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Process to select new elementary school sparks controversy

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

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

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

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

Improving transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misunderstandings and mistrust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

The type of education we should all expect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

On the Capitol

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

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

Teachers speak out

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

Mogul money

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

Testing anxiety

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

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

College dreamin'

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

Superintendent speaks

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

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

Cut to the bone

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed funding bill has easy time in House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

School finance fight takes on new intensity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They successfully pushed through amendments that would:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

At turnarounds, a revolving door for most teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does not have to be the same teacher”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You may cause more harm than help”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t want to lose the team”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

Noble Street campus to offer International Baccalaureate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: UIC faculty strike averted

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 09:39

The University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union reached a tentative contract agreement on Wednesday with the university administration, averting a strike that had been scheduled for next week. (Tribune)

LIMITING SUSPENSIONS: The Illinois State Assembly is considering legislation that would limit the length of suspensions for all but the most serious infractions and put an end to disciplinary fines. The bills, which would limit out-of-school suspensions to no more than three days for infractions that do not threaten the safety or disrupt the education of other students, have the support of a group of student activists in Chicago who gathered for a rally downtown on Wednesday. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
COMPETING VIEWS OF TEACHER TENURE: In a case that has drawn national attention, lawyers have been arguing over whether California’s laws on teacher tenure, firing and layoffs violate students’ constitutional right to an education. (The New York Times)

TURNING TO TURNAROUND NETWORK: By forming a network of turnaround schools, the State Department of Education said the state will offer intensive support directly to school leaders in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. (Chalkbeat)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. Springs schools show off their entrepreneurial spirit

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/17/2014 - 08:29

Healthy schools

A new program, developed in Australia and being rolled out in Colorado, aims to help adults who work closely with students identify mental health concerns. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A state Senate committee stripped away a provision in a contentious public health bill that would have required parents who wish to opt-out their children of vaccinations to learn about the pros and the cons of immunization. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

New ways of doing things

Schools in Colorado Springs are showing off their innovative ideas during a two-day conference throughout the city. Programs of note include new STEM offerings and civic engagement classes. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

California Dreamin'

Denver's assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson is the top finalist to lead the Oakland Unified School District. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Contra Costa Times )

early childhood education

The state Senate Education Committee gave approval to a new idea that would pay private early childhood centers with dollars saved from reduced intervention costs, such as grade retention, at public schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The American Indian College Fund in Denver will receive a $500,000 grant to continue its early childhood education outreach initiative. ( Denver Post )

money money money

More money will be sent to Colorado's public schools if Gov. John Hickenlooper signs the state's budget lawmakers approved earlier this week. ( AP via KREX TV )

Also getting more money, pending approval from lawmakers and the governor, will be the state's colleges and universities. But they have to cap tuition increases at 6 percent, not 9 percent. That bill cleared the Senate. ( AP via 9News )

Wait a minute

In a previous story, we said one reason why a stingy achievement gap may exists at DPS' East High School was because of how well the flagship school's white students did on standardized tests. But, looking at the data a different way yields a new perspective: white students there might not be doing as well as we once thought. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Problem solvers

Some of St. Vrain Valley's special needs students leant their voices to solving some of democracy's most vexing problems. ( Times Call )

'part of their school'

A new unified co-ed basketball team has students with developmental disabilities dribbling up and down the court for throngs of fans. ( )

Categories: Urban School News

Teeth pulled from immunization bill

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 23:29

A controversial immunization bill got a significant amendment Wednesday in a Senate committee, which removed a provision that would have required parents to get information about the pros and cons of vaccinations before they opted out of the shots children need for school enrollment.

House Bill 14-1288 has been the focus of emotional and prolonged committee hearings in both the House and Senate. It has pitted public health advocates against parents who are fearful about the possible side effects of immunizations and believe they should have an absolute right to refuse those shots.

Proof of immunizations is required for enrollment in child care facilities and K-12 schools, but state law allows parents to opt out for medical, religious or “personal belief” reasons. HB 14-1288 originally would have required that parents who wanted to use the personal belief exemption to either be briefed by a health care professional on the pros and cons of immunizations or complete an online education module.

