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Alan Gottlieb

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March 18, 2012

Commentary: The shoe, the gourd & integration

Alan Gottlieb is publisher of Education News Colorado. The views expressed below are his alone and do not reflect the positions of EdNews or the Public Education and Business Coalition.

I can think of no better preface to this piece than this wonderful clip from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

A lively comment stream last week on an Education News Colorado story about Denver’s new SchoolChoice system prompted me to take a journey into the not-too-distant past. From 2001-2007, the second two-thirds of my decade at The Piton Foundation, I focused a lot of attention and a fair number of dollars on promoting socio-economic school integration.

I believed then, as I do today, that integrated schools serve society well in a number of ways. While I subscribe to the softer arguments about promoting diversity and tolerance, what I found most compelling were the data on how low-income students fare better in economically mixed schools.

January 11, 2012

Commentary: Big artillery in the value-added wars

Researchers from Harvard and Columbia recently released the results of a massive study of the impact of teaching on student success, in school and later in life. The study tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years. The New York Times featured the study in an article last Friday. Value-added measures have been one of the hot-button issues in education, especially since the Los Angeles Times released its analysis of teacher effectiveness in 2010, naming names.

The study found that “great teachers create great value – perhaps several times their annual salaries – and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers.”

But it also cautioned that:

more work is needed to determine the best way to use VA for policy. For example, using VA in teacher evaluations could induce undesirable responses that make VA a poorer measure of teacher quality, such as teaching to the test or cheating.

People will likely view this study through the lens of their preconceived notions and biases. Those who disparage value-added methodology will find ways to shoot holes in this study, while those who favor using test scores as a means of evaluating teacher effectiveness will say it conclusively bolsters their case.

Here is a video of one of the study’s authors presenting its findings. Let us know what you think.

November 3, 2011

Opinion: Summit 54 grows up

In September of 2010, Tony Caine, a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur and options trader, invited a group of education policy experts to his adopted hometown of Aspen to talk about an idea he was hatching to help motivated, low-income students make it to and through a four-year college.

I attended and wrote about that Summit 54 gathering and came away impressed by Caine’s enthusiasm and spirit, but concerned that he was tying to create a new program in a field already crowded with organizations doing similar work with varied levels of success.

Some of the other attendees I spoke with after the meeting felt much the same way; that Caine had the kernel of a good idea but might be wise to put his money behind an existing organization instead of creating something from scratch. During the meeting, Caine, now a youthful 54, invited people to be blunt with him when they thought his thinking was flawed. And they complied.

It was hard at the time to tell whether  Caine was taking the advice to heart. In the fall of 2010, he had already invested a good deal of time and money into creating Summit 54. He’d even spent big chunks of the previous year climbing all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks.

It’s now clear that he did indeed listen. The evidence sits in a shopping center at the intersection of East Iliff Avenue and South Buckley Road in Aurora, where the gorgeously appointed and well-equipped CollegeTrack-Summit 54 headquarters was dedicated Thursday night. Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry were among those present.

October 14, 2011

Opinion: Hancock blasts school board dysfunction

Perhaps he was tired after a long night dealing with the Occupy Denver situation, but Denver Mayor Michael Hancock made some of his most forceful and critical public comments ever about the current school board during an event Friday morning.

“If there was ever an argument for mayoral control, it was watching the board of education operate,” he said. “But I know we can do better and I believe the people of Denver are going to show it on Nov.1.”

That’s when the city’s voters will decide three of seven seats on the Denver Public Schools board.

Hancock also for the first time publicly endorsed Jennifer Draper Carson for the District 5 northwest Denver seat.

During a “Charter School Community Conversation” in Green Valley Ranch, sponsored by the Colorado League of Charter Schools, Hancock said that as a candidate earlier this year he decided that as mayor he would not push for control of DPS. The district, he said, “does not rise to the level of chaos and dysfunction” that prompted mayors and legislatures in places like Chicago, Hartford, Conn., and Washington, D.C., to seize control of the schools.

October 12, 2011

Clearing up misconceptions about online schools

This article was submitted by Lori Cooney, president of the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families.

As an advocate of online public education in Colorado, a parent of successful online students, and a taxpayer, I am concerned that recent media attention focused on Colorado’s public online schools is only fueling some common misconceptions about this education option.

Worse, if left unchecked, these misconceptions may ultimately become a pretext for misguided attempts to undermine public online schools and leave thousands of Colorado parents without a public school option that works for their child.

Among those misconceptions is that online education somehow is a threat to traditional (sometimes called brick-and-mortar) schools, supposedly encroaching on their students and resources. But quite the opposite is true.

While online school enrollment has grown substantially—precisely because it does serve such a critical need—it nonetheless accounts for less than 2 percent of all public school students in Colorado. In other words, online enrollment is barely a blip on the curve in terms of the overall fiscal status of public education.

September 25, 2011

Does serving high-achievers well require segregation?

The blog post below this one synthesizes a recent article that is classic Rick Hess; questioning the conventional wisdom and making a compelling argument for something many of us would rather not confront. It’s a brilliant piece, sure to spark a lot of debate.

But I’ve found a puzzling inconsistency in his argument, which I hope he will address here or elsewhere. In his article, in which he questions the wisdom of focusing our educational priorities on narrowing achievement gaps (which, he argues, are being narrowed by pushing the top down as much as lifting the bottom up) Hess makes a pitch for school integration and tweaks “reformers” for dismissing it:

…in a terrible irony, achievement-gap mania has indirectly made it more difficult for reformers to promote integrated schools. Philanthropic foundations that support education causes are interested in serving as many poor and minority children as possible; when 30% to 40% of a student body is made up of white or affluent students, the school is deemed suspect, as reform-minded foundations see such programs as “wasting” a third of their seats. Bragging rights go to charter schools or programs that have the highest-octane mix of poor and minority kids. The upshot is that it is terribly difficult to generate interest in nurturing racially or socioeconomically integrated schools, even though just about every observer thinks that more such schools would be good for kids, communities, and the country.

September 13, 2011

Student growth percentiles and shoe leather

Editor’s note: This piece was submitted by Damian W. Betebenner, Richard J. Wenning and  Professor Derek C. Briggs. Thumbnail biographies of the three authors appear at the bottom of this article.

Bruce D. Baker recently published a critique of The Colorado Growth Model and its use of Student Growth Percentiles in his School Finance 101 blog (cross-posted on Education News Colorado).  In his blog, he both mischaracterizes the SGP methodology and the policy context.  Having participated in creating the Colorado Growth Model and leading the policy development associated with it, we thought it would be useful to clarify these misconceptions.

In work over the past decade with over two dozen State Education Agencies (SEAs) to develop models of student growth based upon state assessment results, one lesson that is repeatedly learned is that data, regardless of their quality, can be used well and can be used poorly. Unfortunately Professor Baker conflates the data (i.e. the measure) with the use. A primary purpose in the development of the Colorado Growth Model (Student Growth Percentiles/SGPs) was to distinguish the measure from the use: To separate the description of student progress (the SGP) from the attribution of responsibility for that progress.

There is a continuum of opinion about how large-scale assessment data and derived quantities can be used in accountability systems. On one extreme are those who believe large-scale assessment results are the ONLY “objective” indicator and thus any judgment about educator/education quality should be based on such measures. At the other extreme are those that hold that any use of large-scale assessment data is an abuse.