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Peace march closes out the school year

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 06/09/2014 - 00:35

As the school year draws to an end and with violence
traditionally getting worse during summer, more than 1,000 students took to the
streets last week. They chanted: "Hands up. Guns down. Stand up

The Peace March was organized by two Perspectives Charter
Schools students, Razia Hutchinson and Janeya Cunningham.

Hutchinson, a junior at the Rodney D. Joslin campus, was
reacting to the response by her peers to the shooting deaths of 17-year-old
Tyrone Lawson in January 2013 and 14-year-old Endia Martin this April.
"What do you expect?" was her classmates' response. She became
concerned that they were so used to violence that they stood by passively,
leading to more unnecessary student deaths.

In response, she and Cunningham planned the march. Fellow
Perspectives students filmed the march and hope to add it to a documentary
they're filming about how to combat violence in their neighborhoods with peace
practices. The students have started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project,
but are still about $13,000 short as the deadline approaches.

The march began at Perspectives' Rodney D. Joslin campus and
ended with a "Peace Jam" at Perspectives/IIT Math & Science
Academy campus at 3663 S Wabash Ave. Tony Schofield from WGCI radio emceed the
event, which included short speeches by the Rev. James Meeks and Ald. Pat
Dowell and a performance by rapper FM Supreme.

Photos by Jonathan Gibby 

Categories: Urban School News

Denver judge tosses teachers’ mutual consent lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 23:14

A Denver District Court judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit alleging Denver Public Schools violated portions of the state’s teacher effectiveness law.

The union, in an early morning statement, vowed to appeal the decision.

The lawsuit, filed by five former Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, claimed Denver Public Schools officials misused a provision of the 2010 law that set up Colorado’s teacher evaluation system. The DCTA was supported in the legal effort by the statewide union, the Colorado Education Association.

Known as mutual consent, the challenged provision requires both principal and teacher agreement for placement of a teacher in a school.

Plaintiffs claimed the statute allowed DPS to fire teachers without due process. And that’s what DPS did in at least five instances, the suit alleged.

Judge Michael A. Martinez, in his 14-page order of dismissal, disagreed and threw out the lawsuit at the request of DPS.

“This Court has previously found that the contested provisions of S.B. 191 do not facially violate the Due Process Clause,” Martinez wrote in his opinion. “Nothing about the circumstances under which Defendants implemented alters this analysis or conclusion.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the ruling will allow the school district to move forward with its mission of having a quality teacher in every classroom.

“Forced placement of teachers into schools where they do not want to go or where the school does not want to have them is wrong — wrong for students, wrong for teachers, and wrong for schools,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement. “Our most important objective as a school system is to have the best teacher in every classroom for every child. We welcome the court’s rejection of CEA’s claim that the Colorado legislature is somehow prohibited by the U.S. and state constitutions from ending forced placement.”

CEA President Kerrie Dallman framed the court’s decision differently, saying in an early morning statement: DPS schools are losing valuable resources in its veteran teachers.

“CEA members are highly disappointed by the Denver District Court ruling that Denver Public School’s release of hundreds of veteran teachers did not violate the Colorado Constitution nor subvert the intent of Senate Bill 191,” Dallman said. “Denver students have clearly suffered by the inappropriate release of veteran teachers with good to excellent teaching evaluations. CEA will appeal the ruling and remains dedicated to ensuring qualified teachers remain in the classroom to provide our public school students with the best possible education.”

Education reform groups celebrated the decision.

“This was always about giving educators the right to decide who gets the privilege of teaching next to them,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, in a statement issued by the Great Teachers and Leaders Law Coalition. “I look forward to working with educators across the state to fully implement this important legislation.”

Johnston was a prime sponsor of the bill the teacher evaluation system created by Senate Bill 10-191. Prior to passage of that law, a district could unilaterally place a teacher in a school, regardless of the wishes of the principal or other teachers. Ending that practice has been a key goal for education reform groups.

Scott Laband, president of the business group Colorado Succeeds, said the court’s decision means better classrooms for students.

“As business leaders, our members understand the monumental importance of being able to evaluate and choose their employees,” he said in a statement. “That’s why the state should continue empowering school leaders to make decisions that are in the best interests of their students instead of stifling their ability to manage teachers in their building.”

The judge’s decision represents a double defeat for the union in its battle against the mutual consent provision. Earlier this spring a bill that would have amended that part of the law died in the legislature.

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Categories: Urban School News

Southwest Denver parents rally, want better schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:57

Denver parents and students rallied for better schools outside the city’s school district’s headquarters June 5.

The protest, the latest move in a campaign by education reform organizations to draw attention to the city’s southwest schools, follows an April report addressing poor student achievement in the area’s 42 schools.

Members from organizations Stand for Children and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, and other community members held copies of the report up, yelling, “Ya basta,” Spanish for “enough is enough,” during the rally. Children wore homemade graduation caps to represent their desire to attend college.

The numbers in the report, published in part by A+ Denver, paint a grim picture for the predominately Latino community. Of every 10 students in southwest Denver, only about four will be middle school ready by fifth grade. By the time students reach 12th grade, only about 15 percent are college ready. Padres Unidos members blame the district’s lack of concern for poor Hispanic residents, which make up approximately 84 percent of southwest Denver.

Eva Gonzalez, a parent leader for Padres Unidos translated by fellow member Monica Acosta, said, “Does anyone think the board would let this happen if it were white, middle-class families?”

Nayeli Avila, a Padres Unidos youth leader, shared her story with the crowd. Avila, the product of a DPS school in southwest Denver, said when she took college entrance exams she found out she was only at a fourth-grade reading level.

“I was embarrassed,” Avila said. “Would they let this happen in Cherry Creek?”

Both organizations collected more than 1,400 signatures demanding better schools in southwest Denver. They called for DPS to create a task force specifically focused on the issues and concerns of parents, students and teachers.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg acknowledged the parent’s claims and is working toward improving all schools.

Members of Stand for Children and Padres Unidos plan to attend the board’s next meeting to push for the task force.

“[The members of Padres y Jovenes Unidos] are working with the southwest Denver community, mobilizing residents so that our platform can be implemented in the plan in collaboration with other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “We are calling on DPS to take action to end the discrimination in our schools.”

After the rally, some parents stayed to attend DPS’ special comment session on new school proposals. The board is considering proposals for new schools for the 2015-16 school year, including programs in the southwest region at Kepner Middle School.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver IB changes — and pushback — mirror other cities’

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 14:30

Heading into summer, a sense of uncertainty and unease pervades the esteemed International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School.

