July
15th 2015
Catching Up on Testing, Transparency, Accountability, Innovation… and More

Posted under Accountability & Federal Government & innovation schools & Rural Schools & School Accountability & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

If it seems like the middle of summer is a good time for me to catch up — well, that’s because it is. It took me a fairly long time to come down from my adrenaline rush that accompanied the high-stakes game of legislative testing chicken.

Like any legislative compromise, the final version of House Bill 1323 signed into law certainly isn’t perfect. But overall it made some positive changes.

Going forward, Colorado has maintained annual assessments but also streamlined the number and length of tests. The most underrated and underreported part of HB 1323 has to be the requirement that school districts “annually distribute to the parents of students…an assessment calendar.” The calendar is supposed to provide an estimate of annual testing times as well as which ones are required by the federal government, the state, or the district itself.

Little Eddie loves transparency and helpful information for parents! Continue Reading »

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July
14th 2015
ESEA Reauthorization Grinds Forward in Congress

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & School Accountability & School Finance & Teachers & Testing

Colorado’s education scene is so interesting—and the federal education scene so ugly—that I rarely feel the need to drag our conversations beyond our state’s borders. Yet sometimes we have to force ourselves to look at what’s going on inside the Beltway, especially when the federal sausage-making process has the potential to touch Colorado in a big way. The ongoing ESEA reauthorization effort is just such a case.

For those distracted by summer weather and local education fights like the ones in Jefferson County and Thompson, Congress has been hard at work trying to finally reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which we currently know as No Child Left Behind. I was less than optimistic about the effort after HR 5 was denied a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year, but things appear to be moving along. Sort of.

Just last week, the House very narrowly passed (218-213) a rewrite of the law that goes further than the original HR 5. Continue Reading »

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July
10th 2015
PARCC’s Plummet

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Accountability & State Legislature & Testing

Despite valiant efforts, I was unable to find a nice, neat, uplifting Friday education story for us to talk about today. That’s kind of a good thing, though. Pressing issues like the Jeffco recall-oisseurs’ inability to tell the truth have distracted us from a large education policy discussion backlog. Today we’re going to nibble on that backlog by taking a look at the latest developments for the tortured PARCC test.

Faithful readers will recall that my policy friends Ben DeGrow and Ross Izard published a joint op-ed late last legislative session calling on Colorado’s policymakers to reach a compromise on the testing issue—and to seriously reevaluate the state’s use of the much-maligned PARCC exam. The testing compromise happened (and little else), but Colorado remains in the PARCC testing consortium for now.

Meanwhile, PARCC seems to be entering a death spiral of sorts. Continue Reading »

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July
9th 2015
Fact-Challenged (or Math-Challenged?) Jeffco Recallers Send Wrong Messages

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & math & School Board & Suburban Schools & Union

You can learn a lot by observing people’s actions, not just their words. How do you “get politics out of our schools”? More politics. How do you “restore democracy”? By trying to overturn the will of the voters. How do you “fight to save education”? By feeding people lies and misinformation rather than encourage critical thinking.

So it goes in the overheated rhetoric of Jeffco School Board Recall Land. A land where Chalkbeat tells us that “thousands” of people turned out for Wednesday evening’s recall kickoff party in Golden, while Channel 7 reports 1,200 were in attendance. I get it: a lot of people were there.

But the size of the crowd doesn’t matter as much as the factual basis (or lack thereof) for trying to remove three elected school board officials. The group that shares a spokesperson with the union and has the Colorado Democratic Party’s attorney as its registered agent is well within its rights to attempt a recall election. Continue Reading »

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July
8th 2015
A Little Rain on the Graduation Rate Parade

Posted under Accountability & High School

What’s in a number? If you’re talking about educational choice, numbers like the ones coming out of Arrupe Jesuit High School can be beacons of hope for tough populations of kids. In other cases, numbers can convey more concerning trends. And in still other cases, numbers can be rigged in such a way that they don’t tell the full story.

I was reminded of the importance of questioning numbers in the education debate yesterday as I read a great Denver Post piece from the Education Commission of the States’ Peter Huidekoper. The piece points out a disconcerting disconnect (alliteration!) between higher graduation numbers, low ACT scores, and ugly remediation rates in some Colorado schools.

For those who don’t know, “remediation rate” refers to the percentage of students who require remedial courses in college before they begin full-fledged coursework. If you’re feeling a bit nerdy and want to dive deeper, the Colorado Department of Higher Education just released the 2014 Legislative Report on Remedial Education, which somewhat paradoxically covers 2013 high school graduates.

(For the record, I believe there are significant limitations when it comes to how Colorado calculates its remediation rate. But that’s a discussion for another time…)

Huidekoper starts out by noting that higher ACT scores tend to correspond with higher graduation rates and lower remediation rates. Makes sense to me. But then he points out something odd: There are cases in which graduation rates are soaring despite low ACT scores. Many of those low-scoring graduates—graduates who are expected to be college and career ready when they receive their diplomas—find themselves in need of remediation when they get to college.  Continue Reading »

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July
7th 2015
SCOTUS to Hear Friedrichs Case: Big Moment for Educational Freedom?

