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Keeping Simeon program only a start to improving career education

Catalyst Chicago - 59 min 56 sec ago

Brandon Davenport scored in the top 3.5 percent on the apprenticeship test he took this spring. Takaia Butler recently graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a B.A. in applied sciences. Timothy King was named valedictorian of his high school class, went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from Southern Illinois University and has been accepted to graduate school. Malcolm Zeno and Aaron Moore have just successfully completed their first year of apprenticeship school and are well on their way to good careers as union electricians.

They are all alumni of the electricity program at Simeon Career Academy, and theirs are just a few of its names and faces of hope. These young people, who hail from neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates in the city and state, were trained, mentored and equipped for success in the only remaining electrical shop in the Chicago Public Schools. Last month, a decision was made to terminate this proven school-to-career pipeline and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the dozens of youths enrolled each year in Latisa Kindred’s classes.

As legislators proudly representing the communities Simeon serves, we were moved to raise our voices in opposition to the steady erosion of opportunities for our youth, and we were honored to stand alongside the students, families, advocates and community partners who refused to yield.

We thank Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for listening to our concerns and responding appropriately, reinstating this vital program in time for the start of the new school year. And it is with tremendous gratitude and excitement for the future that we recognize Local #134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has committed to offering jobs to students who complete the three-year program. Local #134, which has long partnered with Simeon and vocational education, will also begin an outreach campaign to make middle school students aware of career opportunities in electricity.

Expand career offerings

Now is not the time to rest. College is more expensive than ever, and America’s total student loan debt has supplanted its credit card debt as the heaviest millstone holding back the next generation from financial freedom. Many students in our public schools are not college-bound but deserve the chance to take pride in a trade, provide for themselves and their families, contribute to economic growth and give back to their communities. It is essential that CPS not only maintain its existing career and technical education programs but expand on them, forging new partnerships and reaching out to students in more effective ways.

We stand ready to continue working with CPS and, most importantly, the extraordinary citizens who cared enough about our youth and neighborhoods to get organized and achieve this victory for Simeon’s students.

State Sen. Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago 16th), State Sen. Donne E. Trotter (D-Chicago 17th), State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago 31st), State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago 8th)

Categories: Urban School News

War of words ratchets up in casino expansion campaign

EdNewsColorado - 4 hours 58 min ago

The launch of five video ads by supporters of Amendment 68 has kicked off the 10-week media battle over expansion of casino gambling in exchange for providing extra funding to the state’s schools.

The proposed constitutional amendment will be on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. If passed it would allow opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the southeast suburbs, with a portion of the revenues devoted to K-12 funding.

The campaign pits the Rhode Island casino company that owns Arapahoe Park against the gambling corporations that own existing casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, the only places casinos currently are allowed by the state constitution. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background on the amendment.)

As with almost all ballot measure ads, the pro-A68 spots produced by Coloradans for Better Schools reduce complicated policy issues to quick sound bites – there’s only so much one can or wants to say in a 30-second spot.

Here’s Chalkbeat Colorado’s analysis of the assertions made in the five ads. (Some claims are repeated in multiple ads; others are made in only one or two.)

Schools are underfunded – The adequacy of school funding can be a subjective issue. Most people in the Colorado education world agree that schools are underfunded compared to what other states spend, to past per-pupil funding rates or compared to actual costs. But a few in conservative circles dissent from that view and think Colorado schools have plenty of money.

Colorado school funding 40th in U.S. – The ad doesn’t cite the source of this stat. The never-ending funding adequacy debate — even among people who support higher funding — is complicated because different groups use different figures and grounds for comparison. You can see a variety of funding comparisons linked from this page on the Colorado School Finance Project’s website. (That group generally favors higher spending.)

How much K-12 revenue – The ads variously refer to “more than” $100 million or $114 million in annual revenue for schools. Legislative analysts who study ballot measures have estimated $114 million could be generated — but not until 2016-17. Analysts also readily acknowledge the difficulty of predicting revenues from taxes on businesses that don’t exist now. State ballot measure projections have been wrong in the past, and “sin taxes” have been an unsteady revenue source for education in the past. (See this detailed Chalkbeat analysis for more information on that history.)

“A huge investment” – The definition of “huge” may depend on whom you ask. The $100 million or so in new revenue would equal about 1.7 percent of the current $5.9 billion in basic school support provided by state and local taxes.

How many new casinos – The amendment would allow casinos in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. The ads say it “permits expanded gaming at no more than three horse race tracks that already have wagering.” The phrase “already have wagering” may sound like there’s more than one, but Arapahoe Park is the only track that currently meets the amendment’s requirements. No horse tracks with wagering currently operate in Mesa and Pueblo counties, and tracks in those counties would have to operate for five years before they’d be eligible to open casinos.

Carpetbaggers – One ad warns that “out-of-state Nevada and Missouri gambling companies” are opposing A68 to “protect their monopoly.” Several casinos in the three mountain towns are owned by out-of-state companies, and they have contributed heavily to Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casinos, the opposition committee. As noted above, Arapahoe Park is owned by an out-of-state gaming firm, and opponents are targeting that company in their advertising. As for monopoly, the three towns have a geographical monopoly on casinos, but the existing gaming halls don’t have a business monopoly. Any company that wants to open a casino in those towns can do so — if it meets state and local regulatory requirements.

