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Coming soon: exclusive new Capitol coverage

EdNewsColorado - 4 hours 38 min ago

During Colorado’s legislative session, it’s not uncommon to find Chalkbeat’s Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl tapping away on his laptop in one committee hearing, while keeping tabs on another by audio-streaming it through headphones. Some might say he’s a glutton for punishment, but his multitasking ability helps him deliver the best legislative education coverage in the state.

Starting in January, readers will have a chance to get more of Engdahl’s exclusive legislative coverage than ever before. It’s simple: Sign up for Chalkbeat’s new Capitol Membership. It includes a legislative preview on Jan. 5, Sunday e-newsletters previewing each week’s developments, breaking news e-mail alerts throughout the session and a comprehensive legislative wrap-up in May.

The Capitol Membership is perfect for readers who need to stay informed about state education policy, but don’t have time to wade through dense legislative documents and navigate the grueling law-making process. This new service will augment the comprehensive legislative coverage that Engdahl has always provided and will continue to provide to Chalkbeat readers daily.

The Capitol Membership is available for just $120, with discounts available to those who work for schools, school districts, or state or federal government. To sign up or learn more, click here.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Dyett supporters ask for RFP to be halted; school ratings by race and TFA problems

Catalyst Chicago - 6 hours 8 min ago

Several members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School demanded Wednesday that board members adopt their plan for the school and reopen it in Fall of 2015, rather than follow the steps CPS officials already laid out: issue a Request for Proposals, pick an operator or a proposal, and then reopen in 2016.

Community activists who had been fighting to save Washington Park’s Dyett ever since its phase out was announced four years ago hailed the announcement by officials that it was going to be saved. But they do not like the idea that outside, private entities can bid to run it as a contract school. Nor do they like that it will sit dormant for a year.  

“Anytime black children have a need, it is sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeanette Taylor, who serves on the LSC of Mollison Elementary, which is near Dyett. She worries that Dyett might become a selective enrollment and that her autistic son won’t qualify for enrollment. She wants the reopened school to be able to serve him.

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett wants the school to be reopened as a neighborhood school with a focus on “global leadership and green technology.” They said they do not understand why -- and feel it is disrespectful for -- the board to consider other proposals.

Veteran civil rights leader and historian Timuel Black, now 96 years old, told the board that he thinks schools do much better when they have community support. Joy Clendenning, who serves on the Kenwood LSC, said that people in the area ask her often what is happening with Dyett. “It is such a great building and location,” she said. She called the community’s plan “terrific.”

Board members did not respond to the coalition’s speakers.

The RFP for Dyett, as well as for other new schools to open in Fall 2016, is supposed to be released some time this month. CPS officials said that this year they are not considering proposals to open any new schools in Fall 2015, a move that many assume is political given that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is running for re-election and new schools are controversial.  

However, two charter schools were given conditional approval last year for openings in Fall 2015. One of them, a new entity called Moving Everest Charter School, was given final approval on Wednesday.

2. CPS’ new (old) inspector general… CPS finally has a new, permanent inspector general and, not surprisingly, it is the same guy who has been holding down the job for the five months since the last inspector general resigned. Wonder why it took so long to make him permanent? Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the official appointment of Nicholas J. Schuler earlier this month, and on Wednesday the Board of Education confirmed him in a procedural vote.

Schuler has been deputy CPS inspector general since 2010. Schuler is a former police officer and the son of a police officer. After getting a law degree and working in a private law firm, he went to work for the city’s inspector general’s office. He tells the Sun Times that he saw the move to CPS as a promotion.  

The news of his official appointment comes just as the office is about to release its annual report. In the past, the annual report has detailed relatively low-level corruption, including misuse of credit cards by school board presidents, clout admissions into selective enrollment schools and principals who fraudulently identified their children as qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

3. More on ratings… When CPS Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced school ratings earlier this month, she said she was surprised that quality schools were spread out throughout the city. Catalyst mapped the schools and, while we found this is true, it is also the case that the best schools are much more concentrated on the North and Northwest sides of the city. Forty percent of the top rated schools are on the North Side or centrally located, compared to 20 percent on the South Side and 15 percent on the West Side.

What’s more, of the lowest rated schools, 60 percent of them are on the South Side, though only 50 percent of all schools are on the South Side. The West Side is home to 22 percent of all schools, but 32 percent of the lowest rated schools.

Catalyst’s analysis also confirms that white students are most likely to attend the district’s Level 1-plus schools, the highest rating. Nearly all the schools with significant white populations are rated either 1-plus or 1. Meanwhile, all of the lowest rated schools, except for Kelvyn Park High School, which has a mostly Latino population, are more than two-thirds black.  To see maps of ratings by race click here.

4. Fewer recruits for TFA … As CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey noted during Wednesday’s board meeting, a recent Washington Post article pointed out that studies show that morale among teachers is super low. Teaching just isn’t as attractive as it used to be because of the “polarized public conversation around education” and districts’ shaky budgets, according to a note written by Teach For America leaders to the organization’s partner organizations and obtained by Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss.The article was about the trouble that the controversial teacher training organization is having trouble recruiting new candidates. 

As a result in the drop in recruits, TFA expects to “fall short” of its partners’ needs by 25 percent. Also, TFA leaders closed a training site in New York because of the decline, as reported by Chalkbeat last week.

The waning interest in teaching hasn’t only affected alternative educator prep programs like TFA. At traditional university teacher prep programs, enrollment fell by about 10 percent between 2004 and 2012, according to a recent story in Education Week. The numbers are even worse in Illinois, as Catalyst reported earlier this year. Enrollment at traditional undergraduate teaching programs dropped by about 23 percent in the decade leading up to 2012.

5. In other school news … Ald. John Arena of the 45th Ward asked the board Wednesday to prioritize hiring more full-time nurses at schools that cater to students with special needs. He shared concerns from teachers and staff at one such school, Beard Elementary, who have to administer medications to students. "They have concerns about the health of the child -- if they were to miss a dose or mistime the doses -- because the demands on them are more each day," Arena told the Tribune. Just 450 nurses serve the district’s 683 schools, according to the story. That adds up to a ratio of about one nurse for every 880 students in CPS. The district is currently seeking proposals from outside groups to deliver some $33 million in school nursing and health management services next school year.

Also, parents who want to see the implementation of the PARCC test delayed asked the board to adopt a policy allowing parents to opt their children out of the test. Rules around opting out became an issue last year when hundreds of parents, if not thousands, opted their children out of the ISAT, which was then a state-mandated test but one that CPS was not using for any accountability purposes. At the time, some schools followed the rule that they hand every student a test but then allow the student to refuse to take it. Parent Jennifer Biggs told the board that she had no problem opting her children out at their school but wants to make sure that in the future children aren't put in a position of having to refuse the test. 

Finally, it looks like progress has been made on choosing a site for the city’s new selective-enrollment high school that was initially going to be named after President Barack Obama. Ald. Walter Burnett of the 27th Ward says he favors a vacant riverfront parcel at Division and Halsted near Goose Island because it has room for parking, no conflicts with nearby schools or parks and won’t take away land needed for replacement public housing, according to a Sun-Times story. (A previous site in the middle of Stanton Park was scrapped because of concerns from Near North Side residents about lack of parking and the loss of park space.) Residents will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the new site.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: ProComp agreement likely to be extended as negotiations continue

EdNewsColorado - 7 hours 6 min ago

third time's a charm?

