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Conversations with teachers: Discipline

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 17:10

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has talked more passionately about reducing suspensions and expulsions than almost any other subject. And for the first time ever this year, the district is publishing school-level statistics on discipline.

Activists hope that shedding light on what is happening with school discipline will help expose problem areas so they can be addressed. They also hope principals will consider implementing alternatives to discipline that puts students out of school, especially black boys, who are disproportionately targeted.

But even activists who heralded the district’s new transparency and apparent willingness to confront the issue remain worried because money for restorative practices, such as peace rooms, peer juries or counseling, remains scarce.  Teachers, as a result, have few outlets to help them deal with problem behavior.

 At Catalyst Chicago’s recent teacher roundtable, participants said they have gotten the message that schools should curb suspensions and expressed dissatisfaction with the practice. In order for students to improve academically, they need to be in class, they said.

However, the conversation quickly shifted from discipline to what emerged as the underlying concern: a lack of support for troubled students.

Participants in our latest roundtable were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Here is what they had to say:

Monty Adams: Being at an alternative school, I always talk to the kids. Most of them you would never imagine had been kicked out of a public school. They are the nicest kids. I get to talk to them, find out why they were kicked out of school, for fighting or something. I can’t imagine doing that. I’ve even had kids kicked out of CPS because of numerous medical absences. These are the children we get. I want to keep teaching at the alternative school. I love it. But I don’t understand the rationale sometimes.

Hen Kennedy: We have definitely gotten that message to not expect [misbehavior] to end in a suspension. It is something I agree with. I don’t think suspension is particularly effective. I have heard grumblings. But I think [the grumblers] also don’t think it is the most useful solution. The catch is, I am not sure we’re being taught effective alternatives to suspension. I think it is important to not suspend kids whenever possible. But it is also important to have counseling or whatever to replace that.

Adams: This year we have a principal and a dean of discipline. It is so nice to be able to teach and, if there is a student you're having a problem with who won’t be cooperative, just to be able to pick up the phone. That doesn't come back and reflect poorly on me. In fact, I can tell a student it’s kind of out of my hands. “Just go and calm down and talk to somebody else.” A lot of times they do.

They come in with all kinds of emotional problems. They need counseling. They need somebody to cool down with. You can’t do that simultaneously with teaching.

Kris Himebaugh: That is another [effect] of the budget cut. Our social worker and psychologist both got cut down to part-time and you're talking about Orr High School. You're talking about kids who are in and out of jail, who see their friends, siblings, parents die on the streets. My students get shot and killed. And so we have a half-time social worker and psychologist?

Kennedy:  We’re lucky enough to have a phenomenal full-time counselor. I can’t even imagine how our school would function without it.

Amy Rosenwasser:  We don’t have a full-time social worker. There is a definite push being made [for a social-emotional program]. We had two days of training at the end of the school year and two more next week on The Responsive Classroom, which is supposed to be a way to deal with problems in the classroom. The paraprofessionals and security [workers] did not have to report to school on those days and so they did not have to receive the training. It requires everyone to be on the same page [yet] we only had training with the teachers.

There also has to be something in place for those kids that don’t respond to that. Maybe there is something that is going to be in place, but I think a lot of schools don’t have that.

Adams:  When I was in Waukegan, [administrators] would look at it almost in a punitive way, if you had trouble with one of your students in your classroom and had to call security or something like that. Having deans of discipline is a great solution. Being able to remove that responsibility (to discipline) from [the teacher] and let the dean deal with those issues--as a result, I had much better rapport with each student because I don’t have to get involved emotionally.

Jamie Cordes: In terms of suspensions, I feel very much like [Monty] was saying. We have a dean of discipline and a culture team, and if a kid is really disrupting the learning [environment], that’s who they go to. It won’t always lead to a suspension. We've got a social worker. We've got a culture team that is quasi-security, but building relationships with students as well. We are trying to pilot a peer mediation program for certain conflicts, like student conflicts, to get more student ownership in terms of the discipline policy. But there are some things that, according to our discipline code, trigger automatic suspensions, such as drug possession or fighting.  I want to keep my kids in school. If the kid can come back to my class and still learn, then great. If a kid is on the way out and is suspended, I want them to get work in their hands so they can come back prepared. We’ve got demerits and suspensions to use when necessary. Ultimately, we want kids in class learning.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora breaks ground on new school and hopes it struck gold with ‘resilient’ model

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 13:35

When the school bell rings next year at Aurora Public Schools’ new building at 6th Avenue and Airport Road, students should expect to get more than a lesson in A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s.

They’ll also get a lesson in the art of resiliency.

APS officials hope an unusual school model that emphasizes students’ social and emotional well-being and that aims to provide students with skills to overcome some of life’s greatest obstacles — hunger, homelessness, algebra — will be a game-changer for the academically-struggling school district.

And while district and school leaders have been working steadily toward opening the new pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school for months, the work is about to intensify.

District and school officials broke ground at the campus’ site last night. So as crane operators and construction crews begin to lay the physical foundation, school principal Carrie Clark, an Aurora Public Schools veteran, is laying the instructional foundation blocks away in a nondescript office.

Who has the more back-breaking job is to still to be determined.

‘R’ stand for resilient

Neither a name nor a mascot has been selected for the new Aurora school, which will enroll students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. But, as currently conceived, the school will be defined by the word ‘resilient.’

When Carrie Clark interviewed for the position of principal at the new school, district leaders asked her to define and relate to the word. Clark, who eventually got the job, in turn has been asking staff applicants the same question.

