Archive for the 'Education Politics' Category

April
26th 2016
2016 Legislative Session Sprints Toward Finish Line

Posted under Colorado General Assembly & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s already the end of April. That means another legislative session is winding down, its drama and intrigue fading quietly into the warmth and relaxation of summer. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are 336 bills still pending in the legislature, including 51 that are at least peripherally related to education. All of those have to be dealt with by May 11. Colorado’s lawmakers have a lot left to do under the dome.

Of course, those lawmakers have already done a lot of work, some good and some bad. We’ve talked about a number of high-profile bills over the course of the session, including a couple bad bills on accountability, one of which died rather spectacularly, and a bill intended to bolster floundering civic knowledge. We’ve also discussed a variety of other bills, some of which got pretty interesting.

As the session ramps up for its final weeks, I thought it might be helpful to provide an update on some of the more interesting education-related bills still lingering in halls of the Colorado Capitol. This stuff gets complicated, and tracking it all at once can be a bit like juggling a hundred balls of different shapes and sizes. On fire. With a blindfold on.

We won’t hit everything, but we’ll hit the big stuff. Continue Reading »

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April
12th 2016
Turning Over a New Leaf: Better Turnover Figures Make Me Smile

Posted under Colorado Department of Education & Douglas County & Education Politics & Jefferson County & School Board & Teachers

There are a lot of exciting days every year. Christmas, Easter, snow days, and my birthday all spring to mind immediately. But for education nerds, there’s no day more exciting than New Numbers Day. Today, my friends, is that day.

Okay, New Numbers Day was technically April 7, when the Colorado Department of Education released brand-new, more accurate teacher turnover numbers for school districts across the state. But we’re going to talk about it today, and one of the benefits of entirely made-up holidays is that you can have them whenever you want. So there.

Regular readers of my diatribes will remember that I am not a fan of the way CDE has reported teacher turnover in the past. Why? Because the Department included a whole bunch of stuff that created an inaccurate picture of actual turnover in school districts. More specifically, the state’s old calculations included teachers leaving after riding out their final year of employment under PERA’s 110/110 program, the ones scooped up as additional losses due to differences in reporting timeframes between the district and the state,  those on single-year contracts, and others who were promoted or moved to non-teaching positions in the district.

That last part is especially problematic. 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
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
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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March
3rd 2016
Friendly Neighborhood Union Brags About Involvement In “Parent-Led” Recall

Posted under Education Politics & Union

Hello, edu-friends! I’ve been patiently awaiting word from SCOTUS on the fate of the Douglas County voucher case. I had expected to hear about the court’s decision to hear/not hear the case this week. As I mentioned a while back, I’m not exactly sure how the decision to hear the case will be affected by Justice Scalia’s untimely passing, so I’ve been a little nervous these last few days. Unfortunately, a little bird told me that we’ll be waiting until at least next week for closure. Bummer.

But don’t fret. We’ll pass the time by engaging in one of my favorite activities: sharing the union’s latest escapades. Continue Reading »

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February
19th 2016
SB 105′s Death Proves Colorado Can Stand on Its Own

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & Legislation & State Legislature

It’s Friday again, friends. Fortunately, I have good news to share after Monday’s depressing post about Justice Scalia’s passing and what it means for education. One of the “abominable snowbills” I wrote about a few weeks ago has died—and died rather spectacularly—in the Senate Education Committee.

From a previous post:

Senate Bill 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years…

Most of you probably remember that I didn’t much care for those changes, arguing that they would return us to the days when nearly every teacher was rated effective year after year and essentially destroy tenure reform, pay-for-performance systems, and even the basic practice of evaluating teachers annually. My policy friend Ross Izard felt the same (surprise, surprise), and sent a letter to the Senate Education Committee stating:

With the importance of teachers in mind, we believe that educators deserve to be treated like professionals through meaningful performance evaluations, taxpayers deserve accountability in how their education dollars are spent, and every child in Colorado deserves to be taught by a truly effective teacher. Senate Bill 105 represents a dangerous shift away from these goals…

…Put simply, Senate Bill 105 stands to serve the interests of the teachers union rather than those of students, parents, and educators. It represents a radical rollback of tenure reform and accountability in education, and has the potential to severely damage pay-for-performance systems and collective bargaining reform efforts across the state. More importantly, it hurts students by making it more difficult to ensure that every child has a truly effective teacher.

While SB 105 initially had bipartisan sponsorship—including five of the nine members of Senate Education—the bill’s Republican support disintegrated before the committee vote. Two of the bill’s Republican sponsors pulled their support and voted No during the committee hearing. The bill failed on a 6-3 vote that included every Republican member of the committee and Democratic Senator Mike Johnston, who was the original architect of SB 191. Continue Reading »

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February
2nd 2016
Abominable Snowbills Look to Gut Accountability in Colorado

Posted under Accountability & Education Politics & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s snowing outside. Like, a lot. The good news is that the snowstorm means I get to hang out at home, drink hot chocolate, and make snow angels. The bad news is that there is an approximately 63 percent higher chance of attack by abominable snowmen like this one:

View post on imgur.com


Okay, that’s a lie. Abominable snowmen aren’t real (I hope). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t abominable things afoot—like bills gutting accountability, performance pay systems, and tenure reform.

I’m sure you all recall that my Independence Institute friend Ross Izard is a big believer in accountability and tenure reform. He recently co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on the importance of these things. Last session, he wrote a big, long article on the dangers of Republicans mistakenly teaming up with the teachers union to dismantle accountability systems. Ross is working on updating that article for this year, but we’ll go ahead and get a head start today. Abominable snowbills wait for no one.

The two bills in question are HB 1121 and SB 105. HB 1121 would enable local school boards to pass policies allowing teachers who are certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to only be evaluated every three years. Currently teachers are evaluated every year, though we still haven’t gotten around to fully implementing SB 191’s strengthened evaluations.

As a quick refresher, SB 191 requires that 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations be comprised of multiple measures student growth data (no, not just from the much-maligned state tests). The other 50 percent is made up of what I consider to be subjective judgments based on observations in the classroom. The student growth data is important, as it pushes back against the “Widget Effect,” which saw nearly 100 percent of teachers rated effective or better year after year under strictly subjective evaluation systems. Unfortunately, SB 191′s evaluation system has been on hold for a while as accountability opponents and the teachers union do everything they can do delay or disrupt implementation.

SB 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years—no extra certification required. Continue Reading »

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