Big changes are coming a year from now, when the school’s administration plans to open what has until now been a selective admissions program to more students, arguing that IB classes can remain academically challenging while also serving a more racially and socio-economically diverse population. Some current IB parents and students, however, have pushed back hard against the plans. They complain that school and district leaders have done an abysmal job communicating with them about the changes, leading them to fear the worst.

High schools around the country have traveled a similar path toward making IB enrollment more inclusive over the past two decades. Their experiences suggest that both sides in the GW tussle make some valid points. Principals who have opened up their IB programs report that rigor remains intact and exam pass rates at the end of senior year remain high, and independent research studies back their observations. They also say part of their success came from communicating clearly with parents and students early and consistently.

Chalkbeat has gathered what information is available about the direction of likely changes at George Washington. We have also looked at how similar changes implemented at IB high schools around the country have played out, and whether parents’ fears in those schools were well founded.

How IB at George Washington works

Denver added the prestigious International Baccalaureate program to George Washington in 1985 amid a broad push to create programs that would retain white families who were leaving the district during court-ordered busing for desegregation. Since then, the school’s IB program has educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges.

The four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations and interviews. Students who are admitted take all of their academic courses exclusively with other IB students for four years. Ninth- and 10th-grade students take “pre-IB” courses to prepare them for the rigors of the IB Diploma Program, which spans grades 11 and 12 and whose curriculum is set by an international organization.

Just over 400 of GW’s 1,424 students were enrolled in the program during the 2013-14 school year. Compared to the overall GW population, the IB program student body is disproportionately white and affluent. In IB, 65 percent of students are white and 13 percent are from families so poor that they qualify for subsidized school lunches. In the non-IB part of GW, 15 percent of students are white and 63 percent qualify for subsidized lunches.

IB students do participate in elective classes, sports and other extracurricular activities with the rest of the student body, and non-IB students may take IB courses in music, visual arts, theater, and business and management.

But, according to Suzanne Geimer, GW’s IB coordinator, few non-IB students take advantage of these offerings. “[They] generally find the writing demand and the standards of production daunting,” Geimer said in an email.

Principal Micheal Johnson told Chalkbeat in May that his decision to overhaul the IB program at GW was aimed at increasing equity within the school.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on the opportunity gaps we have in our school,” he said.

Planned changes reflect a broad trend

Johnson plans to do away with the pre-IB program a year from now and replace it with an honors program that is open to all GW students the school deems ready for rigorous academic classes. While the changes would not affect current students, there would no longer be a selective admissions process for IB, and future GW students interested in pursuing an IB diploma would take ninth- and 10th-grade honors classes with students working towards Advanced Placement classes or other offerings at GW.

No changes are planned to the Diploma Program, which spans 11th and 12th grades. Many IB schools across the country allow students to take a single IB course, or a few courses, without pursuing the diploma, but Johnson has said he plans to keep the GW model intact, with only students pursuing the diploma taking the classes. He also plans to have only teachers trained in IB’s unique philosophy and practices teach the courses, although he said that over time he’d like all teachers at the school to get the training.

And Johnson plans to beef up GW’s Advanced Placement program, using its participation in a Colorado Education Initiative program to offer enhanced teacher training, student exam fees, classroom equipment and supplies, awards for those who excel, and Saturday study sessions for students. Up to now, the school’s AP program has been limited and weak, with just 24 percent of exams receiving passing scores.

Johnson’s plans are in keeping with a broad trend toward exposing more students to challenging courses. Across the country, school districts are looking for ways to get black and Latino students and students from poor families to enroll in AP courses.

New York City is adding AP courses to 55 high schools with many of those students. And Chicago has opened 15 high school IB programs — the most of any district — in recent years, largely in low-income neighborhoods.

A 2012 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that Chicago’s IB programs “seemed to be taking academically weaker, less advantaged students coming into high school and producing graduates with academic achievement comparable to graduates of selective enrollment schools.”

Kyle Westbrook, who runs IB programs in Chicago, said the key to a successful IB program is that schools design their curriculum to prepare students for the unique International Baccalaureate exams While schools with an authorized, grades 6-10 IB Middle Years Program — which GW does not have — can plan backwards most seamlessly, “that doesn’t suggest a student in an honors cohort or successful in a regular cohort and looking to expand their options can’t be successful in a diploma program,” he said.

An icy reception from IB parents, but a quieter receptiveness

The proposed changes at GW have inflamed some parents of IB students who say the program’s selective admissions process is crucial to ensuring high standards.

“LEAVE IB ALONE. It is the reason we attend George,” IB parent Steve Weil wrote in an email to Johnson last month. “If you want to lose our support and our students, then dismantling a stellar program with stellar results is certainly one way to do that.”

Weil — and the many IB parents who spoke at the tense May meeting — also challenged Johnson’s communication about the planned changes, which would not affect any current students but would change the school for younger siblings and other future students. Johnson has pledged to convene a “think tank group” of parents, students and teachers to put meat on the bones of the revamped honors program plan beginning in the fall, but IB families say they aren’t optimistic about having an influence based on communication up to now.

“There has been zero transparency thus far and zero communication in the sense that it goes two ways,” Weil wrote. “We have heard you, but you have not heard us.”

Not everyone is distressed by the planned changes. At the May meeting, a group of IB and non-IB students cloistered themselves from the larger meeting of angry, shouting parents and came up with a plan that called for a more open honors program that would offer opportunities to more students without decreasing rigor. Graduating senior Lauren McGovern, a non-IB student who will attend the United States Military Academy at West Point this fall, said the changes would offer “optional integration,” because no student would be required to take the more rigorous course of study.

“You can’t force someone to go into a certain type of learning,” McGovern said. “But since you have a pre-IB program that isn’t an official IB program, they’re basically just the higher-level classes a freshman can take. And so why can’t the traditional (non-IB) students who want it have that opportunity?”

Wahtihdah Duffy, another graduating non-IB senior, said opening up the honors program to non-IB students would make the school’s culture healthier. As it stands now, she said, the school consists of “two gigantic cliques”: IB students, who she said were encouraged to think of themselves as elite, and students in the rest of the school. But there are high-performing students like her, she said, who deserve access to challenging classes.

“It’s just not right when you have to fight tooth and nail to get the best education. It’s kind of distressing,” Duffy said.

From beyond Denver, experiences that suggest a way forward

Administrators of IB programs elsewhere say opening up the programs to more students does not amount to dismantling them. Instead, they said increasing access boosts outcomes for students — but they said the roadbumps in Denver are to be expected, and can be countered only by open communication.

When South Side High School on Long Island placed all its students in IB English courses for 11th grade, the administration contacted the parents of every student who would be affected by the switch.

“We told them they would have support classes if they need it,” said Carol Burris, the school’s principal.