The tax bite – The pro-A68 campaign ads emphasize that schools will get additional revenues “without costing taxpayers one penny.” It’s true that the amendment does not propose any increases in income or sales taxes. But opponents jumped on this claim with both feet, issuing a news release that argues passage of A68 could create new costs for taxpayers in Arapahoe County and would cut into gambling business in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, thereby reducing tax revenues that now go to local governments, historic preservation and community colleges. The opposition statement hinted that taxpayers might have to backfill those losses. Those opposition claims are speculative about what might happen in the future, but the legislative staff analysts do project an Arapahoe Park casino would cannibalize revenues from the three mountain towns.

Coloradans for Better Schools launched the ads this week on network stations in Denver, Colorado Springs-Pueblo and Grand Junction this week, according to a spokeswoman. The opposition group hasn’t announced its TV ad plans, but opposition mailers already are landing in mailboxes.

Two of the new ads feature a teacher and a former administrator, but education groups traditionally have been lukewarm or hostile to such sin-tax proposals, which usually have been developed without consulting the education community. On Thursday evening, the Denver school board passed a resolution opposing A68.

Read the full text of A68 here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS outfits schools with new security technology

EdNewsColorado - 5 hours 17 min ago

Hold up, wait a minute

Arne Duncan's announcement that states receiving waivers from the No Child Left Behind Law can ease their way into using test scores for teacher evaluations means little to Colorado's system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The announcement was an attempt at a compromise, the Huffington Post reports, between the Obama administration's top education priority and frustrated teachers and parents. ( Huffington Post )

Safety first

Denver Public Schools got a security makeover this summer thanks to the 2012 voter-approved bond issue. The new technology allows school officials to put campuses on lockdown with a touch of a button. ( 9News )

But the district isn't providing specifics on how its plans to improve its reporting process of the state after students are involved in violent incidents. ( 7News )

Thanks, but no thanks

The Boulder Valley School District is opting-out of a state-backed campaign that discourages students to smoke pot. School officials don't find the campaign positive or intelligent. ( Boulder Weekly )

Zero-tolerance for zero-tolerance

Local advocacy organization Padres y Jovénes Unides and their national partner the Advancement Project detailed their work in a report about breaking apart the school-to-prison pipeline. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

mapping it out

The DPS Board of Education next month is expected to approve new boundary lines for its five districts. About 93 percent of families will continue to be represented by the same seat on the board. ( Denver Post )

Welcome home

Jamestown Elementary, Boulder County's school most impacted by last year's floods, re-opened this week. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Fresh meat

Broomfield freshman were welcomed at their new high school Thursday. Among their concerns: finding their way around the new building. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:31
We learned that zero-tolerance discipline was being used to push students out of school en masse, the majority of which were young boys of color. Also, with police being called almost daily to deal with discipline issues, the school’s excessive disciplinary practices were creating a toxic school climate that was directly undermining academic achievement.
– Report on discipline reforms at Denver's Cole Middle School

In an new report, local advocacy organization Padres y Jovénes Unides and their national partner the Advancement Project detail their work fighting to reform how students are disciplined in Denver and elsewhere. It focuses on the racial disparities in Denver and Colorado discipline practices and the two organizations’ advocacy for changes to how students are disciplined – some quite basic.

For example, at Cole, the organizations successfully got all disciplinary proceedings and communications translated into community members’ native languages.

Still, according to a series published earlier this year in the Denver Post, the difference in how minority and white students are disciplined remains stark. Minority students still bear the brunt of the most punitive discipline strategies, and the state has made little progress changing that fact.

Read the full report here.

Categories: Urban School News

Concept Charter won’t open in Chatham this fall

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:26

With less than two weeks to go before the start of school, CPS leaders announced Thursday that Concept Charter Schools’ Chatham location will not be opening. The school had 400 elementary school students registered.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says the only reason for the delay is the building has not met deadlines to be ready for the start of school on Sept. 2. “It is not a safe, viable facility,” she says.

Byrd-Bennett emphasized that the decision had nothing to do with recent news that the FBI raided Concept schools in Illinois and other Midwestern states.  Concept already runs three charter schools in Chicago and will still open a school in South Chicago this fall.

Byrd-Bennett says her staff is now calling each of the parents of the registered students, giving them the news and telling them about the options they have. In addition to neighborhood schools, some charter schools might still have space, she says.

The CEO also says she willing to consider raising a charter school’s enrollment cap if the operator agrees to take in more students. The only elementary charter schools near the Chatham site are the Loomis and Longwood campuses of Chicago International Charter School, at 95th Street and Throop Street.

History of setbacks, controversy

Concept’s Chatham location has seemed tangled in trouble since before it was approved. The original plan was for the location to rent space from politically-connected Rev. Charles Jenkins, who was building the Legacy Project, a megachurch connected to a community center in the area. Once the school was at full capacity, Concept planned to pay the church almost $1 million in rent. 

Then, many of Concept Charter’s campuses were raided. The spokeswoman for the megachurch said leaders wanted to see how the FBI’s issue with Concept was resolved before going forward and allowing the charter school move in. However, Jenkins has had his own personal problems that have aired publicly, and currently the project is on hold.

As a result, Concept’s leaders began looking for a new space and found an old building that once housed a Christian school. On Tuesday evening, CPS held a hearing for the location change and, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, Concept brought about 40 parents out to support the new location.

Having an opening delayed so close to the start of the school year is unprecedented. However, including Concept, six of 11 charter schools approved to open in the fall will not do so.  In May, the board granted requests from the operators to push back the start dates of four schools to fall 2015. In addition, the developers of Orange Charter, which was supposed to be an arts-focused elementary school, already said they are not going forward with plans.