“Resiliency is a process you go through,” she said. “And it will be a big piece of the interview process. We need to know how our teachers will connect with that word, that process.”

And whether she’s at a community town halls or district board meeting, Clark is spreading the word every where she goes.

So what does it mean? As Clark builds her team of teachers and office staff, and as the community becomes more involved leading up to the school opening, she says the word’s definition is bound to change.

But so far, for Clark, it means her future students will tap into their own strengths, learn specific skills to cope, recover from adversity, and be prepared for future challenges.

Clark and district officials believe her future students will likely need those skills to drive their academic progress.

Preliminary data Clark presented to the Aurora Board of Education last month shows a sample of students who are likely to attend the new school are currently below grade level. And those students are barely showing the kind of academic growth they would need to be at grade level in three years. In other words, the school, before it even opens, is liable to find itself on the state’s watch list — unless Clark’s team can lead students to make massive academic gains.

Chief Academic Officer John Youngquist said it’s important the district prepare for the likelihood students will need to catch up.

“We’re working very hard to study and understand what the challenges and assets of our students are,” he said during an interview. “Let’s not wonder what that first year will be like.”

Like several other Colorado school districts that serve primarily students of color and low-income families, APS is just two years away from facing state sanctions if student test results don’t improve on standardized tests.

Youngquist believes Clark — and the new model — is up for the job.

He pointed to Clark’s experience working with both elementary and middle school students and her ability to create a vibrant school culture and lead a team of teachers.

But student data from Altura Elementary School, where Clark served as principal for four years, showed proficiency rates in most subjects are below both the state and district average. The school, which overwhelmingly serves low-income students of color, posted growth scores that demonstrated that students learned at an accelerated rate in 2012 and 2013, but that pace of growth slowed this year.

Clark, who began her new duties before the most recent data was available and who has not had the opportunity to dissect it with her Altura teachers, said she was concerned about the slower growth.

Rich school, poor school

The new P-8 school, which is currently financed by private-sector loans, is expected to draw students from a variety of schools in APS that right now are bursting at the seams. Schools in nearly every corner of Aurora are at capacity and there seems to be no indication of a slowdown in student enrollment.

A committee, established earlier this year, is meeting regularly to draw the attendance boundary lines for the new school. The committee should make a boundary recommendation to the Aurora school board early next year.

As part of its work, the committee is reviewing the boundaries of 10 other schools from Vista PEAK P-8 in the east to Side Creek Elementary in the south.

The committee has been asked to ensure students who live near each other attend the same schools and to try and minimize bus ride times.

What they have not been asked to do is ensure that the school is socioeconomically diverse.

Even though the new school will be surrounded by neighborhoods of many different levels of affluence, creating a socio-economically diverse school, which some education researchers believe is critical for boosting student achievement for both low-income students and their more affluent peers, isn’t listed as a priority on the committee’s Web page.

How the committee draws the boundaries could mean the difference between creating a school that is mostly affluent, poor or mixed. According to U.S. Census figures, Airport Road, which runs north and south through Aurora, acts as a sort of dividing line between poorer households and those more affluent. For example, those homes immediately west of Airport Road average about $37,000 in household incomes while those to the immediate east average more than $80,000.

The new school is also expected to enroll a sizable number of students from families stationed at the Buckley Air Force Base, which is about 13 minutes away from the campus.  

Students from military families have bring their own challenges for educators. Mobility can be very high military families who move from base to base. And those students are either academically significantly ahead or behind their peers.

A new path for APS

While Aurora Public Schools has been researching and building a model for the school around resiliency for nearly a year, Youngquist said the district is contemplating a number of other options to ensure a successful school. Chief among them: innovation status.

APS has a history of granting schools certain autonomies from districtwide policies, but so far, no school inside its boarders has yet to ask the state for innovation status, which would allow them to chart their own path on certain state and district requirements. With innovation status, school leaders are often freed of certain previsions from any collective bargaining agreement with a union as well. That opens up opportunities for extended and more site-based decisions.

That could change with the school at 6th Avenue and Airport.

“We’re studying what resources and autonomies would creates the best success for the school,” Youngquist said. “All options are available.”

The school’s out-of-the-ordinary model, based on the research of  Paul Tough and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, is also a double-down of sorts for APS. The district, through a series of strategic steps, appears to be embracing the social and emotional needs of students in a far greater way than before.

“We’re responding to academic data,” Youngquist said. “We’re responding to school climate and behavioral challenges. There is a clear intention [districtwide] to more fully engage with students academically.”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Karen Lewis questions, UNO and the IRS, Kennedy-King honor

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 08:57

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis still hasn’t made up her mind -- at least not publicly -- about whether she’ll run for mayor against incumbent Rahm Emanuel. But she’s been hitting the pavement, talking with residents and asking followers to help circulate a petition to get her name on the ballot.

But all the quasi-campaigning has some teachers a little worried. During a teacher roundtable organized by Catalyst last month, some CTU members in the room expressed concern about what a campaign run would mean for leadership, especially with contract negotiations approaching. “If she runs, is she going to quit her job at the CTU? Who is going to take over?” one teacher asked. “And what will that mean for contract negotiations?” asked another.

Lewis told Catalyst she’s been asking herself the same questions but said that it’s important to remember that “union negotiations are done by a very large group of people. It’s not just me at the table.” At the moment, she says, she has no intention of resigning from her CTU gig. That’s a matter she first needs to discuss with both her executive board and the House of Delegates. “This issue is kind of like putting the horse before the cart,” she says.