Principals of schools that have opened access to IB classes also said it was important to have a plan for ensuring that teachers are prepared to handle IB’s unique requirements.

“[IB] is not an Eastern mystical religion,” said James McSwain, principal of Lamar High School in Houston. “It is a combination of really good teaching science that we knew but don’t often use.”

Changing perceptions of IB as a “school within a school” for an elite group of students will be hard, McSwain warned. “It is very common to use IB programs in American schools as an exclusive gifted and talented program,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, McSwain spearheaded an effort to expand access to Lamar’s IB program — and encountered the same kind of community resistance that Johnson is meeting now.

“It was difficult,” he said. “There were a number of people that really didn’t believe that these kids could do that and that if you let those kids into these classes, it was going to dumb down the kids [already in the program].”

That didn’t happen, he said, even as enrollment in the IB program shifted so that more than half of students are black or Latino and about half come from low-income families. “I think we’ve pretty well blown that [fear] out of the water,” McSwain said. “The standards don’t change.”

Chalkbeat interviewed principals and IB coordinators at several schools, including Burris and McSwain, to understand their approach to opening access. Below are profiles of three schools and the approach they took to expanding access to IB.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: GOP governor candidates say junk the Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:16

Jeffco board battles

The Jeffco Public Schools Board school board tossed out a tentative deal with its teachers union during Thursday night’s board meeting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The district's operating fund is growing by more than $15 million dollars in its new budget. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Board spars over Superintendent Dan McMinimee's salary, revises it and then approves it on split vote. ( Denver Post, The Denver Channel )

Common Core - In and out

All four Republican gubernatorial candidates say Colorado should junk the Common Core Standards. ( KKTV )

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill that takes the state out of the Common Core. ( )

Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature has decided the state should stay the course with the national standards. ( StateImpact )

Taking Dougco's pulse

A county-sponsored survey of residents' views on quality-of-life issues has found positive opinions about the schools have slipped. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

Getting kids interested

The Diplomas Count 2014 report focuses on student motivation and finds that an age-old problem is getting new attention. ( EdWeek )

School daze

The Steamboat Springs school board is trying to choose from four possible calendars for the 2015-16 year. ( Steamboat Pilot )

Salary setting time

Boulder Valley School District teachers are expected to receive a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase next school year, bumping the starting salary up to $41,901. ( Boulder Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: New teacher union dissidents try to turn the tide

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 08:44

The Boston Globe looks the "new face of teachers unions" as opposition candidates in local unions across the country prevail over union insiders, pointing to the union revitalization model championed by reformers that has been on display in Chicago since the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, took over the leadership of the 26,000-member Chicago Teachers Union. (The Boston Globe)

TURNAROUND COULD LEAD TO LAWSUIT: The president of the South Side branch of the NAACP said her group might file a civil rights lawsuit against Chicago Public Schools for its decision to make Walter Gresham Elementary School a ''turnaround.'' (DNAinfo)

NO GRAUDATION PARTICIPATION: Facing backlash from parents, Ogden International School decided that eighth-grade students accused of bullying a classmate because he was Jewish will not be allowed to walk across the stage at their graduation Saturday, a Chicago Board of Education member said. (DNAinfo)

WHAT TEACHERS THINK: Adam Heenan, a social studies teacher at Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago, kicks off the new Sun-Times Summer School teacher essay series in which Chicago-area teachers weigh in on the big challenges facing education.  His topic? The new Common Core learning standards, which he believes are threatening his ability to prioritize what is relevant to the content and valuable to his students. (Sun-Times)


ANOTHER ASSESSMENT: Indiana will have to impose a new statewide standardized test on K-12 students next year if it wants to maintain control over $200 million a year in federal education funding. (State Impact)

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board says no to proposed agreement with teachers union

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 01:29

GOLDEN — The Jeffco Public Schools Board school board tossed out a tentative deal with its teachers union during Thursday night’s board meeting.

Board president Ken Witt said he could not endorse the deal because the agreement provided raises to an estimated 56 teachers who were rated “partly effective” on the district’s evaluation rubric.

The district will move to fact finding on the entire agreement. Fact finding is when both parties present facts to a third party that then makes recommendations on an agreement. The process will cost time, money and is non-binding, district staff advised the board.

The district’s budget that must be approved by June 30 will move forward.

“We will compensate our teachers,” board member John Newkirk said during board debate. “There will be the funds there to do this. But we need the language there that we asked for.”

The vote to reject the agreement was approved on a 3-2 vote, with the board majority rejecting the agreement. The vote came toward the end of a long school board meeting packed with some of the most controversial topics facing the suburban school district including the district’s budget and the new superintendent’s contract.

The board’s minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman urged the board to approve the agreement to put the issue behind the district, which has been rife with skepticism and fear.

“We are not healing our community,” Dahlkemper said.

And teachers union representatives were disappointed in the outcome, as well.

“… [I]t does a disservice to the 85,000 Jefferson County public school kids and the hardworking educators of the district,” said JCEA President John Ford.

The tentative agreement between the Jefferson County Education Association and the district was signed last month. However, while the union sent the agreement to be ratified by its members, the district released a statement saying it wasn’t a done deal.

That’s because the board’s majority doesn’t want non-probationary teachers who are rated as partially effective to be eligible for a step increase, or a raise based on years in the classroom.

According to the district’s media release, the district’s negotiating team requested changes in the agreement a few hours after leaving the mediation session and before it was taken to the JCEA board.

The tentative agreement as outlined by the union included:

  • An average of 2.5 percent increase for teachers who were not rated “ineffective;”
  • Increased starting pay for new teachers;
  • Health care kept constant for all employees in 2014-2015;
  • Class size kept constant from this year’s levels; and
  • A plan to work on a new compensation system for the 2015 – 2019 contract.

Earlier in the evening, the board was expected to enter an executive session to discuss the tentative agreement. However, due to board divisions, the five-member board could not muster enough votes needed, four, to go behind close doors.

In a separate vote the board did approve its tentative agreement with the district’s clerical union.





Categories: Urban School News

(Nearly) everything you need to know about Jeffco’s 2014 budget — and a little bit more

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 18:01

What’s in and what’s out of the state’s second largest school district’s budget is likely to draw ire tonight when the suburban school board meets.

On the agenda is a presentation from district staff on the draft budget. The public will also have a chance to weigh-in on Jeffco’s coffers.

The bottom line: Due to an improving economy, Jeffco is getting more money from the state — about $29 million, which equates to $360 per student. And if the Board of Education were to approve the spending plan without changes, the district would even have $11 million left over to replenish the savings it depleted during the Great Recession.

