The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer Charter School’s decision not to renew its contract, which means the school would close in May of 2016.
But the resolution also fast-tracks a proposal for University Prep, a nearby charter elementary school, to operate at Pioneer. That resolution has drawn concerns from some people about the district’s process for placing new schools.
After Pioneer’s board voted to not seek a renewal of its contract in December, Denver Public Schools announced that it was looking for at least one school operator to replace Pioneer in its annual search for quality schools.
Tonight’s new resolution says that DPS will inform applicants that “the District has identified a potential replacement provider of high quality [sic] for Pioneer Charter School for the 2016-17 school year.” It says that DPS will approve University Prep’s application to operate Pioneer starting in 2016-17 as long as it has a quality plan and as long as its existing school continues to show strong academic results.
At a meeting of the DPS board earlier this week, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that “a voluntary transition where parties have ample time to plan, prepare, share expertise, and work together is a good thing.”
But this unusual arrangement has drawn concern from some in the school community.
Laurie Thompson, a business director at Pioneer, wrote in an email to the board, “Parents were informed after the decision was made and were told that there would be a role for parents and community members to have a voice during the Call for Quality Schools process.”
However, she added, the new resolution “effectively [takes] Pioneer off the table for other…applicants and [negates] input from Pioneer parents and others in this community regarding this important transition.”
Other individuals and groups have considered applying to run schools in the Pioneer building. One is a dual language program that would be a district-run school.
But University Prep has already begun a consulting relationship with Pioneer intended to last through the next school year. The Pioneer board will vote on its contract with University Prep tonight, according to board member Anna Nicotera, but school staff from the two buildings have already started working together.
University Prep leaders plan to submit a letter of intent to apply and a proposal for their plan to run Pioneer starting in the 2016-17 school year. David Singer, the founder and head of school at University Prep, emphasized that University Prep’s proposal will go through DPS’s vetting process.
Running Pioneer would be a new task for University Prep staff. University Prep began as a new elementary school, gradually phasing in new grade levels K-5. If the school is awarded operation of Pioneer, it would be taking on a K-5 school all at once.
Pioneer also has a higher proportion of English language learners than University Prep. Singer said University Prep would include a plan for working with those students in its charter proposal.
Nicotera said the board knew that some parents felt they had been excluded from the board’s decision-making about surrendering the contract and bringing in University Prep.
“While we value community and family, when you have these tough decisions and things aren’t getting better, sometimes a board has to make that hard decision,” she said.
She said she was hopeful the partnership with University Prep would help the school’s students.
Aurora Public Schools’ newest school, which will serve students in preschool through eighth grade, will be named after a prominent African American family, a first for the school district, which has long served a large population of students of color.
The new school at East 6th Avenue and Airport Boulevard will be named the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school, the city’s school board decided Tuesday night. The mascot will be a Red-Tailed Hawk.
The late Edna Mosley was Aurora’s first African-American city council member. She was first elected in 1991 and served on the council for 12 years.
John Mosley, now 93, has received wide recognition for his pioneering achievements as an athlete and in the military.
According to the district:
During her tenure [on city council], she was influential in anti-gang programs, local gun control legislation and civil rights issues. She was also instrumental in the redevelopment of the former Fitzsimons Army Base into the Anschutz Medical Campus and in the transformation of the former Lowry Air Force Base into a vital new community. Edna Mosley also held positions with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and as director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the University of Denver. She was a founder of the Women’s Bank, created in 1978 to provide women equal access to financial services.
As an African-American student, [John Mosley, in 1939,] was barred from living at the [Colorado State University] residence halls, denied service in local restaurants, and experienced racial discrimination on campus. Despite these obstacles, Mosley became the first black student to play on the CSU football team and in the Mountain States Conference. He subsequently worked as special assistant to the undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington, D.C. and for the Department of Health and Human Services in Denver.
The school is developing a model that will teach students to tap their own strengths and how to bounce back from challenges. It will open in the fall.
Aurora Central High School is close to running out the accountability clock, so the school district is devising a plan to turn things around at the struggling school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Never a dull moment
The State Board of Education delays action on testing waivers and moves to lift punishments for schools with sub-par test participation rates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Venture capitalists pumped a record $2 billion into education technology companies in 2014. ( TechCrunch )
Citing over-testing as a problem, Florida's education commissioner is recommending elimination of some of the state's new assessments. ( StateImpact )
A new Colorado bill takes aim at the practice of jailing students who defy court orders in truancy cases. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
farm to school table
A Colorado bill to spend about $5 million to put more local produce in school cafeterias passed its first test Wednesday at the Legislature. ( Coloradoan )
It's not something you think would happen that often, high school students in Colorado Springs getting arrested while on campus grounds, but it may happen more than you think. ( Fox21 News )
A Denver Post editorial chides the State Board of Education for "using its scant power to cause as much trouble as possible." ( Denver Post )
A new bill takes aim at the practice of jailing students who defy court orders in truancy cases.
A key change proposed by Senate Bill 15-184 would take truancy cases out of the juvenile courts and place them with state administrative law judges.
Under the bill, school districts that wanted to compel a student to attend school would file a petition with an administrative judge, who could issue an order compelling attendance, require dependency or neglect evaluations,and specify sanctions. But an administrative judge couldn’t order detention for students or jailing of parents.
Parents and students could appeal administrative decisions to juvenile court, and cases would have to be transferred to juvenile court if a student were involved in dependency or neglect proceedings.
Finally, according to the bill summary, the measure “prohibits a juvenile detention facility from receiving a juvenile who violates a court order to attend school unless the juvenile is also adjudicated for committing a delinquent act.”
The bill is as bipartisan as can be, given that it’s sponsored by conservative Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker and liberal Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora.