Categories: Urban School News

Duncan announces flexibility in use of tests for evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 17:22

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the education world a-Twitter Thursday morning with the announcement that his department would consider state requests to delay use of test results in teacher evaluations during the “transition” to new standards and tests in many states.

The announcement is no major news for Colorado, where the 2014 legislative passed a law allowing pretty much what Duncan is proposing.

Janelle Asmus of the Colorado Department of Education said, “Colorado has already moved in this direction. SB 165 provided this flexibility and matches what the U.S. Department of Education is providing. The secretary’s letter affirms the direction that Colorado has taken.” Asmus said Colorado doesn’t need formal federal signoff to implement the new law.

Senate Bill 14-165 requires districts to gather student growth data on teachers during this school year, but districts can choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. Districts can weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations.

Under Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests. A low evaluation rating in 2014-15 will 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.

In his blog post (read it here), Duncan wrote that in talking with teachers, “Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing. … I share these concerns.”

Duncan continued, “Assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. … The larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. … It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress.”

The key to Duncan’s announcement was this statement: “States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition.”

That set off a flurry of comment in the education media and online. See this Huffington Post story for the national background.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: First racetrack casino ads focus on education

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 10:52

through the loophole

A struggling rural district nearing the end of the state's accountability clock is righting its status and getting more funding through a little known change in state finance law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

more from manual

The ousted former principal and assistant principal of Manual High School say that in light of the school's improved state test scores this year, they should get their jobs back. ( 9News )

opt out optics

The Denver Post editorial board argues that low numbers of families opting-out of state tests shows that Coloradans know the value of standardized exams. ( Denver Post )

a new home

A new charter school for pregnant teenagers and young parents has found its location in Aurora. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

looking forward to November

Stand for Children released its endorsements in 18 races that voters will decide in November. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school readiness

Denver Public Schools is implementing new security measures when students return to school next week. ( The Denver Channel )

the rhetoric war begins

The first ads for a measure that would allow a casino to be built at a racing track de-emphasizes gambling and focuses on the benefit for schools. ( KDVR )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Simeon electrician program, Lewis campaign, middle school dropouts

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 08:54

Late Wednesday afternoon CPS announced that Simeon High School’s electricity program will be “reinstated” for the coming school year. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will offer jobs to students who complete the three-year program.

Teacher Latisa Kindred led the fight for the program, the only one in the district. Ald. Howard Brookins and activist Shoneice Reynolds, along with her son of CNN "Chicagoland" fame, Asean Johnson, joined in the fight. CPS officials said budget cuts and lack of interest were behind the shut-down, though Simeon kept its barber and cosmetology programs.

The cut shed light on the fact that, with student-based budgeting, CPS now allows principals to open and close Career and Technical Education Programs based on how they want to use their budgets and whether they think students are interested. The issue arose at the July board meeting and several members seemed surprised by it, saying they wanted more information about how Career and Technical Education offerings are decided.

2. Getting interesting… It is looking increasingly like CTU President Karen Lewis will jump into the mayoral race. More than 400 of her followers -- mostly teachers in tell-tale red union shirts -- packed the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall on Tuesday to hear her speak about what she'd do if she won. While Lewis hasn't said whether she'd resign from her CTU post, she indicated that she'd ask union members what they think first. In the meantime, she's created a committee to collect campaign contributions, according to the Sun-Times. And the American Federation of Teachers has pledged $1 million to a potential bid.

Lewis didn't have clear answers to some questions during Tuesday's event, but said she'd surround herself with competent people who could help her figure it out. She said she'd like to put more cops on the street but didn't know how she'd pay for them. When asked about the controversial red-light cameras, Lewis said she thinks a serious audit of the program is a good place to start. On schools, Lewis said she'd scrap the "CEO" title and replace it with "superintendent," and would avoid closing charter schools but look into folding them back in with the rest of CPS schools.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which lifted Lewis to power, has always had grander ideas than just working on the teachers’ contract. “One of our primary objectives is to start making proposals for school reform,” said CORE’s Jackson Potter in January of 2010. But Lewis will not be running for mayor of schools. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if she and the activists who back her can develop a solid plan for reforming the city.

3. Small improvement …Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that attendance was up from the 2012-2013 school year, but movement was less than 1 percent, from 92.5 percent to 93.2 percent. Though used by many school district, the attendance rate, which measures the average percent of days students attend school, has been criticized as misleading. A school could look like it has high attendance, but have cohorts of students who miss weeks, even months of school. The school-level data can be found here

Catalyst reported that chronic absenteeism, which is the percent of students who miss 5 percent or more of the school year, spiked in 2012-2013. While officials say they don’t know why the jump occurred, during that year the district officials announced after a labored process that they were going to close 50-some schools. The biggest jump was at elementary schools. The chronic absenteeism rate went down a bit during the last school year, but is still higher than in 2010-2011, according to Catalyst’s findings. Further, schools that took in students from closed schools didn’t see a decrease in chronic absenteeism in the 2013-2014 school year.

4. Even smaller improvement… Another CPS press release came out this week touting that city students scored the highest on record on the ACT. But it was only a 0.1 scale score increase from 2013. The current CPS ACT average composite score is 18, according to the press release. To be fair, making gains on the ACT is difficult and scores tend to inch up slowly. CPS’ composite ACT scores have gone up every year, except for 2006 and 2009, for the past decade. In 2003, the average composite score was 16.4.