And that’s after the district hands out raises to teachers and staff, purchases a new math curriculum, develops a new student-data website, and invests nearly $1 million in gifted and talented programs.

A budget like that, after years of draconian cuts, might be universally welcomed. But nothing in Jefferson County has been that easy since November’s election put a new conservative majority in place. Since the new board members were sworn in, meetings have been rife with tension.

That dynamic is unlikely to change tonight, despite the sunny budget situation. Debate is likely to be especially fierce over the budget proposal’s increased funding for charter schools and lack of new dollars for kindergarten.

Before you head out to the board meeting, Chalkbeat shares what you need to know about the budget below. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. with an executive session to discuss the teachers union collective bargaining agreement.

Impact on classrooms

The largest single increase in the general fund is compensation. The district has earmarked nearly $12 million to pay for raises to teachers and clerical staff, such as secretaries and janitors. Still, the budget proposes new spending on several projects and programs, including

  • $1.8 million for a new math curriculum;
  • $600,000 for a new student-data hub to be developed and run by the school district;
  • $900,000 to expand the district’s gifted and talented program;
  • $2 million for a new literacy program;
  • $700,000 to the district’s online education program; and
  • $4.5 million for mobile devices and the infrastructure to support them.

Overall, the general fund is expected to see a nearly 2 percent rise in revenue, or $15 million. School construction and repairs would accelerate under the proposed budget, which increases funding for capital projects by 76 percent, or $20 million.

How the budget was made

To prepare the budget, district staff reviewed enrollment projections at both its neighborhood and option schools, as well as charter schools. They worked closely with the state to determine changes in projected revenue. And they looked at inflation to gauge any potential increase in costs to goods and services.

After gauging about how much funding would be available for the next school year, district staff heard from the board of education, which recently updated its achievement goals and priorities. The district’s accountability committee formed a subcommittee to make recommendations. Additionally, more than 13,000 community members participated in an online survey. And individuals were allowed to share feedback at town halls throughout the 773 square miles that make up Jefferson County.

Budget basics
  • The budget, or how the district spends its tax revenues, follows the state’s fiscal year cycle, from July 1 to June 30. That means the board must approve a budget by June 30.
  • This year, the board is expected to sign off on the budget at its June 19 meeting. It is also expected to hear public comment on the budget proposal then.
  • However, because the budget is largely based on tax revenue from the state, which can go up and down throughout the year, the district has until Jan. 31 to update its budget as needed.
  • The budget is broken into seven different pots of revenue and expenses. The largest and most common is known as the “general fund.” The general fund is made up of both local and state tax revenues, including dollars collected from the district’s three successful mill and bond questions. That money pays teachers and funds the central administration building, student services, and security, among other line items.
  • Charter schools have their own fund. That bucket of revenue includes tax revenues divided up by pupil and any grants or donations the schools receive.
Budget battles

So, with an increase in revenue, raises for staff, and funding for new programs, why are so many people likely to be so angry about the budget? In addition to the fact that there is already widespread concern about whether the new board majority represents the will of the county’s majority, the budget also contains two probable sticking points.

The first is funding for charter schools. Earlier this year, the board’s conservative majority said they wanted to equalize local per pupil funding for students who attend the district’s charter schools.

Under state statute, students who attend charter schools must receive their share of per pupil dollars that the district receives from the state. And that’s what happens in Jeffco. But Jeffco charter school operators are not getting an equal share of money from voter-approved tax revenues, known as mill overrides.

If all things were equal, Jeffco’s 15 charter schools would receive about $7 million more each year.

Supporters of the 2012 mill question, which passed, say the board’s majority — which had not yet been elected and had no role in the development of the mill question or campaign — is violating the public’s trust and thwarting the will of the voters by giving $3.7 million from the district’s general fund to the district’s charter schools.

They said they worked diligently to persuade the community to support the tax increase. That included spelling out in great detail how the money would be used — and giving more money to charter schools was not part of the campaign.

District staff, in an interview with Chalkbeat, acknowledged charter schools have historically been underfunded. And a key assumption in the district’s budget is that charter school enrollment is going up, while it’s declining at neighborhood schools. It’s also important to note, they said, that both state and local revenues funnel into the same pot. So, while the math used to determine how much more the district should fund its charter schools is based on mill revenues, its impossible to say mill money is being directed to charter schools.

Because of increased revenues from the state, handing over $3.7 million to the district charter schools is an easy request, district staff said. They added that neighborhood schools would not suffer as a result.

The board’s decision not to expand the district’s free full-day kindergarten program is also likely to draw fire.

Jeffco currently provides free half-day kindergarten to all students. At 40 elementary schools where more than 36.8 percent of students are so poor that they qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, the second half of the day is also free to families. At the district’s other 52 elementary schools, parents who want their kindergartners enrolled all day must pay $300 a month.

Expanding the free program got high marks on the Jeffco community budget survey. And a majority of members on the district’s accountability committee, which also provided guidance on the budget, ranked the expansion as a high priority. (A minority report from the committee disagreed.)

Expanding the program to another 17 schools that have many students living in poverty would cost the district $600,000 — a modest proposal to some. But the board’s majority opposes the expansion, saying that there is no local proof that Jeffco’s kindergarten program works.

District staff said there have been talks about developing an alternative proposal that would provide free-full day kindergarten on an individual basis to Jeffco students living in poverty — regardless of which school they attend, as board majority member John Newkirk suggested last month. But that proposal hasn’t made it to the board or into the budget.

The budget also notes that Jeffco must forfeit an estimated $1.3 million in state early childhood education fund because the board has not put into place a school readiness assessment. If the board were to reverse that decision before June 14, the district could apply for the money and add up to 900 additional kindergarten seats.

Categories: Urban School News

Former Manual assistant principal speaks out after losing his job

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 14:55

Manual High School assistant principal Vernon Jones was caught by surprise yesterday by the decision not to renew his contract for next school year, he said in a statement released today.

“I should have listened to the rumors,” he said. In it, Jones signals his intentions to remain involved in the battle over what Manual’s future will look like.

His departure from the school sparked outcry in the Manual and northeast Denver community. A community meeting organized by Project VOYCE, a student advocacy organization, is planned for 2 p.m. today at a library near Manual High School.

“This action, and any intended action against Pastor Vernon Jones will NOT go unchallenged,” said one community member in an email forwarded to Chalkbeat Colorado. Jones was previously the pastor at Kinship Missionary Baptist Church in Aurora and is known by community and students as “Pastor Jones” or “P. Jones.”

The decision has some parents rethinking whether they’ll stay with the school, which has struggled with low performance and turbulent changes in leadership. District officials have already expressed concern about dropping enrollment at the school, where only 75 freshmen are expected to enroll next fall.