Fields has long been concerned about truancy, and was the prime sponsor of a 2013 law that limits jailing of truant students to no more than five days at a stretch and encourages school districts to improve their services for “chronically absent” students so that they don’t end up in court.
During a committee hearing on that bill, Fields and witnesses said about 500 students a year were detained for truancy violations, and that in at least one case a youth was held for more than 100 days.
Read the text of SB 15-184 here.
AURORA — Superintendent Rico Munn told the city’s school board Tuesday night that his leadership team will develop a plan this spring for a chronically low performing high school that is quickly approaching the end of the state’s accountability timeline.
Munn’s announcement came after the school board heard from officials at the Colorado Department of Education about sanctions the state may impose on the district if it fails to improve academic performance at Aurora Central High School.
The district’s goal: come up with a local solution that will improve student outcomes before a possible state intervention in 2016.
Aurora Central has been considered a low-performing school by the state for five years. If the school, which has made some slight improvements, doesn’t dramatically boost student tests scores and its graduation rate this year, the State Board of Education will likely ask the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education to take “dramatic and disruptive” action, the state officials said.
Among the possible actions: turn over the school to a charter operator; apply for innovation status that would give the school more autonomy from district policies and state law; or close it.
“As much as there are challenges, there are opportunities,” said Peter Sherman, executive director of the state’s school improvement office.Data Center
State officials urged the school district and its board to take the long view. Nearly a third of Aurora’s 60 schools are considered low-performing. And the district itself is also at risk of losing its accreditation if it doesn’t improve as a whole within two years. That means the district, which is sits on Denver’s eastern border, could lose out on some federal funds, and students’ diplomas would be put in jeopardy.
Aurora is the largest school district on the state’s accountability watch list for chronically poor student achievement. Created in 2009, the state’s accountability system ranks schools and districts based mostly on student test scores and graduation rates. Schools and districts that fall in the bottom two categories of the state’s rankings are given five years to improve or face state penalty.
Aurora Central is one of 30 schools that is nearing the state’s deadline. The only other high school on that list is Adams City High School run by the Adams 14 school district.
“I think this is a lot to take in,” said board president JulieMarie Shepherd.
While the school board has had ongoing conversations with its struggling schools, the discussion Tuesday night between the board, state officials, and the district’s leadership seemed more frank given that the deadline for Aurora Central is drawing near.
Board members questioned the state’s motives and practices, how the district leadership team will engage teachers and parents in developing a plan for the high school, and wondered if the district shouldn’t take multiple actions simultaneously.
“It’s — scary isn’t the right word — I’m still looking for the partnership piece,” said board member Mary Lewis said, eyeing the state officials. “I’m looking for [you to say] we’re here to help.”
Aurora Central has about 2,100 students, most of whom are poor and black or Hispanic. It won a three-year, $2.3 million school improvement grant from the state and federal government in 2013. And state officials have been working directly in Aurora Central and with APS officials.
Lewis was also concerned that the district’s leadership team might act unilaterally without listening to the ideas of teachers.
“Teachers, all the staff, need to be included,” Lewis said.
Board member Amber Drevon said parents also needed to be consulted.
District officials said they are engaging with all community members. A survey was already sent to Aurora Central teachers. And the district will host community meetings in the near future.
Board member Dan Jorgensen urged the district to bring well-researched solutions to the table for teachers and parents to discuss. That would make for a better community engagement process, he said.
And while some board members were pointed about making sure adults outside of the district’s headquarters were listened to, Jorgensen refocused the conversation on students.
“Our decision shouldn’t be based on the clock, but on what’s best for kids,” Jorgensen said. “The rest is just gibberish. … It’s about kids.”
Some audience members whispered “yes,” and “about time,” after Jorgensen’s comments.
Jorgensen also suggested the district seek bids for high-quality charter schools while it comes up with its own plan for the school.
About 30 members of the Aurora Central staff attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re invested and truly care about the future custody of the school,” said Corey Price, a social studies and psychology teacher. “Our plea is that we’re part of the process is determining the future of Aurora Central High.”
In an interview after the board meeting, Price said he believes high teacher and leadership turnover coupled with multiple initiatives from various levels of district bureaucracy have prevented Aurora Central from propelling student achievement forward. He said he hopes the school board gives the high school more autonomy and supports the building’s principal, Mark Roberts.
Munn told the board it can expect a proposal by the end of the school year.
“Whatever the option is — we need to start now,” he said.
Updated at noon to include information about a new motion to eliminate penalties to districts with low testing participation rates.
The State Board of Education voted 5-1 Wednesday to delay action on testing waiver requests it has received from 20 districts. The board also voted to end penalties for districts whose test participation rates fall below required levels because of parents opting out.
The practical effect of the first vote is that those districts will have no legal justification not to give tests as scheduled in March. The motion specified that the board will reconsider the waiver issue at either its next regular meeting in March, or a special meeting if members decide to call one.
Today’s delay keeps alive controversy and the confusion kicked off when the board voted 4-3 in January to allow districts to seek waivers from the first part of the state’s new language arts and math tests, due to be given next month.
That January motion, made by new Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, directed education Commissioner Robert Hammond to grant waivers that applied for such exemptions. The motion passed despite cautions from Hammond and Department of Education staff that the two portions of the tests can’t be separated.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl also told the board in January it didn’t have the authority to grant waivers. Hammond said then he wouldn’t issue waivers until he’d received formal advice from the attorney general’s office. That advice came last week, when Attorney General Cynthia Coffman issued her formal opinion concluding that neither the board nor the department have the legal authority to grant testing waivers. Such an opinion has the force of law, unlike Dyl’s informal advice.Second resolution adds more complications
The board also created a new element of uncertainty Wednesday by passing a separate motion that seeks to exempt districts from any penalty if fewer than 95 percent of students participate in testing this spring because of parents opting out. The vote was 4-2.
