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Chalkbeat Colorado wins five regional journalism awards

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 17:57

Chalkbeat Colorado won three first place prizes in a regional journalism competition Friday including an award for its coverage of Denver’s struggling Manual High School.

Other top honors were awarded for an investigation into the email habits of the Jefferson County school board, and continuous coverage of education legislation during the 2014 Colorado General Assembly.

The education news nonprofit also won two third place awards in the Top of the Rockies, a regional journalism competition hosted by the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists, for its website and coverage of a controversial proposal to review an advanced U.S. history course in Jeffco.

Chalkbeat, which publishes only online, competed against newspapers with print distributions between 30,000 and 75,000. Those news organizations include the Colorado Spring Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, and the Boulder Weekly.

The Top of the Rockies honors news organizations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

Here’s the full list of awards Chalkbeat won:

  • First Place,  Enterprise Education Reporting: A promise unfilled at Manual High School, by Kate Schimel and Nicholas Garcia
  • First Place, Investigative Reporting: Witt’s missing emails point to possible flaws in Jeffco policy, state open records laws, by Nicholas Garcia
  • First Place, Political Reporting: Education at the ‘Leg 2014 (including this story), by Todd Engdahl
  • Third Place, General Education Reporting: #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory (including this story), by Nicholas Garcia
  • Third Place, overall website, staff

Other education stories from around Colorado to receive honors included Westword’s feature on how Denver Public Schools uses the mutual consent law and the Denver Business Journal’s look at Colorado’s higher education “paradox.”

Categories: Urban School News

Criminal records more likely than diplomas for Colorado foster youth

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 15:22

Tori Black, 25, “aged out” of Colorado’s foster care system seven years ago. Her story is one of survival, but also of perseverance and rare success. She didn’t soften the words of her struggle as she addressed the state Senate Finance Committee.

“The pathway from foster care to higher education is a cliff, and most of us are just completely falling off the cliff,” Black said, her voice rising, as she explained her view that the state is failing foster youth.

Black spent most of her childhood in foster care. Now a college graduate, she is an advocate for “youth in transition,” or kids who age out of the child welfare system at 18.

In taking testimony from Black and others on legislation that would impact foster care in the state, the senators heard about a system that many consider dysfunctional.

A Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis of data provided by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) revealed that only 28.7 percent of foster youth will graduate from high school on time, but at least 38 percent will have been incarcerated between ages 16 and 19.

By age 19, foster youth who were never placed in a permanent home are more likely to have a criminal record than a high school diploma.

Foster care outcomes are particularly bleak for Colorado minorities.

According to CDHS statistics, blacks are four times more likely than whites to enter the child welfare system, and Hispanics are nearly three times more likely than whites to spend time in out of home care.

“I was an eight-year-old kid,” Alfredo Carrillo, a former foster youth said. “I thought I should be home with my mom, not having other people tell me when I can sleep, when I can eat.”

Carrillo said that living in foster care and group homes boosted his chances of getting into trouble with the law, that his background has followed him into his adult life.

“I’m still looked at as a criminal,” Carrillo said. “Just because I have tattoos, the color of my skin and how I lived my life, back in the day.”

Carrillo, 21, said that he “started robbing houses” as a juvenile, but maintained that he has since avoided criminal activity. He currently lives just a few blocks from where he grew up, and was able to find housing through a program called Bridging the Gap at Mile High United Way. The program provides 18 months of housing vouchers for youth who age out of child welfare or the division of youth corrections.

This gave Carrillo the opportunity to escape the alternative, homelessness, he said, and has helped him to stay out of jail. He said that while he was in foster care he felt like he was being prepared for prison.

“They make you feel like, you’re one of the statistics, you’re going to the penitentiary,” Carrillo said. “So we’re gonna get you set up for the penitentiary.”

Nationwide, former foster youth and young adults are more than 10 times as likely as their non-foster peers to be in jail or prison as their “current living arrangement.”

The national data show that 43 percent of women and 74 percent of men who emancipated from foster care will have been incarcerated at least once in their lives.

State officials said the primary solution to addressing this problem is to place foster kids in permanent homes, either through adoption or being reunited with their birth families.

“We know that aging out of foster care, without a family, without a permanent family, does not have good long-term effects,” said Robert Werthwein, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families in the Colorado Department of Human Services. “Having a family is really key. You don’t just stop growing at age 18.”

But for teens in foster care, finding a permanent home can be difficult. In Colorado, close to 70 percent of teens in foster care live in group homes with other foster teens.

“I spent a lot of time in juvenile detention; basically, that was my second home during my teenage years,” said Tamisha Macklin, 26. Often group homes are populated by both those in the juvenile justice system and those who are not.

Macklin entered foster care at age six and by 14 she was spending most of her time in group homes and detention centers. “I would just leave, or miss curfew and be counted as a runaway, I would just violate,” she said.

Macklin now works as a foster care advocate, regularly appearing before the Colorado General Assembly and appealing to lawmakers in Washington.

She uses her past experiences to help others, including Anthony Piccolo, 21, who said he also experienced several placements after fighting with foster parents or running away. He said that life in group homes helped him build a rap sheet.

“Living in these group homes, there are all these guys and then all this testosterone and you get in fights and then that’s an assault charge,” Piccolo said. “It’s the simplest things that you end up going to court for.”

Common behaviors like fighting or running away – which youth policy advocates say is common for all teens, not just those living in care – can lead to harsher penalties for foster youth.

“It’s normal for kids to break curfew,” said Kippi Clausen, a policy consultant in Colorado working on child welfare programs. “Some of these challenges are normal for kids.”

State officials say that it’s not policy to require criminal charges for what might otherwise be considered simply youth acting out, but that there are reporting requirements to ensure safety.

