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Rise & Shine: Boulder Valley district and three Colorado schools recognized for green practices

EdNewsColorado - 4 hours 24 min ago

working out the details

A showdown over the Student Success Act's education finance plan was delayed while key players continue to negotiate over amendments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

classroom discipline

A new report faults Denver Public Schools for large racial disparities in its discipline policy enforcement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

greening schools

Boulder Valley School District was one of nine in the country to receive a U.S. Department of Education sustainability award. ( Daily Camera )

A Fort Collins middle school and elementary schools in Larkspur and Cortez were also recognized as being particularly green. ( Coloradoan )

guns in schools

A new poll reports that about half of Colorado voters support allowing teachers and education officials to carry guns in schools. ( Denver Post )

the smallest students

Now that Boulder Valley has completed its preschool access expansion project, it is shifting its focus to ensuring consistency in early childhood instruction. ( Daily Camera )

top of the class

U.S. News and World Report released its annual high school rankings, and 88 Colorado schools made the top list. ( Denver Post )

And the magazine named Lafayette's Peak to Peak Charter School the top high school in the state. ( Daily Camera )

searching for a home

The Poudre School District Board of Education gave Fort Collins Montessori School more time to find permanent facilities. ( Coloradoan )

reaching out

Roughly 1,200 people came to a bone marrow drive to see if they could help a third-grader with leukemia in Falcon Valley School District 49. ( Gazette )

pot for schools

A new budget plan would use $23 million of Colorado's marijuana tax revenue on school nurses and drug treatment and outreach. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS' air conditioning tab would be $100 million

Catalyst Chicago - 4 hours 26 min ago

Chicago Public Schools put a $100 million price tag Tuesday on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s sudden mandate to air-condition classrooms in 206 schools, even as CPS faces a $1 billion shortfall and many other pressing capital needs. (Sun-Times)

Joel Hood, CPS spokesman, said Tuesday the district estimates spending $20 million per year out of the capital budget over five years to fulfill the mayor’s order to cool classrooms with window units.

TOPS IN STATE AND NATION: Chicago-area schools dominate the top 10 in the state, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, and two rank among the nation’s 50 best schools. Two of the Chicago schools ranked in the top 50 in the nation on the U.S. News list: Northside College Prep (No. 36) and Walter Payton College Prep (No. 49). Northside and Payton ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state. Two other Chicago schools — Jones College Prep and Whitney Young Magnet School — ranked No. 3 and No. 4. (CBS Chicago)

IN THE STATE
TEACHERS NOT READY: A new survey shows many Illinois teachers say they're not fully prepared for Common Core. The survey, by the Illinois State Board of Education, said just 17.5 percent of teachers say they're ready for Common Core; 11.5 percent said they're completely unprepared. (WJBC)

IN THE NATION
COMMUNITY COLLEGE TRANSFERS: Community College students who transfer to four-year colleges with an associate degree are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who transfer without one, according to a new study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. Nationally, nearly two thirds of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges do so without first earning an associate degree. And while more than 80 percent of all entering community colleges indicate their intention to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 15 percent end up doing so within six years.

NEW PATHS TO DIVERSITY: Leaders in higher education, upset by Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision upholding Michigan’s ban on race-based preferences in college admissions, said the ruling would nudge them further along the path of finding alternative means to promote diversity in their student bodies. (The New York Times)

DITCHING COMMON CORE: A panel of Indiana business and education leaders voted in support of new math and English standards to replace the Common Core in state classrooms this fall.  The new standards slated to go before the State Board of Education on April 28 for final approval. (Associated Press)

PROPOSING MAJOR OVERHAUL: The GOP candidate for California governor would throw out much of the education code, send funds directly to schools rather than to districts and let most public schools run like charters.

THE WAIT IS OFF: The number of students placed on waiting lists for kindergarten dropped by half this year as New York City’s Education Department used a new strategy for matching students with schools, officials said on Monday. (The New York Times)

Categories: Urban School News

Success Act negotiations get more time

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 21:11

A showdown over contentious parts of the Student Success Act didn’t materialize Tuesday after Sen. Mike Johnston, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, delayed action on the bill, saying, “We have some work to do on amendments.”

The Denver Democrat, who’s also a prime sponsor of House Bill 14-1292, raised some hackles last Thursday when he successfully argued to have the Senate Education Committee send the measure to finance rather than directly to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Johnston was on the losing side of key amendment votes in education, and some school district lobbyists feared he would strip those amendments in finance, where he and two Democratic allies have a majority. (See this story for details of last week’s meeting and background on the long fight over the bill. And get details in this legislative staff summary.)

Johnston mentioned that he needs to work with Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, who teamed up with three Republicans in Senate Education to pass the amendments Johnston opposed.

Those amendments increased to $120 million the funding that would be devoted to buying down the state’s $1.04 billion K-12 funding shortfall (the so-called negative factor), reduce a proposed $20 million increase for early literacy programs to $10 million, cut a proposed study of enrollment counting methods and eliminate funding for a proposed state website that would link users to information about district and school spending. Instead, districts would post that data on their own websites.

The hot-button issues are early literacy funding and financial transparency. Senate Finance next meets on Thursday morning, and people involved in the negotiations expect amendments to roll the negative factor reduction back to $110 million and to restore the early literacy funding.

The shape of a possible financial transparency compromise is less clear.

Henry Sobanet, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget director, made a rare appearance at the finance hearing, politely urging some sort of statewide financial reporting system.

“I think there is a cheaper way forward” to create a transparency website than was proposed in the original version of HB 14-1292. “Moving toward visibility we think is a good thing,” Sobanet said.

Transparency has become the surprise sticking point in the Student Success debate. School districts have opposed the mandate, arguing that they already provide substantial financial information for the public and that a new system would impose costs and administrative burdens they don’t need.

The sponsors, Hickenlooper and education reform interest groups have pushed for more transparency, especially at the school level, and for common data reporting among districts.

The dispute has been intense enough that it’s created hard feelings between sponsors and some district lobbyists.

(There are subtexts to the transparency debate as well. Reform interest groups think school-level data will shed light on whether schools with high at-risk populations get enough money. Charter interests want more detailed information on special education funding because they suspect districts don’t give them enough. And some Republican lawmakers hope more detailed financial information would highlight pension costs.)

Senate Finance did vote 3-2 to pass House Bill 14-1298, a companion measure known as the School Finance Act.

The committee left untouched Senate Education amendments that removed House restrictions on use of $17 million in at-risk early childhood funding and that modestly increased funding for full-day kindergarten. The bill still includes $30.5 million in additional funding for English language learner programs. Senate Education moved that funding to a separate account that won’t be subject to the automatic annual increases required by the constitution for some types of school funding.

Sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, indicated he may have amendments to HB 14-1298 in the appropriations committee or on the floor. (Get more details on other provisions of the bill in this legislative staff summary.)

Categories: Urban School News

Improving teacher quality through licensing

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 14:00

As Colorado considers policy improvements that will better ensure a quality teacher in every classroom, a necessary part of the conversation is determining how paths will be created into the classroom and rethinking teacher licensing.