As with the board’s original waiver vote in January, the vote’s legal effect is unclear. “This motion probably would violate the terms” in the state’s accountability agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, said Dyl.
“That does cause us a problem with the feds,” said Hammond, an issue that could “force me to ask for another opinion from the attorney general’s office.”
The federal NCLB law requires that all students in specified grades undergo annual testing in language arts and math. The federal government requires 95 percent participation and requires states to impose penalties on districts that fail to meet that threshold in two or more tests.
Colorado’s current penalty is a reduction in accreditation ratings for districts that don’t comply.
Explaining what would happen in light of the board vote, Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen said, “You’d have to submit an amendment to the feds … negotiate that amendment and see if they would approve it.” A possible amendment would propose a different penalty than loss of accreditation status.
Board members Durham and Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver argued for the motion. “We can’t hold districts liable for what parents want,” said Flores, hinting at the possibility of increased numbers of parents opting students out of tests this spring.
Durham argued that eliminating the current penalty is needed “so that pressure on parents hopefully will be eliminated.” He alleged that some districts and administrators put inappropriate pressure on parents to have students take tests.
The board’s one-hour discussion of testing waivers and the participation penalty was marked by some confusion.
Durham originally included the two ideas in a single motion. But chair Marcia Neal objected to that, as well as to voting on a motion that wasn’t available to members in writing.
Neal, participating by phone from Grand Junction because of a medical issue, was in and out of the conversation and didn’t participate in the two votes.
The discussion was marked by some tension, particularly between Durham and members of the attorney general’s staff.
At one point, after not getting the answer he wanted, Durham said to Dyl, “I’ll try one more time. It’s a yes or no question.”
Durham also complained that Colorado has become “bogged down in a regimen of testing” and criticized the attorney general’s office for not laying out a strategy for dealing with federal requirements.
He also scoffed at concerns that Colorado would lose federal education funding if it violates various requirements.
“I’ve yet to see” the federal government pull funding in such cases, he said.Board is one voice in larger testing debate
The board’s January action was part of a broader backlash against state standardized testing that has united groups ranging from the Colorado Education Association to suburban parent activists to legislators from both parties.
There’s been rising concern about the amount of testing, particularly after 11th grade language arts and math tests were added, along with science and social studies tests for high school seniors.
Do your homework
Many teachers and administrators complain the new state school readiness and early-literacy assessments consume too much classroom time, and that giving this spring’s tests online will cut instruction time as students are shuttled back and forth to school computer labs to take tests.
And conservative critics object to the fact that the new tests are based on the Common Core State Standards, which they see as an infringement on state and local control of education.
Six testing bills already have been introduced in the 2015 legislative session. They range from a fairly simple reduction in testing to wide-ranging measures that propose to reduce testing and withdraw from the Common Core and the PARCC testing group.
Lawmakers face the same problem as the state board – current federal requirements leave states with limited options to reduce testing beyond a certain level or to give districts assessment flexibility.
The full legislative testing debate isn’t expected to develop until next month, but it’s widely assumed at the Capitol that lawmakers will approve some reduction in the amount of testing.This spring’s tests
Here’s the rundown on the testing schools and students face this spring.
The first window – Districts can start giving the first parts of language arts and math tests in grades 3-11 on March 2. The so-called “testing window” remains open until April 3. An individual district has four weeks within which to schedule tests to accommodate computer availability and other needs.
The first part – The initial section of the language arts and math tests emphasize essay questions and other “constructed response” items that take longer to score. That’s why they’re given earlier.
The second window – Districts may test between April 20 and May 22.
The second part – Called “end of year” assessments, these tests are intended to assess student knowledge of what they’ve learned through the year and are mostly multiple-choice items that can be scored quickly. The ultimate goal of the new tests is to have results available before the school year ends, but that won’t happen this year.
Other tests – Social studies tests will be given to 4th and 7th graders, and 8th graders will take science tests, between April 13 and May 1. High school juniors will take the ACT test on April 28.
Technology – Paper-and-pencil tests are available for math tests in all grades and for 3rd grade language arts. CDE estimates about 15 percent of Colorado students will take paper tests this spring.
Time on task – CDE estimates the two sets of language arts and math tests will take a combined 9 ¾ hours for 3rd graders, 10 hours in grades 4-5, a little under 11 hours for middle school students and about 11 hours in high school.Who wanted a waiver
As of Wednesday, 20 districts had applied for waivers. Most are small, but the list includes two larger suburban systems: Douglas and Jefferson counties. Many smaller districts used a sample resolution that had been circulated by the Rural Alliance, a group that advocates for the interests of small districts. Most districts asked for exemption from the first set of tests, but a few asked for broader waivers. They enroll more than 174,000 students, nearly 20 percent of the 889,006 students statewide.
Buffalo, Byers, Dolores, Dougco, Eaton, Elizabeth, Haxtun, Hayden, Jeffco, Julesburg, Kit Carson, Lone Star, Montrose, Steamboat Springs, Weld RE-7 (Platte Valley), Weld RE-9 (Ault), Weld RE-10J (Briggsdale), Weldon, Wiggins and Wiley.