“Pulling him out, that takes away our connection to the community,” said Pauletta Anderson, whose daughter attends Manual.

Chalkbeat also obtained the announcement Manual principal Don Roy sent to staff that Jones would not be returning. In it, Roy acknowledges the central role Jones played in rallying community members around the school but gives few details on the rationale behind his decision.

“I made this decision after careful deliberation and evaluation,” Roy wrote. “I determined that we needed different leadership in the Assistant Principal role for the upcoming school year.”

The school has two other assistant principals who have been brought on in the past months since Roy took the reins at the school.

Here is the full text of the email:

From: Roy, Don
Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 12:18 PM
To: Manual High Faculty
Subject: Leadership team

Teachers and Staff,

I have decided not to renew Assistant Principal Vernon Jones’ contract for the 2014-15 school year. I made this decision after careful deliberation and evaluation, and I determined that we needed different leadership in the Assistant Principal role for the upcoming school year.

I know that Mr. Jones has been a part of the Manual community for a number of years, and that many of our students, teachers and families have strong relationships with him. My door is open to anyone who has questions or concerns about this decision. I am limited in what I am able to discuss when it comes to personnel decisions, but I will do my best to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for your continued support and engagement in the Manual community.


Donald Roy

Manual High School
I am from Rochester, New York, and I play on TEAM DPS!

And below is Jones’ full statement:

“I spoke truth to power in a very passionate way during a community meeting and from that moment Mr. Roy began to see me as not a fit for his team. I have been placed on administrative leave and he has recommended to the DPS board that my administrative contract at Manual High School not be renewed for the 2014-2015 school year. This action did not surprise me but it saddens me because of my eight year commitment to advocating with and for scholars, colleagues, and my community, in a number of positions related to Manual. I had heard whispers within the building and from external colleagues that this was coming but after an earlier face to face meeting with Mr. Roy on May 27 I dismissed them because I trusted that we had come to an understanding and were moving forward as a team. I should have listened to the rumors. I remain resolute in my solidarity with the Manual scholars, staff, parents, and community. Our desire to self-determine, to walk and act TBOLT STRONG, remains. Still WE RISE! I remain a Manual parent and my responsibility to advocate for my children and their peers is still mine and is not dictated by one person’s opinion of my leadership fit. My heart aches but I am not deterred.”

Categories: Urban School News

Early childhood providers awarded capital funds

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:10

CPS recently awarded nearly $4.6 million in grants to 10 early childhood learning providers that are seeking to expand or enhance their facilities and serve more children, from birth to age 5.

The non-profit organizations received between $64,000 and nearly $1 million in the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) early childhood construction grant program, which each year sets aside a portion to be redistributed by CPS. The state’s Capital Development Board distributes the funds and monitors the programs on behalf of CPS. 

"We know that the early years are critical to a child's future success, which is why we are committed to ensuring that all students are prepared for a 21st century education before they walk through our doors,” said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement. “Through partnerships with community based organizations and city agencies, along with this grant from ISBE, CPS will expand seats to serve more of our youngest learners, putting them on a path for success at an earlier age so that one day they will graduate 100 percent college ready and 100 percent college bound."

A total of 19 agencies – including licensed and license-exempted private nonprofit childcare centers – applied for the grants in a competitive grant process. The 10 awardees include:

  • Chicago Commons, for its Paulo Freire and West Humboldt Park centers, which serve Humboldt Park, the Lower West Side and New City. Award: $999,994.
  • El Hogar del Niño, which serves the Lower West Side. Award: $855,000.
  • Metropolitan Family Services, for its Learning and Wellness Center that serves New City. Award: $731,712.
  • Asian Human Services, for the expansion of its Leaf Program that serves Uptown. Award: $603,900.
  • Chicago Child Care Society, for its Best Beginnings Learning Academy I, that serves Englewood. Award:  $563,089.
  • Mary Crane Center, serving Rogers Park. Award: $464,105.
  • Concordia Place, for its Seeley Center, serving North Center. Award: $127,100.
  • Northwestern University Settlement Association, serving West Town. Award: $116,649.
  • Southeast Asia Center, serving immigrant and refugee families in Uptown. Award: $78,097.
  • Children’s Place Association, for its Arthur E. Jones Early Childhood Care and Learning Center, serving families citywide affected by HIV and AIDS. Award: $64,231.

The grant is intended to support the early childhood programs and may be used for the construction of new additions or facilities; purchase of equipment; safety improvements; or classroom conversions.

In addition, CPS also awarded funding to Camras, Hanson Park, J. Locke and McCormick elementary schools to expand opportunities for children, a CPS spokeswoman said.

Categories: Urban School News

Study finds school salad bars increase meal participation

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 11:37

More kids eat school meals when salad bars are added, according to a recent evaluation of a program that provides free salad bars to schools nationwide. The evaluation of  the “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” campaign found that 57 percent of schools reported an increase in school meal participation and 78 percent reported using the salad bars every day.

Since it launched in 2010, the campaign has donated 3,456 salad bars to schools in 49 states, including 148 in Colorado. Currently, there are 555 schools on the waiting list, including two in Colorado. The free bars are available to any school district participating in the National School Lunch Program.

The goal of “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools,” which supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity effort, is to ensure every school in the country has a salad bar as part of its school meal program. Only about 17 percent of U.S. schools offer salad bars to students daily, according to a 2012 analysis by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The recent evaluation, conducted by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, found that very few schools had stopped using the salad bars after receiving them and that 78 percent were buying more fruits and vegetables since they got the bars. On average, the schools surveyed served 51 percent low-income students.

The survey also found that at some schools salad bars come with a few logistical wrinkles. Nearly a quarter of respondents said the bars increased the amount of time it took students to get through the lunch line. In addition, 27 percent of schools reported an increase in labor hours after the addition of the salad bars.

“Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” was founded by United Fresh Foundation, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, Whole Foods Market and the Food Family Farming Foundation, which is led by Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: CO supreme court hears from both sides in PERA fight

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 09:32

Shuffling the deck

In another high-profile change at embattled Manual High School, the principal opted not to renew the contract of one of his assistant principal, Vernon Jones, has been one of the school's most vocal advocates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Retirement fight

A lawsuit over a portion of the state's public employee retirement benefits system went before the Colorado Supreme Court yesterday. Over 60 percent of the employees who are school and district staff. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Stirring the pot

Columnist Mike Rosen on Jeffco school board politics: "The unruly behavior of a few hundred dissidents at a school board meeting doesn't trump the will of a majority of voters." ( Denver Post )

Summer lunchin'

All Adams County schools are offering free breakfast and lunch for students this summer. ( Denver Post )

So are some schools in the St. Vrain School District. ( Times-Call )

And so will Englewood School District, south of Denver. They are replacing a local nonprofit in providing the service. ( Denver Post )

Joiners or splitters?

