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Senate takes its turn on testing, advances compromise plan

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 05/06/2015 - 00:36

The Senate passed a compromise testing bill late Tuesday that looks a lot like a measure approved by the House on Monday evening.

The vote appears to clear the way for a testing bill to pass this session. Now it only remains for the two chambers to work out small differences between the versions and send one to the governor on Wednesday, the last day of the 2015 session. The preliminary Senate vote came after more than an hour of debate.

Supporters of the compromise argued that it’s a practical one.

Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and a prime sponsor of the amended HB 15-1323, said, “Do you want to pass a bill that can be actually signed into law or do you want to make a statement? … Understanding the reality of this building and our governor I’m confident that this is the lowest burden of testing we can get to the governor’s desk that he will sign.

“Do you want some or none? That’s our choice,” he concluded.

Testing critics pushed an unsuccessful amendment to restore the bill to the language of another measure that originally passed the Senate 33-2. But on Tuesday night only about 10 senators rose to support that amendment on a standing vote.

Assessments need to be cut back even further to stem “the flood of testing that’s drowning students and teachers in a morass of unnecessary accountability,” argued Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs.

“We don’t have to pass anything if it’s the wrong thing,” said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.

When a vote on the bill neared, Merrifield was conciliatory. “‘I’ve changed my mind. A little bit is better than nothing.”

Following this week’s testing debate has been confusing. Procedurally, the new plan was amended into two different bills, making them identical. The Senate voted Tuesday on House Bill 15-1323. The House on Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-257.

The background of the debate

Lawmakers knew testing would be a top education issue this year – they created a commission in 2014 to study the issue and make recommendations for reducing assessments.

But wide divisions about what to do, both between the houses and within the parties, stalled progress on the matter for most of session. Eleven testing-related bills were introduced.

Efforts to dramatically change the testing system also faced barriers in the form of federal law and of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signals that he didn’t want a radical overhaul.

The House and Senate ultimately produced two different bills, with major differences over 9th grade testing and the extent of district flexibility. Last weekend a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafted a new proposal in an attempt to bridge the differences. That new version was transplanted Monday into both bills.

The compromise was accomplished with some leadership arm-twisting that left a few hard feelings. Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida, were installed as the House prime sponsors of SB 15-257 and led the effort to pass the compromise in the House.

Anti-testing groups and some lawmakers were left on the sidelines by the compromise deal, and they weren’t happy.

Since the compromise plan surfaced, the main points of contention have been district choice of 9th grade tests, lack of protection for districts from the administrative consequences of students boycotting tests, and over the details of the pilot testing program.

What the bill would do

Here are the key features of the bill the Senate passed.

It would reduce testing time somewhere between 30 and 50 hours, sponsors claim.

CMAS/PARCC testing in language arts and math would continue in grades 3-9. (This would require federal sign-off because grade 9 doesn’t meet federal requirements for giving the tests once in high school.)

Statewide science tests would continue to be given once at each level – elementary, middle and high school.

A college-and-career readiness test like ACT Aspire would be given to 10th grade students. (Such exams take a lot less time than the PARCC tests.)

The main ACT test would continue to be given in the 11th grade.

Districts would be required to give the 10th and 11th grade tests but students wouldn’t have to take them. (Such tests aren’t subject to federal requirements for student participation.)

Parents would have to be notified about their rights to opt students out of tests, and districts would be prohibited from punishing or discriminating against students who don’t take tests. Districts would also have to provide annual testing calendars and information about the purposes of tests.

Streamlining of school readiness and READ Act assessments to reduce overlapping tests and some tests for students who are reading at grade level.

Loosening of requirements for testing ELL student and new immigrant students in English. (This also would require federal approval.)

Allowing pilot programs through which districts could experiment with different kinds of tests to meet the requirements of state testing. Despite being a relatively small part of the bill, this issue has been a point of contention between lawmakers who want maximum district flexibility and other legislators who fear erosion of uniform statewide testing. This is an area where the two houses will need to smooth things out on Wednesday. (Pilot programs also would require federal approval.)

There would be limits on use of state test data for educator evaluation in 2014-15. Districts wouldn’t have to use state-derived data in future years if it’s not available in time to meet deadlines for finishing evaluations.

Accreditation ratings for districts and schools would be suspended for the 2015-16 school year.

The bill also requires the availability of paper tests if individual schools request them.

Bobbing behind the two big assessment bills is Senate Bill 15-056, passed 33-2 by the Senate Tuesday morning. The bill got preliminary House approval early in the evening, but no final vote. This is the bill that would partially salvage state social studies tests by giving the exams in only some schools each year. Tests currently are given annually to one grade in all schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Neither of the big bills makes any reference to social studies.

For the record: The roll of the fallen grows

As of Tuesday afternoon, Senate committees had killed three more education-related bills. The most important was House Bill 15-1389, the measure that would have reclassified revenue received from a hospital provider fee so that it doesn’t count against the state’s annual revenue limit. Without the bill the 2016 session could face some tough budget decisions. Republicans didn’t like it because it would have wiped out a couple of years of taxpayer TABOR refunds.

Also killed was House Bill 15-1339, which would have eased some financial transparency requirements currently imposed on districts.

The death of those two measures and another bill came a day after a dozen other education-related bills were killed (see story).

One measure that did advance Tuesday was Senate Bill 15-214, the study of school violence and youth mental health. The House passed it 51-13.

And the Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1321, which would provide $10 million in additional 2015-16 funding for small rural districts.

Categories: Urban School News

Committees quickly add to ranks of fallen education bills

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 14:38

A dozen education-related bills were killed in committee Monday during the frenzy of activity that marked the 118th day of the 2015 legislature’s 120-day session.

Many of those measures killed were House bills dispatched during late afternoon and evening sessions of committees in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Some notable proposals that were killed include:

Pensions – House Bill 15-1388, introduced only last week, would have allowed the state to sell bonds and use the proceeds to improve the funding of the school and district divisions of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. (This bill was killed during an early-morning Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.)

Charters – A behind-the-scenes lobbying fight was waged for much of the session over Senate Bill 15-216. The measure would have given the state Charter School Institute more power to authorize schools in districts rated as turnaround or priority improvement. School districts strongly opposed the bill, which had bipartisan sponsorship.

Student learning objectives – House Bill 15-1324 would have offered grants to school districts to develop student learning objectives, which are techniques teachers use to measure student progress toward specific learning goals. Some schools and districts already use these, but the bill was intended to spread the practice through training grants. The Colorado Education Association backed this bill in hopes of providing another tool to use in teacher evaluations.

Small districts – District consolidation is a taboo topic in Colorado, but House Bill 15-1201 was designed to approach small-district problems in another way. The bill would have given grants to boards of cooperative educational services to help districts consolidate administrative services.

A testing footnote – The Senate Education Committee quietly killed Sen. Owen Hill’s Senate Bill 15-215 by the procedural technique of delaying consideration until after the legislature adjourns for good. When introduced the bill was touted as the compromise on testing, but it never gained any traction.

It’s been a record session both for the number of education-related bills introduced – 119 – and for the high percentage of those that didn’t survive. As of Monday, 72 of those bills have been defeated.

Here are the other bills that didn’t survive Monday:

  • House Bill 15-1003 – Funding of safe routes to school program
  • House Bill 15-1027 – Resident tuition eligibility of Indian students belonging to tribes with historic ties to Colorado
  • House Bill 15-1334 – Background checks for staff and volunteers of youth sports organizations
  • House Bill 15-1349 – Grow your own teacher initiative
  • House Bill 15-1369 – Resident tuition status of homeless students
  • Senate Bill 15-117 – Technical measure on higher education funding
  • Senate Bill 15-280 – Technical measure on calculation of online students in small districts
Good news for some bill sponsors

Education bills of interest that survived Monday and passed the Capitol finish line include:

School violence – The Senate accepted fairly minor House amendments and voted 24-14 to re-pass Senate Bill 15-213, the “Claire Davis Act.” The bill goes to the governor. This is the measure that opens school districts to lawsuits in cases of murder, first-degree assault and sexual assault. There is a cap on damages, and districts would have a two-year grace period before they could be sued. The bill also requires districts to provide information about incidents to families.

