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Denver teachers union: DPS skirted bargaining rules with new incentive pay program

EdNewsColorado - 1 hour 17 min ago

Denver’s teachers union is accusing Denver Public Schools of overstepping its bounds by not getting union buy-in before launching a program that pays teachers extra for working in 30 of its highest-need schools.

The grievance filed this week by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association drew a rebuke from DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg, who in an interview defended the process and said the union has shown “zero flexibility” in finding new ways to attract great teachers to high-poverty schools.

While research has shown that higher pay alone is often not enough to keep teachers from leaving challenging schools, DCTA executive director Pam Shamburg said the union is not opposed to the concept.

However, she said changes such as DPS’s new incentive program “have to be bargained. They just can’t be imposed by the district unilaterally. If (Boasberg) changes his mind tomorrow, they are out the door.”

Boasberg said he was “very disappointed” in the development.

“Our teachers have waited too long for this change,” he said. “Our goal is very simple and very important, which is to get and keep our best teachers in our highest-need schools to close our achievement gaps and give all kids great opportunities.”

The disagreement is the latest between a school district and teachers union in Colorado over changing how teachers are paid. While districts increasingly are eyeing incentive-based reforms — with support from many educators – the conflicts illustrate the challenges of upending a compensation system that traditionally has rewarded teachers’ experience and academic credentials.

Windfall from pension bill

Boasberg announced the program in June alongside Gov. John Hickenlooper at the signing ceremony for a bill that reduces the amount DPS contributes each year to PERA, the state’s retirement fund. That gave the district about $20 million a year of savings to work with.

DPS chose to begin the teacher incentive program with some of that money. Under the plan, more than 1,500 teachers and specialized service providers such as counselors, nurses and social workers at the 30 high-need schools will  receive between $2,000 and $4,000 a year extra. Those with higher evaluation ratings would earn the larger bonuses.

Teachers would earn monthly incentives for working in the schools, and a yearly, one-time bonus for returning to work another year. Those payments are on top of another incentive – what teachers earn by serving more than 100 impoverished schools and programs designated as “hard-to-serve” through ProComp, DPS’s teacher pay plan.

Teachers across the district already are scheduled to get a 5.6 percent raise on average this school year.

Boasberg said in adopting the incentive program, “what we have done is fully consistent with (the collective bargaining agreement), with the law, and with extensive precedents in DPS.” District officials say the union’s grievance will not halt the monthly bonuses.

Boasberg said the 30 schools were chosen based on factors including poverty rates, the number of English language learners and students with disabilities, and past academic performance.

A year ago, the district put in place a similar incentive program for principals or school leaders at the same 30 schools. Boasberg said teachers there deserve the same.

A ProComp working group of district officials and teachers recommended similar changes more than a year ago, Boasberg said. And more than eight months ago, a teacher retention task force focused on teachers in high-need schools recommended the incentives, he said.

During ProComp negotiations last school year, DPS proposed paying for the incentives in high-needs schools by reducing bonuses for teachers in schools identified as top performing on the district’s school performance framework. The union fought that idea, and it was abandoned.

Fleeting bonuses?

Shamburg acknowledges that teacher buy-in but maintains the incentives need to be bargained.

“What we are most opposed to is a compensation system that pits teacher against teacher,” she said. “But we also realize there’s a recognition that it’s just a harder job in some locations than it is in others, and we should take a serious look at what it takes for teachers to stay and increase performance at schools that are really challenging.”

At the same time, the union and others question whether what may be fleeting bonuses will prove effective in attracting and keeping teachers at challenging schools. The DCTA is pushing for raising starting teacher salaries to $50,000 — up from $38,765 for those with bachelor’s degrees and $42,538 with master’s degrees – and permanent pay raises.

The tit-for-tat between DPS and the union follows a similar dispute in Aurora over Superintendent Rico Munley’s more modest plan to pay incentives to teachers rated effective or higher who stay at one of the district’s most at-risk elementary schools.

The Aurora Education Association filed a grievance, and an arbitrator agreed with the union that Munn lacked the authority to pay teachers at Paris Elementary anything other that what is spelled out in the district’s collective bargaining agreement.

The school board this week scolded Munn and accepted the arbitrator’s findings, while directing Munn to work with the union to figure out how to pay teachers the incentives they were promised.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Judge grants injunction to Thompson teachers union

EdNewsColorado - 9 hours 30 min ago
choice and consequences

The Douglas County School District will ask the nation's highest court to give the constitutional OK to its voucher program. Denver Post, 9News, Douglas County-News Press, Chalkbeat Colorado

labor day

A judge ordered the Thompson School District to recognize the Thompson Education Association's status as the exclusive representative of teachers while a breach of contract lawsuit proceeds. Reporter-Herald

In light of the injunction, the Thompson school board changed its plan to discuss new policies regarding the union. Reporter-Herald

The Aurora board Tuesday night told Superintendent Rico Munn to clean up the “disaster” he created by boosting pay for teachers at one of the district’s most at-risk elementary schools without first getting the blessing of the teachers union. Chalkbeat Colorado

No scholarship for you

A workforce development program that promises most Weld County high school graduates $3,000 per year for higher education will leave out students living in the country illegally. Greeley Tribune

safe schools

A senior at Greeley Central High School was arrested Wednesday morning after a handgun and ammunition were found in his backpack. Denver Post

A 16-year-old Arizona student was arrested for a hoax after a Colorado student alerted police of a photo posted on Snapchat about a school shooting. 9News

growing and growing

Metropolitan State University of Denver has inked an agreement that gives it ownership of portions of Colorado Heights University's Loretto Heights, creating a multi-campus. Denver Post

Higher ed

It's an increasingly popular move in higher education. Hundreds of schools no longer require student applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. NPR via KUNC

Early childhood

The state released a document Wednesday that outlines strategies and goals around early childhood education, health and family support. Chalkbeat Colorado

showing up

Colorado has slightly higher student absenteeism rates in the fourth and eighth grades than the nation as a whole, according to a new study that ties chronic absences to achievement gaps. Chalkbeat Colorado

Categories: Urban School News

Governor and lawmakers applaud release of state’s early childhood roadmap

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 22:58

The reception in the marbled lobby of the Colorado Trust building was for adults, but all about kids.

Little kids to be exact.

They are the focus of the brightly colored brochure that was officially unveiled on Wednesday evening and will soon find its way onto the desks of early childhood policymakers, advocates and educators—including K-12 administrators—across the state.

Officially called the Early Childhood Colorado Framework, the document outlines the state’s strategies and goals around early childhood education, health and family support.

The new framework is a simpler, more streamlined version of one first released in 2008. The revision cost about $100,000, with the money coming from the state and six foundations.

Early childhood leaders around the state say the new framework will be both easier to use and more comprehensive than the old one.

Anna Jo Haynes, co-chair of the state’s Early Childhood Leadership Commission, said the new version brings extra emphasis to each end of the early child spectrum, which covers the prenatal period to age eight.

Too often, there’s a tendency for discussions of early childhood to focus on the preschool years—typically ages three and four, she said.

“We haven’t been great about doing what we need to do with both ends of that spectrum,” Haynes said.

The new framework also brings more focus to the preschool-to-kindergarten transition and the large swath of young children not enrolled in licensed childcare programs, but rather watched informally by relatives, friends and neighbors.

Such informal arrangements often feel like a “black hole” to early childhood leaders, said Stephanie Martin, director of Routt County’s early childhood council.

They know it’s there, but have a hard time tracking it.

“I do think this is a more holistic approach,” Martin said. “You can share this framework with a broader audience.”

National context

While several states have some version of an early childhood plan, Colorado’s may be unique in the support it’s garnered from top state leaders. The crowd on Wednesday included several current and former legislators as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper walks to the podium at the Colorado Trust as part of an event unveiling the Early Childhood Colorado Framework.

