September
10th 2014
Not a Walk in the PARCC: Testing and Local Control In Colorado

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & innovation schools & School Accountability & School Board & State Board of Education

I wanted to open this post with a cute joke rhyming joke, but it turns out nothing rhymes with local control, Common Core, or assessments. Unfortunately for you, this means you get serious Eddie today. Maybe it’s for the best—issues surrounding testing, local control, and the Common Core are pretty serious these days.

As the debate over Common Core and its associated assessments continues to heat up, things are likely to get even more serious. The argument for local control in testing is growing louder and stronger, and leaders at every level of the Colorado education system are beginning to ask very serious (and very important) questions about where power ought to reside when it comes to standards and assessments.

Today, those questions were most prominent at a State Board of Education meeting in Denver. Toward the end of a meeting segment aimed at better understanding assessment options in the state, both Vice Chairman Marcia Neal and Chairman Paul Lundeen voiced concerns about increasing federal influence in Colorado’s education system. Lundeen called on Colorado to find ways to return power to the local level while maintaining acceptable levels of accountability.

Both members acknowledged that any major change will take time, further research, and possibly even legislative action.  Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2014
Let’s Take a Smart Ride into a Dynamic Educational Future

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Choice

My vision of Colorado’s educational future certainly looks humble and limited, though let’s be honest, it isn’t ridiculous. Personally I’m a bigger fan of Transformers, but for some the “future” conjures up pictures of a kind of Star Trek sci-fi world. Maybe not enough to convince them to speak exclusively to their own children in the Klingon language.

Or at least, if they do opt for that road less taken, they ought to think twice about running for school board. If for no other reason, prominent education reform thinkers like Checker Finn long have been speculating about the democratic school board model going the way of the horse and buggy. (An unfuturistic futurist?)

Now, writing for the think tank Finn ran until recently, the insightful Andy Smarick takes on the theme again. He writes for the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog about the “obvious problems” with the “unitary system,” in which school districts having control over all public schools in a geographic area. Continue Reading »

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September
8th 2014
Onward and Upward: Jeffco Forges Ahead with New Pay Model

Posted under School Accountability & School Board & Teachers

A while back, I wrote about a proposal in Jefferson County that aimed to reimagine the way the district’s pay structure works. The proposal generated much huffing and puffing by the teachers union. Happily, this has not resulted in them blowing the proverbial house down. In fact, the school board voted last week to press forward on a more sensible pay system.

The most interesting parts of the model’s newest iteration are the details, which a recent story in Chalkbeat outlines rather well: Continue Reading »

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September
5th 2014
Michigan Judge Calls Out Union Opt-Out Policy as Unfair to Teachers

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Teachers

My dad once told me a story about when he was a little kid, not much older than I am now. He saw one of the bigger kids on the school playground holding a few of the smaller kids’ lunch money hostage. This bully said he had taken their money for the privilege of being his friend, and that he might give the money back if they individually came to meet him right after school in the back alley.

Overhearing the bully’s explanation was my dad, who came into the scene, shouting, “Hey, that’s not fair! Just give their money back.” As the story is told, the bully turned to my dad with a clenched fist held up, and a mean look on his face: “Shut up, you little [doodyhead]!”

“If you don’t give them back their money, I’m going to tell the teacher,” my dad bravely continued.

The bully looked even angrier. “Brilliant idea,” he said sarcastically. “If the teacher finds out, we won’t be able to play ball out here anymore. Obviously, you just want to ruin recess for everyone.” Continue Reading »

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September
4th 2014
Make Progress, Not War: Thompson’s Golden Opportunity for Change

Posted under Education Politics & School Board

Cooperation is the key to success. It sounds trite, I know. In my world, most major arguments are settled with wrestling matches or food fights. In grown-up land, however, those aren’t always viable options (or are they?). No, adults have to learn to work together even when they don’t want to. Maybe especially when they don’t want to.

While all school boards have their ups and downs, the Thompson Board of Education has had a particularly hard time cooperating recently. Their meetings are often chaotic, public comments are often invective rather than helpful, and the board has been all but paralyzed by a web of interpersonal and political issues too complex to dig into here.

The end result has been a lack of progress. This has fueled frustration and heightened stress levels, both of which have—wait for it—led to a continuing lack of progress. I think I finally understand the “vicious cycles” my parents are always alluding to.

Yesterday, however, Thompson’s school board took what I hope will be the first of many steps toward a healthier, more orderly, and more productive situation. Continue Reading »

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September
3rd 2014
Brookings: Superintendents Don’t Make Big Impact on Student Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

What exactly should we expect of Colorado’s school district leaders? With a title like SUPERintendent, are we expecting too much of what they can accomplish? What difference does it make for what students in a district learn to have an experienced superintendent as opposed to someone new at the helm?

