A controversial immunization bill got a significant amendment Wednesday in a Senate committee, which removed a provision that would have required parents to get information about the pros and cons of vaccinations before they opted out of the shots children need for school enrollment.
House Bill 14-1288 has been the focus of emotional and prolonged committee hearings in both the House and Senate. It has pitted public health advocates against parents who are fearful about the possible side effects of immunizations and believe they should have an absolute right to refuse those shots.
Proof of immunizations is required for enrollment in child care facilities and K-12 schools, but state law allows parents to opt out for medical, religious or “personal belief” reasons. HB 14-1288 originally would have required that parents who wanted to use the personal belief exemption to either be briefed by a health care professional on the pros and cons of immunizations or complete an online education module.
An amendment approved Wednesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee removed that provision. Instead, the bill creates several duties for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including:
The amended bill also would require schools to make available on request their immunization and exemption rates.
It’s not often that a legislative committee is faced with a completely new idea or an issue that hasn’t come up before.
But that was the case Wednesday with the Senate Education Committee and Senate Bill 14-185, which proposes a creative new way to fund early learning programs.
The proposal is something that hasn’t come up before at the Capitol, unlike the usual run of education bills, which generally involve issues and subjects that most committee members have at least passing familiarity with.
SB 14-185 would create something called the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program. The program would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.
The bill’s idea, based on what are called “social impact bonds” or “results-based financing,” is that service providers can attract private investors to invest in support programs such as high-quality preschool. The theory is that quality programs reduce costly interventions such as grade retention or special education once a child enters school. If the state and a school district realize savings from reduced need for interventions, then the program is paid and investors repaid with interest.
The concept is seen by supporters as a creative way to fund needed services such as early childhood education in a time of constrained government budgets. (The proposal is complicated – get details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and in this legislative staff summary of the bill.)
The detailed – sometimes too detailed – explanations from the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, gave committee members an awful lot to absorb in a short period of time.
“This is pretty deep to be having [a discussion] today,” noted Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. (Two sets of Senate committee meetings Wednesday were sandwiched between two floor sessions.)
Trying to finish up before another committee took over the hearing room, chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, nudged the members to a vote. The bill passed 4-3, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.
Despite his yes vote, Kerr said he still had questions about the bill and noted, “These are the things we are forced to do in Colorado” because of revenue constraints.
The panel also split 4-3 on Senate Bill 14-182, a second attempt at shining a little light on school board executive sessions. An earlier measure, House Bill 14-1110, passed the House but was killed by its Senate sponsor because she didn’t have the votes for floor passage. That earlier bill would have required boards to maintain a public log of subjects discussed during closed sessions and also required recording of those meetings. There was heavy lobbying against the bill from the legal community, concerned about an erosion of attorney-client privilege.
The new bill would require the log of subjects discussed but imposes no recording requirements. The bill was sparked by citizen complaints about alleged misuse of executive sessions by the Douglas County school board, and two representatives of Dougco parent groups testified for the bill Wednesday.
Senate Education gave unanimous 7-0 support to two other bills. House Bill 14-1204 would allow small rural districts that are rated in the state’s top two accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually. It also would allow such districts to get help from boards of cooperative education services in complying with the READ Act. House Bill 14-1314 would require districts formally include charter schools in planning for tax override elections, but it wouldn’t force districts to share override revenues with their charters.Education spending bills roll on
Republican members gave Democratic Rep. Cherilyn Peniston a bit of hard time on the floor, but she had the votes to win preliminary approval of her House Bill 14-1102, which would boost gifted and talented funding by $3.4 million.
Most of the funds would be used to pay for universal screening of all kids to determine their gifted status and to compensate districts for having half-time G&T coordinators. (An earlier version of the Westminster Democrat’s bill would have cost $6 million and required full-time coordinators in every district.)
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, urged a no vote, saying, “We should have put this into the negative factor.”
“Have you checked with your district to see if they support this?” asked Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. (Lobbyists for key district interest groups testified against the bill in committee.)
Two other education spending bills received final approval in the Senate. There wasn’t any rhetoric, but most Republicans voted no.
Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639.
To round out the spate of spending, the Senate also gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million program to develop school turnaround leaders
Use the Education Bill Tracker to read the texts of bills covered in this story and see this list of all education-related bills introduced this session.
A top official in Denver Public Schools is the finalist to lead Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), in California.
Assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson, who led the turnaround efforts at Denver’s Montbello High School, has headed up college and career readiness initiatives for the district. His nomination will go before the Oakland school board on April 23rd.
“Antwan Wilson is an extraordinary leader,” said DPS’ superintendent Tom Boasberg, in a press release from the Oakland press office. “He is a thoughtful and caring advocate for educational equity, and he is an inspiring leader who sets high expectations for all students and then works tirelessly to ensure they have the support they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.”
Montbello High School, which is now in the final stages of being phased out and replaced with three smaller programs, has been a lightning rod for controversy over Denver’s reforms. Wilson, who had moved from the school’s principalship to a district leadership role, was involved with the contentious community process that led to the decision to close the school.
For more on his potential new role, see the press release from OUSD.
Students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) rallied in the Loop Wednesday to build support for student-drafted legislation that would eliminate monetary fines imposed for disciplinary reasons in schools, as well as limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
The proposed bill, SB3004, is now pending in the state Senate. The crowd of students and supporters from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline in Chicago Public Schools marched from CPS headquarters to the State of Illinois Building to urge lawmakers to support the bill.
VOYCE has called attention to harsh discipline in CPS, and has also been among those criticizing charter discipline policies, which are often tougher than the CPS Student Code of Conduct.
Noble Street Charter Schools have come under fire not only for a strict discipline code but also for levying hefty fines against students for relatively minor infractions. Last week, Noble Street announced it would drop one of its more controversial fines, the $5 fee assessed against students who earned detentions.
“We want common sense discipline, instead of the zero-tolerance policy we have now,” said Mariama Bangura, a junior at Roosevelt High School. “Schools need to support their students, not kick them out for minor issues.”
"Keeping students in the classroom and connected to their school communities is important to the District, which is why CPS revised its disciplinary policies to focus on instructive and corrective responses to misbehavior, resulting in a 36% drop in out-of-school suspensions for high school students over three years," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood in a statement. "While CPS and VOYCE are aligned in their efforts to reduce suspensions and keep students in school, SB3004, as drafted, places strict limitations on administrators' ability to manage school safety and could potentially interfere with law enforcement's jurisdiction and ability to enforce safety on school grounds or at school-sponsored events."
Though high school suspensions have declined, elementary suspensions have risen dramatically in recent years, Catalyst found, and the racial gap in disciplined has widened.
Harsh discipline has a disproportionate impact on African American male students and has long been an issue in CPS. School discipline is also in the spotlight nationally, with federal education officials urging districts to find ways to keep students in school instead of suspending and expelling them.
In addition to banning fines for discipline infractions, SB3004 would amend the Illinois School Code to put limits on the actions that could lead to suspension or expulsion. For one, students could only be expelled “for posing a significant threat of imminent serious harm to other pupils or to staff” instead of for the more subjective “gross disobedience or misconduct.”
Students could be suspended, for not more than 10 days, for “a serious act of misconduct” rather than “gross disobedience or misconduct.”