Laura Bornfreund, deputy director of the New America Foundation’s Early Childhood Initiative, said the governor’s presence at the release event is significant.

He’s “using [his] bully pulpit to say, ‘Hey, early childhood is really important,” she said.

“These kinds of documents, be they frameworks or roadmaps or other kinds of high-level plans … set a vision at the state level,” she said.

Both Hickenlooper and Lt. Governor Joe Garcia, who is co-chair of the Early Childhood Leadership Commission, have prioritized improving early childhood programs.

In a short speech Wednesday evening, Hickenlooper said the framework follows on work done when he was Denver mayor to get the Denver Preschool Program sales tax passed.

He said the new framework is a key step in making Colorado the No. 1 state for children to grow up, saying “it’s “going to accelerate the pace of change for our kids.”

Keeping it real

Although the new framework is less wordy than the original, it will likely be used much the same way. That is, to help state leaders, funders, early childhood councils and community organizations set priorities, identify service gaps and better coordinate services.

Lisa Jansen Thompson, director of the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, described the framework as a “really good guide to make sure we’re addressing all the needs of our families and our community.”

Like many early childhood councils across the state, her team has used the framework extensively, she said.

The cardboard coasters distributed at the framework release event.

“We live it and breath it, we literally have posters of it on our walls,” Jansen Thompson said.

One problem the partnership identified as they used the original framework was the lack of home visiting services for families of 2-year-olds in the county. The programs that were available, she said, either stopped at age 2 or started at age 3.

Jansen Thompson said once that gap was identified, a local organization that already provided some home visiting services secured additional grant money and expanded their program to cover 2-year-olds.

One group that may be relatively unfamiliar with the framework but is increasingly part of its target audience is elementary school administrators, Haynes said.

”How do you convince people in public schools this is really meant for you?” she said.

Some commission members have wondered if that group will balk at using the document, but Haynes said framework drafters and state education department staff will work to support principals and other district personnel.

“We’re hoping people will be open-minded and will look at it,” she said, “But we certainly don’t expect it to happen overnight.”

 

Above is the second page of the 2015 version of the Early Childhood Colorado Framework.

 

 

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora school board to Munn: Work with union to pay teachers at struggling elementary school

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 16:24

AURORA — The school board here Tuesday night told Superintendent Rico Munn to clean up the “disaster” he created by boosting pay for teachers at one of the district’s most at-risk elementary schools without first getting the blessing of the teachers union.

On a 6-1 vote, the school board accepted the decision of an independent arbitrator that found the Aurora Public Schools administration violated its collective bargaining agreement with the Aurora Education Association when it gave teachers at Paris Elementary a bump in pay.

School board president JulieMarie Shepherd was the lone board member to stick by Munn.

The school board then unanimously directed Munn to bargain with the teachers union to ensure the staff members at Paris receives the pay they were promised.

“My intent is you complete payment however it looks,” school board member Dan Jorgensen said.

Its unclear how Munn’s administration and the union will move forward on paying teachers.

As part of the original plan, Munn promised teachers at Paris a raise on two conditions — that they stay at Paris and maintain at least an effective rating on their annual evaluations.

Munn, explaining his rationale for linking the program to evaluations, told the school board on Tuesday that it would be difficult to explain to taxpayers why teachers rated ineffective were getting a bonus.

The Aurora Education Association said Tuesday it will not sign off any plan that links pay to evaluations.

Paris has suffered some of the district’s highest rates of teacher attrition for five years. Officials believe this is one reason why students chronically earn poor scores on the state’s standardized assessments.

Despite firing harsh criticism at Munn for the process, multiple board members did renew their support for the program.

“I agree with the two conditions. I like the effective piece. I don’t want to pay ineffective teachers per se,” said board member Amber Drevon. “… I would not consider this a discontinuation of the program. We like the program. AEA says they’re open to discussing it. All we’re saying is, ‘You don’t have to leave it. You don’t have to discontinue it. No, please pursue the idea. But pursue it together in a mutually agreed upon fashion.’”

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Early absenteeism leads to achievement gaps later

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 15:37

Colorado has slightly higher student absenteeism rates in the fourth and eighth grades than the nation as a whole, according to a new study that ties chronic absences to achievement gaps.

But the study found Colorado had slightly smaller gaps in scores on a national test between students with high numbers of absences and those without them.

The statistics were part of a report released this week that found that attendance disparities among different kinds of students start as early as preschool and kindergarten and contribute to achievement gaps and dropout rates in later grades.

The role of student health is highlighted in the study, which says, “Many of these absences, especially among our youngest students, are excused and tied directly to health factors: asthma and dental problems, learning disabilities and mental health issues related to trauma and community violence.”

The study, “Mapping the Early Attendance Gap,” was done by two advocacy and research organizations, Attendance Works and the Healthy Schools Campaign.

The groups urge that states and districts take a more nuanced view of attendance to ensure that more students spend more time in school. “State leaders can shift the focus — and the accountability metrics — from truancy to chronic absenteeism, a measure of how many students miss 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. And they can identify and learn from the positive outliers — the schools, districts and communities that improve or maintain high levels of attendance despite challenging conditions,” the report said.

The report combines the findings of other absenteeism research and took a snapshot of the problem based on results from the 2011 and 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress tests in English and math. Those exams are given to a sample of students in each state (about 2,500 in each grade) in fourth and eighth grades. Students who take those exams also are asked how many days they were absent in the prior month.

That review found that 20 percent of both fourth and eighth graders nationwide reported three or more absences in the prior month. The percentages were higher for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and for minority students.

The study also found that higher percentages of students with disabilities were absent three or more days in a month.

Students with higher levels of absences also had lower mean scores on the NAEP assessments.

Here’s a look at score gaps for the nation and Colorado:

Fourth grade: For all students nationwide, students with absence problems had a mean score 12 points lower than other students. For Colorado the gap was 10 points. The gap was nine points for students who were eligible for subsidized meals and eight points for non-eligible students.

Eighth grade: For all students nationwide, students with absence problems had a mean score 18 points lower than other students. For Colorado the gap was 17 points. The gap was 14 points for students who were eligible for subsidized meals and 13 points for non-eligible students.

“Analysis shows that missing three or more days in the prior month (high-absenteeism) is associated with lower test scores for students in every state and city tested,” the study said. See the report’s state-by-state charts here.

The report sums up its finding in this way: “Across the country, an estimated 5 million to 7.5 million students are missing nearly a month of school [a year] and suffering academically for it.

“The problem starts early: At least 10 percent of kindergartners and first graders miss that much school, absences that can stall their progress in reading and deny them an equal opportunity to learn. Chronic absence flares again in middle and high school, when it becomes an early warning sign that students will drop out. Children from low-income families and communities of color, and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected.”

As required by federal law, the state Department of Education compiles attendance data submitted by school districts.

For the 2013-14 school year, Colorado had an attendance rate of 93.5 percent. The truancy rate, defined as unexcused absences, was 2.2 percent. While the state breaks out attendance by school, it doesn’t report absenteeism by grade or by disaggregated student groups. Get links to CDE truancy rate data here.

Categories: Urban School News

Douglas County School District to appeal voucher case to U.S. Supreme Court

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 12:00

Two months after Colorado’s highest court rejected the Douglas County School District’s controversial school voucher program, officials in the wealthy, high-achieving suburban district announced Wednesday they will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

The district also gained a key ally in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which will be filing its own petition backing the district’s Choice Scholarship Program, district officials said.

The district’s move is not a surprise. District leaders all but promised to take the step after the Colorado Supreme Court held in a 4-3 judgment June 29 that the program violated a state constitutional provision barring spending public money on religious schools.