Sterling's school district, which is one of the few to remain independent of the BOCES system, is reconsidering that stance and looking at joining the local collaborative with 12 other school districts. ( Journal-Advocate )

Show me the money

Fort Collins schools haven't seen any proceeds from goods bearing their names and logos sold at Walgreens stores, despite an state-level agreement with the retailer. ( Coloradoan )

Question for you, dear reader

With the onset of summer, we were wondering what students have planned for the holidays, whether it's summer school, camp, working through reading lists or lounging by the pool. So tell us what your plans are at ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Turn out your pockets

A Fort Carson Head Start program is trying to raise the $75,000 needed to accept all the students on its waiting list. ( Gazette )

An adult GED program in Pueblo is likely to close unless it can find funding after the state cut it off. ( Chieftain )

Who's in and who's out

The principal of Mead High School in St. Vrain School District submitted his resignation. That marks the third leader since the school opened in 2009. ( Times-Call )

And in Julesburg, the elementary school saw the retirement of three long-time staffers. ( Julesburg Advocate )

Not your grandma's voc ed

For some students who struggled in traditional programs, career and technical education can be a way to reengage -- and find relevance in their schoolwork. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS shares in $1 million STEM grant

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 06/05/2014 - 08:23

Chicago Public Schools is one of seven nationwide school districts that will share a $1 million competitive grant through the US2020 City Competition. The competition challenges school districts across the country to develop innovative models that will increase the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals working with students and STEM education opportunities for girls, minority students and children from low-income families. Cisco Systems sponsors the competition. (Northwestern News)

WHAT HAPPENED TO TRAUNCY OFFICERS?: Prompted by a listener's question, WBEZ's Curious City project looked in to why Chicago no longer employs truancy officers, the men and women once employed by Chicago Public Schools to track down students who did not turn up for class.

COMPOSTING COMES TO CPS: Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview is partners in a pilot program with the Chicago Community Trust, Loyola University, Seven Generations Ahead to compost food scraps. (WBEZ)

PARENTS, OFFICIALS MEET: CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Board of Education President David Vitale met Tuesday night with Gresham Elementary School parents, who say they implored the school officials to rethink their decision to replace the school’s staff. (Sun-Times)

GIFTED EDUCATION: New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, recently by downplayed the importance of the city’s “gifted and talented” program and wants neighborhood schools to offer “gifted practices” for all students. Two policy leaders and two economists weigh in on gifted programs—which in most cases enroll a disproportionately high number of white, middle-income students and too few minority and lower-income children. (The New York Times)

Categories: Urban School News

What are you doing during summer vacation?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 18:21

PHOTO: Monique Collins/Chalkbeat

Summer vacation is here, and students and parents are thinking of ways to keep themselves busy and entertained during these long, warm months.

While it can be a time for fun and relaxation, students and their families can also use the time to learn new and exciting things.

For some families, that means seeking out formal programs — like summer school or daycare — to keep momentum up from the school year and prevent the dreaded summer slip in learning. For others, summer is a time for relaxation and family bonding.

For example, Alleah and her sister Tirrina, students at Cowell Elementary School, are looking forward to visiting local amusement park Elitch Gardens, hiking and sight-seeing this summer. They moved to the Denver area six months ago with their mother Natasha from Stout, Wis.

Whatever you have planned for the summer, we want to hear about it, whether it’s a long, relaxing vacation, starting a garden, attending summer school or anything else under the sun.

Share your plans for summer by sending an email to, or by tweeting us @chalkbeatco with #cosummerfun.

Categories: Urban School News

Supreme court hears both sides on pension fight

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 17:58

The size of future checks for thousands of retired teachers and other civil servants is now in the hands of five Colorado Supreme Court justices.

The court heard an hour of oral arguments Wednesday morning in the case of Justus v. State, a lawsuit that challenges reductions in retiree cost-of-living payments by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA).

A 2010 law (Senate Bill 10-001), eliminated payments associated with cost of living that year and cut retirees’ annual benefit increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent starting in 2011. Future increases could drop below 2 percent under certain conditions. (While the increases are commonly referred to as cost of living raises, they aren’t pegged to inflation or consumer prices.)

PERA doesn’t have an estimate for how much is saved every year by the cost of living allowance (COLA) reduction, which was a major element of SB 10-001. The law as a whole was projected to reduce PERA’s unfunded liability by $9 billion.

When the lawsuit was filed, plaintiffs estimated the COLA reduction could cost the typical retiree more than $165,000 over 20 years.

The legal issue before the supreme court is whether retirees have a contractual right to the 3.5 percent COLA.

Lawyers for each side presented starkly opposing views to the high court on Wednesday.

The COLA “is part and parcel of the pension,” said Richard Rosenblatt, who represents the retirees who filed the original suit. A retiree’s main pension benefit together with the COLA “clearly is a contract.”

But Sean Connelly, representing PERA, argued, “There is no contractual right to a COLA fixed at a certain point.” He urged the justices to overturn the Court of Appeals and accept the trial court’s dismissal of the case.

Both Connelly and Solicitor General Dan Domenico, representing the state, noted that COLA payments have fluctuated several times over the last few decades, and that those changes have applied to retirees.

As usually is the case, the lawyers offered differing interpretation of several prior court cases, including one dating back to 1920, that involve pension rights.

Four of the five justices asked questions during the arguments, but their queries didn’t hint at any clear leanings on the case.

The case originally was filed within days of SB 10-001 becoming law (see story). A district court judge ruled in 2011 that the state and PERA could reduce the payments. But the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that pensioners do have a contractual right to the COLA in effect at the time of retirement but gave the state a possible out. The appeals court concluded the courts “must still determine whether any impairment of the right is substantial and, if so, whether the reduction was reasonable and necessary to serve a significant and legitimate public purpose.” (Read appeals court decision here.)

There are no set deadlines for the court to rule on a case after oral arguments. In a recent big public policy case, the Lobato v. State school funding suit, the court ruled a little less than three months after arguments were held.

Chief Justice Nancy Rice announced that Justices Allison Eid and Monica Marquez would not be participating in Justus v. State. Justices typically don’t announce why they’re not participating.

PERA history and stats

After PERA’s investment portfolio was hit hard by the 2008 recession, SB 10-001 was an attempt to change some of the system’s operations in order to put it on a path to financial solvency in 30 years. PERA has about $26 billion promised without funding to back it up.

Subsequent legislative attempts to tinker with the 2010 revamp have been rebuffed, but the 2014 session approved a bill that will launch three studies of the system (see story).

