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Weekend Reads: The ethical quandary of the turnaround administrator

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 15:41
    • An administrator asks if it’s ethical to pull his children out of the low-performing schools he’s supposed to help. (Dear Prudence)
    • Taken together, two charts suggest that American students do a lot of homework that doesn’t pay off. (Vox)
    • AFT President Randi Weingarten shared her own sexual assault story as part of a union push to protect women. (Jezebel)
    • An education professor argues that teachers unions should agitate against police brutality. (Jacobin)
    • The upswing in school choice in Nashville leaves neighborhood schools with uncertain futures. (The Scene)
    • A teacher grapples with the best way to write about teaching and lands on some solid advice. (Rational Expressions)
    • A city ESL teacher says bilingual programs sound promising — as long as they’re done right. (NYC Educator)
    • A former teacher shares a tongue-in-cheek quiz to help colleagues figure out if they’re no good at their jobs. (Answer Sheet)
    • Two New York City educators see a school-to-prison pipeline for gifted students and want to change it. (Hechinger)
    • The latest episode of a podcast about careers profiles a KIPP principal from Houston. (Slate)
    • The Common Core State Standards could be on the precipice of widespread repeal. (Hechinger)
    • Idaho student journalists “plagiarized” a news story after their new state superintendent did the same thing. (Romenesko)
    • A recap of 2014’s biggest news in Los Angeles schools starts with the superintendent’s resignation. (L.A. School Report)
    • “The Colbert Report,” which ended this week, frequently featured education-related guests. (Russo)
    • Below, a college admissions video from Democracy Prep Charter High School that made some Chalkbeaters cry.


Post by Princeton University.
Categories: Urban School News

Gone for the holidays

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 13:09

The crew at Catalyst is taking a break to celebrate with friends and family. We will return to work on Jan. 5.

In the meantime, our reporters will remain on alert and post briefs about any major news on Facebook and Twitter.  (If you haven’t already liked us on Facebook, now would be a great time to do that.)

Again, happy holidays to you all and the very best of wishes for 2015.

(And, yes, we are still accepting donations for 2014. We would love to see your name among them. Support from our readers is important for Catalyst’s health and well-being!)

Categories: Urban School News

CPS school ratings system doesn’t help parents

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 13:01

Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools released its annual school ratings after several weeks delay.  The postponement has been chalked up to CPS refining a new system to determine scores, which includes more rating levels, a new formula to compute school performance data, and the ability for the CEO to change schools’ rating at her discretion.  Both the delay in publishing the scores and the controversy surrounding the new system point to a major problem with CPS’s approach: what the district needs to assess about schools is very different than what families want to know about their schools.

All school districts, especially large, complex ones like CPS, need sophisticated systems to evaluate school performance, and these systems need to be continually improved.  Yet, paradoxically, research over the past 20 years clearly shows that school systems undermine the public trust when they publicly emphasize these ratings as a way to inform parents.  This is because an individual school’s local reputation is far more influential on parents than district ratings.

This gap is made even wider when a school’s annual score fluctuates greatly year to year and when the formula used to calculate that score is too complicated and technical to be explained simply.  For instance, Wendell Phillips Academy High School earned the lowest possible rating this year after having earned the highest possible rating last year.  In the absence of clear reasons about how a school could go from top to bottom in one year, families grow increasingly skeptical about the district’s scoring system. 

Further, the CEO’s new power to change ratings at her discretion will only heighten suspicion about the ratings, not as a reflection on the CEO personally, but because it makes scores harder to explain and predict.

Yet evaluating schools is vital and should draw on the district’s specialized knowledge about schools, local politics, accountability policies, and data analysis.  Moreover, all the details of a rating system, from raw data to algorithms to final scores, should be published prominently on the CPS website for the public explore.

But what we especially need is to separate that work from what parents want to know about schools.  Families engage with the school system on the level of specific schools and individual teachers.  Parents seek for their children the most supportive, safe, and effective learning environments possible, with other complicating factors, such as the length of a daily commute to school, mixed in.  A better approach for CPS would be to publish annual school guides each spring, when families are most actively exploring their children’s options.  These guides should be short, easy to understand, and organized by grade level so that parents can better anticipate the year ahead.  Crucially, these guides should also link to online forums where parents and school staff can comment, exchange information, and discuss issues about the school.

By presenting meaningful information that speaks to families’ experiences and embracing public conversation about those data, CPS can begin to rebuild trust with its communities.  The necessary work of evaluating and rating schools should be separate and distinct because it speaks to the needs of administrators and policy makers, not families.

Charles Tocci is a clinical assistant professor of education at Loyola University Chicago. He works closely with CPS through the university's partnerships with neighborhood schools. His research focuses on teacher grading and school data use.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Debate over TABOR refunds begins to heat up

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 09:01

looking ahead to the capitol 2015

The debate over whether to refund revenue collected above the limits set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights or change the law and use it for things like education is heating up. ( AP via Durango Herald )

teaming up

A new nonprofit group aims to help improve outcomes for students in some of Jefferson County's lowest-performing schools by supplementing the work that the schools are doing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

official business

The Denver Public Schools board approved a plan to temporarily place two charter schools in Kepner Middle School and signed off on Superintendent Tom Boasberg's evaluation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

a day to learn

Veterans Day will no longer be a school holiday for Denver students under a new calendar approved by the DPS school board. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

lizards and hamsters and birds, oh my

Classroom pets, which used to be commonly kept in schools across the country but now are much more rare, are still a tradition in one Colorado Springs school. ( Gazette )

new faces

A former high school counselor and coach was appointed to the Woodland Park School District RE-2 board of education. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

DPS board approves plans for Kepner, superintendent evaluation at last meeting of 2014

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 23:06

At its last meeting of 2014, held at South High School, the Denver school board voted to finalize placement for several new schools and to approve its evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg.

The district confirmed its enrollment for the 2014-15 school year and laid out projections for the future. The district enrolls just over 90,000 preK-12 students, 83,938 in K-12.

District officials also presented this year’s “call for quality schools,” in which DPS lays out where it anticipates placing new charter or district schools.

According to the presentation, DPS will likely need additional elementary and middle school seats in Stapleton; elementary schools to replace Pioneer Charter School, in Near Northeast, which recently announced plans to close; a new elementary school and more middle school seats in the northwest section of Near Northeast; and a replacement elementary school in southwest Denver.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contested the goals of the district’s call for quality schools and several otherwise-unanimous votes, including a change to the district’s calendar.

[Check out our board tracker for a rundown of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.]

Chief academic officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust told the board that the district is increasing opportunities for communities to weigh in about what new schools in their areas should look like.

Board member Jimenez asked how the district was ensuring that its charter schools were actually improving education for students and whether it was sacrificing resources better allotted to district schools. “Are we becoming more of an authorizer for outside entities rather than running our own schools?”

Whitehead-Bust said the district is focusing on improving its existing schools, and has a series of evaluators monitoring charter schools.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova also rushed up to the mic to respond. She said that the district has specifically reached out to charter schools that have had successes with bilingual education, English learners and school turnaround.