An amendment approved Wednesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee removed that provision. Instead, the bill creates several duties for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, including:

  • Creation of a website containing information about the benefits and risk of immunizations
  • Issuance of rules on how often child care centers and schools should collect exemption forms
  • Working with other state agencies to develop a common policy on immunization data collection
  • Providing technical assistance to child care centers and schools on how to analyze immunization data

The amended bill also would require schools to make available on request their immunization and exemption rates.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Ed wrestles with a brand-new idea

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 19:27

It’s not often that a legislative committee is faced with a completely new idea or an issue that hasn’t come up before.

But that was the case Wednesday with the Senate Education Committee and Senate Bill 14-185, which proposes a creative new way to fund early learning programs.

The proposal is something that hasn’t come up before at the Capitol, unlike the usual run of education bills, which generally involve issues and subjects that most committee members have at least passing familiarity with.

SB 14-185 would create something called the Pay for Success Contracts for Early Childhood Education Services Program. The program would allow the Office of State Planning and Budgeting and school districts to contract with providers of early childhood development services – and then pay them later with savings realized from the program’s success.

The bill’s idea, based on what are called “social impact bonds” or “results-based financing,” is that service providers can attract private investors to invest in support programs such as high-quality preschool. The theory is that quality programs reduce costly interventions such as grade retention or special education once a child enters school. If the state and a school district realize savings from reduced need for interventions, then the program is paid and investors repaid with interest.

The concept is seen by supporters as a creative way to fund needed services such as early childhood education in a time of constrained government budgets. (The proposal is complicated – get details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and in this legislative staff summary of the bill.)

The detailed – sometimes too detailed – explanations from the sponsors, Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, gave committee members an awful lot to absorb in a short period of time.

“This is pretty deep to be having [a discussion] today,” noted Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley. (Two sets of Senate committee meetings Wednesday were sandwiched between two floor sessions.)

Trying to finish up before another committee took over the hearing room, chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, nudged the members to a vote. The bill passed 4-3, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

Despite his yes vote, Kerr said he still had questions about the bill and noted, “These are the things we are forced to do in Colorado” because of revenue constraints.

The panel also split 4-3 on Senate Bill 14-182, a second attempt at shining a little light on school board executive sessions. An earlier measure, House Bill 14-1110, passed the House but was killed by its Senate sponsor because she didn’t have the votes for floor passage. That earlier bill would have required boards to maintain a public log of subjects discussed during closed sessions and also required recording of those meetings. There was heavy lobbying against the bill from the legal community, concerned about an erosion of attorney-client privilege.

The new bill would require the log of subjects discussed but imposes no recording requirements. The bill was sparked by citizen complaints about alleged misuse of executive sessions by the Douglas County school board, and two representatives of Dougco parent groups testified for the bill Wednesday.

Senate Education gave unanimous 7-0 support to two other bills. House Bill 14-1204 would allow small rural districts that are rated in the state’s top two accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually. It also would allow such districts to get help from boards of cooperative education services in complying with the READ Act. House Bill 14-1314 would require districts formally include charter schools in planning for tax override elections, but it wouldn’t force districts to share override revenues with their charters.

Education spending bills roll on

Republican members gave Democratic Rep. Cherilyn Peniston a bit of hard time on the floor, but she had the votes to win preliminary approval of her House Bill 14-1102, which would boost gifted and talented funding by $3.4 million.

Most of the funds would be used to pay for universal screening of all kids to determine their gifted status and to compensate districts for having half-time G&T coordinators. (An earlier version of the Westminster Democrat’s bill would have cost $6 million and required full-time coordinators in every district.)

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, urged a no vote, saying, “We should have put this into the negative factor.”

“Have you checked with your district to see if they support this?” asked Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. (Lobbyists for key district interest groups testified against the bill in committee.)

Two other education spending bills received final approval in the Senate. There wasn’t any rhetoric, but most Republicans voted no.

Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639.

To round out the spate of spending, the Senate also gave preliminary approval to  Senate Bill 14-124, which would create a $2 million program to develop school turnaround leaders

Use the Education Bill Tracker to read the texts of bills covered in this story and see this list of all education-related bills introduced this session.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver official is finalist for California superintendent position

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 18:02

A top official in Denver Public Schools is the finalist to lead Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), in California.

Assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson, who led the turnaround efforts at Denver’s Montbello High School, has headed up college and career readiness initiatives for the district. His nomination will go before the Oakland school board on April 23rd.

