Archive for the 'Innovation and Reform' Category

19th 2015
New Research Shows Negative Union Impact on Education Outcomes

Posted under Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Board & Teachers & Union

Starting discussions about the role and effects of teachers unions certainly is one way of pouring cold water on a party or social event. A lot of the topics surrounding K-12 education policy and reform can be emotionally charged.

But if you want to step back from the heated discussions and consider what the research has to say… well, frankly, there isn’t a huge record to fall back on. If you remember back a couple years (when I was still 5), I shared about a new study that purported to draw a connection between higher teacher union dues collection and lower student proficiency.

At that time, I also highlighted the only two other known pieces of quality research that spoke to the question. Back in 2007, Dr. Terry Moe from Stanford found that at the local level, restrictive collective bargaining provisions negotiated by teachers unions “has a very negative impact on academic achievement,” especially among more challenging student populations.

Then there’s the ideal state-level laboratory test case of New Mexico, which Benjamin Lindy’s analysis for the Yale Law Journal demonstrated “mixed results from union bargaining power, better SAT scores but more poor kids dropping out of high school.”

Well, a new, rigorous state-level analysis reassures us that Colorado’s education labor terrain stands us in stronger stead to help students succeed than many other states do.

Writing for Education Next, Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen unpack the long-term effects of states that mandate school districts give unions local bargaining monopolies. Removing other factors from the equation, the authors reach some interesting conclusions about the impacts of going to school in a “duty-to-bargain” state: Continue Reading »

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11th 2015
Ugly Smear Column Tries, Fails to Shove Conservative Education Reform Aside

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & Private Schools & Privatization & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice & State Board of Education & Teachers & Union

I hope you all enjoyed a nice, long break from recent depressing edu-happenings over the last few days. I also hope that your disappointment is tempered by hope for the future. As my friend Ross Izard pointed out in a recent op-ed—and as my dad always says—it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.

I never have figured out who that fat lady is, but I’m pretty positive it isn’t Michael Vaughn, a former DPS spokesperson turned communications director for Education Post. Mr. Vaughn recently wrote a post-election Denver Post op-ed about the fact that “real” reform is winning in Colorado. It’s a rather nasty piece in which he celebrates reform victories in Denver while all but dancing on the graves of conservative education reformers around the state.

When I look at what conservative education reform folks have pushed for over the past few years in Jeffco, Thompson, Dougco, and other districts, I see a long list of meaningful reforms. New curricula, new charter schools, pay-for-performance systems, equal funding for charter students, collective bargaining reform—you name it, it’s there. But that doesn’t seem to qualify as true reform for Vaughn, who instead offers this definition of the term:

I know there’s no tried-and-true definition of reform, but there are generally accepted reform stances: school choice/charter schools; Common Core; annual, federally mandated standardized testing; teacher and school accountability. So let’s see how the losing candidates stand on these issues.

He goes on to hammer Dougco for applying for a State Board of Education Waiver from PARCC testing, taking school choice to “an extreme” with its local voucher program, “busting the union,” and “jamming” policies down teachers’ throats. He then implicitly extends most of those critiques to Jeffco, and adds an astonishingly unsophisticated take on the A.P. U.S. History fiasco that fails to acknowledge the fact that despite Julie Williams’ blunt approach to the situation, conservative concerns about the framework were ultimately validated by the College Board itself.

Sadly, those flubs are far from the worst the column has to offer. Continue Reading »

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5th 2015
Yes, Election Night Happened, But Keep Your Chins Up, Colorado Reformers

Posted under Courts & Denver & Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Board & School Choice & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union

Yeah, yeah, yeah, school board elections happened in Colorado this week. Ok, so I promised to give you a full report yesterday. But I got a little busy crying in my Cheerios with some important stuff to do.

Do I really need to review what happened with the Teachers Union Empire Strikes Back? After all, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow donned his Captain Obvious hat for Chalkbeat Colorado, observing “You can’t deny it was a setback for conservative reform at the school board level in Colorado. The unions had their day. There’s no doubt about it.”