2. First day turnaround… Gresham Elementary School students learned Tuesday what it means to sweat the small stuff, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. As a newly-minted school turnaround, it’s now run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership. AUSL, which has been overhauling schools since 2004, has a detailed checklist for operating its schools. The list includes things like standing in line leaving a square floor tile between students and waiting to use the bathroom at Level Zero (perfectly quiet).

The staff and parents at Gresham waged a major battle against the turnaround. At one point, some of the parent activists thought they had won over CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. The latest NWEA test scores show that about two-thirds of the 24 elementary schools run by AUSL are among the lowest 25 percent in reading. However, 10 of the 24 are among the highest 25 percent in test-score growth.

3. More UNO trouble…  The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that UNO charter schools is now being audited by the IRS. UNO’s (United Neighborhood Organization) troubles first boiled up when the newspaper reported apparent conflicts of interest in spending a $95 million state construction grant. Because the charter network did not reveal these conflicts, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused them of defrauding investors. According to the Sun-Times, the IRS investigation has to do with the bonds issued through the Illinois Finance Authority, a state agency that provides non-profits with low interest loans. Over the years, the agency has provided bonds for Learn, Namaste and Noble charter school networks.

This year, CPS allocated $84.5 million for UNO to run 15 schools serving a projected 7,909 students. The board gave UNO permission to open two new schools this fall, but UNO decided to hold off. UNO is currently the third largest charter network in CPS.

4. Kennedy-King honored… The South Side community college is one of 10 finalists in the Aspen Prize for Community Colleges, which carries with it a $1 million award. The award judges how community colleges are doing in getting their students to graduate and get a job, especially focusing on equitable outcomes for poor black and Latino students. Staff from the Aspen Institute will spend the next three months visiting the 10 campuses. The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy organization based in Washington D.C.

Since 2011, the City Colleges have been undergoing a process leaders call “reinvention.” In a Catalyst interview with Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, she said the goal of the initiative was to increase the number of students earning college credentials, transferring to bachelor degree programs and to improve the outcomes for those students who need remediation. The fourth is to increase the number of adult education students who succeed at college-level courses.

This summer, PBS interviewed Hyman as part of their series Rethinking College and reported that the number of graduates has doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 since “reinvention” was put in place.

5. Massive pre-K expansion in NYC… One thing Chicago’s city and teacher union leaders seem to agree on is that expanded early learning opportunities would be a good thing. Chicago Teachers Union issued a call for universal preschool last week, not too long after Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel shared his own plan to expand pre-K enrollment to an additional 1,500 low-income 4-year-olds.

With all this extra attention on preschool, it might be worthwhile to see what happens when a major U.S. city actually attempts to unroll universal preschool. More than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City have been enrolled in free full-day prekindergarten as part of one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most ambitious initiatives since he took office. The expansion has involved getting an additional $300 million in state funds, training thousands of teachers and hiring nearly 200 inspectors, teaching coaches and enrollment specialists.

But as Chalkbeat New York reports, “some skepticism of the pace of the plan has persisted, especially around basic concerns over child safety and more challenging concerns about curriculum standards and teacher quality.” Just last week the city’s comptroller complained that his office has received less than half of the center contracts he needs to review -- to ensure vendors have proper documentation such as insurance and background checks on staff.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: After a decade abandoned, Byers Middle School re-opens its doors

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 08:45

look it up

Democrats running in key races related to education are out-fundraising their Republican opponents; use our interactive database to track who's raised how much. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


After a decade of sitting empty, Byers Middle School is once again serving students, now from the Denver School of Science and Technology. ( Denver Post )

rumble back to school

Amid protests over transparency, the Thompson School Board held its retreat and scheduled new work sessions. ( Reporter Herald )

image adjust

A group led by a Wheat Ridge city councilwoman is trying to lure families back to the city's public school system. ( Denver Post )

school safety stress

A second security guard at Arapahoe High School is alleging that the school's administration bullied and ignored staff who raised concerns about safety. ( Denver Post )

Police school access problems at Denver's CEC Middle School after an accidental trigger of the school's panic button may indicate broader problem with the district's security readiness systems. ( KWGN )


A middle school in Widefield School District 3 received a $5 million makeover as part of a plan to combat declining enrollment. ( Gazette )

seizure smart schools

The Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado is offering a program to schools to teach students what to do if they see someone having a seizure. ( 9News )

rain rain go away

Late-July flash flooding cost the Weld RE-4 school district $125,000 in repair costs, so the district is now working to protect its schools from future rain damage. ( Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Conversations with teachers: Evaluations

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 12:33

For most CPS teachers, this is the year the district’s new evaluation system finally means something. And that’s a scary prospect.

When the Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago Students (known as REACH) system went into effect last year, it only applied to non-tenured teachers and those with lower ratings (satisfactory or unsatisfactory) ratings under the prior, decades -old checklist system.

But starting this school year, all teachers will be evaluated using the new system, which was launched in 2012 to comply with a state law requiring all teacher evaluations to be tied to growth in student scores on standardized tests. Under the new system, 30 percent of evaluation scores will be based on test score improvement; 70 percent will be based on principal observations using the Framework for Teaching tool.

Catalyst Chicago asked teachers about REACH, how their own informal evaluations went last year, and their thoughts on evaluations in general during our recent roundtable discussion. Today, for the second part in our series “Conversations with Teachers,we’re publishing a condensed and edited version of the discussion. (Read Part 1 here.)

