Ben DeGrow is senior policy analyst for the Independence Institute, with a focus on education, union and school finance issues: http://education.i2i.org
He also keeps his own blog: Mount Virtus
On FOX 31 last night, political reporter did a sit-down with Governor John Hickenlooper for one of the School Cuts 101 series segments. The result? Unremarkable. Hick has been focused on budget issues, rightly so, and education reform barely shows up on his radar screen.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia is the administration's point-man on education issues. Last week at the Capitol he presented the three-point education agenda. Finding money to implement SB 191 — last year's significant teacher and principal evaluation bill — is a worthy cause. But tackling the state's serious 3rd grade literacy shortcomings by traveling the state to ask school districts for their input? Sorry. Try this approach instead. (The third part of the agenda, promoting college completion through the implementation of statewide articulation agreements, is outside my expertise.)
But most of the questions Stokols posed to the governor are largely predicated on some other parts of the School Cuts 101 series. Mainly first, should Colorado updated its school funding model based on an Oregon proposal that allots a share of dollars based on performance? (The idea has some merit in theory, but the Cascade State approach dangerously seeks to consolidate and centralize power.)
And second, should Colorado look at consolidating school districts, as was done in Memphis? (Research shows it neither “saves money” nor “improves the quality of education.”)
Centralization. Consolidation. Sensing a theme here? It's disappointing to see the realm of ideas unexplored by the FOX 31 series, such as:
- Structural changes to compensation, ending the collective, seniority-based salary schedule along with its ineffective “master's bumps” (by visiting Harrison School District Two or Eagle County Schools)
- Streamlining central administration, empowering school-level innovation and competitive contracting for non-classroom services (by visiting Falcon School District 49)
- Implementing a high-quality blended learning program that combines computer-assisted instruction with traditional classroom (by visiting Jefferson County Public Schools office of online learning)
As you can see, the news team could have done any of these stories by traveling within Colorado — though the blended learning piece would be enhanced by a visit to the successful Carpe Diem Collegiate charter school in Yuma, Arizona, or either of the Rocketship schools in San Jose, California. Both are getting remarkable results for less dollars per student.
For those who want to look to the future and seize the moment for real lasting reforms, I recommend the new book Customized Schooling as one good place to start. You can listen to a recent podcast interview I did with co-author Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute to get a flavor of the call for promoting “educational choice” more than “school choice,” unbundling school services, and what that all might portend.
This week's FOX 31 School Cuts 101 series may or may not make great television. But I think ultimately they missed a great opportunity to shine light on reforms and innovations that hold the greatest promise to make education a more productive enterprise on a large scale — an enterprise that ultimately meets parental demand and prepares students to be literate, thoughtful citizens and well prepared for the competitive job market of the 21st century.
Until the recent “crisis” the public school system has mostly lived on ever-rising per-pupil funding, and fiscal realities show us the model is no longer sustainable. Maybe FOX 31 or one of the other networks will pick up with a School Cuts 102 course that delves into some or all of the innovations I've given you a glimpse of here. It's time to look at making real changes.