August
18th 2016
New School Year, New Assessment Data

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Grades and Standards & Research & Testing

As I mentioned last week, it’s back-to-school season in Colorado. As it turns out, it’s also get-your-test-scores-back season. Yes, that’s right. We have a whole raft of new data to dissect and discuss. Hooray!

I see you looking at your calendar, and I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t students take these tests like, last spring? Well, yes. Yes, they did. And you’re not the only one who finds the delay perplexing. As it turns out, that reporting lag causes some major problems for local school and district leaders looking to make adjustments for the new academic year. To make matters worse, the recently released PARCC scores only cover state-level data. That means district- and school-level data in English language arts and mathematics won’t be available until later this month.

In fairness, releasing the scores in August is significantly better than releasing them in, say, November. And I should mention that scores from the older TCAP tests were also released in August. Still, one of the promises of computer-based online testing was that it would get valuable data into the hands of educators faster. That simply hasn’t happened. Maybe the delay has something to do with the fact that 2015 testing compromise legislation added the option of taking a paper-and-pencil version of the test, but I’m not sure that explanation will do much to bolster support for the faltering PARCC assessments.

But we can save a discussion on the merits of PARCC itself for another time. We have data to look at, including data from Colorado’s own CMAS tests in social studies and science and from the venerable ACT. Continue Reading »

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August
11th 2016
New Dougco Ruling Stretches Logic, Hampers Choice

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Douglas County & Educational Choice & Legal Issues & Vouchers

Yesterday, we celebrated the continuing success of public school choice by taking a look at some very encouraging findings in Colorado’s public charter school sector. I mentioned in the post that despite the rapid expansion of charter schools, demand is far outstripping supply when it comes to school choice—there are thousands of students on charter waiting lists and in lottery pools across the state.

Yet even as I type this, between 10,000 and 15,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools. Each of those seats represents the opportunity to change a student’s life, but that doesn’t stop choice opponents from fighting tooth and nail to shut down any attempt to open the door to those opportunities.

Sadly, these opponents scored another win against choice in Douglas County last week when 2nd Judicial District Court Chief Judge Michael Martinez—the very same judge who blocked the original Dougco voucher program in 2011—ruled that the district’s new local voucher program, which excludes faith-based schools, is still bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s sweeping 2015 ruling under Colorado’s Blaine Amendment. Continue Reading »

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August
10th 2016
CO Charter Schools Knocking It Out of the Park in Latest Report

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Public Charter Schools & Research

It’s back-to-school season in Colorado. Some kiddos started class today, and many more will be hitting the books again over the next couple of weeks. By the time August is over, most of Colorado’s 900,000 PK-12 students will be back to learning and growing in the state’s public school system.

Well north of 100,000 of these students will be heading back to public charter schools. And as my policy friend Ross Izard points out in a recent column, that’s a pretty good place to be. Continue Reading »

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August
5th 2016
Little Eddie Gears up for a Busy Weekend of Studying

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government

It’s been another pretty slow week in Colorado education news, but that’s okay with me. Friday is upon us once again, and I’ve got a lot to think about and accomplish before I even begin to think about fun, sun, and trips to the pool this weekend. The biggest thing on my to-do list is to help my policy friend Ross Izard prepare for the first meeting of the Every Student Succeeds Act Hub Committee on Monday afternoon.

Ross was appointed to the committee last month, and he has been reading and gathering feedback since the letter came through. He’s reviewed ESSA before, but he has buckled down during the last couple weeks and reviewed the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations and a whole bunch of other stuff ranging from commentaries to summaries to charts. A lot of trees have died at the hands of the Independence Institute’s printer over the course of the last week. Fortunately, their deaths were not in vain; Ross definitely has some ideas about how to move forward, though I can’t share those quite yet. Continue Reading »

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August
2nd 2016
Ding Dong! NCLB Waivers Are Dead

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Legal Issues & Tenure

I’ve talked a fair amount over the last couple of years about the “weaponized waivers” employed by the Obama administration under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the previous iteration of which was called No Child Left Behind. The newest iteration of the act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed back in December of last year. As of yesterday, ESSA officially ushered NCLB waivers down the path of the dinosaurs. That’s great news for those of us who think that the federal government has little business dictating education policy to states. Continue Reading »

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July
29th 2016
The Power of Financial Transparency (and Interns)

Posted under Accountability & School Finance & Taxpayers & Transparency

The last few days have been relatively quiet on the education news front, which means we don’t have a lot of really heavy stuff to discuss. That’s probably a good thing after yesterday’s enormous post on some recent voucher research finding negative academic impacts for participating students.