WATCH: Two Aurora Public Schools students share their experience with pot in middle school. ( I-News via Chalkbeat Colorado )
As drug related incidents rise on campuses across Colorado, we want to know: How should schools talk to kids about marijuana? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Colorado voters in 2012 were promised sales tax revenue for pot would raise nearly $40 million for schools. But as the state tallies up the sales from the first year, campuses across Colorado will get only about $17 million. ( 9News )
Testing on the new Common Core State Standards is a little less than a month away in Colorado, but in states like Ohio, students are "PARCC-ing" it in front of computers to the take the exams this week. ( AP via the Aurora Sentinel )
Meanwhile, Indiana lawmakers are pushing a bill that would effectively create a new — and much shorter — standardized exam for students to take this year. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )
And ICYMI: Here's our preview of today's State Board of Education meeting. The board will pick up the issue of testing waivers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Talking it out
Colorado lawmakers may expand a state-run restorative justice program that is being piloted by a few school districts. ( KOAA )
No room at the Inn
The St. Vrain Valley school board will get an update Wednesday on the district's plans to accommodate continued growth. ( Daily Camera )
State Sen. Nancy Todd: partisan politics killed my merit-based scholarship bill. ( Aurora Sentinel )
A new report from our partners at Rocky Mountain PBS I-News has found drug suspensions in Colorado schools are up since the legalization of recreational marijuana.
From the investigation:
The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-’13.
The I-News analysis found:
That brings us to our question of the week: What should Colorado schools do to address the issue of legalized marijuana?
Each week, 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.
The first months of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado saw a jump in drug policy violations in the state’s public schools, a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis of Department of Education data has found.
Alarmingly, the biggest spike in violations came in the state’s middle schools, according to the analysis. The first months of legal recreational marijuana coincided with the winter and spring of the 2013-14 school year.
“Middle schoolers are most vulnerable to being confused about marijuana,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, attending physician for the Denver Health Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment program. “They think, ‘Well, it’s legal so it must not be a problem.’”
In many cases, marijuana is simply more available to younger teens, officials say.
“We have seen parents come in and say, ‘Oh that’s mine, they just took it out of my room,’ and that sort of thing,” said school resource officer Judy Lutkin of the Aurora Police Department. “Parents have it in their houses more often, and the kids just can take it from home.”
The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-13.
The I-News analysis found:
Still, it’s hard to discern the specific types of drugs involved in the increased number of reports as statewide policies to measure and extrapolate teen use of marijuana and other drugs are often inconsistent and unreliable.
In fact, the data collected by the Colorado Department of Education does not identify any specific drugs. Instead, this data lumps prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine and marijuana all into the same category of disciplinary cases.
“I would say that at any given time, any day of the week, there are probably about 10 percent of kids in the high school that are under the influence of something,” said school resource officer Susan Condreay of the Aurora Police Department.
Marijuana is second only to alcohol in teen substance abuse, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an annual survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
“Alcohol is by far and away the most used substance by middle schoolers, then it goes down for marijuana and tobacco is just below that,” said Dr. Thurstone. “Prescription drug use is number four, and it’s increasing, so that’s been an alarming increase, as well, that we need to pay attention to.”
The Department of Education wants to address the lack of specificity in its drug reporting, according to Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton. She said she was asked to carry a bill that would require schools to be more transparent with their drug reporting, particularly about marijuana.
“We are still continuing with stakeholder meetings, but I am hoping to have a bill drafted and ready to go (this month),” Rep. Lawrence said. “If we don’t start now, we are not going to have a baseline to compare to in the future.”
She hopes that potential new requirements will not only show how legal marijuana is impacting students, but also provide more data on other potentially harmful drugs.
“Colorado ranks I think second in prescription drug abuse in the country and that is something we need to keep a constant eye on,” Lawrence said. “And I think starting to monitor the marijuana use is very important so we need to make sure that we are collecting the best data we can.”
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health ranked Colorado as the second worst state in the country for prescription drug abuse in 2013. That year, 598 people of all ages in the state died from unintentional drug poisoning, according to the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. That’s nearly four times the number of deaths that were caused by drunk driving during the same period.
Still, marijuana remains a top priority for school resource officers and treatment providers, especially in middle schools.
Denver Public Schools hired a district substance abuse treatment coordinator this school year, who will focus greater attention on middle schools.
“According to our data, middle schools are where most people begin to experiment,” said John Simmons, DPS executive director of student services. “It’s much easier to stop someone from using in the first place than it is to stop it once it’s started.”
The Denver district saw a 7 percent increase in drug incidents, from 452 in 2012-13 to 482 in the 2013-14 year. Simmons says that marijuana accounts for almost every drug incident.
But legalization supporters point out that kids aren’t coming in and buying from stores, and packages that leave the stores do not market to children.
“We have gone above and beyond to make sure that we are not marketing to children,” said Meg Sanders, owner of MiNDFUL, a cannabis company that operates in several cities in Colorado. “We feel it’s our responsibility as a responsible business to card not just once but twice for any recreational customer, and medical patients have to show several documents before they can purchase marijuana.”
Some say that legalization might help provide resources for addressing underage consumption of marijuana using tax revenue generated through legal sales.
“The fact is that we had a significant number using marijuana then and now (before and after legalization),” Simmons said of public schools in Denver. “We are hopeful that these changes will provide more resources.”
The Colorado legislature set aside $2.5 million in grants for schools from marijuana tax revenue. As of November 2014, the Department of Education had awarded $975,000 to 11 districts to hire more health professionals to help address student behavior regarding marijuana, sometimes as an alternative to traditional punishment like expulsion or suspension.
But alternative or non-punitive methods currently dealing with drug incidents by districts or individual schools are not tracked by state data.
“We have a lot of different things that we will do for kids who have gotten involved in drug incidents in school,” said Kenlyn Newman, the student engagement initiatives director for Adams 12 Five Star School District. She says that different behaviors require different responses and schools will try to intervene and work with parents to address inappropriate behaviors.
Adams 12 schools are in five different municipalities, and each of those schools have different agreements with the local government. This means that police involvement can vary from school to school, with similar incidents being reported differently to the state. But the Department of Education has no means to measure these differences in reporting.