“We have licensing and monitoring in Colorado, we need to know what’s going on,” Werthwein said. “But that doesn’t always mean charges – it’s a different track than a judicial charges.”

Werthwein says his goal is to reduce the size of group homes and to help more kids remain with their families or a family member, or with a foster family.

“Not in an ideal world, (but) in this world, we need to have more foster homes,” Werthwein said. “It’s not an easy thing.”

A recent report from policy research group IFC International, submitted to the state auditor’s office, estimated that Colorado needs 574 new caseworkers and 122 additional supervisory positions to meet the demands of the 10,000 foster youth flowing through the system each year. There is also, CDHS reports, a consistent shortage of foster homes.

But attempts to address staffing and housing shortages have been difficult. This year, Gov. John Hickenlooper requested that the $25 billion state budget include room for 130 new caseworkers. That request didn’t make the final budget.

Other bills to address the needs of teens and young adults leaving the foster care system have faced similar challenges.

“I thought, ‘I cannot let these kids down,’” said state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Arapahoe County, who has proposed a number of bills that would support older foster youth. “The hundreds of kids across the state, those kids who through no fault of their home have lived with this system as a parent, I couldn’t let them down.”

She sponsored the “Fostering Connections” bill to help foster youth get into college, while keeping them off the streets and out of jail.

The bill failed by a 3-2 vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

Tori Black and Tamisha Macklin, who both testified on behalf of this bill, said they were saddened and somewhat surprised the bill failed – but remain steadfast in their advocacy for foster youth.

The senators who voted against it said that focusing on foster kids and higher education missed the mark. As it is, many foster teens have gained a juvenile record and will have trouble graduating from high school.

“I think this is a huge problem, I just don’t think this is the solution,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R- Littleton, the committee chair.

Most advocates and former foster youth do not think there is a simple solution to all that ails the system. They hope legislators and the human services department will continue to seek ways to decrease the incarceration rate for foster youth.

“I’m worth it,” Carrillo said. “I have a chance to prove something to society. I am not who they think I am. I am better.”

Chalkbeat Colorado brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at Contact Katie Kuntz at

Categories: Urban School News

Help us help you by casting a vote for Chalkbeat’s Election Engine

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 10:35

Chalkbeat has the chance to win $25,000 to expand our original online tool – the Election Engine – during the 2015 Aspen Institute’s Idea Awards, and we need your help.

With just a click of your mouse, you can help us bring you more of the journalism that you rely on to make decisions about education and to hold candidates and elected officials accountable for their policy promises.

Our Election Engine empowers voters to make more informed decisions by helping them compare and contrast candidates’ positions on crucial education issues. It also makes it harder for candidates to give avoidant non-answers to major policy questions.

We’ve seen how the early version of this tool, formerly dubbed our “election tracker,” has set the groundwork for a more informed voter base. We developed this concept in 2013 to cover the education issues at play in New York City’s mayoral race, and refined it in 2014 for the Indianapolis school board election. This opportunity will allow us to continue to develop this tool to help our readers navigate the often murky waters of candidate talk.

Click here to cast your votes now through June 1. Ideas with the most votes will be reviewed by judges, and finalists – hopefully including our own Elizabeth Green – will be presenting Shark Tank-style at this year’s Aspen Institute on June 30.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder schools to increase support for transgender students

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 09:47


The State Board of Education last week signaled interest in adopting a different accountability system for rural schools. Plus, five other things we learned at the board's two-day meeting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

safe schools

The Boulder Valley School District plans to provide more training on supporting transgender students to improve consistency among schools and better implement a transgender policy approved in 2012 after a parent filed a federal complaint. ( Daily Camera )

Survey says

Chalkbeat readers, in an unscientific survey, said they were unhappy with the education legislation that was passed. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And some education activists known as "the moms" echoed that sentiment. ( Colorado Statesman )

Jeffco Interrupted

Jefferson County school board member Jill Fellman has yet to decide whether she'll seek re-election as the campaign season kicks off. ( Denver Post )

Teacher Voice

Some parents in Douglas County are asking teachers their opinion on a slate of reform efforts pursued by the school board. ( Douglas County New-Press )

Class outside

Two teachers wanted to find an uncommon way to teach students Common Core standards at the Gold Hill School in Boulder. So they went fishing. ( 9News )

It takes a village

A new program in Colorado Springs aims to get more parents and community members in the classroom to help students read. ( Gazette )


Six Aurora Central seniors were named the first-ever Aurora Gives Scholars, an honor that earns them two debt-free years of education at the Community College of Aurora. ( Aurora Sentinel )

A special-needs couple were the favorite to win prom king and queen at Colorado Springs high school. ( Gazette )

Two cents

The state board's antics on testing are not welcomed, writes the Denver Post's editorial board. ( Denver Post )

We should incentivize students with money to earn good grades, suggests a Denver Post columnist. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: A student’s view of computerized test-taking

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 18:29
  • A student-led project at Queens’ August Martin High School brought more than 100 graffiti artists into the school to decorate the school’s hallways. (Animal New York)
  • A California 11th-grader describes many logistical and conceptual challenges to the state’s new computer-based tests. (Slate)
  • A University of Tennessee literacy professor argues that strategies to improve low-income students’ access to books during the summer is key to ending achievement gaps in reading. (Booksource Banter)
  • A new report by an advocacy group backed by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell argues that the record numbers of students graduating from high school can be attributed to education reform efforts like closing low-performing schools, rather than the improved economy. (The Atlantic)
  • But although nationally graduation rates are at record highs, a few states like Arizona, Illinois and New York are seeing their graduation rates drop and income-based gaps increase. (The Atlantic)
  • An overlooked takeaway from last week’s large study on social mobility is that in places that see good outcomes for poor children, rich children not only don’t fare worse, but in fact do better. (Wonkblog)
  • The question of whether Chicago Public Schools ever had a “golden era” is complicated to answer, but one education reporter suggests that it might be right now. (WBEZ)
  • L.A. Unified School District is building an affordable housing complex for teachers who want to live near work but who can’t pay L.A. rents on their salaries. (Curbed)
  • The term “education reform” is often criticized as a misnomer for a movement that has increasingly become the status quo, but Alexander Russo argues that reformers still haven’t reshaped the fundamental structures of the American education system. (The Grade)
Categories: Urban School News

