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Answer the question!

In this issue

Financial journalist David Milstead takes a fresh look at the Denver Public Schools pension refinance. He sees cause for concern, but not for the reasons put forward by the deal’s harshest critics. Also, educator Marc Waxman’s blog post about why he can’t believe in current reform strategies has gone viral, and for good reason. The publisher offers his thoughts on this, and on how the Education News Colorado blog has changed over time.

Analysis: Reason to worry about DPS pension

By David Milstead

The confusion and concern over Denver Public Schools’ finances has shifted from a Wall Street transaction that went badly wrong in its first year to longer-term worries about the district’s funding of its employee pension plan.

Yet a handful of board members and outside critics who are now raising concerns about the district getting caught off guard in 2015 by a special “true-up” payment to Colorado PERA, the administrator of the district’s pension, are worried about the wrong thing. Read full article.

From the publisher: Answer the question!

By Alan Gottlieb

Today for the most part I am going to get out of the way and leave room in your minds for Marc Waxman’s powerful blog post about ceasing to believe in the nation’s dominant school reform narrative. It’s meaty stuff and should give pause to those of us who promote all or part of that narrative.

I know Marc agonized over the post. He outlined it for me over coffee several weeks ago, submitted a draft, pulled it apart and reworked it. I posted it late Tuesday afternoon, and by 10 p.m. it had been viewed by over 500 people. That’s a lot of evening action for a niche blog like ours.

One reason the post garnered so much attention so fast was that Elizabeth Green, proprietress of the excellent, Manhattan-based Gotham Schools website linked to it Monday evening. Within a couple of hours, the comments came flying in. Diane Ravitch asked Elizabeth for Marc’s e-mail address.

One observation about the reactions to Marc’s post. He concluded his post with the following:

“My question for today is not what reforms we should or should not believe.  It is simply this – what’s your vision of a good education?  It’s time to have this conversation, however messy it may be.”

Instead of attempting to answer that difficult question commenters chose to go after their favorite targets – corporate takeover of schools, testing, yada, yada, yada. This prompted Marc to email me:

“Interesting that pretty much no one answered the question – “what is your vision of a good education.”  I was thinking about replying to each one of them really pushing that question.  We can continue to point fingers, etc., but we really need to talk about what’s important to us and why….” Read full letter

Why I don’t believe in “reform”

By Marc Waxman

Marc Waxman has been an educator for 17 years, including 12 in New York City, and the last two in Denver.

I don’t believe. I wish I could believe. I am supposed to believe. But, I don’t. I don’t believe in education “reform” in our country.

I don’t believe charter schools are a panacea, I don’t believe that linking student achievement to teacher evaluation will significantly impact education, and for that matter, I don’t believe student achievement” should be the ultimate goal of education in our country.

I am supposed to believe in all this, especially if you look at my resume and follow the major media discussion of education “reform.” Let me explain.

When I graduated from college in 1994 I joined Teach For America. I taught two years in Paterson, NJ (made famous by Joe “Batman” Clark from Eastside High School – which was just across the street from the 1,000-student K-8 school where I taught. After my two years of TFA service I became one of the first teachers and administrators at KIPP in the South Bronx. After three years at KIPP, I spent the next nine years co-founding and co-directing a new school in Harlem which started as a school-within-a school, was part of a take-over of a failing school that was closed, became an official New York City public school, and then converted to become one of only five conversion charter schools in NYC.  Read full blog post.

Random notes

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Other news from EdNews Colorado:

Opinion and commentary highlights

Portfolio districts: An invitation

By Kevin Welner

One of the more prominent reforms in insider circles, if not in popular discussions, is the so-called “portfolio strategy.” The strategy varies from district to district, but the basic idea is for the central administration of the school district to shift from the conventional bureaucratic model to a newfangled portfolio-manager model, whereby the district runs some schools and independent operators run others.

All the schools would be subject to closure or conversion or turnaround if they fail to meet performance expectations – in much the same way that a manager or a portfolio of securities would dump a poor-performing stock in favor of a more promising one.

Denver is among the districts that have gravitated toward the portfolio model, but it’s places like New Orleans, NYC, DC, and Los Angeles that have really been in the forefront.

Alas, that about exhausts my knowledge of the reform. But I plan to learn more on Friday, September 24th, when the EPIC policy center hosts a panel discussion with two researchers who have recently written about the reform. Read full blog post.

You did learn all you needed to know in kindergarten

By Paul Teske

Some intriguing study results came out during the R2T decisions, and I’ve been meaning to circle back to them, because they are both interesting and potentially relevant to teacher evaluation discussions. (Links: Study PowerPoints and NY Times summary.)

Raj Chetty of Harvard, and an impressive array of colleagues, linked Tennessee project STAR students from the 1980/90s, some of whom are now 30 years old, with current tax data, to see what their economic lives look like.

Those students who showed higher test score results in early grades, because they had more experienced kindergarten teachers and smaller class sizes (and “better” peers in some cases), are now making more money than comparable peers without those influences. And, they are also more likely to have gone to college and to have other characteristics associated with more stable economic and family lives.

For economists this is really a big deal, because to them actual earning ability is a far more important and meaningful measure than test scores or graduation rates. Read full blog post.

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