Jimenez was also the sole vote against the board’s evaluation of superintendent Tom Boasberg. The evaluation commends the superintendent for, among other things, improving communications in the district, leadership, and for a number of academic and managerial achievements. It includes concerns about continued turnover in parts of the district and Common Core roll-out.

Jimenez said he is particularly concerned that the district has not yet adopted Common Core-aligned resources.

“We really should be having discussions about conditions of employment when we have such an important piece of district work that has gone unfulfilled at this time,” Jimenez said. “I’m going to take public issue with our evaluation process.”

“There’s a significant work we have to do,” Boasberg said. “This is a struggle all schools and school districts are working on.” He said the district is continuing its search for resources, and that a district task force chose deliberately not to adopt some resources that it deemed to be not worth the investment.

“We’re continuing to supply materials to bridge the gap,” he said.

Board president Haynes said the board would be setting new goals for the superintendent, aligned with Denver Plan.

Placing Schools

The board voted to approve plans to place Rocky Mountain Prep and Compass Academy in the Kepner Middle School building temporarily. Those plans had been put on hold in November so the district could determine how they fit with its obligations to English learners in southwest Denver. The district plans to ultimately place a new district-run school and a school run by charter operator Strive in 2015-16. The current program in the school is being phased out.

Still, Jimenez reiterated a concern that placing Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the school, even temporarily, represented the district skirting the requirements of a consent decree that governs how Denver Public Schools educates its English learners.

Board president Happy Haynes clarified that the two charter schools are not intended to fulfill the district’s requirement to offer a native language program for English learners in the Kepner building.

“It is our intent to work with [Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep] to find a permanent home,” said superintendent Boasberg. “It is not our intent that they would replace the district school.”

The board also voted to approve placing a new competency-based high school in the Byers building next year. The competency-based school will share a building with DSST:Byers for two years. In a competency-based school students move through grades based not on seat time but on their ability to demonstrate mastery of academic skills.

Two schools, High Tech Elementary and Denver Discovery Middle, had their innovation plans approved. The board heard lengthy presentations from school leaders, teachers, parents, and students at a work session earlier this week.

Board member Jimenez again raised concerns, saying that he was concerned that the innovation status removed work protections for teachers.

Board members Barbara O’Brien, Landri Taylor, and Mike Johnson all spoke in favor of the innovation schools. Johnson singled out the schools’ focus on finding time in the school day for teachers to work together.

Earlier in the meeting, the district singled out schools that were recognized by the Colorado Department of Education for outstanding results. More Denver schools were singled out by the department than schools from any other district.

Haynes said that the district will co-host a conversation about the issues raised by students in a series of protests against police brutality and discrimination, in conjunction with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, tomorrow, and that the district will host student-led conversations and a conference early in the new year.

Categories: Urban School News

Veterans Day will be a day on, not a day off, in Denver schools next year

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 21:29

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a new school calendar that means Veterans Day will be a day in school rather than a holiday for students.

Board president Happy Haynes said that having school on Veterans Day will allow schools to acknowledge the country’s veterans more actively, potentially by partnering with veterans’ organization or having in-school events acknowledging and celebrating veterans.

“In the past it’s been a day off, and I think it was a day that was lost,” she said. “Many of our students and families had no idea why we had a day off in the middle of November…now it’s a day on.”

The district will provide guidance to schools about how to mark the holiday and has reached out to veterans’ groups in the city, Haynes said.

Board member Arturo Jimenez cast the lone vote against the calendar, saying that having the day in school does not guarantee that schools would mark or celebrate the holiday sufficiently. He suggested that the district have a day off on Monday to mark the holiday.

The calendar was developed by a district task force. The task force was aiming to attach days off to weekends rather than have having days floating in the middle of the week and to ensure that students are not in school during the hottest parts of the year, among other concerns.

The first day of school for students will be August 24 and the last day will be June 3. Students have full weeks off at Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays, and Spring Break.

Categories: Urban School News

To boost achievement in struggling Jeffco schools, nonprofit aims to bridge opportunity gap

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 17:27

For Joel Newton, the work to improve some of Jefferson County’s lowest-performing schools is personal.

His two daughters attend Lumberg Elementary, where only four out of every 10 third graders are reading at grade level.

But he doesn’t blame the teachers or Jeffco Public Schools.

“The irony of our schools is that we have great programming during the school day,” he said. “But those kids who are growing up in poverty, they need extra support on top of what our schools offer if they’re going to catch up and stay ahead.”

That’s the theory behind Newton’s organization, the Edgewater Collective, and the nonprofit’s first public project, the Jefferson Success Pathway.

Formed in 2013, but just now going public, the Edgewater Collective’s mission is to foster relationships between six schools in and around the city of Edgewater and nonprofit organizations that can offer services to the schools leaders, teachers, students and their families.

Schools in the Edgewater Collective
• Molholm Elementary
• Edgewater Elementary
• Lumberg Elementary
• Stevens Elementary
• Wheat Ridge 5-8
• Jefferson High

Those schools, run by Jeffco Public Schools, are not like most in the suburban — mostly white and middle class — county. Most of the students — at least 70 percent at each school — come from households that earn little enough to qualify for either free or reduced-lunch prices, a proxy of poverty, and are Latino. There is also a concentrated population of English language learners.

The students who attend those schools are also usually behind grade level in reading, writing, and math, and are less likely to go to college, let alone graduate.

Newton believes the adults inside the schools and the district leaders who support them are doing all they can to enrich those students lives — but they need help to overcome what many call the “opportunity gap.”  The opportunity gap is the barriers some students, usually poor students of color, face to access quality resources that support them before, during, and after school. Those barriers could include a lack of breakfast, after school programs, or a quiet place to study and use technology.

To close those gaps, Newton has partnered with more than two dozen organizations from the health, nonprofit, faith-based, and government sector.

It’s his role to connect those organizations to the schools.

Part of the reason why they haven’t already connected, Newton said, is because most confuse Edgewater, the tiniest community in Jefferson County, with Denver.

“I think people still feel Edgewater is Denver because the demographics align better with the students who attend Denver Public Schools,” he said. “And the test scores look more like the schools across the street in Denver.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Joel Newton, left, chats with Edgewater City Councilman Kristian Adam Teegardin earlier this month after the Edgewater Collective announced its first public program the Jefferson Success Pathway.

As part of his work, Newton and a community board have put together a list of goals he hopes his organization can influence while working with Jeffco Public Schools. Those goals include increasing the number of families that are safe, healthy, and supported; preparing more students for kindergarten; increasing the number of students able to read and write at grade level by the third grade; and growing the  graduation rate.

The Edgewater Collective, which published its ambitions earlier this month, will spend the early part of 2015 gathering baseline data around those goals and then set targets.

“We don’t want to be another initiative that just looks good on paper,” Newton said at the public unveiling of the Jefferson Success Pathway project.