District officials also followed through on their pledge to enlist elite legal help, announcing their team would be headlined by Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general who has been mentioned as a potential Republican appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The AG’s office signing on is another boost to the district. After the state Supreme Court ruling, Republican AG Cynthia Coffman issued a statement lamenting districts “now have one fewer tool to support parents in choosing the education that best fits their children’s needs.” A spokesman for the AG said the office would not be issuing any statements Wednesday commenting on its involvement in the Dougco case.

“When the Colorado Supreme Court’s opinion was announced in late June, we promised a careful, thorough and rigorous legal analysis to determine our next steps,” school board president Kevin Larsen said in a statement. “Today we announce that we will be seeking U.S. Supreme Court review of our case. To achieve that end, we have retained the very best legal minds in the country to make our argument that the June 29 opinion runs afoul of the United States Constitution.”

Mixed legal results on vouchers

Just about every program nationwide that uses public money to subsidize private education has been tested in court, with mixed results but the majority surviving, analysts say. Framers of the Dougco pilot program modeled it on an Ohio voucher program that weathered a U.S. Supreme Court challenge.

Legal experts disagree on whether the nation’s highest court will take the Douglas County case. Some say it’s unlikely the court would wade into a case brought solely on a state constitutional matter. Others argue the anti-Catholic roots of Colorado’s law – similar to those in more than 35 other states – and other issues make it a strong candidate and could plow new ground beyond traditional arguments over the First Amendment.

The district has signaled it will argue that prejudiced history taints the law enough that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Opponents of the voucher program point to precedent holding that state courts can interpret their own constitutions to recognize broader rights than what might be afforded under the U.S. Constitution.

The involvement of Clement — who as U.S. solicitor general from 2005 to 2008 represented the federal government in U.S. Supreme Court arguments — is another wrinkle.

Larsen said Clement will be supported by a “dream team” of lawyers involved in the state court proceedings and scholars from “the highest ranking law schools in America.”

Alan Chen, a constitutional law expert at the University of Denver’s Strum College of Law, said Wednesday he does not believe the Colorado Attorney General’s Office involvement will factor in whether the court takes the case. While crediting Clement’s stature and experience, Chen said he remains skeptical the court will grant the review because the case is built entirely on state constitutional law.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, which represented most of the individual plaintiffs, noted that the Attorney General’s office has been involved from the beginning. The State Board of Education was one of the defendants and was represented by the AG’s office.

Silverstein said he “wants to see what they write and how they frame the issue” in the petition to the Supreme Court before commenting further.

An unorthodox voucher program

The Dougco voucher case has endured a long and bumpy road. The district established the Choice Scholarship Program in 2011 after a conservative takeover of the school board, reasoning that competition can lift all schools even in a district consistently ranked as one of the state’s top academic achievers.

While most voucher programs are restricted to low-income students or those with special needs, Douglas County invited all families to apply — although the program was limited to 500 slots. Sixteen of the 23 participating private schools were religious; 14 were outside the county.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaHighlands Ranch High School science teacher Bob MacArthur leads a class discussion May 16 on propaganda art. His ninth grade science class was asked to design a propaganda poster in support of an energy source they have been studying.

In 2011, the first 304 students were about to enroll when a lawsuit brought it to a halt. Voucher opponents prevailed in Denver District Court. But in 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the program’s constitutionality in a 2-1 vote, setting the stage for state Supreme Court arguments.

In the prevailing opinion, Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Rice cited Colorado’s “stark constitutional provision” forbidding the use of public money to fund religious schools. Although the money came in the form of financial aid to students, the prohibition is not limited to direct funding, she wrote.

School board member Craig Richardson said in an interview the decision to continue the legal fight is consistent with the district’s “broader strategic vision of freedom.” That, he said, includes empowering parents to choose their children’s schools and extends to the district’s teacher pay-for-performance system.

“The district is proceeding because it’s good for the Douglas County School District to proceed,” Richardson said.

District looking at proceeding with secular schools

He said the district has yet to complete a separate legal review of whether it can move ahead with the voucher program with changes. The district previously floated the possibility of revamping the program as early as this fall, but ran out of time before the school year began.

One question the district is evaluating, Richardson said, is whether moving forward only with secular private schools would meet the legal parameters of the state Supreme Court ruling. Given that most students chose to enroll in religious schools, it’s unclear how much appeal that would hold.

The decision to petition the high court – and assemble the high-powered legal team — also will send legal costs soaring beyond the $1.2 million the district already has reported. District officials say private donations have covered all costs.

“We continue to have as our goal that all legal costs associated with this case will be funded with the generous contributions of private donors who similarly believe in choice and competition in K-12 education and are not affiliated with any religious institutions,” Richardson said. “We strongly believe this is not a cause to which we want to put taxpayer dollars.”

The district faces a deadline at the end of September to ask for a U.S. Supreme Court review. Richardson said the district plans to ask for a month’s extension to file but will move forward even if that is denied.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Weld students get a boost for college

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/02/2015 - 09:45
College costs

Nearly every Weld County resident who wants to pursue higher education will have $3,000 waiting for them in 2016 — and every year after that, thanks to a new program. Greeley Tribune, 9News

Election season

The conservative majority on Jeffco’s school board defended its record at a candidate forum, while the slate of candidates vying to oust them played hooky. Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado

Eight candidates are running for three seats on the Pueblo 60 school board. Chieftain

A second candidate has joined the race in one Durango board district, while another seat is uncontested. Durango Herald

Four open seats on the Summit County school board are being sought by five candidates. Summit Daily

The race for the Moffat County school board is packed, with eight candidates vying for four seats. Craig Daily Press

Paycheck boost

The Adams 12-Five Star district is raising teacher salaries again this school year. Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel

The Denver school district is setting a new $12 minimum hourly wage for district employees. AP via Denver Post

Turnarounds are tough

An education advocate and principal are interviewed about how to turn around low-performing schools. CPR

High school for all

McLain Community High School in Lakewood allows adults of any age to earn their diplomas. 9News

Training teachers

An infusion of $1.2 million in federal scholarship money will help more Colorado College students who aspire to become teachers study techniques in local schools with high amounts of low-income students. Gazette

Testing

Results for some of the states that participated in Common Core-aligned testing for the first time this spring are out, with overall scores higher than expected though still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing. AP

Unintended consequences

A new study argues that residents in many Colorado school districts pay higher property taxes than they would have if the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights hadn’t been passed. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

Passage of Denver’s tax-funded scholarship program would be an investment in the city’s students and economy, writes business leader Barbara Grogan. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Study: TABOR actually has increased taxes for many Coloradans

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/01/2015 - 21:30

A new paper by three Colorado State University researchers argues that residents in many Colorado school districts pay higher property taxes than they would have if the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights hadn’t been passed.

The study provides details for what many Colorado educators and policymakers have long observed – a shift of school funding responsibility from districts to the state and widened funding gaps between richer districts and poorer districts.

“Property taxes in Colorado have become more unequal and less progressive, and somewhat improbably 81 percent of the state’s population is paying more in property tax than if TABOR had not passed and begun distorting school funding,” the study concludes.

“Taxpayers in 74 of the state’s 178 school districts currently pay more in school property taxes than they would if TABOR was never enacted. These 74 districts contain 81 percent of the state’s population,” the report said.

Passed by a statewide vote in 1992, TABOR is best known for its requirement that state and local tax rate increases have to be approved by voters. But it also contains a complex set of provisions that put limits on both government spending and revenue collection, requirements that have created challenges for governments across the state.

The study focuses on one element of TABOR, a requirement that school district mill levies – the tax rate on real estate – be reduced under certain circumstances. In districts where the tax rate is driven down, the state share of school funding automatically increases under the formula in state school finance law.

“In essence, since most of the larger districts in Colorado were not the ones whose levies were driven down by TABOR, the 81 percent of the state’s population living in these districts were left subsidizing low levies in a subset of the state’s smaller districts whose levies were driven down,” the report said.