Creative financing – The Senate voted 22-13 to pass House Bill 15-1317. This is the pay for success proposal, which would allow the state to create programs under which private investors and foundation could pay for social services, like early childhood programs. Funders would be paid off from future savings in other programs, such as reduced remedial or special education costs for kids who went through the early learning program.

Truancy – The House voted 63-1 to pass Senate Bill 15-184, the watered-down measure that only would require the state’s courts to review their policies for handling truant students and to minimize the jailing of truant students who refuse to return to school. The Senate agreed to House amendments.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to more information about all these bills.

Categories: Urban School News

New curriculum, but not for youngest English learners in DPS

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 11:11

Denver Public Schools was poised this spring to buy its first set of Common Core-aligned textbooks and materials for elementary- and middle-schoolers.

But after an extensive search, the district held off on buying a new curriculum for its K-3 literacy classes. Officials say that’s because a committee of teachers and experts couldn’t find quality books or resources written in Spanish and tailored to the needs of students who are learning English.

The textbook marketplace has taken time to catch up to the Common Core State Standards, which Colorado adopted as part of the Colorado Academic Standards three years ago. It’s been even slower to meet the demand for resources in Spanish.

“There’s nothing available that we think is rigorous enough for the Common Core and appropriate for a biliteracy environment,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic officer.

To fill the gap, DPS officials had initially planned to write a Common Core-aligned curriculum that worked for Spanish-language instruction. The goal would also be to offer supports for English language learners who are instructed mainly in English.

The district backed off of that effort late last year, but said the subsequent search to find pre-written materials that are appropriate for English language learners and available in Spanish didn’t yield results.

DPS is required by an agreement with the federal Department of Justice to offer certain services for its English language learners, including instruction in Spanish for a portion of the 38 percent of Denver students who speak Spanish. Other English language learners, including some Spanish speakers, get specialized support from trained teachers while they are instructed in English.

According to district statistics, DPS students speak 172 languages.

Meanwhile, the Common Core places a premium on “authentic” texts that reflect what students might encounter in real life. Finding those texts for its Spanish-language classes in particular has been a challenge. “In general, there’s a dearth of materials written authentically in Spanish,” Whitehead-Bust said.

H. Gary Cook, the research director at the University of Wisconsin School of Education’s WIDA, a center that produces research, standards, assessments, and teacher trainings focused on linguistically diverse students, said that’s no surprise. “Even content for non-English language learners is still emerging, and the types of activities that teachers and students are supposed to be doing to support the Common Core are very different than what they were doing before.”

Cook said it’s not an easy task making sure activities and lessons, especially for younger students, are on target for the more rigorous standards and for individual students’ widely-varying levels of fluency in English.

“There’s very little, if any, research and evidence about any curricular material around how it affects students’ language development, acquisition and proficiency,” he said. “Each individual learns differently.”

DPS did find a literacy program for grades 4-8 that officials say is appropriate for English learners. The program, called EngageNY, was developed by Expeditionary Learning.

It also adopted a new math program for middle schoolers known as Connected Mathematics Project 3, developed by publishing giant Pearson. That program is also available in Spanish.

The district plans to research and adopt Common Core-aligned materials for other subjects and grade levels in coming years.

Meanwhile, K-3 teachers will supplement the lessons with a guided reading program that was piloted in some schools in southwest Denver last year. DPS says it will also offer training in Common Core for teachers working with English learners.

And Whitehead-Bust said the district is considering working with external experts to develop a curriculum for younger elementary students. “We found we needed to be more proactive…We’re hoping that if we engage with publishers now, it will allow us to have greater assurances that a year from now, somebody will produce that resource.”

The curriculum decisions affect most, but not all, district schools. DPS charter and some innovation schools have the ability to adopt their own curricula.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Legal marijuana not a solution to school funding woes

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 09:41

School and Marijuana

Marijuana tax revenue isn't the solution to school funding Coloradoans hoped it might be. ( The Atlantic )


The House late Monday gave preliminary approval to a compromise testing measure designed to break the assessment stalemate that has dogged the 2015 legislative session. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

What role should charter schools play in educating special education students? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Social Mobility

Students in different parts of the Denver metro area have significantly different shots at social mobility, according to a New York Times interactive feature. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Galvanize, one of a new breed of tech schools where people learn to code, is offering a $50,000 scholarship to encourage Latino students to study STEM. ( Denver Post )

Two cents

Opinion: Colorado needs to address school funding before it is last in the nation in education funding. ( Coloradoan )

Adult Education

St. Vrain has revived an adult education program that was shelved in 2013. ( Times Call )

Testing, Testing

A Colorado Springs senator disapproves of amendments that were made to his proposed testing bill. ( Gazette )


A charter school in Erie is looking to stabilize after principal turnover. ( Daily Camera )

Happy Birthday

A Colorado Springs building school is celebrating its 90th birthday. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

House passes testing compromise bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 21:29

The House late Monday gave preliminary approval to a compromise testing measure designed to break the assessment stalemate that has dogged the 2015 session.

The vote came after a full evening’s worth of debate, two party caucuses to discuss the bill and some tense moments for sponsors. But in the end sentiment seemed noticeably in favor of the measure.

Two proposed amendments, one to put stronger opt-out language in the bill and another to give districts more flexibility in choice of ninth grade tests, were defeated on recorded votes.

Earlier in the evening the House and Senate education committees each approved the testing compromise. The Senate won’t hold preliminary floor debate on the second bill until Tuesday, the second-to-the-last day of the legislative session.

Here are the key features of the new plan:

  • CMAS/PARCC testing in language arts and math would continue in grades 3-9. (This would require federal sign-off because grade 9 doesn’t meet federal requirements for giving the tests once in high school.)
  • Statewide science tests would continue to be given once at each level – elementary, middle and high school.
  • The proposal includes no requirement for social studies testing.
  • A college-and-career readiness test like ACT Aspire would be given to 10th grade students. (Such exams take a lot less time than the PARCC tests.)
  • The main ACT test would continue to be given in the 11th grade.
  • Districts would be required to give the 10th and 11th grade tests but students wouldn’t have to take them. (Such tests aren’t subject to federal requirements for student participation.)
  • Parents would have to be notified about their rights to opt students out of tests, and districts would be prohibited from punishing or discriminating against students who don’t take tests.
  • Pilot programs under which districts could experiment with different kinds of tests would be created.
  • There would be limits of use of state test data for educator evaluation in 2014-15 and in future years when such data isn’t available for timely evaluations.

The plan retains language from earlier testing bills that would streamline school readiness and READ Act literacy assessments. It also requires the availability of paper tests if districts request them.

Read a draft of the proposal here.

The compromise came together quickly. “It is the result of some serious work between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats over the weekend,” Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillion told House Education. Hamner, chair of the committee last year, was named Monday morning by House Democratic leadership to carry the compromise bill.

Procedurally, the new plan was amended into two different bills, making them identical. House Education rewrote Senate Bill 15-257 with the new language and passed it 9-2. Senate Education did the same with House Bill 15-1323 and passed the new version 5-4.

The compromise appears to satisfy education leaders from both parties in both houses, as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper. But the plan definitely does not satisfy activist parent groups and the Colorado Education Association, who had pushed for more dramatic changes. And it didn’t satisfy

Education reform groups have questions about the testing pilot program, which likely will be subject to floor amendments.

Categories: Urban School News

Study: Poor students in Jeffco will make more money in adulthood than peers

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 17:19

If you are poor and grow up in Jefferson County you’re likely to make more money as an adult than if you grow up in any other county in the Denver Metro area, according to a new study and this interactive article from the New York Times.

In fact, if you are poor and grow up in the suburban county west of Denver, you’re likely to make more money than children in 88 percent of the United States.

However, if your Jefferson County parents are considered “rich” (they make more than $100,000 annually) or are in the top 1 percent of household incomes, you’ll likely make less money than your wealthy peers elsewhere. Students in Arapahoe County who live in households with incomes exceeding $100,000 will likely earn the more in their adulthood than their peers in neighboring counties, according to the study.