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

After last week’s legal setback for school choice in Colorado, I found a hopeful silver lining in a path to the U.S. Supreme Court. How great is the hope? Honestly, little me doesn’t know.

But my attention was so wrapped up in that story and others, that I nearly missed the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it would hear another pro-freedom education case: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The bottom line? A ruling in this case could strike down the ability of teachers unions to collect forced fee payments.

In all, 10 California teachers have stepped forward to challenge coercive union power. At the heart is a brave woman named Rebecca Friedrichs, who was profiled a few months ago in the Daily Caller: Continue Reading »

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July
2nd 2015
New Arrupe Jesuit Profile Highlights the Power of Educational Freedom

Posted under Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits & Urban Schools

It’s almost time for July 4th! We’re only hours away from barbeques, fireworks, and copious amounts of flag waving. Before we get to that stuff, though, let’s take a few minutes to talk about a different kind freedom: The kind that empowers kids without means to access the high-quality educational options they need to build better futures.

Although states around the country have been busy adopting school choice programs, Colorado has been stubbornly slow to expand options for its students. This frustrating fact is highlighted by the recent Douglas County voucher decision. While the Dougco decision has teed up an incredibly important fight over discriminatory Blaine Amendments around the country, that fight will take time. And time is something that many low-income or at-risk kids do not have on their side.

Recognizing this fact, some private schools are finding ways give low-income kids the freedom to chart their own courses even in the absence of educational choice policy. My Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard recently published a profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School, a private Catholic high school in Denver that uses an innovative model to serve exclusively low-income kids, the overwhelming majority of whom are ethnic minorities. Continue Reading »

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July
1st 2015
Denver Post Editors Hit Back-to-Back Homers for Students, Parents

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Journalism & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers

My dad told me about these crinkly pieces of paper with print on them that people used to get, something they would read to find out what’s going on in the world. I guess they’re called “newspapers”? Apparently, some websites actually have newspapers, or so I’m told.

The last few days, the editors of one of these publications, the Denver Post, have got me thinking maybe I should take a look. Because I’m definitely taking heart. First, there was the ruling in the Douglas County choice scholarship case. You already may have seen my reaction to that.

How crazy is it then that yours truly almost could have written the Post editorial that came out shortly thereafter, titled “A regrettable ruling on Dougco’s school voucher program”: Continue Reading »

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June
29th 2015
Dougco Decision Brings Good News and Bad

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Board & School Choice

By now, my faithful readers should be familiar with Douglas County School District’s embattled first-of-its-kind local voucher program, the Choice Scholarship Program (CSP). I was super excited about an amicus brief written by my friends at the Friedman Foundation and the Independence Institute way back in August of last year, and could barely contain myself during oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court last December. It’s been a very, very long wait since then. That wait is now over, though the news is both good and bad.

The bad news is that while the court did decide that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to bring a taxpayer suit under the School Finance Act, it also ruled that the CSP is unconstitutional under Article IX, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. That section, frequently called a Blaine Amendment, ostensibly prohibits the state from providing direct aid to religious institutions, including religious private schools.

However, other high court rulings have found that vouchers are designed to provide aid to students, not to the religious institutions themselves. I’ll spare you the legal citations (you know how I feel about legalese) and let my big policy friends do the detailed analysis. Cato’s Jason Bedrick and the Friedman Foundation’s Brittany Corona have already started down that road, and my Independence Institute friends will do the same tomorrow.

For now, the quick and dirty is this: Both U.S. and Colorado legal precedent shows that parental choice breaks the link between government and religious institutions. If a parent chooses to send his or her child to a religious school, that’s just fine. As long as parents aren’t compelled to send their kids to religious schools, any benefit to those schools is indirect and incidental.

Apparently not concerned about this issue, a plurality (notably different than a majority) of Colorado’s justices applied a very broad “plain language” interpretation of this amendment in the full Dougco decision. This argument states, in effect, that no state money can ever be used to support and sustain a religious institution, even if that support is indirect or incidental. Continue Reading »

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June
26th 2015
Jeffco School Board Recall Underway: What’s Really Going On?

Posted under Education Politics & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

It’s Friday afternoon in the summertime. I should be kicking back and enjoying the great outdoors, maybe playing in the pool or racing my remote-controlled cars.

But no. Teachers union leaders hide behind a group of parents to file a recall petition against the three conservative Jeffco school board members:

One of the stated reasons for the recall is the board majority’s consideration of reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum, which prompted waves of student protests in the suburban Denver district last year. But the group also accuses the members of meeting in secret and wasting taxpayer money, including paying the superintendent they hired $280,000.

So really… that’s it? Hire a superintendent for slightly more than his predecessor, at a rate comparable to or less than other large Colorado school district superintendents? Not increase transparency enough? Or maybe it really is based on the clever rewrite of history to concern people about non-existent censorship?

Sigh. Wonder what the #MeanGirlz think about all this? Maybe they grew tired of bullying the same old staff members. Continue Reading »

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