April
8th 2016
The Washington Charter Phoenix Rises

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Legislation & Public Charter Schools & Union

I have a love-hate relationship with the courts—a fact well known to my readers. From Douglas County vouchers to tire scraps in Missouri to Thompson union battles (even though logic eventually prevailed in that case) to decisions on teacher tenure and forced tribute payment by non-union members, I often find myself befuddled by the apparent lack of ability (desire?) on the part of some courts to do stuff that makes sense.

But even among all that silliness, one decision really stands out as the most surprising in the last couple of years: a decision by the Washington Supreme Court to declare the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. Huh?

I wrote last September about the unpleasant surprise that was the Washington Supreme Court’s charter school ruling. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a court striking down something as firmly rooted as charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,700 public charter schools in America. Those schools serve 2.9 million kids across more than 40 states.  In Colorado alone, charters serve 108,000 kids—about 12 percent of all public school kids in the state—in 226 schools. Charter laws have been around for more than 25 years. Until Washington, the laws had withstood legal challenges in every state where they’d been brought, including Colorado.

Charter schools are not some new-fangled experiment or radical idea. They are an inerasable part of the American public school system. Well, except in Washington, where a panel of unelected judges decided that an obscure ruling from 1909 provided enough of a legal platform to outlaw them entirely. Or at least they thought that would be the result. Continue Reading »

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April
7th 2016
Opting out of What, Exactly?

Posted under Accountability & Innovation and Reform & Opt Outs & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Testing & Union

It’s Thursday again, which (I think) still qualifies as a serious work day. I suppose that means we should do something that amounts to serious education policy-ing rather than just watching a video or something. Oh, stop looking at me like that. You like it when we get nerdy.

If the plan is for us to be serious today, we should pick a super-serious topic. And if we have to pick a super-serious topic, what could be better than opting out of statewide assessments? It is, after all, testing season in Colorado.

I was thinking about opt outs yesterday as I read a Politico article about a new push by the opt-out “movement” to diversify the people who participate. Or should I say who don’t participate? Whatever. The point is that they want the movement to be less white. More specifically, they’d like it to be less white and poorer.

Now why would opt-out folks want something like that? Continue Reading »

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March
31st 2016
Expected but Disappointing: SCOTUS Splits on Important Union Tribute Case

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Teachers & Union

Good afternoon, fellow policy nerds. I’m a little strapped for time today thanks to some exciting stuff going on at the Capitol. The drama surrounding the School Finance Act continues, and I’m going to be watching the second half of SB 148’s Senate Education Committee hearing. If you’ll recall, I’m sort of a fan of that bill. So is my policy friend Ross Izard, who took to the Denver Post to make the case for the bill. (Funny how often Ross’s and my viewpoints line up, isn’t it?)

Anyway, we don’t have much time to chat this afternoon, so today’s post will be a short one. That’s probably for the best; nobody likes to dwell on bad news.

Back in February, I wrote about what Justice Scalia’s tragic death might mean for some important education-related cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. I (and every other education wonk in the country) predicted then that the 4-4 split between conservative and liberal justices could spell serious trouble for the very important Freidrichs case, which deals with forced payment of “agency shop fees” by teachers. I wrote:

The most immediate ramifications of the tie vote rule work in favor of unions, and particularly the teachers unions. Tough questions asked from the bench during oral arguments in the Friedrichs case led many to believe that a decision against agency shop fees was all but inevitable. Such a decision would have been a significant victory for teachers and other workers forced to pay tribute to deeply political (i.e., Democratic) unions with which they disagree, and would have put a big dent in teachers union budgets in many states across the nation (though unfortunately not Colorado). Justice Scalia’s untimely departure has changed all that. A tie now seems unavoidable, which will result in the unions getting to keep their forced tribute payments for now. Ick.

Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be accurate. Continue Reading »

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March
25th 2016
Better Than TV: Senate Education Committee Gets Interesting

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Testing

I had a nice, easy (read: boring) education policy post planned for this fine Friday afternoon. Then I stayed out way past my bedtime to attend a Senate Education Committee hearing that turned out to be so wild and crazy and fantastically entertaining that I feel compelled to share it with you.