“There is no manpower to audit the data; we can’t go back to the districts to check what they say,” said Annette Severson from the Colorado Department of Education. “We just have to trust that what they report to us is accurate and then they have to sign off and say that it is accurate.”
Even as Colorado has been launched into the national spotlight as the first state to legalize and commercialize the sale of marijuana for adult use, the state has yet to begin collecting comprehensive and consistent data to describe how it is impacting Colorado’s teens.
“I was against legalization,” said Doris Cooper, while waiting to pick up her 7th grade granddaughter from North Middle School in Aurora. “If you legalize it, you know it’s just going to make them want to use it that much more, that’s what I figure.”
Chalkbeat Colorado brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at firstname.lastname@example.org. I-News reporter Burt Hubbard contributed to this story.
The agenda of for a two-day State Board of Education meeting includes a laundry list of hot-button education issues, including opt-outs, No Child Left Behind, and graduation guidelines. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Drug incidents in school, especially middle school, are on the rise, according to an I-News investigation. ( Post Independent )
Grading Grading Systems
Colorado Springs parents say Falcon High School's grading system is overly complicated. ( Gazette )
Dance Dance Dance
Students at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont are learning science in dance classes. ( Times Call )
Many Colorado schools have vaccination opt-out rates high enough to threaten kids' health. Chalkbeat reporters discuss their findings on Colorado Public Radio. ( CPR )
A principal in Yuma writes about his efforts to break down perceptions about how students learn. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Students say universities should do a better job welcoming first-generation students. ( KUNC )
Drugs in School
Thornton police are investigating a claim that a teacher gave students pot. ( Denver Post )
A theater in Aurora has rolled out a new youth program. ( Aurora Sentinel )
When 14-year-olds can control their school days... ( Hechinger Report )
It seems that every contentious education issue of the day has a spot on the State Board of Education’s agenda for the two-day meeting that starts Wednesday.
The seven-member board is known for full agendas at its monthly sessions. But the February meeting is especially crowded, including such issues as testing, the state’s waiver from NCLB requirements, opting out of the Common Core State Standards, future state graduation guidelines, and parents’ rights to opt out of testing. There’s even a briefing on math standards, which have been a sore point for some Common Core critics.
Most of the issues are labeled as “information items,” meaning the board will be briefed and likely have a discussion but won’t take any action.
But the two new members who joined the board last month have added an element of unpredictability to the group’s deliberations, heightening interest in what individual members have to say on key issues.
The new board produced a surprise at its Jan. 8 meeting when it voted 4-3 for a resolution instructing education Commissioner Robert Hammond to grant waivers to districts that requested exemptions from the first part of CMAS/PARCC language arts and math tests, due to be given starting next month.
The motion was made by new GOP member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and supported by two other Republicans plus Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver, the other new member (see story).
Since then 18 districts, including Douglas and Jefferson counties, have applied for waivers. But more important, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has issued a formal opinion concluding that neither the board nor the Department of Education have legal authority to grant such waivers.
Deciding what to do about the waiver applications is on the agenda for Wednesday morning. In light of the attorney general’s opinion, the department is recommending the requests be denied.
“I don’t have a lot of answers about how it’s going to go,”said board chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction.. “What the response will be from individual board members is unknown.”The rest of the agenda
Here’s a look at the other issues the board will be talking about this week.
More testing – Significant numbers of seniors in some districts boycotted science and math tests last fall, raising concerns about opting out during the main testing season this spring. Under federal and state requirements districts face reductions in accreditation ratings if fewer than 95 percent of students are tested. The board will be briefed on that issue Thursday (see the slide show members will view).
Common Core withdrawal – A majority of the board supports pulling out of the Common Core standards. But, like testing waivers, that may be easier talked about than accomplished. On Thursday the board will be briefed on the issue. An informal opinion from one member of the attorney general’s staff outlines the procedure, and the document basically concludes it can’t be done without legislative action.
NCLB waiver – Colorado currently has a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that gives it flexibility in rating districts and schools and in use of federal funds for the most struggling schools. That waiver needs to be renewed, and the state has to file its paperwork by March 31. The board will get an update Wednesday; see this document for details.
Graduation guidelines – Since 2008 the state has been working on high school graduation guidelines, a system that won’t go into effect until 2017-18. (The state can’t impose graduation requirements because the Colorado constitution gives local school boards final control of instruction.) A recent story in The Denver Post raised the issue of possibly watering down the proposed guidelines, so the issue has taken a higher profile. The board will have a study session on the guidelines Thursday, using this document.
New math – The board will have a “learning session” Wednesday on Colorado’s math standards, with CDE staff trying to explain how and why the standards seek to teach kids how to both get the right answers and also understand why those answers are correct. (Here’s the staff presentation.)
On top of all these issues, the board has the usual long list of other business, including a charter school appeal, rule-making hearings, and various procedural matters – plus time for public comment. Over the last year public comment sessions have been a lively forum, primarily for critics of testing and Common Core.
If board members were paid – and they’re not – they’d earn their money this week.
Following the direction of John Keating — masterfully played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society — it was time to stand on the desk. Time to change not only our view but our approach as well. The students with whom we work each and every day — Gen Z’ers as they are now known — needed something more.
So at Yuma Middle School on Colorado’s eastern plains, we created MindWorks.
MindWorks is a combination of Brainology — an online program created by Drs. Carol Dweck and Lisa Blackwell of Stanford University — and project-based learning using inspiration from the works of Dweck, Blackwell, Angela Duckworth, and others in the field of brain development. To reinvigorate a passion for learning, MindWorks breaks down perceptions (one’s self or others’) that often limit what students are able to accomplish.