Newton already has the support of Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

“We all know what the challenges are,” McMinimee said at that meeting. “And we can spend a lot of time talking about past mistakes. Or we can rally around this shining light.”

The nonprofit’s announcement of the Jefferson Success Pathway program took place the same week as Jeffco officials announced their own intentions to speed up improvements at some of the schools the nonprofit works with.

Newton doesn’t see his work as a duplicated effort. Instead he wants to run alongside the field as a sort of water boy or cheerleader for the teachers inside the schools.

“We don’t want to lay blame, but say as a community, “how do we work together?” Jeffco schools can’t do this alone,” he said.

Newton hopes to share his organization’s work with the district’s fractured school board in the spring of 2015 and create an official partnership between the nonprofit and the school district via a board resolution. He’ll only do so if he knows he can get a rare 5-0 vote.

“We’re staying away from the big issues, the divisive debates, we’re going to keep asking how do we help all kids in this area to succeed,” Newton said. “The children and family in our area can’t sit by and watch a three year battle with the school board — they need help right now. They need the support right now. They need investment right now.”

Categories: Urban School News

Coming soon: exclusive new Capitol coverage

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:00

During Colorado’s legislative session, it’s not uncommon to find Chalkbeat’s Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl tapping away on his laptop in one committee hearing, while keeping tabs on another by audio-streaming it through headphones. Some might say he’s a glutton for punishment, but his multitasking ability helps him deliver the best legislative education coverage in the state.

Starting in January, readers will have a chance to get more of Engdahl’s exclusive legislative coverage than ever before. It’s simple: Sign up for Chalkbeat’s new Capitol Membership. It includes a legislative preview on Jan. 5, Sunday e-newsletters previewing each week’s developments, breaking news e-mail alerts throughout the session and a comprehensive legislative wrap-up in May.

The Capitol Membership is perfect for readers who need to stay informed about state education policy, but don’t have time to wade through dense legislative documents and navigate the grueling law-making process. This new service will augment the comprehensive legislative coverage that Engdahl has always provided and will continue to provide to Chalkbeat readers daily.

The Capitol Membership is available for just $120, with discounts available to those who work for schools, school districts, or state or federal government. To sign up or learn more, click here.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Dyett supporters ask for RFP to be halted; school ratings by race and TFA problems

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:30

Several members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School demanded Wednesday that board members adopt their plan for the school and reopen it in Fall of 2015, rather than follow the steps CPS officials already laid out: issue a Request for Proposals, pick an operator or a proposal, and then reopen in 2016.

Community activists who had been fighting to save Washington Park’s Dyett ever since its phase out was announced four years ago hailed the announcement by officials that it was going to be saved. But they do not like the idea that outside, private entities can bid to run it as a contract school. Nor do they like that it will sit dormant for a year.  

“Anytime black children have a need, it is sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeanette Taylor, who serves on the LSC of Mollison Elementary, which is near Dyett. She worries that Dyett might become a selective enrollment and that her autistic son won’t qualify for enrollment. She wants the reopened school to be able to serve him.

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett wants the school to be reopened as a neighborhood school with a focus on “global leadership and green technology.” They said they do not understand why -- and feel it is disrespectful for -- the board to consider other proposals.

Veteran civil rights leader and historian Timuel Black, now 96 years old, told the board that he thinks schools do much better when they have community support. Joy Clendenning, who serves on the Kenwood LSC, said that people in the area ask her often what is happening with Dyett. “It is such a great building and location,” she said. She called the community’s plan “terrific.”

Board members did not respond to the coalition’s speakers.

The RFP for Dyett, as well as for other new schools to open in Fall 2016, is supposed to be released some time this month. CPS officials said that this year they are not considering proposals to open any new schools in Fall 2015, a move that many assume is political given that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is running for re-election and new schools are controversial.  

However, two charter schools were given conditional approval last year for openings in Fall 2015. One of them, a new entity called Moving Everest Charter School, was given final approval on Wednesday.

2. CPS’ new (old) inspector general… CPS finally has a new, permanent inspector general and, not surprisingly, it is the same guy who has been holding down the job for the five months since the last inspector general resigned. Wonder why it took so long to make him permanent? Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the official appointment of Nicholas J. Schuler earlier this month, and on Wednesday the Board of Education confirmed him in a procedural vote.

Schuler has been deputy CPS inspector general since 2010. Schuler is a former police officer and the son of a police officer. After getting a law degree and working in a private law firm, he went to work for the city’s inspector general’s office. He tells the Sun Times that he saw the move to CPS as a promotion.  

The news of his official appointment comes just as the office is about to release its annual report. In the past, the annual report has detailed relatively low-level corruption, including misuse of credit cards by school board presidents, clout admissions into selective enrollment schools and principals who fraudulently identified their children as qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

3. More on ratings… When CPS Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced school ratings earlier this month, she said she was surprised that quality schools were spread out throughout the city. Catalyst mapped the schools and, while we found this is true, it is also the case that the best schools are much more concentrated on the North and Northwest sides of the city. Forty percent of the top rated schools are on the North Side or centrally located, compared to 20 percent on the South Side and 15 percent on the West Side.

What’s more, of the lowest rated schools, 60 percent of them are on the South Side, though only 50 percent of all schools are on the South Side. The West Side is home to 22 percent of all schools, but 32 percent of the lowest rated schools.

Catalyst’s analysis also confirms that white students are most likely to attend the district’s Level 1-plus schools, the highest rating. Nearly all the schools with significant white populations are rated either 1-plus or 1. Meanwhile, all of the lowest rated schools, except for Kelvyn Park High School, which has a mostly Latino population, are more than two-thirds black.  To see maps of ratings by race click here.

4. Fewer recruits for TFA … As CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey noted during Wednesday’s board meeting, a recent Washington Post article pointed out that studies show that morale among teachers is super low. Teaching just isn’t as attractive as it used to be because of the “polarized public conversation around education” and districts’ shaky budgets, according to a note written by Teach For America leaders to the organization’s partner organizations and obtained by Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss.The article was about the trouble that the controversial teacher training organization is having trouble recruiting new candidates. 

As a result in the drop in recruits, TFA expects to “fall short” of its partners’ needs by 25 percent. Also, TFA leaders closed a training site in New York because of the decline, as reported by Chalkbeat last week.

The waning interest in teaching hasn’t only affected alternative educator prep programs like TFA. At traditional university teacher prep programs, enrollment fell by about 10 percent between 2004 and 2012, according to a recent story in Education Week. The numbers are even worse in Illinois, as Catalyst reported earlier this year. Enrollment at traditional undergraduate teaching programs dropped by about 23 percent in the decade leading up to 2012.

5. In other school news … Ald. John Arena of the 45th Ward asked the board Wednesday to prioritize hiring more full-time nurses at schools that cater to students with special needs. He shared concerns from teachers and staff at one such school, Beard Elementary, who have to administer medications to students. "They have concerns about the health of the child -- if they were to miss a dose or mistime the doses -- because the demands on them are more each day," Arena told the Tribune. Just 450 nurses serve the district’s 683 schools, according to the story. That adds up to a ratio of about one nurse for every 880 students in CPS. The district is currently seeking proposals from outside groups to deliver some $33 million in school nursing and health management services next school year.