“I’m the first one to take action if a student is disrupting my class, but I see kids being suspended and expelled for minor infractions all the time,” said Roosevelt teacher Tim Meegan. “This undermines my ability to teach and hurts the students.”
The student group was joined by Jessica Schneider from the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., who, echoing other experts across the country, said school discipline has become a civil rights issue. Schneider pointed to data showing black students in CPS are 30 times more likely to be suspended than whites, and said that disciplinary fees are an exclusionary practice that further disadvantages low-income students.
Last week, when we took a close look at achievement gaps at Denver’s East High School, we reported that “the breadth of East’s TCAP [the state test] gaps may be explained in part by how high-achieving East’s top students are,” because minority students also perform better on TCAPs than their counterparts across Denver Public Schools.
But after an astute reader prompted us to take a closer look at data, we found some interesting nuggets that show what achievement gaps look like across the city and suggest some interesting explanations we might have missed in the original story.
First, East has fewer low-income students (as measured by eligibility for free and reduced-cost meals) across all races and ethnicities than other Denver comprehensive high schools. And that may do more to explain why the performance of all groups of students is higher at East than in DPS overall.
Just 8 percent of East’s white test-taking students (ninth and tenth graders) are low-income. That’s compared to 27 percent at all other DPS high schools. While 86 percent of Latino students at other Denver high schools are low-income, at East the percentage is much lower –62 percent. And 70 percent of East’s African American students are low income, compared to 80 percent at the district’s other high schools.
Furthermore, the ratio of non-poor to poor white students at East is much wider than at other Denver high schools. And while the proportion of non-poor to poor black and Latino students is also wider than at other high schools, it’s by a much narrower margin. So the larger achievement gaps could be explained in part by how many fewer low-income white students there are compared to low-income Latino and African-American students.
It’s also notable that two of the three Denver high schools that have higher-performing white students than East also have significantly smaller achievement gaps by race.
The two schools are distinct from East in that one, DSST’s Stapleton high school, is a charter school that students choose to attend rather than being assigned by residence. The other, Denver School of the Arts, a selective admissions magnet. And both have lower percentages of low-income students than does East. Still, it’s worth noting the difference in gaps.
DSST’s Stapleton charter high school had an average TCAP proficiency among white students of 93.6 percent in 2013, compared to East’s 81.2 percent. Yet its proficiency gaps between white and black students was 21.7 percent, compared to East’s 45.3 percent, and its white-Latino gap was 18 percent compared to East’s 36.9 percent.
And while a smaller share of DSST Stapleton’s black students are low-income, more of its Latino students are. Among black students, 54 percent qualify for subsidized lunches, compared to East’s 70 percent. Among Latino students, however, 79 percent qualified for subsidized lunches, compared to 62 percent at East.
At Denver School of the Arts, a magnet school that requires an audition for admission, the average white proficiency rate was 81.3 percent, a tenth of a percentage point higher than East’s. Its black-white achievement gap was also far lower than East’s — 29.6 percent compared to 45.3 percent. And its Latino-white gap was 10.8 percent, compared to East’s 36.9 percent.
But the school also had fewer than 16 students in any racial/ethnic group eligible for subsidized lunches, meaning its poverty rate among all groups is very low.
The school with gaps that top East’s is George Washington High School, where a selective admission International Baccalureate program largely walls off that high-performing student population for core academic classes from the rest of the school. At GW, the black-white gap is 56.2 percent and the Latino-white gap is 45.4 percent.
It’s also worth noting that these gap trends don’t change much when you look only at each school’s non- free and reduced lunch eligible students of all races. George Washington still has the widest gaps, followed, in order by East, Denver School of the Arts, and DSST.
Using Crayola markers set on each round table, small groups of adults from the Greeley area — school outreach workers, Boys and Girls Club staff and foster parents — created poster-sized pictures of what mental health problems look like. Glum stick figures sat under rain clouds, a face contorted from happy to sad and a placid face showed no outward signs of distress.
The pictures were just one of several hands-on activities sprinkled throughout a recent day-long training that aims to teach lay-people the signs of mental health or substance abuse problems in youth, and give them action steps to follow when they spot trouble.
Called Youth Mental Health First Aid, the training originated in Australia and was unveiled in Colorado last year. There is also an adult version of the training, introduced here in 2008, called Mental Health First Aid or MHFA.
Both are gaining momentum in what mental health advocates say is a welcome development in a state saddled with one of the highest suicide rates in the country and more than its fair share of school tragedies, including a deadly shooting at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School in December and a self-immolation at Westminster’s Standley Lake High School in January.
Olga Gonzalez, a community outreach worker who participated in the recent Greeley training, said she regularly fields questions from parents who are worried about their children but don’ t know where to turn. She recounted how one family she’d worked with discovered their son had started using drugs. Another learned that their son had stolen credit card information from a customer while manning the cash register at the family’s store.
“He has money in a savings account, you know. He just did it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what kind of support he needs.”
Youth Mental Health First Aid aims to answer such questions for people who are not mental health professionals but who work closely with young people and their families. The target audience includes lay-people like teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, school nurses and even bus drivers.
Advocates for MHFA say Colorado now has one of the largest contingents of certified instructors—around 230 so far. In addition, it’s among only a handful of states to dedicate public funds to the trainings, with $750,000 appropriated for the program next year.
“We have been at the forefront of this since the beginning,” said Brian Turner, director of Mental Health First Aid Colorado at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.Preparing first responders
The concept behind both versions of MHFA, much like medical first-aid, is to equip first responders with the know-how to address emerging mental health or addiction problems. The youth version is also meant to help distinguish between true mental health issues and the normal mood swings and behavior changes that characterize the life of a teenager.
But the training is hardly a technical lecture. It’s participant-friendly approach is evident in the hands-on activities, the video clips, the anecdote-peppered instruction and even the pile of bite-sized candy on each table. Originally, conceived as a two-day training, it has since changed to a one-day format.
“I think we try to make it accessible in a very non-threatening way,” said Pamela Collins Vaughn, one of the instructors at the Greeley training and quality assurance program director at North Range Behavioral Health.The five action steps in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
Gonzalez, an outreach worker with Community Care Corps, said she learned about the training at a resource fair that she helped coordinate. Her work with families at two local middle schools, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods, made her want to refresh her knowledge on mental health issues.
While Gonzalez and other MHFA participants are certainly not charged with providing treatment, they do receive a customized local resource guide to help them connect youth with professional help when necessary.
In fact, encouraging youth to seek professional help is one of five action steps—condensed in the acronym ALGEE–outlined in the training. The other four include “Assess for suicide/self harm,” “Listen non-judgmentally,” “Give assurance/information,” and “Encourage self-help/other support.”
Turner said having concrete action steps is important because “there’s a big difference between learning about mental health and substance abuse problems and being able to do something about it.”
During the Greeley training, participants were asked to come up with gestures that would convey each of the five action steps. Soon, in an effort to commit the steps to memory, Vaughn and co-trainer Noelle Hause were leading the group in miming actions like non-judgmental head-nodding and reassuring arm-patting.Reaching out to schools
While Turner said Youth Mental Health First Aid is not yet widely offered by school districts, there is growing interest. Among the districts that have offered it for at least some staff are Douglas County, Aurora, Thompson, and Weld County District 6.