Those of you who have been reading my ramblings for a while probably remember how much time we spent talking about the Great Testing Debate of 2015, in which legislators from both sides of the aisle worked to scale back state testing. The debate ultimately culminated in a couple of legislative compromises (see here and here) that significantly scaled back testing, especially in light of further reductions made on the PARCC side of the equation.

But that doesn’t mean everyone was satisfied. A strange (and somewhat disturbing) mashup of hard-right conservatives and union folks want even deeper cuts—especially after ESSA’s passage created some additional state leeway on the testing front. Ninth grade has become the biggest focal point in that conversation, with SB 16-005 aiming to cut that grade’s test entirely.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on the policy ins and outs of SB 005 itself. My Independence Institute friend Ross Izard made clear last year that the Education Policy Center is supportive of a statewide assessment in 9th grade. I believe some statewide assessment at this critically important high school transition is valuable for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. I’m siginificantly less excited about that assessment being PARCC.

But who cares what I think? Let’s talk about the fun stuff! Continue Reading »

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March
24th 2016
Colorado Supreme Court Takes on Huge Tenure-Related Case

Posted under Constitution & Courts & Denver & Teachers & Union

We just can’t stop talking about court cases, can we? First, we covered an interesting Blaine Amendment case out of Missouri. Then things took a turn for the sad (and scary) with Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death, and we looked at what that loss might mean for important education cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Then Douglas County up and restarted its voucher program, this time without religious schools—a decision that has since caused no small amount of edu-drama.

Today, we’re going to look at another exciting development: The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to grant certiorari to the very important tenure-related Masters case. That’s a really big deal.

I’ve been talking about the Masters case ever since the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and a group of tenured teachers started down that lonely road back in 2014. We celebrated when a Denver District Court judge shot down the union’s arguments. We covered the union’s opening arguments in the subsequent appeal. Then I neglected to post on the disappointing appeal outcome as I wallowed in grief and frustration about the ruling.

Why is Masters so important? Let me explain. Continue Reading »

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March
18th 2016
Dougco Restarts Its Voucher Program, Minus Religious Schools

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Douglas County & School Board & School Choice

Just last week, we covered some Jeffco-tinted news about a student walkout/protest in Douglas County School District.  But those aren’t the only waves Dougco has made recently, or even the most important. No, the most exciting news to come out of the district is that the conservative board majority voted Tuesday to restart its local voucher program, the first of its kind in the nation.

This time, however, those pesky religious schools will have to sit out—along with any of the kids who wanted to attend them. The new program, now called the School Choice Grant Program, explicitly prohibits religious schools from participating. It also revisits the old program’s contentious charter school funding mechanism (and funding amounts), though that’s a conversation for another day. For now, let’s focus on the religious aspect.

Most of you already know about the original Choice Scholarship Program, so we won’t spend a lot of recounting all of the details. It’s been a while since we talked about the Dougco case’s legal slog in any detail, though, so I think it’s a good idea to pause and consider what’s going on here and what it means. Continue Reading »

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March
16th 2016
New Bill Seeks to Bolster Floundering Civic Knowledge

Posted under Education Politics & Social Studies & State Legislature

About this time last year, I wrote a starry-eyed post about how much I love seeing fellow policy explorers on field trips to the Colorado State Capitol. I wrote then:

For those who spend a lot of time at the Capitol, these bright-eyed explorers are sometimes viewed as a hassle. They clog the stairs, block the hallways, and every now and then manage to run smack into someone who probably believes they are far too important to be run into. But we should be careful about looking at these little guys (my people!) as hurdles that must be (sometimes physically) clambered over and worked around in the pursuit of more important business. In fact, I’d like to argue that there is no more important business than introducing our kids to the American system of government.

When I look around at groups of kids touring the Capitol—some of them wearing little ties and doing their best to stand up straight and proud, others struggling just to take it all in—I wonder how many of tomorrow’s leaders I’m looking at. How many future legislators, governors, and justices have I seen? How many activists, teachers, and nonprofit leaders am I watching form right before my eyes? How many of these wide-eyed little tykes will grow into great movers and shakers, military leaders, entrepreneurs, community champions, artists, or scientific pioneers? How many future presidents have I walked right past without knowing?

