Archive for the 'School Accountability' Category

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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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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