October
31st 2014
Antonucci Reminds Us to Be Skeptical of Union Leaders’ Pleas to Change

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & School Finance & Teachers

From the spooky to the smile-inducing to the skeptical, welcome to Eddie’s roller coaster world of education policy commentary. Skeptical, you say? What am I talking about?

The article of the week for you to read comes from Education Next and America’s most well-informed and honest observer of all things related to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, Mr. Mike Antonucci. He lays out the big story about teachers unions and the war within. Bringing nearly two decades of experience watching union leadership operate, he starts the article with this back-to-the-future comparison: Continue Reading »

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October
30th 2014
Tools of Choice: Dougco’s Press for Informed Parental Decisions

Posted under events & Parents & School Choice

Making choices is tough. Would Spiderman or Batman win in a fight? Should I have ice cream for dessert, or should I have ice cream and candy for dessert? What should I do with my finger after picking my nose? Should I ask for a smaller present on both my birthday and Christmas, or should I just ask for one really big present? It all gets a little confusing if you ask me.

If you think that little guys like me have it rough, you should talk to our parents. They have to make hundreds of decisions, all (ok, most) of which are more important than the already stressful choices I outlined above. Among those choices, one stands out as particularly consequential: Which school best fits my child’s needs?

That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack. In fact, one of the most commonly cited arguments against school choice is that some parents—particularly those who don’t earn much or who have lower levels of education themselves—simply aren’t able to find the information they need to make good choices for their children. In one district, that may be about to change. Continue Reading »

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October
28th 2014
COSFP’s School Funding, Instruction Story Not So Spooky with All the Facts

Posted under Grades and Standards & Research & School Finance

Yesterday I shared a really interesting survey-based analysis by Dr. Martin West that strongly suggests the average American has a good handle on how well their local schools perform, but a lot less accurate picture of how well their local schools are funded.

On average, voters underestimate how much is spent per pupil by their local school districts, more than one-third less than the real financial picture. While there could be a number of sources and factors that lead people to such inaccurate conclusions, groups like the Colorado School Finance Project (COSFP) certainly don’t help when they omit $934 million in spending reported by the Department of Education to make the K-12 budgetary picture look bleaker.

Well, they’re ba-a-a-ack. ‘Tis Halloween week, after all. And although my parents have effectively limited my exposure to the world of all things creepy and spooky, I am all too familiar with the experience of reading the selectively scary stories of K-12 funding that COSFP and others peddle. Just look at the group’s latest monthly update: Continue Reading »

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October
27th 2014
Americans Understand Their Schools, Just Not School Finance

Posted under Research & School Accountability & School Finance

All things considered, I think my school is pretty good. It’s got monkey bars, snack time, culturally enriching field trips, and shiny blue fish stickers. Oh, and my dad went there.

If you’re thinking that those things aren’t very convincing measures of overall school quality, you’re right. Yet for a long time, factors like these were held out as possible explanations for the gap between people’s generally positive opinions on their own schools and their less-than-optimistic views of the school system as a whole. Ok, maybe not the monkey bars or fish stickers, but you get the point.

The days of guessing may be coming to a close. Martin West’s new analysis of data from this year’s Education Next Survey (which I wrote about back in August) may be the closest I’ve seen to a really plausible, research-based explanation of what I’ll call—brace for neologism—the “perspective gap.” Continue Reading »

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October
24th 2014
Buckle Up for the Ride, Colorado: The Testing Issue Isn’t Going Away Soon

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & reading & School Accountability & State Board of Education & Teachers

Tests in schools, tests in schools. Why do I have a strange sort of feeling this issue isn’t riding off quietly into the sunset any time soon? First, we’ve got the entire hot mess known as Common Core (or maybe we should just follow Governor Hickenlooper’s advice and rename it “Colorado Core”?) and the new regime of PARCC assessments that go with it.

Underneath all that, though, are all the competing concerns and interests. What do we want tests to do? Is it about improving instruction and directly affecting student learning? Or are they primarily useful tools to help measure and compare how different schools and educators are doing? As I’ve heard it said many times, “what gets measured gets done.” So you can’t just throw out all the tests. But which ones do we need, and how much is too much?

As you can see, magical policy solutions aren’t hiding just beneath the surface. Some leaders on the Colorado State Board of Education have tried to find a way to give local schools and districts more testing flexibility, while preserving key features of accountability. But then the grumpy old U.S. Department of Education mothership has all but completely squashed that idea.

Then we have the legislatively-appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force. On Monday, this 15-member group met and narrowed down the areas of concern to oh, at least eight. These are items to study and make recommendations about. Looks like a big task to tackle by the early 2015 deadline. Then yesterday the Task Force set up a listening session in Colorado Springs, reports the Gazette. Among the many concerns highlighted: Continue Reading »

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October
23rd 2014
Building a Well-Rounded Education: Field Trips and Hamlet with Dr. Jay Greene

Posted under reading & Research & writing

Sometimes my mom pokes fun at my dad for being a little portly. His response is always the same: “I’m just a well-rounded individual.” But while my dad’s goal (every year) is to make himself narrower around the middle, that may be exactly the opposite of what we want to see in our children’s education.