“Antwan Wilson is an extraordinary leader,” said DPS’ superintendent Tom Boasberg, in a press release from the Oakland press office. “He is a thoughtful and caring advocate for educational equity, and he is an inspiring leader who sets high expectations for all students and then works tirelessly to ensure they have the support they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.”

Montbello High School, which is now in the final stages of being phased out and replaced with three smaller programs, has been  a lightning rod for controversy over Denver’s reforms. Wilson, who had moved from the school’s principalship to a district leadership role, was involved with the contentious community process that led to the decision to close the school.

For more on his potential new role, see the press release from OUSD.

Categories: Urban School News

Students rally for bill to limit suspensions and expulsion, ban discipline fines

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 17:52

Students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) rallied in the Loop Wednesday to build support for student-drafted legislation that would eliminate monetary fines imposed for disciplinary reasons in schools, as well as limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

The proposed bill, SB3004,   is now pending in the state Senate. The crowd of students and supporters from the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline in Chicago Public Schools marched from CPS headquarters to the State of Illinois Building to urge lawmakers to support the bill.

VOYCE has called attention to harsh discipline in CPS, and has also been among those criticizing charter discipline policies, which are often tougher than the CPS Student Code of Conduct.

Noble Street Charter Schools have come under fire not only for a strict discipline code but also for levying hefty fines against students for relatively minor infractions.  Last week, Noble Street announced it would drop one of its more controversial fines, the $5 fee assessed against students who earned detentions.

“We want common sense discipline, instead of the zero-tolerance policy we have now,” said Mariama Bangura, a junior at Roosevelt High School. “Schools need to support their students, not kick them out for minor issues.”

"Keeping students in the classroom and connected to their school communities is important to the District, which is why CPS revised its disciplinary policies to focus on instructive and corrective responses to misbehavior, resulting in a 36% drop in out-of-school suspensions for high school students over three years," said CPS spokesman Joel Hood in a statement. "While CPS and VOYCE are aligned in their efforts to reduce suspensions and keep students in school, SB3004, as drafted, places strict limitations on administrators' ability to manage school safety and could potentially interfere with law enforcement's jurisdiction and ability to enforce safety on school grounds or at school-sponsored events."

Though high school suspensions have declined, elementary suspensions have risen dramatically in recent years, Catalyst found, and the racial gap in disciplined has widened.

Harsh discipline has a disproportionate impact on African American male students and has long been an issue in CPS. School discipline is also in the spotlight nationally, with federal education officials urging districts to find ways to keep students in school instead of suspending and expelling them.

In addition to banning fines for discipline infractions, SB3004 would amend the Illinois School Code to put limits on the actions that could lead to suspension or expulsion. For one, students could only be expelled “for posing a significant threat of imminent serious harm to other pupils or to staff” instead of for the more subjective “gross disobedience or misconduct.”

Students could be suspended, for not more than 10 days, for “a serious act of misconduct” rather than “gross disobedience or misconduct.”

“I’m the first one to take action if a student is disrupting my class, but I see kids being suspended and expelled for minor infractions all the time,” said Roosevelt teacher Tim Meegan. “This undermines my ability to teach and hurts the students.”

The student group was joined by Jessica Schneider from the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., who, echoing other experts across the country, said school discipline has become a civil rights issue. Schneider pointed to data showing black students in CPS are 30 times more likely to be suspended than whites, and said that disciplinary fees are an exclusionary practice that further disadvantages low-income students.

Categories: Urban School News

Digging deeper into East High data

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 17:39

Last week, when we took a  close look at achievement gaps at Denver’s East High School, we reported that “the breadth of East’s TCAP [the state test] gaps may be explained in part by how high-achieving East’s top students are,” because minority students also perform better on TCAPs than their counterparts across Denver Public Schools.

But after an astute reader prompted us to take a closer look at data, we found some interesting nuggets that show what achievement gaps look like across the city and suggest some interesting explanations we might have missed in the original story.

First, East has fewer low-income students (as measured by eligibility for free and reduced-cost meals) across all races and ethnicities than other Denver comprehensive high schools. And that may do more to explain why the performance of all groups of students is higher at East than in DPS overall.

Just 8 percent of East’s white test-taking students (ninth and tenth graders) are low-income. That’s compared to 27 percent at all other DPS high schools. While 86 percent of Latino students at other Denver high schools are low-income, at East the percentage is much lower –62 percent. And 70 percent of East’s African American students are low income, compared to 80 percent at the district’s other high schools.