What flexible accountablity might look like and 5 other things we learned at the state board meeting

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 18:28

While the State Board of Education retreated on testing waivers and making changes to parent consent to a health survey this week, members also waded into new area of assessment and accountability flexibility and data privacy. They also failed to find common ground on graduation requirements.

Here’s a look at what we learned on Wednesday and Thursday:

1. The board is in favor of experimenting with new accountability systems but there are plenty of ‘buts’ to work through.

Several conversations on Wednesday and Thursday gravitated toward testing and accountability, even if the official agenda item had nothing to do with the topic.

However, two presentations on Thursday centered specifically on these issues.

First, a coalition of rural school districts presented an alternative to the state’s accountability system, which relies heavily on data from standardized tests. Here is that group’s presentation. Every board member voiced his or her support for the work the group had done, and encouraged the coalition to work closely with the board and state department to identify and remove any sort of bureaucratic barriers that would stop implementation.

However, board member Angelika Schroeder warned of deviating too far from the state’s model.

“Schools are different, kids are different, but we also need comparability,” she said.

Her fear is that holding small and rural districts accountable to a different system than larger urban districts would raise questions  about whether rural students are receiving an education  “as good as” their urban counterparts.

Elliott Asp, special assistant to the commissioner, also presented an overview of what a new assessment system blending state assessments like the PARCC test and local assessments could look like.

The pilot would be made possible by the testing bill approved by the General Assembly earlier this month. It would require the U.S. Department of Education’s stamp of approval. But the system Asp pitched, which is far from being fully fleshed out, relies heavily on work done in New Hampshire.

That state’s flexible assessment system was approved by the feds, but only after a few years of double-assessing students.

Board member Debora Scheffel, a Republican, warned there is no appetite for more tests.

“In some ways [it looks like] we’ve created a lot more work and we have not uncoupled from PARCC,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re not asking for more [assessments].”

2. On data privacy, board members want to act now.

A data privacy bill failed to make it through the legislature. But state board members want to take matters into their own hands and update contract language with vendors that reflect the most agreed upon apsects of the privacy bill.

“I believe we can accomplish by contract virtually everything that was in legislation and could set that as a model for school districts,” said board member Steve Durham, a Republican

3. The state’s accountability clock is in limbo after a testing bill is passed.

During a lengthy discussion on the testing bill passed by the General Assembly between the board and its lobbyist, Scheffel asked what the bill meant for those schools and school districts on the state’s accountability watch list.

Schools and districts that fall below state expectations have five years to improve or face sanctions.

Keith Owen, deputy commissioner, told the board his team was still reviewing what the bill meant for those schools. On first read, however, Owen said some academically-struggling schools might get an extra year to improve before the state can step in. However, he said, the final word on how the education department plans to proceed would likely come later this month.

4. Schools and districts with high opt-out numbers will likely face federal, but not state, sanctions.

We already told you that the federal government is not interested in holding harmless those schools and districts that failed to meet the 95 percent testing requirement.

However, CDE staff told the board there could be a compromise under which schools that saw a large number of student skip state standardized tests face federal sanctions but get to keep their state accountability rating.

Under federal law, schools that don’t meet the 95 percent testing level could be required to send home letters that label the school as failing, could lose some federal funds, or be required to use those dollars for certain programs like tutoring.

Under state law, if a school does not meet the testing threshold it could be earn a lower accreditation rating — even if the students who take the test do well.

5. The board will hire a search firm to find the state’s next education commissioner.

Board members agreed Thursday to put the logistical portions of finding the next education chief in the hands of a search firm.

“We don’t have anyone to manage the process,” said chairwoman Marcia Neal “And we need someone to do that.”

The board also agreed to zero in on and likely appoint an interim commissioner at its June meeting. All board members said it’s urgent to find a person to replace education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who announced his retirement in April.

Hammond’s last day is June 24.

6. The split among the board is as wide as ever and Marcia Neal is not happy.

Despite retreating on several controversial topics (like the cut scores and the health survey) the board is still divided primarily along philosophical differences about what its role is.

“We’re a regulatory agency,” said vice chair Schroder who has mostly aligned herself with fellow Democrat Jane Goff and chairwoman Neal, a moderate Republican. Her comments came during a break after a heated conversation about graduation requirements during which board member Durham made a motion to strip the state of any graduation guidelines.

He eventually dropped his motion after members agreed to table the discussion. The board is required to adopt new graduation guidelines under state law.

Other board members volleyed back and forth during breaks about their actions and reputation.

Several times, Neal shared her frustration about the board’s behavior Wednesday and Thursday. At one point Thursday she said she had never had a more frustrating two days in her six years on the state board. Most of her frustration was pointed toward Durham. Neal accused him of trying to unravel six years of education reform policy.

“You seem to blame this on staff,” Neal said. “Staff is doing what they’re legally bound to do. Obviously you want to take that apart. You very well might be able to do that. … But you can’t take it all apart in a couple of weeks.”