Learn more

“As a result, local property tax rates and burdens plummeted in those [smaller] districts resulting in a reduced reliance on the local property tax and an increased one on state aid. In effect, for these districts, TABOR transferred the burden of funding schools from the local residents to all Coloradans who pay state taxes,” the report continued. “Colorado taxpayers are subsidizing extremely low levies in a small sample of districts, many of which are quite wealthy.”

The study also argues that TABOR has made property taxes more regressive, meaning that lower-income taxpayers pay a higher percentage of their income in property taxes than do higher-income citizens.

And the report also notes that disparities between districts have increased because larger, wealthier districts have an easier time gaining voter approval of mill levy overrides. Those are local property tax increases that provide additional revenue on top of the funding provided through the state school finance formula.

“The use of overrides may be resulting in wealth related spending disparities in public school finance across Colorado,” the report said.

The paper was written with the support of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a foundation that supports research on land policy and land-related tax issues. It was published on the institute’s website.

The authors are economist Phyllis Resnick and Charles Brown and Deborah Godshall of the CSU Colorado Futures Center, a Colorado think tank that originated at the University of Denver but now is part of CSU. Brown and Godshall are former senior legislative staff members with expertise in the state budget and school finance.

The center issued major studies in 2011 and 2013 detailing the gap between revenues and mandated spending Colorado faces in the future. Read about the 2011 study here and see this story about the 2013 update.

A group of civic leaders called Building a Better Colorado is studying possible changes to fiscal provisions and other parts of the state constitution, but no specific proposals have been developed.

Talk about funding inequities among districts starting to bubble at the Capitol during the 2015 legislative session, and the issue is expected to surface again in 2016.

Categories: Urban School News

Julie Williams owned the AP History controversy and four other takeaways from the first Jeffco school board forum

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/01/2015 - 19:57

LAKEWOOD — Jefferson County voters got their first glimpse Monday at most of the candidates either running for or defending their seats on the school board.

Nine of the 12 declared candidates and incumbents met at a forum hosted by Colorado Christian University, giving voters a taste of what’s to come in a race that already has drawn national attention to a county known as a political bellwether.

In regular times, two of the five seats on the school board would be up for election.

But barring an unexpected development, voters also will be asked to recall the other three school board members that comprise the conservative majority — Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — and replace them with new faces.

That puts all five seats on the board in play. And it created a lively discussion at the private Christian university’s forum.

Here are Chalkbeat’s five takeaways from the evening:

The missing slate was the elephant in the room.

A few days after the Jefferson County clerk announced the recall campaign had supplied enough signatures to send the question to the voters, a group of three Jeffco residents backed by an anonymous group of parents announced their intention to replace the board majority.

That slate of candidates, however, did not attend the university’s forum. John Andrews, the forum’s host, a former state lawmaker and leader in Colorado’s conservative community, was a good sport about it. While he reminded the audience more than a few times that the slate turned down his invitation, he also encouraged audience members to do their own research on the candidates.

“To me, they missed an opportunity to demonstrate good faith of putting their goals and agenda in front of a large and engaged audience of Jefferson County voters and to submit to some give and take with people who want the same job they want,” Andrews told Chalkbeat.

Other supporters of the recall targets suggested the slate’s absence was evidence that the candidates would snub conservatives in favor of the teachers union.

When asked why he was unable to attend, candidate Brad Rupert said in an email he had a previous engagement.

Candidates Ron Mitchell and Susan Harmon did not respond to requests for comment.

What we’ll be watching next: The next forum is Sept. 12. Will the slate participate?

Julie Williams was more confident than ever and she owned the AP U.S. history controversy.

Conventional wisdom says school board member Julie Williams faces the toughest challenge keeping her seat this fall. Her name is linked with the most public controversy the board has weathered.

But you wouldn’t have known that Monday night. Williams, in a friendly environment, was poised and confident. And she received some of the loudest applause of the evening.

Last fall, Williams made headlines with a request to review the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum to ensure materials were patriotic. Her proposal, which mirrored another in Texas, sent thousands of Jeffco high schoolers to the streets in protest. Williams’s proposal eventually evolved into a rewrite of the district’s curriculum review process. No review of the history class was ordered.

This summer, the organization responsible for establishing the class’s framework and corresponding test issued new guidance that addressed conservatives’ concerns. The group added a section about American exceptionalism and filled in chunks of history Williams and others said needed to be explicitly addressed.

“I was right on AP U.S. History!” Williams said at the forum.

What we’ll be watching for next: How will Williams’s defense of her AP History position play in less friendly settings?

The fault lines on some hot topics like testing are fuzzy.

In an attempt to provide the audience with a snapshot of views on some of the hottest education policy debates in Jeffco and the nation, moderator Andrews asked a series of “yes” or “no” questions.

The candidates also could have answered “pass” if they thought the question was too complex to answer that way.

There were a few shockers:

Candidate Ali Lasell, who has been critical of the board majority’s record, said she supported their efforts for putting charter schools on the same financial footing as district-run schools. Williams broke rank with Witt and Newkirk when she said she didn’t support free full-day kindergarten for students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch. And Witt said he he would support vouchers for private schools as a parent, but not as board president of a public school system.

Not every topic drew sharp choices for voters.

Take the PARCC tests. Every candidate and incumbent except Amanda Stevens said they wanted Colorado to withdraw completely or partially from the multi-state testing partnership.

And every candidate and incumbent except Lasell approved of student-based budgeting, which allocates dollars to schools based on the number of students and their needs, and gives schools discretion on how to spend the money. Lasell said she wouldn’t form an opinion until after a year of using it.

What we’ll be watching for next: How do the incumbents and candidates differentiate themselves on complex policy debates, especially when they mostly agree?

The non-slate successor candidates, Noonan and Dhieux, will bring an edge to the debate.

It would be easy for the recall election to become slate vs. slate. But candidate Paula Noonan — running to replace Witt — certainly isn’t going to let that happen.

Noonan took both the recall supporters and targets to task several times. At one point toward the end of the forum, moderator Andrews referred to Noonan affectionately as an “Irish terrier.”

Noonan isn’t the only candidate unconnected to a slate seeking to replace a recall target. Matthew Dhieux, who is running for Newkirk’s seat, earned the attention of the room when he plainly explained — while other candidates dodged — what he believed the recall election was about: local communities losing control of their classrooms to special interests.

What we’ll be watching for next: How do Noonan and Dhieux push both the incumbents and the successor slate in the next debate?

The regular school board election might actually be the more substantive races to watch.

While the recall election is getting all the attention, the more authentic conversations may take place between candidates in the regular school board races.

Take this exchange between Ali Lasell and Kim Johnson about the achievement gap …

Lasell: “What we need to address is full-day kindergarten for every student … Once we get there, we need to man up for preschool.”

Johnson: “There’s more than one solution to close the achievement gap, because there is more than one reason why it’s there.”

Neither Lasell nor Johnson have run for office before. That’s true for Amanda Stevens as well. And Tori Merritts is a stranger to a political campaign in the age of Twitter; her last campaign for Jeffco’s school board was in 1999.

It’s clear that Witt, Newkirk and Williams have their talking points down. And it’s safe to assume the successor slate will bring messaging that echoes the recall campaign’s themes. As true with most campaigns, the incumbents and candidates will strive for fewer and fewer surprises.

So enjoy the fresh debate amongst the novices while you still can.

What we’ll be watching for next: Whose experience will resonate with voters more: Stevens’s experience in the classroom or Merritts’s experience on the board?