This is the last year in which all high school students in Illinois will take the series of tests, called the PSAE, which culminated in juniors taking the ACT. Next year, Illinois will administer the PARCC, an exam that is supposed to be aligned with the new Common Core standards. However, at the moment, CPS’ accountability rating system for high schools is tied to the PSAE so the district will likely keep giving it.

5. Middle school dropouts… California state education data shows that more than 6,400 students dropped out of middle school in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Hechinger Report, which is a not-for-profit education news service. The story points out that most of the focus is on high school dropouts and many time statistics don’t even include students who leave 7th or 8th grade and don’t come back. In addition, students often start exhibiting the behavior that leads to dropping out in middle school, though they don’t formally do it until high school.

A 2001 Catalyst article looked at the issue of middle school dropouts. The article found that there were 5,600 middle school students who were unverified transfers. Had they been in high school, they would have been counted as dropouts. Students who exit in middle school are still absent from the main dropout number CPS uses. These days, CPS uses a five-year cohort dropout rate that looks at how many students who start in ninth grade make it to graduation within five years. The figure, however, says nothing about those who never make it to ninth grade.

Oh, and one more thing ... CPS rolled out a new website last night, complete with a new logo designed by students. The content looks to be pretty similar to what was up previously, including some out-of-date information on programs that no longer exist. Still, district officials say it's a more user-friendly site and easier to view on a mobile device.

Categories: Urban School News

Stand for Children makes 2014 endorsements

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 18:40

The education advocacy group Stand for Children-Colorado has announced its endorsements in 18 races on the November ballot. The list is primarily Democratic, but the group did endorse three Republican legislative candidates.

The group endorsed 17 legislative candidates and a candidate in one State Board of Education race. No statewide or federal candidates were endorsed.

Ten of the endorsed candidates also have received financial contributions from the Public Education Committee, a group associated with the Colorado Education Association. Stand and CEA sometimes are at odds on policy issues.

The group endorsed four candidates in open seats where no incumbents are on the ballot. In Senate District 5 Stand endorsed rancher Kerry Donovan. The House candidates include legislative staff member Susan Lontine in District 1, former Democratic Party official Alex Garrett in District 2 and lawyer Jon Keyser in District 25.

Stand didn’t endorse any candidates who are running against incumbents, but it did endorse two legislators who are running unopposed. Endorsements were made based on a variety of information, including questionnaires, interviews and review of voting records, according to the group. Candidates were judged based their alignment with Stand priorities, including “high academic expectations and quality instruction, quality and transparent investments, effective teachers and principals, and effective oversight of low-performing schools.”

Senate races of interest to education where Stand didn’t endorse include District 11, where retired teacher and former representative Mike Merrifield is the Democratic candidate; District 24, where Democratic former representative Judy Solano is seeking an open seat, and District 30, where Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is seeking to switch chambers. He’s been a member of the House Education Committee.

Stand also didn’t endorse in three races involving other incumbent members of House Education, Republicans Justin Everett of Littleton and Jim Wilson of Salida and Democrat Dave Young of Greeley.

No endorsements were made either in SBE races in District 1, where Democrat Val Flores is the only candidate, and in District 3, where incumbent Republican Marcia Neal faces Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.

Stand endorsed three losing candidates in the June primary – Flores’ Democratic opponent Taggart Hansen; Republican Loren Bauman, who unsuccessfully challenged Everett, and Republican Michael Fields in a suburban House district. The group endorsed Democratic winner Alex Garrett in House District 2 during the primary and has endorsed him again in the general election.

See the chart below for the full list of endorsements and other information about the races. Members of the House and Senate education committees are noted in dark letters. “CEA donation” notes campaign contributions by the Public Education Committee. Races with Libertarian Party candidates are noted because Libertarians generally are considered to divert some votes from GOP candidates.

Categories: Urban School News

For a rural district facing potential state intervention, an unexpected rescue

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 17:55

One of the first two districts to potentially face state sanctions for low performance may have just reversed its academic fortunes, thanks to a virtually unnoticed shift in state law.

Karval School District is a rural district of roughly 90 students in southeastern Colorado. Roughly two-thirds of the district’s students attend its online school, whose performance lagged sufficiently to place the entire district on the state’s watch list for lowest performing districts.

But when the school board voted to close the school in mid-June, observers were surprised to discover that the decision wasn’t tied to the school’s academics at all. Instead, district officials unearthed a small provision in last year’s school finance law that, finally, spelled the end for the faltering school.

The option to close Karval’s online school has been on the table since Todd Werner joined the district as superintendent two years ago. In addition to its perilous position on the state accountability clock, Karval’s online school had been shrinking for several years, falling to about 60 students in the fall of 2013 from nearly twice that much two years early.

“I was looking at those numbers from the day I walked into the district,” said Werner, who left the district this summer for a teaching job at Cheraw School District, 70 miles to the south. But the district was committed to keeping the online school open and pulling up its scores.

“We made some significant changes and we felt we were going in the right direction,” said Werner.

But even if Werner and his staff had wanted to close the school, both Karval and Vilas, the other district facing the end of the clock, were in a tight spot. The underperforming online schools bankrolled the districts’ brick and mortar operations.

As the state’s education commisioner Robert Hammond put it in a state board meeting with the two districts this spring, “If [your online schools] were out, you’d be in a good category.” But, he said, “without online, [I'm] not sure how you’d survive financially.”

But when Hammond made that statement, their situation had already changed. It was just that no one had caught on.