PHOTO: New York TimesClick to enlarge.

Poor students in Denver were the least likely of any students in the region to see upward mobility. Poor children raised in the Mile High City are actually likely to earn about $3,000 less than their peers by the time they are 26 years old.

The Colorado county that provides the best upward mobility for its poor students? Yuma, on the Eastern Plains. Poor students there are likely to make $7,200 more a year than a 26-year-old who grew up in counties the survey ranks as average, including Pueblo and Larimer.

The study was completed by the Equality of Opportunity Project. From the New York Times:

Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. In general, the effects of place are sharper for boys than for girls, and for lower-income children than for rich.


Categories: Urban School News

Question of the week: What role should charters play in special education?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 17:14

Last week, we reported that Denver Public Schools is asking some of its charter schools to take on more special needs students.

This is one of the first systemic efforts in the country to address a long-standing concern about charter schools’ special education services.

As the number of special education programs in charter schools grows, officials here have encountered questions about funding, placing, planning, overseeing, and sustaining programs.

That brings us to our question of the week: Should charter schools be asked to serve the same proportion of students with special needs as district-run schools? If so, how much oversight should districts have over these programs and how much flexibility should charters have to create new programs for students with special needs?

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

Rise & Shine: Teachers disciplined for leaked test items

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 09:51

Testing madness

Colorado lawmakers have three days to come up with a compromise on how to reduce the state's standardized testing system after both chambers approved their testing bills. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

At least five Colorado teachers have been formally disciplined after students leaked information about the new PARCC exams on social media. ( Denver Post )

A House committee killed the measure that would have legally allowed parents to opt their students out of standardized tests. ( Denver Post )

the people's court

A judge will decide whether Jeffco Public Schools can continue to implement a new teacher compensation plan after hearing testimony on Friday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

over and out

Lesley Dalhkemper, who makes up half of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education minority bloc, will not seek re-election in November. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Healthy schools

The mid-year elimination of Denver Public Schools' physical education director puzzles some health advocates who worry it represents a step backward for the district, especially in light of its new “whole child” approach. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

your thoughts

Chalkbeat readers said they want the next commissioner to be an education professional. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

money, money, money

A DPS pension bill that was killed for political reasons in a GOP-controlled Senate committee was quietly re-introduced in the House this week. ( Denver Post )


A former Manual High School student shared how he left a gang to become a leader. ( CPR )

Growing, shrinking

An Erie charter school is changing its leadership structure, adding a middle school, and has plans to ask voters to approve a bond measure in November. ( Daily Camera )

But a Fort Collins high school principal is facing questions about budget cuts from concerned parents. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Human Resources

Six Pueblo teachers are being honored. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Two cents

A Fort Collins school board member wants the state to keep revenue from a hospital provider fee so that the state can fund schools better. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Dahlkemper won’t seek re-election to Jeffco school board

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 05/03/2015 - 20:18

Lesley Dalhkemper, who makes up half of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education minority bloc, announced Sunday she won’t seek re-election in November.

She made the announcement on her public Facebook page.

“This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. [My husband] and I want to be fully present for her,” she said.

Dahlkemper also cited her work at the Colorado Education Initiative, an education nonprofit that works with schools and districts, as another reason why she won’t seek re-election.

Since the 2013 reconfiguration of the Jefferson County school board, Dahlkemper and her colleague Jill Fellman have become heroes to the teachers and parents who vocally oppose the board’s new conservative majority. Both women have been greeted with applause upon arriving at school board meetings.

“It’s an honor to work side by side with the finest educators, parents and students in Colorado,” Dahlkemper said in her statement. “In just a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the accomplishments of our high school graduates who inspire us and remind us that our future is in very good hands. We have much work ahead – addressing overcrowded schools; closing the achievement gap; ensuring all schools are engaging and inclusive; and fairly compensating our teachers to recruit and retain high quality staff.”

Fellman has not announced whether she’ll seek re-election.

Here’s Dalhkemper’s full statement:

Dear friends,

It is often just one exceptional teacher who makes a difference in a student’s life.

In Jefferson County, we have exceptional students and educators with strong support from families and community members. We know that great schools are the foundation of great communities.

Our high school graduation rate has increased, while dropout and remediation rates have decreased. Several of our high schools appear on national “best of” lists every year. Jeffco teachers have been nationally recognized for their innovative work. Our students are solving real-world problems, even working with NASA to launch experiments in space.

These results are thanks to collaborative leadership over the years grounded in setting clear goals, finding common ground and always placing children first.

Since 2011, I have had the privilege of serving on the Jeffco school board. Our decisions affect the lives of more than 84,000 students and communities as diverse as Conifer, Edgewater and Westminster.

Serving on the board of the second largest school district, working full-time in a leadership position for a statewide nonprofit, and being a good mom leave little time for anything else – let alone running a countywide campaign.

This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. Mike and I want to be fully present for her.

For these reasons, I have decided not to seek a second term on the Jeffco school board. My commitment to our schools will remain strong long after I leave the board in November. My role will just look a little different.

It’s an honor to work side by side with the finest educators, parents and students in Colorado. In just a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the accomplishments of our high school graduates who inspire us and remind us that our future is in very good hands.

We have much work ahead – addressing overcrowded schools; closing the achievement gap; ensuring all schools are engaging and inclusive; and fairly compensating our teachers to recruit and retain high quality staff.

Above all, we have to listen – truly listen – to our community.

Thank you so much for your support. It has meant more than I can say.

With warm regards,


Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union claims board, district overstepped authority creating new pay system

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 00:03

GOLDEN — A lawyer for the Jefferson County Teachers Association Friday asked a Jefferson County District Court judge to put the brakes on a compensation system that would pay some teachers new to the county’s school district more than its veterans.

Attorney Michael J. Belo told  Judge Christopher Zenisek that the Jeffco Public School Board of Education overreached and violated “established labor principles” when it created a new compensation plan for teachers last fall, and that implementation of that plan needs to be put on hold.

Belo argued that the district then unilaterally updated language to its contract with the teachers union and developed a new pay system for experienced newly hired by Jeffco. Instead, he said, the district should have negotiated those terms with the unon.

“From a narrow issue, the district spun out this whole new development [and think] they have the right to get rid of the salary schedule,” Belo said.

The narrow in question is whether teachers rated as partly effective should get raises.

But lawyer Michael Schreiner, representing the district, said the board was well within its rights to create a new compensation system after lengthy negotiations failed to yield a compromise. Updating contract language and introducing a new system to pay veteran teachers new to the school district was procedural and not malicious, Schreiner said.

Belo, the union lawyer, told the judge the district is not asking for the raises veteran teachers received this year to be rolled back, only that the district must negotiate how it plans to pay recently hired teachers in the fall.

Judge Zenisek told both parties he’d issue a decision soon, but warned his docket was heavy in the coming weeks.

Friday’s hearing covered nearly a year of conflict between the union and district over how teachers should be paid. Testimony from three witnesses — JCEA Executive Director Lisa Elliott, Jeffco Chief Human Resource Officer Amy Weber, and teacher Barb Aswege — spanned about three hours.

As part of the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires August 31, the district and JCEA are allowed to negotiate pay each year.

Last spring, the union declared an impasse during those negotiations. Ultimately, the school board, on a split vote, rejected a fact-finder’s recommendation that the district provide pay increases to teachers rated partly effective. That issue had become a sticking point during a second round of negotiations.

Then board president Ken Witt proposed his own pay system that based pay increases on performance reviews, not time in the classroom. Backed by his conservative colleagues, the district began implementing that system which included raising the minimum salary to $38,000 from $33,000.

What wasn’t determined at that time was how the district would pay teachers who joined the district later or how to compensate for advanced degrees.

Jeffco Public Schools’ human resource chief answered those questions this spring with a proposal to the board, which it approved unanimously.

The proposal would pay teachers new to the district with advanced degrees more money than Jeffco veterans even if they’ve spent the same number of years in a classroom. Weber’s aim was to make the district more competitive. Historically, the district has had a difficult time attracting and retaining specialists like speech pathologists because pay was considerably lower than in nearby school districts.