As members of the Professional Association of Colorado Educator’s (PACE) Teacher Licensure Committee, we spent the last six months meeting with a diverse group of educators to explore possible recommendations to improve teacher quality through the licensure process in Colorado.

In addition, PACE surveyed classroom teachers and published a report that included both the recommendations of our committee, as well as the survey data from other experienced teachers. As stakeholders on the front lines, we believe that classroom teachers are uniquely equipped to provide invaluable input in education policy conversations. We want to see our profession advanced more than any outside stakeholders.

Currently, the dialogue about changing teacher licensure is usually focused on two seemingly opposite points of view. One side believes that the process for receiving a license should be loosened, allowing for a larger and more diverse pool of potential teachers. The other side argues that the bar should be raised, restricting access to the teaching profession by making it more difficult to gain a teaching license.

We know we all want an excellent teacher in front of every student in Colorado, but how do we ensure a process that both increases the talent in the teacher application pool and raises the bar for the teaching profession?

The unanimous response from the teachers on our committee was that doing both is possible. We must reduce any artificial, “box-checking” barriers for entry into the profession on the front end. This would open the teacher applicant pool to more potentially talented teachers who might be mid-career changers, retirees from other professions, or those that are new college graduates who majored in subjects other than education.

Currently, too many gifted professionals are discouraged from teaching because they can’t check the boxes needed for an initial teaching license.

This is not to say that anyone and everyone should simply be allowed to become a teacher without any accountability. You cannot identify teacher quality based on a teacher’s licensing application alone. Teaching quality can only be identified once that individual enters a class room and starts to teach.

Therefore, we recommend that every teaching candidate should be required to satisfactorily complete a paid apprenticeship or residency under the daily mentorship of a proven educator before they are granted a professional license to teach a classroom on their own. There is much more to teaching than a demonstration of content knowledge, or even a knowledge of pedagogy. Teacher quality must be demonstrated in a room full of students.

We wouldn’t drop our car off with a brand new mechanic, unless we knew there was someone more experienced working by his side, and we certainly wouldn’t agree to a surgery performed by a doctor who’d never done the operation before without guidance. Unless there is a proven mentor working closely with a new teacher, we should not expect Colorado’s parents to leave their kids in that new teacher’s classroom.

In addition to these recommendations for improving the way we license teachers on the front end, our committee also recommended developing a more automated process for great teachers to have their license renewed. The survey results showed that 88% of teachers support making it easier for effective teachers to renew their license. Renewing a license should not be cumbersome or considered a regulatory nightmare by teachers.

The final recommendation is to create a tiered system of licenses in which a teacher can attain different roles. There are many roles for a teacher to consider in the profession. Such licenses would allow teachers to develop in their profession and give them goals for which they could strive, including the role a mentor teacher for new teachers entering the field.

While there is much debate about finding ways to retain good teachers and remove bad teachers from classrooms, we encourage policymakers to consider a better system for attracting talented teachers and screening out poor-performing teachers before they are allowed to teach a class on their own. We can work together to create a system that balances the needs of our schools with advancing the professionalism of our educators.

Categories: Urban School News

Teacher candidates to face new performance assessment

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 13:18

Some students and educators in teacher preparation programs say they were caught off-guard when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved a single-source contract two months ago with NCS Pearson Inc. to administer a new performance assessment required for teacher certification. 

Starting in the fall of 2015, teacher candidates must pay the national testing company $300 to evaluate portfolios of their student-teaching performance for a new assessment called the edTPA. The assessment, which is already being used in five states and will come online in another four states during the next two years, sets a national standard to gauge teacher readiness.

ISBE officials say the contract with Pearson is necessary to comply with a state law that requires an evidence-based assessment of teacher effectiveness as part of its certification process by September of 2015. The law did not specify the assessment, but last summer, ISBE chose the edTPA, which was designed by educators at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE).

The edTPA has been field-tested nationally, including in Illinois, and is modeled after the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Pearson’s Evaluation Systems group won the contract to provide the infrastructure to administer the assessment after a request-for-proposals at Stanford University, which owns the assessment.

 “The Board and Superintendent have said that if another product becomes available that meets the criteria, we would certainly evaluate it as well, but at this time the edTPA is the only one of its kind so we had to go through the sole-source process in order to make it available,” said ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover in an e-mail to Catalyst.

No other vendors spoke out against the single-source contract during ISBE’s meeting in February, nor did any attend a public hearing last week on the contract.

Objections to the assessment

Critics of the state’s decision to use the edTPA say they don’t have major complaints about the assessment itself, which includes a review of a video of the students’ in-class instruction, lesson plans and other work samples. But they worry about the number of high-stakes assessments necessary for licensure. And they don’t understand why scorers hired by the private company, and not university faculty and professors who know the teacher candidates personally, are the ones who will grade portfolios.

“Our objection is that it takes a form of assessment that should be organic and come from the local community of educators, and turns it into something standardized and nationalized,” says Savannah Mirisola-Sullivan, a graduate student in education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “We worry about a conflict of interest, because they’d profit off of our failure.”

Pearson, which also administers the Assessment of Professional Teaching (APT) tests required for Illinois teacher candidates, stands to make at least $2 million annually from administering the edTPA. The five-year contract will cost nothing for ISBE, as teaching candidates will carry the burden of paying fees to Pearson.

A Pearson spokeswoman said she could not comment on the contract and referred questions on the edTPA to SCALE.

Raymond Pecheone, executive director of SCALE, said states have the discretion to allow local faculty to score their own students’ edTPA portfolios – but explained that they would have to use the Pearson platform.

“If they’re willing to step up, it’s the best way to use the assessment,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity for faculty to learn about their candidates’ performance.”

Pecheone said he recognizes that the pushback across the country against the testing industry, and against Pearson in particular. But he assured that the company had no involvement in the decisions made about the design, development, training and other procedures associated with the edTPA.

“Pearson doesn’t fail candidates. The standard setting for the edTPA was done through professional panels of key policy makers and faculty across the country,” said Pecheone.

Individual states are responsible for setting the scores needed to pass the edTPA, which has a maximum score of 75. Professional panels convened by SCALE recommend that states use a maximum cut score of no more than 42 points. Just under 58 percent of teacher candidates who took the assessment during national field-testing last year would have passed at that cut score, although that percentage is expected to rise as teaching programs become more familiar with the assessment.

ISBE sent a survey to university faculty in February for suggestions on scoring bands, and will suggest a required passing score of 35 for the first two years. The state then plans to raise the cut scores during each of the remaining years of the contract, settling on 41 in the 2019-2020 academic year, Vanover wrote in an email.

Public hearing on contract

Last week, Mirisola-Sullivan and other students, as well as professors from the University of Illinois at Chicago and St. Xavier University, voiced their concerns about the edTPA during the public hearing on ISBE’s approval of the single-source contract with Pearson.