Another of my Education Policy Center friends, Ross Izard, did a pretty good job laying it out in more detail. He optimistically notes that conservative education reformers have been bruised, but not beaten by the big recall in Jeffco or setbacks in a number of other districts: Continue Reading »


30th 2015
Don’t Fall Victim to MisNAEPery

Posted under Accountability & Edublogging & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Journalism & math & reading & Research & Testing

It’s NAEP season, my friends. The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress results were released this week to a barrage of spin, rhetoric, and general “misNAEPery.” I’ve mostly seen this misNAEPery pop up in the form of certain folks using the data to show that education reform efforts aren’t working. (For now, we’ll ignore the crushing irony of using test scores to prove that testing isn’t valuable.) That’s a bummer, so let’s spend a few minutes today talking about what this year’s results do and do not mean.

First, let’s talk briefly about the results themselves. Chalkbeat ran a pretty good piece on Colorado’s 2015 NAEP scores that included some nifty graphs. Nifty or not, however, I take some issue with the graphs’ reliance on percentages of kids scoring proficient or better rather than scale scores. Not that I blame Chalkbeat for going this way; graphs showing what appears to be actual change are a lot more exciting than what you get when you look just at scale scores over the past ten years. Those graphs look like this:

Continue Reading »

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29th 2015
Look Under the District 38 School Board Campaign Mask

Posted under Accountability & Courts & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools & Union

The week of Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I can practically taste the candy in my mouth right now. One of the perks of being a perpetual 5-year-old is the unending chance to go Trick-or-Treat year after year without any sense of self-consciousness or guilt.

It also happens to be nearing the peak of crazy season with school board elections a mere 5 days away. I wish these two simultaneous happenings were just an unhappy coincidence. There’s more than meets the eye, though.

In the past, little yours truly has dressed as Mr. Potato Head and the Incredible Hulk. This time around, I’m going as a Super Secret Ninja Spy. Yet while Halloween-style dress up and make believe is perfectly fine for the younger set, that’s not so much the case when it comes to important races deciding who sits on school boards.

Coming to mind quickly, of course, is the union-backed “Clean Slate” candidates in Jeffco who claim to be independent in the nonpartisan election, while spending nearly two-thirds of all their campaign funds on Mad Dog Mail, “a Florida-based advertising firm that works exclusively with Democrats.”

Meanwhile, up in Thompson, you have incumbent school board member Denise Montagu not reporting $2,500 given by the Colorado Education Association, and then returning the same-sized contribution from another out-of-town teachers union.

A truly prime example can be found, though, in one of the lower profile Board of Education races, in northern El Paso County’s Lewis Palmer School District 38. There, as in a number of districts this year, some reform-minded candidates are opposing candidates who are more closely connected with the K-12 establishment. Continue Reading »

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27th 2015
Get Past the High Drama and Give Reform a Chance to Succeed

Posted under Education Politics & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Suburban Schools & Union

Some days I wish that improving schools for all students and giving all families access to the best educational options were easier to accomplish. But change can be difficult, especially when self-interested groups have their power and prestige at stake.

Emotions are tense and high in Jefferson County, where a fact-challenged, union-backed recall election against three school board reformers has consumed a lot of attention. The good news is that it means many people care about the future and about the value of education.

The sad part, however, is that a group of people are persuaded that restoring control to the union and traditional bureaucratic powers will help quiet down the turmoil that the union and allies have manufactured from the very beginning.

Try to do things a little differently? You know, focus on raising student achievement, funding all public students fairly, and rewarding highly effective educators, and what do you get? Bullying of reform supporters — which apparently gets you promoted to PTA president.

But at least board members’ children aren’t subject to this harassment, right? Uh, guess again: Continue Reading »

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20th 2015
‘Tis the Season for Wild and Woolly School Board Election Stories

Posted under Denver & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Suburban Schools & Teachers & Union & Urban Schools

There’s no season like school board election season. At least not in Colorado. Believe it or not, these are real stories. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can’t make this up.”