The gap between teachers hired from other districts and Jeffco veterans widened further because Jeffco teachers agreed during the Great Recession to take a pay reduction and to freeze increases based on years of service.

Weber told the board when they approved the plan for new teachers that Jeffco would need to address the pay discrepancies between new and veteran staff soon.

During Friday’s testimony, Jeffco teacher Aswege said that under the proposed compensation plan, a teacher that joins the Jeffco school district with the same masters degree and years of experience will earn about $7,000 more than her.

“My concern is that I will never get that compensation that was lost during the recession,” Aswege said.

Schreiner, the school district lawyer, noted that a similar gap between recently hired teachers and Jeffco veterans persisted under the previous salary schedule as well.

Compensation is just one of many issues the teachers union and school board have battled over since the conservative board majority took office in 2013.

The union, backed by a group of vocal parents, believe the board’s ultimate goal is to break ties with the union and rollout a series of reform efforts that mirror those in Douglas County schools.  The union and a coalition of parent organizations have led protests along busy boulevards and created a media campaign that accuses the board of “secrecy, waste, and disrespect.”

The board majority, made up of  Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, maintain they’re carrying out the campaign promises that got them elected by wide margins.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported when the district’s collective bargaining agreement ends. It ends Aug. 31. 

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How one Baltimore school made it through a trying week

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 20:13
  • One West Baltimore principal is helping her middle and high school students come to terms with what’s happening in the city following Freddie Gray’s death. (NPR)
  • Teaching social justice in the classroom means both exposing the truth of why economic disparities exist and empowering students to act. (Young Teachers Collective)
  • Will the first lady of New York City be able to stem the tide of school mental-heath clinic closures, which have shrunk the number of facilities from 300 to 200 in recent years? (NY1)
  • New federal data show that, contrary to many assumptions, most new teachers are staying on the job for at least five years. (The Atlantic)
  • What LGBT students and their parents have learned about what it’s like to come out as gay in elementary school. (Buzzfeed)
  • A survey of states that have adopted the Common Core suggests that the stakes attached to the results of this spring’s round of standardized testing aren’t very high. (Hechinger Report)
  • While low-income and minority students have started to demonstrate better knowledge of U.S. civics and history, overall student understanding of the topics continues to be far from sufficient. (The Atlantic)t
  • An Atlanta judge reduced the sentences of three educators found guilty of racketeering associated with cheating on tests from seven years to three, saying he wasn’t comfortable with his initial harsh sentence. (CNN)
  • As National Poetry Month ends, here’s Studio 360’s favorite poem, from a New York City public schools student. (Studio 360)
Categories: Urban School News

Senate and House each pass testing bills, setting up push for compromise

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 20:07

The Senate voted 33-2 early Friday evening to pass its main testing bill, followed a few hours later by a 52-12 House vote to pass its assessment proposal.

Key elements of Senate Bill 15-257 include reduction of high school testing to one set of exams, and flexibility for districts to use their own tests. (See this story for details.)

The House plan, House Bill 15-1323, would allow more high school testing and less district flexibility. (See this story for details.)

The two chambers have three days to come to a compromise; the legislature has to adjourn next Wednesday.

The Senate took its final vote without discussion. House members had a bit of debate before casting their votes.

“We have a commitment that we are going to continue to work on the two bills to reach compromise,” Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, told her colleagues.

No compromise plan has yet been reached, according to statehouse sources. The major differences between the houses are over 9th grade testing and district flexibility in assessments.

In other developments Friday, legislation on opting out of tests and on student data privacy, two top priorities for some legislators and parent groups this year, appear to be dead.

A measure that sought to codify parent rights to opt of testing and to protect districts and teachers from the impact of low test participation was killed by the House Education Committee on a 6-5 bipartisan vote. Senate Bill 15-223 was heavily lobbied, with education reform groups pushing to kill the bill and the Colorado Education Association working to support it.

The last surviving data privacy measure, Senate 15-173, isn’t technically dead, but it’s close to it.

The Senate voted 22-13 to reject House amendments to the measure. If the House doesn’t give up its changes, which is unlikely, the bill will die. The House amendments were generally favorable to technology companies, and some parent activists lobbied the Senate not to accept them.

House Education provides some late-session drama

The opt-out bill passed the Senate 28-7 after amendments tightened the measure considerably (see story). But it languished in the House for most of April as lobbyists pushed and pulled members on the issue.

Proponents argued that it was needed to protect districts from state sanctions for low test participation rates. Opponents maintained the bill would derail the state district and school accountability system and put federal funding for poor students at risk.

The committee, meeting between House floor sessions on a hectic day, made several amendments to the bill and rehashed familiar arguments.

In closing statements before the vote, members aired their struggles with the bill. Here’s a sample:

  • “I’ve been lobbied more on this bill than any other bill this session,” said Rep. JoAnn Windholz, R-Brighton. “There is just a lot of uncertainty” about its impact. She voted no.
  • “This has been a really tough bill for me,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs. “We’ve gotten a lot of lobbying on this from a lot of people.” He voted yes.
  • “I’ve gone back and forth on this bill more times than I can count,” said Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. He voted yes.
  • “This is the most stressful bill I’ve dealt with this session, but it is also the most bizarre,” said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. He said he started out supporting the bill but decided to vote no.

Voting for the bill were Lee, Moreno and Reps. Justin Everett, R-Littleton; Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. Those voting in the majority to kill the bill were Wilson, Windholz and Reps. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; Alex Garnett, D-Denver; Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.

No window for compromise on data privacy

The prime sponsor of the data privacy bill, Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker, told his colleagues on the floor that “I can’t agree to” the SB 15-173 amendments added in the House.

“I believe there is not a reason to call a conference committee because the bill has just gone in two different directions,” Holbert said.

He said it’s better for the bill to die than to make parent groups mad by passing the House version or to antagonize the technology industry by passing the Senate version.

All the no votes on the motion to reject House amendments were Democrats.

In other action

Other education-related bills of interest were on the move Friday, including:

School finance – The Senate accepted House amendments and voted 35-0 to repass Senate Bill 15-267, the 2015-16 school finance act. The bill increases K-12 funding to account for inflation and population growth, reduces the state’s $860 million funding shortfall by $25 million and provides $5 million to be distributed to districts based on how many at-risk students they have. (Background here and see district-by-district spreadsheet here)

Claire Davis Act – The House voted 43-21 for Senate Bill 15-213, the measure that would make school districts liable for some violent incidents. Given that House amendments were minor, the Senate isn’t expected to put up a fight, so this one is close to being done. (Background here)

Bonds for PERA – Tbe proposal to shore up the Public Employees’ Retirement Association passed the House 45-19. Prospects in the Senate may be cloudier for House Bill 15-1388. (Background here.)

Pay for success – The Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1317. The bill would allow the state to create “pay for success” programs through which foundations and investors could fund social services such as early childhood programs and be repaid later from the savings in other programs such as special education.

More money for K-12 – The House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1389, the measure that would reclassify revenue received from the state’s hospital provider fee so that it doesn’t count against the state’s annual revenue limit. The potential effect of the bill would be to free up other state funds for K-12, highways, higher education and other programs.

Other money for K-12 – As expected, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 3-2 to kill House Bill 15-1346, a measure that would have closed offshore tax loopholes for Colorado companies and devoted the revenue raised to education. The Colorado Education Association backed this bill.

New ways to measure students – Senate State Affairs did vote 3-2 to pass House Bill 15-1324. The measure would create a grant program to help districts implement student learning objectives – tailored classroom ways to measure student progress. This bill is backed by CEA as a way to provide an additional method for evaluating teachers.

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition questions DPS commitment to physical education after cut (Updated)

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 17:35

Updated May 2–As part of a major reorganization announced this spring, Denver Public Schools cut its physical education director and moved his responsibilities to an employee who oversees art, music and drama.

The mid-year elimination of the position–held by Eric Larson for the last 13 years—puzzles some health advocates who worry it represents a step backward for the district, especially in light of its new “whole child” approach.