Furthermore, the ratio of non-poor to poor white students at East is much wider than at other Denver high schools. And while the proportion of non-poor to poor black and Latino students is also wider than at other high schools, it’s by a much narrower margin. So the larger achievement gaps could be explained in part by how many fewer low-income white students there are compared to low-income Latino and African-American students.

It’s also notable that two of  the three Denver high schools that have higher-performing white students than East also have significantly smaller achievement gaps by race.

The two schools are distinct from East in that one, DSST’s Stapleton high school, is a charter school that students choose to attend rather than being assigned by residence. The other, Denver School of the Arts, a selective admissions magnet. And both have lower percentages of low-income students than does East. Still, it’s worth noting the difference in gaps.

DSST’s Stapleton charter high school had an average TCAP proficiency among white students of 93.6 percent in 2013, compared to East’s 81.2 percent.  Yet its proficiency gaps between white and black students was 21.7 percent, compared to East’s 45.3 percent, and its white-Latino gap was 18 percent compared to East’s 36.9 percent.

And while a smaller share of DSST Stapleton’s black students are low-income, more of its Latino students are. Among black students, 54 percent qualify for subsidized lunches, compared to East’s 70 percent. Among Latino students, however, 79 percent qualified for subsidized lunches, compared to 62 percent at East.

At Denver School of the Arts, a magnet school that requires an audition for admission, the average white proficiency rate was 81.3 percent, a tenth of a percentage point higher than East’s. Its black-white achievement gap was also far lower than East’s — 29.6 percent compared to 45.3 percent. And its Latino-white gap was 10.8 percent, compared to East’s 36.9 percent.

But the school also had fewer than 16 students in any racial/ethnic group eligible for subsidized lunches, meaning its poverty rate among all groups is very low.

The school with gaps that top East’s is George Washington High School, where a selective admission International Baccalureate program largely walls off that high-performing student population for core academic classes from the rest of the school. At GW, the black-white gap is 56.2 percent and the Latino-white gap is 45.4 percent.

It’s also worth noting that these gap trends don’t change much when you look only at each school’s non- free and reduced lunch eligible students of all races. George Washington still has the widest gaps, followed, in order by East, Denver School of the Arts, and DSST.

Categories: Urban School News

A new tool in schools’ mental health tool box

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 17:14

Using Crayola markers set on each round table, small groups of adults from the Greeley area — school outreach workers, Boys and Girls Club staff and foster parents — created poster-sized pictures of what mental health problems look like. Glum stick figures sat under rain clouds, a face contorted from happy to sad and a placid face showed no outward signs of distress.

The pictures were just one of several hands-on activities sprinkled throughout a recent day-long training that aims to teach lay-people the signs of mental health or substance abuse problems in youth, and give them action steps to follow when they spot trouble.

Called Youth Mental Health First Aid, the training originated in Australia and was unveiled in Colorado last year. There is also an adult version of the training, introduced here in 2008, called Mental Health First Aid or MHFA.

Both are gaining momentum in what mental health advocates say is a welcome development in a state saddled with one of the highest suicide rates in the country and more than its fair share of school tragedies, including a deadly shooting at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School in December and a self-immolation at Westminster’s Standley Lake High School in January.

Olga Gonzalez, a community outreach worker who participated in the recent Greeley training, said she regularly fields questions from parents who are worried about their children but don’ t know where to turn. She recounted how one family she’d worked with discovered their son had started using drugs. Another learned that their son had stolen credit card information from a customer while manning the cash register at the family’s store.

“He has money in a savings account, you know. He just did it,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what kind of support he needs.”

Youth Mental Health First Aid aims to answer such questions for people who are not mental health professionals but who work closely with young people and their families. The target audience includes lay-people like teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, school nurses and even bus drivers.

Advocates for MHFA say Colorado now has one of the largest contingents of certified instructors—around 230 so far. In addition, it’s among only a handful of states to dedicate public funds to the trainings, with $750,000 appropriated for the program next year.

“We have been at the forefront of this since the beginning,” said Brian Turner, director of Mental Health First Aid Colorado at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council.