In spring of 2013, school finance was a central concern for Colorado state legislators. The topic of a total overhaul of Colorado’s school finance law, Senate Bill 213, dominated the conversation and shaped last year’s session. Less attention-getting was a provision introduced in a separate bill that required all districts receive funding for at least 50 students, even if they enroll fewer. That bill language quietly wound its way through the tense session to the final bill that determined funding for the 2013-14 school year.

When it went into effect, only two districts saw their financial situation immediately change: Agate, a 12-student district east of Denver, and Pritchett, near the Oklahoma border.

But there were three more districts could have seen their finances improve, if they closed their online schools. That list included Karval, Vilas and Branson, which runs a higher performing online school. Without their online schools, all three would fall below the 50-student line and paradoxically begin receiving more state money per pupil.

Vilas officials did not respond to requests for comment about whether or not they were considering closing the school.

The change was a potential lifeline for Karval, which has been spending more than its annual state budget for years. In 2013, the district spent roughly $100,000 of its savings and was on track to nearly double that this year.

“We had to get to a point where we were going to balance the budget,” said Werner.

Even though the district’s potential lifeline went into effect last May, Werner remained unaware of it until this spring. When he asked the state’s finance office to run projections without the online school last year, the projections did not include the 50-student provision.

“One of those projections should have picked up that [our enrollment] fell below 50 and bumped it up,” said Werner. “It just fell through the system.”

Mary Lynn Christal, the state official in charge of running financial projections for districts, told Chalkbeat that it was possible she didn’t include the 50-student minimum in her projections this spring, although it was in the official school finance formula. But she doesn’t remember speaking with Werner specifically and wasn’t able to find when she added it.

The only other potential source of information for districts, without reading the often-stultifying text of the original bill, is the Colorado Department of Education’s legislative updates. Werner said that provision wasn’t mentioned to him and it isn’t present in the general legislative summary produced by the department. But it is mentioned in the school finance summary, which is available through the department’s website.

But whatever the manner in which the information got lost, Werner said if he had known about the provision earlier, it could have significantly altered the district’s direction.

“If I would have known about the minimum 50, we would have started having those discussions in November or December,” he said. Closing earlier would have meant that the online school’s performance would not have been included in its state ranking this fall, which will determine whether the state intervenes.

Even so, state officials said that that is unlikely to result in sanctions. Peter Sherman, the state’s chief of school improvement, said the district will have an opportunity to request to be ranked without their online school. If they do, he signaled they might receive a positive reception.

“That would be a good reason to request,” said Sherman. And Marcia Neal, Karval’s representative at the state board, where the final decision would be made, said she’d likely “look favorably on such a request.”

Categories: Urban School News

State delays requirement for teachers of preschool English learners

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:19

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Categories: Urban School News

State delays requirement for teaching preschool English learners

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 15:19

The Illinois State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delay a requirement for preschool teachers to obtain additional qualifications to teach children who don’t speak English.

The decision comes three months after ISBE first put the proposed delay to public comment. The requirement was supposed to kick in on July 1, but now teachers of preschool students who are learning English will have until July 2016 to get endorsed in either bilingual education or English as a Second Language instruction.

ISBE asked for the delay because school districts were simply unable to find enough fully qualified staff for their preschool programs to work with English language learners (ELLs).

“A lot of personnel don’t have that endorsement,” said Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education during Wednesday’s board meeting. “At the very minimum we need these to be adopted to give schools more flexibility [in meeting the requirement].”

Most of the 23 public comments on the proposed rule change agreed with the delay, although many commenters “pointed out that it is cost-prohibitive for currently employed early childhood teachers or bilingual education teachers to complete preparation programs for the endorsement that they lack.”

The board also took a step on Wednesday toward creating a set of standards for the state’s “seal of bi-literacy” for graduating high school students who attain a high level of proficiency in a language other than English. After California and New York, Illinois became the third state in the nation to approve such a program last year.

Starting this fall, districts that opt into the program will certify graduates’ diplomas and transcripts if they attain “intermediate high” proficiency or better on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages assessment.

“This is a great way to support bilingualism and multiculturalism in the state,” Koch explained. “This is starting to see dual language as a valuable thing.”

The proposal now goes to a public comment period before the board takes a final vote.

Categories: Urban School News

Charter school for teen parents finalizes location in northwest Aurora

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:46

An Aurora charter school for pregnant and parenting teens is set to open next fall on the site of what is now a vacant bowling alley near the northwestern border of the Aurora school district.

New Legacy Charter High School, the first high school for pregnant and parenting teens in the Aurora district, will enroll up to 100 high school students—teen fathers included—plus 70 young children at its on-site child care center. The center will be run by Mile High Montessori, a well-known early childhood care provider with several locations around Denver.

New Legacy will get a new 22,000-foot building through a partnership with the Urban Land Conservancy, which purchased the Dayton Avenue property for $675,000. The conservancy, or ULC, will pay for demolition of the old building and construction of the new one, with plans to lease the building back to the charter school. The project, announced this week, represents ULC’s first investment in Aurora.

New Legacy won’t be the only new resource for teen parents in the district. Starting this fall, Aurora Public Schools opened a new child care center for up to 72 young children of teen parents who attend high school in the district. Called Early Beginnings, the center is located on the campus of Jamaica Child Development Center, not far from Central High School. District officials have also revamped their support program for teen parents, creating a mobile team of four advocates charged with helping those students stay in schools, find child care and access health care for themselves and their children.

