Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lessons And Directions From The CREDO Urban Charter School Study

The latest big charter school study looked at urban charters and found, on average, that charter schools in 42 urban areas are having a positive impact on test scores when compared to traditional public schools in those areas. Depending on how you interpret effect size, "positive" can look rather big (a charter student shows an additional 40 days of learning in math) or rather small (a charter student is at the 52nd percentile in math instead of the 50th). Perhaps more importantly, there's a lot to tease apart in the phrase "on average." There is still a wide range of performance seen in charters, as there is in public schools, and these large-scale studies don't tell us much of the story. For that, writes, Matt Di Carlo, we should really be looking more closely at *why* some schools perform better than others, and avoid the typical charter vs. public debate that often fails to actually look at what's happening inside the schools.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

10 Arguments Against Common Core that Presidential Hopefuls Should Avoid

I like this list of arguments to avoid regarding the Common Core State Standards. I particularly like the analogy made in #4 regarding the CCSS not being "research based." Standards are goals, and Shanahan's comparison to goals for unemployment rates is useful. #9 is good, too. Implying you support a federal mandate that tells states what they can't do (like adopt common standards) is a funny way to say you support local control.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Iowa Lost Schools

Rural school district consolidation is a huge issue in my home state of Iowa. What used to be thousands of school districts are now down to a few hundred, some stretching across multiple counties to boost enrollment and raise revenues in the face of tough funding futures. In the process, buildings go empty and people struggle with what it means to be a community. The Des Moines Register's coverage looks to be excellent, although I don't see it changing what is inevitable for many small Iowa communities.
A Des Moines Register's yearlong project documenting the changes that Iowa communities face as they lose their school districts to declining enrollment and financial strains. Readers can follow the story online and participate in an interactive documentary project of Iowa's closed schools at or on social media using the hashtag #LostSchools. Read the coverage at

Monday, March 16, 2015

An Open Letter to My Students: I Am Sorry For What I Am About To Do To You

It's standardized testing season, and while I try to understand the position taken in this post, I could never see myself writing it. I've interacted with many other teachers and students who didn't like standardized testing, but down deep I always enjoyed the experience -- the challenge of the test, the navigation of multiple-choice answers, and the rewards for doing well. Testing for me was cathartic, a way to perform and express myself in a way I was good at. Some people can relax with a crossword puzzle. I can relax with the ACT. I know it's not like that for most people, but the more I realize and understand my biases the better I'll be at understanding what strikes me as odd when I read posts like this.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Recent Study Shows Our Teachers Make an Impact

If you only read this post, you'd think the study Teach for America is referencing showed TFA teachers were heads-and-shoulders above the rest. But dig just a little further -- really, just a little -- and read the brief of the Mathematica report ( and you'll find that in almost all the cases, TFA teachers performed about the same as other teachers in the study. Only in lower elementary reading did the study find students of TFA ahead of those of other teachers. TFA might brag that this study used "gold standard" research methods, but they sure didn't do a "gold standard" job of honestly interpreting the results.

Put to the test: Derek Briggs of CU on PARCC

Derek Briggs is on the technical advisory committees of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two testing consortia attempting to create a new generation of assessments to measure student understanding in English language arts and mathematics. (Derek is also my boss this year and taught a few of my classes.) Here Derek talks openly about PARCC, the test now being administered in Colorado. I've seen Derek in action long enough to know that he's not afraid to take a stand when he knows the evidence is on his side. But when it comes to PARCC, however, Derek knows that most of the evidence is yet to be collected. I found his thoughts here hopeful and realistic without being overconfident, and I hope people appreciate the challenge of creating tests that are noticeably better than ones used in the past.

Half Century

I only taught full-time for six years, well short of my 50th birthday. Here Shireen Dadmehr reflects on teaching after 18 years, having learned a lot of lessons along the way. A lot of these are familiar to me. Some I got. Some I was getting. Some I was looking forward to.

Friday, March 13, 2015

State Board blows up science, social studies test scores

Colorado policymakers can't decide where to set cut scores for science and social studies tests given last fall, and they won't release the scores until they come to some agreement. I'd love to see other kinds of score representations, like histograms showing the distribution of scores, but I'm pretty sure cut scores are baked into NCLB reporting requirements. Stories like this are a reminder that it's not the *test* that's potentially invalid, it's the *inferences* we make about the test that we have to worry about. There may not be right and wrong places to put cut scores, but some choices would be more sensible than others, and those choices do influence how people interpret scores.

$10 million rural aid bill advances one step

104 of Colorado's 178 districts have fewer than 1000 students, and 38 have only one administrator. If passed, a new bill would allow those districts to partner with boards of cooperative educational services and share services.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Faculty in Focus No. 4: The science educator

If there are any CU-Boulder School of Education faculty that embody our new "Be Boulder" slogan, it's Valerie Otero.
As a physics education researcher, Valerie Otero mentors university faculty and community K-12 teachers who teach in a variety of science disciplines to help them build learning environments that are empowering for students. She is driven to continue to improve the way science is taught, at all levels, and believes in progressive learning environments that enable students to use and develop the critical and creative intelligence they already have.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Essay on the mismatch between graduate programs at research universities and hiring needs at most colleges

Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm always amazed at how many of my graduate school colleagues had college-educated parents and grew up in a culture of education prestige, either by attending private schools, travelling extensively for academic reasons, or even just had family and friends in higher ed. It just sounds nothing like the world I grew up in. This article expresses the concern that such people aren't well-prepared to work in community colleges or public regional 4-year schools because the cultures are so different.

Children's Mathematics: Why Every Math Teacher Should Know About Cognitively Guided Instruction

Here's Christopher Danielson's brief guide to what he wishes all secondary teachers knew about Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What's a rekenrek? At Fernandez, it's building to learn

<blockquote>This week, Fernandez Center students are putting their talents to work to help their school district, completing an order of 500 math-number racks for Stevens Point students in kindergarten through third grade. The number racks are based on the rekenrek, a math tool developed in Holland that looks similar to an abacus and helps with addition and subtraction.</blockquote> You don't see the word "rekenrek" in news headlines, but this story from Wisconsin talks about how older kids in a school district make these math learning tools for younger students.

Teacher preparation enrollments plummet

<blockquote>Enrollments in teacher preparation programs in California are continuing to decline at a precipitous rate, according to new figures from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Between the 2001-02 and 2012-13 school years, enrollments in teacher preparation programs dropped 74 percent.</blockquote> No surprise: It may be getting difficult to recruit new teachers and increase pressure/blame on the teaching profession at the same time.