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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September
23rd 2016
Pizza Pies and Dollar Signs

Posted under Fiscal Responsibility & School Finance & Transparency

I love pizza. Do you love pizza? Oh, what a silly question! Of course you love pizza. Everyone loves pizza! But here’s the big question: Do you love pizza enough to spend $2.6 million on it? Denver Public Schools does.

I ran across an interesting article this morning from Kyle Clark, my favorite 9News reporter, who has apparently discovered that DPS has negotiated an agreement with Blackjack Pizza for $886,730 in the first year. If the pizza “meets expectations” (whatever that means given that there is no such thing as bad pizza, only shades of deliciousness), the agreement could be extended for another two years. That brings the grand total to $2.6 million. Continue Reading »

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September
21st 2016
What the Heck is Academic Growth, Anyway?

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Data & School Accountability & Testing

Growth is exciting. I love watching my mom and dad mark another notch on the wall every year, and it’s been crazy to watch my favorite little puppy grow into a full-size dog almost as big as me. Education wonks get excited about growth too, although the growth you often hear policy nerds talking about has nothing to do with how tall someone is and everything to do with how much academic progress he or she is making.

Academic growth sparked a wave of nerdy jubilation yesterday when the Colorado Department of Education (finally) released growth data for our viewing pleasure after the switch to the PARCC assessment. All those juicy numbers are just waiting for you to explore them—assuming, of course, you can successfully navigate the department’s notoriously terrible SchoolView site. For those of you who would rather peruse curated information presented in a more digestible way, Chalkbeat Colorado’s Nic Garcia put together a helpful story that includes some interactive spreadsheets and charts. You should definitely head over there and see how your school and/or district stacked up.

Those of you expecting me to do a deep dive into the growth scores of various schools and districts are about to be disappointed. We’ll have to save that for another time. Those of you who have absolutely no idea what “academic growth” even means, on the other hand, are in for an educational treat. Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2016
ESSA, Accountability, and High-Achieving Students

Posted under Accountability & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Research & Student Achievement

Happy Friday, fellow policy explorers. I usually try to let you off easy on Friday afternoons when it comes to policy discussions, but this week’s ridiculous distractions in Douglas County forced me to push back a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while about ESSA and how it relates to high-performing students. With the next ESSA Hub Committee meeting scheduled for this coming Monday, it seems appropriate to talk about that interesting issue sooner rather than later. Plus, there’s no such thing as a bad day for policy discussions!

A big focus of the ESSA conversation has been on accountability systems. What will we measure? For whom? How? When? What about weights? In Colorado, we just had a major conversation about the notion of combined subgroups and what they might mean for accountability systems.

All these discussions tend to revolve around how we best help lower-performing kids, schools, and districts. And don’t get me wrong, that’s an incredibly important question for those of us who view education as an opportunity to provide every kid with a chance at a fair fight and an opportunity to build his or her own success story.

But what about the other side of the spectrum? What about our highest-performing students? Is there an opportunity in ESSA to incentivize more attention on those students? The Fordham Institute seems to think so based on a recent report entitled “High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA.” Continue Reading »

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September
7th 2016
Dougco’s Toxic Trio Shirks Responsibility, Shafts Citizens

Posted under Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board

I know I’m a little snarky from time to time, but I generally feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled kid. It takes a fair amount to get me mad. But if there’s one thing that is absolutely, positively guaranteed to send me off the rails, it’s when grown-ups entrusted with the levers of power choose to operate those levers to benefit themselves and harm students, parents, and taxpayers.

That is exactly what I saw happen last night when I tuned in for my favorite biweekly Tuesday entertainment: the Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting. As some of you may know, Doug Benevento, a member of the four-person conservative majority on the board, resigned his seat on August 17. He submitted a brief but official “letter” of resignation to Dougco BOE President Meghann Silverthorn, who subsequently informed the other board members of the news. In case all of that wasn’t clear or public enough, Benevento also ran an op-ed explaining his decision in the Denver Post, the largest newspaper in the state.

In addition to that, major news outlets across Colorado covered the resignation, including:

7News

9News

Chalkbeat Colorado

CBS Denver

The Denver Post

That’s only a partial list, but you get the picture. It was no secret to anyone paying attention—and really even to those who had no idea of who Doug Benevento is—that Benevento had stepped down from the board on August 17. You can imagine my surprise, then, when board minority members Anne-Marie Lemieux, David  Ray, and Wendy Vogel—the three of whom collectively form the “Toxic Trio” in Douglas County—blocked a straightforward resolution designed to start the process of filling the seat. Continue Reading »

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September
2nd 2016
Long Weekend, Short Videos: New Freedom Minutes Promote School Choice in CO

Posted under Educational Choice & Just For Fun & Public Charter Schools & Video

It’s the Friday before a holiday weekend, which I know means that you’re all looking for a big, heavy, policy-focused blog post to round out the week. No? That’s not what you want? Alright, fine. We’ll keep it light and fun. And what could be lighter and more fun than a cute kid talking about school choice?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to present Jordan Smith in two brand-new Freedom Minutes. The first video is all about Jordan’s charter school in Jefferson County, Goldenview Classical Academy. You may remember that GVCA has been the subject of some pretty ugly attacks recently—attacks that I’ve spent considerable time debunking. But nothing I write could ever be as compelling as hearing about the school from one of its student fans firsthand, so I will simply shut up and allow Jordan to do the talking. Check it out:

In the second video, Jordan uses her charm to promote the newly redesigned School Choice for Kids website. This site is designed to empower parents by helping them navigate the complex educational choice landscape in Colorado and find the best school for their children. And because the Education Policy Center believes in helping as many parents as possible, the site is also available in Spanish. Check out Jordan’s video below, then surf around on the site yourself to see what a great tool it is. Don’t forget to share!

I hope everyone has a great, relaxing Labor Day weekend. I’ll see you back here next week!

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August
31st 2016
A Field Trip to STEM School and Academy

Posted under Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools

Those who know me know that there are few things I love more than getting out and visiting schools. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life as an edu-nerd. Spreadsheets, data, laws, and studies are very much my bag. But those things can never truly convey the power of education to change lives and help kids reach their full potential. Education has always been, is now, and will forever be a fundamentally human undertaking that has to be observed firsthand to be fully appreciated.

We’ve talked quite a bit about the moving stories of unique private schools in Colorado, which are laid out nicely by my policy friend Ross Izard in his Profiles in Private Education series. But there are plenty of inspiring stories in the public school system, too, and those stories deserve to be told. That’s why I was so excited when I received a comment from a woman named Denise Gliwa on one my posts inviting me to visit a unique charter school in Douglas County School District called STEM School and Academy. Denise works at the school, and she thought I might be interested in seeing STEM in action. She was right.  Continue Reading »

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