While teen birth rates have dropped in Colorado over the last two decades, they are higher than average in Aurora. For example, in Adams County, where part of the Aurora school district lies, there were 44.5 births per 1,000 females 15-19 during 2010-2012, compared to the state average of 28.4.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Beat the heat initiative gets mixed reviews

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 09:52

2020 vision

Denver's plan to improve schools by 2020 went public yesterday and it has got a much narrower scope, focusing on just five goals. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR )

So what should you keep an eye on? Five things to watch as the plan goes into effect. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Feeling the heat

A district's attempt to keep students out of too-hot classrooms by letting them out two hours early is meeting with mixed reviews as the school year starts. ( Coloradoan )

School size

Pueblo County's board gave a charter the ok to expand its classes, cutting down on its waitlist. ( Chieftain )


While Sterling students still have a few days of freedom left, school staff are already in class, getting reading for the school year. ( Journal-Advocate )

Poudre students shared photos of their first day of school. See the slideshow here. ( Coloradoan )

The bigwig

Colorado state senator Mike Johnston talked tenure, "bad teachers" with the New York Times. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Chalkbeat awesomeness

Listen to Chalkbeat's own Nic Garcia discuss his series on Pueblo's turnaround. ( CPR )

A tale of two polls

Two polls showing very different levels of support for the Common Core came out this week. Why the discrepancy? ( nprED via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

As DPS looks to 2020, here are five things we’re watching for in the new Denver Plan

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 00:38

Denver Public Schools officials this morning introduced to a friendly crowd their updated — and slimmed down — strategic plan to lead them through 2020.

The eight-page document, known as The Denver Plan 2020, sets five goals for the district that include increasing the number of quality schools across the city, investing in early childhood literacy, and closing the achievement gap between the district’s white, Latino, and African American students.

The plan is simultaneously groundbreaking and also  a game of catch-up, experts told Chalkbeat. The document puts a heavy emphasis on investing early, eliminating racial disparities, and improving the social and emotional wellbeing of students. Drafters of the plan say it’s focused, aspirational, and, most importantly, attainable.

“We can meet these goals,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said in an interview earlier this week. “There are schools that are meeting these goals already, inside and outside DPS. But there are not districts coming near these goals. To accomplish at scale, that’s ambitious. But that is exactly what we’re focused on. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

But, the plan, as it is now, is no more than pieces of paper, said Anne Rowe, vice president of the Denver Board of Education.

“Now the work begins,” she said. “We actually have to implement this thing.”

As the plan is rolled out through the city, here are five things we’ll be watching for:

1. Will the plan be a living document or will it collect dust like the last version?

This is the third iteration of the Denver Plan since it was first created in 2005. The document has been intended to be part measuring stick, part accountability tool, and part community rallying cry. But in the past, the district and its board of education have fallen short in accomplishing their stated goals and in holding themselves accountable.

But this board, led by Happy Haynes and Anne Rowe, appears resolved to use the document as its North Star in most manners of business.

Conversations among board members have already shifted at board meetings to be more targeted discussions surrounding the Denver Plan. And there’s promise of more.

“We will do our part to hold Denver Public Schools accountable,” Haynes said this morning.

Some of Denver’s top executives are already using the document to guide their work as well. For example, Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, chief academic and innovation officer, has repeatedly cited the Denver Plan’s goals in board presentations and in private conversations. And Superintendent Tom Boasberg, in an interview, said he and newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Mark Ferrandino will use the plan as they shape the district’s budget priorities.

But how the plan trickles down through the layers of district bureaucracy to the classroom isn’t clear yet. Principals have been provided toolkits to use in their buildings, and teachers will be provided an electronic copy, said Susana Cordova, chief schools officer. But the rollout of the plan will be not be wholesale, but rather based on the needs of individual schools.

Site-based implementation of a district-wide strategic document — which has a high emphasis on culture, according to Superintendent Boasberg — is a gamble. If done correctly, site-based implementation of the plan could lead to targeted and impactful results. Conversely, it could lead to nearly 150 different adaptations of the plan with nothing to show for.

“We’ll see how the next six to 12 months go,” said Van Schoales, CEO of the education advocacy organization A+ Denver.

2. Will parents and community members be able to access and use the plan as a resource?

Denver Public Schools leaders say the Denver Plan is meant for the entire city, not just those who work at 1860 Lincoln St., the district’s headquarters. That’s part of the reason why they scaled back education jargon and condensed the plan from more than 80 pages to just eight.

Board members and the superintendent are expected to head deep into their respective communities this fall and winter to promote the plan and enlist parents and community members to work with the district toward its goals.

“We all have a role in the Denver Plan,” Boasberg said today. “We all have a role in the success of our schools. We all have a role in the success of our communities.”

One parent, who participated in an earlier town hall while the plan was being drafted, said the final version is now a tool she’ll be able to use to have meaningful conversations with her children’s principal and teachers.

“The plan provides me with language that I will be able to go to my children’s schools and say, ‘hey, this is one of our values, how are we living this value?’” said Diana Romero-Campbell, parent of two DPS students.

And according to district officials, principals will be provided with resources to discuss the new strategic plan with parents. And parents will be emailed a copy. The plan is also posted on the district’s website in multiple languages.

But putting the plan in the hands of parents who might not have regular Internet access is a major hurdle the district hasn’t seemed to overcome yet. Coincidentally, those parents are raising the students the district has the most interest in impacting with its new strategies.

Those parents, district officials said, can pick up a copy at select locations or request a copy from the school.