Categories: Urban School News

Readers say they’re unimpressed with education legislation

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 17:26

On Monday, we asked our readers if they were satisfied with the education legislation passed this year by the Colorado General Assembly.

The session ended earlier this month with little to show for education. Here’s how our readers voted in our unscientific poll:

Teacher Mark Sass put it this way:

In my opinion it would have been best had the state legislature never even convened. The assessment legislation was a hodgepodge of concessions among legislators that only satiated their desire to claim partial victory with their constituents. The new assessment legislation throws a major wrench into the work districts have done around teacher evaluation. As for education funding, little was done to lower the negative factor. Not a memorable legislative session.

As always, we invite you to be part of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: State board leaves high school graduation requirements alone

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 09:48

Mixed results

The State Board of Education Thursday agreed to release a limited results from this fall's high school senior science tests. But results from the companion social studies tests may never be released. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The board of education also left graduation requirements alone because some feared rural schools wouldn't be able to implement the less rigorous requirements. ( Denver Post )

duncan in denver

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited McGlone Elementary School yesterday. He said Denver Public Schools is a source of inspiration for his department. ( Denver Post, CBS 4 Denver )

Another way

A dozen rural school districts from across Colorado are calling for relief from Common Core-linked testing and asked for a chance to take a local approach to measuring student success. ( AP via SF Gate )

More than a score

For students at Aurora Central High School the notion that bleak test scores tell their life stories is a frustrating one. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Art smart

Despite the Great Recession, which forced school districts across the state to slash their budgets, arts education is on the rise. ( CPR )

pomp and circumstance

A Colorado Springs student this spring will earn his college degree before his high school diploma. ( Gazette )


Jefferson County high school students took third in a national cooking competition. ( Thornton Sentinel )

School and Marijuana

A disabled Colorado Springs student was suspended Monday after school officials discovered medical marijuana in his lunch box. ( Gazette )


A senior prank went wrong in Pueblo and dozens of students are paying the consequences. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

State board OKs limited release of science scores for high school seniors

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 16:37

Colorado high school seniors who took the state’s science standardized test last fall will receive individual reports with information about how they did.

But those same students will likely never know how they did on a companion social studies test after the State Board of Education declined Thursday to approve cut scores for that assessment.

The board, after months of debate, did approve cut scores for the science test, but only for the purpose of providing students their individual results. Students will also be provided some information of how they did compared to students at the same school and in the same school district.

Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels to provide context for how much a student was able to demonstrate on an exam. The achievement levels in Colorado are distinguished command, strong command, moderate command, and limited command. Schools will also receive a copy of individual student reports. But it is unclear what aggregate information will be released to districts, the media and public.

“I’m sure there will be further direction,” said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment at the Colorado Department of Education.

The board’s mixed action Thursday ends months of bureaucratic limbo.

Results for both tests were ready months ago. However, the board earlier this spring refused to set cut scores, as it is legally required to do, because of philosophical objections to the tests. Those philosophical concerns, including that students were tested on matters that weren’t taught, were what prevented board members from approving the cut scores for the social studies tests.

But a compromise emerged Wednesday and was codified Thursday in a resolution proposed by Republican board member Steve Durham.

“I am persuaded that those who took the test have a right to know the results of those tests,” Durham said. “I don’t believe these results should be for any other purpose.”

Durham led the charge against the cut scores in March.

The debate over setting cut scores, which in the past has been merely procedural, demonstrates how contentious the issue of standardized testing has become.

“Someone explain to me why we can’t set cut scores and release them?” asked board member Angelika Schroeder during Thursday’s discussion. “That is our responsibility.”

Board member Val Flores responded, “Because adults give horrible meaning to the results.”

The senior social studies and science tests have also been the center of the testing debate since thousands of students in mostly suburban and rural counties opted out of them. Many of those students refused to take the test because they said the results were irrelevant to their futures.

How Colorado students perform on state standardized tests has no impact on their academic record. Test score results do, however, play a major role in school and school district ratings. And the plan is to use some of that data for teacher evaluations as well.

Responding to the mass number of opt-outs, state lawmakers killed the senior tests in legislation this spring.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: No testing waivers from state board for districts with high opt out rates

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 09:44

Waive Goodbye

The State Board of Education backed away from a plan to allow school districts to waive out of accountability requirements from standardized tests after being told it did not have the authority to grant them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Local Testing

Legislators want to experiment with a non-PARCC alternative standardized test in Colorado, but the details aren't clear. ( Denver Post )


Teachers at STRIVE have traditionally written their own curriculum, but starting next year things will be more centralized. That's just as Denver Public Schools announced plans to decentralize curriculum decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Questions remain about how and if Jeffco Public Schools will fund and place a new elementary school in North Arvada, where classes are at capacity. ( Arvada Press )

Two cents

Eagle County's superintendent writes that the legislative session was a disappointment. ( Vail Daily )


Schools in Arapahoe and Burlington have experienced threats this week. ( 9News, Denver Post )


A Boulder student who was at Mt. Everest when the earthquake struck Nepal is working to raise money for relief efforts. ( Daily Camera )

Healthy Kids

The Colorado Healthy Kids Survey will remain intact despite triggering a wave of controversy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, The Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

After ‘chaos,’ State Board denies testing waivers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 20:43

In an about face, the State Board of Education denied dozens of waivers from mandatory state testing school districts filed this spring after the board directed the education department to grant them.

The board also rescinded its original direction to the department to open up the waiver process.

Board chair Marcia Neal pointed out the waivers were moot after the attorney general’s office ruled that the neither the board nor the Colorado Department of Education had the authority to grant the requests.

“What this has done has caused chaos in local districts that have applied for the waivers and of course not received it,” Neal said.

