Archive for the 'Federal Government' Category

April
5th 2017
DeVos Wasn’t Wrong About Choice and Accessibility

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

It’s been a while since we last talked, hasn’t it? I apologize for that. The last few weeks have been absolutely packed with edu-stuff. But I’m back now, and what better way is there to rekindle old fires than to tackle a controversial issue? And what could be more controversial in education right now that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos?

I wrote about the unhinged shrieking over DeVos following her confirmation hearing. Shortly thereafter, she was confirmed as secretary of education on a historically narrow vote. The shrieking only intensified, so my policy friend Ross Izard used an editorial in The Hill to point out the Left’s rather stark philosophical inconsistency when it comes to ambitious, successful women in politics. As Ross wrote, the Left appears to believe that “Women are to be empowered—unless they disagree with progressive positions.”

The furor over DeVos receded somewhat as the healthcare debacle and President Trump’s newly declared war on conservative congressional leaders took center stage. But then, a statement by Secretary DeVos about Denver’s top ranking in the Brooking Institution’s latest Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) reignited the fire in earnest. Here’s the full video of DeVos’s remarks at Brookings for those who are interested in watching it. The statement in question begins at roughly the 29-minute marker.

For those who’d rather just read what terrible, awful, no-good things DeVos said, here’s a full transcript of her remarks. Make sure you note all the evil talk about not favoring one type of choice over another, empowering parents to choose the right educational fit for their children, and (as I always preach) focusing on children rather than institutions. But all those horrible things notwithstanding, the part that landed her in hot water was this:

Meanwhile, Denver scored well because the single application process for both charter and traditional public schools, as well as a website that allows parents to make side-by-side comparisons of schools. But the simple process masks the limited choices.

Russ has mentioned this, but I think it’s worth repeating that, even though a district may place well on the competition index, the letter grade does not necessarily reflect the state of education within that district.

The benefits of making options “accessible” are cancelled out when you don’t have a full menu of options.

Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter, just as accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students.

Those simple, tame words got folks into a big kerfuffle. The Denver Post ran a story accusing DeVos of “slamming” Denver, and Chalkbeat Colorado also wrote it up. Chalkbeat then ran a separate story featuring indignant tweets (remember when politics wasn’t conducted on Twitter?) from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, who apparently sensed an opportunity to continue the Denver-based spat he began with DeVos during her confirmation hearing.  Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg issued a statement saying, in part:

We respectfully disagree with Secretary DeVos. We do not support private school vouchers. We believe that public dollars should be used for public schools that are open to all kids, whether they are district-run or charter.

Through all of this political maneuvering, I haven’t seen anyone attempt to take a step back and ask a simple question: Is there any merit to what DeVos is saying? I believe that answer is yes.

At about this time last year, I wrote about some interesting methodological hang-ups in Brookings ECCI rating system. In particular, I lamented the fact that the system tends to favor private school choice programs that are subject to heavy-handed regulation—a design decision that research indicates can produce adverse results. There are a number of other potential problems with the ECCI ratings, as well; no rating system is perfect. So, even though DeVos didn’t come at the discussion from the same angle I did last year, she’s not wrong to caution against simply taking an ECCI letter grade as the full picture of educational quality in any given district.

More importantly, DeVos’s statements on the interdependence of choice and access ring true. Complete access means little without meaningful choices to access. And meaningful choices mean little if no one can access them. That seems like common sense to me, but it was apparently taken as a slight by Denver because it implies that parents don’t have as much choice as they might desire—and that Denver should consider the private sector as a way to address that demand.

I can appreciate Denver’s sensitivity on this. They probably felt a little like the folks from La La Land at the Academy Awards back in February. Remember that? Here’s a video to remind you:

But setting Denver’s pride aside, DeVos wasn’t wrong to say that the district has room to grow when it comes to educational choice. Certainly, the district is doing good things when it comes to empowering parents to choose and apply for public schools. I’ve said as much. But choosing and applying are only part of the equation. Actually getting in is the other part.