After two attempts at either finding suitable Common Core-aligned curriculum and trying to write their own, Denver Public Schools officials now say they're headed "back to the drawing board" to find appropriate classroom materials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

small steps

The Aurora Public Schools board took a half-step towards allowing a cash-strapped charter school to stay open. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

negotiating the negotiations

Two weeks before Denver Public Schools' current teacher compensation program, ProComp, expires, district and union officials haven't come to an agreement on changes. ( Denver Post )

oil for schools

The mayor of Windsor is fighting to use a portion of the town's oil and gas revenue to fund schools. ( Coloradoan )

creating safer spaces

A new survey reports that Colorado's gay, lesbian and bisexual students face significant physical and mental health challenges in school. ( Summit Daily )

no more bullies

A Jefferson County mother is encouraging other parents to take a proactive approach to talk to their children about bullying. ( 9News )

congratulations

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall announced that he's nominated 54 Colorado students for admission to military academies. ( Daily Camera )

climb the bus

An after-school program is using a school bus outfitted with a climbing wall to teach about science. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools “back to the drawing board” in search for Common Core-aligned curriculum

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 18:06

Denver Public Schools officials say they are starting their search for curricular materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts all over again.

It’s been four years since Colorado adopted the Common Core in language arts and math as part of the Colorado Academic Standards. Starting next spring, the state’s standardized test in the subjects will be tied to the new standards.

But DPS has yet to adopt or purchase a new set of curricular resources aligned to the Common Core.

District officials say that the textbooks and other academic resources that are on the market right now aren’t up to snuff, especially for Denver’s large population of English learners.

“It’s a real struggle right now,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer. “Finding a curriculum that’s that’s been redesigned for the Common Core is difficult enough—and finding one that’s aligned for English learners is a different challenge.”

The district reviewed the Common Core-aligned textbooks and curriculum on the market last year, Whitehead-Bust said, but decided that none was worth the millions of dollars the district would have to invest.

The district then decided to create a new curriculum in-house. “That was Plan B. And that turned out to be equally challenging,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Now we’re back to the drawing board.”

Whitehead-Bust said there was no clear date by which the district was guaranteed to have new resources. “We’re continuing to move forward with research and investigation,” she said.

In the meantime, DPS teachers are in limbo, adapting resources that were created with the previous state standards in mind to create lessons that are aligned the Common Core.

Redesigned, not realigned

The Common Core standards for English language arts and math have been adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota adopted only the standards in English language arts). Though the standards have stirred political and educational controversy, Denver officials say they are more rigorous and will encourage better teaching and learning.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThird graders at Ellis Elementary study English with ESL teacher Bree Roon. Each of the students in this group has a different native language, including Karen, Spanish, Russian/Turkish, Arabic, and Bosnian.

But Denver is not alone in having not found new Common Core-aligned curriculum and textbooks, said Carrie Heath Phillips, program director for Common Core State Standards at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which helped develop the standards. “Many places didn’t want to rush to buy new materials until there were more quality resources out there.”

She said that’s starting to change: Some states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, and Hawaii, have recommended lists of textbooks that are aligned to the standards.

In Colorado, each district chooses which curriculum and resources it will use. Some districts, including Boulder, have adopted new curricular resources tied to the Common Core.

Whitehead-Bust said that DPS is searching for something that’s not simply old textbooks with a new label. “There are a lot of companies that have remapped their material to the standards. But they haven’t redone their material. We’re looking for materials that are really redesigned, not just realigned.”

In the meantime, she said, teachers haven’t been totally without updates and support. “What we’re trying to do is take the resources that were in place last year, many of which were really strong and solid resources, and deepen the rigor of the content, infuse more informational text, and deepen expectations around text-dependent questions, so we can really guide teachers through.” Elementary English language arts teachers have gotten new guided reading books for their students. A literacy newsletter has suggestions about how to tie lessons to the new standards.

“Great resources in the hands of less-than-well-trained teachers don’t have anywhere close to the same impact as well-trained teachers using resources you’d hoped to replace and upgrade over time,” she said.

But weaving old materials together with new additions aimed at making lessons more rigorous or aligned with the new standards isn’t always easy.

“They do provide us with a lot of resources,” said Margaux Rowley, a second grade teacher at Ellis Elementary, in southeast Denver. “But sometimes you’re getting so much—it’s, ‘do this with the scope and sequence,’ ‘do this with the standards.’ It’s a lot of information.”

Rowley said that making sure the lesson plans and instructional materials she uses in class line up with the standards, and with how other grades in the school are interpreting the standards, is a challenge.

Theresa Winslow, a fifth grade teacher at Ellis, said that math materials are more up-to-date than language arts. “In literacy, we’re still tied to the lesson guides from ten years ago.”

Frustrated board

At a meeting of the district’s board in November focused on academic programs and teacher and leader training initiatives, board member Arturo Jimenez said he was concerned about the delay. “If we don’t have the curricular materials chosen and implemented and ready to go, it’s difficult to see the logic that we’re focusing on teacher leadership development, evaluation and incentives,” he said. He compared it to sending paratroopers into battle without parachutes.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThe Denver school board discusses academics, including curriculum, at a meeting in November.

“How do we focus teachers without planning and practice guides, without curriculum that’s focused on the Common Core? It seems like we’re doing it backwards,” he said.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said while he understood the concern, “we have kids on the ground who desperately need our teachers. Are not going to say we’re not going to coach or develop them?”

Whitehead-Bust described the district’s efforts to “bridge” between old materials and new. “Many districts are in our position,” she said. “It’s frustrating for teachers.” She said there would likely be an update to the timeline for finding resources as the district develops its new strategic plan this winter.

Board president Happy Haynes said she was surprised to hear that materials appropriate for English learners were hard to come by. “I don’t know why it took [publishers] so long to figure out that that’s an extraordinary need—but we need to keep the pressure there in order to get the materials we need.”

Challenges for English learners PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiEllis Elementary enrolls students who speak more than 20 different native languages.

States and districts have been developing ways to make sure the standards are accessible to English learners, according to the CCSSO’s Phillips. The state of New Jersey, for one, has developed scaffolding guides for English learners. The school district in San Diego has translated all of the standards into Spanish. The Council of the Great City Schools released a “user’s guide” for districts looking to find instructional materials tailored to English learners’ needs this August.

In 2013-14, 35 percent of Denver’s public school students were English learners.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova said the new standards highlight an already-existing challenge: “It’s difficult to find material in Spanish in general–and even more difficult to find material that’s been revised and aligned to the rigor of the Common Core.” The district offers several Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, in programs, in which Spanish speaking students spend some time learning in their native language.

She said there also aren’t enough materials with features that make it easier for students who are learning English to process text (such as on-page definitions for tricky words). She said the Common Core standards’ emphasis on informational text and problem solving in math means that English learners are confronted with more technical language and, in math, just more language than ever before.

And even resources that are advertised as aligned don’t always live up to the hype, she said. When the district reviewed one publisher’s Common Core-aligned materials, Cordova said, eight of the ten lessons built for English learners focused on idioms. “That’s not the bulk of what English learners need to learn,” Cordova said.

The district adopted a new program called E.L. Achieve, intended to be a more effective literacy program for English learners, earlier this fall.

At Ellis Elementary, where more than 24 languages are spoken and fewer than a third of students speak English as a first language, “we didn’t get the new standards and think, oh my goodness, how will we teach our English learners,” said Linda Miller, the dean of instruction at Ellis. “It was, how will we get STUDENTS to show that they have mastered or are where they should be with the standards? So now it’s this aftermath—so now we’re going to use E.L. Achieve. How will that support teaching the standards as well?”

“We’re working as hard as we possibly can to teach all our students,” Miller said. “A large majority happen to be English learners. But that hasn’t changed.”

Teachers were most concerned about how students, especially English learners, would fare on PARCC, the state’s new computer-based, Common Core-tied assessment, which, they said, is very text heavy. Even the instructions for how to navigate the online exam—drag and drop, or figuring out which box is an answer box—can trip up students, especially those who are still translating in their heads.

“A lot of our English learners are brilliant,” Winslow said. “But the test isn’t really going to show you what they’re capable of. And then it looks like we’re not doing our jobs.”

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora board takes half-step to help cashless charter school

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:51

AURORA — A charter school teetering on the edge of bankruptcy was given a tentative lifeline Tuesday night by the city’s school board. But the Aurora Public Schools board stopped short of approving a one-year charter extension for AXL Academy.