Update: This article has been updated to include the host of the event’s first name, John. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver principal explains how he’s improving his school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/01/2015 - 09:50
Turnaround Talks

"We hear all the time that there's not a silver bullet out there — that we don't know how to turn around the schools that have been struggling academically for years. I actually think we do have a very clear road map." – Zachary Rahn, principal Ashley Elementary School CPR

Election 2015

A last minute challenger has stepped in to take on Denver school board president Happy Haynes. That means all three seats up for election will be contested. Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

But only two of the four open Boulder Valley School District seats will be contested in November. Daily Camera

labor day

The Thompson school board will discuss repealing all policies that recognize the Thompson Education Association as the exclusive bargaining agent and representative of the teachers and revising policies on disciplinary decisions for teachers. Reporter-Herald

Aurora's school board will decide whether Superintendent Rico Munn may pay teachers at one elementary school more money in an effort to reduce teacher churn. Chalkbeat Colorado

Career readiness

A new state-of-the-art Colorado Springs welding training center is in high demand. Gazette

safe schools

The Colorado State Patrol is ramping up patrols in one part of Grand Junction where a student was injured in a hit-and-run. KJCT

Resignation

A board that oversees New Mexico’s largest school district unanimously voted Monday to accept the resignation of its embattled superintendent, who hired an administrator charged with child sex abuse in Colorado. AP via SFGate

Honor Roll

Longtime Glenwood Springs High School science teacher Scott Nykerk is among 42 Colorado teachers honored for the impact they have had on some of Colorado’s top students. Post-Independent

Higher ed

The National Retail Federation estimates that families will spend $43 billion on supplies for college-going students. NPR via KUNC

An unknown person wrote about the sexual assault of sorority members on several chalk advertisements for the University of Colorado's Greek Life programs on campus Monday. Denver Post

The University of Denver is violating federal law by paying female law professors less than their male counterparts, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora’s school board will decide whether teachers at one school can be paid more than others

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/31/2015 - 19:36

AURORA — Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn wants to give teachers at an academically struggling elementary school more money for sticking around.

Paris Elementary School, which is just north of Colfax Avenue in the Original Aurora neighborhood, has suffered some of the district’s highest teacher churn rates during the last five years.

Staff and district leaders believe this is one reason students — who are mostly Latino and black, and come from low-income homes — are earning poor marks on the state’s standardized tests.

As part of a package of school improvement efforts, Munn told teachers last spring they’d receive a stipend — half then, half in the fall — if they were rated effective and returned to Paris for the 2015-2016 school year.

Of 28 teachers at the school, 20 qualified for the incentive by earning effective ratings and returning this year, a district spokeswoman said. Each of them would receive about an extra $1,000 under the plan.

The Aurora Education Association, however, says Munn doesn’t have the authority to pay teachers any amount other than what is specified in the district’s collective bargaining contract. The union filed a formal grievance. An arbitrator agreed with the union in July, but the decision ultimately rests with the school board.

The board is expected to decide Tuesday at its meeting whether the district may move forward with the plan.

In taking up the issue, the school board will do more than decide whether Munn can give teachers retention bonuses. The board also will wrestle with two questions that have vexed policymakers and school districts across the nation: Should teachers be paid more if they are in hard-to-staff schools and should teacher pay be tied to evaluations?

Munn believes he has the authority to pay teachers at Paris more because the district-union contract describes the salary schedule as the “minimum” teachers must be paid.

“I looked at our agreement and under the agreement, in my mind, it was a settled issue,” Munn said. “There’s a whole sort of issues we know we need to bargain. For the things not in the bucket we move ahead. … We’re not trying to go around anybody or go around the agreement. None of this was meant to be an end run around the union.”

Even though the union opposes the plan, it wants to see teachers at Paris receive the stipends they were promised. But before any other promises are made, the district and union must negotiate, said Amy Nichols, the union’s president.

“Very simply, the matter is to us that salaries cannot be unilaterally increased for one group of teachers,” Nichols said. “It has to be negotiated. We would be interested in having this conversation while we have a task force that comprehensively looks at the issue — not just at Paris, but across the district.”

Munn said the Paris Retention Initiative — the district’s name for the bonus pay plan — is a specific solution for a specific problem.

“We don’t have the same issue or same circumstance anywhere else,” Munn said.

In 2012, three out of every 10 teachers decided to leave Paris. In 2013, more than one-third of teachers moved to another school or left the profession. And last school year, more than half the staff was new. In a drastic reversal, this school year nearly three-quarters of the staff returned.

The district has proposed creating a broader system for hard-to-fill positions in district schools. But that has been put on hold, Munn said.

Research has shown that paying teachers more money to stay at schools with difficult working conditions largely hasn’t worked.

“These types of incremental bonuses or raises are not sufficient,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which tracks issues such as teacher pay. “They’re a well-meaning gesture. But they’re not effective.”

Nichols said other issues contribute to a teacher’s decision to leave the classroom.

“Money is nice, money is great,” Nichols said. “But the retention issue is deeper than pay. It’s about having a leader in the building, having a team teacher working together, about feeling supported, and having the resources to meet the needs of the students in their building.”

Munn agrees.

“I would say nobody, including myself, believes increasing pay by itself is effective,” he said. “It’s in combination with other things you’re doing.”

Other efforts at Paris include a new principal and assistant principal, and more teacher training. The district is also considering including Paris in an effort to free schools from some local and state red-tape.

“I think [the stipend] is probably going to prove an added expense for the district that isn’t going to pay off in higher retention,” Walsh said. “The other things they’re doing there is going to be a larger factor.”

The total for the stipends is about $40,000, according to district documents.

Chalkbeat Colorado made more than a dozen interview requests in person and electronically with teachers at Paris.

Only one, who asked to be identified only as K.C., agreed to speak briefly after school Friday.

“I think we should pay teachers like we pay baseball players,” he said. “If they’re good, pay them more.”

Munn stressed the Paris retention program is not a step toward creating a pay-for-performance model in Aurora.

The state’s three largest school systems — Denver, Jefferson County and Douglas County — all have some variation of a pay-for-performance model. The Harrison School District near Colorado Springs is also considered a national pioneer for linking teacher pay to evaluation ratings.

And under Colorado law, this is the first school year that teachers could lose their non-probationary status if they receive low back-to-back ratings.

But national research on whether linking pay to student outcomes is an effective strategy for better test scores remains mixed.

“If you give teachers more money, they’ll work harder than they already are: That is a false premise,” Nichols said. “Teachers are always working hard — harder than they ever have. What we need to do is pay teachers well to begin with.”

Categories: Urban School News

Last-minute challenger emerges to take on DPS board chair in November

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/31/2015 - 18:52

The field for November’s Denver school board election is all set — and it includes a final-hour challenger for board chairwoman Happy Haynes’s at-large seat.

Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent critical of Denver Public Schools’ embrace of charter schools, overtesting and what he calls a “rubber stamp” board, will take on Haynes, a former Denver City Council member, DPS administrator and consultant who has championed the district’s reforms.

Although Speth lacks citywide name recognition, his entry into the race means all three seats up for grabs pit those viewed as supporters of the administration against critics, giving voters clear-cut choices.

The election will not swing the balance of the board, however, even if the three upstarts prevail.

Six of the current seven board members largely back Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s agenda, which includes closing low-performing schools, holding teachers accountable and developing a “portfolio” of traditional district schools, charter schools and district-run innovation schools with many of the hallmarks of charters.

Candidates needed to file 50 valid petition signatures by Friday to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot. Signatures from all six announced candidates have been deemed sufficient, a Denver Elections Division spokesman said Monday afternoon.

The other board seats at stake in the election are in northwest Denver’s District 5 and southeast Denver’s District 1 (more on the candidates and their positions below).

On his just-launched campaign website, Speth describes himself as employed in the telecommunications industry, the father of two students at Valdez Elementary and an active fundraiser in the campaign to renovate that school and press for similar fixes at others.

“I’ve seen a repeated pattern of DPS implementing changes that communities do not want,” Speth says on his webpage. “The school board has simply been a rubber stamp, approving every single DPS recommendation since 2013, often with no serious debate. This has left many communities frustrated and distrustful, and has led me to the conclusion that I must step forward to try and bring the often ignored community voice and perspective to the board.”