Barb Becker, division director for community programs at the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network, said the one-day format make it a very doable training for educators.One of the pictures made by participants at a recent Youth Mental Health First Aid training.
“It just gives a really good overview,” she said, adding, “It takes away some of the stigma associated with mental health.”
While grants to offer Youth Mental Health First Aid are sometimes available and some mental health centers offer it for free, the price of the training can be a barrier for districts. Costs typically run at least $25 per person and can max out at $50 depending on facility and food costs.
While the new $750,000 in state funding will help with expansion, Turner said advocates are also investigating whether Medicaid reimbursements received by schools can help pay for the trainings. Currently, those reimbursements are used for all kinds of school health and wellness efforts, from paying school nurses to buying P.E. equipment.
If Youth Mental Health First Aid is widely adopted by schools, it will join a growing number of tools used to detect and combat mental health problems in students. Many schools already use suicide prevention curriculums, some are adding instruction on social emotional skills and a few conduct universal mental health screenings among students.
In addition, many schools regularly convene meetings to discuss and create plans for students who are showing signs of mental health or behavioral problem. Others publicize programs like Safe2Tell that allow students, parents or staff to anonymously report bullying or threats of school violence or suicide.
While Becker noted that middle-aged white men, not teens are actually at the highest risk for suicide in Colorado, she said it is still a problem among young people.
In 2010, Colorado had the seventh-highest youth suicide rate among states and Washington, DC, with 16.7 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people in the 15-24 age group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, Colorado’s suicide rates are higher in rural and mountain communities than in urban areas. They are also higher among males than females.
Becker said there are a variety of reasons, including biological changes, peer conflicts and dating strife, that adolescents experience depression, which is a leading cause of suicide.
“It’s a hard time in life,” she said.
Ultimately, Turner hopes both versions of Mental Health First Aid will be widely available in all parts of Colorado. They won’t prevent all violent incidents, he said, but they might help. They can also aid in the healing process for communities that have suffered through fires, floods, droughts and other disasters.
Smoking among Chicago high school students has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2011 and is now the lowest recorded rate in youth smoking, the mayor's office announced Tuesday. Based to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study shows that less than 11 percent of Chicago high school students reported smoking in 2013, down from more than 13 percent in 2011. (Press release)
IN THE NATION
THE PARENT TRAP: Most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement, say the authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education,” in an opinion piece. In some cases, they actually hinder it. (The New York Times)
DEBATING TEACHER FIRING: A bill awaiting the signature of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would essentially make teachers in the state at-will employees of their school districts, and teachers would be able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights. (The Kansas City Star)
LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: About 1,800 applicants were in Portland Tuesday, looking for teaching jobs at the Oregon Professional Educator Fair. Almost 170 school districts and other educational agencies have booths at the two-day fair. They’re looking for new staff as teachers retire or move out of the area. (OPB)
The State Department of Education hopes to lend more direct help to Colorado’s struggling campuses by forming a network of turnaround schools, it announced Tuesday in a letter to superintendents.
The network, which will be the first of its kind in Colorado, will offer intensive support directly to school leaders in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Previously, most of the state’s support has been targeted at the district level, providing training and resources to administrators, not principals and teachers.
Colorado’s Turnaround Network, “will be a highly-collaborative and accountable endeavor between local schools, their districts and the Colorado Department of Education,” according to a copy of the letter provided to Chalkbeat Colorado.
The department hopes to work with eight to 12 schools in just a couple of districts its first year. The aim is to not only improve student academic performances within the network’s schools, but also to provide support and build each district’s ability to provide tools and techniques to other low-performing schools within the participating districts’ boundaries, said Peter Sherman, the state education department’s executive director of school and district performance.
As of December, there are currently 190 schools rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement.” About 75 percent of those schools do not operate in school districts on the accountability clock.
Because of Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control of schools, schools will have to opt into the network, Sherman said. The department’s model is more akin to Connecticut’s Commissioner’s Network, which has partnered with 11 schools and is expanding, than Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which has the authority to take over low-performing schools and currently runs 16 schools, Sherman said.
Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.
While the state does not directly accredit schools — that’s the job of local school boards — it does similarly rate schools. Schools, like districts, rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” are placed on the state’s watch list. If schools do not make enough improvement within five years the state board may make a series of recommendations to the local school board including turning the school over to a private organization like a charter network or closing the campus. If the local governing board does not heed the state board’s advice, the entire district may face a lowered accreditation rating.
Neither the districts nor schools enrolled in the network will be let off the so-called “accountability clock.”
“Our goal is to accelerate achievement so we’ll be able to get them off the clock because of improved student achievement,” Sherman said.
If enough progress isn’t made in enough time to beat the clock, Sherman said, his department would at least be able to stand with those schools in the network as the state and local board negotiate the campuses future.
“We would be able to advocate for [those schools] to some degree,” Sherman said. “We’ll feel comfortable saying the district has taken the right improvement actions and that we’ve exhausted everything we could.”
The network’s program will focus on four areas: culture, school design, personnel development, and district relations. One of the many requirements to enroll in the network, according to the letter, is a set of agreements between the state and the districts the schools reside in.
“We will negotiate with each district
assurances that they will create the right conditions for success for each participating school,” Sherman said.
The state will have no official say in curriculum, personnel or budget, Sherman said. But he hopes by enrolling in the network, schools will be provided autonomy and flexibility by it’s district.
The network will be funded by existing funds allocated to the state department, Sherman said. And his office will continue to offer its support to districts on the accountability clock.
turn it around
The Colorado Department of Education is planning to form a network of turnaround schools to provide intensive support directly to school leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Bills to avoid a disruption in teacher evaluations and other accountability measures following the transition to new tests passed the House yesterday, one of the last hurdles before becoming law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
High school graduation rates and college completion rates for Latino students in Colorado still lag behind the state, according to a report released yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Fighting the test
Colorado's largest teachers union voted to demand the halt and rollback of the state's PARCC testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
What's a dollar worth?
Why are Colorado school districts trying to get $1 billion in funding back? Practice fields gone up in dust, no more summer school, teacher raises years in the making. ( CPR )
Rising costs no more
Colorado's colleges and universities could see a tuition cap, based on a bill that passed the Senate yesterday. ( AP via Denver Post )
A Colorado Springs high school band coach was arrested yesterday for inappropriate sexual behavior. ( Gazette )
He has worked previously at several schools around the state. ( Chieftain )
A long history
One Colorado Springs school has been educating the state's deaf and blind students for 140 years. ( Gazette )
For the first time, a group of special education students joined St. Vrain's delegation to Doing Democracy, a day devoted to discussing solutions for the nation's problems. ( Times-Call )
What's the value of parent education programs? Two Spanish-speaking parents share their experience. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A key measure intended to give districts flexibility in teacher evaluations next year was passed 53-11 by the House Tuesday, leaving Senate Bill 14-165 just one small step from being sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature.
The bill and another measure, House Bill 14-1182, are needed to help the state and districts avoid disruptions in teacher evaluations and district and school accountability ratings when Colorado moves to the new CMAS testing system in the spring of 2015.