Teachers and school administrators dominate the 196,435-member system, with 129,205 members in the School and Denver Public Schools (DPS) divisions — over 65 percent of the membership.

There are 58,986 education retirees who received about $2 billion in benefits in 2012, an average of about $3,000 a month. The average retirement age for both School and DPS retirees is a little above 58 years old.

Categories: Urban School News

Manual High School second-in-command to depart

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 14:53

When students return next year to Denver’s struggling Manual High School, there will be another familiar face missing: assistant principal Vernon Jones.

Manual principal Don Roy, who took over the position in January, met with staff earlier today to announce his decision not to renew Jones’ contract for next year, district officials confirmed. The departure will be the latest in a series of high-profile changes at the embattled school, including the firing of Roy’s predecessor after reports of conflict with the district and dropping test scores. That departure also signaled the end of some aspects of the school’s unique model, including its extended year and its week-long student trips.

The move deprives Manual of one of its most vocal advocates. Jones has been at the center of much of the furor over the embattled school, speaking out against a proposed plan for the school’s future at a recent meeting and helping to organize a group of staff and students to design an alternate plan.

It also clears the way for Roy to assert his own vision for the troubled school, where district officials installed him after losing confidence in his predecessor. Jones argued against the district’s intervention, telling Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg last month at a public meeting, “We thought we had a chance to self-determine. You took it from us.”

District officials announced that the school, which has seen multiple transformations with little change to academic results, would face yet another substantial overhaul in the coming years. Last month, they presented a plan to combine ninth grade classes with nearby East High School and turn Manual’s tenth through 12th grades into a career and technical academy. After uproar from both school communities, the district delayed any decision on the school’s future by a year.

Categories: Urban School News

To solve truancy and absenteeism, put aldermen in charge of community outreach

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 13:40

When students don't show up for school, it is not only a student problem: It’s also a school and a community problem. Poor attendance has a ripple effect on students. Research has shown the long-term connection between poor attendance in the early grades and low achievement later on. Moreover, low attendance means CPS ends up leaving money on the table, which hurts schools:  Every student that is not counted for state funding based on attendance costs the district thousands.

Despite a new focus by the administration, Catalyst Chicago reported recently that attendance and truancy have worsened in the elementary years instead of improving.

Though attendance has been in the news, the problem is long-standing. CPS has not had “truant officers” for years, since the 1990s when budget cuts axed those positions.  But other school systems in the U.S. have upgraded that job to include duties other than just tracking down missing students. Such jobs are often called “community outreach workers.”  The positive impact in these schools system is instructive, and so is the related research.  

When calling at the homes of absentee children, researchers discover a great many children who are absent for health-related reasons—57 percent, according to the results of research by the Consortium on Chicago School Research in a report on preschool absence.

But there are also significant family problems that result in student absence.  Family problems include a parent’s illness, absence of other adults to get children to school, dependence on time-consuming emergency room visits for medical care and problems with child care – an entire litany of the effects of concentrated poverty. 

In short, low-income children and families cope up with a host of problems that schools have neither the staff, money, time nor partnerships with outside organizations to adequately address.

Working alone individual schools cannot solve the problems that lead to poor attendance. Doing so will require establishing connections between schools, the home and city and community services.  

Aldermen know schools, communities, services

The city has a stake in improving education as well as a responsibility to heal broken communities. For those reasons, I am proposing that the locus and hiring responsibility for community outreach workers should be the alderman’s office.  Aldermen know their communities.  They know their schools -- both traditional neighborhood schools and charter schools -- and their local community organizations.  They also know what city services are available.

These outreach workers, once trained and armed with attendance information from the schools, would visit the homes of students with chronic absence problems, making connections for the students and their parents with the social workers or psychologists in schools where these support staff exist and have time to take on extra students.  More likely, the outreach workers would connect families with public services, such as health clinics and sites for Medicaid applications.

Most neighborhoods have community organizations that serve their residents in a variety of ways, including job training and literacy programs.  There may be community organizations that could be major partners for the aldermen in helping to organize a comprehensive effort.    

Another reason to locate outreach workers at the alderman’s office is that a single home or apartment building may have chronically absent students who attend multiple schools at more than one level--preschool, elementary or high school.  Outreach workers could make sure that efforts to help these children are coordinated, even if students are in different schools.

Dropouts could be put in touch with some of the city’s nearly-empty high schools, which have plenty of space and would surely welcome more students – and the money that comes with them.  

This arrangement could be the beginning of a meaningful partnership between the city, the schools, and their communities.  Everyone wins, and if attendance improves, educational outcomes will improve. 

Nancy Brandt is retired and previously worked for the Continental Bank/Bank of America Foundation, managing its grants to education and youth programs. She is a board member of the Community Renewal Society, which publishes Catalyst Chicago and The Chicago Reporter.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Overcrowding concerns Boulder elementary school parents

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 10:03

there's no place like home

The Denver school board is thisclose to adopting a slimmer and more focused strategic governing document. The overarching goal is to make sure there are quality schools in every neighborhood — which reflects parents concerns over the burden of the district's choice system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No room at the Inn

Parents at a Boulder Valley elementary school are concerned about overcrowding and are pressing the district to develop a longterm plan. ( Daily Camera )

Here, here, present!

Denver teachers reported for duty more often then most of their nationwide peers, a study found. The average number of school days teachers missed was 9.25, placing the district just above the national average. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

building dreams

The Aspen Community School, a mountain charter school, broke ground on a new building yesterday. It was able to do so after raising $5 million on its own and — finally — securing a grant from the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


The Douglas County voucher case, which will be heard by the state's supreme court, will be an interesting legal drama to watch, writes Eagle County Superintendent Jason Glass. But the real question is whether private schools do it better than public schools. He thinks not. And has some evidence to back up his case. ( Vail Daily )

A days pay for a days work

Students at one Massachusetts school, who field tested a new Common Core-aligned assessment, want to be paid for their time. Oh, and they're billing for some expenses. ( Washington Post )

Course work

A bill approved last week by the state California legislature requires the education department there to form a task force to study how best to implement a standardized ethnic-studies curriculum in high schools statewide. The class, however, would not be mandatory. ( LA Times )

Around the network

New York City teachers approved their collective bargaining agreement by a wide margin. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Indiana's No Child Left Behind waiver is on shaky ground after the state legislature abandoned the Common Core State Standards this spring. Now some members of the state board of education are panicking as a crucial deadline approaches. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Strict reporting on discipline targets racial disparities

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 08:47

Students from Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, known as VOYCE, gathered Tuesday with other activists to celebrate passage of a bill that for the first time requires all schools, including charters, to publicly report school discipline data and requires districts that are in the top 20 percent in the use of suspensions and expulsion to submit an improvement plan to the state.