Jason Helfer, ISBE’s assistant superintendent for Teacher and Leadership Effectiveness, explained that using the edTPA assessment ensures that “individual scorers are seeing the same thing,” because all scorers receive the same training.

Pearson pays scorers $75 per portfolio. The company provides SCALE-designed training for scorers – who are university faculty at teacher education programs or teachers in the field – as well as technical assistance, and the web-based platform for submission of the assessment.

Although the students got answers to some of their questions at last week’s hearing, they knew it wasn’t the appropriate avenue for the big-picture debate on how or whether the assessment should be administered.

“This is a hearing on the method of source selection,” reminded Adam Alstott, deputy general counsel at the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission, who administered the hearing. “These hearings are not the proper avenue for challenging statutory mandates, agency rulemakings, or […] other state agency business decisions.”

The UIC students, who have vowed to boycott the edTPA, say they will continue to look for ways to challenge the new requirement.

“We know we’re losing the battle,” says Jessica Suarez, an undergraduate student at UIC. “Higher education is under attack. I failed the TAP so many times and have spent so much money taking all these tests. […] The question is, can you afford to become a teacher?”

The edTPA is just one of a series of tests that teacher candidates must pass in order to obtain licensure. The state also requires the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) or high scores on the ACT or SAT; a content-area test; and the Assessment of Professional Teaching tests, as well as successful completion of program coursework and other graduation requirements.

Categories: Urban School News

Fewer expulsions but huge racial disparities in Denver’s discipline numbers

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 13:01

Denver Public School’s disciplinary actions overwhelming target students of color, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report was produced by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, a local advocacy organization focused on school reform and eliminating racial inequities in education. The group examined the district’s rates of expulsion, suspension and law enforcement referral, with an eye on strategies to end the school-to-jail pipeline.

The report gives DPS an overall grade of C for its disciplinary practices and a D- for the huge differences between the disciplinary actions taken against students of color as compared with their white peers.

Denver ranks last among the state’s 20 largest districts for racial disparities in disciplinary actions, the group reported. The report notes that that disparities stand even when disability and family income are accounted for.

The district fared better on other measures, including rates of expulsion. Still, black students were over seven times more likely to be expelled than their white peers and Latino students were almost twice as likely.

The district’s lowest grade on the report was an F for how well parents and students know their rights. Padres found that few parents were aware their students could receive school work during suspensions, or even that students and parents could appeal suspensions.

To see the full report in English, see here. The report is available in Spanish here.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS adds 5 more IB programs

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 09:32

Five Chicago Public schools are adding International Baccalaureate programs for elementary and middle schoolers in the fall, joining several dozen other Chicago schools that already offer the internationally recognized model. (Sun-Times)

AIR CONDITIONING ALL AROUND: The Sun-Times' Michael Sneed is reporting this morning that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has now ordered the Chicago Public School system to add air conditioning to every classroom in the city that doesn’t have it, starting this summer. (Sun-Times)

IN THE NATION
DATA REPOSITORY TO CLOSE: In a setback for the nearly $8 billion prekindergarten through 12th-grade education technology software market, inBloom, a non-profit corporation offering to warehouse and manage student data for public school districts across the country, announced on Monday morning that it planned to shut its doors. Financed with $100 million in seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the venture promised to streamline how teachers and administrators accessed student records. (The New York Times)

BRAND NAMES IN K-12: President Barack Obama has reshaped the education policy landscape over the past five years by dangling money—much of it in the form of competitive grants—in front of cash-strapped states and districts. But, as his administration enters its twilight years, the future is in doubt for programs that have become brand names in the world of K-12 policy, including Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation and Promise Neighborhoods. (Education Week)

MORE AID FOR POORER DISTRICTS: Kansas' Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a school funding bill on Monday that increases aid for poor districts to satisfy a portion of a State Supreme Court ruling and that also ends the state’s mandate for teacher tenure. (Associated Press)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Drilling plan near elementary school withdrawn

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/22/2014 - 08:59

On the Capitol

A bill that would change regulations on online education received a chilly reception in the House yesterday. Lawmakers are rushing through a smorgasbord of bills before the end of the session on May 7th. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, the debate over the proposed education budget is still simmering. One lawmaker says it's a win for women and girls. ( Huffington Post )

And one writer says a higher education funding plan doesn't go far enough. ( Denver Post )

Like oil and water

An industry proposal to drill 19 wells near a Greeley elementary school received such vehement backlash from the community that officials withdrew the plan. ( Denver Post )

The wheels on the bus go round and round

After a car crashed into a school bus so hard it wedged itself under the back of the bus, the bus driver took a moment to drive home school bus safety. ( 9News )

Keeping a close eye

After expanding its preschool program, Boulder Valley School District is forming a task force to make sure the standards for the program are high and implemented well. ( Daily Camera )

Star students

The Gazette recognized 20 Pikes Peak region seniors in their annual "Best and Brightest" list. ( Gazette )

And now we wait

Pueblo's school board reviewed 23 applicants for the superintendent position. The list of finalists is expected next week. ( Chieftain )

Earth education

Montrose and Olathe students took the opportunity to learn about their environment yesterday as part of Earth Day celebrations. ( Montrose Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Online bill has rocky outing in House Education

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 21:23

Proposed changes in state law governing multi-district online schools got generally bad reviews from witnesses at a committee hearing Monday, and a vote on House Bill 14-1382 was delayed so its sponsors can work up some amendments.

The bill was one of 10 bills on a House Education Committee calendar that was an odd mix of big bills, relatively routine measures, a couple of new ideas and bills that have no chance of passage but are being kept alive out of courtesy.

Those sorts of long mixed-bag calendars become increasingly common as committees race to finish their work before the legislature’s May 7 adjournment deadline.

Controversial

House Bill 14-1382 proposes to update the definition of online education in state law, make changes in how online enrollment is counted, require school districts to more promptly transfer student records to online schools and to create pilot programs to test innovations in online education. (Read bill summary here.)

Its most controversial recommendation is to have the Department of Education set standards for districts that authorize multi-district online programs, rather than certify online programs themselves and then let districts supervise them, as is the case now.

The bill was developed by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers based partly on the recommendations of a task force they convened in late January and that issued its recommendations in late March (see story).

The bill drew plenty of criticism Monday from witnesses, including representatives of the for-profit online company K12 Inc., the Colorado Coalition of Cyberschool Families. GOAL Academy and even some members of the task force itself.

The major complaints were that the task force wasn’t fully representative of the online community, that switching CDE’s role in multi-district online schools would be disruptive for schools and that there’s not enough time left in the 2014 session to handle such a complex topic.

After an hour of testimony, House Education chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, huddled with the House sponsors, Democrat Dave Young of Greeley and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida. After a brief break, she announced the bill would be laid over to allow the sponsors to work on amendments.

They’ll have to work fast, as the legislature has to adjourn two weeks from Wednesday.

Something new

A new bill that could provide more scholarship money and college counseling for Colorado students passed the committee 11-1.

House Bill 14-1384 would create a program call the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative to scholarships and other forms of assistance to Colorado students starting in 2016. The bill is focused on students who are eligible for federal Pell grants and students whose household incomes are 100 to 250 percent above Pell requirements.