Back in 2014, I wrote about a report on choice options in Denver and other major cities. The report largely echoed kudos to Denver for the district’s streamlined enrollment process and transportation options, and it’s stuffed with interesting data. But, importantly, the report also opens with a story about Joe Jiminez, a Denver parent with a daughter about to enter middle school. Seeing that his quality neighborhood options were limited, Joe began to look around. He found some good schools, marked his top three choices on Denver’s choice application, and felt pretty good. Then this happened:

… [W]hen school system officials ran the lottery in the spring, [Joe] discovered his daughter didn’t get into any of her options, leaving her stuck in her low-performing neighborhood school. “I think the [enrollment] process was pretty self-explanatory. It was the end result that was pretty disappointing…the good schools all have waiting lists.” The result left Joe feeling confused and angry: his family had invested considerable effort navigating their city’s system of public school choice, but came away feeling no better off because of it.

Public schools work for a great many families. In particular, the charter sector is doing great work in Colorado. But the fact remains that demand for options is significantly outpacing the supply of high-quality seats. Many of the best public schools in Denver and other districts have long waiting lists or deep lottery pools that serve as barriers to parents like Joe. Though reliable estimates of the true number of individual children on these waiting lists are hard to come by because parents often put their names on multiple lists, it is safe to say that thousands (and perhaps tens of thousands) of Colorado students have not been able to access the educational options they need. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 seats sit empty in Colorado private schools, most of which are located in or around the Denver Metro Area.

If you don’t believe there’s an opportunity in that situation to meet parental demand for high-quality educational options while providing kids with the excellent education they deserve, you aren’t being honest with yourself. You are focusing on institutions rather than children, and that is not a productive mindset if our goal is to produce the best possible outcomes for kids.

Perhaps DeVos could have made her point more gently or in a different context—politics is politics, after all—but the fact remains that she isn’t wrong to say that maximum choice and maximum accessibility are inextricably linked. And she’s not wrong to point out that Denver’s students would benefit from a well-designed private school choice program. So please, put down that tomato and consider the other side of the story.

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February
7th 2017
What Might Gorsuch Mean for Education?

Posted under Congress & Courts & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Legal Issues & United States Supreme Court & Vouchers

President Trump has always been a wild card. It’s been very hard to say what he would or would not do—and in some ways it still is. But one of the central promises of his campaign was that he would nominate a great justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died tragically almost exactly year ago. To his credit, he has kept that promise by selecting Neil Gorsuch to fill Scalia’s empty seat.

Education is still a bit of a question mark when it comes to the Trump administration. There have been all sorts of rumors and ideas floating around, but none has yet coalesced into a cohesive vision of how the federal government will interact with K-12 education. The crystal ball is further clouded by Betsy DeVos’s sharply contested nomination to head the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s been sad to watch the conversation about DeVos, a lifelong philanthropist who has donated her time and money to increasing opportunities for those who need them, devolve into a shouting match that sidesteps reality and avoids real conversations about what DeVos should or shouldn’t do should she be confirmed. As Rich Lowry wrote for National Review, “We now know that working to give poor kids more educational opportunities is considered a disqualifying offense for the Left.”

Fortunately, even as the battle over DeVos continues to rage following her historically close confirmation, I think we have good reason to be hopeful on a couple of educational fronts thanks to Gorsuch’s nomination. Continue Reading »

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January
27th 2017
SIG Program: “The Greatest Failure in the History of the U.S. Department of Education”

Posted under Federal Government & Research & School Finance & Turnaround Schools

Almost a year ago, I highlighted a Denver Post analysis detailing the general failure of millions of dollars in federal grant money—given out in the form of School Improvement Grants—to produce the kinds of results we might expect in many underperforming Colorado schools. It now turns out that the overall results of this $7 billion federal turnaround endeavor are worse than we might have thought.

