Archive for the 'Innovation and Reform' Category

October
24th 2014
Buckle Up for the Ride, Colorado: The Testing Issue Isn’t Going Away Soon

Posted under Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & reading & School Accountability & State Board of Education & Teachers

Tests in schools, tests in schools. Why do I have a strange sort of feeling this issue isn’t riding off quietly into the sunset any time soon? First, we’ve got the entire hot mess known as Common Core (or maybe we should just follow Governor Hickenlooper’s advice and rename it “Colorado Core”?) and the new regime of PARCC assessments that go with it.

Underneath all that, though, are all the competing concerns and interests. What do we want tests to do? Is it about improving instruction and directly affecting student learning? Or are they primarily useful tools to help measure and compare how different schools and educators are doing? As I’ve heard it said many times, “what gets measured gets done.” So you can’t just throw out all the tests. But which ones do we need, and how much is too much?

As you can see, magical policy solutions aren’t hiding just beneath the surface. Some leaders on the Colorado State Board of Education have tried to find a way to give local schools and districts more testing flexibility, while preserving key features of accountability. But then the grumpy old U.S. Department of Education mothership has all but completely squashed that idea.

Then we have the legislatively-appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force. On Monday, this 15-member group met and narrowed down the areas of concern to oh, at least eight. These are items to study and make recommendations about. Looks like a big task to tackle by the early 2015 deadline. Then yesterday the Task Force set up a listening session in Colorado Springs, reports the Gazette. Among the many concerns highlighted: Continue Reading »

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October
9th 2014
Education Reform Times May Be A-Changin’, But Not for All

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Teachers

A long time ago, during an era known as “The Sixties,” there was a popular song called “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Or so my Grandpa tells me. Apparently, it’s a sort of iconic piece about all the upheaval that was starting during this distant past. I have to say it’s a catchy tune, too.

Because it occurred to me as I perused this latest piece by the venerable long-time education reform Checker Finn, called “Time for a reboot” (my Dad says I should have referenced his old computer’s experience with the “blue screen of death,” but I digress). The pro-Common Core author acknowledges some of the complaints made about standardized testing and says reformers need to back away from “test-driven accountability” as a “primary tool”:

The wrong answer is to give up (or declare victory) and settle for the status quo. Far too many kids are still dropping out, far too few are entering college and the work force with the requisite skills, and far too many other countries are chowing down on our lunch.

Major-league education change is still needed, maybe now more than ever, and it’s no time for either complacency or despair.

Oh, it sure sounds like the times they are a-changin’! Finn says more emphasis needs to be placed on areas I’ve written a lot about here, including providing more quality choices, using technology to differentiate instruction, and letting the dollars follow the student. Bingo! 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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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
11th 2014
Empire Strikes Back against School Choice in Courts; Don’t Give Up!

Posted under Courts & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Private Schools & School Choice & Tax Credits

A couple days ago I tossed out a Star Trek reference. Today, it’s going to be a Star Wars metaphor. I hope this doesn’t cause any sort of Sci-Fi universe catastrophes, including but not limited to wormholes, disturbances in the Force, or ripples in the space-time continuum.

All that setup to talk about the Empire striking back. This time, though, it doesn’t include Darth Vader, Death Stars, or Storm Troopers. I’m talking about some large organized adult interest groups with high-paid attorneys filing lawsuits to halt promising or successful school choice programs. A couple weeks ago we smiled together at the good news for New Hampshire kids in surviving that state’s legal challenge.

But my post also featured my reaction to news of a new lawsuit against Florida’s scholarship tax credit program: Continue Reading »

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September
9th 2014
Let’s Take a Smart Ride into a Dynamic Educational Future

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Choice

My vision of Colorado’s educational future certainly looks humble and limited, though let’s be honest, it isn’t ridiculous. Personally I’m a bigger fan of Transformers, but for some the “future” conjures up pictures of a kind of Star Trek sci-fi world. Maybe not enough to convince them to speak exclusively to their own children in the Klingon language.

Or at least, if they do opt for that road less taken, they ought to think twice about running for school board. If for no other reason, prominent education reform thinkers like Checker Finn long have been speculating about the democratic school board model going the way of the horse and buggy. (An unfuturistic futurist?)

Now, writing for the think tank Finn ran until recently, the insightful Andy Smarick takes on the theme again. He writes for the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog about the “obvious problems” with the “unitary system,” in which school districts having control over all public schools in a geographic area. Continue Reading »

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September
3rd 2014
Brookings: Superintendents Don’t Make Big Impact on Student Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Urban Schools

What exactly should we expect of Colorado’s school district leaders? With a title like SUPERintendent, are we expecting too much of what they can accomplish? What difference does it make for what students in a district learn to have an experienced superintendent as opposed to someone new at the helm?

A brand-new Brookings study strongly suggests that it doesn’t make much difference at all. The academic heavyweight team of Russ Whitehurst, Matt Chingos, and Katharine Lindquist surveyed 10 years of data in school districts across Florida and North Carolina, and found that superintendents account for a mere 0.3 percent of differences in student academic achievement.

So are they saying that it makes no difference who serves in a school district’s top position, reporting directly to the locally elected board of education? Are we to believe that it didn’t matter having my one-time educrush Michelle Rhee running D.C. public schools rather than her predecessors? That Mike Miles left no meaningful mark in Harrison? That a cage-busting leader like Dougco’s Liz Fagen is interchangeable with the average large school district superintendent?

Writing at Jay Greene’s blog, Matt Ladner succinctly clarifies what the Brookings report says: Continue Reading »

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August
29th 2014
Jeffco Board Steps Up to Reward Outstanding Teachers

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Principals & School Board & Teachers

Like a lot of kids my age, I get a weekly allowance. It may not seem like much to you, but five bucks buys me an awful lot of valuable stuff (mostly candy). But my allowance isn’t unconditional; I get more when I’m good than when I’m bad. I get more for good grades than bad grades. Seems fairly reasonable, right?

Teacher salaries are, of course, very different from my allowance. Yet, the same principle applies: We ought to reward those who do great work, and provide incentives for those who could do better to improve. Is it really fair to give teachers who are doing an outstanding job the same pay raise (in some cases, even less) than someone rated less than effective?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Last night, Ken Witt on the Jefferson County School Board put forward what some are portraying as a radical proposal in the district’s ongoing compensation negotiations with the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA). Continue Reading »

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August
22nd 2014
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: A Setback for Choice in North Carolina

Posted under Courts & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & School Choice & School Finance

A lack of progress is always frustrating. I’ve been trying to convince my parents that broccoli is too dangerous to be trusted for months. But my struggles pale in comparison to the frustration that a large number of students and families in the Tar Heel State are facing after yesterday’s unfavorable ruling regarding school choice.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago while discussing an Independence Institute/Friedman Foundation amicus brief in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case, I find legalese to be fairly terrifying. Fortunately, the Carolina Journal provides a succinct (and mercifully un-legal) summary:

“[North Carolina Superior Court Judge] Hobgood said providing taxpayer money for the scholarships without curriculum standards or teacher certification requirements ‘does not accomplish a public purpose.’ He added that the program ran afoul of the state’s landmark Leandro decision, which requires the state to provide every child with the opportunity to have a ‘sound, basic education.’” Continue Reading »

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