While several board members aired their skepticism about granting a one-year extension to the school – its charter contract expires June 30 – the board unanimously agreed to allow the district and AXL more time to develop a plan that would close a $632,000 shortfall and set the charter school on a path toward fiscal and academic stability.

The board, which has been considered chilly to charter schools in the past, will review the plan and vote on a one-year charter contract extension as early as its Jan. 6 meeting.

The vote can’t come soon enough for the AXL community. Thanks to some budget crunching, it has just enough cash now to get through March 2.

The extra time is also a welcomed symbolic gesture of Aurora’s warming to charter schools, said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

“This board is interested in what’s in the best interest of children and their families,” Flood said after the meeting, pointing out that APS has also renewed two of its charters schools — Global Village and the Aurora Academy — this month. “They’re taking a broader view. They’re looking across their portfolio to make sure there are high quality options for their students.”

While AXL had originally asked for the district to establish a credit line for about $300,000, the school presented a new plan Tuesday asking the district to allow the school to run a deficit of about $175,000 this school year. That deficit would be wiped out by a projected surplus next year. The surplus would come from one-time funds promised by the legislature to all public schools, and an anticipated increase in per-pupil funding.

The new plan also relies on raising  $150,000 from philanthropic foundations. And in keeping with the original plan, AXL would like APS to defer about $300,000 in service fees this school year, allowing the school to pay those over three years.

“We strongly believe that this process will create an AXL Academy that is strong, more effective, and most importantly, more responsible than ever before,” said Brent Reckman, a co-principal at AXL.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Financial consultant Jason Gurrero from G and G Consulting, left, and AXL co-principal Brent Reckman answered questions from the APS Board of Education Tuesday night.

More than 100 AXL supporters squeezed into the modest APS board chambers. Six individuals — two parents, two teachers, and two students — spoke in favor of providing a contract extension to AXL.

“It isn’t a perfect school, but it is our school,” said Amber Malin, an AXL teacher whose child also attend the school.

Parents and teachers who spoke at the board meeting shared their renewed faith in AXL, which has experienced financial hardship before and has seen a dip in academic performance, according to state test score data.

“I feel more secure in the planning of AXL’s future than ever before,” said Heather Rivers, an AXL teacher.

Student Vance Manzanares said his teachers have inspired him to go to college since he was young.

“They want us to be great people — not just now, but especially when we grow up,” he said. “They always tell me to go for my dreams. I want to be an inventor. Not one of my teachers has told me that’s a bad idea. That’s why you’ll all be able to fly in 2025 with awesome rocket-propelled shoes.”

Board members and Superintendent Rico Munn, weighing the financial ramifications of its options, fired a series of questions at AXL’s leadership, financial consultant, and Lisa Flores from the Gates Family Foundation.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Gates Family Foundation.)

One of the most intense exchanges was between Munn and Flores.

Munn attempted to gauge the foundation’s willingness to support AXL and what the district and school would need to do to ensure for the foundation’s contribution. Flores said her foundation is interested in continuing its support of AXL, which it has done for many years, but explained she didn’t have the authority to pledge any dollar amount without approval from the foundation’s board of directors.

“What we’re looking for is everyone making a good faith effort to long-term planning,” Flores said.

Flores said she was impressed by how the school’s new leadership team was grappling with a number of challenges including food service, renegotiating the school’s lease, and student recruitment, but that several details still needed to be finalized, including how much time AXL would have to repay the $300,000 in fees that would be deferred this year.

Munn and his board of education agreed.

“I have to be honest, this is making me a little nervous,” said APS board member Amber Drevon. “Are you looking for donations in other places?”

AXL’s leaders said they were.

Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared pleased with the path Aurora and AXL were on.

“There’s nothing I can see as another approach,” said board member Dan Jorgensen.

But board member Eric Nelson wasn’t so optimistic.

“I’m really praying that you have a contingency plan,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Adams 12 makes plans to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:26

Buildings

The Five Star school board is trying to figure out how to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed this November. ( Westminster Window )

school rankings

ColoradoSchoolGrades.com has ranked Colorado schools on a scale from A to F. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

school rankings

Most of the schools that earned strong grades are in the Pikes Peak region. ( The Gazette )

Open or Close

The Aurora school board is deciding whether to close or renew the contract of AXL Academy, a charter school that's struggling financially. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Coding Possibilities

Researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine are using code written by Colorado students to help improve outcomes for cancer patients. ( 9 News )

New Homes

Three charter schools in Colorado Springs are purchasing new buildings. ( The Gazette )

Oil and Gas

The mayor of Windsor plans to use oil and gas money to support schools via a foundation—but not everyone supports his plans. ( Coloradoan )

Jeffco

Jeffco teachers got their first compensation updates in years in November. ( Arvada Press )

Making Friends

A group of elementary students have created a "buddy bench" to help make sure none of their classmates are lonely. ( Westminster Window )

Restorative Justice

A school in Oakland, Calif. is beginning to use a restorative justice aproach. ( KUNC )

absenteeism

The state of New York is planning to track chronically absent students, taking a page from New York City schools. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Digital Divide

Even once kids get laptops as parts of one-on-one initiatives, many don't have the internet online. ( Hechinger Report )

Homelessness

A new housing project in Tacoma, Wash. aims to help homeless K-12 students. ( Education Week )

Health Care

A challenge to the Affordable Care Act could have big implications for school system workers—especially support staff at schools. ( Education Week )

Vouchers

A Denver parent argues against school vouchers in a letter to the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition releases school grades for parents

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 17:04

Colorado parents looking for more user-friendly information about their school’s academic performance last year can now search an updated online database that ranks schools on a familiar A-F grading scale.

ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, developed by a coalition of 18 nonprofits organizations with that generally support accountability-reform efforts, uses data from the Colorado Department of Education and a formula developed by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver to compute the grades.

The site was updated this week with the most recent test data from the 2013-14 school year.

The aim is to give every parent an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking for their school to inform decisions about where to send their students.

Colorado is one of a few states that ranks schools and districts on a variety of metrics that provides quality information to parents, but a report by the Education Commission of the States found that information is not easily accessible to most parents.

From the organization’s press release:

“Parents need clear, concise information to make good school choices for their child,” said Bob Deibel, President and Owner of OfficeScapes and board member at Colorado Succeeds. “Colorado School Grades is a critical tool to provide a first step for any parent making a choice or improving a school.”

For four years, Colorado School Grades has represented an alternative to other school rating systems, which are difficult to navigate or offer watered-down information. For example, the Colorado Department of Education indicates that more than 70 percent of public schools are “top performers,” making it difficult for parents to understand how their school measures up. Colorado School Grades rates schools on a more rigorous curve, so the community can understand which schools are performing at the highest levels.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora school board to decide fate of cash-strapped charter school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 16:11

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education tonight will decide the fate of one of its charter schools that has just enough cash to operate until the end January.

The school board will decide whether to shutter the AXL Academy charter school at the end of the month, close it at the end of the school year, or extend its charter for 18 months so the school can possibly regain its financial footing.

At stake is what’s best for the 500 students of AXL —  about 90 percent of whom live inside the APS attendance boundaries — and the suburban school system’s own finances.

AXL officials, who met with the APS school board earlier this month, told board members that the financial shortfall was caused entirely by the school enrolling 100 fewer students than originally budgeted for.

According to the officials’ remarks at the APS school board meeting and in subsequent interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, it appears most of the school’s staff, its board, and district officials were kept in the dark about the shortfall until after the state’s official count day in October.

Count day is one of the most important days of the school year. On this day, schools and districts report how many students are at their desks. Those numbers determine how much money school systems receive from the state for the entire school year. While AXL’s enrollment did increase this year, it still fell short of its growth projection of 600 students.

As a result of the enrollment shortfall. AXL received about $700,000 less than officials had projected.

