Archive for the 'School Accountability' Category

October
27th 2014
Americans Understand Their Schools, Just Not School Finance

Posted under Research & School Accountability & School Finance

All things considered, I think my school is pretty good. It’s got monkey bars, snack time, culturally enriching field trips, and shiny blue fish stickers. Oh, and my dad went there.

If you’re thinking that those things aren’t very convincing measures of overall school quality, you’re right. Yet for a long time, factors like these were held out as possible explanations for the gap between people’s generally positive opinions on their own schools and their less-than-optimistic views of the school system as a whole. Ok, maybe not the monkey bars or fish stickers, but you get the point.

The days of guessing may be coming to a close. Martin West’s new analysis of data from this year’s Education Next Survey (which I wrote about back in August) may be the closest I’ve seen to a really plausible, research-based explanation of what I’ll call—brace for neologism—the “perspective gap.” Continue Reading »

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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
20th 2014
Serious Discussion: Common Core Missteps Demand a Smarter Response

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Choice

I’ve discovered a new way to make myself the least popular kid on the playground or at a birthday party. All I have to do is just come running in and say with my outdoor voice, “Hey, who wants to have a serious discussion about Common Core?” Rolling eyes. Blank stares. Condescending sneers. Befuddled head-shaking. I’ve seen it all. I might as well be offering to sell my parents’ old set of encyclopedias. But I’m here today to press on and help us get closer to the core of the Common Core debate.

Some of you might be saying: “Look, there goes that [little Eddie] rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Knowing how toxic the name “Common Core” has become, I think it makes sense to migrate straight past stories about inscrutable “Common Core” math algorithms and dismissive retorts from advocates about those hayseed “Common Core skeptics.”

If you want to be far smarter about this controversial topic than all of your friends, and help lead our state to a happy solution, you simply have to start by reading Rick Hess’ new National Affairs piece titled “How the Common Core Went Wrong.”

It’s a fairly lengthy essay, but one that sets the stage with thoughtfulness, candor, and precision. The idea of voluntary common educational standards that states can adopt has a lot of merit. Yet from the top, Hess offers plenty of criticism of the approach taken by Common Core backers. The different pieces come together in a way that reveals not necessarily a bad idea or malicious intent, but something more akin to poor judgment. The standards were: 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
17th 2014
Russian Dolls and Education Policy: New Study Looks More Closely at Teacher Evaluations

Posted under Principals & Research & School Accountability & Teachers

Ever heard of a matryoshka doll? You may not have heard the name before, but I bet you’ll recognize the concept. You start with a big doll, break it open, and discover a smaller doll inside. That doll contains a still smaller doll, and inside that one is an even smaller one. You’ve got to dig down through an awful lot of layers before you reach the center. (Do you feel the education policy analogy coming on?)

Teacher evaluation is like the center of many education policy matryoshka dolls. In particular, strategic compensation and tenure policies are heavily dependent on the reliability and validity of the teacher evaluations being used. That realization raises some big questions regarding evaluation, some of which I’ve written about before.

As it turns out, even “evaluation” may be too big a doll. A new study by Matthew Chingos, Russ Whitehurst, and Katharine Lindquist argues that the area of greatest concern is more specific still: The portion of evaluations based on classroom observation. 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
8th 2014
Onward and Upward: Jeffco Forges Ahead with New Pay Model

Posted under School Accountability & School Board & Teachers

A while back, I wrote about a proposal in Jefferson County that aimed to reimagine the way the district’s pay structure works. The proposal generated much huffing and puffing by the teachers union. Happily, this has not resulted in them blowing the proverbial house down. In fact, the school board voted last week to press forward on a more sensible pay system.

The most interesting parts of the model’s newest iteration are the details, which a recent story in Chalkbeat outlines rather well: 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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May
30th 2014
Odds & Ends: Big Easy Goes All-Charter; Upgrading School Report Cards

Posted under Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Parents & Public Charter Schools & School Accountability & School Choice & Urban Schools

It’s Friday, and it’s my blog. So if I want to cover two topics in a single post, well… I hope you like it. This story from Wednesday’s Washington Post was too significant to pass up. Lyndsey Layton reports that the last five traditional public schools in New Orleans close down this week, making the Recovery District the first all-charter district in the United States:

By most indicators, school quality and academic progress have improved in Katrina’s aftermath, although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons because the student population changed drastically after the hurricane, with thousands of students not returning.

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.

Continue Reading »

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