MindWorks has been incorporated into our counseling program at Yuma Middle School. At the helm of our counseling program is tech-geek/problem solver Elaine Menardi. She explains the need for the course this way:
“MindWorks is an integration class. Where core classes focus individually on math or science or language arts or social studies, MindWorks is a time to practice all of those skills simultaneously. Middle school students make up the core population of Generation Z and easily outpace our adult skills with their digital native intuitiveness.
Combine this with their uncanny ability to multitask and consume media and you have an explosive opportunity to take them to the next level academically. These students must be challenged to persevere through difficulty so we are focusing on key character traits like grit and curiosity.”
In addition to words like grit and curiosity, setback and obstacle, one will also hear us use the term growth mindset. It is a concept that is gaining popularity in the field of education and beyond. Research has shown us that one who possesses a growth mindset does not shy away from setback and failure; rather, the growth-minded person is one who uses those challenges as motivators to try harder and improve his or her character.
On the opposite side of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. The fixed-minded person is one who is unable to move forward when faced with obstacles. He or she operates with a perceived “ceiling” of ability disallowing for any type of positive, vertical movement.
I am passionate about using MindWorks to instill in students a growth mindset and to redefine what 21st century college and career readiness should mean. My support for this endeavor is inspired by an even greater cause: I want to shatter the misconception of what rural schools can achieve.
Rural districts like Yuma are faced with smaller budgets, limited personnel resources and inaccessibility due to location. Often the perception is that these limitations mean students cannot or should not be expected to compete with students in urban and suburban districts. This is a myth.
Still in its developmental stage, our desire is for MindWorks to instill in students a growth mindset and to reenergize and feed the intellectual fire that we know all students possess. In doing so we seek to uncover each student’s potential and help him or her embark on the educational journey with renewed energy.
The class meets for 30 minutes every other day and students engage in small group activities, online research and team collaboration.
Menardi further describes how students spend their class time.
“For the first semester, we have been focused on how our brains absorb and process information. If we view the brain as a muscle — which it is — students learn that practice and hard work in school grows their mental abilities in the same way that athletes improve at their sports.”
“By the end of the semester, we will have blogs, videos, Slide Shares, Blackout poems, cartoons, infographics and newspaper articles posted on the student website YumaMindWorks.com. It is a very exciting time at Yuma Middle School.”
There is a lot of misconception out there as to what a counseling program can truly provide a school. All too often, counselors are remanded to menial tasks and occasional chat sessions with students. Our philosophy is that a good counseling program can serve to meet the needs of the individual as well as the masses.
Standing on a desk shouting O Captain! My Captain! helped us envision a larger world for students and create a new path of learning that does more to meet the true needs of students. Already we see their growth and renewed energy for education.
I invite you to follow the research that has inspired us and to check us out on the web. The class website is YumaMindWorks.com. You can also visit the Yuma School District-1 YouTube Channel for a great look at some of the projects that have taken place thus far.
Denver Public Schools is poised to end two of the district's six dual-language programs, both in the southwest quadrant of the city. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Higher ed costs
Higher education tuition increases in Colorado slowed this academic year, but perhaps not for long, a new report says. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A top El Paso county health official says Chalkbeat's school immunization database may be built on flawed data, but praises Chalkbeat for publishing it nevertheless. ( The Gazette )
Leading from the ranks
Readers respond to our question of the week about the role of teacher-leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Pot and Schools
An I-News investigation finds that the first months of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado saw a jump in drug policy violations in the state’s public schools. ( Summit Daily News )
A survey of Summit County students found that leading concerns include substance abuse and bullying. ( Summit Daily News )
A local businessman makes the case for investing in early childhood education ( Denver Business Journal )
Denver Public Schools is considering ending dual language programs at Valverde Dual Language Academy and Charles M. Schenck Community School, two of the district’s six Spanish-English immerison programs.
District officials say the program changes are aimed at stemming declines in academic performance at both schools among native English- and Spanish-speakers alike.
Some parents say that the district didn’t give the programs enough time to thrive, and that the changes would leave southwest Denver without a dual language program.
Both schools would likely house instead new Transitional Native Language Instruction programs, which provide Spanish-speaking students with instruction in their native language, supports when they are taught in English, and specific courses in English language acquisition.
Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said DPS still supports its dual language programs, in which students receive instruction in both Spanish and English. But, she said, at Valverde and Schenck, “the implementation was not nearly as strong or robust as we’d like to see it. When we started looking at data, we had real concerns about viability of the programs.”
“We felt that the best decision was to make sure we had quality, strong first-language programming in Spanish as well as quality strong first-language programming in English for English speakers,” Cordova said.
In addition to Valverde and Schenck, the district currently has dual language programs at Academia Ana Maria Sandoval, Bryant Webster, the Denver Language School, and Valdez.Frustrated parents
Replacing a dual language program with a native-language program would uphold the district’s legal requirement under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, to provide native language instruction options for Spanish-speaking students, Cordova said.
She said that most teachers who were eligible to teach in the dual language program would still be able to teach at the schools, even if the model changes.
But at a public comment session at the DPS board meeting in January, Schenck parent Gregoria Salcedo told district officials that she was frustrated by what had seemed like half-hearted implementation of the dual language program.
“Why was this decision made? Why do they support schools like Valdez but not us? Why don’t you support dual language at [Schnck]?” Salceda said. “We feel the district disrespected us.”
Parent Martha Juarez said that while she knew the school had earned red, the lowest category on the district’s school performance framework, “the reason it’s in red is because of all the changes you have done. I feel there is a lot of causes, and it’s because you don’t let a specific program develop in a school.”
The district’s other dual language programs are all several miles away, in other quadrants of the city. Cordova said the district is not considering changing programs at those schools. “The dual-language programs we have in other parts of the city are showing far greater academic gains.”