Speth declined to discuss his campaign in detail last week and could not be immediately reached for comment Monday. He will kick off his campaign with an event Thursday.

Asked about her opponent, Haynes said Monday: “I can’t speak to what he is saying or says, because I haven’t heard him. I am really focused on the goals that we have set out in the Denver Plan 2020,” the district’s blueprint for lifting student achievement.

“We have set out some ambitious goals,” Haynes said. “We’re going to be focused on the work it takes to get to those goals. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Haynes said her campaign priorities also include investment in early childhood initiatives and providing more equitable access to schools and opportunities for all students.

Another would-be at-large candidate, retired educator Glenn Hanley, filed city and state paperwork expressing his intent to run but did not turn in the required signatures, officials said.

The campaigns for the other disputed seats, meantime, have been humming along for weeks.

The most wide-open race is in northwest Denver’s District 5, where the sole consistent critic of the Boasberg administration, Arturo Jimenez, is leaving because of term limits.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, faces Michael Kiley, a project manager for a software company. Kiley ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat in 2013.

Flores is running on a platform of giving more attention to students with special needs, and improving the recruitment, training and retention of top school leaders, among other issues.

Kiley has questioned some district proposals and DPS’s commitment to community engagement. He says that he wants a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

In southeast Denver’s District 1, incumbent Anne Rowe faces Kristi Butkovich, executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

Rowe has said she plans to focus on seeing through a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020. Rowe cites as achievements a new policy that determines where schools should be placed and another sweeping plan that gives principals more control over their curriculum and other matters.

Butkovich has said too many DPS decisions are made without community input, criticizing the district for taking a “top-down approach” and supporting the “privatization” of education. She has pledged to take on the problem of teacher turnover.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New Aurora Central principal heads turnaround effort

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/31/2015 - 10:10
Aurora turnaround

A fixture in northwest Aurora for about a decade, Geraldo De La Garza was the logical choice, officials say, to be the transitional principal to lead troubled Aurora Central High School as it prepares to embark on massive changes to solve the problem of poor student achievement. Denver Post

District divide

Brighton’s proposed $248 million bond issue could divide district voters along geographical lines. 9News

Locked and loaded

If Colorado lawmakers ever decide to let educators carry concealed firearms in elementary and secondary schools, Pikes Peak area teachers who’ve been taking free concealed-weapons classes will be ready. Gazette

A perfect 36

With six Advanced Placement classes under his belt and a passion to devour math equations, it's no wonder Jacob Ogden of Broomfield High School aced his ACT test. Daily Camera

No contest

Pueblo County District 70 likely won’t have to hold a school board election this fall because the two incumbents were the only candidates to return petitions for the positions. Chieftain

Strike up the band

For music teacher Amy Woodley, it was like Christmas in August to receive instruments for her students from Bringing Music to Life, a drive that asks people to donate old instruments to support schools. 9News

Job on the line

The board of New Mexico's largest school district is scheduled to decide the future of its embattled superintendent following the hiring of an administrator from Denver who is facing charges of child sex abuse. 7News Denver

Something new

The University of Northern Colorado will become the state’s only teacher training program to offer training leading to a state endorsement to teach Chinese. Greeley Tribune

Funding boost

Colorado Mountain College administrators learned recently that their previous $2.2 million Student Support Services federal grant has been expanded to $4.3 million over the next five years. Up to 520 students will be able to benefit from an array of program offerings. Vail Daily

new leader

New Aims Community College President Leah Bornstein is coordinating millions of dollars in construction projects taking place across the college's campuses in northern Colorado. Greeley Tribune

Student health

Despite recent controversy over the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, most districts will continue to participate. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

Editorial page editor Vincent Carroll has some ideas about how Colorado can avoid a budget smashup. Denver Post

The days of flush state funding for higher education are gone, and public universities are slowly recognizing that they must do more than approach state legislatures each year with hats in hand, writes CU President Bruce Benson. Wall Street Journal

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why Chicago parents are on a hunger strike to get their school revamped

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 19:17

School closures, past and present

  • A group of Chicago parents are nearly two weeks into a hunger strike to get the city to revamp their scheduled-to-be-closed school. (DNAinfo)
  • A mother explains the personal history with school closure that led her to join the strike. (Catalyst)
  • And a researcher studying the school’s neighborhood who previously worked in a school that closed shares her perspective. (Seven Scribes)
  • A meditation on the closure of Jamaica High School in New York City and the history, policy, and poverty that got us there. (New Yorker)
  • Here’s what protest against the plan to close Jamaica looked like in 2009. (Chalkbeat)
  • An advocate for overhauling struggling schools says his allies would do well to acknowledge why communities oppose closure. (Justin Cohen)

Ten years after Katrina

  • This week was the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that led to a radical restructuring of schools in New Orleans.
  • A suite of stories recalls the storm’s impact on New Orleans schools, from the explosion of choice to the disappearance of black woman teachers and beyond. (Education Week)
  • While outsiders masterminded much of what unfolded in New Orleans, local educators and advocates played a crucial role. (Andrew Rotherham)
  • A journalist who covered the changes in New Orleans recalls moments when she could see the winners and losers clearly. (Schooled)
  • An advocate who helped create many of the city’s new schools says the overhaul’s benefits to local students are clear but the idea of replicating it elsewhere is not. (Relinquishment)
  • Preschool hasn’t seen needed changes since the storm, according to an early education advocate. (Ahead of the Heard)
  • Here’s a roundup of the best reporting on the storm’s education impact from across the country. (L.A. Times)

What Americans really think about testing

  • Two polls out this week find that Americans either really support testing or really don’t. (NPR)
  • The poll commissioned by a publication that supports testing and accountability policies found wide support. (Education Next)
  • The poll commissioned by a large association of educators, who tend to be wary of testing, found the opposite. (Phi Delta Kappan)
  • Why the disparate findings? One analyst says it’s all in the questions. (Education Post)
  • Here’s what the polls said about other education issues, including the Common Core and charter schools. (The Atlantic)

Back to school

  • Know any ninth-graders feeling jitters about starting high school? Some older-by-a-year girls have advice for them. (Rookie)
  • “It’s not because of the kids,” says a New York City teacher who’s not returning to the classroom after six years. “It’s just everything else.” (Yo Mista!)
  • Come along for a ride as Tennessee educators start their school year by visiting students at home, a practice that can have long-lasting effects on parent involvement. (NPR)
  • An Iowa school district welcomed educators back to class with an education jargon-rich parody of “One Day More” from Les Miz. (WGN)

In other interesting news

  • A new study found that paying parents to help their children with homework produced few academic results. (BloombergView)
  • Rupert Murdoch wants to unload Amplify, the once-hyped ed tech company that former New York City schools chief Joel Klein started. Here are two looks at what went wrong. (BuzzfeedEdWeek)
  • A tiny, mighty Christian lobbying group has successfully blocked states from even minor oversight of homeschooling. (ProPublica)
  • That teacher shortage that doesn’t exist in New York City? It probably doesn’t exist in Indiana, either. (Chalkbeat)
  • In Boston, more homeschoolers are secular, educated, and aiming to insulate their children from school’s dulling effects. (Boston Magazine)
  • How many more children are living in poverty than there were a decade ago? A lot, and this map shows where they are. (Huffington Post)
  • An educator of color pushes back against the call to ally the Black Lives Matter movement with public education protest. (Jose Vilson)
  • A New York City teacher reflects on losing a former student whose death came after a police encounter. (The Atlantic)
  • Two Massachusetts fourth-graders pulled a Chalkbeat and achieved impact with their article on sex-segregated lunchtime. (Good Morning America)
  • The 2012 Chicago teachers strike had many ripple effects. The latest one is an erotic novel. (Teaching Now)
Categories: Urban School News

Most districts still opt to participate in health survey that sparked state board uproar

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 10:00

Despite last spring’s flap over a student health survey given to Colorado’s middle and high school students, most districts will continue to participate—with several stepping up efforts to give parents more advance notice and detail about the survey.