Also, parents who want to see the implementation of the PARCC test delayed asked the board to adopt a policy allowing parents to opt their children out of the test. Rules around opting out became an issue last year when hundreds of parents, if not thousands, opted their children out of the ISAT, which was then a state-mandated test but one that CPS was not using for any accountability purposes. At the time, some schools followed the rule that they hand every student a test but then allow the student to refuse to take it. Parent Jennifer Biggs told the board that she had no problem opting her children out at their school but wants to make sure that in the future children aren't put in a position of having to refuse the test. 

Finally, it looks like progress has been made on choosing a site for the city’s new selective-enrollment high school that was initially going to be named after President Barack Obama. Ald. Walter Burnett of the 27th Ward says he favors a vacant riverfront parcel at Division and Halsted near Goose Island because it has room for parking, no conflicts with nearby schools or parks and won’t take away land needed for replacement public housing, according to a Sun-Times story. (A previous site in the middle of Stanton Park was scrapped because of concerns from Near North Side residents about lack of parking and the loss of park space.) Residents will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the new site.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: ProComp agreement likely to be extended as negotiations continue

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 09:32

third time's a charm?

After two attempts at either finding suitable Common Core-aligned curriculum and trying to write their own, Denver Public Schools officials now say they're headed "back to the drawing board" to find appropriate classroom materials. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

small steps

The Aurora Public Schools board took a half-step towards allowing a cash-strapped charter school to stay open. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

negotiating the negotiations

Two weeks before Denver Public Schools' current teacher compensation program, ProComp, expires, district and union officials haven't come to an agreement on changes. ( Denver Post )

oil for schools

The mayor of Windsor is fighting to use a portion of the town's oil and gas revenue to fund schools. ( Coloradoan )

creating safer spaces

A new survey reports that Colorado's gay, lesbian and bisexual students face significant physical and mental health challenges in school. ( Summit Daily )

no more bullies

A Jefferson County mother is encouraging other parents to take a proactive approach to talk to their children about bullying. ( 9News )


U.S. Sen. Mark Udall announced that he's nominated 54 Colorado students for admission to military academies. ( Daily Camera )

climb the bus

An after-school program is using a school bus outfitted with a climbing wall to teach about science. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Public Schools “back to the drawing board” in search for Common Core-aligned curriculum

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 18:06

Denver Public Schools officials say they are starting their search for curricular materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts all over again.

It’s been four years since Colorado adopted the Common Core in language arts and math as part of the Colorado Academic Standards. Starting next spring, the state’s standardized test in the subjects will be tied to the new standards.

But DPS has yet to adopt or purchase a new set of curricular resources aligned to the Common Core.

District officials say that the textbooks and other academic resources that are on the market right now aren’t up to snuff, especially for Denver’s large population of English learners.

“It’s a real struggle right now,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer. “Finding a curriculum that’s that’s been redesigned for the Common Core is difficult enough—and finding one that’s aligned for English learners is a different challenge.”

The district reviewed the Common Core-aligned textbooks and curriculum on the market last year, Whitehead-Bust said, but decided that none was worth the millions of dollars the district would have to invest.

The district then decided to create a new curriculum in-house. “That was Plan B. And that turned out to be equally challenging,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Now we’re back to the drawing board.”

Whitehead-Bust said there was no clear date by which the district was guaranteed to have new resources. “We’re continuing to move forward with research and investigation,” she said.

In the meantime, DPS teachers are in limbo, adapting resources that were created with the previous state standards in mind to create lessons that are aligned the Common Core.

Redesigned, not realigned

The Common Core standards for English language arts and math have been adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia (Minnesota adopted only the standards in English language arts). Though the standards have stirred political and educational controversy, Denver officials say they are more rigorous and will encourage better teaching and learning.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThird graders at Ellis Elementary study English with ESL teacher Bree Roon. Each of the students in this group has a different native language, including Karen, Spanish, Russian/Turkish, Arabic, and Bosnian.

But Denver is not alone in having not found new Common Core-aligned curriculum and textbooks, said Carrie Heath Phillips, program director for Common Core State Standards at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which helped develop the standards. “Many places didn’t want to rush to buy new materials until there were more quality resources out there.”

She said that’s starting to change: Some states, including Tennessee, Louisiana, and Hawaii, have recommended lists of textbooks that are aligned to the standards.

In Colorado, each district chooses which curriculum and resources it will use. Some districts, including Boulder, have adopted new curricular resources tied to the Common Core.

Whitehead-Bust said that DPS is searching for something that’s not simply old textbooks with a new label. “There are a lot of companies that have remapped their material to the standards. But they haven’t redone their material. We’re looking for materials that are really redesigned, not just realigned.”

In the meantime, she said, teachers haven’t been totally without updates and support. “What we’re trying to do is take the resources that were in place last year, many of which were really strong and solid resources, and deepen the rigor of the content, infuse more informational text, and deepen expectations around text-dependent questions, so we can really guide teachers through.” Elementary English language arts teachers have gotten new guided reading books for their students. A literacy newsletter has suggestions about how to tie lessons to the new standards.

“Great resources in the hands of less-than-well-trained teachers don’t have anywhere close to the same impact as well-trained teachers using resources you’d hoped to replace and upgrade over time,” she said.

But weaving old materials together with new additions aimed at making lessons more rigorous or aligned with the new standards isn’t always easy.

“They do provide us with a lot of resources,” said Margaux Rowley, a second grade teacher at Ellis Elementary, in southeast Denver. “But sometimes you’re getting so much—it’s, ‘do this with the scope and sequence,’ ‘do this with the standards.’ It’s a lot of information.”

Rowley said that making sure the lesson plans and instructional materials she uses in class line up with the standards, and with how other grades in the school are interpreting the standards, is a challenge.

Theresa Winslow, a fifth grade teacher at Ellis, said that math materials are more up-to-date than language arts. “In literacy, we’re still tied to the lesson guides from ten years ago.”

Frustrated board

At a meeting of the district’s board in November focused on academic programs and teacher and leader training initiatives, board member Arturo Jimenez said he was concerned about the delay. “If we don’t have the curricular materials chosen and implemented and ready to go, it’s difficult to see the logic that we’re focusing on teacher leadership development, evaluation and incentives,” he said. He compared it to sending paratroopers into battle without parachutes.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiThe Denver school board discusses academics, including curriculum, at a meeting in November.

“How do we focus teachers without planning and practice guides, without curriculum that’s focused on the Common Core? It seems like we’re doing it backwards,” he said.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said while he understood the concern, “we have kids on the ground who desperately need our teachers. Are not going to say we’re not going to coach or develop them?”

Whitehead-Bust described the district’s efforts to “bridge” between old materials and new. “Many districts are in our position,” she said. “It’s frustrating for teachers.” She said there would likely be an update to the timeline for finding resources as the district develops its new strategic plan this winter.