The motions were the second retreat from a series of controversial moves the board, reconfigured after the November election, has made this year. Earlier Wednesday, the board dropped action to change how students participated in a health survey. However, the board tabled action on setting cut scores for science and social studies tests taken by seniors last fall.

Earlier this year, the board refused to set performance levels on the tests because a majority of members said they had philosophical concerns with the tests and how the data would be used. The board’s action has delayed release of the results to students and school districts.

Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels. In March, CDE had recommended cut scores that would have put only 1 percent of seniors taking the social studies test in “distinguished command,” the highest level of achievement. Only 9 percent would have been rated with “strong command.” The percentages for science were 2 percent distinguished command and 17 percent strong command.

Part of Wednesday’s discussion on the cut scores included options that moved more students into higher achievement levels.

The board is expected to spend 30 minutes Thursday trying to hash out a compromise that would release test results to students but not set cut scores.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board maintains status quo for health survey

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 20:30

The State Board of Education agreed Wednesday to seek no changes to a survey that asks students about drug use, sexual habits, and other health issues, ending months of controversy about how parents should be notified about the biennial questionnaire.

The board voted unanimously to stick with the status quo on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which will be administered this fall. That means families who don’t want their students to take the survey will have to sign a form opting them out of it.

Board member Steve Durham, a Republican, made the motion to drop the crusade against the survey. He acknowledged that a revised letter to parents explicitly noting the voluntary nature of the survey was the biggest impact the board could have for now.

However, Republican board member Deb Scheffel suggested the Colorado Department of Education might want to remove itself from the survey in the future. The state health department partners with the education department and the Colorado Department of Human Services on the survey.

“If CDE wants to not accept the funds we can do that in two years,” she said.

The controversy about the survey bubbled up last winter amid parent complaints that some questions are inappropriate and invasive.

Parents wanted schools to get advance written permission from parents, known as “active consent,” for students to participate in the survey. Currently, most districts use “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless their parents sign a form opting them out.

On the flip side, officials from the state health department emphasized that the survey is anonymous and voluntary, and said the survey data is critical to identifying trouble spots and tracking progress on adolescent health. They worried that an “active consent” model would dramatically reduce survey response rates.

Throughout the survey controversy, some state board members expressed interest in changing parental consent rules or otherwise curtailing the survey’s use in schools. These efforts, while much discussed, never got off the ground.

Last month, State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman weighed in on the issue after health department officials requested a formal opinion from her office. She wrote that state and federal laws don’t require schools to get advance permission from parents when students take the survey.

In other words, the passive consent model is legal.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names to the state’s middle and high school students since 1991. More than 40,000 students in 224 schools took the survey last time it was given in the fall of 2013.

During the next planned survey administration this fall, the number of students surveyed could grow because even if schools are not selected as part of the official survey sample, for the first time they are being invited to participate for free.

The high school version of the survey asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, suicide, smoking, alcohol, drugs, bullying, exercise, nutrition, grades, and school involvement. The middle school version of the survey doesn’t ask questions about sexual orientation or sexual behavior, but does ask about the other topics.

It’s up to participating school districts to decide whether to use active consent or passive consent to notify parents. About 92 percent of schools that participated in the 2013 survey chose passive consent.

The annual budget for the survey is about $950,000. Most of that funding comes from the state’s Marijuana Cash Tax Fund, with smaller portions coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s tobacco tax and other sources.

Chalkbeat Colorado reporter Ann Schimke contributed to this report.

Categories: Urban School News

Charter network moves from hand-crafted to more centralized curriculum

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:22

As Denver Public Schools makes plans to allow schools to choose their own curriculum and materials, at least one Denver charter school network is moving in the opposite direction.

STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a charter network with nine schools in Denver, has traditionally relied on teachers to create their own resources for everything from the scope and sequences that define the year’s coursework to individual lessons. Some teachers might not have drawn from traditional textbooks or resources at all.

But as the network has grown from one school in 2006 to the current nine, and as its schools have started to implement the Common Core State Standards, STRIVE is creating a set of “Core Curricular Resources” for all of its teachers.

The idea behind the old approach of using hand-crafted curriculum is that teachers should have as much autonomy in their classrooms as possible, said Joshua Smith, the network’s chief schools officer. “We provide them with exemplars, best practices, existing or purchased curricula they can start with,” he said. “But by and large, we rely on teachers to build their own curricula.”

That’s not uncommon in the charter world. The other large network of charter schools in Denver, DSST, also relies on teachers to create units and lessons, which are then often shared among teachers.

But it’s a different approach than some districts, including DPS, have traditionally taken: Adopting a set of textbooks and, increasingly, online materials, and outlining the scope and sequence of the year’s lessons for many courses in most schools.

Smith said as STRIVE has grown, however, the network has decided it makes sense to provide teachers with more standardized templates and resources.

“We feel like we’re very much centralizing and saying, here’s our approach to close reading, here’s our vision for how this works,” Smith said.

STRIVE is not unique, according to Alex Medler, the Vice President of Policy and Analysis for the National Association Charter School Authorizers. He said that more charter schools are part of networks and more of those networks are setting defined curricula than in years past.

At STRIVE, there are a few reasons for the timing of the shift. The network saw a drop in test scores at schools last year. Smith said more consistency and structures are part of an effort to address that drop.

It’s also part of an effort to make teachers’ workloads sustainable and to improve quality control.

“It seemed silly to have everyone creating things from scratch,” Smith said. “We want to have a common vision of what should be happening in the classroom.”

Smith said creating Common Core-aligned lessons is more challenging than what teachers have had to do in the past.

“There’s a level of critical thinking, a level of rigor, and a level of being able to dive deep into complex text that’s harder and more time-consuming,” Smith said.