Education policy maven Andy Smarick has been a staunch critic of the SIG program since its inception, and made a compelling case against the program as early as 2010. As he says in the Denver Post story above:

If you funnel a whole lot of money to the same dysfunctional districts that have been running the dysfunctional schools, these are the results you should expect. What’s mystifying to me is that people thought the school improvement grant program was going to get dramatically different results than the dozens of other similar efforts at school turnaround in the past.

It turns out Smarick was right, not only in Denver, but in the nation overall. His latest blog post for Education Next is a scathing indictment of $7 billion spent on the SIG program, which he now brands as potentially the greatest failure in the history of the United States Department of Education. Yikes. Continue Reading »

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January
19th 2017
Reality Checked at the Door as Anti-DeVos Rhetoric Reaches a Fever Pitch

Posted under Congress & Donald Trump & Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

In case you weren’t paying attention, something really big happened in the education world two days ago. Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s pick for secretary of education, had her confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The hearing was actually supposed to happen earlier this month, but it was delayed “to accommodate the Senate schedule.” In other words, politics happened. But Republican leadership stuck to its word about not allowing Democratic complaints over ethics paperwork to prevent the confirmation process from moving forward, and so DeVos’s hearing went ahead.

You can watch the full hearing here if you are so inclined. I’m still waiting for a credible transcript to be released. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little about the slanted coverage of the hearing I’ve seen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a confirmation hearing before, but I have. They tend to amount to a whole lot of rhetorical jousting by senators looking to score points against their rivals’ picks, various attempts to force nominees to make (often absurd) commitments, and a cat-like ability to avoid answering trap questions on the part of the nominees themselves. They usually get partisan—and ugly—fast. There’s a reason these things are known as “murder boards.”

Last night’s hearing mostly fell into the same bucket, though you wouldn’t know that from reading the mainstream media’s hysterical accounts of the hearing, which tended to paint the affair as the craziest thing ever to happen in Congress. In truth, I think they might be the crazy ones for reacting to the hearing kind of like this:

Continue Reading »

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January
6th 2017
New Video Illustrates the Power of Educational Choice

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Private Schools & Vouchers

As you all know, I like to write. We’ve tackled all sorts of policy and politics here on Ed is Watching, usually in the form of blog posts written by yours truly. But even at five years old, I know something important: Sometimes it’s better to just shut up and listen. That’s what I plan to do today as you enjoy this Heritage Foundation video about the power of educational choice.

But first (you didn’t really think I wouldn’t say anything at all, did you?), I do have to say one thing. I wrote not too long ago about what Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, could do to advance the cause of educational opportunity in America. High on that list is the reauthorization—and maybe even the expansion—of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The only federally funded private school choice program in the nation, the OSP has helped and is helping thousands of low-income kids and families desperate for better educational opportunities. Sadly, the program has been left in existential limbo as the Obama Administration and its allies worked against it in previous years.

Mrs. DeVos has a real opportunity to breathe new life into the OSP and to solidify its role in changing lives in the years to come. I hope she does exactly that. Kids like the Battle brothers deserve no less.

And with that, I will shut up. Enjoy the video and your weekend!

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December
1st 2016
DeVos, Delusions, and Difficult Decisions

Posted under Education Politics & Educational Choice & Federal Government

Welcome back, friends! I apologize (again) for my absence (again) in recent days, but I had some important policy business in Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, President-elect Donald Trump wanted to meet with yours truly to gather my deep and inspirational thoughts on the future of education in America.

Okay, that’s not true. But I really was in D.C., and I really do want to talk about Donald Trump and education.

I wrote recently about what we could expect in the realm of education from a Donald Trump presidency. In that post, which admittedly led to an awful lot of question marks and few firm answers, I said that “a strong pick for secretary of education that seriously redefines and redirects the department could lead to significant improvements.” As it turns out, we got exactly what I was hoping for on that front. Continue Reading »

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November
9th 2016
So… What Happens Now? Thoughts on What President Trump Means for Education

Posted under Accountability & Colorado Department of Education & Colorado Supreme Court & Courts & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & State Board of Education & United States Supreme Court

Something happened last night. I was already in bed, of course, but I could hear strange shouting downstairs. I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded like someone saying, “Wisconsin?! What?!” This morning I found my dad still awake, sitting in an arm chair with bleary eyes and a strange expression that I’m not sure I’ve seen on his face before. It was weird. It was really, really weird.