“It’s disappointing to see,” said Sarah Kurz, vice president of policy and communications at LiveWell Colorado. “It implies they’re not making physical education an administrative priority.”

Statement from “P.E. For All Colorado Coalition”

    “As a coalition of groups dedicated to increasing both the quantity and quality of physical education in our schools, we are disappointed to see that our state’s largest school district has decided not to make it an administrative priority.
    Children need education to develop an active lifestyle and make regular physical activity a part of their adult life. Physical activity helps kids maintain a healthy weight, reduces health risks associated with obesity, and contributes to mental wellness, engagement in school and educational achievement.
    Because we understand this change at DPS was part of a larger reorganization, we are currently engaged with the district to better understand their plans going forward and how physical education will continue to be a priority. We are confident that Denver residents share our goals because of their 2012 approval of funding to increase physical education in the schools, and we hope the district will join us in ensuring that intention is being honored.”

Coalition members

  • American Heart Association, Colorado chapter
  • A+ Denver
  • Athletic Excellence, LLC
  • Colorado Children’s Campaign
  • Colorado Governor’s Council for Active and Healthy Lifestyles
  • Colorado Health Foundation
  • Children’s Hospital Colorado
  • LiveWell Colorado
  • Padres Unidos
  • SHAPE Colorado

A statewide coalition of foundations and other groups –called “P.E. For All Colorado”–echoed Kurz’s concerns in a statement. The statement also called on DPS to honor the intent of Denver voters who passed a 2012 mill levy in part to support physical education.

Kyle Legleiter, a senior public policy officer for the Colorado Health Foundation, said the decision is especially concerning because Colorado is one of only four states that has no state-level requirements for physical education.

As a result, he said, “These local-level district decision have a big impact on what’s available for kids.”

In addition to cutting Larson’s position, the district withdrew a job posting this spring seeking an employee to write a physical education strategic plan for the district. That job will not be filled.

Physical activity during the school day has particularly big implications in Denver, where 38 percent of children, aged two to 14, are overweight or obese, according to the 2015 KIDS COUNT report.

In an emailed statement sent Friday evening, DPS officials didn’t explain the rationale for eliminating Larson’s position but said, “For the Arts and Physical Education enrichment content areas, district support and resources for schools will continue and will likely increase with the addition of one instructional curriculum specialist in Physical Education.” (See the district’s full statement at the end of this story.)

Overall, the restructuring, which will eliminate approximately 110  positions and add several dozen others to the central office, has been described as an effort to shift more resources and expertise to schools.

Larson, who attended Denver schools and worked for the district for 35 years, was described by colleagues as a great leader with a national reputation. Last year, he was named “Physical Education Administrator of the Year” by the professional organization SHAPE America.

Reached at home this morning, he said he didn’t know all the factors that went into the decision to cut his job. Still, he was circumspect about the outcome.

“I’m not bitter. I’m not upset or frustrated because I’ve been blessed to be in DPS this long and our department has made an impact on the lives of teachers and students.”

A shifting model

Among the five most populous districts in Colorado, only Jeffco Public Schools still has a full time district-level physical education coordinator.

That employee is Dave Yonkie, who said the position has existed for at least 10 years.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said.

Aurora Public Schools uses a model similar to the one that DPS will now have—with one district-level employee overseeing physical education and the arts.

In the Cherry Creek School District, middle and high schools have on-site physical education directors, but there is no district-level P.E. coordinator. In Douglas County, a district-level Electives/Social Studies coordinator oversees P.E. “teacher leads” at the elementary, middle and high levels.

Improving quality

Colleagues say that as PE director, Larson was a seasoned administrator who put a premium on high-quality teacher training and helped the district win millions of dollars in physical education grants. One such award was a federal grant that helped beef up opportunities for the often-ignored high school population.

“That’s been super successful,” said Shawn St. Sauveur, a healthy schools coordinator for DPS.

Larson also helped update the district’s P.E. curriculum and pushed to increase the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity that students do during P.E. class.

C.J. Cain, a physical education teacher at Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment, said he knew of Larson even before he moved from Florida to Colorado in 2011.

I was “aware of Eric and the quality of the physical education programs in Denver,” he said. “He had that type of reputation.”

Cain said he hopes the district’s P.E. teachers decide not to be demoralized by the decision to cut Larson, “and honor Eric by continuing to build on the great foundation…he’s left for everybody.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Readers: New ed commissioner should be an education pro

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 13:55

On Monday we asked our readers: What characteristics should the next education chief have?

That’s because Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond is retiring July 1 and the State Board of Education will soon choose his successor.

Chalkbeat readers who shared their thoughts suggested the next chief should be a consensus-builder, given the board’s current streak of controversial actions.

Michael Donahue left this comment on our website:

Given the recent description of current and former [State Board of Education] members , the policymakers in the State Legislature and current and past employees, as well as your description above, and the requirements of the job, I am guess maybe someone like their predecessor. Someone who is observant, cooperates, participates, relational, uses their voice, listens, values perspectives, including the divergent from her/his own and finds education located in all of the senses.

But reader Tillie McDermott tweeted she doesn’t have much faith in the state board:

@ChalkbeatCO What does CO need? Somone with standards and assessment expertise. Who will SBOE pick? Probably a libertarian anti-CCSS hack.

Peace Bransberger suggested in an email that the next commissioner be a person of color, or at the least, not from Denver.

The new commissioner should have an equal balance of strong professional qualifications and experience. And, equally important, represent one or more minority perspectives (Black or Latina/o, lower SES, rural) — and be connected to those communities for direct feedback and implementation assistance from the front lines.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Open union negotiations law shows limited impact

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 09:05

Special ed shift

Denver Public Schools is intensifying efforts to ensure that charter schools are serving their fair share of special education students by transferring some centers for students with severe needs from district to charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Claire Davis bill

The bill named after a student who died in a school shooting and that would change the liability of school districts for such tragedies won initial floor approval in the Colorado House late Thursday night. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

open sesame

A new law that 70 percent of Colorado voters approved in November hasn't translated to radical differences for local union negotiations, according to the head of the Colorado Springs area's only collective bargaining group for teachers. ( Gazette )

pension politics

Intense negotiations are underway at the state Capitol to try to revive a Denver Public Schools pension bill that critics claim was killed by Republicans because of former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet's Senate re-election bid. ( Denver Post )


A new program unveiled Thursday by President Obama will put $250 million of free e-books into the hands of low-income students ages 4-14. ( KUNC/NPR )

adventure education

Some lessons cannot be taught in a classroom. These are the kind of lessons high school students participating in Middle Park High School’s Adventure Education program learn. ( Sky-Hi news )

Brighton building blight

For years, the Brighton School District 27J tried to keep up with its aging buildings. But, Superintendent Chris Fiedler says the money has simply run out. ( 9news )

Broomfield stabbing

A 14-year-old girl was airlifted by Flight For Life after being stabbed by another student at Aspen Creek K-8 on Thursday. Police say the girl's condition has stabilized. ( Coloradoan )

Two cents

Based on headlines and the noise on social media, you would think the argument over ending ninth grade standardized tests that has played out during the last few weeks was the biggest and best thing to ever happen for high school students. But it isn’t, says a local education advocate. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

District liability bill gets initial House approval

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 05/01/2015 - 01:40

The bill named after a student who died in a school shooting and that would change the liability of school districts for such tragedies won initial floor approval in the Colorado House late Thursday night.

And even later in the evening, the House also gave preliminary approval to a complicated proposal that would allow the state to sell bonds to help shore up the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.

A few hours earlier, a House committee passed a just-introduced measure that promises some relief for K-12 and higher education funding in the future. But the measure faces some big hurdles in the 2015 session’s closing days.

“Claire Davis Act” moves quickly

Senate Bill 15-213, named in honor of Arapahoe High School student Claire Davis, who was killed in a December 2013 shooting, received preliminary House floor approval after an emotional debate.

Several House Republicans raised questions about the bill. Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, proposed an amendment that would have set a higher liability standard for districts than the bill proposes. That failed on a 26-38 vote.

“I am more fearful of this bill than I am of PARCC or Common Core,” said Willett, a lawyer.

