February
7th 2017
What Might Gorsuch Mean for Education?

Posted under Congress & Courts & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Legal Issues & United States Supreme Court & Vouchers

President Trump has always been a wild card. It’s been very hard to say what he would or would not do—and in some ways it still is. But one of the central promises of his campaign was that he would nominate a great justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died tragically almost exactly year ago. To his credit, he has kept that promise by selecting Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s empty seat.

Education is still a bit of a question mark when it comes to the Trump administration. There have been all sorts of rumors and ideas floating around, but none has yet coalesced into a cohesive vision of how the federal government will interact with K-12 education. The crystal ball is further clouded by Betsy DeVos’s sharply contested nomination to head the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s been sad to watch the conversation about DeVos, a lifelong philanthropist who has donated her time and money to increasing opportunities for those who need them, devolve into a shouting match that sidesteps reality and avoids real conversations about what DeVos should or shouldn’t do should she be confirmed. As Rich Lowry wrote for National Review, “We now know that working to give poor kids more educational opportunities is considered a disqualifying offense for the Left.”

Fortunately, even as the battle over DeVos continues to rage following her historically close confirmation, I think we have good reason to be hopeful on a couple of educational fronts thanks to Gorsuch’s nomination. Continue Reading »

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January
31st 2017
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Disregard All Feedback and Do Exactly the Same Thing Again

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Legal Issues & Legislation & Senate Bill 191 & Teachers

Everybody’s heard this famous advice: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I have certainly heard my dad say something like that many times before. State Senator Mike Merrifield (remember him?) and his legislative allies must have also heard the saying somewhere, because they recently introduced Senate Bill 17-067—a practically identical copy of last year’s spectacularly defeated Senate Bill 16-105.

The complete unwillingness to listen to any of the feedback—or learn any of the political lessons—that came out of the SB 105 debacle last year is striking. That old saying about trying again is definitely a good reminder of the importance of persistence, but I’m not sure it should be interpreted as refusing ever to rethink one’s position on bad public policy. After all, the saying is not “If at first you don’t succeed, disregard all feedback and do exactly the same thing again.”

I could write a big blog post about why SB 067 is bad policy that holds the potential to harm students; destroy important collective bargaining reform, teacher tenure reform, performance-based compensation systems, and a variety of other things (which is its intended purpose); and decrease fairness for teachers by refusing to acknowledge and reward excellent teaching. But that would require more time, energy, and thought than was put into this rehash of the same old bad idea.

Instead, I’ll put a commensurate level of effort into this post by simply copy-pasting what I wrote about the bill’s forerunner last year. Continue Reading »

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January
27th 2017
SIG Program: “The Greatest Failure in the History of the U.S. Department of Education”

Posted under Federal Government & Research & School Finance & Turnaround Schools

Almost a year ago, I highlighted a Denver Post analysis detailing the general failure of millions of dollars in federal grant money—given out in the form of School Improvement Grants—to produce the kinds of results we might expect in many underperforming Colorado schools. It now turns out that the overall results of this $7 billion federal turnaround endeavor are worse than we might have thought.

Education policy maven Andy Smarick has been a staunch critic of the SIG program since its inception, and made a compelling case against the program as early as 2010. As he says in the Denver Post story above:

If you funnel a whole lot of money to the same dysfunctional districts that have been running the dysfunctional schools, these are the results you should expect. What’s mystifying to me is that people thought the school improvement grant program was going to get dramatically different results than the dozens of other similar efforts at school turnaround in the past.

It turns out Smarick was right, not only in Denver, but in the nation overall. His latest blog post for Education Next is a scathing indictment of $7 billion spent on the SIG program, which he now brands as potentially the greatest failure in the history of the United States Department of Education. Yikes. Continue Reading »

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January
25th 2017
Big Win for Florida Students Kicks Off National School Choice Week 2017

Posted under Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Tax Credits & Taxpayers & Teachers & Union

It’s National School Choice Week again, my friends. This year’s celebration of educational opportunity is the biggest yet with more than 21,000 events attended by more than six million people across all 50 states. You can help us celebrate the occasion by stopping by the Colorado Capitol on Thursday, January 26, at 11:30 AM. If you live further south, there will also be a rally at the Colorado Springs City Hall at 9 AM on January 24. If neither of those options works for you, you can take a look at this interactive map to find another event in your area.

No matter where you live, you should plan to get to a NCSW rally. There will be lots and lots of fuzzy yellow scarves as usual, and you’ll get to go home feeling pretty fuzzy yourself for having helped promote opportunity for all students.

There’s plenty to celebrate during National School Choice Week 2017, like the fact that educational choice just keeps on expanding all across the United States. There are more than 2.5 million students enrolled in more than 6,500 public charter schools in more than 40 states. Additionally, there are 61 private school choice programs of various types spread across more than half the states in the country. A combined 450,000 students utilize these programs. But yeah, school choice is totally some radical idea only crazy people believe in in.

That’s all great, but folks in Florida have an even more specific reason to party: The state’s enormous,97,000-student scholarship tax credit program has survived an all-out assault by the teachers union. Continue Reading »

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January
19th 2017
Reality Checked at the Door as Anti-DeVos Rhetoric Reaches a Fever Pitch

Posted under Congress & Donald Trump & Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

In case you weren’t paying attention, something really big happened in the education world two days ago. Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of education, had her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was actually supposed to happen earlier this month, but it was delayed “to accommodate the Senate schedule.” In other words, politics happened. But Republican leadership stuck to its word about not allowing Democratic complaints over ethics paperwork to prevent the confirmation process from moving forward, and so DeVos’s hearing went ahead.

You can watch the full hearing here if you are so inclined. I’m still waiting for a credible transcript to be released. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little about the slanted coverage of the hearing I’ve seen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a confirmation hearing before, but I have. They tend to amount to a whole lot of rhetorical jousting by senators looking to score points against their rivals’ picks, various attempts to force nominees to make (often absurd) commitments, and a cat-like ability to avoid answering trap questions on the part of the nominees themselves. They usually get partisan—and ugly—fast. There’s a reason these things are known as “murder boards.”

Last night’s hearing mostly fell into the same bucket, though you wouldn’t know that from reading the mainstream media’s hysterical accounts of the hearing, which tended to paint the affair as the craziest thing ever to happen in Congress. In truth, I think they might be the crazy ones for reacting to the hearing kind of like this:

Continue Reading »

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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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