STRIVE’s teachers are currently provided with materials from EngageNY and College Preparatory Math, both of which are advertised as aligned with the Common Core. DPS plans to use EngageNY for literacy in some grades starting next year.

At a meeting on Monday where DPS board members decided that schools should have the ability to choose their own curriculum, board members suggested that schools might even contract with a group like STRIVE, which has had several years of strong academic results, to use their curriculum.

But Smith said the switch to a more established curriculum is still a “work in progress” STRIVE has been moving toward over the course of a few years.

Smith said that the network’s plan is to have teacher leaders who are paid a stipend outline units, weekly schedules, and even sample lessons for others who teach their same course, starting in 2015-16. He said teachers would still have the ultimate control over their planning.

Smith said that regardless of the resources, “teachers have to be bought into what they’re teaching, and curriculum is just a bunch of words on paper if there’s not a deep understanding of what the choices are and why it’s designed the way it was.”

“Anyone can print a lesson or a unit off the internet. But you can’t print it, read it, and expect it to lead to student learning,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Group in Douglas County discusses race, violence

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 09:45

bureuacratic shuffle

In a dramatic shift, Denver's school board said it wants schools to make more decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

race matters

The roots of racism are historic and tangled, and linked to recent police shootings of unarmed black men, Denver Freedom Riders' founder told a group of people at ThunderRidge High School. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Jeffco Interupted

A Jefferson County District Court judge put a temporary hold Tuesday on portions of a compensation plan that would pay some educators new to Jeffco Public Schools more than some district veterans. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Lesley Dahlkemper, in her first interview since announcing she won't seek re-election to the Jeffco school board, said she felt strained between work, family, and the board. ( Arvada Press )

Best of the best

Fourteen Colorado high schools have been ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report. ( Denver Business Journal )

Human Resources

The American Federation of Teachers released on Tuesday the results of a survey that found only 1 in 5 educators feel respected by government officials or the media. ( Gazette )

Brian Kosena, assistant principal at Colorado STEM Academy in Westminster, is making a move to Tennyson Knolls Elementary as the new principal. ( Thornton Sentinel )


While state funding for the Colorado Preschool Program increased a bit last year, Colorado didn’t improve on measures of preschool quality or access, according to an annual ranking. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

to infinity and beyond

A Chatfiled High school engineering class has been designing an experiment regarding two different types of algae that will be sent up to the International Space Station in June. ( Denver Post )

a helping (and learning) hand

For the past few months, students from all five Adams 12 high schools have been doing construction work on a city-owned house in Thornton. ( Thornton Sentinel )

Hold up — wait a minute

The scientist most closely associated with the concept of "grit," is trying to put on the brakes. She argues in a new paper that grit isn't ready for prime time, if prime time means high-stakes tests. ( NPR via KUNC )

Two cents

This teacher gave his students confidence to fail at math and that makes all the difference, suggests this curriculum and game designer. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Judge puts part of Jeffco pay plan on hold

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 23:06

A Jefferson County District Court judge put a temporary hold Tuesday on portions of a compensation plan that would pay some educators new to Jeffco Public Schools more than some district veterans.

Judge Christopher Zenisek’s order prohibits Jeffco Public Schools from paying any new teachers hired after May 1 under a plan that was approved by the school board earlier this spring. However, the roughly 60 teachers hired between the time the plan was approved in March and May 1, the day Zenisek heard the case, may be paid what was offered.

The judge ruled that a trial be set within a year.

It’s unclear at this point how the district will determine how much to pay experienced teachers with advanced degrees hired after that May 1 cutoff date.

“We have not had an opportunity to exam the ruling in full with our attorney and after we do we’ll be prepared to comment,” said Lisa Pinto, spokeswoman for Jeffco.

The salary schedule that was put on hold was created as part of the new system approved by the board majority last fall. The salary system would pay some new hires who have master degrees and multiple years of classroom experience more than current Jeffco teachers with similar credentials. It also includes an additional stipend for teachers who work in schools that serve the county’s most at-risk students.

District officials developed the plan for new hires as part of the larger system the board majority approved in the fall. The new system did away with the traditional salary schedule the district used to determine what teachers would be paid. So, district staff created the plan to do that. When pitching the new system to board this spring, district staff said the increase in salary was needed to make Jeffco competitive with neighboring school districts.

The gap between new hires and Jeffco veterans is caused in part by salary reductions and freezes the teachers union and suburban school district agreed to during the Great Recession.

Lawyers for the Jefferson County Education Association, which asked for the injunction, argued earlier this month that the school board overstepped when it created a new plan to pay teachers based on evaluations, not years of service and level of education. The lawyers also asserted that the district unilaterally changed contract language without the union’s input.

The union did not ask for the entire system to be thrown out, only the portion approved this spring.

But a lawyer representing the school district said the board was well within its rights creating a new compensation system after negotiations failed to produce a compromise. Updating contract language and introducing a new system for paying experienced teachers new to the school district was procedural and not malicious, the district’s lawyer said.

The union and district are currently negotiating a new master contract.

JCEA president John Ford celebrated the decision.

“Today is a victory for hard working Jeffco teachers who have sacrificed our own pay through pay freezes and reductions to help the school district weather the recession,” he said in a statement. “To offer thousands of dollars more to new teachers while neglecting to honor your promises to your current teaching staff is inexcusable.”

Zenisek’s order DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2080761-order-re-motion-for-preliminary-injunction' });
Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board sets course toward more decentralized district

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 13:38

Starting next school year, all principals in Denver will have the option to select and buy their own curriculum, school-based testing programs, professional development plans, and potentially to choose more of the programs and employees in their buildings.

