December
3rd 2014
It’s Good to Let Teachers Choose, Too: Because One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Posted under Denver & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

We often talk about the value of educational choice for students and parents, and rightly so. Less frequently do we strike the theme of the importance of letting teachers choose. As I am fond of doing, a spate of recent stories today presents me with the opportunity to tie this theme together with a big red bow. Without further ado… Continue Reading »

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December
2nd 2014
The Death of Snow Days

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Research & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

I really love snow days. Every time a storm rolls into town, I wake up, rush to the window, and rip the curtains open, hoping to see those tiny, beautiful flakes of hope drift past my wide little eyes. And while my dad usually grumbles to his coffee about the morning commute as he surveys what he calls the “mess” on our street, I see nothing but the pure white promise of fun and freedom.

Brings back fond memories, doesn’t it? Well, you’d better put those safely away in the vault. Today, we discuss the impending death of the snow day. I’ll give you a minute to recover emotionally if you need it.

In states across the country, districts are experimenting with ways to avoid weather-related cancellations. Pennsylvania has created a pilot program that allows virtual learning on snow days to count as normal instruction, a school district in Georgia is doing something very similar, and New Jersey has a piece of pending state legislation aimed at making at-home, technology-based learning on snow days permissible under state law. Meanwhile, a rural district in Kentucky will allow up to ten at-home learning days due to the area’s traditionally heavy snowfall.

But why all the fuss about snow days? Is it just because of the absurd snowfall we’ve already seen in some areas this year? Not really. Believe or not, there’s actually a good deal of research out there on the subject. Continue Reading »

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November
26th 2014
One More Year: Districts Take Different Paths as 191 Closes In

Posted under School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

It’s almost Turkey Day, and that means it’s time to start thinking about the things we’re thankful for. At the top of my list are my dog, my parents, and pumpkin pie with Cool Whip on it. But while I sit here smacking my lips at the thought of tomorrow’s pie, some school districts are feeling thankful for a very different reason: This year’s reprieve from SB-191’s requirement that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on multiple measures of student learning.

This afternoon, Chalkbeat posted an article detailing some of the districts that have chosen to press ahead with SB-191’s requirements along with some others that have chosen to wait. The article is based on a survey of Colorado’s 20 largest districts, which together employ more than two-thirds of the state teachers.

Chalkbeat found that just over half of the districts—including our friends in Douglas and Jefferson County—have decided to forge ahead as originally planned. Some other districts have decided to weight their growth data at zero percent of the evaluation formula, basing evaluations only on professional quality standards. The lone outlier from the 50-0 dichotomy is Mesa, which decided to weight growth data at 25 percent for the year. Continue Reading »

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November
25th 2014
Thankful Not to Have Unions’ Political Spending Record, Long-Term Prospects

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & School Choice & State Legislature & Teachers

‘Tis the week of Thanksgiving, which allows me the chance to express my gratitude about many things. One of those is that I didn’t spend nearly $70 million on the 2014 elections and yet lose so badly, as the two national teachers unions did.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of reflection. Yes, Thanksgiving is mostly about looking back, so maybe this would be a better conversation for a New Year’s resolution. But if nothing else, certain demographic realities are staring the major teachers unions in the face. Their activist base isn’t getting any younger. Now that really doesn’t put a big crimp in their plans for the near future, but it has to be a serious part of their long-term strategy sessions.

Two questions follow: First, how much of a chance is there that unions will look to change their political spending habits? Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle details a whole other batch of newly reported spending by the National Education Association: $132 million in funding that doesn’t directly support political candidates and parties but has the usual strong Leftward ideological bent. Continue Reading »

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November
24th 2014
Sticky Numbers: Making Sense of Dougco’s Pay System and Its Outcomes

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Finance & Teachers

Like Elmer’s glue, numbers get sticky when misused. And just like glue is tough (but fun!) to peel off your hands, it can take a little while to clear up sticky number messes. Yet clean them up we must, and so I dedicate today’s post to clearing up some numerical confusion surrounding Dougco’s pay-for-performance system.

The most recent illustration of sticky confusion in Dougco comes courtesy of comments on a recent Denver Post op-ed written by Doug Benevento, Vice President of the Douglas County Board of Education. Some of the comments are the typical anti-reform, pro-union rhetoric to which we’ve all sadly grown accustomed, but some others hint at some more systemic misunderstandings of the district’s pay structure and the numbers associated with it. Those need to be addressed.

The first big misunderstanding is DCSD’s actual turnover rate. One commenter accuses Benevento of “finagling” (great word) CDE’s official 17.28% teacher turnover figure to make the district look better. Yet it is CDE, not Benevento, doing the finaglin’. Continue Reading »

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November
21st 2014
Teacher Training, Licensure, Evaluation, Pay: Fix ‘Em All (and Do It Right)

Posted under education schools & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

It’s been more than a week now since I thankfully resisted the urge to “blow up” education schools. In the meantime, my remarks about teacher preparation have been vindicated — both the tone of urgency and the “moderate” but serious approach to addressing the issue.