AXL officials claim they have a plan to establish a solid fiscal foundation. They believe the kindergarten through eighth grade school should stay open because the school has growth potential. District-run expeditionary learning schools are popular in Aurora and have waiting lists.

AXL also meets or beats the district’s average student achievement results on state reading and writing tests, although those scores have slipped by double digit percentage points in the last three years and still lag behind the state’s average.

While the school, which has similar demographics to the district’s, has underperformed the district’s and state’s average in math, overall the school has earned the state’s highest rating a school can earn for the last three years.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Donny Wright, left, and his son, Trenton Wright, 12, were among the 200 AXL Academy charter school supporters who packed an Aurora Public Schools Board of Education meeting earlier this month. AXL Academy has enough money to operate through January. It’s requesting an 18-month charter extension and loan from the APS.

AXL officials hope an extension to the school’s charter will provide the campus a chance to move past its financial mistakes and refocus on teaching and learning.

“We don’t want to dwell on the past,”said Matt Wasserman, the school’s new board president, at the Dec. 2 APS board meeting. “We’ve made a clean break from the past. We want the ability to have a fresh star. This is a financial crisis. But it is not an academic crisis. … AXL is asking for what amounts to a second chance.”

Since late October, AXL’s school director, Audra Philippon has left. The school has restructured its administration team and board of directors, and also cut about $90,000 from its budget.

Philippon did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of its restructuring, the school has hired a charter school consulting firm for about $30,000.

“We’ve tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Brent Reckman, AXL’s co-principal, at the APS board meeting. “Cutting the Spanish team was the most difficult.”

It’s still unclear how only a select few of the school’s administrators knew about under enrollment problems and what specific systems will be in place by the end of the school year to prevent a similar budgeting problem going forward.

AXL is asking the district to defer about $315,000 in fees for district services and establish a credit line for about the same amount.

Part of the conversation tonight between AXL and the APS board will be to discuss what the financial trade-offs are for either keeping the school open or closing it.

“I need to have a real good idea about what it would cost the district for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member.

If the board agrees to float AXL a lifeline there is no guarantee the district will see the hundreds of thousands of dollars again. The school could ultimately close if it can’t boost its enrollment. Some families have already left since news about the financial hardship spread.

If AXL does shut down, any assets such as computers the school purchased with state tax dollars would become the property of APS, according to a spokeswoman with the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

This isn’t the first time AXL has had money woes. In the fall of 2013, APS sent a letter to the school claiming AXL was not in compliance with its charter contract due to concerns about its financial status and governance structure. But the school corrected course, APS officials pointed out to their board this month.

“We were here last year, but for different reasons,” said Rico Munn, APS’s superintendent. “As of June, we all felt good.”

While there have been signs the Aurora school board is becoming more friendly to charters, over the years it has earned a reputation of being anti-charter. While neighboring school districts like Denver Public Schools and Douglas County have been steadily opening charter schools, APS hasn’t authorized another charter school since AXL opened in 2008.

The APS board’s decision tonight could signal a greater openness to working with charter school or a closing of the ranks.

Aurora officials and board members earlier this month said they were happy the district and charter school officials were communicating through the entire process. And many board members praised the school for rallying parent support. More than 200 parents, teachers, and students packed the modest APS board room earlier this month to show support for the school.

If the board decides to shut down the school at the end of the month, all AXL students — regardless of what school district they live in — would be able to choose an APS school to attend so long as a seat was available.

AXL’s parent Max Garcia’s  three students would likely finish the school year at their neighborhood school, Jewel Elementary. But he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I believe in the expeditionary learning model,” he said. “If they close the school, it’d break my heart. I volunteer there. I teach the cooking club. I know a lot of the kids on a first name basis.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 90 percent of AXL students live inside the Aurora Public Schools boundary. 

Categories: Urban School News

Passing the PARCC test is the wrong goal

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00

In reading the recent guest essay that the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows wrote about the soon-to-debut PARCC test, I was flabbergasted to see their opening paragraph end with the absurd statement that by participating in the test roll-out this year, “students in Chicago will be able to do something amazing: They have the opportunity to pilot the PARCC without the fear of failure.” 

I did not enter the profession of education to inspire my students to be great test-takers.  I hope no teacher did.  The notion that piloting a standardized test for which the publishing giant Pearson received a multi-million dollar no bid contract would be an amazing opportunity for our students is down right inflammatory. Instead of letting our students be guinea pigs for testing companies, I hope we as a profession are driven to create the opportunities that change our student’s hearts and minds for the overall betterment of society.

For example, I was astonished a few years ago when some of my students put in numerous hours after school to raise money for earthquake survivors in Haiti even though their own families were barely making ends meet. I was surprised to learn last year that two of my senior students had already started their own business, trying to develop insulin patches instead of using needles.  I get goose bumps thinking back when an incredibly shy student volunteered to explain her mathematical thinking at the board for the first time and her classmates give her the biggest high-fives as she walked back to her seat after nailing it. As I recall the amazing things students have done over the years, I never recall their performance on standardized tests.        

I hope that all my students will go on to be a part of a new generation that accomplishes amazing things by finally solving social issues such as child hunger, rampant drug addiction, stubbornly persistent segregated housing, economic volatility and global warming. In order to creatively problem-solve such issues, and the many others that face our world today, our students will need a set of skills that no standardized test can accurately assess. 

They will have to use technological advancements that have not yet been invented.  They will have to unite people from across the political spectrum, interact with citizens from across the globe, and navigate ever-changing geopolitical conflicts.  Most importantly, our students will have to figure out how to challenge unjust practices in our own country, just as generations before them challenged slavery and Jim Crow. The fight for marriage equality has been almost fully won across the nation, but as the recent protests against police brutality have underlined, racial equality is still something that eludes our country.

Fighting against unjust policies is where we teachers can lead by example and teach our students “real-life” lessons.  In their essay, the Teach Plus Fellows agree that teachers should not have to teach to a test, yet they seem to conclude that we are helpless in changing the policies that mandate such tests.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  We can and must challenge harmful educational practices.

In a recent report, the American Statistical Association (ASA), the largest organization representing professionals in the field of statistics and one of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, deconstructed a central feature of the Obama’s administration “Race to the Top” initiative: tying school rankings and teacher evaluations to student test scores. The ASA issued a short but stinging statement that strongly warned against the misuse of value-added models (VAMs) for education assessment. 

The report notes that VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.  It goes on to say that VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.  Furthermore, the report says that most VAM studies have found that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in system-level conditions. The report explicitly asserts that ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

This means that at best, teachers have no control over 86% of what students score on standardized tests, and, at worst 99% of student standardized tests scores are out of the teacher’s control. Coming from the foremost organization on statistics, we should immediately stop any school closings or teacher evaluations based on test scores and further study what purpose, if any, standardized tests serve.  The educational justice movement here in Chicago and across the country has been demanding this for the past few years, but unfortunately, very little has changed. Yet.   

That brings me back to how teachers can truly educate their students and lead by example.  We must challenge and protest unjust policies like VAM that stigmatize our urban students, teachers and school systems as “failing”.  Last year, thousands of students opted out of standardized tests, and some teachers took the bold move of boycotting the test altogether.  This is the creative resistance that is necessary to turn the tide against the harmful practice of using VAMs to evaluate teachers and schools.  Let’s seize this opportunity to PARK the PARCC in a low-stakes environment before CPS and other school districts across the country have the opportunity to turn it into a high-stakes test.  Not only will we stand on the right side of history, we also will challenge our students to think about what actions they can take to change the world they live in.   

Anthony Cappetta is a math teacher at Lindbom Math and Science Academy, an active member of the CORE caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union, and a member of the Catalyst Editorial Advisory Board, as is a former Teach Plus fellow.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More Denver high school students being arrested for pot

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 09:52

Testing madness

The state's testing task force finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations yesterday. But the process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

gone to pot

Arrests for marijuana-related incidents spiked nearly 40 percent at Denver Public Schools following the opening of recreational pot stores this year, according to city police records. ( CPR, 9News )

turn it around

The DPS school board heard recommendations on how to improve student learning at two of its most struggling campuses: Manual High School and Kepner Middle School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Wake up sleepy head!