Still, we should never let a good blog post go to waste. There’s always good policy meat to chew on. And as it turns out, the Independence Institute Education Policy Center has been plenty busy doing exactly that despite the summer doldrums. Today we’ll play a little catch up and cover some fantastic work on the part of one of the Institute’s summer interns, who decided to tackle a critical but often ignored aspect of education policy in Colorado: financial transparency. Continue Reading »

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July
28th 2016
Studies Bring Bad News for Vouchers… With Lots of Caveats

Posted under Educational Choice & Research & Vouchers

We’ve covered quite a bit of positive research regarding private school choice in recent months. Back in May, I wrote about a meta-study by researchers at the University of Arkansas that found positive effects from vouchers in the U.S. and a couple of other countries. The following month, we dug into the Friedman Foundation’s latest review of random-assignment studies on private school choice programs in the United States. Fourteen of the 18 studies included in that review found positive effects for at least some groups of students. Two found no visible effects, and two more—both from Louisiana—found significant negative effects.

As I’ve said before, there are good reasons to believe that program design and implementation issues played a role in the negative findings in Louisiana. Now, though, I’m sorry to report that I’ve become aware of less easily explained bad news on voucher programs in Ohio and Indiana. But don’t fret just yet; there are some major caveats that need to be considered before we start jumping to broad conclusions. Buckle up, today’s post will be a long and nerdy one.

Continue Reading »

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July
22nd 2016
SB 191′s Reforms Begin to Take Hold

Posted under Accountability & Senate Bill 191 & Teachers & Tenure & Union

Passed in 2010 with bipartisan support, Colorado’s Senate Bill 191 is a big law that includes a lot of different timelines. Frequent delays in the law’s implementation only add to the confusion. But despite all that messiness, the law is beginning to do its work.

At its core, SB 191 is a tenure reform law. Okay, okay, legal nerds, a “non-probationary status” reform law. Previously, Colorado teachers earned non-probationary status after three years of teaching. That status provides near-absolute “due process” job protections that could force school district leaders to navigate legal requirements all the way to the steps of the Colorado Supreme Court should they decide to fire a non-probationary teacher. Under SB 191, teachers earn non-probationary status after three years of effective teaching. As an important corollary, those same teachers can lose that status after two years of ineffective teaching.

We’ve discussed the ins and outs of these reforms at some length in the context of the union-led assault on legislative authority that is the Masters case, which deals with SB 191’s lesser-known mutual consent provision. We’ve also covered the Independence Institute’s arguments about why the union is way off base legally in that case. We won’t beat those dead policy horses this afternoon. Instead, we’ll talk about the fact that SB 191’s centerpiece component—the loss of non-probationary status for ineffective teachers—has come online. Continue Reading »

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July
19th 2016
Colorado State Board of Education Opens up the ESSA Conversation

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Ross Izard & State Board of Education

I broke out my (heavily used) soap box a couple weeks ago to talk about the importance of having a seat at the education policy grown-ups table. We talked about Hillary Clinton’s promise to guarantee the National Education Association some level of policy influence, as well as some of the questionable stuff that has come out of working groups here in Colorado that are woefully devoid of any semblance of balanced perspectives.

I finished the post by calling for Colorado’s new working committee on the Every Student Succeeds Act to be more inclusive of reform-minded voices, and worried aloud that the deck had already been stacked in favor of the omnipresent education establishment. It looks like I spoke too soon. Continue Reading »

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July
15th 2016
Public Policy Buckets and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Posted under Rural Schools & School Board & School Finance & State Board of Education & State Legislature

You know, we spend too much time thinking about public policy in buckets. I live in the education bucket, while others live in the finance bucket or the energy bucket or the transportation bucket or… well, you get the point. But the world doesn’t really work that way, does it? Public policy in one area often deeply affects policy in another. Pull the wrong string over here and you may inadvertently spark a crisis over there.

To underscore that point, I’d like to call your attention to Exhibit A: South Routt School District (SOROCO to the locals) and the unintended consequences of the War on Coal on education in Colorado.

South Routt is a tiny school district of about 350 PK-12 students near Steamboat. I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of it before. Like many rural school districts in Colorado, SOROCO lives on a budgetary razor’s edge where any large swing is likely to be felt very keenly.

You can imagine the district’s panic, then, when Peabody Energy, the country’s largest coal-mining company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2016. Why would a national coal company’s bankruptcy matter to South Routt? Because it turns out that bankrupt corporations aren’t great at paying their taxes. Continue Reading »

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