But a speech by Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, drew the most attention. Wilson, a retired rural superintendent, said, “You can’t legislate safety folks, you just can’t do it.” His voice choking up, Wilson said, “Weigh your vote carefully.”

Just hours earlier the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-3 vote. The centerpiece of that hearing was testimony from Claire’s parents, Michael and Desiree Davis.

“If this bill becomes law, school districts will have a new responsibility. They will be responsible for protecting kids from foreseeable harm,” Michael Davis said. “A vote in favor sends a clear message to public education entities that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”

“I am here on behalf of my daughter, Claire,” said Desiree Davis. “These bills are not for us, they are for the next family.” (A companion measure would create a study committee on school violence and youth mental health.)

The main elements of the bill would allow districts and charter schools to be held liable if they don’t use “reasonable care” in protecting students, faculty or staff from “reasonably foreseeable” acts of violence – murder, first-degree assault and sexual assault — that lead to serious bodily injury or death. Damage caps would be set at $350,000 for individuals and $900,000 in cases of multiple victims.

School districts have been nervous about the bill since it was introduced but have had to be careful in lobbying, given that the bill is sponsored by bipartisan leaders in both houses.

But amendments along the way have softened the measure noticeably. A key change gives districts two years to implement new safety policies before they could be held liable for incidents. And individual teachers would be protected from liability. (See this story for more details on the bill.)

“Those amendments have made it a better bill,” said House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver and a prime sponsor.

A related measure, House Bill 15-1273, got final House floor approval on 64-0 vote Thursday morning and heads to the Senate. The bill is designed to improve statewide reporting of violent incidents at schools, a system that was criticized in the wake of Claire Davis’ death. Among other things, the bill would require marijuana-related incidents and sexual assaults to be reported separately. They’re now lumped into other categories. (Get more details in this legislative staff summary.)

Fast-track pension bill moving ahead

The other big education-related issue debated during the House’s late-night session was House Bill 15-1388, a complex plan for the state to sell bonds to help reduce the unfunded liabilities of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, or PERA.

Proceeds from bond sales would be deposited in PERA’s state and schools trust funds, both beefing them up and giving the pension system more money to invest.

The bill received preliminary approval after 11 p.m. following a relatively short debate.

The bill was introduced only late Tuesday and approved by the House Finance Committee on Wednesday.

The plan has the backing of the Hickenlooper administration, GOP state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, the PERA board and most school districts. It also has bipartisan sponsorship but may face hurdles because of its complexity, the possible risks of such a plan and because it surfaced so late in the session.

If the plan works, supporters estimate the bill would bring PERA to solvency five years sooner than currently projected and would save $4.5 billion.

Heavyweight interests push for change in hospital fee

The House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee spent a long afternoon listening to witnesses urging approval of House Bill 15-1389, another just-introduced measure that could provide future benefits for both K-12 and higher education.

The committee passed the bill 7-6 after hearing from a long parade of supporting witnesses representing K-12 and higher education, state agencies, major hospitals, think tanks and business groups. Committee Republicans, some of whom didn’t seem to fully grasp the bill, all voted no.

The bill involves a six-year-old state program called the hospital provider fee, which imposes a charge on hospitals. That revenue provides money the state uses to gain federal Medicaid matching funds, money that couldn’t be tapped without the fee.

Even though the charge is a fee, not a tax, the revenues count against the state’s spending limit under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Tax and fee revenue has risen fast enough that the state will need to pay TABOR refunds to taxpayers this year and, likely, a couple of years into the future.

That has squeezed the amount of additional money available for K-12 and other programs. The bill, sponsored by Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, would reclassify provider fee revenues so that they wouldn’t count toward the TABOR limit. The fee program would become what’s called an “enterprise,” which isn’t subject to TABOR. For example, the state’s higher education system is classified as an enterprise, so tuition revenue isn’t counted against the limit.

There’s been chatter for months about reclassifying the provider fee, and Gov. John Hickenlooper belatedly proposed the change a couple of weeks ago.

The bill would “allow us to more fully fund the state’s top spending priorities in the coming years,” Hullinghorst said.

If the bill passes it won’t affect funding of any state programs in 2015-16, nor would it affect TABOR refunds to taxpayers in 2016. But it could free up more than $200 million in revenue for spending in 2016-17, and there wouldn’t be taxpayer refunds in 2017.

Without the bill, “There are going to be some big losers in the budget next year,” Hullinghorst warned, including transportation funding, higher education and likely K-12 as well.

The bill has some things working against it, including its lateness, its complexity and the fact that any perceived tinkering with TABOR makes Republicans nervous. The measure currently has no GOP sponsors in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

But working in its favor is the phalanx of education, highway, health care and business lobbyists who’ve combined forces to push the bill.

Get more information about HB 15-1389 in this legislative staff summary.

House avoids school finance fight

The House Thursday, during its morning floor session, backed away from a confrontation with the Senate over the 2015-16 school-funding bill by stripping a controversial amendment from the measure.

The amendment, added on the House floor Thursday, would have resurrected a two-year legislative study of the school finance system. The Senate earlier killed a separate bill that contained the proposal.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, proposed backing off Wednesday’s amendment.

While saying she supports the study, “We also have to be the adults in the room. The school finance bill passing in the Senate is really important.” Leaving the amendment in the bill “really does put the bill at risk.”

The House voted to strip the amendment and then passed Senate Bill 15-267 on a 45-19 vote. The measure returns to the Senate for consideration of non-controversial amendments added in the House earlier.

For the record

Help for rural districts – The Senate Education Committee, after about 90 minutes of wandering testimony and discussion, voted 6-3 to pass House Bill 15-1201. This measure would create a grant program for boards of cooperative educational services to help small school districts consolidate administrative services. The bill was introduced with a $10 million price tag, but it emerged from Senate Ed with only $2 million. And now the measure has to be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS shifting more special education duties to charter schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 18:54

Denver Public Schools is intensifying efforts to ensure that charter schools are serving their fair share of special education students by transferring some centers for students with severe needs from district to charter schools.

This is one of the first systemic efforts in the country to address a long-standing concern about charter schools’ special education services.

As the number of special education programs in charter schools grows, officials here have encountered questions about funding, placing, planning, overseeing, and sustaining programs.

The transition to charter programs began in 2010 with an agreement known as the district-charter compact, in which DPS and charter school leaders agreed on strategies to make sure charters and district schools are serving students equitably.

DPS currently has 132 centers in district and charter schools combined. They serve approximately 1,300 students.

During the current school year, nine charter schools enroll 58 students in K-12 center programs. Next year, 15 charter schools will have programs for an estimated 107 students. In five years, 40 charter schools centers will enroll 300 students—a number intended to mirror charters’ share of overall student enrollment. (The district and several charter schools have additional special education programs for early childhood students and students older than 18.)

In Denver, as in many school districts, charters as a group are less likely to enroll special education students than district-run public schools. Students with more severe needs are the least likely to attend charter schools.

“When we look at enrollment, about 11 percent of DPS students have special needs. In charters, it’s closer to 9 or 9.5 percent,” said Josh Drake, the district’s director of strategic initiatives. “A lot of that difference is made up of kids with significant disabilities.”

Most charters have not historically had services in place for students with uncommon or severe special needs. Students who applied to charters would be referred to district schools with special self-contained classrooms known as centers.

New Orleans, which held a competitive grant program to encourage schools in its nearly all-charter system to work with special needs students, is the only other large district that has made a system-level effort to address special education gaps, said Robin Lake, the director of the Seattle-based Center for Reinventing Public Education. The center is a research and policy group that studies urban school districts and charter schools.

Lake said that while the effort would help address inequities in where special education students go to school, “the bigger opportunity is if a charter school with all its flexibilities can find a new, innovative way to serve kids that are often really challenging to figure out how to serve well.”

But schools and the district must balance efforts to innovate with their legal requirements to meet students’ special needs.

“I think to the extent that they’re trying to make both types of schools fully accessible, it’s laudable. But like everything, the devil’s in the details,” said Julie Mead, a professor of education policy who focuses on special education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“The idea is that the school itself has more autonomy in how it delivers curriculum,” Mead said. “How does school autonomy fit in with this issue?”

