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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August
25th 2014
What Can Colorado Learn from NYC Charter Network’s Amazing “Success”?

Posted under Grades and Standards & learning & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

Colorado isn’t the only state to release its annual test results lately. Here we touted the record-shattering ACT performance of Fort Collins charter Liberty Common High School. At the same time, we were disappointed to see a charter school network serving a higher-need student population falter somewhat but STRIVE to take responsibility and improve.

Along with many other area schools that serve lots of low-income and underprivileged students, maybe they should and could glean a lot from a genuine study of Harlem Success Academies. Why? As the New York Post recently reported, the more than 6,000 kids enrolled in the 22-charter school network took the big state test in math and reading absolutely knocked it out of the park: Continue Reading »

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August
22nd 2014
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: A Setback for Choice in North Carolina

Posted under Courts & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & School Choice & School Finance

A lack of progress is always frustrating. I’ve been trying to convince my parents that broccoli is too dangerous to be trusted for months. But my struggles pale in comparison to the frustration that a large number of students and families in the Tar Heel State are facing after yesterday’s unfavorable ruling regarding school choice.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago while discussing an Independence Institute/Friedman Foundation amicus brief in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case, I find legalese to be fairly terrifying. Fortunately, the Carolina Journal provides a succinct (and mercifully un-legal) summary:

“[North Carolina Superior Court Judge] Hobgood said providing taxpayer money for the scholarships without curriculum standards or teacher certification requirements ‘does not accomplish a public purpose.’ He added that the program ran afoul of the state’s landmark Leandro decision, which requires the state to provide every child with the opportunity to have a ‘sound, basic education.’” Continue Reading »

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August
21st 2014
Back-to-Back: Durango, Pueblo Papers Weigh In for Open Negotiations

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

Anyone who has been a reader of this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a big fan of open negotiations. When school board representatives and the leaders of employee groups sit down to discuss how huge chunks of taxpayer-funded K-12 budgets are spent, and set policies that affect classrooms, we’re better off with parents, teachers, and community members able to keep an eye on the action.

Earlier this year the Jeffco school board and teachers union made a historic agreement for bargaining transparency. When last we checked in, though, union leaders staged an impasse that led to mediation and took discussions back behind closed doors. Only a couple of other school districts make it nearly even that far by holding some sort of real open negotiations.

That soon could change. Thanks to the concerted effort of my Independence Institute friends, it soon may become the law of the land. Proposition 104 will be on the ballot for Colorado voters to decide this year. Continue Reading »

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August
20th 2014
It Says What? Facts, Fiction, and NEA’s Foot-in-Mouth Disorder

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Parents & Research & Teachers

Everyone suffers from foot-in-mouth disorder at some point in their lives. You know the situation: You’re in the middle of an important conversation, things are going well, and you’re looking pretty smart.  Then, with no warning at all, you blurt out something silly. Maybe it was offensive, confidential, or ill-advised. Or maybe it was just plain wrong.

Fear not, my friends. The National Education Association is right there with you.

As you likely know, the results of two major, nationally representative surveys on education policy issues were released recently. I wrote about the PEPG/Education Next Survey just yesterday. Today, I got to dig into the second survey, conducted by Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup. Careful readers will note that I’ve outlined some issues with previous iterations of this particular survey, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. No, today I’d like to talk about what the survey results do (and do not) say. Continue Reading »

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