Of 110 districts invited to give the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey as part of a random statewide sample this fall, 83 have agreed so far, said an official from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, which contracts with the state to oversee the biennial survey.

That number may rise in the next few weeks because not all districts have made their final decisions.

“In reflecting on the controversy, we were very concerned that we would be dead in the water with our recruitment efforts,” said Ashley Brooks-Russell, program director of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and assistant professor in the university’s Colorado School of Public Health.

But that hasn’t been the case, she said. While some districts have dropped off, many are continuing to participate and some new ones have joined the effort.

Four of the state’s six largest districts — including Denver, Jeffco, Cherry Creek and Adams 12 — told Chalkbeat that they plan to take part. A spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District, which did participate in the survey in 2013, said its schools won’t participate this year because the survey is invasive and takes away instructional time. A spokesperson for Aurora Public Schools said a decision is pending.

2015 participation…so far
Of the 110 districts asked to participate in the survey as part of the state sample, here’s how many have said yes so far:

  • Districts: 83
  • Schools: 119

Districts and schools that were not selected as part of the state sample can also participate. Here’s how many have opted in:

  • Districts: 7
  • Schools: 58

The survey, which state officials emphasize is anonymous and voluntary, became the focus of a protracted debate by the State Board of Education and dueling opinions from the state attorney general’s office last spring after some parents raised concerns about the explicit nature of questions on sexual behavior, drugs and suicide.

In addition, many critics argued that parents should have to give advance written permission—called active consent—in order for their children to take the survey. Over the survey’s 24-year history, most districts have chosen “passive consent,” which means students are asked to take the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

Ultimately, neither the state board nor State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who issued an official opinion on the matter in April, mandated substantive changes to the survey or consent rules.

Brooks-Russell said a number of questions have changed on this fall’s survey, but not because of the controversy last spring.

“No questions were eliminated due to those debates,” she said.

Instead, the deletions or additions (listed at the end of this story) were made after stakeholder discussions about what was most important to know about youth demographics and health behaviors.

For example, new this year on the high school survey will be questions about whether students consider themselves transgender, and about marijuana and prescription drug use. Gone are several questions each about students’ perceptions of marijuana, their exposure to tobacco, alcohol and drug advertising and their enjoyment of school. Such deletions don’t necessarily mean the survey asks nothing about these topics, but that those sections have been slimmed down.

Both the middle and high school surveys now include a question asking students about their mothers’ highest level of schooling—one proxy for socioeconomic status.

Passive consent still wins the day

The trend of passive consent will continue this fall, with only three of the 82 state-sample districts opting for advance written permission from parents, according to Brooks-Russell.

One of them is Jeffco, officials there said.

The district, where a conservative school board majority currently wields power and student data privacy has been a hot topic in recent years, did not participate in the survey in 2013.

Many survey proponents favor passive consent because it yields higher participation rates and more representative data about the adolescent population.

Scott Romero, school health coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said, “If it did go to active opt-in consent, the numbers and usefulness just wouldn’t be there.”

Although most districts will continue with passive consent this year, Brooks-Russell said schools will be required to ensure that parents get notification forms — which offer the choice of opting out — a full two weeks before the survey is administered. She said the university will monitor districts to ensure compliance.

Survey history 
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names since 1991. The last version given in 2013 folded together multiple health surveys that were previously given separately. Along with questions from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it included additional Colorado-specific questions. Also new in 2013 was a much larger sample size—more than 40,000 middle and high school students, compared to 2,500 previously.

Administrators in multiple districts also said they will make extra efforts this year to make sure parental notification is consistent and transparent.

For example, Karina Delaney, whole child initiatives coordinator in Adams 12, said in addition to sending passive consent forms home to families, the district and the seven participating schools will post detailed information about the survey on their websites.

The goal, she said, is “making sure we, in many ways, are making parents very aware that it’s voluntary.”

In Denver, Romero said parents will receive the passive consent form two to three weeks before the survey is given, will be informed that they can review the survey questions and will be given Brooks-Russell’s phone number in case they have concerns.

Mining data

After months of uncertainty last spring about whether the state board would try to mandate active consent, or otherwise curtail the survey, many school health leaders are now breathing a cautiously optimistic sigh of relief.

They say the survey data, which covers everything from nutrition to risky behaviors, is crucial in tracking trends and crafting appropriate interventions when trouble spots arise.

Romero said in Denver, where up to 60 schools will participate in the survey this fall, principals receive one-page reports that focus on survey indicators they have the ability to address relatively quickly.

For example, one school’s report might show that few students are eating breakfast and provide relevant contact information for district nutrition staff.

“With one call they could change the face of how breakfast is served,” Romero said. “It can be done pretty simply.”

Like her counterparts in other large districts, Jeffco’s Healthy Schools Coordinator Emily O’Winter, said the survey data helps educators attend to the whole child.

“We need to understand all the issues facing our students…including health,” she said.

One example of particular import in Colorado is marijuana, which was legalized for recreational sales in 2014.

“We’ve had parents express concern … about how the new laws are impacting our students,” O’Winter said. “So it will be interesting to see statewide if there’s an impact and how to respond.”

Brooks-Russell said if survey participation rates are high enough this year, Colorado’s data will be included in state-by-state comparisons compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s an “opportunity to look at a recreational marijuana state before and after [legalization],” she said.

Many district health coordinators, including Delaney, also say the survey data helps secure health-related grants. Adams 12 has won nearly $900,000 in grants for physical activity and school wellness over the last four years.

“Without Healthy Kids Colorado…we wouldn’t know how to report out how our kids are even doing,” she said.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Thompson contract dispute gets it day in court

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/28/2015 - 09:23
contract dispute

A judge weighed testimony Thursday in the Thompson Education Association's civil case accusing the school board of breach of contract in union negotiations. Reporter-Herald

labor day

After months of work against a tension-filled backdrop, the Jeffco school board and union found common ground on a new-look, shorter-term contract. Arvada Press, Denver Post, Chalkbeat Colorado

kids at risk

Bleak statistics about youth suicide and a lack of school counselors marked the second meeting of the state’s School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee. Denver Post

parking violations

In Colorado Springs, police empower Academy School District 20 security staff to ticket vehicles in an effort to stamp out illegal parking around schools. Gazette

security measures

Three schools in Harrison School District 2 have received grants for district security updates. Gazette

pedal power

The League of American Bicyclists has designated the St. Vrain Valley School District as a bicycle-friendly business, lauding its bikeshare program and other efforts. Times-Call

top honors

College-level courses are the calling card at a recently opened Fort Collins charter school recognized by Newsweek as Colorado's top high school. 9News

building reborn

Denver’s Johnson & Wales University has reopened the long-dormant Centennial Hall building as part of a $32 million renovation. Denver Business Journal via 9News

changing places

Longmont's Brandon Shaffer is leaving his post on the State Board of Parole to join the St. Vrain Valley School District. Daily Camera

choice and consequences

Colorado's recent state Supreme Court decision on school vouchers looms over a lawsuit involving a Nevada program similarly tapping taxpayer money for private education. Reno Gazette-Journal

a question of authority

The Denver Post editorializes that a court challenge that grew out of broken contract negotiations in the Thompson district seeks to undermine the authority of an elected board. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board OKs 10-month teacher contract; union leader tells members to ‘get to work’ on recall

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 20:44

GOLDEN — Given all the acrimony, some never thought this day would come.

The Jefferson County school board Thursday night unanimously approved an agreement with the teachers union that governs how educators are hired, fired and paid.