Preparing first responders

The concept behind both versions of MHFA, much like medical first-aid, is to equip first responders with the know-how to address emerging mental health or addiction problems. The youth version is also meant to help distinguish between true mental health issues and the normal mood swings and behavior changes that characterize the life of a teenager.

But the training is hardly a technical lecture. It’s participant-friendly approach is evident in the hands-on activities, the video clips, the anecdote-peppered instruction and even the pile of bite-sized candy on each table. Originally, conceived as a two-day training, it has since changed to a one-day format.

“I think we try to make it accessible in a very non-threatening way,” said Pamela Collins Vaughn, one of the instructors at the Greeley training and quality assurance program director at North Range Behavioral Health.

The five action steps in Youth Mental Health First Aid.

Gonzalez, an outreach worker with Community Care Corps, said she learned about the training at a resource fair that she helped coordinate. Her work with families at two local middle schools, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods, made her want to refresh her knowledge on mental health issues.

While Gonzalez and other MHFA participants are certainly not charged with providing treatment, they do receive a customized local resource guide to help them connect youth with professional help when necessary.

In fact, encouraging youth to seek professional help is one of five action steps—condensed in the acronym ALGEE–outlined in the training. The other four include “Assess for suicide/self harm,” “Listen non-judgmentally,” “Give assurance/information,” and “Encourage self-help/other support.”

Turner said having concrete action steps is important because “there’s a big difference between learning about mental health and substance abuse problems and being able to do something about it.”

During the Greeley training, participants were asked to come up with gestures that would convey each of the five action steps. Soon, in an effort to commit the steps to memory, Vaughn and co-trainer Noelle Hause were leading the group in miming actions like non-judgmental head-nodding and reassuring arm-patting.

Reaching out to schools

While Turner said Youth Mental Health First Aid is not yet widely offered by school districts, there is growing interest. Among the districts that have offered it for at least some staff are Douglas County, Aurora, Thompson, and Weld County District 6.

Barb Becker, division director for community programs at the Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network, said the one-day format make it a very doable training for educators.

One of the pictures made by participants at a recent Youth Mental Health First Aid training.

“It just gives a really good overview,” she said, adding, “It takes away some of the stigma associated with mental health.”

While grants to offer Youth Mental Health First Aid are sometimes available and some mental health centers offer it for free, the price of the training can be a barrier for districts. Costs typically run at least $25 per person and can max out at $50 depending on facility and food costs.

While the new $750,000 in state funding will help with expansion, Turner said advocates are also investigating whether Medicaid reimbursements received by schools can help pay for the trainings. Currently, those reimbursements are used for all kinds of school health and wellness efforts, from paying school nurses to buying P.E. equipment.

If Youth Mental Health First Aid is widely adopted by schools, it will join a growing number of tools used to detect and combat mental health problems in students. Many schools already use suicide prevention curriculums, some are adding instruction on social emotional skills and a few conduct universal mental health screenings among students.

In addition, many schools regularly convene meetings to discuss and create plans for students who are showing signs of mental health or behavioral problem. Others publicize programs like Safe2Tell that allow students, parents or staff to anonymously report bullying or threats of school violence or suicide.

While Becker noted that middle-aged white men, not teens are actually at the highest risk for suicide in Colorado, she said it is still a problem among young people.

In 2010, Colorado had the seventh-highest  youth suicide rate among states and Washington, DC, with 16.7 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people in the 15-24 age group, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, Colorado’s suicide rates are higher in rural and mountain communities than in urban areas. They are also higher among males than females.

Becker said there are a variety of reasons, including biological changes, peer conflicts and dating strife, that adolescents experience depression, which is a leading cause of suicide.

“It’s a hard time in life,” she said.

Ultimately, Turner hopes both versions of Mental Health First Aid will be widely available in all parts of Colorado. They won’t prevent all violent incidents, he said, but they might help. They can also aid in the healing process for communities that have suffered through fires, floods, droughts and other disasters.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Fewer Chicago students smoke, CDC reports

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:15

Smoking among Chicago high school students has decreased by more than 20 percent since 2011 and is now the lowest recorded rate in youth smoking, the mayor's office announced Tuesday. Based to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study shows that less than 11 percent of Chicago high school students reported smoking in 2013, down from more than 13 percent in 2011. (Press release)

IN THE NATION
THE PARENT TRAP: Most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement, say the authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education,” in an  opinion piece. In some cases, they actually hinder it. (The New York Times)