Let’s start with the urgency. The National Council on Teacher Quality followed up its powerful indictment of the state of teacher preparation last week with compelling new evidence concerning the lack of rigor in education schools. How does it help students, particularly the neediest among us, to have most of these schools attract prospective teachers looking for easy As?

Now you may rightly label the headline as a “dog bites man” kind of story, but the findings deserve attention: Continue Reading »

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November
20th 2014
Positive Movement in Jeffco: A Welcome Change

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & Elementary School & Journalism & Middle School & Urban Schools

It’s Thursday, and that means it’s Jefferson County day for yours truly. Okay, I made the Thursday thing up just now, but we are indeed going to talk about Jeffco. Don’t suit up and brace yourselves for more negativity quite yet, though; today’s post will isn’t about teacher sick-outs, student protests, or an inexplicable disdain for more representative curriculum review committees. Instead, I’d like to highlight a Denver Post article about some positive efforts by a group called the Edgewater Collective to improve educational outcomes for some of Jeffco’s most at-risk students.

As you may have noticed, many anti-reform groups try to whitewash any assertion that Jeffco may have some room for improvement by arguing that the district as a whole is doing well compared to neighboring districts. As much as I wish that rosy picture were entirely accurate, it isn’t. It masks the fact that certain areas within Jeffco are in desperate need of attention. And even when that fact is acknowledged, it is too often swept aside as “unfixable” or “out of our control.”

Nowhere is the need for change more obvious than the Jefferson Articulation Area within Edgewater, where the overwhelming majority of students are low-income and trapped in schools that are, put bluntly, failing them. Fortunately for those students, not everyone is ignoring the problem or brushing it aside. Continue Reading »

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November
18th 2014
Customized Success: New Study Hints at the Power of Personalized Learning

Posted under Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research

Earlier this month, I wrote about some new brain science (sorry for the technical terminology) highlighting the potential benefits of personalized learning for children with ADHD. And as if that wasn’t interesting enough, I soon discovered another juicy piece of new research on personalized learning in charter schools.

Before I could really chow down on the wonky goodness, though, reality demanded that I detour back to Jeffco for a quick update on the district’s ongoing, still-nonsensical drama. Then Douglas County, that pesky bastion of meaningful school reform, had to go and regain its spot in the top tier of Colorado’s school accreditation system. Yeah, it was a busy couple of weeks in Colorado education.

Things have settled a bit now, so I’ve been able to sit down and devour my latest tasty wonk morsel: A study on the effects of personalized learning from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation. Using test data, teacher logs, teacher surveys, student surveys, and a few interviews with administrators, the study looks at 23 charter schools that have implemented personalized learning approaches. Importantly, most of the schools included in the study are located in urban areas and have high percentages of low-income and minority students.

It’s a pretty lengthy study with a lot to say, and I encourage you to read the full report if you need something tasty to chew on. For now, though, we’ll just focus on what I think is the most important highlight: Student achievement results. Continue Reading »

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November
14th 2014
Dougco Shakes It Up Again By Earning State’s Top Accreditation Rating

Posted under Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & learning & Parents & Rural Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools

There was a time when my former perpetually 5-year-old self was busy writing a lot about Douglas County. The ebb and flow of news and activity has changed that somewhat, though there have been opportunities of late to talk about my Education Policy Center friends chiming in to the courts on the Choice Scholarship Program, and more recently on the tools the district has made available to promote a broader system of informed parental choice.

This week, though, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share some other positive news. After a few years at the second-highest ranking of “Accredited,” Douglas County School District has regained its spot among the ranks of the state’s most highly accredited districts. The Colorado Department of Education’s calculations ascribed the honor to 27 of the state’s 178 school districts, none larger than Dougco.

Given the 60,000-plus student district’s top marks in Colorado for productivity, we shouldn’t be surprised by the recognition. But sadly, some are aghast. As 9 News reported, an angry faction within the district appears unready and unwilling to accept the good news at face value: Continue Reading »

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November
11th 2014
For More Educational Freedom, I’ll Give Up (Figurative) Ed School Explosions

Posted under education schools & Innovation and Reform & reading & Research & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Explosions are cool effects to watch in the world of make-believe — action movies and video games, though my parents pretty tightly limit my exposure even to those. That may be in part because mom and dad want to send the message that blowing things up in real life is generally a bad idea with lots of potentially bad consequences. Somebody could get hurt.

So it’s probably not surprising that I experienced a curious reaction to Rick Hess’s latest blog piece, titled “A Better Path than ‘Blowing Up’ Schools of Education.” By schools of education, of course we’re talking about the colleges that train K-12 classroom teachers and other educators.

Let me start off by saying that among those who want to see parents more empowered and students have access to more great teachers, education schools remain perhaps the least talked about but widely recognized institution that stands as an obstacle to reform. As Hess acknowledges, sheer numbers dictate their influence: Continue Reading »

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