I am, of course, referring to Donald Trump’s utterly astonishing victory over Hillary Clinton in last night’s presidential election. He deserves a hearty congratulation for defying the political odds and, in the end, pulling off exactly the kind of map-changing, crushing victory he said he’d accomplish. Truthfully, I never thought I would write the words “President-elect Trump.” But here we are. Continue Reading »

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September
27th 2016
Education Discussions Disappointingly Absent from First Presidential Debate

Posted under Education Politics & Education Savings Accounts & Educational Choice & Federal Government & Public Charter Schools & Tax Credits & Vouchers

Yesterday, I posted my wish list for last night’s presidential debate. It was admittedly unrealistic to expect the candidates to address my specific concerns, but I don’t think it was unfair to expect the candidates to talk about how we’re going to improve the situation for the 50 million children in the American K-12 public education system. Even so, I worried aloud yesterday that the candidates might completely ignore what I think is the most important domestic policy conversation in the United States. Sadly, those concerns turned out to be well founded.

If you missed last night’s debate, you can watch the whole thing here. If you’re more the reading type, you can check out the transcript here. Or, if you value your time and sanity, I can sum up the entire event with the following GIF:

via GIPHY

There were many things about last night that I found disheartening. Chief among these was the near-total refusal to speak about K-12 education or acknowledge the power of education to help solve many of the problems the candidates were asked to address last night. Continue Reading »

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September
26th 2016
Little Eddie’s Debate Wish List

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government

Tonight’s a big night, my friends. To fully enjoy the spectacle, you’ll need a comfortable couch, plenty of popcorn, and the abilities to suspend disbelief and suppress maniacal laughter. You may also want to have what my dad calls “adult beverages” on hand in case the opportunity for a “drinking game” presents itself. I’m too young to know what either of those things mean, naturally.

No, I’m not talking about another absurd Douglas County school board meeting where the three members of the district’s Toxic Trio attempt to blow up any remaining notion of responsible governance—though that could be pretty entertaining. I’m talking about the presidential debate this evening between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The event is predicted to draw as many as 100 million viewers. That’s a pretty ridiculous number. So ridiculous, in fact, that I do believe I have a meme for that.

If you are wondering whether my use of Dr. Evil’s likeness hints at my feelings for either candidate, I assure you that it does not. I am far too young to vote on anything other than where to go for dinner with my family. But tightening polls indicate that we could potentially wind up with either of these folks in the White House, and that means we all should have a good understanding of where they stand on important issues. So while I may not be old enough to vote, I’m definitely old enough to be interested in what our presidential candidates have to say about education.

Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2016
ESSA, Accountability, and High-Achieving Students

Posted under Accountability & Every Student Succeeds Act & Federal Government & Research & Student Achievement

Happy Friday, fellow policy explorers. I usually try to let you off easy on Friday afternoons when it comes to policy discussions, but this week’s ridiculous distractions in Douglas County forced me to push back a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while about ESSA and how it relates to high-performing students. With the next ESSA Hub Committee meeting scheduled for this coming Monday, it seems appropriate to talk about that interesting issue sooner rather than later. Plus, there’s no such thing as a bad day for policy discussions!

A big focus of the ESSA conversation has been on accountability systems. What will we measure? For whom? How? When? What about weights? In Colorado, we just had a major conversation about the notion of combined subgroups and what they might mean for accountability systems.

All these discussions tend to revolve around how we best help lower-performing kids, schools, and districts. And don’t get me wrong, that’s an incredibly important question for those of us who view education as an opportunity to provide every kid with a chance at a fair fight and an opportunity to build his or her own success story.

But what about the other side of the spectrum? What about our highest-performing students? Is there an opportunity in ESSA to incentivize more attention on those students? The Fordham Institute seems to think so based on a recent report entitled “High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA.” Continue Reading »

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