Jay Greene, already one of my favorite academics due to his work on school choice, has most recently taken to arguing for wider ranging liberal (no, not that kind of liberal) education in American schools. He begins a recent post on the topic thusly:

Some people seem determined to narrow education.  I’ve been trying to make the case for a well-rounded, liberal education, but that idea has less support than I realized.  In their effort to maximize math and reading test scores, schools have sometimes narrowed their focus at the expense of the arts and humanities.

That narrowing focus often cuts programs like art, music, drama, field trips, and extracurricular activities. Continue Reading »

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October
22nd 2014
Silly Season Won’t Last, So Find Out Candidate Stances on Key K-12 Issues

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Governor & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & State Board of Education & State Legislature & Teachers

Oh, it’s the silliest, silliest season of the year. How do I know? My grandpa muttering under his breath when one more irritating political ad interrupts his otherwise enjoyable viewing of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. And the other night my mom crumpling up the latest campaign attack flier that came in our mailbox and finally telling dad they need to turn in their ballots “to stop the madness.” Yes, it’s less than two weeks until Election Day 2014.

Above the fray comes the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess and Max Eden noting how little this year’s prospective political officeholders are saying about the things that affect my world, things like Common Core standards, tenure reform, and school choice:

A systematic analysis of campaign Web sites for the 139 major party candidates for governor or U.S. senator (there is no Democrat running for the Kansas Senate seat) shows that most hopefuls have little to say on any of these pressing questions.

Call me curious, or call me crazy. This little piece prompted me to check out Colorado’s own major party candidates — including two guys running for governor and two running for U.S. Senate. What do they have to say about K-12 education matters? After all, maybe we’re part of the exception here, or maybe there’s more to the story that AEI seeks to tell. Continue Reading »

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October
21st 2014
COLA Wars: Yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court Ruling on PERA

Posted under School Finance & State Legislature & Teachers

My parents don’t often let me drink soda, but I like to think of myself as a Coca-Cola guy. Pepsi just doesn’t quite do it for me. And don’t even get me started on the off-brand colas. Big K Cola? Yuck!

I have to admit, though, that I haven’t yet tasted this PERA COLA thing I’ve heard so much about. Maybe that’s for the best; judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen to yesterday’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling on the issue, I’m thinking I’d probably find it a bit too heavy.

I wrapped up last week’s policy adventures by writing about Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which provides pensions for many Colorado’s public school teachers (roughly  and a large number of other public employees in the state. In that post, I briefly mentioned a 2010 bill that aimed at partially correcting one of PERA’s biggest problems: Unfunded liabilities.

While that bill was a small—perhaps inadequately small—step in the right direction for Colorado, it required some tough changes to be made. Among those changes was a reduction in annual cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for those covered by PERA’s pensions—including the more than 100,000 retirees who are already receiving benefits. More specifically, the bill cut yearly COLA increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent or inflation, whichever happens to be lower.

As you may have guessed, this move made some folks rather unhappy. A lawsuit was filed, legal battles were fought, and the case eventually wound up in front of the Colorado Supreme Court. The question: Does the 3.5 percent yearly COLA increase represent a contractual, constitutionally protected obligation for PERA?  According to the Court, the answer is no. Continue Reading »

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October
20th 2014
Serious Discussion: Common Core Missteps Demand a Smarter Response

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Choice

I’ve discovered a new way to make myself the least popular kid on the playground or at a birthday party. All I have to do is just come running in and say with my outdoor voice, “Hey, who wants to have a serious discussion about Common Core?” Rolling eyes. Blank stares. Condescending sneers. Befuddled head-shaking. I’ve seen it all. I might as well be offering to sell my parents’ old set of encyclopedias. But I’m here today to press on and help us get closer to the core of the Common Core debate.

Some of you might be saying: “Look, there goes that [little Eddie] rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Knowing how toxic the name “Common Core” has become, I think it makes sense to migrate straight past stories about inscrutable “Common Core” math algorithms and dismissive retorts from advocates about those hayseed “Common Core skeptics.”

If you want to be far smarter about this controversial topic than all of your friends, and help lead our state to a happy solution, you simply have to start by reading Rick Hess’ new National Affairs piece titled “How the Common Core Went Wrong.”

It’s a fairly lengthy essay, but one that sets the stage with thoughtfulness, candor, and precision. The idea of voluntary common educational standards that states can adopt has a lot of merit. Yet from the top, Hess offers plenty of criticism of the approach taken by Common Core backers. The different pieces come together in a way that reveals not necessarily a bad idea or malicious intent, but something more akin to poor judgment. The standards were: Continue Reading »

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October
17th 2014
The Unfair Retirement PERA-chute: New Group Pushes for Pension Reform

Posted under Education Politics & School Finance & Teachers

Happy Friday, readers. I know we’ll all be starting our weekends in a few hours, but I think there’s time to squeeze in just a little more education policy before then. Today’s topic: reform efforts centered on Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA).

I’ve written about PERA and some of its pitfalls before, but let’s recap briefly for those who are new to the discussion. PERA is Colorado’s public employee pension plan, and the program covers a variety of public employees. Many of those employees are—you guessed it—public school teachers.

While the phrase “pension plan” sounds decidedly innocuous, PERA has been criticized frequently. Among other things, the scheme has been knocked for tying Colorado to some pretty nasty unfunded liabilities and unfairly penalizing young or new public employees.

Although a 2010 bill attempted to address some of PERA’s problems, it may not have fully righted the listing ship. Now, though, the winds may be starting to shift. Continue Reading »

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