Both the evaluation and accreditation systems are based partly on student achievement data from statewide tests. For technical reasons, results from 2015 CMAS tests (including the multi-state PARCC tests in language arts and math) won’t be available until late 2015 or early 2016, which is too late to be factored into teacher evaluations and accreditation for the 2014-15 school year.
And because the tests will be different from the current TCAP exams, there won’t be student year-to-year growth data that can be used. That will require two years of CMAS results.
Here’s how the two bills propose to get around those problems:
SB 14-165 – Districts would be required to gather student growth data on teachers next year but could choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. (Districts could weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations. For teacher evaluation, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests, so districts will have other data to use.) A low evaluation rating would count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice. The House made minor amendments to the bill that will have to be agreed to by the Senate.
HB 14-1182 – Accreditation ratings that districts and school receive next fall, based on 2013-14 performance, will be in effect for two years because of the 2014-15 data gap. Districts will be free to appeal to the Department of Education if they believe additional data justifies changes in 2014-15 ratings. And the State Board of Education is given additional flexibility in recommending turnaround measures for schools that have reached the end of the five-year accountability clock. Hickenlooper signed this bill on April 4.
The two measures to work around the testing transition are finishing up just as criticism of the PARCC tests is on the rise. Over the weekend delegates at the Colorado Education Association’s annual meeting approved resolution demanding withdrawal from PARCC (see story).
That aligns the liberal union, on this issue at least, with its natural political enemies, Republican elected officials. All but three legislative Republicans recently supported unsuccessful motions to pull state funding from PARCC, and the four-member GOP majority on the State Board of Education supports a pullout (see story).
The testing debate could intensify over the summer and fall if lawmakers approve a measure (House Bill 14-1202) to commission a study of testing (background here).Other bills cross finish line
The Senate voted 34-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something that school districts already are able to do. The measure goes to Hickenlooper. The bill is a bipartisan, no-controversy compromise that was introduced after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in February killed House Bill 14-1157, which would have allowed school boards to authorize school employees to carry weapons.
After some prolonged partisan bickering over “pet projects” and fiscal responsibility, the House voted 38-26 for the conference committee version of House Bill 14-1336, the 2014-15 state budget. The only Republican to vote yes was Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
The Senate approved the final version of the budget on Monday, with seven Republicans voting yes and eight opposed. (This is the bill that contains the money to pay for PARCC next year.)
Both houses also have re-passed House Bill 14-1342, the construction funding bill that includes a, $120 million wish list of higher education building projects that will be funded only if the state’s 2013-14 surplus is higher than projected. As part of that deal the State Education Fund will receive a surplus infusion of only $20 million.Halfway home
Four education-related bills received final House approval Tuesday and are headed for the rapidly ballooning calendar the Senate faces with only 16 days left in the 2014 session. All are spending bills and so attracted little or no Republican support.
House Bill 14-1085 – Proposes spending $960,000 for adult education and literacy grants. Passed 37-26.
House Bill 14-1124 – Would grant resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado, creating a potential loss of up to $5.3 million in tuition revenue. Passed 39-25.
House Bill 14-1156 - Would make students in grades 3-5 who currently are eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, at a cost of $809,095. Passed 38-26.
House Bill 14-1276 – Creates a grant program for CPR instruction in high schools. $300,000 Passed 40-24.
And the Senate voted 34-1 to pass Senate Bill 14-001, dubbed the College Affordability Act. This is the bill that increases higher education spending by $100 million in 2014-15 and caps tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two school years. The measure is expected to have an easy time in the House.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.
The number of Latinos graduating from Colorado high schools and college still lags behind the graduation rates for white students, according to a study released today.
The report, which looked at national and state-by-state trends in Latino graduation and degree attainment, was released by Excelencia in Education, a research group focused on racial and ethnic trends in education.
Colorado has the eighth largest Latino population in the country, but only 18 percent of Latinos in Colorado received a college degree, compared with 44 percent of the general population. Nationally, the average rate was 20 percent for Latinos.
The top colleges for Latinos receiving bachelor degrees were, in order,:
Parenting programs that help the families of low-income, at-risk children learn how to prepare those children for school are attracting much interest from educators looking for ways to boost student achievement. There are many parenting programs in Denver, but programs for Spanish-speaking families are harder to find.
Doris and Jesus Enriquez have two children who are enrolled in two such parenting programs at Focus Points Family Resource Center. Doris and Jesus’s children, Adan, age three, and Naomi, age five, were in the Parents as Teachers Program (PAT) for children from birth to age three, and in Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program for kids from age three to five years old. Adan is currently enrolled in HIPPY, and Naomi graduated last year.
Doris and Jesus are originally from Mexico and came to Denver several years ago. They enrolled both Naomi and Adan in the parenting programs shortly after they were born. As part of those programs, a home educator comes to their home twice a month to talk about child development and share books and educational activities for each child. They also attend monthly parent meetings, where topics in child development are discussed and Spanish-speaking parents can talk with pediatricians and other experts in child rearing. All the parents in the program agree to read to their child daily and help them learn basics like numbers, letters and colors. Health screenings and developmental tests every six months make sure the children are on track to succeed.
Both Doris and Jesus credit the programs with helping their children thrive.
“When a home educator comes to the house, the child gets used to the idea of what a teacher does and what school is like,” says Jesus. “When Naomi started in preschool, they were very impressed with how advanced she was in letters and numbers.”
Doris said the program has helped them learn how to be better parents. “We have the habit of reading to our children now,” she says. “We have their art and activities hanging up on the wall. We also read more ourselves. We’ve seen changes in the way we parent.”
In Mexico, parents often believe that education should be left up to school teachers and they have little right to question what goes on in school. This passive attitude can hinder students’ progress. “I’ve noticed the Latino community often falls back in their studies,” says Doris. “A lot of parents want to educate their children, but they don’t know how. We want our children to graduate from high school and go on to university.”
“Children aren’t born with a handbook,” says Doris. “There’s so much more than just the educational program, they teach you how to be a better parent, how to have patience, how to use love and logic. It’s a whole wrap around.”
Fewer college students are enrolling in traditional undergraduate teaching programs in Illinois, with whites accounting for the biggest drop. After years of holding steady, enrollment fell significantly in 2011 and 2012—by 23 percent overall, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) for 2003 through 2012. White student enrollment fell at an even higher rate of 25 percent.
Black enrollment in teaching programs showed no clear trend between 2003 and 2010, but, as with white students, declined significantly in 2011 and 2012. Hispanic enrollment, however, grew steadily between 2003 and 2010, only to fall in the next two years. But that growth means that more Hispanics than African Americans are now entering teaching.
Still, enrollment trends are important because of the mismatch between students and teachers that can lead to a cultural divide in the classroom: About half of students in Illinois public schools are minorities, but close to 84 percent of teachers are white, according to state records. In Chicago, the need for a diverse teacher workforce is especially evident: 86 percent of students are children of color but less than half of teachers are minorities.
Despite the mismatch, it’s not likely that the state will experience a massive overall shortage of public school teachers anytime soon. Illinois has long produced an overabundance of teachers in all but a few instructional categories, and the state’s population of elementary and high school aged students is expected to continue on a slight decline through at least 2019, according to national projections.