The bill, partly based on the structure of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, also would provide college counseling service to high school students. The program would initially be funded by an infusion of $33 million that’s been hanging around in the Department of Higher Education since a 2010 law required the College Invest program to sell off its portfolio of students loans. The bill also envisions future state appropriations and private grants as funding sources for the loans. (Get more details in this legislative staff summary.)

One big bill

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia made a cameo appearance to testify in favor of Senate Bill 14-001, and the committee voted 10-2 to advance the measure. This is the so-called College Affordability Act, which would increase higher education funding by $100 million in 2014-15 and put a 6 percent cap on tuition increases next year.

The measure hasn’t been controversial, but it represents a significant increase for colleges and universities after years of cuts, and it is being promoted by legislative Democrats as a good-news election year measure.

(This year’s other big higher education measure, 59-3 – House Bill 14-1319, received final 59-3 final passage on the House floor Monday morning. This is the bill that would create a new method for allocating funding among colleges and universities, partly based on institutional performance, starting in 2015-16.)

Counselors and closures

The committee voted 7-4 to advance Senate Bill 14-150, which would add $5 million in funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps program (doubling the funding) as well as expand the number of schools eligible for grants, which are used to train existing counselors and hire additional ones. (See this legislative staff summary for details on the bill and this CDE report for program information.)

House Bill 14-1381 passed with an 8-4 committee vote. This measure would establish requirements for public communications, timetables and student reassignment procedures in the closure plans for schools that are to be shut down for low academic achievement.

Doomed courtesy bills

Republicans introduced a package of education-related bills early in the session, most of them proposing to resurrect various portions of last year’s Senate Bill 13-213, which didn’t go into effect. Variations of those proposals related to English language learners, charter facilities funding, district financial transparency, kindergarten funding and enrollment counting have been incorporated into two other measures, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298. Those are pending in the Senate and are surrounded by a bit of uncertainty and controversy (see story).

Because of that, four of the GOP bills were laid over by House Education until after the Senate acts on those bills, kind of delaying the inevitable as a courtesy to their sponsors.

But one measure, House Bill 14-1212, was postponed indefinitely at the request of Wilson, its sponsor. It would have provided state funding for all full-day kindergarten programs.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of bills mentioned in this story plus other information. The Tracker includes all education-related bills introduced this year.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Common Core changing K-12 landscape

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 10:13

The Common Core State Standards have been reshaping the American education landscape for four years, leaving their mark on curriculum and instruction, professional development, teacher evaluation, the business of publishing, and the way tests are designed. (Education Week)

MAJOR CUTS FORECAST:  Most of Illinois’ 860 school districts would see cuts in funding if the state’s temporary tax increase is rolled back as scheduled, according to a document being circulated as part of Illinois Democrats’ campaign to preserve the tax hike and push to update the state’s school funding formula. (Northwest Herald)

Last week the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics welcomed Elizabeth Dozier, Principal of Fenger Academy High School who's been heavily featured in CNN's "Chicagoland" series, and others to explore successful intervention methods and CPS discipline policies. The panel was moderated by The Chicago Tribune's Noreen Ahmed-Ullah. Watch a video of the discussion here.

IN THE NATION
HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA NOT ENOUGH: As part of her push to promote higher education, First lady Michelle Obama is encouraging high school students to dream big about their education beyond graduation. "No longer is high school the bar. That is not enough," Mrs. Obama told students during tour of Howard University last week. "You have got to go to college or get some kind of professional training." (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Missing data leaves teachers in the dark when it comes to evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 09:59

Trust issues

Some parents and community members in southeast Denver are suspicious of the district's intentions for a new elementary school, despite the Denver Public Schools repeated claims of transparency. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

evaluating the evaluations

As the school year winds down, teachers across Colorado are left wondering what data — if any — will be used in their first state-mandated evaluations. ( Denver Post )

Part of the 2010 law that created Colorado's teacher evaluation policies is the now legally-challenged "mutual consent" statute. Some teachers are suing DPS for alleged abuse of the law. Other teachers say it simply isn't true. ( Westword )

New standards

At a Pueblo charter school, teaching literacy doesn't look that much different despite an early adoption of the Colorado Academic Standards. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A home in any other language

For some 400 English language learning families, understanding a new language isn't just a skill, it's a step toward a new culture and acceptance. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Digital School

Electronic tablets are making classrooms more engaging, according to teachers at a St. Vrain Valley school. And more are on the way for the school district. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Tragedy's impact

Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis marked the 15th anniversary of the school's shooting tragedy Sunday — his last as principal. ( 9News )

Survivors elsewhere are finding their purpose 15 years later. ( USA Today via Detroit Free Press )

Bus(ted)

One person was hurt during an auto accident involving a DPS bus. The school bus driver was later cleared of any wrong doing. ( KDVR, CBS Denver )

Monkey Bars

Boulder's University Hill Elementary School playground is getting a $100,000 makeover. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

Colorado's new standards and assessments are a step toward creating an education we can all be proud of, opines a Denver parent. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

There is no more important investment we can make than the safety of our children, write leaders from both parties in the Colorado Senate. That's why they're excited to see the governor sign legislation that will fund a hotline intended to prevent violence on campuses. ( Denver Post )

A law that would establish more transparency for school funding isn't strong enough, suggests a conservative think tank leader. ( Denver Post )

Transparency talks

One man's complaint has raised questions about transparency for the Ridgeway School District School board. ( Ouray News )

Categories: Urban School News

At Pueblo charter school, teaching literacy hasn’t changed much with new standards

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/21/2014 - 08:45

The end of a three week unit on characters, plots, and themes is near in Leslie Fitzgerald’s eighth grade reading class at the Pueblo School of Arts and Sciences. On Thursday students began reading their last short story, “With Bert and Ray, told by William,” in a collection Throwing Shadows by E.L. Konigsburg.

The charter school class is using the anthology of short stories to understand the most basic literary techniques. These lessons may seem strikingly similar to lessons of yesteryear, even though this is the first year schools are supposed to be teaching to a new set of standards. For some Colorado districts, the new standards have meant a complete instructional overhaul.

But at this Pueblo arts and sciences school, teachers began exploring the standards in 2010 and found that in most subjects they had to make only slight shifts, said Natalie Allen, head of school.

Fitzgerald’s students are a bit excited after returning from a districtwide choir competition. As they tumble into their seats and unpack their shared tubs of books, reading journals, and workbooks, Fitzgerald reads aloud to them. The story of “Bert and Ray” begins with the narrator explaining his family’s current plight: His father has died of alcoholism and his mother, known as “Ma,” has been left with plenty of debt, including two months of dentist bills.

Fitzgerald usually begins the group reading aloud, she said after the lesson. “I want the students to hear fluent reading.” It also helps ensure that all students are in the same place when the class breaks for discussion. And it doesn’t take Fitzgerald long before she’s prodding her students about unfamiliar vocabulary words and themes.

