October
7th 2014
Falling Membership Decline Begs Question: Is Time on the NEA’s Side?

Posted under Education Politics & Teachers

Time is not on my side today, which means I have only a few moments to write something. Which is interesting. Because as Mike Antonucci reports, time doesn’t seem to be on the side of the National Education Association, either: Continue Reading »

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October
3rd 2014
Power to the Parents: Colorado Comes in 12th in CER Report

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & Public Charter Schools & Research & School Accountability

Today, the battle continues in Jeffco following the school board’s very reasonable vote on the curriculum review controversy. But we’ve talked about Jeffco a lot recently, so I think it’s time to look at something a little more uplifting. And what could be more uplifting than empowering K-12 parents to make good decisions about their children’s educational paths?

Like a zealous English teacher, the Center for Education Reform (CER) loves to grade stuff. Most recently, I wrote about Colorado’s grade (and how it was calculated) when it comes to voucher programs. Now, the organization has released a report ranking each state based on what it calls the Parent Power Index (PPI). The scores are calculated using a variety of criteria ranging from school choice and teacher quality to transparency and media reliability.

Colorado barely missed a top-ten slot in this year’s report, coming in at number 12 with a PPI of 76 percent. Continue Reading »

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October
2nd 2014
Big Screen TVs and Backward Protests: Pass the Popcorn, JCEA

Posted under learning & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers

If you haven’t heard the news, boys and girls, there’s going to be quite a party in Jefferson County tonight. And it sounds like it’s going to be a biggin:

Turnout is expected to be so high that the teachers’ union plans to stream video from the meeting room — which holds a couple hundred people — on a big screen in the parking lot outside. Students are making plans to start their protests early in the day.

 

Big screen TV, you say? I’m sold. But wait, there’s more! Continue Reading »

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October
1st 2014
School Choice Programs Save a Ton of Money: Where Could It All Go?

Posted under Parents & Private Schools & Research & School Choice & School Finance & Tax Credits

I talk to you a lot about how expanding access to more schools through choice programs could help Colorado Kids Win. But the truth is that these choice programs also have another benefit: they help save money for the states that adopt them. What does that mean?

More dollars left over for each student who remains in the public school system, or funds available for other things state governments pay for, or even maybe money back to taxpayers. Who knows? In any case, the point is that as students exercise choice and leave the system, they wouldn’t take out as much money as it costs to educate one more student. Here’s the kicker: Continue Reading »

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September
29th 2014
Jefferson County’s Ongoing Case of the Blue Flu

Posted under Education Politics & School Board & Teachers

Whatever Jeffco’s teachers have, it seems to be pretty contagious. First it spread like wildfire through two high schools, then it infected thousands of Jeffco high school students. Now, it’s made its way to teachers in two more schools. We should probably start making warning posters: “The blue flu is active in this area. Symptoms include sign making, shaking fists, excessive use of words like ‘disrespect’ and ‘secrecy,’ and irrational protesting about non-existent threats to 1st Amendment rights.”

Eek! I’m not sure mom’s advice to wash my hands before eating is going to help with this one. What will help, though, are thoughtful pieces like the one posted earlier today by my friend Ross Izard of the Independence Institute.

Izard uses the piece to take apart the two most commonly cited reasons for the protests: Censorship of the new AP US History (APUSH) curriculum framework and the new pay-for-performance system in the district, which readers will remember I wrote about in detail when news of the sick outs first broke.

According to Izard, the censorship argument is a straw man. After all, the opposite of censorship is community discussion, and that’s exactly what the board proposal in question called for before being tabled. Continue Reading »

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September
26th 2014
How Much Video Fun is an Education Policy Wonk Allowed to Have?

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Just For Fun & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Urban Schools

Thanks to Choice Media for making my Friday life easier. It’s been a crazy week with the Jeffco union using kids as pawns. More on that later, but for now, here’s a 5-minute video from the American Enterprise Institute to catch your attention: Continue Reading »

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September
23rd 2014
More Research Could Highlight Real Promise of Blended Learning

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Research & Teachers

Today seemed like a good day to get out of the hot kitchen and look at a topic I haven’t addressed in awhile: blended learning. You know what I mean. According to the Clayton Christensen Institute, it’s:

a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

Fittingly, then, a new piece by the Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn shares how his group is partnering up with Evergreen Education “to find more districts that are obtaining good results for students—concrete and objective—from blended learning.” This is just the kind of needed project to track the particulars of an emerging education program trend. What’s working, what’s not, etc.? Continue Reading »

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September
19th 2014
Jeffco Teacher “Sickout” Has Me Feeling Sick… And Confused

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & learning & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers

Having to write this kind of post makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. Why would some teachers walk out on kids, enough to close down two Jeffco high schools? The headline from a 9News story points to the only two possibilities I can see: AP US History or teacher pay raises.

What… some teachers don’t like pay raises? I doubt it. But the plan approved last night by the Jeffco school board gives 99 percent of teachers a boost in take-home pay. For 98 percent of teachers, it’s either a 2.43% increase if they earned an effective rating, or a 4.25% increase if they earned a highly effective rating. In fact, many weeks ago, the board agreed to increase the total amount available for employee pay increases — from $11.7 million to $18.2 million!

Is that so terrible? Only 66 less-than-effective teachers are left out of the extra salary, but even they get all of their increased PERA retirement costs covered by district taxpayers. New teacher base salary was raised from $33,616 to $38,000. And in an unusually generous move, teachers on the highest end of the scale ($81,031) get a one-time stipend based on their evaluation rating. Continue Reading »

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September
17th 2014
Russian Dolls and Education Policy: New Study Looks More Closely at Teacher Evaluations

Posted under Principals & Research & School Accountability & Teachers

Ever heard of a matryoshka doll? You may not have heard the name before, but I bet you’ll recognize the concept. You start with a big doll, break it open, and discover a smaller doll inside. That doll contains a still smaller doll, and inside that one is an even smaller one. You’ve got to dig down through an awful lot of layers before you reach the center. (Do you feel the education policy analogy coming on?)

Teacher evaluation is like the center of many education policy matryoshka dolls. In particular, strategic compensation and tenure policies are heavily dependent on the reliability and validity of the teacher evaluations being used. That realization raises some big questions regarding evaluation, some of which I’ve written about before.

As it turns out, even “evaluation” may be too big a doll. A new study by Matthew Chingos, Russ Whitehurst, and Katharine Lindquist argues that the area of greatest concern is more specific still: The portion of evaluations based on classroom observation. Continue Reading »

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September
16th 2014
Task Force Talks Testing: The Challenges Ahead

Posted under Education Politics & State Legislature

As you may have noticed, I’ve been talking a lot about testing recently (see here and here). I thought I got it all out of my system, but it turns out blogging about testing is a little like eating potato chips—it’s close to impossible to stop yourself once you’ve opened the bag. It’s like cracking open a greasy, delicious version of Pandora’s Box.

As I continue to eat my rhetorical potato chips and write about testing issues in Colorado, a legislative task force on testing issues has opened its own, much less easily digestible Pandora’s Box.

Born out of a piece of legislation originally designed to give districts testing flexibility, the task force has been, well… tasked with creating a report and issuing recommendations on testing in Colorado. Yesterday marked the group’s third meeting since July. It is required to finish its work by January 31 of next year.

There’s a problem, though: Testing is a massively complex, delicate issue. The task force’s first two meetings were largely gobbled up by information gathering, and it’s still waiting on at least one important study’s results. Even so, the group is only authorized to work for a limited amount of time, and the deadline looms in the not-too-distant future. At the last meeting, one task force member remarked: Continue Reading »

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