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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November
4th 2016
New Finance Paper Sheds Light on Complicated Issues

Posted under Publications & Research & Ross Izard & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Just last week, we were talking about the record number of local school-related tax increases on the ballot and how those increases fit in the context of school finance overall. I even had a reader named Larry write in to correct me on a misspelling of Michael Phelps’ name. I incorrectly thought his name was Michael Phelp (with no “s”). I suppose that’s what I get for not watching swimming. I am dreadfully ashamed of the error, and hope Mr. Phelps (and Larry) can find it in his heart to forgive me.

Fortunately, I won’t need to make any swimming references today. Instead, I’d like to continue the conversation on Colorado school finance by briefly highlighting a new issue paper published by my Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard. Continue Reading »

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October
28th 2016
Not All Records Are Good Records When It Comes to Taxpayers

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Taxes & Taxpayers

Records are usually good things to set. Consider Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt’s blindingly fast 100m dash record. Or maybe you’d be more impressed by U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps’ record number of individual medals—a record that hasn’t been touched since a guy named Leonidas of Rhodes won his 12th individual event in 152 B.C. That’s right, B.C. as in Before Christ. If you’re more into weirder records, you could ponder the couple who hold the record for most tattooed senior citizens, the man who maintains the world’s largest afro, the cat who holds the distinction of being the world’s longest housecat (at about four feet in length), or the llama who holds the record for highest bar jump cleared by a llama. Yep, that’s a real thing.

But sometimes records aren’t so great. For instance, the record for “worst pandemic” goes to the bubonic plague, otherwise known as the “Black Death,” which killed about a quarter of the people in Europe back during the 1300s. My guess is that few people were excited about that one. And although tax increases are somewhat less terrible than society-ravaging outbreaks of plague (some may disagree on that point), I can’t imagine Colorado taxpayers are super excited to find out that 2016 has set the state record for mill levy overrides and bonds issues on local ballots.

According to Chalkbeat, there are 44 school districts asking their local taxpayers to approve MLOs, bond issues, or both this year. That’s about 25 percent of the 178 school districts in the state. But even more impressive is the number attached to all those requests: $4.4 billion. Egads! Continue Reading »

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October
27th 2016
A Field Trip to SVVSD’s Career Development Center

Posted under Course Choice & Educational Choice & Vocational Education

As most of my readers know, there are few things I love more than field trips. Education policy is great, interesting stuff, but it sometimes becomes too easy to lose oneself in the spreadsheets and numbers and studies and… you get the point. But education is about kids, not statistics or esoteric policy arguments. That’s why it’s so important for us edu-wonks to get out there and see education in action—especially in places where districts are forging ahead on paths designed to provide more options to their students.

With all that in mind, I took a very cool field trip this week to St. Vrain Valley School District’s Career Development Center (CDC) in Longmont. If that sounds familiar to those of you who follow the work of the Independence Institute Education Policy Center, it’s because my policy friend Ross Izard mentioned the center in “Altering Courses,” his most recent private school profile. The profile takes a look at Crossroads School in Longmont, an alternative private school that serves kids who haven’t been able to find a good educational fit anywhere else. Crossroads has an agreement with St. Vrain under which its students can attend classes at the CDC. Very cool.

I knew St. Vrain’s CDC was going to be impressive, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the number of options it provides to students. The place is positively stuffed with programs for kids who may not be interested in going the college route right after high school. Check out the list of classes on offer:

Agriscience

Automotive Technology

Cosmetology

Culinary Arts & Training

Dental Assisting

Engineering Technology & Machining

Floral Design

Health Sciences

Horticulture (Greenhouse Management)

Multimedia

Welding and Fabrication Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2016
Column Promotes Productive Conversations About Testing, Opt Outs

Posted under Accountability & Testing

It’s no secret that I am deeply skeptical of the opt-out movement and its true motivations. I worry that the movement’s leaders are pushing (or maybe have already pushed) us down a road that is ultimately designed to lead to less choice, less change, and less opportunity for students.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are legitimate concerns buried down in the opt-out conversation, and those concerns should be the focus of our conversation. As I’ve often said, we should be careful about using an unpopular testing instrument (PARCC) that has failed to deliver on its promises as a way to argue that no measurement is needed in the enormous government enterprise that is public education. Similarly, we can acknowledge the power and importance of providing parents, educators, and taxpayers with reliable, valid data on educational performance while still recognizing that there are major issues in the current accountability system that need to be addressed.

Sadly, I rarely see anyone attempt to find the reasonable middle ground in these conversations. Many folks are either vehemently opposed to everything or desperately trying to preserve the current system. That’s why I was so pleased yesterday to read a Chalkbeat op-ed from Eric Mason, Colorado Springs School District 11’s director of assessment. Continue Reading »

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October
19th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Talks the Talk, Once Again Fails to Walk the Walk

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

Last month, I wrote about how the Douglas County School District Board of Education’s anti-reform Toxic Trio—Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray—abrogated their duties as elected officials by refusing to accept board majority member Doug Benevento’s resignation from the board. In so doing, they signaled their willingness to leave tens of thousands of Dougco residents without representation on the school board and ensure deadlock on most important issues.