At Illinois State University, the state’s biggest producer of teachers, enrollment has gone through ups and downs during the past decade. But it hit a new low in 2012, when the numbers were 16 percent lower than a decade earlier.
“We have a very strong history of educating teachers and seeing those numbers decline has been a concern,” says Stacy Ramsey, ISU interim director of admissions. "It’s just getting harder and harder to become a teacher, with all the testing standards and continuing education […]. I don’t think it’s a career choice that is as attractive as it used to be.”
Illinois teaching institutions aren’t the only ones losing students. According to a national survey by the American Association for Teacher Education, the number of full-time undergraduates enrolled in education degree programs fell by 6 percent between 2006 and 2011 – even though overall enrollment at the 581 institutions surveyed grew by more than 7 percent during that time period.
“With everything that’s going on right now, the profession is just not well received because of the [2012 Chicago teachers] strike and the closing of schools,” says Chamiyah Pugh, a first-year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood. “The teacher turnover rate is so high you will meet teachers who tell you to get out of this field and to save yourself.”
Harder exams, less prestige
University leaders and others in the field say the toughened entrance exam for education colleges that was put into place in 2010 is responsible for much of the decline. That year, the Illinois State Board of Education restructured and raised the cut scores for the required entrance exam for education colleges, now known as the Test for Academic Proficiency (TAP), and also imposed a limit on the number of times students could take the test. Overall, fewer than a third of students who now take the TAP pass it – a far cry from the previous pass rate of more than 80 percent overall.
Yet leaders also point to other circumstances that may have made teaching less attractive, such as school closures and layoffs in Chicago as well as the fight over pension reform and the growth of alternative teaching programs.
“Teaching just doesn’t seem to be appealing to certain students anymore,” says Sterling Sadler, dean of the College of Education at Western Illinois University. “What we are seeing is that the quality of those students who do enroll is improving, which is a good thing.”
Much of the public dialogue about the sharp drop in pass rates on the TAP has focused on black and Hispanic students, whose scores are significantly lower than for white students. But the numbers are bad across the board: Only 34 percent of white students passed the exam in the final quarter of 2013.
“When you change the cut score, it’s going to affect all students,” says Brian Schultz, a professor and chair of the Educational Inquiry & Curriculum Studies Department at Northeastern Illinois University. “The cut score needs to be changed, or let’s eliminate that as a requirement because it doesn’t predict performance in the classroom.”
Schultz and other critics of the test, including the organization Grow Your Own Teachers—which partners with community organizations in low-income neighborhoods to recruit community members into teaching—want the state to find alternative methods of assessing the quality of prospective teachers.
“ISBE is in a tough situation in terms of how they have decided to go down this path in terms of using rhetoric such as ‘raising the bar’ on teachers, because to change that now would suggest that they’re now ‘lowering’ the bar,” he said. “But that would be the moral thing to do. They’ve made a mistake and it’s having a disparate impact [on students of color]”.
“We know that those individuals that have the cultural competencies and are able to connect in culturally respectful ways to their students are the most successful in the classroom,” Schulz adds.
Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for ISBE, says the agency hasn’t conducted a formal analysis of the downward trend.
“While it may be the case that TAP has momentarily stopped individuals from pursuing a teaching license, it is also the case that the higher expectations serve as a gate, keeping individuals who cannot perform those foundational functions from moving forward until they can reach that point,” she added.
Last month ISBE voted to eliminate the limit on the number of times students could take the TAP, explaining that the measure sought to diversify the teaching workforce. The state board also formed a working committee that includes educators and young teachers of color to study the issue and has given colleges discretion to allow students to enroll into education programs prior to passing the TAP.
However, during ISBE’s meeting in April, state officials said many universities have chosen not to use that discretion. Staff at NEIU, for example, decided after much discussion not to allow students into the program before passing the TAP to avoid potentially burdening them with debt if they ultimately fail the exam.
Opting for other careers
Of course, not everyone who earns a bachelor’s degree in education goes on to earn a teaching certificate, and even fewer wind up teaching in public schools. A longitudinal study published last year by the Illinois Education Research Council, at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, showed that less than half of those who get certified wind up teaching in an Illinois public school, with some entering private schools and other educational jobs in the private sector.
The study sought to inform the design of policies meant to improve the supply of academically skilled and racially diverse teachers in Illinois by tracking students who graduated from high school in 2002 and 2003, through college and into the workforce. Among its findings: Minorities are far less interested in becoming teachers starting in high school, when they indicate their desired career on their ACTs. The trend continued all along the teacher pipeline.
“Regardless of academic preparation, minority high school students still aspired to teach at lower rates, minority bachelor’s degree recipients were less likely to have earned teaching certificates, and minorities with teaching certificates were less likely to become teachers in Illinois public schools, compared to whites,” according to the study. “These all indicate that other factors besides academic preparation also have a large impact on the relatively low minority representation of new public school teachers in Illinois.”
Certified black teachers, according to the study, are the least likely ethnic group to become a public school teacher in Illinois.
“Amongst people of color, becoming a teacher has zoomed down to [no] more than 8th place in their interest level,” says Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of Golden Apple, a non-profit organization dedicated to recruiting and developing good teachers in Illinois. “There is a sense out there that teaching is a difficult task that has a limited payoff as far as salary, as far as prestige, as far as challenge. Trying to make teaching cool again with all of these obstacles is a tad difficult.”
That’s part of the reason why educators at ISU launched the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline more than a decade ago. The program seeks to prepare students from high schools in Little Village, Auburn Gresham and Albany Park for college – and careers as Chicago teachers.
“The end goal for students that we’re recruiting from CPS is that they’ll return home to teach,” explains Robert Lee, the program’s executive director. “And many of our alums will continue living in these communities we serve.”
About 800 students have successfully gone through the pipeline and are now teaching in Chicago Public Schools, Lee said.
Another facet of the program brings ISU students into Chicago neighborhoods, where they live for a month while taking teaching classes and interning at a local community organization. Pugh, the first- year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood, spent the summer of 2012 in the program, which she said prepared her to teach in the city.
Pugh was impressed with the program’s community and cultural emphasis.
“As an African-American girl growing up in Chicago, most of my teachers didn’t understand what it was like for us,” she says. “I wanted to be the person who ‘got’ the kids because I rarely had anybody I could relate to.”
Alternative routes to the classroom
The growth of alternative teaching programs, such as Teach for America and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), may also be influencing some students to pursue a teaching certificate post- college instead of earning a bachelor’s degree in education.
Mike Konkoleski, a math teacher at Solorio High School, knew since his senior year in high school that he probably wanted to become a teacher. But he chose to study math at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and later added a double major in Spanish. Fulfilling the requirements for both majors made it difficult to also schedule the education courses he’d need to earn a teaching certificate.
He considered staying at U of I for a fifth year in order to get his teaching certificate, but instead applied to several post-college alternative teaching programs in Chicago. He entered the AUSL program in 2008, where he earned his teaching certificate along with a master’s degree in education while spending a year in the classroom under the watchful eye of a mentor. Konkoleski says he has no regrets.
“No matter what education program you look at, you only learn so much in the courses. The only way you learn is by teaching,” he points out.