DPS is under consistent pressure to meet the educational needs of its nearly-30,000 English language learners, especially in southwest Denver, where more than 80 percent of students are Latino and many are English language learners. Earlier this school year, plans to place two charter schools in nearby Kepner Middle School drew fire from advocates who were concerned the district would not offer appropriate native language instruction to Spanish-speaking middle schoolers in the Southwest.Academic struggles
Students at both schools have not fared well on state standardized tests. Schenck, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch and 76.4 percent are English language learners, has alternated between red and yellow rankings—the two lowest possibile—in recent years, and last year was ranked red on the district’s performance scorecard.
Fewer than a quarter of its students scored proficient or advanced on last year’s state standardized tests in reading or math. The school’s native English-speakers scored ten or more percentage points worse than their native Spanish speaking peers—a reversal of trends in the district as a whole.
Declining enrollment is also an issue at Schenck: Enrollment has dropped from 670 in 2011 to 500 in the current school year.
Valverde, where nearly 60 percent of the school’s 400 students are English language learners and 98.5 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, was also given the lowest ranking on the district’s performance framework. Its rating has been steadily declining over the past five years, and its English-speaking students also scored lower than English language learners on reading and writing tests.
Valverde’s former principal announced in September that she would leave due to the school’s stagnant test scores. The school has an interim principal and will have a new permanent leader next year.
“We want to be responsive to all of our parents, but as we look at performance level in both schools–frankly we’re not doing well enough by any students in these schools,” Cordova said.
DPS officials say the decision to change the programs at Valverde and Schenck is not yet final.
A new report from the Department of Higher Education casts fresh light on a never-ending worry for parents and policymakers – rising college costs.
The 2014-15 Tuition and Fees Report, presented to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Friday, found that the median increase in resident tuition for the year was 5 percent. That was the lowest since the 2.5 percent recorded in 2006-07, before the 2008 recession slashed state revenues and forced cuts in higher education spending, which led to substantial tuition increases.
The combined average burden of resident tuition and student fees rose 4.7 percent in 2014-15 over the 2013-14 school year. The average tuition-and-fees increase was 5.7 percent at four-year schools – about $462 – and 3.8 percent at community colleges, about $150 per student.
Over the last decade, tuition and fees have increased by an average of 8-12 percent a year at four-year state colleges and universities. (As the chart shows, there were wide swings in percentage increases year to year.) So while the 2014-15 figures may look better to students and parents, lower rates of tuition growth may not last.
First, the 2014 legislature capped annual tuition increases at no more than 6 percent this year and in 2015-16. That cap was accompanied by a $100 million increase in higher education support for this year. Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $60 million increase for the next school year.Source: Colorado Department of Higher Education
But the flow of additional state money may soon dry up, and the tuition cap is set to expire. (A Senate committee recently killed a bill that would have extended the 6 percent ceiling indefinitely. Lawmakers were persuaded by college leaders’ concerns that they may have to rely more heavily on tuition the next time state support is trimmed.)
State budget director Henry Sobanet briefed the commission on state budget prospects during Friday’s meeting and warned that in the 2016-17 budget, rising demands for K-12 spending, transportation, and refunds required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights could mean “everything else will have to drop by $148 million.”
Asked by CCHE chair Richard Kaufman about the potential impact on colleges and universities, Sobanet said, “Under some circumstances it could end up being that there are cuts to higher education.”
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, speaking earlier in the meeting, also noted “We know that in the next couple of years we may again be in a situation where we’re cutting.”Inside the report Do your homework
Dating back to 2010-11, increases in base tuition have varied widely by college. At the high end, five-year increases were 74.8 percent at Adams State University, 64 percent at Fort Lewis College, 61.8 percent at Western State Colorado University and 60.1 percent at Metropolitan State University. The lowest percentage increase was 23 percent at CU-Colorado Springs. The community college system had a 29.8 percent increase.
Looking at fees alone, over the last five years increases have ranged from a low of 5.8 percent at Colorado Mesa University to 72.5 percent at Western. (Fees have risen sharply at Western and a few other institutions because fees were used to fund campus construction projects when state support for projects dropped.)
According to the College Board, average four-year tuition and fees increased 2.9 percent nationally in 2014-15. Colorado’s average tuition and fees were slight above the national average of $9,139 this year. But Colorado’s per-student state support – $3,494 – was the second-lowest in nation and well below the national average of $7,072.
The department also reports annually on student financial aid and debt in a separate study. The 2013-14 version of that report found that 70 percent of students graduated with debt from four-year institutions. The average debt was $26,057 for a bachelor’s degree. Of students who earned an associate degree, 65 percent used loans, and the average debt upon graduation was $14,344.
On Monday we asked our readers: How might schools benefit from this split role, and conversely, what are the biggest risks of the teacher-leader model?
Educator and reader Kenneth Durham reminded us in a comment that teacher-leaders are not a new concept:
Prior to the creation of principalships, schools were lead by teachers and in some cases a lead teacher. Leadership at its core is about helping other to realize their potential for their benefit and the benefit of their community. The first advantage I see in this split role is the intentional communication that leadership is not confined, nor should it be, to the principal’s office. … A risk of the teacher leader model is poor development that leads to leaders that do not understand the role of a leader. Leadership should be studied, experienced, reflected on, refined, and then have the process repeated. Leadership is not about the leader.
A Denver teacher-leader, who asked to remain anonymous, emailed this:
Most effective has been the chance to model and co-plan with teachers and to give them release time to afford them opportunities to observe other teachers’ practice. Far less effective, and even damaging to the role, is the mix of evaluation and coaching. It hampers the process of building trust, detracts from time that could be spent actually mentoring, and flavors the entire process in an unfortunate way. The training I have received this year has solely been on the evaluative side of the process: giving feedback, having difficult conversations, understanding rubrics and calibrating LEAP scores, etc. There has been no opportunity to grow in areas of educational practice.