DEBATING TEACHER FIRING: A bill awaiting the signature of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would essentially make teachers in the state at-will employees of their school districts, and teachers would be able to challenge termination only if they allege the firing violates their constitutional rights. (The Kansas City Star)

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: About 1,800 applicants were in Portland Tuesday, looking for teaching jobs at the Oregon Professional Educator Fair. Almost 170 school districts and other educational agencies have booths at the two-day fair. They’re looking for new staff as teachers retire or move out of the area. (OPB)

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado education department intends to create turnaround network

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 10:00

The State Department of Education hopes to lend more direct help to Colorado’s struggling campuses by forming a network of turnaround schools, it announced Tuesday in a letter to superintendents.

The network, which will be the first of its kind in Colorado, will offer intensive support directly to school leaders in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Previously, most of the state’s support has been targeted at the district level, providing training and resources to administrators, not principals and teachers.

Colorado’s Turnaround Network, “will be a highly-collaborative and accountable endeavor between local schools, their districts and the Colorado Department of Education,” according to a copy of the letter provided to Chalkbeat Colorado.

The department hopes to work with eight to 12 schools in just a couple of districts its first year. The aim is to not only improve student academic performances within the network’s schools, but also to provide support and build each district’s ability to provide tools and techniques to other low-performing schools within the participating districts’ boundaries, said Peter Sherman, the state education department’s executive director of school and district performance.

As of December, there are currently 190 schools rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement.” About 75 percent of those schools do not operate in school districts on the accountability clock.

Because of Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control of schools, schools will have to opt into the network, Sherman said. The department’s model is more akin to Connecticut’s Commissioner’s Network, which has partnered with 11 schools and is expanding, than Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which has the authority to take over low-performing schools and currently runs 16 schools, Sherman said.

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

While the state does not directly accredit schools — that’s the job of local school boards — it does similarly rate schools. Schools, like districts, rated as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” are placed on the state’s watch list. If schools do not make enough improvement within five years the state board may make a series of recommendations to the local school board including turning the school over to a private organization like a charter network or closing the campus. If the local governing board does not heed the state board’s advice, the entire district may face a lowered accreditation rating.

Neither the districts nor schools enrolled in the network will be let off the so-called “accountability clock.”

“Our goal is to accelerate achievement so we’ll be able to get them off the clock because of improved student achievement,” Sherman said.

If enough progress isn’t made in enough time to beat the clock, Sherman said, his department would at least be able to stand with those schools in the network as the state and local board negotiate the campuses future.

“We would be able to advocate for [those schools] to some degree,” Sherman said. “We’ll feel comfortable saying the district has taken the right improvement actions and that we’ve exhausted everything we could.”

The network’s program will focus on four areas: culture, school design, personnel development, and district relations. One of the many requirements to enroll in the network, according to the letter, is a set of agreements between the state and the districts the schools reside in.

“We will negotiate with each district

assurances that they will create the right conditions for success for each participating school,” Sherman said.

The state will have no official say in curriculum, personnel or budget, Sherman said. But he hopes by enrolling in the network, schools will be provided autonomy and flexibility by it’s district.

The network will be funded by existing funds allocated to the state department, Sherman said. And his office will continue to offer its support to districts on the accountability clock.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: What a billion means for Colorado schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/16/2014 - 09:50

turn it around

The Colorado Department of Education is planning to form a network of turnaround schools to provide intensive support directly to school leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No gaps

Bills to avoid a disruption in teacher evaluations and other accountability measures following the transition to new tests passed the House yesterday, one of the last hurdles before becoming law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Graduation day

High school graduation rates and college completion rates for Latino students in Colorado still lag behind the state, according to a report released yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Fighting the test

Colorado's largest teachers union voted to demand the halt and rollback of the state's PARCC testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What's a dollar worth?