To pay off the dentist bills, William tells the readers, Ma has decided to have a garage sale. William’s father was a bit of a pack rat and collected guns and other hunting paraphernalia including duck decoys. Fitzgerald stops to ask her students if they know anyone like William’s father. Does anyone in your family collect obscure objects? The students nod and Fitzgerald shares her own experience of a family member collecting hundreds of National Geographic magazines.

A common reading instruction technique is to ask students to connect the text they’re reading to their own personal lives. However, Fitzgerald says, part of an instructional shift aligned to the new Colorado Academic Standards requires students to go beyond personal connections and connect what they read to other texts. She does this next.

As the story continues, Ma has priced all the items and opened her home to buyers. Among her first customers is a pair of antique collectors, Bert and Ray. The collectors offer Ma exactly what she asked for the decoy ducks and are quickly on their way. Bert and Ray tell Ma to invite them back whenever she has another sale — they’ll be there.

Fitzgerald stops again to ask her students what that might mean. Several students suggest Ma might have priced the decoys too low. Fitzgerald affirms their inferences. Despite devaluing the decoy ducks, Ma and William make enough money to pay off their dentist bills and get more work done.

One day, on their way home from the dentist, William recognizes Bert and Ray’s shop by a sign hanging outside. The sign includes the word “proprietor,” which Fitzgerald stops to quiz the class on. “What does proprietor mean?” she asks the class. One student suggests it means “expert.” That’s a good guess, Fitzgerald said, but not quite. “What other clues from the text might be useful?”

Prepackaged vocabulary tests, as part of the Success For All literacy curriculum the school uses, have become increasingly more complex, Fitzgerald said after the lesson. In earlier editions of the program, students might have been asked to choose words from a bank to fill in sentences. Now, they might have to come up with a word on their own or find words being misused in sentences. The vocabulary tests are now three times as long.

William suggests he and his mother visit Bert and Ray, as the collectors had instructed them to do if they were ever near the shop. But Ma doesn’t want to. She believes it’s rude to “pay a call unexpected.” Fitzgerald stops here, after reading aloud for 15 minutes. What does that tell you about Ma, she asks? How does she compare to other adults in the previous short stories we’ve read, asks Fitzgerald?

Critics of Colorado’s new standards have often criticized what they say is an emphasis on shorter stories and non-fictional texts, as opposed to longer classic novels. But Fitzgerald said she has used novels and short stories interchangeably for years. She said using short stories makes it easier for students to draw comparisons and contrast themes and symbols as they begin exploring those literary devices.

After a brief discussion on Ma, Fitzgerald asks her students to stop and predict what will happen when William and Ma enter Bert and Ray’s shop. She also assigns the majority of what’s left in the short story, pages 122-136, for partner reading. It might seem like a lot for independent and partner reading, she said, but she assures her students they can do it. Her students will have a unit test next week.

Categories: Urban School News

Process to select new elementary school sparks controversy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:42

Accusations of inadequate transparency have tarnished Denver Public Schools’ efforts to select a school operator for a controversial new southeast campus.

The planned elementary school at Hampden Heights, where construction started in January, has for months been at the center of public disputes between neighbors and DPS, including a lawsuit over land acquisition scheduled to be argued in Denver District Court in May. Three applicants — charter school Rocky Mountain Prep, an expeditionary learning school, and a traditional neighborhood school — are vying to occupy the new campus.  The Denver school board will pick the winner in June.

But some area residents accuse the district of having settled on the Rocky Mountain Prep charter, before the community has a chance to provide input and an official process can take place. It’s an accusation school district officials have been quick to counter, saying DPS systems for selecting new schools have been overhauled to remove any possibility of favoritism.

Improving transparency

But charges of sham transparency have proved difficult for the district to counter. Most recently, the district has faced controversy over a new high school in Stapleton. And recent years have seen conflict over new schools at the North and West High School campuses and in the Far Northeast. Debates across the city have been punctuated by accusations against the district of insufficient communication and favoritism for charter networks.

But district officials say they have recently transformed the process for selecting new schools and identifying facilities for them.

“We’ve worked pretty hard in the past year to get clearer and clearer about facilities decisions,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief of innovation.

As for the accusations that the district had already selected Rocky Mountain Prep for Hampden Heights, Whitehead-Bust said that the new procedures the district has implemented make that impossible.

“I can assure you a decision hasn’t been made,” said Whitehead-Bust. She said each application was scrutinized by eight to 10 reviewers, who include district staffers as well as independent financial experts, parents, and others. “There’s no way there could be a predetermined outcome because there are so many people involved. They have to come to consensus. They interview the applicants and the board, in the case of charter schools.”

She cited praise of the district’s procedures from national groups, including the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

“We’re known nationally for the quality and integrity of the process around our new schools,” said Whitehead-Bust. “We are held up as an exemplar for transparency processes.”

Misunderstandings and mistrust

Still, the perception at Hampden Heights lingers that Rocky Mountain Prep, a high-structure charter school, is a shoo-in for the campus.

“My prediction is it’s going to be Rocky Mountain Prep,” said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous because she was employed by the district. Her preferred school was the district-run school, as was the case for several other parents. But, she said, “our school board member loves [James Cryan, the school’s founder].”

Other parents and community members echoed her sentiment, saying that Rocky Mountain Prep appeared to be the district’s favored applicant.

And the charter’s own actions may have exacerbated those feelings. The school recently posted a job listing for a “Founding School Leader: Hampden Heights Campus.” They have since changed it to the more generic “Founding School Leader: Second Campus” (an archived copy of the original posting is available here).

Also, current and prospective Rocky Mountain Prep parents and students showed up en masse to the last community meeting in t-shirts emblazoned with the charter’s logo.

But Rocky Mountain Prep’s leaders say that if something’s been decided, they haven’t heard. And the posting went up, they said,  to ensure they have a strong leader if they do get approved.

“The most important part of [our planning] process is identifying and selecting an amazing school leader at least one year before the school opens,” said Cryan, the school’s founder and CEO. “This allows for a rigorous residency year and the thoughtful planning necessary to open an amazing school.”

And some say the politicized environment surrounding Hampden Heights, where the district has already battled accusations of back room dealings over the acquisition of the land, is the real reason for the lingering suspicions.

“Hampden Heights has been in a political realm since the idea [for a new school] came around,” said school board member Anne Rowe, who represents southeast Denver. “That may be part of it.”

Categories: Urban School News

The type of education we should all expect

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:00

Colorado’s public schools are not delivering the type of quality education that we should expect, and the onus is on all of us – parents, teachers, school administrators, public officials, and average Coloradoans alike – to make necessary changes.

As a proud mother of three school-aged children in the northeast Denver community, I have a personal stake in ensuring that my children receive a quality education that prepares them for their futures. But I also believe that a quality education is a right of all students – and that Colorado needs to band together to cause necessary changes to our education system.