Those are some early steps in a plan to decentralize decision-making and significantly change how Denver Public Schools works with its schools. They were laid out Monday at a day-long retreat for the district’s board and senior leadership.

The idea is to create more independent schools and turn principals into “chief strategists” — a move that will have ripple effects both for teachers and students and for the central office staff who have traditionally worked with schools.

This is the first time all district schools, not just charters and those that specifically request it, would have this degree of control over their programs.

DPS board members and staff said they will begin to flesh out the details of the changes and what more flexibility for budgets, hiring, transportation, scheduling, accountability, and more might look like in coming weeks.

Board members say the changes are an attempt to execute the vision they laid out last year in the updated Denver Plan, a set of goals for improving student achievement and school quality by 2020. The Denver Plan describes more flexibility for schools as one of the district’s key strategies.

“How do we make sure we’re walking the walk and not saying you have flexibility with one hand and taking it away with the other?” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Board members Barbara O’Brien and Anne Rowe described visits to schools where they said school staff currently felt stymied by supposed supports from district offices.

“Part of the culture shift has to be more respect for the autonomy of the school and their ability to control their days,” O’Brien said.

There was no outright opposition to the idea of shifting more decision-making power to school leaders. Board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, was not present for the retreat. Jimenez has been the board’s lone consistently-dissenting vote since the 2013 school board elections.

National trend, local changes

The idea of decentralizing power and changing the roles of bureaucracies has gained traction in many urban school systems in recent years, partly in tandem with the growing school choice movement and particularly charter schools, which have control over most aspects of their operations and programming.

The strategy is often tied to an approach to governance known as “portfolio management.” The name comes from the idea of an investment portfolio: Rather than managing and directly running programs at schools, a district’s central office is responsible for approving, monitoring, evaluating, and providing services to a portfolio of more-independent schools and “investing” in those that work. Budgeting is shifted so that schools can select and pay for certain services or staffing arrangement rather than having services paid for and distributed at the district level.

The state-run Recovery School District in Louisiana and Achievement School District in Tennessee are often cited as models of portfolio management, though they both work mostly with charter schools.

The idea is not new in Denver. DPS already has dozens of charter schools and more than 30 innovation schools, which can request flexibility from certain district policies, such as the length of a school day. It also has an elaborate accountability system that proponents of portfolio management recommend for gauging how schools are doing.

District officials also framed a recent set of staff cuts in the central office as an effort to move more functions out of the district office and to schools.

“We’re well on the path toward an opt-in district,” said O’Brien. She was referring to schools’ ability to “opt in” to services or programs traditionally required by the district’s central office, such as a common curriculum.

O’Brien said that even though many details need to be worked out, “I think we need to rattle the system a little bit if we’re ever going to do what we talked about at our first retreat, which is work for bold change.”

Devilish details

But the shift is not without complications.

Boasberg said said district would need to “per-pupil-ize” some costs for curriculum, assessments, and trainings — break down the costs of programs that are currently offered to the whole district by student so schools can decide how much money to spend on what.

Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust said that the district had made similar efforts to price out its offerings for charter and innovation schools and that it had been difficult.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, bristled when several board members mentioned that giving schools more freedom means some will likely fail. “Failing means something very real to my schools,” said Rodriguez. She said the district and board members need to take responsibility for problems.

Chief of Schools Susana Cordova warned that decisions made by a principal might not be supported by every staff member at a given school. She said she hoped the district would improve its methods of gauging staff satisfaction with school leadership and how that ties to school quality.

DPS has also struggled to retain principals in an already-challenging job. How ongoing principal churn might mesh or clash with a move to give schools more autonomy is an open question. Boasberg said he thought more independence for school leaders would help attract and retain talented principals.

Curriculum flexibility

DPS recently announced plans to adopt a new program for some of its grade levels to replace the current curricular materials, which are not aligned to the Common Core State Standards in literacy and math. Some schools, including the district’s Montessori and some innovation schools, already use individualized programs.

Board members debated whether schools should be able to opt out of or opt into the district’s new curriculum. They eventually decided it would be best if schools could actively opt in to using the new curriculum, and then select appropriate assessments and training for teachers. School leaders could share promising alternatives with the district or stick with the programs they currently have in place next school year 2015-16.

Boasberg cautioned that schools looking to use alternative programs would still have to meet state, federal, and district’s legal requirements, including complying with a federal consent decree that governs how the district works with English language learners.

Staff said that the district might not initially be able to support all of the different programs schools might be interested in. The curriculum flexibility might eventually include a list of vetted programs and trainings that schools could choose between, but next year, leaders opting for a new curriculum will also be accepting less direct support from the district.

Denver school board members discuss school autonomy.

“If we have far larger numbers of people opting out, it takes different skills to support people in that environment,” Cordova said.

Board members also discussed potentially changing the responsibilities and roles of instructional superintendents or changing how schools are organized into networks.

Boasberg said the district will also have to decide how or if it will intervene if a school is floundering with new freedoms. “Those are some of the hardest conflicts—if, when, and how to be directive when schools are struggling.”

The retreat was attended by Cordova, Boasberg, Whitehead-Bust, chief of staff Will Lee-Ashley, deputy chief of staff John Albright, and six of the seven board members.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado plateaus in annual preschool ranking

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 13:07

While state funding for the Colorado Preschool Program increased a bit last year, Colorado didn’t improve on measures of preschool quality or access, according to an annual ranking published by the National Institute for Early Education Research or NIEER.