I still believe that “there is no more important business than introducing our kids to the American system of government.” And you know what? I’m not the only one.

Earlier this month, a broad, bipartisan group of legislators introduced Senate Bill 148, which will require Colorado high school students to pass the 100-question civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Test, more colloquially called the “citizenship test,” in order to graduate. Sometime between starting 9th grade and finishing high school (testing schedules and administration are left up to schools), students would have to get at least 60 of the test’s 100 multiple-choice questions correct. Folks applying for citizenship in the United States must answer six of 10 randomly selected questions in order to pass. They also have to complete an English-language section.

If you couldn’t tell from my sentimental words at the beginning of this post, I like SB 148. Honestly, it’s hard not to in light of the very scary data on U.S. students’ civic knowledge.

In 2014, a nationally representative sample of 8th graders took the NAEP civics test. The results were astonishing. Check out the graphic below:

http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/hgc_2014/#civics

From The Nation’s Report Card

Continue Reading »

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March
11th 2016
Shades of Jeffco: Dougco’s Student Walkout

Posted under Accountability & Douglas County & Education Politics & School Board & Union

Yesterday, we covered some very interesting new research on educator evaluation reforms. While we were busy reviewing that study, our friends down in Douglas County School District were busy making news. Let’s catch up on that news today.

First up was a student walkout/protest at Ponderosa High School. Roughly 200 students paraded around with signs blasting Superintendent Liz Fagen and decrying what they see as concerning levels of teacher turnover at Ponderosa and other schools. They blame unfair teacher evaluations and pay under the district’s pay-for-performance system for this turnover. I think I’m having flashbacks to Jeffco’s misguided protests in 2014… Continue Reading »

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March
10th 2016
New Study Examines Impacts of Evaluation Reform Across America, Findings Decidedly Unscary

Posted under Accountability & Research & Teachers & Testing & Union

You know that feeling you had when you were a kid and you got a new book? The excited rush to rip it open and start devouring it? Well, I’m that way with educational research. Some folks might say that makes me a “nerd.” Those folks would be right. Today I proudly embrace my nerdiness and present: Little Eddie’s Thursday Research Roundup.

Okay, “roundup” is probably overselling it a little. I actually just want to talk a single new study on teacher evaluation reform in America. The study, conducted by Matthew Kraft of Brown University and Allison Gilmour of Vanderbilt University, takes a look at the effects of evaluation reform on teacher effectiveness ratings in 19 states across the country. It also digs into the issue a little deeper with surveys and interviews in a large urban school district. Continue Reading »

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March
4th 2016
Little Eddie Talks Big (Union) Money

Posted under Education Politics & Union

Yesterday’s post dealt with the union’s new-found pride in having bamboozled Jeffco voters into supporting a “parent-led” recall effort that wasn’t. I mentioned in the post that I’d hold my tongue about John Ford’s hypocritical accusations of “organized money” and “outside interests” until today. Today is here, so let’s get started.

First, a reminder of John Ford’s conference session description:

Powerful, Prepared, Proactive: Building a Comprehensive Plan to Win – PART 1

In the 2015 election, the Jefferson County Education Association in Colorado beat back the Koch brothers and other outside money and interests in their local school board election by building and working a comprehensive plan to win. In this session, participants will learn the strategies and processes involved in the successful two year plan. Participants will learn how organized people can beat organized money. (It is recommended that participants attend both Part 1 and Part 2).

John Ford

Obviously, this description is hardly the only example of the union touting the “outside interests” and “organized money” narratives. Unions and their supporters adopted the same messaging strategy in districts across Colorado, and bludgeoned voters over the heads with it mercilessly right up through the November elections. When Thompson received a $150,000 grant from The Daniels Fund to defend itself legally against a costly union-led assault on its constitutional local control rights, one pro-union board member decried the gift as “outside control, outside money and outside forces.”

One would assume from all this vitriol that the teacheres unions are opposed to outside money and interests in school districts, and that they themselves would be stalwart beacons of local democracy and interests. One would be wrong. Continue Reading »

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