Board president Happy Haynes said she was surprised to hear that materials appropriate for English learners were hard to come by. “I don’t know why it took [publishers] so long to figure out that that’s an extraordinary need—but we need to keep the pressure there in order to get the materials we need.”

Challenges for English learners PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiEllis Elementary enrolls students who speak more than 20 different native languages.

States and districts have been developing ways to make sure the standards are accessible to English learners, according to the CCSSO’s Phillips. The state of New Jersey, for one, has developed scaffolding guides for English learners. The school district in San Diego has translated all of the standards into Spanish. The Council of the Great City Schools released a “user’s guide” for districts looking to find instructional materials tailored to English learners’ needs this August.

In 2013-14, 35 percent of Denver’s public school students were English learners.

District chief schools officer Susana Cordova said the new standards highlight an already-existing challenge: “It’s difficult to find material in Spanish in general–and even more difficult to find material that’s been revised and aligned to the rigor of the Common Core.” The district offers several Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI, in programs, in which Spanish speaking students spend some time learning in their native language.

She said there also aren’t enough materials with features that make it easier for students who are learning English to process text (such as on-page definitions for tricky words). She said the Common Core standards’ emphasis on informational text and problem solving in math means that English learners are confronted with more technical language and, in math, just more language than ever before.

And even resources that are advertised as aligned don’t always live up to the hype, she said. When the district reviewed one publisher’s Common Core-aligned materials, Cordova said, eight of the ten lessons built for English learners focused on idioms. “That’s not the bulk of what English learners need to learn,” Cordova said.

The district adopted a new program called E.L. Achieve, intended to be a more effective literacy program for English learners, earlier this fall.

At Ellis Elementary, where more than 24 languages are spoken and fewer than a third of students speak English as a first language, “we didn’t get the new standards and think, oh my goodness, how will we teach our English learners,” said Linda Miller, the dean of instruction at Ellis. “It was, how will we get STUDENTS to show that they have mastered or are where they should be with the standards? So now it’s this aftermath—so now we’re going to use E.L. Achieve. How will that support teaching the standards as well?”

“We’re working as hard as we possibly can to teach all our students,” Miller said. “A large majority happen to be English learners. But that hasn’t changed.”

Teachers were most concerned about how students, especially English learners, would fare on PARCC, the state’s new computer-based, Common Core-tied assessment, which, they said, is very text heavy. Even the instructions for how to navigate the online exam—drag and drop, or figuring out which box is an answer box—can trip up students, especially those who are still translating in their heads.

“A lot of our English learners are brilliant,” Winslow said. “But the test isn’t really going to show you what they’re capable of. And then it looks like we’re not doing our jobs.”

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora board takes half-step to help cashless charter school

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 14:51

AURORA — A charter school teetering on the edge of bankruptcy was given a tentative lifeline Tuesday night by the city’s school board. But the Aurora Public Schools board stopped short of approving a one-year charter extension for AXL Academy.

While several board members aired their skepticism about granting a one-year extension to the school – its charter contract expires June 30 – the board unanimously agreed to allow the district and AXL more time to develop a plan that would close a $632,000 shortfall and set the charter school on a path toward fiscal and academic stability.

The board, which has been considered chilly to charter schools in the past, will review the plan and vote on a one-year charter contract extension as early as its Jan. 6 meeting.

The vote can’t come soon enough for the AXL community. Thanks to some budget crunching, it has just enough cash now to get through March 2.

The extra time is also a welcomed symbolic gesture of Aurora’s warming to charter schools, said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

“This board is interested in what’s in the best interest of children and their families,” Flood said after the meeting, pointing out that APS has also renewed two of its charters schools — Global Village and the Aurora Academy — this month. “They’re taking a broader view. They’re looking across their portfolio to make sure there are high quality options for their students.”

While AXL had originally asked for the district to establish a credit line for about $300,000, the school presented a new plan Tuesday asking the district to allow the school to run a deficit of about $175,000 this school year. That deficit would be wiped out by a projected surplus next year. The surplus would come from one-time funds promised by the legislature to all public schools, and an anticipated increase in per-pupil funding.

The new plan also relies on raising  $150,000 from philanthropic foundations. And in keeping with the original plan, AXL would like APS to defer about $300,000 in service fees this school year, allowing the school to pay those over three years.

“We strongly believe that this process will create an AXL Academy that is strong, more effective, and most importantly, more responsible than ever before,” said Brent Reckman, a co-principal at AXL.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Financial consultant Jason Gurrero from G and G Consulting, left, and AXL co-principal Brent Reckman answered questions from the APS Board of Education Tuesday night.

More than 100 AXL supporters squeezed into the modest APS board chambers. Six individuals — two parents, two teachers, and two students — spoke in favor of providing a contract extension to AXL.

“It isn’t a perfect school, but it is our school,” said Amber Malin, an AXL teacher whose child also attend the school.

Parents and teachers who spoke at the board meeting shared their renewed faith in AXL, which has experienced financial hardship before and has seen a dip in academic performance, according to state test score data.

“I feel more secure in the planning of AXL’s future than ever before,” said Heather Rivers, an AXL teacher.

Student Vance Manzanares said his teachers have inspired him to go to college since he was young.

“They want us to be great people — not just now, but especially when we grow up,” he said. “They always tell me to go for my dreams. I want to be an inventor. Not one of my teachers has told me that’s a bad idea. That’s why you’ll all be able to fly in 2025 with awesome rocket-propelled shoes.”

Board members and Superintendent Rico Munn, weighing the financial ramifications of its options, fired a series of questions at AXL’s leadership, financial consultant, and Lisa Flores from the Gates Family Foundation.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Gates Family Foundation.)

One of the most intense exchanges was between Munn and Flores.

Munn attempted to gauge the foundation’s willingness to support AXL and what the district and school would need to do to ensure for the foundation’s contribution. Flores said her foundation is interested in continuing its support of AXL, which it has done for many years, but explained she didn’t have the authority to pledge any dollar amount without approval from the foundation’s board of directors.

“What we’re looking for is everyone making a good faith effort to long-term planning,” Flores said.

Flores said she was impressed by how the school’s new leadership team was grappling with a number of challenges including food service, renegotiating the school’s lease, and student recruitment, but that several details still needed to be finalized, including how much time AXL would have to repay the $300,000 in fees that would be deferred this year.

Munn and his board of education agreed.

“I have to be honest, this is making me a little nervous,” said APS board member Amber Drevon. “Are you looking for donations in other places?”

AXL’s leaders said they were.

Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared pleased with the path Aurora and AXL were on.

“There’s nothing I can see as another approach,” said board member Dan Jorgensen.

But board member Eric Nelson wasn’t so optimistic.