Later school start times for middle and high schools are slowly gaining traction in Colorado. The newest school to have a late start will be Denver's new high school in the Stapleton neighborhood. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Decisions, decisions

Denver families who want to choose new schools next year may now do so. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

#COLeg 2015

House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee. Many are familiar faces. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

If you want to be the first to know about happenings at the Colorado General Assembly next January, you need to sign up to be a Capitol Member today! ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

New hires at both Cherry Creek and Littleton schools this year most recently taught at Douglas County schools, new reports show. But one Dougco school board member isn't surprised. ( Douglas County News-Press )

First things first

Some families in southwestern Colorado will get a little help paying for early childhood education thanks to a $300,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation. ( Durango Herald )

Paying it foward

A Denver East High School family has raised more than $5,000 for the officer who was critically injured after a car hit him as he was escorting students back to campus after a rally. ( 9News )

brick and mortar

The Boulder Valley School District is moving forward with new construction projects after successfully passing the state's largest bond measure in history this fall. ( Daily Camera )

A charter high school in Colorado Springs and two others affiliated with Colorado Early Colleges are purchasing their buildings with a $17.3 million loan from a Longmont bank. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force struggles, stumbles as deadline looms

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 23:25

The state’s Standards and Assessments Task Force, which has been meeting since July, finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations Monday. The process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive.

Straw votes taken over nearly eight hours by the 15-member advisory group generally supported reducing the amount of state-required testing in high school, but the members couldn’t reach agreement on a long list of other issues, including reducing the overall amount of testing, what to do about the new social studies tests and about readiness and literacy evaluations for young students.

And those recommendations the group did agree to “are not set in stone,” said chair Dan Snowberger.

As the daylong session dragged to its end, he said, “We are going to need much more time to come to agreement on recommendations.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango School District.

The group had a hard time getting to those preliminary decisions, having to redo votes on several issues and consuming time as members tried to explain the nuances of why they voted the way they did.

The discussion was civil and polite but clearly indicated the philosophical divisions among task force members, particularly between representatives of education reform groups on one side and parent activists and district administrators on the other.

The divisions on the task force likely prefigure disagreements during the 2015 legislative session, where testing is expected to be a top education issue. Some lawmakers say they are waiting to see what the task force proposes. But the task force’s inability so far to speak with one voice could well diminish its influence on Capitol deliberations.

Lawmakers already are chomping at the bit on testing; at least half a dozen legislators reportedly have reserved bill titles on the issue.

The tentative recommendations The testing task force’s work product.

The task force did reach preliminary agreement on some testing issues, including:

  • Elimination of all state-required testing in the senior year of high school
  • Replacing the high school science exam with a beefed-up “college entrance exam” (like the ACT, but not necessarily that test)
  • Continue giving state science tests in the fifth and eighth grades
  • Elimination of language arts and math tests in the 11th grade and limiting those tests to the 10th grade
  • A majority of the group leaned toward allowing districts and schools to continue giving language arts and math tests in the ninth and 11th grades as a local option

Some members of the group appeared to support – kind of by default and perhaps temporarily – continued language arts and math tests in third through eighth grades.

In short, the group for now is leaning toward reducing state testing to what’s known as “the federal minimum,” the testing sequence that’s currently required by the federal government.

Members differed on what those straw votes meant.

“From grades three through eight we’ve affirmed the status quo. … We spent today essentially affirming the status quo. In all our discussions we haven’t reduced anything,” said panel member John Creighton, who serves on the St. Vrain school board.

“We have made progress. … Let’s not kick ourselves too hard just yet,” responded Jay Cerney of Cherry Creek Academy charter school in Englewood.

A tortured process

The discussion went slowly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Individual member suggestions for broad policy statements, intended to gain agreement from the group, frequently were greeted with “Yes, but” responses from other members, leading to prolonged discussions.
  • Even after straw votes, members took time to qualify and explain their votes, and several votes had to be repeated.
  • Task force facilitator Laura Lefkowits had to repeatedly call for second votes after members dropped their hands too quickly for her to count them.
  • The group wandered from topic to topic, changing subjects when they couldn’t reach agreement.

Comments by Snowberger, Lefkowits and others through the day illustrate the slow pace of discussion.

  • “So where are we?” – Snowberger at about 11:30 a.m.
  • “Can we vote on this?” – Snowberger shortly after noon
  • “We’ve cut very little in the way of testing so far.” – Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, at about 2 p.m.
  • “So where are we? – Snowberger a short time later
  • “This isn’t much of a recommendation if we’re split in half.” – Lefkowits as 2:30 p.m. neared.
  • “Let’s try to finish one thing before we move to another.” – Lefkowits at about 2:45 p.m.
  • “We need to talk about how long we are going to stay tonight. … We’ve spent a lot of time on things that have not moved.” – Lefkowits as the original adjournment time of 3:30 p.m. approached.
  • “We are a long ways away.” – Snowberger shortly after 3 p.m.

The meeting broke up shortly after 5 p.m.

What’s next

A rump group of the task force was planning to meet Tuesday to see if it could come up with more specific proposals for the full group to discuss later.

Snowberger also is trying to organize small groups of members to discuss issues before the next full meeting on Jan. 9. “If we wait until the 9th to do this again we’re going to be very disappointed,” he said.

The Jan. 9 meeting wasn’t scheduled originally, but the group agreed to it Monday. The panel also is scheduled to meet Jan. 12.

Snowberger’s comments also indicated he’s backing away from the goal of consensus the task force had at the start. “We’re going to have to start putting stakes in the ground, and if 10 of us agree, then report that 10 of us agree.”

Interest groups make their pitches

The task force’s day started with presentations by three interest groups with vocal positions on testing. Task force members split up for simultaneous presentations by the three groups, then discussed the information as a full group.

A parent group known as the Denver Alliance for Public Education presented the results of an online survey it conducted that found strong respondent opposition to the current testing system. The group has complained that a survey done for the task force by the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates didn’t sample parent opinion.

Representatives of the Colorado Education Association presented a teacher survey that showed respondents split on the Common Core State Standards and skeptical of the value of current assessments.

Members of the Social Studies Policy Group have been following the task force closely and are lobbying to avoid changes in or reduction of the state’s new social studies tests.

Learn more about the groups’ positions in these documents:

You can see the final APA report here and read recent public comments submitted to the task force here.

The task force was created by the 2014 legislature as a political compromise because lawmakers weren’t ready tackle more substantive changes to the testing system. As is typical with such study commissions, the task force membership was designed to include representatives of various education interest groups.

Categories: Urban School News

Plans for Manual and Kepner on the table as DPS discusses turnaround strategy

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 17:51

After a year of adjustment and debate, Denver Public Schools has finalized its plans for Manual High School and Kepner Middle School, two of the schools it has identified as most in need of improvement.

Those plans and an update to the district’s overall turnaround strategy will be up for discussion at the district’s school board meeting tonight.

Several possibilities for Manual’s future, including a partnership with East High, one of the district’s highest-performing high schools, have been considered since last year. The school was the district’s lowest-scoring high school.

The newest plan for Manual would bring in a group of eight City Year volunteers into the school to focus on both academic achievement and school culture.

The district has also selected Manual to receive a grant to bring a bio-medical program, part of a Career and Technical Education pathway, to the school. A new assistant principal will lead that program.

Candidates to be the school’s new principal are already being recruited and interviews will happen in January.

At Kepner, the district has plans to place two new charter schools in the building next year while the current school program is phased out. The plan to house Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building raised concerns about the fate of the district’s program for English learners in the building.

