March
11th 2015
Necessary Infrastructure or Technocratic Tinkering?

Posted under Edublogging & Innovation and Reform & School Choice & Tax Credits

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that debates between national education experts are good things. They are almost always interesting, often helpful, and unfailingly entertaining for little policy geeks like myself. Maybe that’s why I was so excited to see two of my favorites, Andy Smarick from Bellweather Education Partners and Jason Bedrick from the Cato Institute, spar a little over the need for “technocrats” in school choice.

Because I am five years old, I feel compelled to point out before we begin that I chuckled at the word “technocrat.” I chuckled not because it’s a funny concept, and not because I don’t like technocrats (well, generally speaking), but because it sounds very similar to “technoCATS.” And because it gave me an opportunity to finally put this in a blog post:

I certainly hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Now, back to edu-business. Continue Reading »

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March
10th 2015
“The Education Debit Card: It’s Everywhere You Want to Learn”

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice

Not long ago, my mom came along with me to the toy store to buy a new set of Legos. When it came time to pay, mom pulled out a piece of plastic from her wallet and handed it to the cashier. It was like magic! The store treated the card like real money, and I got to take home the Legos.

I later had a talk with my parents, and realized it wasn’t quite as magical as I first thought. That debit card my mom used was just keeping track of the money that’s already there.

What if Colorado gave students and parents a debit card they could use just for education-related expenses? Well, enter my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow: Continue Reading »

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March
6th 2015
How Do We Get the Student Data Coin to Land on Both Sides?

Posted under Education Politics & Parents & State Legislature & Teachers

Have you ever had a day where it just seemed like “Heads they win, Tails you lose”? On those days it may not seem like it, but the truth remains that there are two sides to the coin. (And no, I’m not talking about the coin flip required in Jeffco’s union contract to determine which teacher of equal seniority gets let go.)

The same holds true for the role of data in education. Certain kinds of student data are appropriate for school districts and state agencies to collect, mostly related to academic performance and attainment. But in my humble opinion, the subject matter of some questions is inappropriate. There’s also the issue of whom the data is being shared with.

If you remember last year, I brought your attention to some great work being done by some Colorado parents to tighten up laws that protect student data privacy from local or state breaches, or other misuse. Continue Reading »

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March
5th 2015
Down Goes ESEA Reauthorization?

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government

As the “Great Testing Mess of 2015” grinds on, one of the questions that’s been in the back of the education world’s collective mind is how a federal ESEA reauthorization might affect states’ situations. We’ve talked before about some of the weird politics behind the reauthorization effort, and I even speculated that things may not have been looking good after President Obama failed to even mention the possibility of an ESEA reauthorization in his State of the Union speech. Unfortunately, it looks like that speculation may have been on target.

Rick Hess, a conservative scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and one of my education policy heroes, posted a smart article earlier this week that takes a look at our ESEA prospects after last Friday’s congressional drama. For those who don’t know, House Republicans pulled back from a vote on Rep. John Kline’s HR 5, or the Student Success Act, after failing to garner enough support. Interestingly, a nearly identical bill did pass back in 2013.

So what happened? I’ll let Rick explain:

… Back in 2013, when the U.S. House passed the Student Success Act without much drama, I was surprised. I’d expected that a number of Tea Party conservatives (several dozen or more) would simply refuse to vote for anything that might be construed as ratifying a federal role in schooling. I was wrong. The bill sailed through.

Last Friday, pretty much the same bill was to be voted on by the House (if anything, it had a few improvements that should have also made it more attractive to conservatives worried about federal overreach). I thought it would coast through given an enhanced Republican majority, the GOP’s desire to show that it can legislate responsibly now that it controls the House and Senate, and the 2013 vote. Instead, leadership delayed the vote amidst furious pushback from the Tea Party wing and a complicated situation with funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

Continue Reading »

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March
4th 2015
Give Me Serious Charter Policy Debate over Silly Anti-Charter Deception

Posted under Public Charter Schools & Research & School Choice & Urban Schools

When it comes to education policy, there are serious discussions and there are — ahem — less serious discussions. Recently, we’ve seen this truth play out regarding public charter schools.

First, and most interestingly, the serious discussion. Education Next hosted a point-counterpoint between the chairman and executive director of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Boardvs. New Schools for New Orleans CEO Neerav Kingsland.

At issue: “How large a share of urban schools should be charters?”

Kingsland vouches for the success of New Orleans’ unprecedented all-charter approach. He would like to see a number of other cities transition to all-charter school districts in the coming years. The positive results achieved in The Big Easy at least give credence to his case.

Kingsland’s formula to make it happen: Continue Reading »

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March
3rd 2015
Another Victory For Choice: Alabama’s STC Program Wins the Day

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & School Choice & Tax Credits

I love to see choice win. In fact, I’m hoping that we will have a favorable ruling on the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program from the Colorado Supreme Court any day now. In the meantime, I’ll have to make due with another victory for scholarship tax credits down south.