Participants in the roundtable discussion included included two charter school teachers who are not evaluated using REACH: Monty Adams, a forensic science, health and chemistry teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative school; and Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street College Prep. The other teachers were Kris Himebaugh, a 10th-grade English teacher and union delegate at Orr High School, a turnaround school managed by Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL); Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Catalyst Chicago: Tell us how last year’s trial run with REACH went. The evaluations are finally going to mean something this year, right?

 Kris Himebaugh: We don’t know how we did last year, because we won’t get our evaluation scores until mid-September. I just went to a professional development on REACH, and they told us that.

Hen Kennedy: So how do they use that for staffing decisions?

Himebaugh: Good question.

Kennedy: Sounds disruptive.

Amy Rosenwasser: There are things that really concerned me about the evaluations. Part of our evaluation is based on the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association assessments), and the growth shown between the spring of 2013 and spring 2014. But the NWEA itself was given in a different manner from one year to the next. In 2013, for example, the kids could use a real calculator for anything on the math section. This time, only if the NWEA [system] feels you need a calculator does one show up on the screen, and you have to click on it.

So you have students who may not be able to do the math calculations with a piece of paper or in their head, who a year ago could have gotten the question right by using a handheld calculator. Now they have to use something different and it didn’t always pop up. In that respect, those were not the same tests.

Kennedy: One thing I don’t understand is why they don’t disregard outliers. We had one kid who was having a rough day and [his growth] was minus 24 points. I know he grew last year. I know he was having a rough day. That happens. And once I taught a kid who allegedly grew five levels in math in six months. I think both of those scores – the highest and the lowest -- should be disregarded when evaluating teachers.

Catalyst: Does knowing that it is part of your evaluation affect how you talk about the test with your students?

Rosenwasser: Yeah. I don’t say, “Look, I could lose my job if you don’t do well.” But in my head I’m thinking that. And I say, “I really expect you to take this seriously. I really expect you do your best. Take your time.” I do everything other than say “Look, my job depends on this.”

Catalyst: What about principal observations, which account for the bulk of the ratings?

Kennedy: I think I’ve really benefitted as an untenured teacher, because I had four observations last year. And with each observation there’s a pre- and post-evaluation conference. So it became more like, “Here’s another one coming up.” That’s quite a bit of time spent with the principal, which I think helped me get to know her better and get more comfortable. And I have a principal who makes it a real supportive thing, as opposed to an adversarial thing.

Catalyst: For our AUSL teacher, how do you think that evaluations are being rolled out? (Teachers at AUSL schools are also evaluated with REACH, although they must follow an additional protocol.)

Himebaugh: I was on leave last year so I didn’t get to experience the Framework. But in previous years, I was in a constant state of fear during observations. I was constantly fearing what was going to happen, who was going to pop into my room, what they were going to see, what they were going to mark me down on.

Monty Adams: I think what Kris is saying applies to a lot of schools, not just AUSL.

Rosenwasser: For me, last year my principal moved me from special ed, where I’m a National Board Certified Teacher and I had always received superior ratings, to a fifth grade general education position, for no real reason other than I think she wants me to leave. I am not an exceptional fifth-grade teacher, or I wasn’t last year. The whole time I kept thinking, “Oh my God, she is going to walk in. She’s going to see something.” I think my kids were doing very well. They’re very engaged. But you just need that one time where you get a “basic” rating and then you're done.

Rosenwasser: My unofficial rating last year was done just before my class went to lunch. The principal noted that one kid wasn’t pay attention.

Himebaugh: They were probably starving,

Rosenwasser: That’s when you chose to come, right when we’re going to lunch? That’s not the same as coming in in the middle of a reading lesson.

Catalyst: What do evaluations look like at Noble?

Jamie Cordes: We don’t have a network-wide evaluation tool. We don’t have REACH. We have a campus-specific system. Our principals set up more holistic evaluations, where you’re scored around instruction and leadership. It’s not really tied to hiring or firing decisions. The way it’s messaged to me is, if you’re not a good fit that could be a problem. We’re not tenured. The message is and has been that the EPASS [test score] data is an important measurement but I don’t feel and I don’t think teachers in my building feel it’s the be-all, end-all of the year.

Catalyst: And observations?

Cordes: You have an instructional coach -- in most cases it’s a dean of instruction -- who’s coming to your room every other week. So it’s an observation one week and a meeting the next, and that sort of cycle continues. And that really does feel supportive and doesn’t feel tied to any sort of evaluation of salary or hiring or firing decisions. Bonus pay is tied to the historic best in the Noble Network growth on your section of EPASS. And I think there’s merit pay if you’re an Advanced Placement teacher.

Adams: People usually do their best work when they feel supported and appreciated. The thing that bothers me the most about these evaluations is it makes it an adversarial process rather than a process to support people. We’re coming to work every day because we like the job. We’re not coming for the paycheck. As [Cordes] said, in situations where a teacher is not a good fit in a school, that’s a different thing. But we’re all out there trying our darndest to help these children and that’s what should be appreciated.

Himebaugh: You know who should evaluate teachers? Other teachers. We want what’s best for our kids. If you’re a friend of mine, I’m sorry but if you’re not doing well then I would like to show you some strategies to help you improve.

Rosenwasser: And we do that in the lunchroom when we’re all sitting there. Right now, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do when school starts because I’m going to have an all-boys classroom. Am I going to talk about what’s happening in Ferguson [since the police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown]? Where am I going to get information that’s appropriate for fifth-grade minority boys when I’m an older white Jewish woman? This is their life, not mine. So what am I going to do? And how will that affect me if the lesson I’m trying to do is not successful when the principal comes in to do an informal observation? Maybe instead I’ll do something that I know will be successful, just in case somebody walks in. It makes it much harder to take risks.