A brand-new Brookings study strongly suggests that it doesn’t make much difference at all. The academic heavyweight team of Russ Whitehurst, Matt Chingos, and Katharine Lindquist surveyed 10 years of data in school districts across Florida and North Carolina, and found that superintendents account for a mere 0.3 percent of differences in student academic achievement.

So are they saying that it makes no difference who serves in a school district’s top position, reporting directly to the locally elected board of education? Are we to believe that it didn’t matter having my one-time educrush Michelle Rhee running D.C. public schools rather than her predecessors? That Mike Miles left no meaningful mark in Harrison? That a cage-busting leader like Dougco’s Liz Fagen is interchangeable with the average large school district superintendent?

Writing at Jay Greene’s blog, Matt Ladner succinctly clarifies what the Brookings report says: Continue Reading »

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September
2nd 2014
Getting Back to the Core of the Common Core Debate

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & State Legislature

Arguments happen. We all know that. But we should also know that if we aren’t careful, those arguments can creep away from their original subject (and reality) as they gain steam. That, my friends, is how we wind up in messy food fights instead of constructive conversations.

As it is in life, so it is in education policy. The fight over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is quickly approaching a fever pitch, and I think it’s important to pause, sort through the rhetoric, and get back to the issues and facts at hand.

Michael Petrilli (pro-Common Core) and Neil McCluskey (anti-Common Core) agree. The pair penned a joint piece for the Washington Times that aims to help set the record straight. The piece opens with the following statement:

“Over the past couple of years, a raucous debate has emerged over the Common Core, content standards in English and mathematics adopted by states nationwide. The debate has been marked by acrimony rather than analysis, but there is hope that both sides want a reset. We — one Core advocate, one opponent — want to assist by laying out the facts on which we think everyone should agree.” Continue Reading »

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August
29th 2014
Jeffco Board Steps Up to Reward Outstanding Teachers

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Principals & School Board & Teachers

Like a lot of kids my age, I get a weekly allowance. It may not seem like much to you, but five bucks buys me an awful lot of valuable stuff (mostly candy). But my allowance isn’t unconditional; I get more when I’m good than when I’m bad. I get more for good grades than bad grades. Seems fairly reasonable, right?

Teacher salaries are, of course, very different from my allowance. Yet, the same principle applies: We ought to reward those who do great work, and provide incentives for those who could do better to improve. Is it really fair to give teachers who are doing an outstanding job the same pay raise (in some cases, even less) than someone rated less than effective?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Last night, Ken Witt on the Jefferson County School Board put forward what some are portraying as a radical proposal in the district’s ongoing compensation negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA). Continue Reading »

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August
28th 2014
New Hampshire Ruling for Kids & Tax Credits Makes Me Smile Wider

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Parents & School Choice & Tax Credits

“Good news for educational freedom!” Words that can light up my day, right up there with “Free Legos” and “of course, you can have another scoop of Superman ice cream.” (Sadly, too many kids are left Waiting for Superman… Okay, okay. Enough groaning already.) Specifically, the latest good news comes compliments of the “merry band of litigators” at the Institute for Justice:

Today the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court for Strafford County and saved the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. The program provides low-income families with education scholarships, which parents may use to send their children to a private school, a tuition-charging public school in a neighboring school district or to pay for homeschooling expenses. The plaintiffs were several state taxpayers who were philosophically opposed to the program. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked the necessary personal injury to challenge the program.

Continue Reading »

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August
27th 2014
Rubric’s Cube: Understanding Colorado’s Recent Voucher Grade

Posted under Courts & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

We’re all instinctively wary of being graded, I think. Being evaluated can make you a little nervous, and there’s always that slight moment of panic as a teacher hands back an exam. Yet, that information often proves to be extremely valuable. A good evaluation helps you identify strengths, weaknesses, and things you’ll do differently moving forward. Still, it’s always important to look at the rubric being used when you interpret results.

Today, the Center for Education Reform released a new report that grades voucher programs across the United States.  Being well-informed readers of my blog, many of you may recognize the template; the organization has previously released reports that grade state charter laws (Colorado outscored all but eight other states) and scholarship tax credit programs. The voucher grades, however, are brand new.

I know, I know. You want to know how Colorado on the test. But like that infuriating teacher that stands in front of the class making small talk while his students sweat bullets over the stack of graded tests in his hand, I’m going to make you wait. Yes, I’m that guy. Continue Reading »

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