Benevento’s resignation was accepted a short time later, but only after Benevento himself felt awkwardly obligated to come back to accept his own resignation—an unprecedented scenario to the best of my knowledge. Since then, the district has embarked on a process designed to fill the vacancy in accordance with board policy and the law.  Meanwhile, the Toxic Trio has continued to incessantly lecture their school board colleagues about the importance of “following policy and the law.” They have continued sermonize at every opportunity about the criticality of transparency and openness with “the community.”

I happen to agree with both points. Policy and the law must be followed, and transparency is critically important. But all this proselytizing begs an important question: Why don’t they put their money where their collective mouths are? Continue Reading »

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October
14th 2016
High Opt-Out Rates, Accountability, and Choice

Posted under Accountability & Opt Outs & Testing & Union

It’s been a while since we’ve had to talk about testing and/or opt outs. I bet you’ve enjoyed that break as much as I have. Sadly, though, the break’s over. I saw an article this morning that I feel compelled to pontificate about, and so pontificate I shall. If the thought of another testing-related blog post makes you feel physically ill, I won’t judge you for excusing yourself now.

I opened my email this morning (yes, five-year-olds have email) to discover a story from Chalkbeat Colorado about how low state test participation rates have called school and district ratings into question. From that article:

State education department officials putting together the latest annual school quality ratings have flagged more than half of the state’s districts and one-third of its schools for test participation below the federally required minimum of 95 percent. The ratings are preliminary, and districts and schools may appeal before they are finalized this winter.

While districts that fell below that participation mark will not face negative consequences under Colorado law, state officials are urging the public to proceed with caution in considering ratings in places with high testing opt-out rates.

Some school leaders and advocates are crying foul, however, arguing that it’s irresponsible to rate schools based on incomplete data. Meanwhile, longtime critics of the ratings are seizing on the development to renew calls to reform the system.

In other words, low participation on state tests—largely driven by the opt-out movement—are making it difficult to see how, exactly, some public schools and districts in Colorado are performing. Continue Reading »

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October
12th 2016
Unpacking AFT’s Early LM-2 Christmas Present

Posted under Education Politics & Teachers & Union

‘Tis the season my friends. No, no, not for head-spinning shifts in store decorations (is anyone else freaked out by the jumbled Hallowthanksgivemas décor in some places?) or falling leaves or the first justifiable excuse to wear a frumpy sweater to work. ‘Tis the season for U.S. Department of Labor LM-2 filings for national unions.

I know what you’re thinking. Why, Eddie, would I want to dig through an enormous federal form outlining the inner workings of a union? Well, because you never know what you might find in there! About this time last year, the Independence Institute uncovered the fact that despite Jeffco recall proponent’s vehement denials of union involvement (since completely abandoned in favor of overt bragging), the National Education Association dumped $150,000 into recall front group Jeffco United. Where’d that revelation come from? You guessed it, NEA’s 2015 LM-2. You see, LM-2s are like early Christmas presents—you never know what you might find.

I’m not the only one who relishes ripping off the wrapping paper every year. The folks over at Union Watch also spend a lot of time unpacking the forms when they’re filed. I can only imagine their glee when they dug into the American Federation of Teachers’ 2016 filing. Continue Reading »

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September
27th 2016
Education Discussions Disappointingly Absent from First Presidential Debate

Posted under Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

Yesterday, I posted my wish list for last night’s presidential debate. It was admittedly unrealistic to expect the candidates to address my specific concerns, but I don’t think it was unfair to expect the candidates to talk about how we’re going to improve the situation for the 50 million children in the American K-12 public education system. Even so, I worried aloud yesterday that the candidates might completely ignore what I think is the most important domestic policy conversation in the United States. Sadly, those concerns turned out to be well founded.

If you missed last night’s debate, you can watch the whole thing here. If you’re more the reading type, you can check out the transcript here. Or, if you value your time and sanity, I can sum up the entire event with the following GIF:

via GIPHY

There were many things about last night that I found disheartening. Chief among these was the near-total refusal to speak about K-12 education or acknowledge the power of education to help solve many of the problems the candidates were asked to address last night. Continue Reading »

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September
26th 2016
Little Eddie’s Debate Wish List

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government

Tonight’s a big night, my friends. To fully enjoy the spectacle, you’ll need a comfortable couch, plenty of popcorn, and the abilities to suspend disbelief and suppress maniacal laughter. You may also want to have what my dad calls “adult beverages” on hand in case the opportunity for a “drinking game” presents itself. I’m too young to know what either of those things mean, naturally.

No, I’m not talking about another absurd Douglas County school board meeting where the three members of the district’s Toxic Trio attempt to blow up any remaining notion of responsible governance—though that could be pretty entertaining. I’m talking about the presidential debate this evening between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The event is predicted to draw as many as 100 million viewers. That’s a pretty ridiculous number. So ridiculous, in fact, that I do believe I have a meme for that.

If you are wondering whether my use of Dr. Evil’s likeness hints at my feelings for either candidate, I assure you that it does not. I am far too young to vote on anything other than where to go for dinner with my family. But tightening polls indicate that we could potentially wind up with either of these folks in the White House, and that means we all should have a good understanding of where they stand on important issues. So while I may not be old enough to vote, I’m definitely old enough to be interested in what our presidential candidates have to say about education.

Continue Reading »

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