Let’s start in Jeffco, where the Denver Post shattered to pieces the whole justification for a politically motivated recall election. A video was just released about Julie Williams, one of the candidates being threatened with recall, explaining how her opponents manipulated her special-needs son to participate in a protest against her:

Yes, I agree it’s disgusting. As if to provide further clarification to answer the question at the end of the video — “Now, who are the real bullies?” — some folks have responded basically by calling Mrs. Williams and her son Randy liars. Really? I guess that’s what you do when you know you’re in the wrong.

Meanwhile, also in Jeffco, last week’s campaign finance reports caused me some concerns. One of the candidates for the non-recall seats, Ali Lasell, paid exactly $7,886.87 to a group called Mad Dog Mail:

…a Democratic persuasion mail firm based out of Florida. As our name indicates, we are strong, tough Democrats who fight against Republican smears and attacks, working only with Democratic campaigns.

Continue Reading »

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23rd 2015
New Survey, Research Point to Need for Balanced Computer Use in Learning

Posted under Innovation and Reform & International & learning & Online Schools & reading & Research & Teachers

Given the prodigious quantity of blogging here, some may find the contents of this particular post somewhat hypocritical, or perhaps just a little bit ironic. But I certainly strive to keep things interesting.

Once upon a time, you heard quite a bit more from little Eddie about blended learning — though recently my eyebrows have been raised about the opening of Denver’s Roots Elementary, my dreams rekindled of Rocketship Education landing in Jeffco, and my repetition that Colorado needs course choice was, well, repeated.

For those who need a refresher, one commonly accepted definition for blended learning comes from the Clayton Christensen Institute:

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; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

The Christensen Institute’s disclaimer that blended learning is not “technology-rich instruction” should not be brushed aside. It’s not just using more technology in the same structures and practices. Technology, though, is critical to the rethinking that comes with designing and implementing various blended learning models. Continue Reading »

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17th 2015
Thompson Majority Fights On for Local Control

Posted under Courts & Education Politics & Innovation and Reform & School Board & Teachers & Union

Most of you probably remember that there’s sort of a thing going on in Thompson School District. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. In actuality, Thompson now stands alongside Jefferson County as ground zero for one of the most important education battles in Colorado.

More specifically, Thompson has been engaged in an ugly fight with the Thompson Education Association, backed heavily by legal support from the Colorado Education Association, over the reform-minded board majority’s decision not to accept two junky tentative collective bargaining agreements. At the center of that fight is an incredibly important question: Can locally elected school boards be forced to accept union contracts with which they disagree?

The issue has drawn significant attention from around the state, including an editorial from the Denver Post supporting local school boards’ ability to make judgment calls under Colorado law. It has also resulted in a flabbergastingly awful non-binding arbitration report and, more recently, an unprecedented injunction ruling that forces the district to abide by the 2014-15 collective bargaining agreement—an agreement that the board has rejected in one form or another three separate times.

The board majority isn’t giving up, though. Last night, a 4-3 vote gave the district’s legal team the authority to appeal the injunction or pursue other remedies, whatever “other remedies” means in lawyerese. In practice, a favorable ruling on appeal would free the district of the collective bargaining agreement foisted on it by the Larimer County District Court and allow the board to get back to building policies to take care of its teachers in the absence of a union contract. Continue Reading »


15th 2015
Binding Thread? Four-Day School Week Research & Denver’s Roots Elementary

Posted under Denver & Elementary School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Public Charter Schools & Research & Rural Schools

Sometimes a little edublogger sees two small interesting stories to cover, and leaves it to insightful readers like you to figure out the connection. Today is one of those somewhat interesting occasions.

Let’s start over at Education Week, where a recent post by Liana Heitin caught my attention. A newly published study of 15 rural Colorado elementary schools show that changing the school week from five days to four brought about clear improvements in math and likely has the same sort of effect on reading. (It may even help student attendance, but those results weren’t definitive.)

The average person’s reaction to such news might be a true head-scratcher. The research doesn’t provide any real insights into what causes this counterintuitive result. All these schools are still providing the required instructional hours, just packing them into longer days and extending the weekends.

Some complementary research from Idaho released a couple months ago shows that making the shift to the shorter school week yields no savings, and in a few cases, actually incurs extra costs. Crazy, huh? Continue Reading »

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