The Colorado Academic Standards along with their aligned assessments are the next steps in bringing about the necessary changes to every school in Colorado, from the Denver metro area to the rural plains. These new, rigorous standards – which are aligned in math and literacy to the Common Core State Standards – are more comprehensive and offer a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what our kids need to know to be prepared for college and careers. But it’s not enough to just raise the bar — the new, aligned assessments will help us prove it.

I was not given access to a quality education, and I have felt the consequences my whole life. I was a hard-working student and graduated at the top of my Denver high school class. After turning my tassel, I was eager and ambitious to move forward in my life journey, confident that my years in school had prepared me for my future. Unfortunately, I was in for a rude awakening.

I later learned that my high school was classified as a “failing school.” Even though I carried a 4.3 GPA, colleges and employers repeatedly told me that I was not considered a strong applicant because the education I had received did not meet their expectations. I was set behind in life through no fault of my own. My story is not uncommon – only 42 percent of Colorado’s eighth graders are judged proficient in math, and only 40 percent are proficient in reading.

Fortunately, the Colorado Academic Standards have been developed to address this pressing issue. These standards establish a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, affording them the opportunity to compete with their peers around the world. These expectations do not tell teachers what to teach in their classroom, only what skills a student should know in each subject at each grade level. The aligned PARCC assessments will help teachers know whether or not students are meeting those expectations so they can correct course. That will help us make sure that no more Coloradans who receive a diploma will face the uphill climb I did.

The Colorado Academic Standards and PARCC assessments will give me and other parents across the state the confidence that our children will have the educational foundation they need to not only move up to the next grade level, but be fierce competitors for the jobs of tomorrow. And it isn’t just parents who support these standards – 70 percent of Colorado teachers are enthusiastic about the implementation of these higher standards. Parents and teachers know what’s best for our kids — rigorous expectations coupled with high quality measurement of whether our students are meeting the bar.

Had my high school been held to the same expectations and been able to measure our progress against other schools, I would not have struggled for so many years. These new standards and assessments are a step to fix this problem. Because our state is setting the bar higher for all kids– no matter where they live or what their circumstances are –graduates will no longer suffer the way I did.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Lessons learned from Brown v. Board of Ed

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:39

With the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling approaching, a new paper says the decision failed its mission. School segregation is still a problem, and initial school integration gains stalled shortly after the ruling. (Economic Policy Institute)

TURNAROUND TESTIMONY: Valerie F. Leonard, co-Founder of the Lawndale Alliance, was among those offering public comments on CPS' proposed turnaround of Dvorak Math Science Technology Academy. Substance News reprinted her testimony here.

MARIACHI COMES TO CPS: Five Chicago public grade schools will have mariachi classes by next fall, a move that will require principals to add a full-time music position at each school. (DNAInfo)

IN THE NATION
EDUCATION REFORM HOSTILITY: A former Teach For America teacher who's now an education researcher with the New America Foundation, says he's tired of being attacked as someone who's opposed to public education and teachers just because he has written about some education reform initiatives without absolute condemnation. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teachers oppose union’s mutual consent lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:35

On the Capitol

A last minute legislative committee assignment added a layer of intrigue to the debate over the school finance bill which has shaped this year's discussion of education issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But a higher education bill to pump up performance funding for schools floated through the House. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teachers speak out

Not every teacher agrees that Denver's practice of mutual consent, under fire from the union, is being used to push out good teachers. Hear from some who disagree with the union's lawsuit. ( Westword )

Mogul money

Billionaire John Malone announced plans to double his investment -- to $14 million -- in charter school network DSST. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Testing anxiety

Teachers worry about how the time they have with students -- already tight, they feel -- will be impacted by new state tests. ( 9News )

For many schools, these weeks are filled with piloting the new tests, which are administered online and have proved somewhat buggy. ( Daily Camera )

College dreamin'

For one student with a hard knocks story, a passion for languages earned him multiple scholarships and a shot at college. ( Sentinel )

Superintendent speaks

Pueblo's superintendent Maggie Lopez says four years ago, the district's systems were out of whack; she identified them and brought them into alignment. The district is nearing the end of the clock for improving its performance or facing state intervention. ( Chieftain )

23 candidates are now vying for her position. She is leaving at the end of the school year. ( Chieftain )

Cut to the bone

Montezuma-Cortez school district is facing the prospect of a quarter million in cuts to programs and positions. In years past, said the superintendent, cuts have hit failed programs but that the cuts can hurt achievement. ( Cortez Journal )

Meanwhile, a small rural district on the eastern plains, Holyoke, is pushing to extend its mill levy override, which it says has compensated for state cuts. ( Holyoke Enterprise )

But that doesn't mean the district is ok with the cuts. Holyoke's school board voted to join a class action lawsuit demanding the state look at how it funds schools. ( Holyoke Enterprise )

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed funding bill has easy time in House

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/18/2014 - 00:06

It’s nice to be speaker of the House, even when you’re a lame duck.

The House Thursday gave easy preliminary approval to Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s proposal to inject a little performance funding into the budgets of Colorado colleges and universities.

The House passed the bill on a preliminary voice vote after only 12 minutes of discussion – mostly by Ferrandino – as it worked through a long evening calendar.

The bill sent ripples of apprehension through the higher education establishment when it was introduced in March (see story) and raised questions about creating winners and losers among universities and colleges, disrupting current initiatives of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and about whether the bill really proposed significant change.

But the Denver Democrat extensively reworked the bill after consulting with the higher ed lobby and executives, and nobody raised a peep about the bill on the House floor Thursday.

Starting in the 2015-16 budget year, the bill would require that 52.5 percent of state higher education funding be funneled through the College Opportunity fund tuition discounts for resident undergraduate students. The remaining funding, know in higher ed jargon as “fee for service,” would be allocated to institutions based on their roles and missions, graduations rates and student retention and on additional criteria to be developed by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

The bill also contains special provisions for the funding of professional programs such as medical and veterinary education and for specialized programs such as local district junior colleges and vocational schools.

The measure also contains provisions for suspension of its requirements if state funding declines dramatically, which has happened in the past to higher education.

Ferrandino has 24 House sponsors on the bill, including 13 Republicans. (There also are 17 Senate sponsors, including 10 Republicans.)

That may account for the lack of debate. “Almost half of you are cosponsors on this bill. Just remember when you’re voting,” Ferrandino said Thursday, urging passage of the bill.

Categories: Urban School News

School finance fight takes on new intensity

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 23:42

Sen. Mike Johnston Thursday night lost key parts of his Student Success Act to a bipartisan coalition in the Senate Education Committee, but he may have a chance to recover because House Bill 14-1292 now heads next to Senate Finance – which the Denver Democrat chairs.

Thursday’s developments added a new element of intrigue to the months-long tug of war over how much money to spend on reducing the state’s $1.04 billion school funding shortfall and how much to use for targeted programs like early literacy and services for English language learners.

A coalition of mainline education interests – school boards, administrators and teachers – has mounted a tireless campaign to reduce the shortfall (called the “negative factor” in statehouse lingo) and to resist targeted funding.

That lobbying paid off in the House, which increased the negative factor buy-down and watered down other elements of the bill.