Konkoleski and others in his cohort earned traditional teaching certificates through the AUSL master’s degree program at National-Louis University. Those who enter Teach for America, meanwhile, earn provisional teaching certificates during their first year on the job, and an initial certificate after their second year, provided they have fulfilled the necessary coursework and other requirements through Dominican University, National-Louis University or the University of Phoenix.
In 2005, ISBE granted 337 alternative teaching certificates to new educators that received their training through alternative programs. The number peaked in 2010, when 1,302 alternative teaching certificates were granted in Illinois, and has since dropped to 514 in 2012, the most recent year for which ISBE had data.
Despite the growth, however, it’s important to note that the vast majority of teachers still earn traditional certificates. In 2012, for example, 14 times as many traditional teaching certificates were granted when compared to alternative teaching certificates.
A majority of delegates at an annual meeting of the Colorado Education Association approved a resolution “demanding the state’s withdrawal from the PARCC assessment, and to call for a moratorium on high stakes standardized testing,” according to a statement from the statewide teachers union.
The resolution, which charges CEA to join coalitions that oppose high-stakes testing, was passed April 12 during the union’s annual Delegate Assembly. More than 500 union members — including current teachers, retirees and bus drivers from across the state — attended the weekend meeting, which sets the union’s policy agenda for the year.
The conference is not usually opened to media. Chalkbeat Colorado first learned of the resolution from social media updates from delegates.
The delegate vote comes two months after a CEA survey found its members believe there is too much testing and not enough instructional time. The vote also follows a similar resolution passed by the State Board of Education asking the Colorado General Assembly to allow the education department here to develop its own standardized assessments instead of using the multi-state PARCC tests.
Colorado students are expected to begin taking the PARCC — short for Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career — tests next spring. Some 400 Colorado schools just completed a trial run of the exams.
The aim of the PARCC tests is to measure student proficiency and academic growth, or how much a student learns year-over-year compared to their peers, against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based on the national Common Core State Standards.
Supporters of the new assessments believe the results will allow Colorado policy makers, school leaders, and parents to compare student successes here with those in other states participating in the PARCC coalition.
The statement from CEA concludes:
Teachers are not ‘anti-testing’; in fact, teachers invented testing to examine student growth and improve classroom instruction. However, educators cannot passively sit on the sidelines and watch a corporate-driven testing agenda strangle the quality and rigor of a public school education they’ve worked so hard to deliver to students over their careers. We will work collaboratively with other concerned groups to determine standardized testing’s proper role in our schools that supports all students in a positive, meaningful way.
Because Colorado’s involvement in the PARCC group is tied to state statute, it seems unlikely any action will be taken this year. The General Assembly must adjourn by May 7.
Some states that have previously pulled out of the PARCC exams include Florida and Indiana. States still participating include New Mexico and Massachusetts.
Longer day, tempers fray
The principal at one Denver elementary school is pushing for a longer day, with the support of teachers. But many parens oppose it and the conflict has divided the community and raised questions about how to make that kind of change. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Republican lawmakers complained about bills that earmarked school spending but both parties advanced bills that promised to designate spending for certain programs, rather than pay down the negative factor. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Teachers speak out
A look at some of the teachers affected by the use of mutual consent in Denver Public Schools, which is currently embroiled in a legal challenge over it. ( Westword )
crunching the numbers
Boulder Valley School District's board will get a first look at next year's budget numbers and they're already talking about their priorities: employee health insurance, literacy materials and more staff. ( Daily Camera )
St. Vrain Valley School District has selected a new principal for Niwot High School. ( Times-Call )
Planning for the future
The Steamboat Springs school board moved forward with a strategic plan yesterday that includes a focus on staff retention, academic excellence and individual responsibility. ( Steamboat Today )
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate
A vaccine researcher says he was surprised by how few bad reactions there are to vaccines, in a discussion of a House bill that could require parents who opt their students out of vaccines to receive education on the risks. ( CPR )
Millions of American students this spring are piloting new online standardized tests linked to the Common Core State Standards. You can try out sample tests and see for yourself if they boost your critical thinking skills. (The Hechinger Report)
The main reason for the trial run is to see if computer systems are ready to handle millions of students logging on to take the exams at the same time. But it’s also a public relations test. Students are getting a first look at the exams in full, and educators will now have a better sense of whether they will live up to their promise.
IN THE STATE
FREE ACT COULD END: Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to continue paying for high school juniors to take the ACT and debating whether to pass along the $52.50 exam fees to students and their families as a way to save money. (State Journal Register)
SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS: The Springfield School District will undertake more than $5 million worth of building improvements this summer, including repaving parking lots, installing central air conditioning and replacing two roofs. The upgrades are part of $90 million in health and life safety improvements for which the Springfield School Board agreed to issue bonds in late 2008. (State Journal Register)
IN THE NATION
DENVER CONSIDERS HIRING UNDOCUMENTED TEACHERS: The Denver Public School system has joined with Teach for America to hire undocumented immigrants who were granted temporary legal presence and work authorization under a presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Think Progress)
CLARITY ON STUDENT PRIVACY: Several groups are working to establish more clarity and guidance with new policies for K-12 schools that are struggling to deal with the atmosphere around issues of student-data privacy. (Education Week)
Reducing the negative factor, the state’s $1.4 billion school funding shortfall, has gotten most of the attention this year, but there are plenty of bills floating around that propose spending money on a variety of other education programs.
A couple of Republican House members put a spotlight on some of those bills Monday with unsuccessful arguments to defeat the measures.
“Here we go again with expanding a program we can’t afford to expand,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, after House Bill 14-1156 came up for preliminary debate. The bill would make students in third through fifth grade who now are eligible for reduced-price lunches able to get free lunches. (Preschool through 2nd grade students already get free lunches.)
Sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, originally included students up to grade 12 in his bill, but scaled it back to reduce the cost.
“I hesitate to speak against this,” Murray said, saying state spending ought to be focused on highways, basic K-12 support and public safety.
Moreno countered by saying, “We are talking about one of the most fundamental things in school, that kids get fed.”
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said, “It seems to me like we’re trying to raise test scores in the lunchroom. … Schools are for learning. They’re not for social programs.”
There was similar back-and-forth on House Bill 14-1276, which would create a modest grant program to pay for programs to teach high school students how to perform CPR.
“Here we go again, spending money on a new program, which could go to spending down the negative factor,” said Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial.
“What we’re doing is creating a new program when can’t fully fund the programs we have,” Murray added.
(There was a similar argument over House Bill 14-1124, which would provide resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado. “We can’t afford it,” argued Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.)
In all three cases, the GOP arguments were for naught, as the bills passed on voice votes.