Among the highlights from the NIEER “State of Preschool Report 2014” released Monday:

  • Colorado ranks 22nd among 41 states for four-year-old preschool access, the same as the previous year.
  • The state ranks ninth for three-year-old access, a slight improvement from its previous ranking at 10th.
  • When it comes to state spending on preschool, Colorado improved its rank from 37th to 35th.
  • The state met six of 10 benchmarks of preschool quality, the same number it met the year before.

Among the quality benchmarks Colorado failed to meet is one that would require early childhood teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a second that would require assistant teachers to have a Child Development Associate.

A decade ago, Colorado achieved only four benchmarks on the quality checklist.

While Colorado got a small pat on the back from NIEER officials in a state-specific press release accompanying the report, it was far from a ringing endorsement.

“The actions seen here could be the first small step to improving quality and access for Colorado’s young children, but overall the state’s program remains well below average,” said NIEER director Steven Barnett.

Colorado’s ranking on preschool access and spending among the 41 states that have state-funded preschool.                Source: NIEER DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-2077717-colorado-nieer-profile' });
Categories: Urban School News

This teacher gave his students confidence to fail at math and that makes all the difference

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:12

When it comes to a child’s education, teachers matter more than textbooks, tests, schools, grades, classes — everything. And while passionate high school teachers are wonderful, the truly great educators are those who build a love of learning in kids while they’re still young.

The truly great teachers are those like Joe Denoncourt.

Joe teaches second grade at Cowell Elementary in Denver, a school struggling with poverty and all the academic problems that go with it.

More than 95 percent of the students at Cowell receive free or reduced price lunches. English is not the first language for many Cowell students, and some of them are completely new to this country.

The numbers might make you think there’s no hope for these students. But Joe doesn’t give a fig about the numbers. He teaches and his students learn.

I own and operate a company called Teacher’s Professional Resource in Lakewood. We provide science, technology, engineering, and math workshops and summer camps for kids in the Denver Metro Area. My company also designs original educational math games. I had spent most of my career in business, but started out as a teacher, so every spring I go into classrooms to provide free workshops in an effort to give back to the community.

This spring, I went to Joe’s.

I arrived at Cowell a few minutes early to say hello. I noticed his classroom is like many in that there are small round tables and second grade-sized chairs around them. But there is a comfy couch and two stuffed chairs. The room is cozy.

His students waited outside the room to be invited in. Before class started, Joe said, “My friend Dr. Fun will be working on math with us this afternoon. Please make her feel welcome.”

The students listened intently while I told them I wanted to try a new math game. It was simply amazing how polite these kids were. No one talked out of turn, no one fidgeted in their chair, and no one made me feel anything but happy to be there.

When the games began, I was struck by how confident each and every student was in their math skills. I’ve taught in many math classrooms across the Denver metro area, and Joe’s students vastly outperformed many suburban kids.

Too often kids in well-to-do suburbs seem to have the edge academically. Their parents are almost always fluent English speakers, for example, and they can make a living with only one job instead of two or three, allowing them more time to practice academics with their kids.

But I’d put the students in Joe’s class ahead of any suburban kid. That’s because of Joe.

Joe’s students speak both English and Spanish. So he switches between the two languages frequently during his lessons. Students learn what they need to learn in English, but they still have a way to communicate with Joe in Spanish.

Joe knows that kids who live in difficult circumstances need their classrooms to be a respite from chaos. So, Joe’s is a peaceful classroom. You won’t find the walls of his classroom papered with cartoonish characters screaming out the most important educational content of the day.

The naughtier a child is, the quieter Joe speaks. He is incredibly polite to his students.

But maybe most important is that Joe makes it safe for his students to make mistakes, even a lot of mistakes. That’s because if there is a secret sauce to learning, it’s mistake-making.

In light of all that we invest trying to educate children, the idea that teachers matter can slip our minds. Far too often, teachers are blamed rather than praised. It’s time for that trend to be stopped. To anyone who has or has ever had a teacher like Joe Denoncourt, consider yourself lucky. You have first-hand knowledge of the value of a great teacher.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder schools, union settle contract

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 09:00

Time vs. skills

Schools in Colorado and around the country are part of a growing movement toward “competency-based education,” which replaces “seat time” with skills as the main standard for whether students are promoted. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Boulder Valley teachers have negotiated a 2.8 percent cost-of-living pay increase for the next school year, bringing the starting salary for district instructors to about $43,000. ( Daily Camera )

discipline disparities

Officials from Denver Public Schools do not dispute findings in a school discipline report presented Monday showing that some racial disparities are growing and that school-by-school implementation of practices is uneven. ( Denver Post )

It's back

The University of Northern Colorado faced a strong and immediate backlash when it decided to suspend its Mexican-American studies program back in March. Now the program is being reinstated. ( Latin Post )

running tribute

After a Denver KIPP charter school teacher died suddenly in February, family members decided to honor his memory by running in the Colfax Marathon this Sunday. ( Denver Post )

Scholarships served

The Hispanic Education Foundation has handed out over 475 scholarships to St. Vrain Valley School District students since 1989. This year they will be handing out another 17 to local students. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Early learning

Are you a glass half-full kind of person? Or glass half-empty? Depending on your answer, you'll find the new report on state-funded preschool programs from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University either delightfully encouraging or downright depressing. ( KUNC/NPR )


Chalkbeat's question of the week focuses on whether readers feel the legislature's 2015 education work amounted to much. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Question of the week: Are you happy with the new education legislation in Colorado?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 17:14

Last week the Colorado General Assembly came to a close with little accomplished on the education front, even though more education-related bills were introduced this session than any time in recent memory.

The central debate on testing ended with a last-minute compromise and schools didn’t get nearly the funding many superintendents said they needed and wanted.

You can take a look back at all the education-related news from the Capitol in our review here.

But the session’s end brings us to our question of the week:


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

Categories: Urban School News

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