Just this week, the Alabama Supreme Court handed down a ruling upholding the state’s scholarship tax credit program. Edu-nerds can read the full decision here, but be warned: It’s 200 pages long. Bring snacks. For everyone else, here’s the short version from Tuscaloosa News story linked above:

The justices said the law does not violate restrictions on giving public funds to private, religious schools because the tax credits go to parents and to scholarship program donors, not to the schools. They also said Republican lawmakers acted legally when they passed the bill the same night that it was introduced in a conference committee.

If you’ve heard similar language in legal decisions on scholarship tax credits before, that’s because it is one of the most important lines of defense for these programs. Money doesn’t flow from the state to private—and possibly religious—schools as it does in voucher programs. Instead, private donors receive tax credits for donating to private scholarship granting organizations that give private scholarships to kids to attend private schools. World record for use of “private” in a single sentence? Perhaps. But it serves to illustrate an important point: No money passes through the state. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons scholarship tax credit programs are so difficult for choice opponents to beat in court. Continue Reading »

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February
26th 2015
Reading New ETS Report on Millennials Not Likely to Cheer You Up

Posted under Grades and Standards & High School & Innovation and Reform & Research & School Choice & School Finance & State Legislature

A few weeks ago I raised the question: Should I get my hopes up about Colorado course choice again? Today, it seems more appropriate to ask whether I should get my hopes up at all.

Yeah, you might think that sounds kind of depressing. But dare I say you haven’t yet had the chance to drink deep the dose of melancholy that flows through Robert Pondiscio’s new Flypaper post “America’s Millennials: Overeducated and Underprepared.” To his credit, he tries to soften the blow with some lighthearted old sports announcer allusion, but the damage cannot be escaped.

What’s the big downer? Pondiscio points readers like you and me to a new Educational Testing Service (ETS) report America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future. The bottom line? While American Millennials are on track to reach the highest level of educational attainment EVER, they are less literate and numerate than both prior U.S. generations and to their international peers. There are also apparent implications about growing inequality in skills between the privileged and the less privileged.

Yikes! I feel Pondiscio’s pain. Even though trailing behind the Millennials in vaguely defined Generation Z, my fellow kids and I will reap some of the consequences. So yes, I do care. Continue Reading »

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February
25th 2015
Exciting Stuff: Jeffco’s Jefferson Area Plan Moves Closer to a Vote

Posted under Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Middle School & Principals & School Board

Many moons ago, in a long-lost time known only as “November,” I highlighted some positive efforts for change in the Jefferson Articulation Area, one of Jefferson County School District’s most challenging regions. The wheels have been somewhat quietly grinding since then, and I’m happy to report that a plan for the area will come up for a board vote on March 5.

In February, a number of principals from schools in the Jefferson Articulation Area—all of whom have been intimately involved with the development of a plan for their schools—presented a plan of action to the board. The plan is the culmination of a massive process that pulled together district officials, school leaders, community members, and parents. I took a fun field trip to one of the community meetings, and I have to say it was very cool to see. Continue Reading »

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February
23rd 2015
In K-12 “Education Reform” Debates, Blind Spots, Blind Spots Everywhere

Posted under High School & Innovation and Reform & Journalism

Welcome to a new week. With all the snow and cold outside, it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the big picture of improving K-12 education. Which takes me straight to a Thursday thought piece by Andy Rotherham, titled “Education Reformers Have a Big Blind Spot.”

What is the big blind spot? The subtitle spells it out: “The people trying to fix today’s public schools were overwhelmingly good at school themselves.” As I see it, the piece raises two key points for discussion: one directly and one indirectly.

But first, allow me a brief moment of personal privilege to note that it’s been a full 2 years and 3 months (back when I was still 5 years old) since Rotherham has appeared on the blog (which by the way, highlights a report that speaks directly to Harrison School District’s powerful Effectiveness and Results program). The long hiatus is over. Continue Reading »

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February
20th 2015
State Board Gets Even Weirder On Testing Issue

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Testing

Last month, we kicked off the 2015 legislative party together. I promised it would be an exciting year, and that has certainly been the case. But I may have been wrong about where that excitement would be coming from. The legislature has its hands full when it comes to education-related issues, but the real party seems to be at the Colorado State Board of Education.

As faithful readers and education followers know, the Colorado State Board of Education got weird in January by voting (along unexpected lines) to grant districts waivers from the performance-based part of this year’s PARCC exams. Those waivers were slapped down by a recent opinion from Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, but that hasn’t stopped the action at good ol’ SBOE.

For starters, the board voted 5-1 (Chairwoman Marcia Neal was absent due to medical issues) to postpone action on the PARCC waiver requests it has received. Judging from comments made during the meeting, this extension is being granted in the hopes that the legislature will “clarify” the issue. According to Chalkbeat, there are currently 20 district waiver requests pending. PARCC’s Performance-Based Assessment is due to be administered next month, which means the extension causes some interesting timing issues.

Most education folks (including myself) thought the matter was settled with the AG’s opinion, but that apparently isn’t the case. Buckle your seatbelts, friends—stuff’s likely going to get weirder on PARCC waivers before it gets… unweirder. Nope, that’s not a word.

Anyway, because the waiver decision extension wasn’t quite weird enough, rogue SBOE member Steve Durham also pulled out another surprising motion: Eliminate penalties for districts who fail to meet the required 95 percent participation threshold on state assessments due to parental opt outs. Continue Reading »

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