There is a wide range of bills that proposed spending on education programs other than the negative factor, and both Democrats and Republicans are involved in backing those efforts. Here’s a rundown on the measures still in play:Democratic spending bills
Total cost – $7.2 million
Achievement gaps – House Bill 14-1376 would require the Department of Education to gather data, broken out by ethnic groups and other student characteristics, on how students perform in core courses. The measure is so new that a fiscal analysis hasn’t been done yet. (Awaiting House committee action)
Alternative ed campuses – Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)
Adult education – House Bill 14-1085 would create a $960,000 program to fund adult education and literacy programs. (Awaiting final House vote)
Gifted students – House Bill 14-1102 proposes to spend about $3 million to beef up programs for gifted and talented students. (Awaiting initial House vote)
Health – House Bill 14-1276 proposes a $300,000 grant program for training high school students in CPR. (Awaiting final House vote)
Minority teachers – House Bill 14-1175 would give the Department of Education $50,000 to prepare on report on recruitment and retention of minority teachers. (Passed House 38-24 Monday)
Principals – Senate Bill 14-124 would spend $2 million to create a program for training school turnaround leaders. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)
School meals – As amended in committee to reduce its cost, HB 14-1156 would make those students currently eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, as a cost of $809,095. (Awaiting final House vote)A Republican spending bill
Rural districts – Wilson’s House Bill 14-1118 would provide financial incentives to rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes, at a cost of $499,061. (Passed House 53-9 Monday)Bipartisan bills
Total cost – $6.1 million
Counselors – Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. (Awaiting initial Senate floor action)
Safety – House Bill 14-1301 adds $700,000 in funding for the Safe Routes to School program run. (Passed House 42-20 Monday) Senate Bill 14-002 would provide $281,952 for placing the Safe2Tell program in the attorney general’s office. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)
Testing – House Bill 14-1202 would spend $142,750 to help support a task force that would study the state testing system. (Awaiting Senate committee review)Out of the running
Several proposed K-12 spending bills with a total cost of nearly $20 million have been killed. Here’s the list:
Data – House Bill 14-1039 proposed to spend $593,945 on linking ECE student data with the main K-12 data system. (Democratic)
ECE quality – House Bill 14-1076 would have cost $12.5 million to set up a program to improve quality of early childhood facilities. Senate Bill 14-006 proposed $470,115 to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators. (Both Democratic)
School supplies – House Bill 14-1094 proposed an August sales-tax holiday on school-related purchases at an estimated $2.8 million loss in state tax revenues. (Bipartisan)
Teachers – House Bill 14-1262 would have created a $4 program to pay bonuses to highly effective teachers who worked in low-rated schools. (Bipartisan)
Several of the surviving bills have had their price tags reduced to improve their chances for survival, but some have costs that would balloon after the 2014-15 budget year.
The two bills that comprise the main school finance package, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298, propose reducing the negative factor by $110 million. But they also include some specialized funding, including $20 million for READ Act early literacy programs, nearly $20 million for charter school facilities, $17 million to expand kindergarten access for at-risk students and $30.5 million in additional money for English language learner programs.
Those two measures have passed the House and will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.Big bills move with little debate
While the House squabbled a bit over minor education bills, some big measures advanced with no debate. They are:
Over in the Senate, the College Affordability Act, Senate Bill 14-001, easily passed a preliminary vote. That debate consisted only of brief positive comments from supporters.
The measure is an “historic reinvestment in our higher education system,” said prime sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.
“Arguably it’s not enough, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.
The bill would increase higher education funding by $100 million next year and cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two academic years.
The Senate Monday also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1291, which would give charter schools authority to hire armed security guards.
The push for a longer day at a Denver elementary school has parents up in arms and has raised questions about the correct protocol for making substantial changes to a school’s model.
Denison Elementary School in southwest Denver is one of several district schools that has considered making the change to a longer school day. At some schools, the transition has gone smoothly, but others backed away from the model after uproar from parents or struggles with the longer day’s day-to-day implications.
At Denison, the conflict has divided parents and staff, with a majority of parents opposing the change and a majority of staff supporting it.
The conflict, which has played out in heated community meetings and the school’s Facebook page, has centered on two questions: what is more time in school worth, and how should the decision to add more time be made? Parents have said their input was ignored, questioned the academic value of the time and complained of lost time with their children. But for the school’s staff, the change would mean uninterrupted time with students, more planning time and a stronger commitment to the school’s Montessori model.
The plan that principal Katy Mattis and other members of the planning committee put before the school’s governing committee for approval last week includes three major add-ons to the school’s schedule:
It’s the second iteration of the plan, created after parents vehemently opposed the original addition of nearly two hours to the school day. Denison’s plan for an extended day came out of a design process funded in part by the National Center for Time and Learning, which is part of a national movement pushing for “more and better learning time.” But Mattis says their plan is an anomaly; their focus is on improving the Montessori elements of the school, rather than the more typically touted benefits of an extended day and year.
“From the moment that we applied for this, I have been very clear that my sole motivation is the full implementation of Montessori,” said Mattis.
And she says it came from community input.
“Last year, I spent a lot of time listening to parents’ and teachers’ concerns,” said Mattis, who took over as principal last year. “What came across from teachers was that they could not have a full Montessori experience.”
Teachers felt students were constantly pulled out for interventions or for second language instruction. Teachers who were pulling students out disliked pulling them away from the student-driven work time that characterizes the Montessori model.
“For the kids who are pulled out all the time, it’s hard to get in the flow,” said Mattis. She took a hard look at how much it was impacting teachers’ time. “I took one teacher’s classrooms. She has one day a week where 15 minutes her whole class is with her. [There's] one day where she has zero minutes where her whole class is with her.”
What’s more, both teachers and parents agreed that district-mandated assessments were also interfering with students’ Montessori experience.
“We are testing them on a totally different curriculum than we are teaching them,” said Mattis. She wanted to add more planning time so teachers could write school-wide tests that better matched what they teach in class.
Those goals have found support even among parents who oppose the longer day.
“Everybody has agreed on the standardized testing things,” said parent Nathan Jaret, who has been vocal in opposing Mattis’ plan. “It would be better to implement assessments that are authentically Montessori.”
But he and others feel that those problems don’t require the 45 additional minutes proposed under the latest plan for teachers to plan for assessmens (that’s down from the hour and a half extension proposed earlier this year that provoked substantial outcry).
“How much time would it take for teachers to get together outside of school hours to write tests?” said Jaret. “I don’t fault them for that but they’re not willing to sacrifice their time to make it more authentically Montessori. But they are asking parents to sacrifice their time with their families.”
He also worries the longer schedule will drain students and teachers’ energy.
“I would expect many kids in the school will get extremely tired and burned out,” said Jaret. “For my family personally, it’s going to mean significantly less time to spend with our children.”
And for many parents, the motivation for the changes is unclear.
“The driving force kind of shifts around,” said Jennifer Greig, whose children attend Denison. “To me, it appears you could do a 90 minute uninterrupted work period and only add 15 minutes.”
She said a lot of parents would be supportive of that plan, without the other additions to the school day.
Greig said, “Why not focus on one thing and do it well without alienating parents?”
But the most contentious debate has focused on the school’s community input process, a fight which attracted media attention earlier this year. After parents protested a planned vote on March 18th, shortly after the plan drew widespread attention, the school hosted a series of parent meetings and distributed a parent survey. Even so, many still feel the outreach was insufficient and parental input has been ignored.
“We don’t feel enough effort has been made to involve the community in a systematic way,” said Jaret. He took issue with the survey, which was not anonymous and was completed by only 57 percent of the school’s families. School officials said the survey wasn’t anonymous so the school could follow up with those who didn’t return it and that the return rate was higher than most surveys distributed by the school.
Denison is one of several schools participating in similar planning processes, although it has received the most attention.