“I’m really praying that you have a contingency plan,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Adams 12 makes plans to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:26


The Five Star school board is trying to figure out how to address school crowding after a $220 million bond failed this November. ( Westminster Window )

school rankings has ranked Colorado schools on a scale from A to F. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

school rankings

Most of the schools that earned strong grades are in the Pikes Peak region. ( The Gazette )

Open or Close

The Aurora school board is deciding whether to close or renew the contract of AXL Academy, a charter school that's struggling financially. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Coding Possibilities

Researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine are using code written by Colorado students to help improve outcomes for cancer patients. ( 9 News )

New Homes

Three charter schools in Colorado Springs are purchasing new buildings. ( The Gazette )

Oil and Gas

The mayor of Windsor plans to use oil and gas money to support schools via a foundation—but not everyone supports his plans. ( Coloradoan )


Jeffco teachers got their first compensation updates in years in November. ( Arvada Press )

Making Friends

A group of elementary students have created a "buddy bench" to help make sure none of their classmates are lonely. ( Westminster Window )

Restorative Justice

A school in Oakland, Calif. is beginning to use a restorative justice aproach. ( KUNC )


The state of New York is planning to track chronically absent students, taking a page from New York City schools. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Digital Divide

Even once kids get laptops as parts of one-on-one initiatives, many don't have the internet online. ( Hechinger Report )


A new housing project in Tacoma, Wash. aims to help homeless K-12 students. ( Education Week )

Health Care

A challenge to the Affordable Care Act could have big implications for school system workers—especially support staff at schools. ( Education Week )


A Denver parent argues against school vouchers in a letter to the Denver Post. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Coalition releases school grades for parents

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 17:04

Colorado parents looking for more user-friendly information about their school’s academic performance last year can now search an updated online database that ranks schools on a familiar A-F grading scale., developed by a coalition of 18 nonprofits organizations with that generally support accountability-reform efforts, uses data from the Colorado Department of Education and a formula developed by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver to compute the grades.

The site was updated this week with the most recent test data from the 2013-14 school year.

The aim is to give every parent an easy-to-understand letter-grade ranking for their school to inform decisions about where to send their students.

Colorado is one of a few states that ranks schools and districts on a variety of metrics that provides quality information to parents, but a report by the Education Commission of the States found that information is not easily accessible to most parents.

From the organization’s press release:

“Parents need clear, concise information to make good school choices for their child,” said Bob Deibel, President and Owner of OfficeScapes and board member at Colorado Succeeds. “Colorado School Grades is a critical tool to provide a first step for any parent making a choice or improving a school.”

For four years, Colorado School Grades has represented an alternative to other school rating systems, which are difficult to navigate or offer watered-down information. For example, the Colorado Department of Education indicates that more than 70 percent of public schools are “top performers,” making it difficult for parents to understand how their school measures up. Colorado School Grades rates schools on a more rigorous curve, so the community can understand which schools are performing at the highest levels.


Categories: Urban School News

Aurora school board to decide fate of cash-strapped charter school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 16:11

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education tonight will decide the fate of one of its charter schools that has just enough cash to operate until the end January.

The school board will decide whether to shutter the AXL Academy charter school at the end of the month, close it at the end of the school year, or extend its charter for 18 months so the school can possibly regain its financial footing.

At stake is what’s best for the 500 students of AXL —  about 90 percent of whom live inside the APS attendance boundaries — and the suburban school system’s own finances.

AXL officials, who met with the APS school board earlier this month, told board members that the financial shortfall was caused entirely by the school enrolling 100 fewer students than originally budgeted for.

According to the officials’ remarks at the APS school board meeting and in subsequent interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, it appears most of the school’s staff, its board, and district officials were kept in the dark about the shortfall until after the state’s official count day in October.

Count day is one of the most important days of the school year. On this day, schools and districts report how many students are at their desks. Those numbers determine how much money school systems receive from the state for the entire school year. While AXL’s enrollment did increase this year, it still fell short of its growth projection of 600 students.

As a result of the enrollment shortfall. AXL received about $700,000 less than officials had projected.

AXL officials claim they have a plan to establish a solid fiscal foundation. They believe the kindergarten through eighth grade school should stay open because the school has growth potential. District-run expeditionary learning schools are popular in Aurora and have waiting lists.

AXL also meets or beats the district’s average student achievement results on state reading and writing tests, although those scores have slipped by double digit percentage points in the last three years and still lag behind the state’s average.

While the school, which has similar demographics to the district’s, has underperformed the district’s and state’s average in math, overall the school has earned the state’s highest rating a school can earn for the last three years.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Donny Wright, left, and his son, Trenton Wright, 12, were among the 200 AXL Academy charter school supporters who packed an Aurora Public Schools Board of Education meeting earlier this month. AXL Academy has enough money to operate through January. It’s requesting an 18-month charter extension and loan from the APS.

AXL officials hope an extension to the school’s charter will provide the campus a chance to move past its financial mistakes and refocus on teaching and learning.

“We don’t want to dwell on the past,”said Matt Wasserman, the school’s new board president, at the Dec. 2 APS board meeting. “We’ve made a clean break from the past. We want the ability to have a fresh star. This is a financial crisis. But it is not an academic crisis. … AXL is asking for what amounts to a second chance.”

Since late October, AXL’s school director, Audra Philippon has left. The school has restructured its administration team and board of directors, and also cut about $90,000 from its budget.

Philippon did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of its restructuring, the school has hired a charter school consulting firm for about $30,000.

“We’ve tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Brent Reckman, AXL’s co-principal, at the APS board meeting. “Cutting the Spanish team was the most difficult.”

It’s still unclear how only a select few of the school’s administrators knew about under enrollment problems and what specific systems will be in place by the end of the school year to prevent a similar budgeting problem going forward.

AXL is asking the district to defer about $315,000 in fees for district services and establish a credit line for about the same amount.

Part of the conversation tonight between AXL and the APS board will be to discuss what the financial trade-offs are for either keeping the school open or closing it.

“I need to have a real good idea about what it would cost the district for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school year,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member.

If the board agrees to float AXL a lifeline there is no guarantee the district will see the hundreds of thousands of dollars again. The school could ultimately close if it can’t boost its enrollment. Some families have already left since news about the financial hardship spread.

If AXL does shut down, any assets such as computers the school purchased with state tax dollars would become the property of APS, according to a spokeswoman with the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

This isn’t the first time AXL has had money woes. In the fall of 2013, APS sent a letter to the school claiming AXL was not in compliance with its charter contract due to concerns about its financial status and governance structure. But the school corrected course, APS officials pointed out to their board this month.

“We were here last year, but for different reasons,” said Rico Munn, APS’s superintendent. “As of June, we all felt good.”

While there have been signs the Aurora school board is becoming more friendly to charters, over the years it has earned a reputation of being anti-charter. While neighboring school districts like Denver Public Schools and Douglas County have been steadily opening charter schools, APS hasn’t authorized another charter school since AXL opened in 2008.

The APS board’s decision tonight could signal a greater openness to working with charter school or a closing of the ranks.

Aurora officials and board members earlier this month said they were happy the district and charter school officials were communicating through the entire process. And many board members praised the school for rallying parent support. More than 200 parents, teachers, and students packed the modest APS board room earlier this month to show support for the school.

