement, and school finance, with ratings in each of these categories consisting of both an overall grade and a number of more granular rankings. The 2016 report, which relied upon 2013 data, ranked Colorado 37th overall in the area of school finance. As some interest groups have reported, the state was ranked 42nd in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, which account for regional cost differences. Colorado received rankings at levels ranging from 12th to 39th on a variety of other funding measures within the report.

Interestingly, the Education Week report is one of the few sources of school finance rankings that also directly ranks states on academic measures. The report ranked Colorado 18th in overall K-12 achievement, 15th in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading proficiency rates as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and 22nd in graduation rates. It also ranked Colorado 13th in “chance for success,” which evaluates states on a range of criteria like family income, academic achievement, and adult educational attainment. If Colorado’s ranking in school finance had any impact on its ranking in the academic areas of the report, that impact is not immediately apparent.

In other words, the state tends to do pretty well academically compared to other states despite what many interest groups cite as a catastrophic funding shortfall that leaves Colorado further down the school finance list.

That trend largely continues in the 2017 report. The headline you’re likely to see is “Colorado Earns F for School Funding,” but I encourage you not to get bogged down in Education Week’s debatable reporter-bait letter grades. Education Week says the national average grade on spending measures is a D, which somewhat calls into question the scale they are using. We should, however, pay some attention to the state’s finance rankings as they are presnted in Colorado’s highlight report—not necessarily because the percentages earned on Education Week’s grading metrics are themselves entirely relevant, but because we’re probably going to be hearing a lot about them in the coming weeks. Continue Reading »

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December
23rd 2016
An Early Christmas Present: New Research on Parental Satisfaction Across Educational Sectors

Posted under Educational Choice & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & Traditional Public Schools

It’s almost Christmas, friends! I can’t wait to see what I got—though it may be a lump of coal given my fire-breathing posts over the last several months. Regardless of what I get, I have a special policy present for you: new poll data on school choice!

A couple of weeks ago, my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard highlighted some interesting new research in a Choice Media story of the day:

The data included in this particular analysis comes from the annual, nationally representative Education Next poll, which we discussed back in August. There’s all kinds of interesting stuff to learn from that poll, including the fact that school choice appears to be gradually changing into a Democratic issue. That’s actually not terribly surprising given the importance of educational choice to many primarily Democratic constituencies, though some progressive leaders have yet to get the message.

This new look at the data adds to the already interesting pool of conclusions stemming from the Education Next poll by comparing parent satisfaction on various measures across the traditional public, charter public, and private educational sectors. The results aren’t terribly surprising, but I think they do offer two important takeaways. I know this post is coming out a couple of days before Christmas, so I’ll eschew my normal nerdy policy writing and instead show you a series of colorful charts conveying the study’s findings. Who doesn’t like colorful pictures? Continue Reading »

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December
19th 2016
LIFO Procedures and Schrödinger’s Financial Crisis

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Union

You may have noticed that my policy friend Ross Izard recently published an issue paper calling out nearly half of Colorado’s unionized school districts for maintaining last-in-first-out (LIFO) layoff procedures in their union agreements or negotiated policies. LIFO procedures prioritize seniority over performance when making teacher reduction-in-force (RIF) decisions despite the fact that doing so is both bad policy and against the law.

Just this weekend, Ross used a column in the Denver Post to amplify the message that these districts should fix their layoff procedures. He also addressed the weak arguments thrown up by some districts in defense of their remaining LIFO procedures.

I encourage you to read both the report and the op-ed if you want to learn more about the issue. For today, I’d like to focus in on one of Ross’s arguments specifically. From the column [emphasis added]:

In some cases, these unlawful provisions have simply been overlooked. Many districts do not scrutinize their agreements or policies while renegotiating them. However, a number of the districts have attempted to justify the continued presence of LIFO systems using two primary arguments. First, that they have “elected not to” follow the law because they have not recently conducted layoffs and do not anticipate doing so in the near future. And second, that the continued existence of these LIFO procedures is acceptable because state law supersedes district union agreements. These arguments fail to pass muster.

The sentence in bold really stands out to me, though not necessarily for the reason you might expect. Ross goes on to argue that laws should be applied equally across districts, and that these districts deserve no special treatment.  That’s definitely true More interesting to me, however, is this angle:

The LIFO issue presents an opportunity for school districts to engage in the type of responsible, forward-thinking governance citizens expect. There is no compelling reason to wait until a volatile economy once again delivers a financial downturn to address the problem. And, if these same districts’ perpetual warnings about dire funding shortfalls are any indication, one must assume that the specter of hard financial decisions looms larger than they now argue. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

This paragraph captures my thoughts on the response to the paper from some school districts and members of the media. Not even ten years after the Great Recession, these districts practically scoff at the notion that layoffs are something they will ever have to think about again. But how does that square with the constant warning cries about lack of funding? Continue Reading »

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December
14th 2016
Educational Choice, Hell, and the 2018 Gubernatorial Race

Posted under Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Governor & Public Charter Schools & State Legislature & Tax Credits & Vouchers

Have you ever read a news story that made you simultaneously want to laugh and cry? That’s exactly what happened to me this morning as I perused the day’s edu-news.

One of the first articles I ran across was a Chalkbeat Colorado piece on a very interesting development in what is shaping up to be a crowded 2018 gubernatorial field: My dear friend Senator Mike Merrifield is contemplating a run for the highest office in the state. It’s fortunate that I am too young to drink coffee, or I might have spit it all over my computer screen.

