Hacking Public Education


This post will be a bit of a departure from what you guys are used to seeing from me, but it’s super-important to me personally, and I wanted to share it with you. 
 
I’ve watched in admiration as my brother Andrew Freedman has worked in politics the last few years.  My brother is a campaign director of Colorado Commits to Kids, which is an amendment in Colorado that fixes Colorado’s educational system. If you are at all interested in fixing public schools, not just in Colorado specifically, but throughout the country, I think it will be worth your time to read this post.
 
The public education has some truly massive underlying problems. Hopefully most of you by now have seen Waiting for Superman. This clip below really got to me:

 
 

What Waiting for Superman did is it helped bring into the public sphere of debate that fixing education is not just a monetary issue.  It’s not just a try harder issue.  You can’t address public education unless you address the fundamental problems with how we hire, pay, promote, and fire the teachers that teach our kids.  The problems just feel so intractable.  And no state ever seems to make enough progress to prove their model is better. 
 
For maybe the first time ever, one state has taken a swing at hacking public education in a truly comprehensive way.  It’s Colorado.  It’s Amendment 66, and they’re calling it “The Grand Bargain” because for the first time, anywhere, they got both the reforms right:
 

— PAYS for school reforms including a revised teacher-tenure framework
— COUNTS students throughout the year, instead of on a single day, so head-counts for funding are more accurate.

And the funding right:

— INCREASES state school funding by about $1 billion a year. 
 
 
That is virtually what all of Waiting for Superman was requesting. So how did Colorado get it done?  Well, they deployed a really unique mechanism that hacks their own system. They got the legislature to approve a bill that puts all the reforms into place, but it only goes into effect if it’s funded.  And then they put the funding mechanism in the hands of the voters.  
 
If Amendment 66 passes, it will become the blue print for solving education problems in every other state. It’s that big of a deal.  The NY Times just made that point:
 
 
Arne Duncan, the nation’s education secretary, has said that the success of Amendment 66, which is what voters will weigh in on, would make Colorado “the educational model for every other state to follow.”
 
 
***
 
 
The vote is Tuesday, November 5.  The referendum right now is polling 50/50.  Those that are against the referendum generally cite the tax increase as their biggest complaint.  Not a single income tax increase has passed in Colorado in over 20 years.
 
Proponents generally fall into two different camps:  those that are pro-funding public education and see Colorado’s 40th position as something that needs to be improved no matter what, and those that are philosophically in favor of the types of reforms spelled out in Waiting for Superman
 
I fall into that latter camp. I think there is a real chance the Colorado’s system could change everything. So really what is at stake is not just Colorado’s educational system, but potentially decades of reforms in every other state. 
 
And that’s why this is such a good hack. It’s a chance for all of us in our own states to see a truly grand experiment in education take place. And if there is anything we need nationwide, it’s more big swings at fixing a system that has been broken for way too long.
 

***


We need to make sure that people we know in Colorado go out and vote. It’s a mid-term election year so the voter turnout is predicted to be low and generally in mid-term cycles the youth count is especially low.
 
This is one those times when liking something on Facebook actually could matter. So at the very least, go like the Amendment 66 page on Facebook, as well as share a bunch of their videos with your Colorado Facebook followers.  With the election tomorrow, we can actually play our part and reach out to our friends directly – like right now, and remind them to make sure they got out and vote YES on 66 tomorrow.
 
Let’s do this.

5 responses
I agree that spending money on education is generally a good thing, but this whole referendum seems to ignore the fact that the most important teachers in a child's life are their parents. The number one factor affecting education outcomes isn't teacher salaries, tenure, or education budgets. It's parent involvement (see http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED375968 for an overview of some of the many studies showing this). How does throwing more money at schools and teachers in any way address this? You can have the most dedicated and resourceful teachers in the world during the day, but their effectiveness drops to almost nothing if their students go home and are discouraged from even doing their homework. Overall this referendum is a step in the right direction, but I'm afraid it might be shifting the conversation in the wrong direction.
This is a topic I'm passionate about and have been for years. I've read countless arguments and books on the subject of education reform. That said, I fully agree with Michael's comment. Where are the programs that are brilliant and innovative in their way of educating parents and getting them involved in the education process? This is the real issue. I'd love for someone to provide a convincing argument otherwise.
Said better here. More total agreement: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6669371 I fail to see how this is a hack. A hack suggests some sort of unexpectedly clever solution, often simple, that solves a specific problem. The failure of the American educational system is not a specific problem. Having worked for a newspaper on the education beat for a number of years and covered an uncountable number of asinine school board meetings, I can honestly tell you that what works in Colorado may not work in other states in the union. Now for the HN cop-out. I'm not against increasing funding for education, nor increased accountability and power for teachers. These are all great things. But there's a rotten core to our philosophy of education in this country that will never be solved by the government or any legal requirements for anything. Small, focused charter schools or aggressive home schooling are the only real ways I can see to truly revolutionize the state of education. But those two are so amazing unpalatable or unpractical for the vast majority of cases that personally I'm stumped. Really, if we're all going to be honest, what's going to change this is parental involvement. Daisy is not the majority of kids (referenced in the OP), she is an amazing exception and I hope the school system doesn't fail her. But the bigger issue is the teacher-student apathy to learning cycle. And that starts with parents who WANT their children to succeed and who understand how to help their children learn and achieve their goals. In the absence of that, no money in the world will produce successful children
Michael and Adam, To get parents more involved in their children's lives would probably require a bit more than reforming education. You would have to reform society in a way that encourages parents to stay at home with their kids instead of having to have both parents work all day to make ends meet. True enough, poor parenting in terms of academic achievement is a culprit. Kids are too distracted by media, and poor diets, and parents go medicate their children too much.But, it seems to me like you're dismissing problems in our schools because there are also problems in our homes. We'll have to address both if we want to make significant progress in education.
And how do you get these better parents in order to have better children and break a cycle of poor parents raising criminal children? The only way to intervene is to educate children and give them hope of a life beyond their parents' limitations.