Adams 12 teacher and sometimes First Person contributor Mark Sass agreed that teacher-leaders can do more than just evaluate other teachers:
Teachers have expertise in many areas that should be recognized and utilized. Some teachers are expert data analysts, others are knowledgeable in writing curriculum; still others have policy expertise. Teachers, and not paid outside contractors, should be leading professional development. All of this means a new and progressive look at how we recognize and compensate teachers. No more one size fits all compensation program. It also means a systematic and structured approach that doesn’t rely on TIFs to pay for teacher leader positions. What will Denver do when the TIFs run dry?
On Facebook, Antonio D’Lallo suggested leadership should be shared by the principal, teachers, parents, and students:
I worked in a site-based managed alternative high school and we had a council of students, parents and teachers along with our principal that made decisions that impacted us from instruction and curriculum to hiring and firing/renewal of contract. It was a great system that empowered all of us to make the best decisions for students.
There's a fresh angle in our analysis of school-by-school immunization opt-out rates with an interactive map of schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Voices of change
Three LGBT students talk about the barriers they've experienced that have prevented or hindered learning for them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Count us in
The Douglas County school district has joined the line of districts seeking waivers from state testing, even though it's doubtful any exemptions will be given this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A Fairview High School student explains why students don’t care about standardized tests and provides solutions to create “buy in.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The nation's high school graduation rate has gone up for the second year in a row, to 81 percent. ( Washington Post )
A girl was shot by a pellet gun on the grounds of Broomfield High Thursday. ( Broomfield Enterprise via Denver Post )
A Douglas County parent urges the school board to place a bond issue on the ballot next November. ( Denver Post )
Around the network
A bill targeting the Common Core State Standards has been delayed in the Tennessee legislature as the conversation on the issue shifts. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )
The Douglas County School Districts has filed a “just in case” request for a waiver from statewide testing with the Department of Education.
The Dougco application surfaced after Attorney General Cynthia Coffman issued a formal opinion this week concluding neither the State Board of Education nor the department has authority to grant testing waivers (see story).
In a Wednesday letter to education Commissioner Robert Hammond, Dougco lawyer Robert Ross noted the opinion and wrote, “We understand that there will now be legal (and likely legislative) issues to address for you and/or the State Board in order to proceed with such waivers.” Still, Ross wrote, the district wanted the education department to know of its desire for a waiver, should circumstances ever change.
The resolution passed unanimously by the Dougco board sounded a similar conditional note.
The Douglas County board has been a strong advocate of giving districts more flexibility in testing and standards.
Dougco is among 15 districts that have applied for testing waivers. The only other large school system that has done so is Jefferson County. Those two districts combined enroll 153,249 of the state’s 889,006 students.
Most of the districts that have asked for exemption from the first portion of this spring’s CMAS/PARCC language arts and math tests are smaller and rural. Two districts have asked for five-year testing time-outs.
The applicants are Buffalo, Byers, Dougco, Elizabeth, Hayden, Jeffco, Julesburg, Kit Carson, Montrose, Steamboat Springs, Weld RE-9 (Ault), Weld RE-10J (Briggsdale), Weldon, Wiggins and Wiley. Kit Carson, with 108 students, is the smallest of the group.
The State Board is scheduled to discuss the attorney general’s ruling and the waiver applications Wednesday morning during its regular monthly meeting.
[Updated]Colorado’s patchwork of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are often celebrated as the most progressive in the nation. That includes a set of inclusive laws that protect LGBT students from bullying in the classroom.
But for many LGBT students, those laws mean little to nothing if their school leaders, teachers, and peers fail to create a safe environment that respects and honors different identities.
What’s more, three Colorado high school students who identify as gay or transgender told Chalkbeat, they’re sometimes more knowledgeable about the laws that protect them then their educators. And that needs to change, they said.
Chalkbeat interviewed the high schools students at Creating Change, the largest annual gathering of LGBT advocates, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force. More than 4,000 LGBT leaders gathered in Denver for the weeklong conference between Feb. 3 and Feb. 8 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Denver.
Chalkbeat asked the three students what are some of the barriers they experienced that prevented or hindered their learning. Listen to the clips below.Jonathan Herbst
Jonathan Herbst is no stranger to the “big issues.” As his school’s only out-gay student, he’s not afraid to talk about his sexuality, gender neutral bathrooms, or bullying. But it’s the little things inside Lyons Middle-Senior High that are wearing him down as he nears the graduation line.Jake Snow
Choosing to express a gender other than the one assigned to you at birth is a battle against bureaucracy, said Fairview High School student Jake Snow. There’s little room to experiment inside a traditional public school that must follow decades-old rules.Xander Fager
When Xander Fager began to transition from female to male, the Smoky Hill High School administration was slow to adapt, he said. He was asked to use a gender neutral bathroom at first, instead of the boys bathroom. (Colorado schools, as public places, are required to allow individuals to use whichever restroom serves their self-selected gender.) While he said he was later given access to the boys restroom, Fager has opted to attend the Cherry Creek Option School, a home-school program.
A spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District said Fager was was never denied access to any restroom.
The experiences of Herbst, Snow, and Fager are not unique.
According to a 2013 nationwide school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 65 percent of LGBT students claimed to hear homophobic remarks in their schools often. Three out of every 10 students said they missed at least one day of school because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Nearly 90 percent said they were verbally harassed at least one during the previous year. And 19 percent of students said they were forbidden from wearing clothing that represented their chosen gender
The survey also found LGBT students who experienced higher levels of discrimination based on their identity had lower grade point averages than students who were less often harassed. And students who were harassed more often were less likely to go to college.
Updated: This article has been updated to include a statement from Cherry Creek School District. An official claims Fager was never denied access to the men’s bathroom.