3. Will the district have the hard conversations they want to about race? And will they make the hard decisions that follow?

According to board chair Happy Haynes, yes. She told a crowd this summer the district purposefully chose to focus on gaps in test scores and graduation rates between its white, Latino and African American students because that’s where the district has the most work to do.

Latino and African American students make up about two-thirds of the district’s student population. And they have chronically underperformed compared to their white peers. And by some measures, the achievement gap has actually grown.

But the work won’t just be focused on improving student outcomes on tests, Boasberg said in an interview with Chalkbeat. The work will also be about tearing down obstacles to the necessary resources students of color need to catch-up to their peers.

“Our students of color have a series of barriers, spoken and unspoken, they need to overcome,” he said. “It’s important that we tackle those barriers.”

Perdo Noguera, a professor at New York University who studies race relationships inside schools and who has worked as a consultant for DPS before, applauded the plan’s emphasis on addressing the lack of opportunities some students have to succeed, but said the district is following a national movement of explicitly addressing racial disparities.

For Denver schools to make progress, schools are going to have to rethink everything from homework to tutoring.

What’s more, Noguera said, DPS leaders will need to go school by school to ensure the conditions are right for students of color to prosper. And, if they’re not, they’re going to have to make hard programatic and personnel changes.

“If they don’t do that, there won’t be any changes,” he said.

The city may have already had its first pass at how the district plans to tear down some of those walls. Last spring, in a continuos decision, DPS officials announced changes to the elite International Baccalaureate program at George Washington High School. District officials have promised more access to more rigorous classes for all students. But a vocal group of parents claim the district is trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

4. How will the district redefine what a quality school is?

Denver board members heard parents loud and clear last winter when they said they wanted more quality schools in their neighborhoods. So, the board has made that their primary goal in the Denver Plan. By 2020, the number of quality schools will increase from 60 percent to 80 percent, the plan reads. And parents will have access to one of those schools in their neighborhood.

But how the district defines a quality school is a whole other matter, one that will be played out this year as the district tinkers its rubric.

Currently, the district’s ranks schools on various factors including how proficient students are, how many student re-enroll, student and parent surveys. However, because the district puts such an emphasis on student academic growth, or the measurement of how much a student learns year-over-year, some schools that are currently considered high-performing have very low levels of students meeting grade-level standards.

And that’s caused the ire of some district observers.

Whatever form the new ranking system takes next year, there will still be a continued heavy emphasis on growth, Boasberg said. That’s because he believes the measurement can provide equal insight to what kind of learning is happening at both low- and high-performing schools.

The district is still soliciting feedback on how to improve its ranking system.

5. How will the district measure its work around the “whole child?”

The most ambiguous part of the Denver Plan is how the district will measure its success around supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of its students. That’s because the board hasn’t set a measurement of how to do that yet.

Despite the ambiguity, the district’s effort to support the “whole child” appears to be the most exciting and groundbreaking element for supporters of the plan.

McMeen Elementary School Principal Adam Volek said he and his team of teachers pushed the board hard to include this goal in the plan. Volek served on an advisory board during the plan’s redrafting and routinely consulted with his staff on their desires, he said.

“The plan makes our work toward supporting the whole child a reality, not a concept,” he said.

Part of his school’s efforts include inviting parents to participate during classes for students during the day and classes for adults during the evening. His teachers are also heavily active in home visits that he believes are bridging the gap between home and school.

Sharon Murray, president of healthy schools consulting group RMC Health, said she hasn’t seen a Colorado school district put such an emphasis on the emotional status of a child to go as far and put it in their strategic plan.

“Districts aren’t accountable for that,” she said. “They’re accountable for test scores and attendance.”

The district plans to appoint a committee to develop criteria to measure how schools improve their environments to foster the social wellbeing of its students. But Murray said that committee may not have as daunting of a task as it may seem.

That’s because there are already plenty of resources available throughout Colorado and the nation on how to improve school cultures to foster the best for a student’s health and creativity. Further, as the goal is already written, there are plenty of things that can be measured.

What do you think of the Denver Plan 2020? Leave a comment below and we’ll post a roundup of the most insightful comments later this week. 

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado senator talks “the trouble with tenure”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 17:14
[Tenure] provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’
– Colo. Sen. Mike Johnston in an interview with the New York Times

In an opinion piece titled “The Trouble with Tenure,” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni talked with Colorado’s loudest champion of education reform about teacher tenure and the role of unions.

Bruni praised Johnston’s approach, which focuses on overhauling teaching, saying it was rooted in optimism and “reverence” for teaching.

Johnston was a key player in a suite of reforms that implemented a new system of teacher evaluations and abolished teacher tenure in Colorado. Aspects of those reforms are currently in the midst of ongoing legal battles but Johnston has defended the potential of the legislation to improve public education.

Read the full article here.

Note: this article has been edited for clarity.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Torres

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 13:32

Jose Torres has been named president of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, succeeding Catherine Veal, who served as interim president after Dr. Glenn W. “Max” McGee retired last summer. Torres is leaving his position of the past 6 years as superintendent of the U-46 Elgin School District.  Previously he was regional superintendent for Area 14 in the Chicago Public Schools, where he oversaw 25 schools with more than 14,000 students.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catayst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

Categories: Urban School News

DPS officials to unveil revised, slimmed down Denver Plan today

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:15

Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who will be flanked by community members, teachers, and students, is expected to present his district’s new strategic document this morning that will guide Denver Public Schools through the 2020 school year.