For those of you don’t know, Senator Merrifield is arguably the most radical anti-reform, anti-choice politician in Colorado. A former music teacher with a deep affinity for the teachers unions, he has loudly and consistently opposed everything from charter schools to private school choice to teacher evaluation and tenure reform. He is perhaps best known for the statement that there “must be a special place in hell” for supporters of charter schools and private school choice. I hope they at least have some decent games to play down there for me and my fellow kid-focused evildoers. And will there be air conditioning available?

In fairness, this disturbing remark was the better part of decade ago. People can change, right? One would hope that Sen. Merrifield’s positions would soften following years of rapidly expanding educational choice and piles of compelling evidence that both public and private school choice can be powerfully effective tools in the march to improve student outcomes.

Nope. Continue Reading »

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December
8th 2016
New PISA Results Bring the Same Old Disappointing News

Posted under International & Research & Student Achievement

Have you heard of PISA? No, it’s not some delicious Italian dish you can buy in a restaurant. It’s the preeminent international assessment of student performance in more than 70 countries across the world. A project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA is administered to a representative sample of 15-year-olds in these countries every three years.

Sadly, the recently released results of the 2015 PISA assessment are significantly harder to swallow than tasty Italian food.

For those of you who are particularly wonky, you can find the full report on the most recent PISA results here. Other folks may prefer to surf OECD’s curated topline results and interactive map, which can be found here. If you are culturally insensitive and only interested in the results for the United States, those can be found here. If you really, truly don’t want to be bothered with all those numbers, don’t fret. We’ll cover the big stuff right here in this post. Continue Reading »

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December
1st 2016
DeVos, Delusions, and Difficult Decisions

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

Welcome back, friends! I apologize (again) for my absence (again) in recent days, but I had some important policy business in Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, President-elect Donald Trump wanted to meet with yours truly to gather my deep and inspirational thoughts on the future of education in America.

Okay, that’s not true. But I really was in D.C., and I really do want to talk about Donald Trump and education.

I wrote recently about what we could expect in the realm of education from a Donald Trump presidency. In that post, which admittedly led to an awful lot of question marks and few firm answers, I said that “a strong pick for secretary of education that seriously redefines and redirects the department could lead to significant improvements.” As it turns out, we got exactly what I was hoping for on that front. Continue Reading »

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November
22nd 2016
A Field Trip to Aspen View Academy

Posted under Douglas County & Educational Choice & Field Trip & Public Charter Schools

It’s almost Thanksgiving! Everyone is slowly starting to unwind from the last few weeks of frantic activity. Most are preparing to stuff themselves silly with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and many, many other delicious treats. But Thanksgiving isn’t just a time to test how much food the human stomach can hold. It’s also a time to reflect on the things you’re thankful for.

Of course, all the usual suspects are on my list—friends, family, plenty of food, light-up shoes, Juicy Fruit gum, etc. But as an education guy, I’m also incredibly thankful for all the talented educators who wake up every day and go to work for the next generation of Colorado citizens. With that in mind, and because we haven’t been on a school field trip for a while, I thought today might be a good day to spotlight the work some of these educators are doing at Aspen View Academy in Castle Rock.

I went to Aspen View a couple of weeks ago to chat with the charter school’s principal, Jason Edwards, about the school and its work in Douglas County. It was an awesome trip! Continue Reading »

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November
21st 2016
Constants and Changes: Colorado’s New Political Landscape in 2017

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & State Board of Education

I apologize for my absence last week, friends. I was helping my policy friend Ross Izard wrap up another major publication—and trying to finish wrapping my head around the previous extraordinary (and extraordinarily confusing) political week. I’m not sure anyone fully understands what happened this November, but it’s clear that something has changed. This week was something of a watershed in modern American politics. Exactly what kind of watershed—and what it means going forward—remains to be seen. President-elect Trump is still a question mark when it comes to education, and all we can do is wait and see what happens in 2017.

In the meantime, we should remember that national-level elections weren’t the only nail-biting contests in 2016. In fact, I think I could make compelling case that they weren’t even the most important. Truthfully, we should be far more interested in what happened at the state level in Colorado, where political tides and the policy shifts they bring can immediately and directly impact our lives. Let’s catch up on those important changes today.

For those who don’t follow state-level politics very closely, here was Colorado’s landscape heading into the 2016 election:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 34-31 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Republican majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

After the election, things look the same in some ways and importantly different in others. Here’s the new breakdown:

  • Democratic governor
  • 18-17 Republican majority in the Colorado Senate
  • 37-28 Democratic majority in the Colorado House of Representatives
  • 4-3 Democratic majority on the Colorado State Board of Education

As usual, these results gloss over some important details. We discuss some of those details below.

Continue Reading »

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November
9th 2016
So… What Happens Now? Thoughts on What President Trump Means for Education

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & State Board of Education & United States Supreme Court

Something happened last night. I was already in bed, of course, but I could hear strange shouting downstairs. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like someone saying, “Wisconsin?! What?!” This morning I found my dad still awake, sitting in an arm chair with bleary eyes and a strange expression that I’m not sure I’ve seen on his face before. It was weird. It was really, really weird.

I am, of course, referring to Donald Trump’s utterly astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton in last night’s presidential election. He deserves a hearty congratulation for defying the political odds and, in the end, pulling off exactly the kind of map-changing, crushing victory he said he’d accomplish. Truthfully, I never thought I would write the words “President-elect Trump.” But here we are. Continue Reading »

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