The board will vote Thursday on a plan to place both Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building temporarily, while also moving forward with plans to place Strive and district school Kepner Beacon in the building in 2016. The district’s agreement with Compass specifies that the school will come to an agreement with DPS about services for English language learners.

The district delayed plans to place Strive and the Kepner Beacon program, an expansion of a current school at Grant Beacon, to open next fall.

District officials will also discuss updates to its plans for all turnaround schools and schools it has identified as otherwise in need of support.

The district plans to expand support and funding for turnaround schools to five years instead of three years. As part of its Whole Child initiative, turnaround schools will receive mental health-focused staff and supports for the community. The district also plans to add an instructional expert at each of its turnaround schools.

Turnaround schools will also get an additional planning year, and the district said it would plan to find leaders and teachers for turnaround schools early on in the planning process.

Denver Public Montessori, Harrington Elementary School, Schmitt Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Goldrick Elementary, Morey Middle, Abraham Lincoln High, Henry Middle, and Amesse Elementary were all flagged as being in need of some improvement (not necessarily for turnaround). The district will analyze each school to decide which are eligible for which services in the coming months.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Later school start times slowly gain traction in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 17:32

When Denver’s new Northfield High School opens next August, its students will report to their first class more than an hour later than students at most other district high schools.

The school’s planned 8:45 a.m. start time is a nod to the growing body of evidence that suggest teens are hard-wired to favor later bedtimes and do better academically when school schedules accommodate their natural sleep cycles.

Northfield Principal Avi Tropper said the decision to go with some version of a later start was based on abundant research, with community focus groups helping pinpoint the exact time.

“It’s pretty clear to me starting a school from the ground up…it’s just an opportunity from the beginning to do what works for students,” he said.

While later secondary start times are relatively uncommon, the concept is slowly gaining traction among educators in Colorado and across the country. In August, the topic got a burst of attention when the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, published a policy statement advocating for middle and high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later.

It was news that grabbed the attention of Denver school board member Michael Johnson, prompting him to send the statement to fellow board members and district staff.

“This is something we ought to look at,” he said. “This might be something that we could do that would be relatively painless…and we might be able to bump up student achievement just by changing the schedule.”

Johnson said he doesn’t envision a districtwide mandate for later high school starts, but perhaps a recommendation with implementation supports for interested schools.

Giving it a go

Among the small number of schools that have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after are Cortez Middle School and Montezuma-Cortez High School. An interim superintendent changed the previous 7:30 a.m. start to 8:50 a.m. in 2012 and at the same time changed the district’s four-day school week to a five-day week.

Jason Wayman, the high school principal, said adding Fridays back into the school week was the more controversial change, but the later start time drew some complaints too.

“I’ve gotten mixed feedback. You have a lot of kids who need the sleep and you have a bunch of kids who want out earlier because they have to go to work,” he said.

Other concerns, all fairly typical in the debate about later start times, include sports practices being pushed later, elementary schools starting earlier and tricky districtwide busing logistics. Wayman said because the district’s longer elementary bus routes are now completed before secondary bus routes, some of the high school buses arrive late.

Parent Sheri Noyes said her son, who graduated in 2013, liked the earlier start time better but her daughter, who is a junior, prefers the later start time. It gives the busy teen time before school to go to dance or track practice, and still make time for additional dance classes, or softball or soccer practice after school.

“I think all in all the late start time is good for the high school kids,” said Noyes. “I know it works for us.”

She said some families with elementary-aged children didn’t like the later start time at first because their older children were no longer dismissed in time to watch younger siblings after school.

“It wasn’t too friendly that way, but I think people have dealt with it,” she said.

Starting this year, the Harrison School District near Colorado Springs pushed back start times at all 20 of its schools, after a committee studied the issue for two years. High schools now start at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m, and elementary and middle schools now start at 8:35 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. (On Mondays only, middle schools start at 10:05 a.m. and high schools start at 9:15 a.m.)

Christine Lyle, the district’s public information officer, said the late start discussion originated with concerns from school board members and parents about high school start times, but the committee concluded last spring that later starts would be good for all students.

While the new middle school start times align with the AAP’s recommendation, the high school start times are well shy of the 8:30-or-after goal.

Lyle said “We didn’t quite hit that with our high schools…I think we will continue to look at the data and study it. Obviously, we made the change before that recommendation came out.”

Anecdotally, the later start times are making a difference, though she said it’s hard to untangle the impact of the new schedule from the simultaneous districtwide implementation of “Breakfast After the Bell.”

“Our teachers feel like attendance is better, tardies are down, students are more engaged during instructional time,” she said.

Reviewing the research

Early secondary start times have long been the norm at many schools. But research shows that students with such schedules get less sleep than they should, and both health and achievement suffer.

The August policy statement from the AAP noted that adolescents who get enough sleep—8.5-9.5 hours a night is recommended—are at reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and have better grades and higher standardized test scores.

So why don’t teenagers just go to bed earlier? The short answer is that biology doesn’t let them. That’s because sleep-wake cycles shift when kids hit puberty, making it harder for them to fall asleep as early as they did in elementary school. Experts say it’s normal for teens to be awake till about 11 p.m.

“Everybody who has kids knows that teenagers don’t get up in the morning very easily,” said Johnson, who currently has two children in high school.

Only about 15 percent of the nation’s high schools have start times of 8:30 a.m. or after, and 40 percent start before 8 a.m. In Denver, most high schools start between 7:15 a.m. and 7:45 a.m, and none start after 8 a.m.

Change is hard

No matter how much scientific evidence there is to support later school start times, changing school schedules can be a hard process for families and schools. Aside from transportation, child care and extracurricular activity logistics, there’s plain old habit.

“My reaction is it’s probably inertia as much as anything,” said Johnson.

Even among the Northfield High community, which had no status quo to fall back on, there was some resistance to later start times. Tropper said some focus group participants said at first, “That’s impossible. It can’t work.”

After he presented findings from various studies, most people changed their minds. The school, which will have an extended day schedule will run from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. with mandatory daily physical education. For student athletes, that PE time may count for some of their daily sports practice.

Northfield’s scheduling experiment could be closely watched in Denver.

“If they have a later start time maybe that’ll get other schools looking at it,” said Johnson.

Categories: Urban School News

Familiar GOP faces return to House Education

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:06

House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee.

Returning to the panel are Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, the ranking minority member, and Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood and Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Wilson has become a prominent GOP figure on education issues and has made priorities of increased funding for full day kindergarten and reduction of regulatory burdens for rural districts. Priola has pushed unsuccessfully for providing additional pay to highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools. Everett has not been particularly active on education issues.

Newly elected GOP members who will join the committee are Paul Lundeen of Monument, who’s been chair of the State Board of Education, and JoAnn Windholz of Brighton, a businesswoman who won an upset victory over Democratic Rep. Jenise May in November.

Windholz’ campaign website says, “Education standards are the responsibility of local districts and states, not the federal government. JoAnn supports high education standards without federal interference.”

Democratic members of the panel were appointed last week (see story), and the lineup of the Senate Education Committee was set earlier (see story).

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools school choice process for 2015-16 opens today

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 16:01

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty

The Denver Public Schools school choice process for 2015-16 opens today.

This is the fourth year Denver parents will use the district’s unified enrollment system to apply to enroll at public and charter schools around the city.

Applications are due on Jan. 30, 2015. Parents find out in March if their child has gotten into their desired school.

This year’s enrollment will look most different for parents in southwest and parts of southeast Denver, where the district has created new enrollment zones modeled off of those in the far Northeast part of the city. Those zones mean that students will be given preference for several schools in their geographic area rather than being automatically assigned to a school.

For the first time, parents can also use the district’s new parent portal to sign up for schools.

Brian Eschbacher, the district’s director of planning and analysis, said the system has become increasingly complex over time. “It started off as pretty basic, and as people have gained trust in it, we’ve been able to personalize it more.” Some of those tweaks include requiring schools to hold a certain number of places for students who are moving into the district or a school’s zone after enrollment has already closed.