Why are Colorado school districts trying to get $1 billion in funding back? Practice fields gone up in dust, no more summer school, teacher raises years in the making. ( CPR )

Rising costs no more

Colorado's colleges and universities could see a tuition cap, based on a bill that passed the Senate yesterday. ( AP via Denver Post )

Arrest record

A Colorado Springs high school band coach was arrested yesterday for inappropriate sexual behavior. ( Gazette )

He has worked previously at several schools around the state. ( Chieftain )

A long history

One Colorado Springs school has been educating the state's deaf and blind students for 140 years. ( Gazette )

new faces

For the first time, a group of special education students joined St. Vrain's delegation to Doing Democracy, a day devoted to discussing solutions for the nation's problems. ( Times-Call )

First Person

What's the value of parent education programs? Two Spanish-speaking parents share their experience. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Evaluation, accountability “data gap” package nearly done

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 19:04

A key measure intended to give districts flexibility in teacher evaluations next year was passed 53-11 by the House Tuesday, leaving Senate Bill 14-165 just one small step from being sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature.

The bill and another measure, House Bill 14-1182, are needed to help the state and districts avoid disruptions in teacher evaluations and district and school accountability ratings when Colorado moves to the new CMAS testing system in the spring of 2015.

Both the evaluation and accreditation systems are based partly on student achievement data from statewide tests. For technical reasons, results from 2015 CMAS tests (including the multi-state PARCC tests in language arts and math) won’t be available until late 2015 or early 2016, which is too late to be factored into teacher evaluations and accreditation for the 2014-15 school year.

And because the tests will be different from the current TCAP exams, there won’t be student year-to-year growth data that can be used. That will require two years of CMAS results.

Here’s how the two bills propose to get around those problems:

SB 14-165 – Districts would be required to gather student growth data on teachers next year but could choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. (Districts could weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations. For teacher evaluation, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests, so districts will have other data to use.) A low evaluation rating would count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice. The House made minor amendments to the bill that will have to be agreed to by the Senate.

HB 14-1182 – Accreditation ratings that districts and school receive next fall, based on 2013-14 performance, will be in effect for two years because of the 2014-15 data gap. Districts will be free to appeal to the Department of Education if they believe additional data justifies changes in 2014-15 ratings. And the State Board of Education is given additional flexibility in recommending turnaround measures for schools that have reached the end of the five-year accountability clock. Hickenlooper signed this bill on April 4.

The two measures to work around the testing transition are finishing up just as criticism of the PARCC tests is on the rise. Over the weekend delegates at the Colorado Education Association’s annual meeting approved resolution demanding withdrawal from PARCC (see story).

That aligns the liberal union, on this issue at least, with its natural political enemies, Republican elected officials. All but three legislative Republicans recently supported unsuccessful motions to pull state funding from PARCC, and the four-member GOP majority on the State Board of Education supports a pullout (see story).

The testing debate could intensify over the summer and fall if lawmakers approve a measure (House Bill 14-1202) to commission a study of testing (background here).

Other bills cross finish line

The Senate voted 34-0 Tuesday to approve House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something that school districts already are able to do. The measure goes to Hickenlooper. The bill is a bipartisan, no-controversy compromise that was introduced after majority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in February killed House Bill 14-1157, which would have allowed school boards to authorize school employees to carry weapons.

After some prolonged partisan bickering over “pet projects” and fiscal responsibility, the House voted 38-26 for the conference committee version of House Bill 14-1336, the 2014-15 state budget. The only Republican to vote yes was Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The Senate approved the final version of the budget on Monday, with seven Republicans voting yes and eight opposed. (This is the bill that contains the money to pay for PARCC next year.)

Both houses also have re-passed House Bill 14-1342, the construction funding bill that includes a, $120 million wish list of higher education building projects that will be funded only if the state’s 2013-14 surplus is higher than projected. As part of that deal the State Education Fund will receive a surplus infusion of only $20 million.

Halfway home

Four education-related bills received final House approval Tuesday and are headed for the rapidly ballooning calendar the Senate faces with only 16 days left in the 2014 session. All are spending bills and so attracted little or no Republican support.

House Bill 14-1085 – Proposes spending $960,000 for adult education and literacy grants. Passed 37-26.

House Bill 14-1124 – Would grant resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado, creating a potential loss of up to $5.3 million in tuition revenue. Passed 39-25.

House Bill 14-1156 - Would make students in grades 3-5 who currently are eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, at a cost of $809,095. Passed 38-26.

House Bill 14-1276 – Creates a grant program for CPR instruction in high schools. $300,000 Passed 40-24.

And the Senate voted 34-1 to pass Senate Bill 14-001, dubbed the College Affordability Act. This is the bill that increases higher education spending by $100 million in 2014-15 and caps tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two school years. The measure is expected to have an easy time in the House.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.

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