Kennedy: To me, any good tool can be misused. I mean, if you try to use a snow shovel to rake a yard, you’re going to kill the grass. To me, the Framework presents a lot of opportunities, but if you don't have the leadership in place it’s a lost opportunity and a negative experience. REACH is now in place and now the district should focus on principal quality, making sure principals have significant classroom experience and leadership skills so they know how build rapport.

Categories: Urban School News

Democrats, unions pour money into key races

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 09:43

Democratic candidates in pivotal state Senate races, including those of interest to education, continue to lead their Republican opponents in fundraising, according to campaign finance reports filed Tuesday.

Competing casino interests have wagered more than $25 million in the campaign over Amendment 68, the constitutional proposal that would allow opening a full casino in the metro area, with part of the revenues earmarked for school districts.

Three political committees funded by teachers’ union members have raised more than $490,000. But the big funder in legislative and other races is the Colorado Democratic Party, which has raised $838,938 and contributed $676,366 to its candidates. (Some union groups, such as the Public Education Committee, which is related to the Colorado Education Association, contribute to the Democrats.)

Much of the focus this year is on races for the Colorado Senate, where Democrats have an 18-17 majority and Republicans are hoping to turn a handful of key seats. Some of those races involve candidates with substantial influence over education policy, including the chair of the Senate Education Committee and the former chair of House Education.

Here are some highlights of the latest contribution and spending reports, which update 2014 totals with August activity. See the interactive chart at the bottom of this article for detailed financial reports on races that Chalkbeat Colorado has identified as important to education, including some involving members of the two education committees.


In battleground Jefferson County, Democratic Sens. Andy Kerr and Rachel Zenzinger hold substantial fundraising leads over their GOP opponents, Tony Sanchez and Laura Woods. Kerr is chair of Senate Education, and Zenzinger is a freshman member.

Two former Democratic House members. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano of Adams County, also are outraising Republican opponents in Senate races. Merrifield is known as a skeptic about education reform proposals, and Solano is a vociferous critic of standardized testing.

In District 5 in the central mountains, Democratic rancher and school administrator Kerry Donovan has a significant financial edge over GOP candidate Don Suppes. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz, a strong supporter of higher education and the BEST construction program, is term limited.

But in Douglas County’s District 30 GOP Rep. Chris Holbert, who’s seeking to move to the Senate, has a big financial lead over Democrat Bette Davis.


Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon, chair of House Education, has a comfortable financial edge of GOP hopeful Debra Irvine, whom Hamner beat two years ago.

Democratic House Education members Brittany Petterson of Lakewood, John Buckner and Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Dave Young of Greeley also have outraised their opponents.

But Republican Reps. Kevin Priola in Adams County and Justin Everett in Jeffco have fundraising leads over their Democratic challengers.

State Board

In the two contested State Board of Education races, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff is outraising GOP candidate Laura Boggs 10-1 in the 7th District. In the 3rd District, Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo has a slight funding edge on GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction.

Ballot measures

To no one’s surprise, the two sides in the Amendment 68 battle are raising and spending stratospheric amounts of money, mostly on television advertising. Coloradans for Better Schools, which supports casino expansion, has raised more than $12.5 million. The group is pretty much solely funded by Mile High USA Inc., which owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack. That would be the site of a casino if the measure passes. The No on 68 committee has raised $16 million – all of it anted up by casino owners in the three mountain towns where gambling already is legal.

Relatively little money is involved in the campaigns for and against Proposition 104, the Independence Institute-backed ballot measure that would require school district contract negotiations be held in public.

Outside committees

A variety of groups – small donor committees, political action committees and independent expenditure groups – focus on education-related candidates and races. The biggest one is the Public Education Committee, supported by the dues of CEA members. It’s raised $247,252 this year and contributed $167,700, all to Democratic candidates.

CEA affiliates the District Twelve Education Association and the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee have raised $135,928 and $107,105 respectively. They have spread contributions among Democratic legislative candidates.

There also are a clutch of committees associated with Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children, but their general-election giving has been relatively minor so far.

Candidates rely on more than education groups and political parties for their campaign cash. Other labor unions also are significant contributors to Democrats, but candidates of both parties rely on networks of individual donors, who give anywhere from $20 to $400, plus the long list of political action committees representing industries, professions and other groups.

Such business-related PACs often are non-partisan; they just want the winning candidate to remember them later. For example, the Colorado Ski County PAC gave $400 contributions to both Democrat Donovan and Republican Suppes in Senate District 5, home to many of the state’s ski areas.

Campaign spending in legislative races tends to focus on expenses like brochures, mailers, phone banks, yard signs, meeting expenses and – in better-funded campaigns – staff and outsides consultants.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Poudre looks at other choice for beating heat in schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 09:23

If I had a million dollars...

The state denied a shoddy grant application from Denver Public Schools that would have gotten struggling Columbine's brand new principal $1 million in additional funds. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool pressures

Property taxes and higher quality standards are two of the reasons Colorado ranks in top ten most expensive state for childcare. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Scorching schools

After letting students out early to avoid hot classrooms, Poudre School District is looking at its options for dealing with the heat and soliciting parent input. ( Coloradoan )

Big Bonus

Pueblo 70 employees got a promised pay bump, thanks to increasing enrollment. ( Chieftain )

Find me a home?

A new Montessori charter school, which aimed to fill a gap in Steamboat, is stepping back from their application and pushing back their opening. ( Steamboat Today )

Follow that storm

How is the Common Core faring across the country? A state-by-state look. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

DPS’s subpar grant application costs school $1 million, but leader forges ahead

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 19:42

When Jason Krause accepted the principalship of Columbine Elementary School in northeast Denver, he had big plans for how to spend the extra $1 million he and district officials were counting on from a grant program.