A report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a research group that supports school choice at University of Washington, found that while Denver parents felt more educated than average about the options in their city, they were dissatisfied about transportation options and feared that it increased inequity in the district.

Categories: Urban School News

When 'universal preschool' is not universal

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:00

Hellen Juarez was excited when she heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce that the city would introduce universal preschool.

“Universal means there will be open slots for those who need it,” said Juarez, a single mother of three whose youngest, a 3-year-old, is not yet in school.

But that isn’t how things have turned out. Emanuel’s plan adds only about 1,500 seats, for low-income families only. Juarez’s local Chicago Public Schools program has a three-month wait to get in, and it provides only two and a half hours of instruction a day.

“It’s not universal,” said Juarez, who decided not to try to take advantage of the city program after realizing how much it would cost her in train fare and lost work time.

Juarez’s experience is not unusual as more school districts and states expand access to early childhood education in an attempt to add learning time at a crucial point in children’s development. Politicians and advocates alike have seized on research that says starting school young offers lasting dividends — as well as on the political expediency of promising a benefit to every voter. As they have, the meaning of “universal” preschool has become, well, not so universal.

“People end up using ‘universal’ to cover the notion that they want to serve more than just poor kids and maybe they want to open it up to all kids,” said Steve Barnett, the director of National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. “But that doesn’t mean they’re going to serve everybody.”

In many places, including Chicago, promises of universal programs extend only to low-income families, but other cities have branded “universal” preschool as being accessible to families of all income levels. Some districts are picking up the full tab for preschool classes, but others, such as Denver, call their programs universal but don’t promise to cover all costs. And many other programs that are billed as universal fall far short of serving every student, at least right now. For example, West Virginia passed a universal preschool bill this year while emphasizing that not all children would be served for at least a decade.

Only a very few districts have attempted to do what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has done: provide free, full-day early childhood education for every child in the city whose family wants it, regardless of their income. (De Blasio’s program builds off of a decades-old city program, also called “universal,” that served only a fraction of eligible families.) And even there, where universal preschool is limited to prekindergarten, the city isn’t planning to be able to accommodate all families until next year.

That parents like Juarez can wind up perplexed about what “universal” means comes with the territory when securing preschool funding is a political feat, Barnett said.

“It’s undoubtedly confusing,” said Barnett. “If [politicians] started out trying to create a universal program and came up short, they don’t want to stop calling it universal.”

The confusion around the term doesn’t just stem from politicians and district leaders. In Denver, most news reports refer to the city’s program as “universal” preschool and many advocacy organizations have praised the city’s “universal” approach. But the word rarely appears in city-published materials, which instead say the program makes preschool “possible for all 4-year-olds.”

That may be because cities and states are still in the midst of figuring out what’s possible to do, right now. When it’s used, the term “universal” is often aspirational.

For example, in Denver, city officials gained support from more affluent voters by presenting a program that helps to cover at least a portion of every family’s preschool tuition, rather than fully subsidizing the poorest families.

“I could never have afforded it,” said Samantha Ruiz, a single parent in Denver whose 4-year-old daughter started preschool last spring. Without aid, she would have had to pay over $1,000 a month for her local preschool. Instead, she cobbles together state aid, federal Head Start funds, and money from the Denver Preschool Program to bring down the cost to just over $100 a month.

De Blasio in New York City largely repurposed what providers were already doing by funding them to extend their half-day programs to a full day. In Chicago, the mayor’s plan is intended to fill in the gaps between what the state and federal government already provide.

“In an ideal world, we’d have universal access for every child and family who needed or wanted services,” said Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the national policy director for Ounce of Prevention, which advocates for early learning initiatives. “That said, we are in a time of limited public dollars. The way that ‘universal’ has played out is individual communities are looking at what feasible steps are.”

But sticking to what is feasible has left some families disappointed — and unable to secure the early education that might change their children’s lives.

“My family is not the only one that needs it,” Juarez said. “When they said universal, it’s not what I thought.”

Because each state defines “universal” preschool in its own way, it’s difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of states that currently have or are working toward “universal pre-K” or “preschool for all.” Chalkbeat attempted to create that list by researching cities and states, and speaking with the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, Steven Barnett. If you see a city or state missing, let us know.

This story was produced as a collaboration among the seven news outlets participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project supported by the Ford Foundation.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado’s teachers union files appeal in evaluation lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 09:48

Protests continue

For the first time in 10 days of protest, students from a half dozen Denver high schools joined forces Friday and marched to the capitol with a list of demands for the City of Denver and Denver Public Schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR )

speaking out

Earlier in day, students at Manual High School shared speeches they prepared in an advanced English class with school and city officials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Back to court

As expected, the Colorado Education Association has appealed a judge’s June decision to dismiss a case that challenges how Denver Public Schools uses part of the state’s teacher effectiveness law ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teaching and learning

Students at Niwot High School are learning English as a second language through a survival theme using hands-on projects. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy schools

With hopes of seeing more students eating in Jeffco cafeterias, some schools are raffling off prizes during lunch. ( 9News )

Tick, tock

Pueblo City Schools and other school districts on the state's accountability watch list will speak with the State Board of Education this spring. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

#COLeg

Colorado House Democrats have set their education committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Talk to us

Chalkbeat readers told us last week that teachers should listen to and look like their students before conversations about race can start in class. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And this week's question: If you were a Colorado Supreme Court justice, how would you decide the Douglas County voucher case? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Trading places

A Colorado Springs teacher will swap classrooms with a teacher from Australia. ( Gazette )

one year later

A vigil this weekend honored slain Colorado high school student Claire Davis who died a year ago after being shot at her school. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

How should the Dougco voucher case be decided?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 08:32

Last week the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Douglas County School District’s voucher program.

From our article:

The oral arguments centered around whether the program violates the state’s school funding and charter school laws, whether the program is designed to benefit the student or religious institutions, and whether the plaintiffs — a group of parents and taxpayers — have legal standing to challenge the program.

That brings us to this week’s question: If you were a supreme court justice, how would you decide the case?

Click here if you need more information for or against the voucher program. You can also listen to the hearing, which is about an hour long, here. (The case is officially known as Taxpayers v. Douglas County.)

Each Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Secret recalculations, education platforms and chicken nuggets

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 07:53

Activist principal Troy LaRaviere might have discovered at least one of the “smoking guns” when it comes to the vexing question of why the district delayed releasing the school ratings for so long. Turns out, district accountability officials secretly recalculated some of the all-important growth scores that 25 percent of the ratings were based on. The odd thing is, this change, like the other changes made by officials after the new accountability system was put in place, did not seem to make a huge overall difference or change the narrative all that much. However, individual schools might feel like it is a better representation of their performance.

You may remember that this summer LaRaviere did an analysis that showed that traditional CPS schools performed better than charter schools on the growth in students’ scores on the NWEA test. Tipped off by LaRaviere, the Sun Times also did a story.

At the time, in Take 5, Catalyst noted that there was reason to be cautious about comparing growth scores from one type of school to another. Growth, as defined by CPS policy, measures the difference between the average Spring 2013 NWEA scores at a school and the average of the test taken in Spring 2014; it then looks at how the school did in comparison to a national average of growth for similar schools. This results in a complicated, mysterious formula.

Because charter schools contracts, at this point, require them to administer only the old state standardized test, the ISAT, many of the historically high performing charter schools, such as Namaste and LEARN charters, did not provide any scores for the NWEA and, therefore, were not rated this year.  Of the 58 charter schools that provided some NWEA scores, 35 did so only for Spring 2014, but not for Spring 2013. Some provided test scores for Fall 2014. CPS officials told Catalyst that they used a statistical model to come up with a growth percentile that could be used for comparison for these charter schools.

