28th 2015
Little Action Required by Obama’s Testing Action Plan

Posted under Accountability & School Choice & Teachers & Testing & Union

Welcome back, dear readers. I apologize for leaving you mostly adrift for a week as I gallivanted around various education reform conferences. At least you got a good post about the coming local elections yesterday, and you’ve got another big one in store for today.

A national story popped up this past weekend that I really should address: After many moons supporting testing and test-linked accountability (often through questionably coercive waivers), the Obama Administration has released a new “Testing Action Plan” calling for some course alterations when it comes to testing in America. That plan comes with the blessing of testing and accountability proponent Arne Duncan, who will be stepping down as U.S. Secretary of Education in December. John King of New York will take his place.

Obviously, the administration’s movement was well received by opponents of standardized testing and tying student data to teacher evaluations. That includes horn-tooting statements from both NEA and AFT hailing the administration and reasserting that testing and test-based accountability are bad, bad things. I’m still pretty sure the unions’ position has something to do with tenure reform and an effort to cling to outdated steps-and-columns pay structures, but what do I know?

But what does the Testing Action Plan really say? For us here in Colorado, not much. Continue Reading »

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27th 2015
Get Past the High Drama and Give Reform a Chance to Succeed

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Suburban Schools & Union

Some days I wish that improving schools for all students and giving all families access to the best educational options were easier to accomplish. But change can be difficult, especially when self-interested groups have their power and prestige at stake.

Emotions are tense and high in Jefferson County, where a fact-challenged, union-backed recall election against three school board reformers has consumed a lot of attention. The good news is that it means many people care about the future and about the value of education.

The sad part, however, is that a group of people are persuaded that restoring control to the union and traditional bureaucratic powers will help quiet down the turmoil that the union and allies have manufactured from the very beginning.

Try to do things a little differently? You know, focus on raising student achievement, funding all public students fairly, and rewarding highly effective educators, and what do you get? Bullying of reform supporters — which apparently gets you promoted to PTA president.

But at least board members’ children aren’t subject to this harassment, right? Uh, guess again: Continue Reading »

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20th 2015
‘Tis the Season for Wild and Woolly School Board Election Stories

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

There’s no season like school board election season. At least not in Colorado. Believe it or not, these are real stories. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can’t make this up.”

Let’s start in Jeffco, where the Denver Post shattered to pieces the whole justification for a politically motivated recall election. A video was just released about Julie Williams, one of the candidates being threatened with recall, explaining how her opponents manipulated her special-needs son to participate in a protest against her:

Yes, I agree it’s disgusting. As if to provide further clarification to answer the question at the end of the video — “Now, who are the real bullies?” — some folks have responded basically by calling Mrs. Williams and her son Randy liars. Really? I guess that’s what you do when you know you’re in the wrong.

Meanwhile, also in Jeffco, last week’s campaign finance reports caused me some concerns. One of the candidates for the non-recall seats, Ali Lasell, paid exactly $7,886.87 to a group called Mad Dog Mail:

…a Democratic persuasion mail firm based out of Florida. As our name indicates, we are strong, tough Democrats who fight against Republican smears and attacks, working only with Democratic campaigns.

Continue Reading »

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14th 2015
Denver Post Editorial Board Nails It on the Jeffco Recall… Again

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

I know I’ve said this before, but it makes me feel good when even the mainstream media sees through the antics of anti-reform efforts in Colorado. The Denver Post has been a model for sensible, truthful commentary in recent months. So much so, in fact, that I feel compelled to make a bulleted list of their recent columns on education issues to avoid a monster paragraph:

After all that, one would think they’d be all out of good stuff to say. One would be wrong. The Denver Post Editorial Board has really outdone itself with its latest column about why the Jeffco recall effort ought to be rejected. Continue Reading »

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12th 2015
Can’t We Just Get Colorado on the CER Tax Credit Report Card… Please?

Posted under Federal Government & Independence Institute & Just For Fun & Parents & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

Imagine this scenario: The teacher has posted the grades for the final exam on the wall outside the classroom. There, standing and staring at the paper is a young student crying. “What’s the matter? Did you not get a passing grade?” the passerby asks. The weeping student, struggling for composure, simply shakes her head. “Then what’s wrong?”

Finally, the answer comes out. The student explains that she was sad not because she got a poor grade, but because she never got a chance to take the course, and thus received no grade at all.

That’s kind of how I felt upon seeing the Center for Education Reform’s new Education Tax Credit Laws Across the States Ranking and Scorecard 2015.

Continue Reading »

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9th 2015
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Jeffco’s Ken Witt Pokes Recall Advocates

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Journalism & School Board

Friday Fun Day has arrived yet again. I don’t have super-secret materials to share or an inspiring video to show you today. But I do have something pretty darn entertaining: A school board reformer in Jeffco calling the bluff of recall proponents in Jeffco by filing a complaint against… himself.

Yes, that’s right. Tired of accusations that the board majority members have violated state sunshine laws, Jefferson County Board of Education President Ken Witt filed an ethics complaint against himself with the Colorado Ethics Commission. In his words:

This recall election will cost the district between $100,000-$200,000. That’s money that won’t go to our classrooms and our students. They have spent well over $100,000 gathering tens of thousands of signatures. … But not one is brave enough to sign a complaint? Out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have spent, they couldn’t spend the 49 cents for the stamp to send a complaint? And they accuse us of wasting money.

Continue Reading »

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8th 2015
Tennessee Study Sequel Pours More Cold Water on Pre-K Enthusiasm

Posted under Early Childhood & Federal Government & Journalism & learning & Research

I’m going to be honest with everyone. Getting education policy right is hard work. There are no silver bullets out there. Some things (like school choice) show small but consistent benefits in study after study. Other practices (like paying teachers to earn masters degrees) represent large outlays of money with no return.