But Krause won’t be able to hire the full-time instructional coach, tech guru, and community relations specialist he had hoped for to aid him in his efforts to improve one of Denver Public Schools’ chronically low-performing schools.

That’s because the state rejected Denver Public Schools’ application for Columbine’s turnaround plan, which it deemed subpar. It was the only application rejected by the state this year.

The Tiered Improvement Grant, or TIG, application for Columbine was the first ever to be submitted by DPS since 2010 not to be funded, state officials believe. TIG is a federal program created by the Obama administration and administered jointly by the states.

“Across the whole application, you just didn’t see the detail,” said Lynn Bamberry, director of competitive grants and awards at the Colorado Department of Education.

Bamberry and her colleague Brad Bylsma, assistant director of elementary and secondary education act, said they were surprised by the shallowness of Columbine’s application.

“Denver has strong plans,” Bylsma said. “They have a handle on their turnaround efforts. This is not what we usually see from Denver.”

A DPS spokeswoman referred Chalkbeat to the state when asked why district officials believe the application was rejected. She declined further comment.

“I believe in it fully,” Krause said of the application. He saw it for the first time last week when a Chalkbeat reporter showed it to him. “But the state has its decision makers. They did what they believe is right for kids.”

‘Lack of clarity’

Only a specific list of schools is allowed to apply for the kind of grant Columbine applied for and didn’t receive.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Columbine Elementary School principal Jason Krause looks at a student’s hall pass last week.

Schools generally must be in the bottom five percent of the state’s school rankings. They also usually are a Title I school that serves a predominantly low-income community. And the school and district must be willing to chose one of four different models of improvement outlined by the federal government.

Each of the four models includes a change in leadership, which most school districts don’t want to do, state officials said.

Of the 27 schools that were eligible for TIG money this year, seven applied. Five applications, including Columbine’s, were submitted by DPS. The other four were funded. The two non-DPS schools were also funded.

As part of the application process, schools must answer — in great detail — pages of questions that ask officials to outline why they believe their students perform poorly on state standardized tests, what they’re going to do about it, and how they plan to spend the money.

The applicant’s answers to those questions are then scored against a rubric that totals 70 points. In order to be awarded a grant, typically $1 million during a three-year period, a school must be awarded at least 57 points.

Columbine’s application received just 27 points.

The application, which Krause believes was written by the DPS turnaround office that authored other applications that were funded this year, lacked a timeline and specific funding amounts, lacked strategies for rapid improvement, and was unclear about how extended learning opportunities would be provided to all students.

DPS would not confirm who or which department authored the grant application.

Krause, who was hired in March to lead Columbine beginning this school year, was asked to contribute to the grant application, which was due to the state by April 30. He spent time introducing himself and interviewing Columbine staff members, while continuing to lead Smith Elementary in the northeast Park Hill neighborhood.

He said any lack of specificity in the sections he was involved in identified by the state was by design. Before meeting at great length with his staff, Krause said, he had no grand plans for Columbine.

“I want to build our vision for Columbine together,” he said.

More than ‘one year’

Despite not receiving the Tiered Improvement Grant, Krause is determined that Columbine will be the highest-performing elementary school in northeast Denver.

“Is it frustrating? Yes,” he said. “But can we get the world done without it? Absolutely.”

DPS is working to funnel other money to Columbine, Krause said. But the money so far pales in comparison in both size and flexibility.

In the meantime, Krause and his staff are updating the school’s technology infrastructure, developing consistent expectations of teachers and their classrooms, retooling and personalizing teacher professional development, and putting students in charge of managing their own data notebooks that will transition with them between grades.

And what’s most important to Krause is building Columbine into a thriving neighborhood school.

“Neighborhood schools are so empowering,” he said during a recent interview with Chalkbeat. “What comes first is the community. Then you build the exceptional instructional programs.”

As part of his community building, Krause participated in a three-day retreat organized by DPS with teachers, parents, district officials, and community members last May.

The weekend meeting, facilitated by the consulting firm Schwartz and Associates, focused the hopes of the Columbine community into four goals and committees. Those committees are now executing various plans with deadlines at the end of the calendar year and regularly checking-in with Krause.

“It wasn’t just a fluffy weekend,” said Meghan Carrier, an organizer with parent and community advocacy organization Together Colorado. “We actually came out with steps to how make it a great year.”

So far the committees have organized three major projects. First, Krause and teachers completed a walking tour of the neighborhood, during which they met with nearly every single student and their families. Second, volunteers helped spruce up the campus. Third, the school has implemented a new program to set schoolwide cultural expectations.

“I don’t see my job as just one year,” Krause said.

If that’s true, there’s a strong likelihood he and DPS will have another shot at applying for the federal grant, state officials said.

Categories: Urban School News

New report digs into factors behind Colorado’s high child care costs

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 19:01

Colorado’s high commercial property taxes, higher-than-average quality standards and the state’s underfunded child care subsidy program are three reasons that families pay more for child care here than in 43 other states.

These factors were among several analyzed in a new brief on the cost of child care from Qualistar Colorado, an evaluator of child care quality. Overall, the report found that child care costs eat up a larger chunk of family income in Colorado not because families make less here, but rather because the cost of doing business here is higher for a variety of reasons.

One of those reasons is that commercial property taxes in Colorado are three times that paid on residential properties, a ratio double the national average. Since nearly two-thirds of child care centers are for-profit entities, they must pay commercial property taxes.