For nearly two years, critics have claimed ad nauseam that the school board majority’s only goal was to end the district’s relationship with the Jefferson County Education Association.

Majority members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk proved them wrong.

For now.

The contract, which is being championed by the majority’s conservative backers, runs just 10 months. The average teacher contract runs three years.

While the contract eliminates or weakens many union practices including seniority protections, it’s the duration of the contract that has teachers spooked. The end goal, to bust the union, is still the same, they believe.

“They want to be able to review the contract after one school year,” said Columbine High School teacher Paula Reed. “But we’ll start negotiations before school ends. If you really want to review something after a school year, you do that during the summer. To me it has nothing to do with how this all works out and everything to make sure the contract ends when it’s hard to organize teachers.”

It’s unclear what relationship the school board, district officials and union leaders will have moving forward. Especially with a nascent recall election.

Outside the board room, union president John Ford told members it was important they put the contract behind them and focus on changing the makeup of the school board.

“It’s a bad deal, we know it. We absolutely know it,” he said. “But we had to get rid of this distraction … We have to get to work. We have to get to work right now. We have a big lift in November.”

Meanwhile, Witt and his conservative colleagues thanked the negotiation teams.

“I want to thank the negotiating teams of the district and the JCEA for their hard work this spring to get an agreement that better supports the goals of having an effective teacher in every classroom, recognizing and rewarding our great teachers, and effectively and efficiently applying our limited resources to maximize student academic achievement,” Witt said before voting for the agreement. “This landmark rewrite of a 120-page agreement and reducing it to 41 pages brings with it, I’m sure, a period of change. We owe it to our students to carefully consider this year, where the spirit of this agreement is being met and where we may need room for revision.”

Other elements of the contract include policies that allow teams of teachers and school administrators to make decisions on issues like school calendars, training, and resources; the district’s pay-for-performance plan established last school year codified; and limits on class size.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Brighton school district puts $248 million bond on ballot

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/27/2015 - 09:55
Election 2015

The 27J School District will ask voters to pass a $248 million bond this fall, one year after a $148 million bond failed by 120 votes. Denver Post

A Pueblo County commissioner — and former state lawmaker — is proposing a ballot measure for a program to fund college scholarships from a new marijuana tax. Denver Post

Supporters of Jeffco school board members targeted for recall have spent thousands of dollars on television ads. CBS 4

Roaring Fork School District will pursue a $122 million bond issue for major building improvements, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night. Post-Independent

We have contract!

The Jeffco school board is expected to approve the county's teacher contract at its board meeting tonight. Denver Post, Arvada Press, ABC 7, Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

The former Denver school administrator, Timothy Martinez, who faces child sex abuse charges has been booked into a Denver jail a day after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Gazette

Here's Denver Public School's statement on Martinez's arrest. CBS4

Human Resources

Pueblo City Schools could hire up to 20 teachers from the Teach for America program during each of the next two school years for some of its hard-to-fill positions. Pueblo Chieftain

Teacher home visits are increasingly becoming a tool to spark parental involvement. NPR via KUNC

I believe I can fly

The Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum created a charter school to help kids turn their love of airplanes into a career in Colorado. 9News

simply the best

Colorado Early Colleges-Fort Collins has been ranked the top public school in Colorado and No. 66 in the country in Newsweek's 2015 high school rankings. Coloradoan (Fort Collins)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union members OK contract, school board to vote Thursday

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 18:25

Despite deep mistrust of the county’s school board, Jeffco Public Schools teachers approved a new contract that leaves behind chunks of outdated language and expires in an unusually short amount of time.

The 10-month contract was ratified by a majority of union members, the Jefferson County Education Association announced Wednesday. The union did not immediately disclose the vote count.

“Our priority is our students and our community,” John Ford, JCEA’s president, said in a statement. “This agreement is less than ideal for our students, our teachers, and our community, but we wanted everyone to have clear expectations for the school year. We appreciate that teachers have again stepped forward to stand up for all students.”

The next step rests in the hands of the conservative school board majority, which has signaled it will approve the contract Thursday evening at the board’s first meeting of the school year.

The agreement, which for the first time in decades was almost entirely rewritten, gives more freedom to principals and teachers to make decisions such as what training to provide staff. It also scales back some of the historic arrangements between the union and school district. For example, the school district will no longer automatically deduct union dues from teachers paychecks.

School districts funneling dues to teachers unions is a common critique amongst conservatives because they believe those dues are ultimately used against them politically.

The contract also contains eleventh-hour compromises on limiting classroom size and requires schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian.

It also codifies a pay-for-performance plan rolled out last school year.

But the most contentious feature of the contract, which almost derailed negotiations, is a June 30, 2016, expiration date.

Contracts between the union and school district most recently lasted four years and expired in August. However, school officials on the bargaining team said it was important to align the contract with the district’s fiscal year that ends June 30. The district also want the ability to renegotiate the entire contract given its newness.

There is some precedence for a shorter contract. In the 1970s, the contract would run a calendar year. But the average teacher contract in the U.S. runs for three years.

Before voting opened Friday, teachers pointed out that the district and classified employees union reached a two-year agreement and that Superintendent Dan McMinimee was given a three-year contract when he was hired in 2014. Critics of the 10-month term also complained that rewriting the contract took half that long and said it would be a waste of resources to begin the process all over again in less than a year.

Relations between the union and the district have been tense since the school board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk — won their seats in 2013. Some observers have predicted the three would follow Douglas County’s school board’s lead and not renew a contract with the teachers union.

Those fears, in part, are fueling a recall election this fall.

“I feel like the 10-month agreement is just an attempt to set teachers up to face an ultimatum next summer: ‘Accept whatever terms we offer, or leave,’” Erin Murphy, a teacher at Alameda International High School, said in an email to Chalkbeat last week. “This kind of disrespectful treatment is going to push even more teachers out of Jeffco.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teacher contract stalemate continues in Greeley

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/26/2015 - 09:48
Contract wrangling

The Greeley school board wouldn’t budge on the district’s budget at its latest meeting, despite hearing that contract negotiations with the teachers union were at a standstill without a larger raise offer. Greeley Tribune

Controversy round 2

The Poudre School District has denied the Fossil Ridge High School football team’s compromise plan to memorialize fallen members of the U.S. armed forces. Coloradoan

Eat on the run

The split schedules forced by a lack of space have left some Brighton district high school students without designated lunch hours. They’re allowed to grab food from the cafeteria and eat in class. 9News

Education research

A nationally representative study of siblings supports previously published research on unrelated individuals that links specific genotypes to educational attainment among adults in their mid-20s to early 30s. CU News Center

Election season

It’s official — voters will be asked this November to support a $92 million bond measure for construction of a new high school and upgrades to buildings across the Steamboat Springs School District. Steamboat Today

Eight candidates have returned completed petitions to run for four seats on the Thompson board of education. Reporter-Herald

One of three candidates for the Greeley-Evans school board has been declared ineligible to run. Greeley Tribune

Ag ed

Middle schoolers in Pueblo are getting their hands dirty in a brand new certified agriculture program, which is one of the first of its kind in the state. KOAA

Borrowing an idea

The trend of co-working space in business is spreading to some metro-area schools. Denver Business Journal

Cyber safety

Digital security has become a major priority for the Douglas County School District. Castle Rock News-Press

Grad guidelines

The debate over what Colorado students should learn to graduate from high school is heating up again. KVNF Public Radio

Scholarship tax

The Denver City Council has placed a proposal on the November ballot that would raise sales taxes to help fund college scholarships. Colorado Independent, Chalkbeat Colorado

Recognition

A Colorado Springs high school teacher has been honored for his services to LGBT students. Chalkbeat Colorado

Crime beat

A Denver judge has revoked bail for a former school administrator who violated conditions of his bond in a child molestation case when he moved to New Mexico to take a top position at the Albuquerque school district. Denver Post

Categories: Urban School News

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