And if all goes according to the Denver Plan, as the document is known, in about five years 80 percent of third graders will be reading and writing at grade level, 90 percent of students will graduate on time, and 80 percent of schools will be high performing.

By comparison, today 60 percent of third graders are reading and writing at grade level, 68 percent of students are graduating on time, and 61 percent of schools are considered high performing.

Led by the district’s Board of Education, the updated plan has been a work in progress for months. Today, it all comes together at 11 a.m. at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

You can read the plan here, first. And we’ll have more coverage on the Denver Plan later this week.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Summer heat brings complications for schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 07:53

Test talk

A state survey found significant worries about the burden of state tests but conflicting opinions about what to do next. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

As Pueblo's new superintendent kicks off her first year, she's grappling with the news that Pueblo's schools made little progress on last year's state tests, especially in the district's lowest performing schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

How are school districts spinning this year's TCAP results? A sampling. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School chow

The hurdles to healthier school lunches abound but some of them are very straightforward: more pots, room to cook and staff training. ( KUNC, Denver Post )

But schools are going to have to make the shift statewide as new nutritional guidelines go into effect. ( Denver Channel, KDVR )

Not cool enough for school

Schools are shifting their schedules to keep kids out of schools during the hottest days of August, but what are the implications for students and their learning? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Got the first day jitters?

Jeffco's new superintendent spent the first day of school in a whirlwind tour of schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

St. Vrain students are heading back in a couple days to schools, many of which got major facelifts. ( Daily Camera )

And a new charter school in southwest Colorado opened its doors Monday, ( Cortez Journal )

Holyoke schools, where Chalkbeat profiled the teachers last month, will see eight new faces at the start of classes. ( Holyoke Enterprise )

Cost of a kid

The amount of money it takes to raise a child continues to rise, reaching $245,340 this year. ( AP via Denver Post, 9News )

Bad teacher

Parents and teachers rallied to support a teacher facing discipline after changing a student's diploma. ( KDVR )

Longterm goals

Denver Public Schools is narrowing its focus to five goals, the third iteration of a vision plan first started nine years ago. The board votes tonight on the plan. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

New Jeffco superintendent emphasizes community engagement, visibility during first day tour

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 19:23

Jefferson High School principal Michael James started the school year by challenging his new freshmen to beat the upperclassmen to a cheering contest.

The freshman lost, but, James consoled them that over time their voices would become louder and their spirit stronger.

“I know it’s a challenge to have your first day of school in a new building,”James said.

Jefferson High School is the smallest high school in Jefferson County, with about 550 students. It is this small, close-knit culture that makes the school so special, James said.

“I am one of those principals that is going to push you in many different areas, and one of those areas is involvement,” he said. “I want you to raise your leadership. I want every one of you to be able to say ‘I am a student leader.’”

These freshmen weren’t just meeting new students and staff. Today, they met Jefferson County Public Schools’ new superintendent, Dan McMinimee.

There’s a lot at stake for the new district leader, a former Douglas County Public Schools assistant superintendent.

McMinimee came into leadership during a tumultuous time for the district. Tensions between the board and parents, teachers and community members reached an all-time high when Cindy Stevenson bowed out four months before her retirement, after 12 years as superintendent. Stevenson left, citing distrust between her and the board’s new conservative majority, leading residents demanding a recall of its board members.

His road to appointment wasn’t an easy one. After a split 3-2 vote from the board in May, community members raised concerns about his credentials and whether McMinimee is worth his $280,000 salary.

His message to the students echoed his own charge as district leader — they should become actively involved in their schools.

“You make the decision, today, whether you’re going to be engaged in the Jefferson community,” he said to the 200-some students, teachers and staff gathered in the school’s auditorium.

A principal for seven years, McMinimee said visibility and community input in decision-making are two of his top priorities this school year.

When it comes to getting parents and students involved in decision-making at the school level, McMinimee said empowering principals will be the most important thing.

“I think one of the big things that I do really well is high visibility and high access,” he said. “I think that’s important for people  – especially in a district the size of Jefferson County — to feel like they have access to the superintendent and board of education.”

McMinimee spent Jeffco’s first day back visiting seven schools, including Jefferson High and Edgewater Elementary, which have two of the district’s highest number of students on free-and-reduced lunch.

“If there are challenging circumstances, we need to provide the resources to make sure that building principals get an opportunity to do the things they need to do with their staff to make it a great place for kids,” he said. “Authentic engagement really happens at individual schools,”

After the school assembly, James and McMinimee met to talk about the school’s goals.

“We want to raise the bar for every student,” James said. “We want students to realize that a diploma is the most important gift to receive.”

James said he hopes McMinimee and Jefferson High students and staff can work toward those same goals throughout the school year.

McMinimee said one of his toughest challenges this year will be acclimating to Jeffco’s climate and culture.

“Dr. Stevenson was here for 12 years, so she leaves a tremendous legacy of knowledge around what’s going on in schools and who’s doing what,” McMinimee said. “She probably hired most, if not all, the principals in these schools. I think that familiarity is a big challenge to overcome.”

He said, from there, he hopes the board, teachers and parents can come together to develop common goals.

The board will meet later this month, and McMinimee said he is looking forward to getting to know its members and the community in the coming months.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to meet with them at all, except for my interviews way back in May,” he said. “I hope what comes of that meeting is a sense that we have some great goals that we’re going to be working toward, and we’re going to work together moving forward.”

Categories: Urban School News

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