If the board decides to shut down the school at the end of the month, all AXL students — regardless of what school district they live in — would be able to choose an APS school to attend so long as a seat was available.

AXL’s parent Max Garcia’s  three students would likely finish the school year at their neighborhood school, Jewel Elementary. But he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I believe in the expeditionary learning model,” he said. “If they close the school, it’d break my heart. I volunteer there. I teach the cooking club. I know a lot of the kids on a first name basis.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 90 percent of AXL students live inside the Aurora Public Schools boundary. 

Categories: Urban School News

Passing the PARCC test is the wrong goal

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00

In reading the recent guest essay that the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellows wrote about the soon-to-debut PARCC test, I was flabbergasted to see their opening paragraph end with the absurd statement that by participating in the test roll-out this year, “students in Chicago will be able to do something amazing: They have the opportunity to pilot the PARCC without the fear of failure.” 

I did not enter the profession of education to inspire my students to be great test-takers.  I hope no teacher did.  The notion that piloting a standardized test for which the publishing giant Pearson received a multi-million dollar no bid contract would be an amazing opportunity for our students is down right inflammatory. Instead of letting our students be guinea pigs for testing companies, I hope we as a profession are driven to create the opportunities that change our student’s hearts and minds for the overall betterment of society.

For example, I was astonished a few years ago when some of my students put in numerous hours after school to raise money for earthquake survivors in Haiti even though their own families were barely making ends meet. I was surprised to learn last year that two of my senior students had already started their own business, trying to develop insulin patches instead of using needles.  I get goose bumps thinking back when an incredibly shy student volunteered to explain her mathematical thinking at the board for the first time and her classmates give her the biggest high-fives as she walked back to her seat after nailing it. As I recall the amazing things students have done over the years, I never recall their performance on standardized tests.        

I hope that all my students will go on to be a part of a new generation that accomplishes amazing things by finally solving social issues such as child hunger, rampant drug addiction, stubbornly persistent segregated housing, economic volatility and global warming. In order to creatively problem-solve such issues, and the many others that face our world today, our students will need a set of skills that no standardized test can accurately assess. 

They will have to use technological advancements that have not yet been invented.  They will have to unite people from across the political spectrum, interact with citizens from across the globe, and navigate ever-changing geopolitical conflicts.  Most importantly, our students will have to figure out how to challenge unjust practices in our own country, just as generations before them challenged slavery and Jim Crow. The fight for marriage equality has been almost fully won across the nation, but as the recent protests against police brutality have underlined, racial equality is still something that eludes our country.

Fighting against unjust policies is where we teachers can lead by example and teach our students “real-life” lessons.  In their essay, the Teach Plus Fellows agree that teachers should not have to teach to a test, yet they seem to conclude that we are helpless in changing the policies that mandate such tests.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  We can and must challenge harmful educational practices.

In a recent report, the American Statistical Association (ASA), the largest organization representing professionals in the field of statistics and one of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations, deconstructed a central feature of the Obama’s administration “Race to the Top” initiative: tying school rankings and teacher evaluations to student test scores. The ASA issued a short but stinging statement that strongly warned against the misuse of value-added models (VAMs) for education assessment. 

The report notes that VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.  It goes on to say that VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.  Furthermore, the report says that most VAM studies have found that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in system-level conditions. The report explicitly asserts that ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

This means that at best, teachers have no control over 86% of what students score on standardized tests, and, at worst 99% of student standardized tests scores are out of the teacher’s control. Coming from the foremost organization on statistics, we should immediately stop any school closings or teacher evaluations based on test scores and further study what purpose, if any, standardized tests serve.  The educational justice movement here in Chicago and across the country has been demanding this for the past few years, but unfortunately, very little has changed. Yet.   

That brings me back to how teachers can truly educate their students and lead by example.  We must challenge and protest unjust policies like VAM that stigmatize our urban students, teachers and school systems as “failing”.  Last year, thousands of students opted out of standardized tests, and some teachers took the bold move of boycotting the test altogether.  This is the creative resistance that is necessary to turn the tide against the harmful practice of using VAMs to evaluate teachers and schools.  Let’s seize this opportunity to PARK the PARCC in a low-stakes environment before CPS and other school districts across the country have the opportunity to turn it into a high-stakes test.  Not only will we stand on the right side of history, we also will challenge our students to think about what actions they can take to change the world they live in.   

Anthony Cappetta is a math teacher at Lindbom Math and Science Academy, an active member of the CORE caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union, and a member of the Catalyst Editorial Advisory Board, as is a former Teach Plus fellow.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More Denver high school students being arrested for pot

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 09:52

Testing madness

The state's testing task force finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations yesterday. But the process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

gone to pot

Arrests for marijuana-related incidents spiked nearly 40 percent at Denver Public Schools following the opening of recreational pot stores this year, according to city police records. ( CPR, 9News )

turn it around

The DPS school board heard recommendations on how to improve student learning at two of its most struggling campuses: Manual High School and Kepner Middle School. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Wake up sleepy head!

Later school start times for middle and high schools are slowly gaining traction in Colorado. The newest school to have a late start will be Denver's new high school in the Stapleton neighborhood. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Decisions, decisions

Denver families who want to choose new schools next year may now do so. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

#COLeg 2015

House Republican leaders on Monday made their committee assignments for the 2015 legislative session, including five members for the House Education Committee. Many are familiar faces. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

If you want to be the first to know about happenings at the Colorado General Assembly next January, you need to sign up to be a Capitol Member today! ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

New hires at both Cherry Creek and Littleton schools this year most recently taught at Douglas County schools, new reports show. But one Dougco school board member isn't surprised. ( Douglas County News-Press )

First things first

Some families in southwestern Colorado will get a little help paying for early childhood education thanks to a $300,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation. ( Durango Herald )

Paying it foward

A Denver East High School family has raised more than $5,000 for the officer who was critically injured after a car hit him as he was escorting students back to campus after a rally. ( 9News )

brick and mortar

The Boulder Valley School District is moving forward with new construction projects after successfully passing the state's largest bond measure in history this fall. ( Daily Camera )

A charter high school in Colorado Springs and two others affiliated with Colorado Early Colleges are purchasing their buildings with a $17.3 million loan from a Longmont bank. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force struggles, stumbles as deadline looms

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 23:25

The state’s Standards and Assessments Task Force, which has been meeting since July, finally got down to voting on tentative recommendations Monday. The process was messy, and the results were mostly inconclusive.

Straw votes taken over nearly eight hours by the 15-member advisory group generally supported reducing the amount of state-required testing in high school, but the members couldn’t reach agreement on a long list of other issues, including reducing the overall amount of testing, what to do about the new social studies tests and about readiness and literacy evaluations for young students.

And those recommendations the group did agree to “are not set in stone,” said chair Dan Snowberger.

As the daylong session dragged to its end, he said, “We are going to need much more time to come to agreement on recommendations.” Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango School District.

