Archive for the 'School Accountability' Category

January
30th 2015
Testing Issue Isn’t as Easy as “1, 2, 3,” But You’ve Got to Start Somewhere

Posted under Independence Institute & Principals & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers & Testing

Have you ever watched a big person prepare to do some public speaking behind a microphone? Or maybe you’ve done it yourself. Almost always, when someone asks if the microphone is working, the person leans into the device and says something like, “Testing, testing… 123, testing.”

Well, I’m worried that little rote phrase may take on a new meaning with Colorado’s Great Testing Debate. At least five K-12 assessment bills have been introduced thus far in the state legislature, with many more promised to come. Some issues may have clear and solid answers readily available, but to say that isn’t the case with this particular issue would be putting it mildly.

After all, we have several worthy competing goals to consider. Standardized tests done right are an important tool that provides some genuine, transparent, and comparable information about how well teachers, principals, and schools — heavily funded by public tax dollars — are doing in meeting important goals to help students.

At the same time, testing ought to measure authentic knowledge and skills, to provide prompt and useful feedback to teachers, and to differentiate meaningfully based on student abilities, all without posing too great a burden of instructional time lost. No problem, right? Continue Reading »

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January
13th 2015
Little Eddie’s Transparency Soap Box

Posted under Education Politics & School Accountability & School Board & Transparency

I love flashlights. I can remember many nights spent reading under my Batman sheets with a flashlight well past the time I should have been asleep. And just last week, I used a flashlight to hunt down the final Lego block I needed to finish my replica Millennium Falcon. It had fallen under the bed. As an added bonus, I also found three socks, two pennies, and a Superman action figure while I was down there.

As useful as real, physical flashlights are, though, I think metaphorical flashlights are even more powerful—especially when they’re used to shed light on political processes. That’s I celebrated when my Independence Institute friends successfully opened the door on district-union negotiations with Proposition 104 this past November. The proposition passed with a 70% yes vote, which to me says that Coloradans really, really value transparency in government. Who can blame them?

But district-union negotiations are only one part of the puzzle. School boards conduct a lot of business that falls well outside direct interactions with local unions. And although Colorado’s Sunshine Law requires school boards to provide “full and timely” notice of public meetings, a recent story from the Colorado Springs Gazette highlights the fact that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the public is given all the information they need to be fully involved: Continue Reading »

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December
18th 2014
Sticky Testing Issue Knot: Where’s the Education Policy Velcro?

Posted under Education Politics & Federal Government & Grades and Standards & Parents & School Accountability & State Legislature & Teachers

I may be a precocious and talented young edublogger, but tying shoelaces still gives me fits. My mom insists on double-knotting the laces. Occasionally, in my dreams, I am stifled and frustrated by a tight pair of shoes that I can’t remove because they have been tied snugly so many times with knots that could drive your average sailor to mutiny.

Pardon the aside, but such a strange image is what comes to mind when I search for a winning solution out of the looming political debates about testing. Except it’s even worse, because the knotted material seems less like your standard cotton, polyester, or nylon, and more like this stuff.

A couple months ago, I delivered my highly non-controversial opinion that the testing issue wasn’t going away any time soon here in Colorado. But even then, I didn’t anticipate exactly where so much friction on the HB 1202 Standards and Assessment Task Force might take us. Cue a Chalkbeat’s detailed account of the group’s Monday meeting: Continue Reading »

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December
4th 2014
Report Madness! A Breakdown of This Week’s Charter School Reading

Posted under Public Charter Schools & reading & Research & School Accountability & School Board & School Choice

As a junior education policy explorer, I’ve noticed a couple of things. First, education stuff is complicated. Second, complicated education stuff leads to a whole bunch of reports and studies. Lastly, those reports  and studies tend to come in spurts—a fact that often results in a whole lot of reading for yours truly. Let it never be said that I don’t get enough reading practice! Today, I’m going to outline a couple of recent reports on our good friends in the charter sector.

The first report comes from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In addition to highlighting the explosive growth of charters in many areas, the report details the largest and fastest growing charter communities in the nation by examining districts with over 10,000 students.

Not surprisingly given the city’s education efforts after Katrina, New Orleans remains at the top of the list for its percentage of students enrolled in charter schools (90 percent). Michigan and Ohio also take home prizes for having the most cities with a top-ten spot for charter enrollment share. Some Colorado districts also earn honorable mentions; Weld came in 15th, Brighton in 16th, Colorado Springs D11 in 20th, and DPS in 21st on the list of highest district charter enrollment percentages.

But Colorado’s biggest prize goes to—you guessed it—Douglas County, which placed fifth in the country on the report’s index for growth in charter student numbers. Continue Reading »

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December
2nd 2014
The Death of Snow Days

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Online Schools & Parents & Research & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

I really love snow days. Every time a storm rolls into town, I wake up, rush to the window, and rip the curtains open, hoping to see those tiny, beautiful flakes of hope drift past my wide little eyes. And while my dad usually grumbles to his coffee about the morning commute as he surveys what he calls the “mess” on our street, I see nothing but the pure white promise of fun and freedom.