Now, LaRaviere has discovered that district officials quietly changed the growth scores, posting a new spreadsheet with altered “National Growth Score Percentiles” without letting folks know that they were making changes. At the very least, they could have indicated that the file was “updated.” According to LaRaviere, CPS officials told him that the changes were due to a rethinking of the statistical model, the formula and the realization that some charters were taking a different version of the NWEA. The result is that 20 percent of traditional schools had slightly different growth scores, while nearly all charter schools did.  

The confounding thing is that if CPS officials did this to help charter schools as LaRaviere intimates, then they failed. Thirty-one charters saw their scores drop, and 24 saw them increase. According to the Sun Times story on LaRaviere’s analysis, seven charters got better ratings because of the changes, while nine had worse ratings.

What’s more, when viewed as a whole, traditional schools still did better. Catalyst’s analysis of the ratings show that, proportinately, more traditional schools got the highest rating of 1-plus than did charter schools and fewer got the lowest rating of 3.

2. It's all about education… Underscoring the importance of education in the next mayoral election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s two main challengers, Ald. Bob Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, outlined their platforms last week. Garcia’s presser was Thursday at Dyett High School, which community activists have been fighting to keep open ever since its phase-out plan was announced three years ago. CPS recently agreed to keep the school open but did not adopt a community-generated plan for the building, deciding instead to consider other proposals as well.

This set the stage for Garcia to lay out his argument for small, community-based schools, like the one he fought for in Little Village. Garcia also said he will open a dual language school in every community and lower class sizes.

Both Garcia and Fioretti are fighting against each other to win the progressive base. Both say they will at least put a pause on closing traditional schools and opening charter schools. They also vow to end over testing, with Garcia saying he will not require any more tests than are required by law.

Fioretti and Garcia also both support the movement to have an elected school board rather than one appointed and controlled by the mayor. Getting an elected school board will take time as state law will have to be changed. Emanuel opposes an elected school board.

Of course, if either Garcia or Fioretti gets their wish of an elected school board, their education platforms will be rendered nil as they will cede control over CPS.

On a related note, Gery Chico, who ran against Emanuel in his first election and now heads the state board of education, is throwing his support behind the incumbent.

3. The see saw of grade retention ... A new University of Minnesota study finds that the number of students being held back across the nation has fallen from 3 percent to about 1.5 percent. Chicago likely is helping to drive this trend. CPS once had one of the strictest grade retention policies in the nation; in 1997, it held back 15 percent of students in grades 3rd, 6th and 8th. In 2012, the last data readily available, only 2.4 percent of students in those benchmark grades were  retained, and only 1.2 percent of all elementary school students were held back.  

An NPR story says that experts can’t exactly account for this trend. Stringent accountability measures and No Child Left Behind whould seem to have the opposite effect with more students --  not fewer -- getting held back, the experts say.

There are three theories for the drop in retention, according to the NPR story. One is that retaining students is expensive, especially as thousands of students are being forced to go to summer school and students bunch up in grades. The other is that, even as school districts have been under pressure to raise test scores, they also need to raise graduation rates. Studies have shown that when students are held back, they are way more likely to drop out, making retention problematic.

The more optimistic theory is that students are being identified as having learning issues earlier and therefore fewer of them fail to meet promotion criteria. This might be somewhat true in Chicago, but the promotion criteria alsy have been relaxed over the years. Even as CPS is moving toward more challenging standardized tests, the district this year lowered the test scores needed to advance to the next grade without going to summer school. The result: way fewer students had to go to summer school.

4. More for early ed … Last week’s announcement that the State of Illinois won $80 million in federal funding over the next four years to expand full-day preschool options wasn’t the only good news on the education front.The City of Chicago separately won nearly $15 million to fund an additional 1,100 seats for infants and toddlers through a new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The new awards were informally announced during a major summit last week on early childhood education at the White House. City officials say the award will “help expand programs for our youngest learners by 18 percent through center-based and family child care home programs.” Elsewhere in the state, programs in Joliet, Maywood and Rockford also got extra funding from the new  $500 million federal program that links child care with Early Head Start programs.

Under the new grant program, child-care centers or family providers that partner with the grantee agree to adhere to the same, tougher federal rules that Early Head Start centers already follow.

5. Chicken nuggets... Remember when CPS told WBEZ that the ingredients in chicken nuggets were chicken nuggets. Well this time the BGA had more luck in getting the nutritional details of what children are being fed in CPS schools.  The BGA was still forced to file a Freedom of Information Act request for what should be publicly available information.  

But when they did, they found CPS appears to be operating within the latest U.S. requirements for calories, fat and salt. The current nutritional guidelines for school lunches, approved in 2010, are an improvement, though the BGA notes they still allow a high amount of salt in school meals.

CPS has an $80 million contract with Aramark to provide lunches.  

Categories: Urban School News

Denver student protesters demand changes from district and city

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 20:24

The chants are by now familiar: “No Justice, No Peace!” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” “I can’t breathe!”

But the repertoire today included a new call and response: “Change begins with what?” “Unity.”

In the past ten days, students at nearly 30 Denver schools have held protests to raise awareness about police brutality and discrimination in the wake of two deaths at the hands of police in Missouri and New York.

This afternoon, for the first time, students from a half dozen Denver high schools joined forces and marched to the capital with a list of demands for the City of Denver and Denver Public Schools.

More than 150 people, mostly teenagers, gathered at City Park after school to rally and make signs before they headed down Colfax Avenue.

The approach was different than the walk-outs the students had organized before. The protest started off of school grounds and after school hours.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiDenver students marching from City Park to the state capital.

The demands were also more specific than before: For the school district to hire more teachers of color to reflect the 70 percent of its students who are not white; for the city to hire a special prosecutor to try cases of police misconduct; for the school district to fund student-led discussions about race and create a special process for discipline issues among minorities. [See full list of demands and statistics from a flyer below.]

Both Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Mayor Michael Hancock have announced plans to host conversations about social justice and race in response to the student protests. Individual schools have also tried to capitalize on students’ passion: Juniors at Manual High School gave speeches to a small crowd that included police earlier today, and DSST: Cole is creating a social justice club.

Denver Public Schools officials said that while a few adults from the district joined the students this afternoon to ensure they were safe, the district did not provide buses or transportation as it had for students who left school earlier in the week.

A Facebook event promoting the protest was organized by students at East High, Denver School of the Arts, Strive Prep, Thomas Jefferson High School, and DCIS.

Their suggestion for how adults could help, per social media? Bring burritos.

But adult supporters showed up, both in the crowd and behind the bullhorn. One woman brought a sign that said “Thank you, students!” Representatives from Padres y Jovenes Unidos carried signs that said in Spanish, “I am a student, not a criminal.”

And a member of Aurora’s NAACP spoke to the crowd to laid out troubling statistics about policing in the city. Two men who had traveled to Ferguson encouraged students to be nonviolent—and to appreciate the protection of the police so far in Denver.

After a series of speeches and a song, one student took a bullhorn and told the crowd to prepare to head downtown. “Take a deep breath,” he said. “We have every right to be here.”

Here’s a full list of schools that have held protests since last Wednesday, according to Denver Public Schools:

  • East High School
  • West High School
  • South High School
  • North High School
  • George Washington High School
  • Abraham Lincoln High School
  • John F. Kennedy High School
  • DCIS @ Montbello
  • Manual High School
  • Evie Dennis Campus
  • Bruce Randolph
  • DSST @ Cole
  • Stapleton HS and MS
  • Farrel B. Howell
  • Florida Pitt Waller
  • High Tech Early College
  • Strive Prep@ Montbello
  • Marie L. Greenwood Academy
  • Hamilton MS
  • CPA @ Noel,
  • Omar D. Blair
  • Cesar Chavez
  • Kepner Middle School
  • Strive Prep @ SMART
  • Srive Prep @ Remington Sunnyside
  • CEC Middle College,
  • Denver School of the Arts
  • Morey Middle School
  • GALS (Girls Athletic Leadership School)
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Categories: Urban School News

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