Senate Education continued that process Thursday, voting for amendments that added to the negative factor reduction, further loosened the bill’s financial transparency requirements and reduced the amount of extra money that would be given to districts for implementation of the READ Act, which requires literacy evaluations of K-3 students and development of individual literacy plans for students who are lagging.

But the bill goes next to Senate Finance, which Johnston chairs and whose five members include Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, both Johnston allies on HB 14-1292. (Interestingly, Ulibarri officially was added as a co-prime sponsor of the bill only on Thursday morning.)

Asked by Chalkbeat Colorado if he intends to undo Thursday’s amendments in the finance committee, Johnston was diplomatic, saying only that  “We’ve got to take a look at what passed tonight. There’s work left to do.”

Johnston opponents clearly were taken aback by the committee assignment, and the committee took three breaks to huddle about the parliamentary question before voting 7-0 to send the bill to finance.

When the committee meeting adjourned after more than five and a half hours, district lobbyists huddled in the hallway outside the committee room, grousing about what had happened and noting that similar bills in past sessions hadn’t been routed to the finance committee before heading to Senate Appropriations.

Johnston was bested Thursday by a coalition of Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and the committee’s three Republicans, Sens. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Mark Scheffel of Parker.

They successfully pushed through amendments that would:

  • Increase the money devoted to reduction of the negative factor to $120 million. (The reduction was $110 million in bill as it came from the House.)
  • Reduction of additional READ Act funding from the $20 million to $10 million. (Districts already receive $16 million a year for this program.)
  • Elimination of funding for a proposed state website that would link users to information about district and school spending. Instead, districts would post that data on their own websites.
  • Elimination of a proposed study of new enrollment counting methods by the Department of Education.

The Success Act is the 2014’s key education funding bill and originally was proposed by sponsors as a way to recover a few of the education reforms contained in Senate Bill 14-213, the comprehensive funding reform bill that never was implemented because voters didn’t approve the tax increase necessary to pay for it.

But HB 14-1292 has been steadily whittled down under that lobbying pressure from school districts and other interest groups intent on winning as large a reduction as possible in the negative factor.

House sponsors worked hard to meet concerns about the bill (see story), partly in hopes of reducing controversy and changes in the Senate. That obviously didn’t work.

Thursday’s extensive testimony touched on familiar themes, with school administrators and board members stressing the importance of reducing the negative factor and other witnesses urging spending on early childhood and English language learners.

Here’s the shape of the bill as it heads to finance:

  • Negative factor: The proposed reduction now is $120 million, up from the $110 million approved by the House. Sponsors originally included no reduction in pre-introduction versions of the bill.
  • Transparency: School districts would be required to post financial information, broken out by school, on their websites, but there would be no central website compiling information statewide. This $5 million has been a key item of contention between school districts on one side and bill sponsors and Gov. John Hickenlooper on the other.
  • Construction funding: HB 14-1292 proposed taking $40 million in marijuana tax revenues and diverting them to kindergarten construction, technology grants and charter facilities funding, instead of letting the funds flow into the main Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. A successful House amendment eliminated most of those earmarks but retained a 12.5 percent diversion to a fund for charter school facilities. Senate Education didn’t change this, despite testimony in support of doing so.
  • Charters: Also still in the bill is $13 million in additional funds that would be allocated for charter facilities, split between per-student grants to schools and supplementing a reserve fund that backs charter construction debt.

Here’s what was cut out of the bill or significantly changed as it’s moved along:

  • Implementation funding: $40 million in per-pupil aid to districts to help cover the costs of implementing education reforms such as new content standards, new tests and educator evaluations was eliminated in the House during negotiations over the negative factor.
  • Enrollment counting: There’s noting left in the bill about this.

Senate Education also considered amendments to House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 school finance act. A committee amendment removed a House proposal that $17 million in at-risk early childhood funding be focused on full-day kindergarten. Senate Education restored a provision that lets districts decide whether to use the money on preschool or kindergarten.

The Senate panel also voted for a modest increase in full-time kindergarten funding, under which those students would be paid for as .6 of a full-time student, instead of the current .58. The committee agreed to retain $30.5 million in additional funding for English language learner programs but moved that funding to a separate account that won’t be subject to the automatic annual increases required by the constitution for some types of school funding.

The next installment in this drama likely will come next Tuesday, when Senate Finance is scheduled to meet.

Categories: Urban School News

At turnarounds, a revolving door for most teachers

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 13:37

(Editor’s note: This story is an abridged version of an article from the upcoming spring issue of Catalyst In Depth, which will examine teacher retention and turnover in CPS. The issue is scheduled for publication in May. Previous issues of In Depth can be found here.)

With three proposed turnarounds scheduled for a Board of Education vote next week, Chicago Public School officials justify the move by pointing out that most turnaround schools have higher- than-average student growth on standardized tests.

Yet it has been a rocky experience for many of the 32 schools that have undergone turnarounds, a drastic action in which the entire staff must reapply for their jobs and typically, most are not rehired.  Nationally, Secretary of Education has promoted turnarounds as a key strategy for school improvement.

In CPS, however, more than half of turnaround schools are still among the lowest-performing schools. Some started badly and had to undergo another turnaround. Others have improved more than other schools, yet are still far from meeting district averages, much less the higher statewide averages.

What’s more, large chunks of the new staff—teachers who were hand-picked and spent weeks over the summer getting to know each other, becoming a team and learning how to spark improvement when the school reopened—leave within a few years.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of Illinois State Teacher Service Records and CPS employee rosters found that:

-- At 16 of the 17 schools that underwent a turnaround between 2007 and 2011, more than half of teachers hired in the first year of the turnaround left by the third year.

-- Among all turnarounds, an average of two-thirds of new teachers left by year three, an attrition rate that is higher than for CPS overall—even among low-achieving, high-poverty, predominantly minority schools that typically have high turnover.

-- The troubling trend has continued among newer turnarounds. In the 10 schools that were turned around last year (the 2012-2013 school year) a third of the faculty left by the start of the current school year. In comparison, only 7 percent of CPS schools have a third of teachers leave in one year.

On average, the year-over-year turnover rate in CPS is 18 percent.  

CPS officials did not respond to specific questions about turnover in turnarounds. In a statement submitted via e-mail, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she understands that to retain teachers, she must set them up for “success in the classroom and support their professional growth.” The district is doing this by investing in mentoring, professional development and having teachers share best practices, according to the e-mail.

Still, the fact that turnaround schools have such low teacher retention raises questions about the effectiveness of a strategy that relies on firing and hiring an entire staff to spark improvement.

Plus, as CTU President Karen Lewis and others have pointed out on many occasions, turnarounds result in a loss of veteran black teachers, who have cultural experience with the African American neighborhoods where most turnarounds are located.

Prior to the turnarounds, more than two-thirds of teachers at the targeted schools were black; among black teachers, two-thirds had more than 10 years of experience, according to Catalyst’s analysis. In the year after the turnaround, less than half of the teachers were black and just 20 percent of them had more than a decade of experience.