Brings back fond memories, doesn’t it? Well, you’d better put those safely away in the vault. Today, we discuss the impending death of the snow day. I’ll give you a minute to recover emotionally if you need it.

In states across the country, districts are experimenting with ways to avoid weather-related cancellations. Pennsylvania has created a pilot program that allows virtual learning on snow days to count as normal instruction, a school district in Georgia is doing something very similar, and New Jersey has a piece of pending state legislation aimed at making at-home, technology-based learning on snow days permissible under state law. Meanwhile, a rural district in Kentucky will allow up to ten at-home learning days due to the area’s traditionally heavy snowfall.

But why all the fuss about snow days? Is it just because of the absurd snowfall we’ve already seen in some areas this year? Not really. Believe or not, there’s actually a good deal of research out there on the subject. Continue Reading »

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November
26th 2014
One More Year: Districts Take Different Paths as 191 Closes In

Posted under School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

It’s almost Turkey Day, and that means it’s time to start thinking about the things we’re thankful for. At the top of my list are my dog, my parents, and pumpkin pie with Cool Whip on it. But while I sit here smacking my lips at the thought of tomorrow’s pie, some school districts are feeling thankful for a very different reason: This year’s reprieve from SB-191’s requirement that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be based on multiple measures of student learning.

This afternoon, Chalkbeat posted an article detailing some of the districts that have chosen to press ahead with SB-191’s requirements along with some others that have chosen to wait. The article is based on a survey of Colorado’s 20 largest districts, which together employ more than two-thirds of the state teachers.

Chalkbeat found that just over half of the districts—including our friends in Douglas and Jefferson County—have decided to forge ahead as originally planned. Some other districts have decided to weight their growth data at zero percent of the evaluation formula, basing evaluations only on professional quality standards. The lone outlier from the 50-0 dichotomy is Mesa, which decided to weight growth data at 25 percent for the year. Continue Reading »

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November
24th 2014
Sticky Numbers: Making Sense of Dougco’s Pay System and Its Outcomes

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & School Accountability & School Finance & Teachers

Like Elmer’s glue, numbers get sticky when misused. And just like glue is tough (but fun!) to peel off your hands, it can take a little while to clear up sticky number messes. Yet clean them up we must, and so I dedicate today’s post to clearing up some numerical confusion surrounding Dougco’s pay-for-performance system.

The most recent illustration of sticky confusion in Dougco comes courtesy of comments on a recent Denver Post op-ed written by Doug Benevento, Vice President of the Douglas County Board of Education. Some of the comments are the typical anti-reform, pro-union rhetoric to which we’ve all sadly grown accustomed, but some others hint at some more systemic misunderstandings of the district’s pay structure and the numbers associated with it. Those need to be addressed.

The first big misunderstanding is DCSD’s actual turnover rate. One commenter accuses Benevento of “finagling” (great word) CDE’s official 17.28% teacher turnover figure to make the district look better. Yet it is CDE, not Benevento, doing the finaglin’. Continue Reading »

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November
21st 2014
Teacher Training, Licensure, Evaluation, Pay: Fix ‘Em All (and Do It Right)

Posted under education schools & Federal Government & Innovation and Reform & learning & Research & School Accountability & School Board & State Legislature & Teachers

It’s been more than a week now since I thankfully resisted the urge to “blow up” education schools. In the meantime, my remarks about teacher preparation have been vindicated — both the tone of urgency and the “moderate” but serious approach to addressing the issue.

Let’s start with the urgency. The National Council on Teacher Quality followed up its powerful indictment of the state of teacher preparation last week with compelling new evidence concerning the lack of rigor in education schools. How does it help students, particularly the neediest among us, to have most of these schools attract prospective teachers looking for easy As?

Now you may rightly label the headline as a “dog bites man” kind of story, but the findings deserve attention: Continue Reading »

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November
7th 2014
It’s Not What You Think: “The End of School Choice” Means Something Better

Posted under Education Politics & Grades and Standards & Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Accountability & School Choice & State Legislature

I’m not really sure how I should feel. Seeing a new opinion article titled “The end of ‘school choice’” at first made me tense up inside. Upon closer inspection, I was relieved to find it wasn’t coming from the likes of someone who believes that choice backers deserve “a special place in hell.”

No, quite the contrary. The headline was actually a clever device to get us to read some interesting thoughts by Doug Tuthill, posted at redefinED (H/T Matt Ladner):

The annual American Federation for Children conference is one of the country’s largest gatherings of school choice advocates. So it was notable, during the most recent conference in Orlando, that speakers regularly used the terms “parental choice” and “educational choice,” but not “school choice.”

This shift in semantics reflects an emerging trend that’s a game changer – the expansion of choice in publicly-funded education is increasingly including learning options beyond schools.

Continue Reading »

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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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