Colorado also has more stringent standards than many states on quality indicators such as student-teacher ratios, class sizes, minimum teacher qualifications, and safety regulations. While these higher standards are generally seen as a good thing, they do increase staff and facility costs and therefore the cost of care.

The brief also notes that the Colorado Child Care Assistant Program, or CCCAP, has been underfunded, with appropriations to the subsidy program lagging below inflation and increasing child care costs. For example, providers in the Denver metro area received reimbursements that were about 40 percent less than the market rate for care. Such low reimbursement rates can drive up costs for paying families.

Qualistar’s latest brief, produced with support from the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado,  is the second of three to examine child care costs in the state. The third and final brief, set to be published in late 2014, will look at recommendations to improve child care affordability.

Categories: Urban School News

Conversations with teachers: Testing

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 14:25

What’s on teachers’ minds as a new school year gets under way?

That question led Catalyst Chicago to invite a group of teachers to our office recently for a roundtable discussion on the issues they believe are important to improving education, but don’t always get the public attention they deserve.

We reached out to more than a half-dozen educators from traditional public schools, charters and alternative schools. Five showed up for the discussion and had a lot to say: For nearly two hours they shared their thoughts about a range of topics, from testing and evaluations to student discipline and money matters.

(Catalyst convened a similar roundtable discussion in May with principals that resulted in a four-part series.)

Participants in our latest roundtable were Monty Adams, a science teacher at Latino Youth High School, an alternative charter school; Jamie Cordes, a ninth- and 10th-grade English teacher at Noble Street Charter College Prep; Kris Himebaugh, an English teacher and Chicago Teachers Union delegate at Orr High, a turnaround school managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership; Hen Kennedy, a seventh- and eighth-grade history and civics teacher at Carl Von Linne Elementary; and Amy Rosenwasser, a long-time special education teacher who now teaches fifth grade at Pritzker Elementary School.

Catalyst transcribed and divided the discussion into a four-part series, which has been edited for clarity. Today, on the first day most CPS students return to school, we begin the series with a conversation about what seemed to be the biggest source of frustration — and confusion — among the group: testing.

It’s worth highlighting that some teachers were still unclear on whether all schools will be required to give the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC) this year — and whether it will count toward evaluations. CPS officials confirmed last week that the PARCC is definitely on the district’s calendar for next spring, but it won’t be used for evaluations of teachers, schools or principals.

Illinois is requiring all districts to give the PARCC next spring to comply with federal mandates related to using curricula that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett — as well as CTU President Karen Lewis — have both expressed concerns about what the PARCC’s roll-out will look like, given the lack of discussion about the results of a pilot program last spring.

“We haven’t seen any of the information from the pilot,” Lewis said. “And the PARCC is supposed to be computer-based, but some of our schools don’t have the bandwidth to handle that.”

CPS officials said last week they have shared their concerns with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and indicated they may ask for some sort of waiver or delay on the assessment.

Here’s what teachers had to say about assessments:

Kris Himebaugh: I counted how many tests I would have to give this year that don’t even count for a grade and it would be at least eight. That doesn’t mean finals I would give, or quarter finals, or even a vocabulary l test.

Hen Kennedy: For us, some of those tests last for multiple days.

Amy Rosenwasser: I was just looking at the testing calendar Raise Your Hand Illinois posted on Twitter, and we’ll be giving the PARCC basically from the beginning of March until the end of the school year. My class may not be testing every day, but the school is testing and I can’t really plan anything because what if that’s my time to go in and test? What if something happens so that the computer system goes down?

Monty Adams: We have a small school, so it’d be nice if they just tested everybody on a single day. But because of the attendance problems, sometimes kids are taken out of their class — so you have half the class instead of the whole class. It’s incredibly disruptive to our teaching.

Kennedy: I feel like regardless of whether you advocate for more vocational opportunities or more college preparedness, the emphasis on standardized testing is doing a disservice to kids either way. You just don’t have to take standardized tests in life. It’s not preparing kids for life.

Adams: You can’t get inside of a kid’s head when everything is a multiple-guess answer. On any tests I make, I always make sure there are short answers or essays or you have to figure something out mathematically or show your work.

Rosenwasser: I don’t know how many of you have taken the sample PARCC test, but the biggest problem I’ve seen is just the navigation. Normally, when you’re taking something on a computer, and you finish, it automatically goes to the next page or there’s something that says “next” on the bottom right. But it’s not that way with the PARCC. There’s an arrow on the top left, and you’re just supposed to figure it out. I thought, “If I’m having trouble with this, how are 10-year-olds going to be able to figure this out, much less type and finish in 50 minutes or whatever?”

Kennedy: None of my kids can type. I really worry about kids who are already on the margins when they take tests like that. I’ve seen so many kids cry before tests, throw up before tests. The stress is very, very real to them. It’s kind of ironic, because for a lot of them it’s not actually a very meaningful test. But they absorb the stress around them. I don’t want my kids to feel like failures. I think the adaptive tests are better. The NWEA is better because you can focus on growth as opposed to just a static achievement level. But those [tests] still have their own issues in terms of high stress and high stakes.

Adams: The at-risk kids come in with so much baggage and such a feeling of failure. I spend probably about half the year trying to build their self-esteem when I first get them. These things don’t build self-esteem.

Jamie Cordes: I think the PARCC is really pushing thinking in the right way, and rigor in the right way. I agree that it’s going to be an awkward year while they iron out the kinks. And I’m not sure what it means to colleges yet, for example.