Today I’m looking at pre-K or early childhood education. Some recent research further calls into question the prevailing line on increasing tax subsidies for preschool. Chalkbeat Tennessee last week reported on a landmark study that challenged some conventional wisdom. Since as a 5-year-old edublogging prodigy I tend to be more than a little unconventional, it seemed like a reasonable idea to bring it to your attention:

A new Vanderbilt University study suggests that public pre-kindergarten programs in Tennessee might actually negatively impact students as they advance through school, surprising experts and advocates alike. But the study’s lead researchers say that policymakers shouldn’t abandon pre-K as they seek to close the achievement gap between minority and lower- and higher-income students.

A careful read through the executive summary of the Vanderbilt University report raises some significant caution flags. Studying a randomly assigned group of more than 1,000 kids, researchers essentially found that the initial advantages provided to Tennessee pre-K participants washes away by the end of kindergarten. By first grade, teachers observed worse “non-cognitive” (aka attitude and behavioral) outcomes for the pre-K kids, followed by a similar statistically negative result in “cognitive” (or academic) results in second grade.

This study, which follows its subjects through third grade, is not the original. It’s a sequel. Continue Reading »

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7th 2015
Harrison’s Successes Continue Under Pay-For-Performance System

Posted under Accountability & School Accountability & Teachers & Testing

A few months ago, I wrote about how important it is to use the right metric—fairness for teachers— when evaluating the success of pay-for-performance compensation systems. That post was a response to a rather biased Denver Post article on the subject, which featured as one of its subheadings the assertion that these systems provide “No Benefit to Students.” It also completely failed to mention perhaps the state’s most interesting example of pay for performance in practice: Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.

As it turns out, that was a serious omission. 9News ran a story yesterday about Harrison’s success at elevating its minority students. From that story:

The Harrison School District has more minorities than most districts in Advanced Placement courses. It has more Black and Latino students in Gifted and Talented classes. Harrison has a consistent graduation rate of Black and Latino students of higher than 75 percent. And, testing data shows that this district located on the southern end of Colorado Springs has the smallest achievement gap between white students and students of color.

As the story implies, Harrison’s 2014 graduation data show that 77.7 percent of its black students graduated on time. That number was 75.3 for its Hispanic students. Those paying attention will note that the rate for black students is actually higher than the state’s overall graduation rate of 77.3 percent. For further reference, the state’s overall graduation rates for black and Hispanic students were just 69 percent and 66.7 percent respectively. Continue Reading »

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25th 2015
Top Secret School Board Candidate Briefing Materials Declassified

Posted under Edublogging & Education Politics & events & School Board

Last night, the Education Policy Center team finished the last of its five school board candidate briefings at the Independence Institute in Denver. This year’s briefings have garnered a fair amount of attention from anti-reform folks, including some pretty interesting conspiracy theories.

I am pleased to report that after talking it over with their evil right-wing overlords, the Ed Center’s staff members have been cleared to make the materials given to candidates publicly available. Not that they were really secret anyway; every school board candidate in the state was invited to the briefings regardless of his or her political opinions. All interested candidates had to do was sign a non-disclosure agreement, forfeit their firstborn children, submit to a lie detector test, and swear fealty to the Almighty Koch Brothers. No biggie, right?

Now, though, everyone can see these top secret materials without having to go through all that stuff. Admittedly, that isn’t terribly fair to the candidates who had to directly endure the aforementioned requirements–particularly those who went through our patented microchip implantation process. But I strongly suspect that others will find the information valuable, and the Education Policy Center is all about providing valuable information to those who need it.

I doubt the written materials will live up to the conspiratorial hype surrounding them, but that’s alright. Maybe the big, scary video (embedded below) featuring 24-year Jeffco teaching veteran Michael Alcorn’s advice for board members will make up for the anti-climactic shock of combing through a 40-page education policy document looking for secret codes that don’t exist.

One last note before I leave you to enjoy the video: There will be no Little Eddie posts next week. I know, I know. You’ll just have to do your best to contain your disappointment. See you in a couple weeks!


24th 2015
Colorado’s ACT Flatline Has Me Worried

Posted under Accountability & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

I feel like I’ve been alienating my fellow edu-nerds in recent weeks by spending so much time talking about the antics of the courts. Most recently, we examined a Colorado Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the “Negative Factor” under Amendment 23. One could be forgiven for believing that I had suddenly changed careers and become the world’s youngest edu-lawyer extraordinaire. Thankfully, that’s not the case.

Today, we celebrate my triumphant return to the world of education policy data by taking a belated look at Colorado’s 2015 ACT scores. As most of you know, the ACT is taken by every high school junior in the state under state law. This year, that amounted to 57,328 kids. The ACT is an important test, as it provides the best picture of the “end product” our education system has produced after more than a decade of school for most students.

Unfortunately, Colorado’s ACT numbers this year are flat again. In fact, they’re a little worse than flat, with our overall composite score having fallen from 20.3 in 2014 to 20.1 this year (on a 36-point scale). Other than a very slight increase in science composite scores, scores across all subjects were down.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. The typical achievement gaps we’ve come to expect are still present, with Hispanic students coming in at a composite of 17.3, black students at 17.1, and English language learners (ELLs) coming in at just 13.7. White students, by contrast, achieved a composite of 21.7.

Low-income students also continue to fall behind their higher-income peers. Students eligible for free lunch achieved a composite score of 16.9, and those eligible for reduced lunch prices managed an 18.5. Kids qualifying for neither free nor reduced lunches came in at a composite of 21.6. Continue Reading »

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