“All of these schools in this process are different,” said Mary Lindimore, the local representative for NCTL, which has supported Denison’s planning process.
When Chalkbeat asked if the community engagement process met NCTL’s expectations, Lindimore replied, “absolutely.”
Just because the conversation has been heated doesn’t mean the community process isn’t working, she said.
“Parents ask good questions and they should ask good questions,” Lindimore said. “It’s their students going to the school.”
The divisiveness of the issue at Denison is not atypical, said Lindimore. “You will never get 100 percent agreement,” she told parents at the contentious March 18th meeting.
And the process plays out differently at each school.
“Some schools just ask more questions,” said Lindimore. And, she said, not all of them will take action to turn their plans into reality. Last year, eight schools participated in the same program. Only four opted to add time to their school day or year.
“It’s a very big review process,” said Lindimore. “Nothing has been decided.”
Still, members of the school community on both sides of the issue believe that the school is moving forward with the plan. The school’s governing body voted to move forward with the changes outlined by school leaders, despite a parent survey which showed 109 of the school’s 296 families preferred no change to the schedule. And while a majority of staff supported the changes, Mattis said the divide between staff and a large segment of parents has not affected relationships within the school.
Some opponents are already looking for a new school, in anticipation of the schedule changes. A recent parent survey showed that as many as 13 families were likely to leave. Opponents say that number may be even higher after next year as few families want to go through the hassle of getting into a new school long after the district’s deadline for choosing a new school has passed.
“This says that this is a done deal,” said Jaret. “Oh and by the way, it’s too late to participate in the choice process.”
And Mattis has already put the wheels in motion to change one of the crucial parts of the school’s current schedule: busing. Parents whose students take the bus to school have worried about whether busing will be available and the late hours their students will spend on the bus.
“At this point, we are submitting our bell change request to transportation,” said Mattis.
Even so, she admits, nothing’s written in stone, yet. The bus schedule is one of several concerns — including feedback from district officials, who met with members of the planning committee last week– that could stall out her plan. “If they can’t change our bell time, we’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do.”
As for the decision to move forward instead of waiting a year, as some parents would like, Mattis said she and her staff feel that wouldn’t be in the best interest of the school’s student body.
“Moving forward with plan b is in the interest of 100 percent of our students,” she said. “What I have heard strongly from a lot of parents as well as for a majority of staff is, ‘if we know this is what’s best for kids, why don’t we do this immediately?’”
As for the parents now looking for another school, she hopes they’ll reconsider.
“Our hope is that families are at Denison because of our strong Montessori program, which we are only going to strengthen,” said Mattis. “We are a community and we need to heal.”
You've got test
Schools across Colorado will begin administering new computer-based exams. If school officials can work out all the kinks in time may be the ultimate test. ( Chalkbeat Colorad )
New Schools on the block
Kepner Middle School parents got a sneak peek at possible new school models last week. The pitches are part of a broader conversation taking place across Denver this month. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Fall into the gap
The St. Vrain Valley board of education approved its district's unified improvement plan last week. While the district is already meeting many of the state's objectives, including academic growth, it still falls short of closing the achievement gap — but not by much. ( Longmont Times-Call )
Who you gonna call?
Student referrals to law enforcement are down in Grand Junction schools. But the state's 12th largest school district ranked sixth in a statewide survey that tracked, among other discipline statistics, the number of times authorities was involved in student discipline issues. ( Grand Junction Daily Sentinel )
Save me a seat
The budget backlash that is often a byproduct of school choice is becoming more and more evident at Fort Collins High School. Last year, 70 fewer students enrolled that equated to a loss of more than $400,000. This year, however, more students are choosing to enroll there and the school is expected to see a budget surge. ( Fort Collins Coloradan )
Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidates took aim at the state's participation in the Common Core State Standards this weekend at the party's state convention. ( Denver Post )
The Common Core criticism from the candidates came just days after the state's school board passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to allow the state to develop its own standards. The Denver Post's editorial board told the lawmakers to pay no mind. ( Denver Post )
There's never been a more important time to be a part of the public education system, writes a law student turned charter school administrator. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Two former board of education presidents for Denver Public Schools believe the varied reform strategies DPS has put into play are working. ( Denver Post )
From the playground to the football field
Adding academic-related markings to school playgrounds are proving to bolster student activity. And some southern Colorado schools will have the chance to win grants to do just that. ( Pueblo Chieftain )
Colorado high school sports and activities directors joined their colleagues from neighboring states to discuss concussions, excessive heat and conflicts. The aim of the talks was to share lessons learned from the past season. ( Daily Herald )
May I have this dance?
Hundreds of Colorado Springs high school students got a heck of a deal on a prom dress. Each was just $10. The proceeds went to Urban Peak, a youth shelter. ( KKTV )
On the job
How the Colorado National Distinguished Principal of the Year, Doris Candelarie, turned around Lafayette's Sanchez Elementary School. ( Colorado Hometown Weekly )
Students at several Colorado Springs high schools were expected to take part in a national day protest Friday to raise awareness on bullying. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )
The national "Day of Silence" came 24 hours after a state Senate committee killed a bill that would have cracked down on cyber bullying. The Senate committee raised concerns on limiting free speech. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )
African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, while most education policymakers and reformers have abandoned integration as a cause. That reality is explained in a new report called “For Public Schools, Segregation Then, Segregation Since: Education and the Unfinished March” by Richard Rothstein of the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, which looks at the reasons and the implications of continued school segregation. (The Washington Post)
WINDFALL FROM PENSION PLAN WILL HELP CPS: Crain's Greg Hinz is reporting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to restructure two city pension funds brought to light a little-noticed quirk in state law that will result in a windfall for the city—and help Chicago Public Schools. For many schools, the windfall could be enough to "hire a couple of teachers, or put in some new programs," said Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, who along with colleague Will Burns, 4th, unearthed the money.
GOING AFTER SCHOLARSHIPS: With college costs increasing and the prospect of paying back student loans intimidating, Chicago Public Schools are becoming increasingly aggressive about encouraging students to pursue scholarships. According to the district, students received $400 million in scholarship offers during the 2012-13 school year, up from $266.7 million the year before. (Tribune)
NOBLE DROPS DISCIPLINE FEE: The Noble Network of Charter Schools has dropped a $5 fee charged to students hit with a detention, one of the most controversial aspects of its strict discipline policy. Noble informed parents of the change a day after the Tribune detailed the privately run school's tough approach to student discipline. (Tribune)
CHEMICAL CONTENTS: It took a Freedom of Information Act to get the Chicago Public Schools to disclose what's in the chicken nuggets they serve in their cafeterias. NPR's Scott Simon reveals the chemical contents: brown sugar, salt, onion powder, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, citric acid, potassium chloride, sodium phosphates and, oh, yes, a little chicken.
IN THE NATION
POOR STUDENTS GET POOR TEACHERS: The Center for American Progress released a new report that finds that poor and minority students are more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective and less likely to be taught by one who is exemplary. “We’ve known for awhile that poor and minority students attending U.S. public schools are more likely to be taught by underqualified or brand-new teachers,” said Jenny DeMonte, co-author of the report and associate director for education research at the Center for American Progress. “Our new report takes this idea a step further. Using new evaluation data, we found that these same children are also more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)