Phasing out

Many of the center programs are being “phased out” a year at a time from their existing schools and “phased in” to the new charter schools. That’s the plan at STRIVE Excel, a two-year-old school, which will add 10th, 11th, and 12th graders to its current 9th grade class as a similar center is phased out of North High School. The two schools share a building.

STRIVE Prep Excel, in foreground, and North High School, in background.

Nicole Veltzé, the principal at North, said she pushed for STRIVE to take on the program when plans to co-locate the two schools were being discussed.

She said that while 162 of North’s 923 students have severe needs and are enrolled in center programs, STRIVE had had none until this year, when it opened a center for nine of its 239 students.

“It’s still disproportionate, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Veltzé said.

STRIVE Excel principal Kate Berger was enthusiastic about the new program. She said working with students with special needs, including the center program, is a passion of hers and one of the things that had drawn her to STRIVE.

“The fact that we work in collaboration with the district and the fact that charters in Denver are held accountable to serving all kids is something that’s so important to me,” she said.

Working with severe needs

Students are placed in center programs when their Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, indicate that they are best served by spending the majority of their time outside of the traditional classroom. DPS has centers for groups including students who are deaf, students with autism, students with serious cognitive and physical challenges, and students with behavioral and emotional needs. The programs are not offered at every school, so students are generally assigned to the nearest program that fits their needs.

Over time, the district is moving more students out of centers and into more traditional classroom settings when possible, said DPS’s Drake. The belief is that it is beneficial for the students with special needs and their peers to be in a more inclusive environment. In 2009-10, 2 percent of DPS students attended center programs. That’s down to 1.5 percent this school year.

But some portion of students will always need center programs, said Diann Richardson, the district’s director of special education.

Such programs are space and money-intensive and require significant expertise. That’s made transferring them to charters a challenge.

Drake said DPS first had to sort out how much money charter schools should get to fund the programs. Then it had to find space: Some small charter schools don’t have an empty classroom to dedicate to a center program.

Meanwhile, the schools have to find appropriately skilled staff. While most charter school teachers are not required to have to have a traditional teaching certificate—they can instead be designated “highly qualified” through a combination of test scores and college coursework—special education teachers are required to be certified.

There’s also the question of oversight and accountability for programs serving some of the district’s neediest students.

Charters that host a special needs center get a boost on the Denver’s School Performance Framework, used to evaluate schools. Some students in the centers take an alternative assessment, while others take regular standardized tests.

Two students at STRIVE Excel observe another student’s “sales pitch” and give feedback.

The schools can design their own programs. At STRIVE Excel, for instance, school staff said that they had researched center programs at district schools but developed their curriculum and schedule in-house. The school hired a teacher who had not previously been at DPS to lead the program and budgeted for extra paraprofessionals.

But the district’s special education department helps the schools plan, and oversees the programs more closely than it does most other programs at charter schools. That’s because DPS is directly responsible for special education services in district and charter schools under federal law.

Drake said Denver families will always have at least one center option that is not at a charter school. For some, however, the nearest and most convenient program is already at a charter.

Planning centers in a changing landscape

One of the first charter schools to start a center program was SOAR at Oakland, a charter school that had taken over a low-performing neighborhood school that already had centers.

Marc Waxman, the director of SOAR, said that the center programs had been a point of pride. “We worked very collaboratively to create our own vision and version of what the center program should look like that met all the requirements of DPS,” Waxman said.

He said SOAR had hired a full-time speech and language pathologist, partnered with a local private school, and increased the training and professional development given to paraprofessionals. The school also assigned an administrator to work on the centers half-time.

But those changes were short-lived: SOAR surrendered its charter back to the district after two years, for reasons unrelated to special education.

In a district like Denver, where closing and opening schools is a regular occurrence, that instability is “a risk,” said Drake. “We’re not wanting to start a program in a school that’s still working through instability.”

“But to be honest or blunt, we have that risk with district-run schools too,” he said. “Kepner has two center programs, and Henry, too. We face that with all school types.” Both Kepner and Henry are district-run middle schools being “phased out.”


Chris Gibbons, the director of the STRIVE network of schools, said that his organization has placed an emphasis on special education in general, not just at the centers. Gibbons said the issue is close to his heart, as he has a brother with Down Syndrome.

Three of STRIVE’s nine schools now have center programs, and a fourth will open one next year.

“It’s mission-critical for us that we’re opening neighborhood schools that truly serve all kids in the community,” he said. “What’s particularly striking is that general education students have embraced the program as being a core part of the school.”

STRIVE’s process for integrating the centers has changed over time. The first, at Lake, had been added as part of taking over an existing school. Schools planning to add centers now hire staff a full year before opening.

Gibbons said that while he is optimistic about the programs, he is concerned that the district doesn’t have a systematic plan for placing them yet. “It’s been made on a one-on-one basis so far. I think it’s reflective of collaboration, but I worry a little about the system and structure going forward,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

No one will miss ninth grade standardized testing

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 15:57

Based on headlines and the noise on social media, you would think the argument over ending ninth grade standardized tests that has played out during the last few weeks was the biggest and best thing to ever happen for high school students. But it isn’t.

We can and should do more than just jettison ninth grade standardized exams.

Although some have argued that annual assessments give us consistent data and that ninth grade is part of that, what they have not proven is that annual assessments give us improved outcomes for students, and especially for ninth-graders.

We all agree that reductions in testing are important. As a parent, I believe reductions in Colorado’s testing system — like ditching ninth grade tests — can coexist with the values of comparability, transparency, and growth.

As evidence, the majority of states maintain testing at the federal minimums, while using accountability systems that allow for comparability, transparency, and growth.

This alone debunks the myth that every student must be tested in every subject every year.

Still, some argue for testing every student, every year because they desire to ensure greater accountability for English and math, desire to evaluate student achievement for more grades, and for the purpose of educator evaluations.

But none of these reasons for constant testing address whether testing produces effective and equitable outcomes for our children.  In fact, according to the National Education Policy Center nearly 20 years of testing have proven to be both ineffective and inequitable.

Colorado has used state assessments since 1997 to compare student achievement levels across districts in the state for accountability purposes.  Likewise, for decades, Colorado has used National Association for Educational Progress, or NAEP, for comparisons across the country, and to monitor the progress of sub-groups of students broken down by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and English Language learners.  NAEP has provided comparable measures of achievement levels and achievement gaps during the past four decades. According to NAEP results, achievement gaps closed during a period of time in the 1980s, when there was less testing, not more.  Since that time, there has been an increase in state testing while the achievement gap has stabilized.

For comparability across Colorado, there are other ways to compare schools in general, and high schools in particular. Yes, eliminating ninth grade tests does disrupt growth data as we currently know it for high school students. But that does not disrupt students from growing, or being able to communicate that growth to teachers and parents every year.  Parents can still find out how their children are doing by sitting down and talking to educators who work with their children each day.  Furthermore, the Colorado Growth Model or other established models can measure growth in high school without ninth grade tests.

We need a system for our high school students that shines a light on the paths forward, not on the past and what we already know.  In fact, since the adoption of a “single statewide test” in grades 3-10 college remediation rates at Colorado community colleges have almost tripled from 21 percent to 37 percent.

The purpose of a state assessment system is to provide objective feedback to school and district leaders, as well as policymakers to evaluate the system, not individual students.  Parents and teachers need to use a body of evidence to inform conversations about individual student growth and progress, including local and classroom assessments.

Local assessments provide accountability by ensuring timely growth toward achievement of district curriculum for every student as schools ensure reduction of achievement gaps.

With bipartisan agreement on a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the horizon, we have an incredible opportunity for Colorado to take the lead at reducing testing and creating an equitable framework for accountability that not only provides transparency, but acknowledges that students need to be prepared to succeed in college, career, and civic life.