The discipline data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency, type of incident and the duration of the suspension or expulsion, making it easier to track racial disparities. Senate Bill 2793 was passed May 30 and by this fall, the Illinois State Board of Education must prepare a report on discipline in all Illinois school districts. The bill was intended to curb the use of harsh discipline that disproportionately affects African-American young men. “We shouldn’t be pushed out of schools for minor offenses, and this is a big first step in fixing our broken system – showing how students are treated in schools,” said Roosevelt High sophomore and VOYCE member Jamie Adams. VOYCE students helped draft the bill in partnership with other members of the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline.  The bill is the first of its kind in the country to address an issue that has drawn national attention. (Sarah Blau, Catalyst Chicago)

BOOK BET: Mayor Rahm Emanuel put the city's schoolchildren on the hook to read a couple of million more books this summer, part of a bet on national TV to get late-night host Jimmy Fallon to visit Chicago again. (Tribune)


CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM: Teachers in the nation's 40 largest school districts came to school 94 percent of the time in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the report released Tuesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality. On average, the urban teachers missed about 11 school days out of 186, and used slightly less than their allotment of short-term leave. But the National Council on Teacher Quality classifies 16 percent of teachers in those cities as "chronically absent," meaning they missed 18 or more days per school year.  Districts in which more than 50 percent of teachers were frequently absent were Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; New Orleans; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn. (Huffington Post/USA Today)

COMMUNITY AND CHOICE: Sam Chaltain, a former educator and writer, has written a new book, "Our School," in which he turns his attention to two big themes: community and choice. He follows two public schools in Washington, D.C. over the course of a year—one a brand-new progressive charter school, and the other a hundred-year-old neighborhood school now experiencing the early stages of gentrification. Through the stories of these two schools he addresses the meaning of community in multicultural America, the pros and cons of school choice, and what this all means for today’s big education policy debates. (Education Next)

IMPROPER DIVERSION OF CHARTER FUNDS ALLEGED: The founder of one of the oldest and largest D.C. charter school networks, allegedly funneled millions of school dollars to a for-profit management company he owns, according to a legal complaint filed Monday by D.C. attorney general. (The Washington Post)

LABOR CONTRACT APPROVED: New York City teachers have approved a nine-year labor contract, their union announced on Tuesday, a deal that raises pay by 18 percent but leaves questions about the future of their health benefits. (The New York Times)

Categories: Urban School News

Denver board nears finalized strategic plan with focus on “great schools in every neighborhood”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 06/03/2014 - 20:04

The 2014 Denver Plan, still in draft form, is just eight pages long — one-tenth the girth of the last iteration of the Denver Public Schools strategic governing document.

But DPS board members believe the scaled-down and more focused plan packs more punch than both of its predecessors combined.

First published in 2005, the Denver Plan is meant to be part gut check, part road map, and part measuring stick for the urban school district.

The plan, however, has often been criticized for being both too arbitrary and cumbersome. The last update in 2010, for example, called for the district’s annual growth in state assessment scores, graduation rate, and student growth to increase annually by 3.5 percent.

But that’s no longer the case, argue the board’s president and vice president, Happy Haynes and Anne Rowe, respectively.

“We’re going to focus on what moves the needle,” Haynes told a gathering of education reform supporters organized by the advocacy organization A+Denver last week at the Daniel’s Fund headquarters in Cherry Creek.

The invitation-only meeting of A+ Denver supporters and members was the last focus group the DPS board will hold before finalizing the plan later this month. However, members of the community are still able to participate in an online survey hosted at the district’s website until Thursday.

Most in attendance at the A+ meeting praised the district for its brevity and clarity. But some also wondered if the new plan was a little too light on the details.

More detailed strategies and reports to complement the plan are to follow — and likely soon — district officials said. But as the plan is rolled out, in a public awareness effort that may be run like a political campaign, Haynes said, it’s important to the board to keep it simple.

Among the district’s goals, as described in the plan:

  • By 2020, 80 percent of DPS third-graders will be at or above grade level in reading and writing.
  • By 2020, the four-year graduation rate for students who start with DPS in ninth grade will increase to 90 percent.
  • By 2015, a task force including DPS staff, community partners, and city agencies focused on providing services to DPS students will recommend to the board a metric to measure the growth of the whole child, not just by test scores.

Other goals that are still missing precise targets or metrics include a goal for closing the gap in third-grade reading and writing state test scores between white student and their peers of color and plans for how to better prepare high school graduates for college or career.

The board is expecting to finalize the goals by the end of the month.

While the board’s self restraint is noteworthy, and welcomed by many, the most telling  section of the plan is the board’s first goal:

Students and families thrive when they have high-quality education choices. DPS will dramatically increase the quality of schools available in every neighborhood to ensure that every student in every community throughout the district has access to great schools. By 2020, 80 percent of students from every region within DPS will attend a high performing school, as measured by the district’s school performance framework.

That goal reflects the sentiment of many Denver parents who shared their feelings with the board throughout the town halls and surveys. And in an interview, Haynes said this goal represents the plan’s overarching aim.

One of the major concerns parents raised across Denver during the district’s first wave of town halls on the plan concerned the district’s emphasis on school choice, or the process of which a family chooses to enroll their children in schools outside of their traditional attendance boundaries.

One proposed core belief, on which the plan would be based, originally read, “We believe in choice and access to high quality schools for all families.” Parents of all socio-economic backgrounds balked at that phrasing, arguing that choosing to send their children across town was burdensome.

While the most current draft does include the aforementioned core value, it’s been amended to include, with emphasis, “in their neighborhood.”

But this goal to increase the number of high-performing schools in every district neighborhood also foreshadows difficult work ahead.

“That definition — of what a great school is — is an important question that needs to be answered,” said Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Denver, in an interview last week.

While the metric to measure the district’s success to this goal is clear, it’s not certain whether DPS’s school performance framework, or its rubric to determine which schools are performing, works.

Many of the same individuals who have criticized the plan historically have also highlighted flaws in the framework, or SPF. Some believe the data used in the SPF isn’t comprehensive enough and does not hold schools accountable for their work in early childhood education. Others, who are skeptical of the use of data as the a solution to improve schools, believe the SPF can’t adequately measure individual school cultures.

To their credit, the district is aware of the SPF’s shortcomings. And so is the board. But what tweaks or overhauls the district makes to the SPF in coming years will play a determining role in whether the district meets the board’s goal.

Currently, the district considers 61 percent of its schools as high-performing.

“Now comes the hard work,” Rowe said last week. “Now we need to go out and do this.”

Categories: Urban School News

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