“Does not have to be the same teacher”

With large numbers of new teachers, turnarounds are already likely to have high turnover simply because young people switch jobs more often. The tendency is compounded by the inherent challenges of working in a turnaround, and the intense pressure to accomplish the difficult job of transforming a chronically low-achieving school.

Most of the district’s 32 turnaround schools are run by the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, which would also run the turnarounds CPS will vote on April 23. AUSL has a specific model that, at least initially, emphasizes discipline and how the school and classrooms look, as well as the use of data to drive instruction.

Former turnaround teachers told Catalyst they felt too much emphasis was placed on the appearance of the school, too many visitors were paraded through the building and teaching was micro-managed, leaving little room for creativity.

Yet AUSL Managing Director Jarvis Sanford says he is not that worried about losing teachers. “It has never been our model that staff stay for three to five years,” he says. “We want to put the effective teachers in front of students. It does not have to be the same teacher.”

Some of the attrition happens by design, as successful principals in the AUSL network are moved to new turnarounds and take their best teachers. Sanford notes that the lauded Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina have successfully used this approach.

In other cases, good teachers are encouraged to become coaches or are promoted to leadership roles within the network.

Many teachers who don’t go to other turnarounds stay within CPS, which means that Chicago students benefit from the training AUSL provides, Sanford points out.

However, Catalyst’s analysis shows that about half of the teachers who leave turnaround schools do not take jobs in any CPS school. Catalyst located several: One returned to her previous job and career as a nurse, another is now a real estate broker and a third is working as a grocery cashier.

Sanford insists that the results speak for themselves. Not only do many of the AUSL turnaround schools perform better than CPS in helping students raise their test scores, they also have better attendance. The fact that students come to school shows they are not negatively affected by having teachers leave year after year, he says.

“You may cause more harm than help”

Sanford’s stance is contrary to that of most experts, who agree that schools do better when they have a stable teaching staff.

In the 2009 report “Why Teachers Leave,” the Consortium on Chicago School Research begins with the premise that, while some turnover is to be expected, high attrition is problematic. “It can produce a range of organizational problems at schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects and loss of teacher leadership.”

Michael Hansen, senior researcher for the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C., says there has been surprisingly little research about whether changing the majority of a school’s staff will lead to a better school. “The strategies that are being prescribed under Arne Duncan are under-researched,” says Hansen.

One study showed that turnarounds in California improved more than schools subjected to other, less drastic action. But Hansen points out that turnarounds also get extra money to address students’ social and emotional needs, and that might be the real reason for any improvement. “There is not great data on what else is happening,” he says. “There are many moving parts going into it.”

In looking at rapidly improving schools in Florida and California, Hansen found that new teachers and veteran teachers appeared equally responsible for the positive changes.

Hansen says he would be concerned about high attrition following a turnaround. “It is possible you may cause more harm than help,” he says.

“I don’t want to lose the team”

While the management of AUSL might not think retention is important, some administrators do.

Morton Principal Peggie Burnett says that she is doing her best to hang onto the staff she inherited when she took over the school--the highest-performing AUSL turnaround--in East Garfield Park last year.

“I love my teachers,” Burnett says. “It is good for the community to keep the same teachers and also I make an investment in my teachers. We are a team and I don’t want to lose the team.”

Teachers point out that students are negatively affected by the constant churn, were sad to see them go and still call them and reach out to them on Facebook.

Lindsey Siemens, a teacher at Bradwell Elementary in South Shore, says that so many teachers have quit or moved on to other jobs that students are hyper-sensitive. Of the 35 new teachers hired in 2010 with the turnaround, only eight remain. None of the administrators are still there.

“If a teacher is absent for a few days because they are sick, the students start to wonder if they are ever coming back,” Siemens says.

She points out that this turnover is taking place in schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, where children often cope with adults coming and going from their lives.

“They experience so much loss that it is important for us to develop relationships with them,” she says.

Despite lackluster academic results at Bradwell, Siemens still believes that the turnaround process can work, but that it will only happen if the school has a stable staff for three to five years. 

Categories: Urban School News

Noble Street campus to offer International Baccalaureate

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 12:12

This fall, Noble Street’s Hansberry College Prep campus in Auburn Gresham will become the first charter school in Illinois to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma program. The school will offer the Diploma Program for juniors and seniors during the 2014-2015 school year.

Hansberry is the only school in the Noble Street network with current plans to offer the highly regarded IB program, but Director of External Affairs Angela Montagna said other Noble Street schools may follow suit in the future.

Principal Lauryn Fullerton began the application process to become an IB school before Hansberry opened two years ago. A graduate of Lincoln Park High School, she credits the IB program with making it easy for her to transition from high school to college and hopes to achieve these same results with her students.

“We’re excited about giving this opportunity to our students, because it will improve their transition to college and ensure their likelihood to persist and graduate,” says Fullerton. “The IB courses are great preparation for a challenging college curriculum.”

A 2012 study from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that students from IB programs in Chicago (13 at the time) were more likely to attend a four-year college, as well as more likely to attend a selective college. Once enrolled, they were also more likely to stay in college for two years, an important predictor of eventual graduation.

The results prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to launch 10 new IB programs in neighborhood high schools. The centerpiece of the programs is the IB’s two-year-old career certificate program

“International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme’s are recognized across the world for their innovative approach to education,” saiys Drew Deutch, director of IB America. “The fact that Hansberry has now successfully completed the authorization process and can soon offer IB marks an exciting time for Noble’s educators, families and, more importantly, for the students who will benefit from an IB education."

Open admissions

 Teachers must be IB-certified to teach courses in the program. The IB teachers at Hansberry have all been identified and will complete their training and curriculum requirements by the end of this academic year, according to Fullerton. Being a candidate school for the last two years provided time to adequately train staff. In fact, more teachers received the training than are expected to teach the IB courses.

Currently, about 55% of students are taking prerequisite courses. At the end of April, teachers will evaluate student performance and make recommendations based on how well they believe a student would do in the IB program. A lower evaluation, however, will not keep students out—students who want to take IB courses will be able to, regardless of academic history or recommendations.

Hansberry’s “open admissions” policy sets it apart from other IB schools in Chicago, which typically have a formal application process or academic requirements for admission. All CPS schools offering the Diploma Program require that students submit an application and meet minimum test score requirements. Several schools have additional selection criteria to ensure students can succeed in the rigorous program.

For example, students wishing to enter the Diploma Program at Lincoln Park High School, Fullerton’s alma mater, must reach specific 7th-grade ISAT scores, go through a student/parent interview process, and complete a supervised writing sample. Other CPS schools have minimum grade or course requirements.

Fullerton emphasized that she wants as many students as possible to have access, so as long as the student expresses a desire to be in the program. While not every student will earn an IB diploma, increasing access to these high-level courses is Fullerton’s primary goal.

“IB is a full curriculum of study, and we don’t expect every student to take every class at the higher level,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure all of our students get the chance to take these courses, because it will help transition them into a successful college career.”

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