Although some fear that eliminating ninth grade tests creates a hole, and empty space so to speak, it won’t.  Rather than fear that space as undermining the accountability framework, let’s think what an incredible opportunity Colorado has to create a new, more equitable model, one that would regain broad public support.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: U.S. eighth-graders score poorly on NAEP history exam

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/30/2015 - 09:13

Capitol crunch time

The House set up a possible confrontation with the Senate Wednesday over the 2015-16 school-funding bill and the issue of whether the legislature should do a study of K-12 finance. Capitol action also was marked by the defeat of some education-related measures, including the American Indian mascots bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arne who?

On Wednesday, only 29 of the 320 juniors at Colorado Springs' Cheyenne Mountain High School took the English and math tests. Opt-outs were high across the area, officials said. ( Gazette )

Sobering data

A kind of informed calculus is what Colorado higher-education officials have in mind with Wednesday's release of a new report and searchable online tool detailing earnings one, five and 10 years after students earn a credential from Colorado colleges and universities. ( Denver Post )

Snoozing in class

Only about a quarter of eighth-graders showed solid performance or better in U.S. history, civics and geography on tests known as the Nation's Report Card, according to 2014 results released Wednesday. ( Denver Post )

Home grown

A bill debated before the House Education Committee Wednesday would allow schools to enter into agreements with teacher preparation programs at colleges around Colorado. The point is to encourage high school students to take college level courses which would lead them towards a career in education. ( 9News )

little geniuses

New studies ponder the benefits and risks of skipping grades, beginning as early as kindergarten. ( KUNC/NPR )

ever upwards

Fiscal year 2016 will be the ninth consecutive year that CSU has raised tuition for resident undergraduates above 5 percent, according to the student newspaper. Grumbling has ensued. ( Collegian Central )

Manufactured outrage

A note, sent home with a preschooler, scolded her mother for packing Oreo cookies in her daughter's lunch, according to ABC affiliate KMGH-TV. ( Eyewitness News )

A couple of two cents

This legislative session’s monumental education debate has Colorado policymakers walking a dangerous tightrope. To benefit today’s K-12 students, they must promote wise policy that does not lean too far in either direction, say two free-market think-tankers ( Greeley Tribune )

The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board says PARCC exams aren't perfect, but produce good data and students should buckle down and take them. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

House backs down in school finance fight; Indian mascots bill killed

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/29/2015 - 21:54

Updated April 30, 10:40 a.m. – The House Thursday backed away from a confrontation with the Senate over the 2015-16 school-funding bill by stripping a controversial amendment from the measure.

The amendment, added on the House floor Thursday, would have resurrected a two-year legislative study of the school finance system. The Senate earlier killed a separate bill that contained the proposal.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, proposed backing off Wednesday’s amendment. While saying she supports the study, she added, “We also have to be the adults in the room. The school finance bill passing in the Senate is really important.” Leaving the amendment in the bill “really does put the bill at risk.”

The House voted 38-26 to strip the amendment and then passed the finance act 45-19.

Text of Wednesday story follows

The House set up a possible confrontation with the Senate Wednesday over the 2015-16 school-funding bill and the issue of whether the legislature should do a study of K-12 finance.

Capitol action also was marked by the defeat of some education-related measures, including the American Indian mascots bill.

Action was delayed on key bills involving testing and student data privacy, putting further pressure on the calendar as the legislature faces a May 6 adjournment deadline.

The school funding measure, Senate Bill 15-267, is pretty straightforward, although it’s disappointing to many legislators because it provides increases only for inflation and enrollment growth. It also includes a $25 million pay-down on the state’s K-12 funding shortfall and $5 million in extra money for at-risk students. (See this story for more details.)

Concern about school funding provided the impetus for another measure, House Bill 15-1334. That bill would have created a two-year legislature study committee to review the school finance system and develop reform proposals for the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

That bill was killed 4-3 Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, even though it had been passed by the House 47-16 and was ratified 18-0 by a House-Senate review panel. (The appropriations committee doesn’t usually kill bills of its own volition, but it isn’t known which Senate leader may have suggested the bill be killed.)

After members from both parties vented about the inadequacy of the school funding bill, Rep. Tom Dore, R-Elizabeth, proposed an amendment that basically inserts the House’s study committee bill into the main finance bill. His colleagues liked the idea and passed the change on a voice vote, with no audible ‘no’ votes.

Finance bill sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner was taken aback by Dore’s move. “Oh my goodness. This really is an interesting dilemma,” she said. “The amendment really is a good idea.”

The Dillon Democrat also was a prime sponsor of the bill to create a study committee. But she may face some delicate negotiations because as sponsor of the main finance bill she’s committed to helping produce a “clean” measure. Sponsors in both chambers had agreed to resist big changes or additions to the school funding measure.

Separate bill includes a sweetener for rural districts

Another finance related measure, House Bill 15-1321, passed the Senate Education Committee on a 5-4 vote Wednesday. The bill gives small rural districts flexibility in complying with some state education regulations.

More important, the bill is kind of a companion school finance act for small districts. It would provide $10 million for per-pupil distribution to rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students – amounting to about $280 per child. There’s been a lot of district pressure on the legislature this year to provide some financial relief for rural districts. (See this story for background.)

Another measure, House Bill 15-1201, would provide an additional $10 million over two years to help small districts develop ways to consolidate administrative services. There’s some speculation at the Capitol that one or both of the bills may have some funding removed if lawmakers need cash for other bills in the session’s waning days.

Bill advances to authorize sale of bonds for pension system

The House Finance Committee Wednesday voted 10-1 to approve House Bill 15-1388, the late-breaking and complex plan for the state to sell bonds to help reduce the unfunded liabilities of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which covers teachers, many state government workers and some higher education employees.

Proceeds from bond sales would be deposited in PERA’s state and schools trust funds, both beefing them up and giving the pension system more money to invest.

The bill was introduced only late Tuesday, and it was taken up by the finance committee without being listed on the panel’s calendar. (That’s within the rules during a session’s closing days.)

The bill drew support from heavyweight witnesses like state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a longtime PERA critic; state budget director Henry Sobanet, and Kelly Brough, CEO of the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce.

Committee members raised questions about both the plan’s safety and why it surfaced so late in the session.

Sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the bill came so late because it took time to reach agreement among all the interest groups involved in the issue.

Stapleton said, “I believe this has the potential to be a valuable tool to reduce PERA’s unfunded liability.”

Before bonds could be sold, the governor and treasurer would have to sign off on the plan and then seek court review of the plan’s legality.

“There is risk to this, but no doubt,” Pabon said in summing up after a hearing of more than 2 ½ hours. “But it’s a calculated risk.”

Senate State Affairs thins the ranks of ed bills

The state affairs committees in both houses traditionally are used as the “kill committees” to defeat bills that majority leadership doesn’t like. It’s usually taken as a bad sign when a bill is routed to State Affairs even if it logically should go to, say, education.

The Senate panel mostly lived up to its reputation Wednesday, but it did pass one education-related bill.

On a 2-1 vote the panel approved House Bill 15-1317. This is the so-called “pay for success” bill. The measure would allow the state to create arrangements under which foundations and investors could fund social services like early childhood programs and be repaid from savings in other programs, such as reduced remediation or special education. (Get background.)

Here’s what was killed:

House Bill 15-1165 – The bill would have required schools obtain permission from a state committee to use American Indian mascots and logos. (Get background.) 3-2 to postpone indefinitely

House Bill 15-1251 – This was a seemingly technical measure that would have reduced payments made by the Denver Public Schools to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. Adjustment of the payments was required by the law that merged the DPS pension system into PERA five years ago, so there may legal issues if the legislature doesn’t make the adjustment. Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg testified for the bill, saying it would free up money that could be better used in classrooms. (Get details on the bill in this legislative staff summary.) 3-2 to postpone indefinitely

House Bill 15-1326 – This bill would have prohibited state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earned high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state. The measure was pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background.) 2-1 to postpone indefinitely

Track the legislature’s final days

Several other education-related measures advanced Wednesday. But with so many bills in play, we can’t report every vote in our daily roundups. Use our Down to the Wire Bill Tracker to check the status of the most important two-dozen bills being considered at the end of the session.

For lower-profile measures, use the full Education Bill Tracker, which includes all 116 bills introduced this year.

Categories: Urban School News

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