Archive for the 'Education Politics' Category

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
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
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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September
10th 2014
Not a Walk in the PARCC: Testing and Local Control In Colorado

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & innovation schools & School Accountability & School Board & State Board of Education

I wanted to open this post with a cute joke rhyming joke, but it turns out nothing rhymes with local control, Common Core, or assessments. Unfortunately for you, this means you get serious Eddie today. Maybe it’s for the best—issues surrounding testing, local control, and the Common Core are pretty serious these days.

As the debate over Common Core and its associated assessments continues to heat up, things are likely to get even more serious. The argument for local control in testing is growing louder and stronger, and leaders at every level of the Colorado education system are beginning to ask very serious (and very important) questions about where power ought to reside when it comes to standards and assessments.

Today, those questions were most prominent at a State Board of Education meeting in Denver. Toward the end of a meeting segment aimed at better understanding assessment options in the state, both Vice Chairman Marcia Neal and Chairman Paul Lundeen voiced concerns about increasing federal influence in Colorado’s education system. Lundeen called on Colorado to find ways to return power to the local level while maintaining acceptable levels of accountability.

Both members acknowledged that any major change will take time, further research, and possibly even legislative action.  Continue Reading »

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September
5th 2014
Michigan Judge Calls Out Union Opt-Out Policy as Unfair to Teachers

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Teachers

My dad once told me a story about when he was a little kid, not much older than I am now. He saw one of the bigger kids on the school playground holding a few of the smaller kids’ lunch money hostage. This bully said he had taken their money for the privilege of being his friend, and that he might give the money back if they individually came to meet him right after school in the back alley.

Overhearing the bully’s explanation was my dad, who came into the scene, shouting, “Hey, that’s not fair! Just give their money back.” As the story is told, the bully turned to my dad with a clenched fist held up, and a mean look on his face: “Shut up, you little [doodyhead]!”

“If you don’t give them back their money, I’m going to tell the teacher,” my dad bravely continued.

The bully looked even angrier. “Brilliant idea,” he said sarcastically. “If the teacher finds out, we won’t be able to play ball out here anymore. Obviously, you just want to ruin recess for everyone.” Continue Reading »

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September
4th 2014
Make Progress, Not War: Thompson’s Golden Opportunity for Change

Posted under Education Politics & School Board

Cooperation is the key to success. It sounds trite, I know. In my world, most major arguments are settled with wrestling matches or food fights. In grown-up land, however, those aren’t always viable options (or are they?). No, adults have to learn to work together even when they don’t want to. Maybe especially when they don’t want to.

While all school boards have their ups and downs, the Thompson Board of Education has had a particularly hard time cooperating recently. Their meetings are often chaotic, public comments are often invective rather than helpful, and the board has been all but paralyzed by a web of interpersonal and political issues too complex to dig into here.

The end result has been a lack of progress. This has fueled frustration and heightened stress levels, both of which have—wait for it—led to a continuing lack of progress. I think I finally understand the “vicious cycles” my parents are always alluding to.

Yesterday, however, Thompson’s school board took what I hope will be the first of many steps toward a healthier, more orderly, and more productive situation. Continue Reading »

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September
2nd 2014
Getting Back to the Core of the Common Core Debate

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & State Legislature

Arguments happen. We all know that. But we should also know that if we aren’t careful, those arguments can creep away from their original subject (and reality) as they gain steam. That, my friends, is how we wind up in messy food fights instead of constructive conversations.

As it is in life, so it is in education policy. The fight over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is quickly approaching a fever pitch, and I think it’s important to pause, sort through the rhetoric, and get back to the issues and facts at hand.

Michael Petrilli (pro-Common Core) and Neil McCluskey (anti-Common Core) agree. The pair penned a joint piece for the Washington Times that aims to help set the record straight. The piece opens with the following statement:

“Over the past couple of years, a raucous debate has emerged over the Common Core, content standards in English and mathematics adopted by states nationwide. The debate has been marked by acrimony rather than analysis, but there is hope that both sides want a reset. We — one Core advocate, one opponent — want to assist by laying out the facts on which we think everyone should agree.” Continue Reading »

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August
28th 2014
New Hampshire Ruling for Kids & Tax Credits Makes Me Smile Wider

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Parents & School Choice & Tax Credits

“Good news for educational freedom!” Words that can light up my day, right up there with “Free Legos” and “of course, you can have another scoop of Superman ice cream.” (Sadly, too many kids are left Waiting for Superman… Okay, okay. Enough groaning already.) Specifically, the latest good news comes compliments of the “merry band of litigators” at the Institute for Justice:

Today the New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court for Strafford County and saved the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. The program provides low-income families with education scholarships, which parents may use to send their children to a private school, a tuition-charging public school in a neighboring school district or to pay for homeschooling expenses. The plaintiffs were several state taxpayers who were philosophically opposed to the program. The court held that the plaintiffs lacked the necessary personal injury to challenge the program.

Continue Reading »

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August
21st 2014
Back-to-Back: Durango, Pueblo Papers Weigh In for Open Negotiations

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

Anyone who has been a reader of this blog for any length of time knows that I’m a big fan of open negotiations. When school board representatives and the leaders of employee groups sit down to discuss how huge chunks of taxpayer-funded K-12 budgets are spent, and set policies that affect classrooms, we’re better off with parents, teachers, and community members able to keep an eye on the action.

Earlier this year the Jeffco school board and teachers union made a historic agreement for bargaining transparency. When last we checked in, though, union leaders staged an impasse that led to mediation and took discussions back behind closed doors. Only a couple of other school districts make it nearly even that far by holding some sort of real open negotiations.

That soon could change. Thanks to the concerted effort of my Independence Institute friends, it soon may become the law of the land. Proposition 104 will be on the ballot for Colorado voters to decide this year. Continue Reading »

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August
5th 2014
Evaluation Valuation: Goals, Issues, and Questions for the Coming Year

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & innovation schools & Rural Schools & School Accountability & School Board & Teachers

To students like me, teachers are mythical creatures. Sure, I see them every day, but I can’t see behind the proverbial curtain. I don’t know how they judge their success or failure in different areas, how well they are serving their students as a whole, or how they communicate information about their teaching performance to their peers. In the absence of good evaluation systems, that same ambiguity extends to parents and administrators.

As Ben Orlin recently pointed out in the Atlantic, teachers are only human. Some great teachers may portray their performance as mediocre or poor, and some less effective teachers may be inclined to exaggerate their success. In either case, it’s clear that some kind of evaluation system is necessary if we want our teachers to be fairly and accurately assessed.

Here in Colorado, SB 10-191 ostensibly aims to provide such a system. Among numerous other things, the law requires all Colorado school districts to adopt new yearly performance ratings. These ratings have been in the “practice” phase for the past few years, but are due to be fully implemented in the coming school year. That means that teachers who receive ratings below effective for two consecutive years will lose their tenure. In contrast, teachers who earn effective ratings or better for three consecutive years will be awarded tenure. Continue Reading »

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