The group had a hard time getting to those preliminary decisions, having to redo votes on several issues and consuming time as members tried to explain the nuances of why they voted the way they did.

The discussion was civil and polite but clearly indicated the philosophical divisions among task force members, particularly between representatives of education reform groups on one side and parent activists and district administrators on the other.

The divisions on the task force likely prefigure disagreements during the 2015 legislative session, where testing is expected to be a top education issue. Some lawmakers say they are waiting to see what the task force proposes. But the task force’s inability so far to speak with one voice could well diminish its influence on Capitol deliberations.

Lawmakers already are chomping at the bit on testing; at least half a dozen legislators reportedly have reserved bill titles on the issue.

The tentative recommendations The testing task force’s work product.

The task force did reach preliminary agreement on some testing issues, including:

  • Elimination of all state-required testing in the senior year of high school
  • Replacing the high school science exam with a beefed-up “college entrance exam” (like the ACT, but not necessarily that test)
  • Continue giving state science tests in the fifth and eighth grades
  • Elimination of language arts and math tests in the 11th grade and limiting those tests to the 10th grade
  • A majority of the group leaned toward allowing districts and schools to continue giving language arts and math tests in the ninth and 11th grades as a local option

Some members of the group appeared to support – kind of by default and perhaps temporarily – continued language arts and math tests in third through eighth grades.

In short, the group for now is leaning toward reducing state testing to what’s known as “the federal minimum,” the testing sequence that’s currently required by the federal government.

Members differed on what those straw votes meant.

“From grades three through eight we’ve affirmed the status quo. … We spent today essentially affirming the status quo. In all our discussions we haven’t reduced anything,” said panel member John Creighton, who serves on the St. Vrain school board.

“We have made progress. … Let’s not kick ourselves too hard just yet,” responded Jay Cerney of Cherry Creek Academy charter school in Englewood.

A tortured process

The discussion went slowly for a number of reasons, including:

  • Individual member suggestions for broad policy statements, intended to gain agreement from the group, frequently were greeted with “Yes, but” responses from other members, leading to prolonged discussions.
  • Even after straw votes, members took time to qualify and explain their votes, and several votes had to be repeated.
  • Task force facilitator Laura Lefkowits had to repeatedly call for second votes after members dropped their hands too quickly for her to count them.
  • The group wandered from topic to topic, changing subjects when they couldn’t reach agreement.

Comments by Snowberger, Lefkowits and others through the day illustrate the slow pace of discussion.

  • “So where are we?” – Snowberger at about 11:30 a.m.
  • “Can we vote on this?” – Snowberger shortly after noon
  • “We’ve cut very little in the way of testing so far.” – Tony Lewis of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, at about 2 p.m.
  • “So where are we? – Snowberger a short time later
  • “This isn’t much of a recommendation if we’re split in half.” – Lefkowits as 2:30 p.m. neared.
  • “Let’s try to finish one thing before we move to another.” – Lefkowits at about 2:45 p.m.
  • “We need to talk about how long we are going to stay tonight. … We’ve spent a lot of time on things that have not moved.” – Lefkowits as the original adjournment time of 3:30 p.m. approached.
  • “We are a long ways away.” – Snowberger shortly after 3 p.m.

The meeting broke up shortly after 5 p.m.

What’s next

A rump group of the task force was planning to meet Tuesday to see if it could come up with more specific proposals for the full group to discuss later.

Snowberger also is trying to organize small groups of members to discuss issues before the next full meeting on Jan. 9. “If we wait until the 9th to do this again we’re going to be very disappointed,” he said.

The Jan. 9 meeting wasn’t scheduled originally, but the group agreed to it Monday. The panel also is scheduled to meet Jan. 12.

Snowberger’s comments also indicated he’s backing away from the goal of consensus the task force had at the start. “We’re going to have to start putting stakes in the ground, and if 10 of us agree, then report that 10 of us agree.”

Interest groups make their pitches

The task force’s day started with presentations by three interest groups with vocal positions on testing. Task force members split up for simultaneous presentations by the three groups, then discussed the information as a full group.

A parent group known as the Denver Alliance for Public Education presented the results of an online survey it conducted that found strong respondent opposition to the current testing system. The group has complained that a survey done for the task force by the consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates didn’t sample parent opinion.

Representatives of the Colorado Education Association presented a teacher survey that showed respondents split on the Common Core State Standards and skeptical of the value of current assessments.

Members of the Social Studies Policy Group have been following the task force closely and are lobbying to avoid changes in or reduction of the state’s new social studies tests.

Learn more about the groups’ positions in these documents:

You can see the final APA report here and read recent public comments submitted to the task force here.

The task force was created by the 2014 legislature as a political compromise because lawmakers weren’t ready tackle more substantive changes to the testing system. As is typical with such study commissions, the task force membership was designed to include representatives of various education interest groups.

Categories: Urban School News

Plans for Manual and Kepner on the table as DPS discusses turnaround strategy

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 17:51

After a year of adjustment and debate, Denver Public Schools has finalized its plans for Manual High School and Kepner Middle School, two of the schools it has identified as most in need of improvement.

Those plans and an update to the district’s overall turnaround strategy will be up for discussion at the district’s school board meeting tonight.

Several possibilities for Manual’s future, including a partnership with East High, one of the district’s highest-performing high schools, have been considered since last year. The school was the district’s lowest-scoring high school.

The newest plan for Manual would bring in a group of eight City Year volunteers into the school to focus on both academic achievement and school culture.

The district has also selected Manual to receive a grant to bring a bio-medical program, part of a Career and Technical Education pathway, to the school. A new assistant principal will lead that program.

Candidates to be the school’s new principal are already being recruited and interviews will happen in January.

At Kepner, the district has plans to place two new charter schools in the building next year while the current school program is phased out. The plan to house Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building raised concerns about the fate of the district’s program for English learners in the building.

The board will vote Thursday on a plan to place both Compass and Rocky Mountain Prep in the building temporarily, while also moving forward with plans to place Strive and district school Kepner Beacon in the building in 2016. The district’s agreement with Compass specifies that the school will come to an agreement with DPS about services for English language learners.

The district delayed plans to place Strive and the Kepner Beacon program, an expansion of a current school at Grant Beacon, to open next fall.

District officials will also discuss updates to its plans for all turnaround schools and schools it has identified as otherwise in need of support.

The district plans to expand support and funding for turnaround schools to five years instead of three years. As part of its Whole Child initiative, turnaround schools will receive mental health-focused staff and supports for the community. The district also plans to add an instructional expert at each of its turnaround schools.

Turnaround schools will also get an additional planning year, and the district said it would plan to find leaders and teachers for turnaround schools early on in the planning process.

Denver Public Montessori, Harrington Elementary School, Schmitt Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Goldrick Elementary, Morey Middle, Abraham Lincoln High, Henry Middle, and Amesse Elementary were all flagged as being in need of some improvement (not necessarily for turnaround). The district will analyze each school to decide which are eligible for which services in the coming months.


Categories: Urban School News

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