Himebaugh: What’s the right kind of thinking?

Cordes: I would say, a question that asks students to choose an answer that’s evidence-based, and also to provide a rationale, is going to be higher-order [thinking compared to] filling in a bubble. I can see on an English test someone saying, “You need a comma there.” But I don't know if you’re just guessing. I don't know what your rationale is.

Adams: But that’s what the Common Core is supposed to be based on. You’re supposed to be doing that in the classroom.

Cordes: I understand. I think that’s good. I totally understand, especially in the middle years, how testing for everyone might not be appropriate. Maybe the politics and measuring of it get complicated, but I also think that having some sort of yardstick is important, just so I know where I am headed.

Himebaugh: Should the rigor for your students be the same as for mine?

Cordes: I don’t know. Not knowing your students and not having been in your school, it’s hard for me to say. But I think that if you’re going to say, “This is the track for a kid to get into college, and these are the tests that are going to get them there,” then those tests are worthwhile and it’s an important message to students that this is what someone who is ready to be a college freshmen in a year or two is expected to do.

Kennedy: I just wanted to clarify something--I think the NWEA has been a useful yardstick. What concerns me is when it’s used as more than a yardstick. I like to have a lot of data points, and for the NWEA to be one on that broad spectrum of data points.

Catalyst: What is your experience with individualized, computer-based programs that help get students up to speed for these tests?

Kennedy: My experience with the Compass program was at the school where I taught previously. It’s very appealing because the program automatically matches kids up with what the test shows they need to work on. So there’s no work for the teacher involved in that, which is very appealing…

Himebaugh: Which eliminates your job eventually.

(laughter in room)

Kennedy: Which eliminates your job eventually, absolutely. But I think those programs can be useful to practice some very simple skills, like multiplication facts. I find their use beyond that to be problematic because it’s still ultimately pre-constructed, multiple-choice questions that students are responding to. But I’ve heard of these programs being used very widely in schools. At my school, there was a lot of pressure just to hit certain targets in terms of number of minutes per child per week, to make sure we were getting enough Compass and it would help their NWEA scores.

Catalyst: How many minutes?

Kennedy: I don’t recall, because I didn’t hit them. It was a school target, a grade-level target, so I never was called out individually for not hitting a target. It was never that type of environment. It was more like, “We haven’t spent enough time on Compass, make sure you’re getting to the lab.” It made me really uncomfortable.

Adams: That’s one thing that bothers me about the field of education. Everyone is still trying to come up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ in education. And it doesn’t exist. Everyone is different, and they have unique things they want to pursue. I think we need to offer a wide spectrum of choices to students and sometimes force them to go into directions they’re uncomfortable with, because there’s no one-size-fits all.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Safe Passage expands, test score analysis, a new blog

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 11:13

It was a morning of anxiety and excitement for hundreds of thousands of CPS students who headed back to school today. And for their parents, too. “I’m happy for her but nervous, too. It’s her last year of elementary school,” said Jenny Santos, whose eyes welled up as she watched her eighth-grade daughter walk into Monroe Elementary School near Logan Square.

Many parents told Catalyst Chicago they were relieved to know more adults will be watching their children on their way to school this year, after a $10 million state investment in the CPS Safe Passage program. The program, which works to reduce incidents of crime and boost attendance, will now encompass 133 elementary and high schools.

“There needs to be more control, more security at these schools,” said Ernesto Ramirez, after ensuring his 14-year-old daughter walked through the doors at Kelvyn Park High School. The expansion was announced last week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn, both Democrats running for reelection.

On the city politics front, one parent said she doesn’t care whether Emanuel is reelected -- or is beat by his potential challenger, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “I just hope they’re both doing it because that’s what’s best for our kids,” said Lilia Mendez, as she waited for her a bus to pick up her children, students at Sabin Magnet Dual Language School. “What I do worry about is whether the mayor can take on a more conciliatory tone with the teachers this year, to avoid any future conflicts or strikes.”

2. Graduation next… Though they are serving ever fewer students, neighborhood high schools showed the biggest jump in five-year cohort graduation rates, shows a Catalyst analysis of school-level data. Mayor Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced last week that graduation rates jumped by 4 percent in one year. Neighborhood high schools rose from 64 percent to about 69 percent, though at 12 schools, half or less than half the students graduated. The worst rate was at Orr High School--a turnaround school run by the Academy for Urban School Leadership -- where only 42.5 percent got their diploma within five years. The best was Lake View High School, at nearly 86 percent.

Charter schools, with 76 percent of their students graduating within five years, continue to have a markedly higher graduation rate than neighborhood schools, though lower than selective and magnet schools.

What is not known is how of the many of the students counted as graduates actually got their diploma from an alternative school. The five-year cohort rate counts students as graduates of the school where they started as freshmen, regardless of where they actually earned thier diploma. Over the last five years, the number of alternative schools in CPS has doubled. The expansion continues this year with nine more slated to open.

3. Another test-score analysis… The Chicago Sun Times reported this weekend that charter elementary schools showed less growth on the NWEA than did district run schools. It is a solid analysis that is sure to reinvigorate the debate about why CPS is investing in charter schools. The article quotes activist Dwayne Truss, who says a lot of marketing paints neighborhood schools as “horrible places and that charter schools are better.” This analysis seems to say that this image is not true, he says. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere, who alerted the Sun-Times to the disparity, notes in a follow-up editorial that it is unfortunate that CPS is funneling poor black and Latino students to charter schools and turnaround schools, schools that are improving more slowly, while an increasing number of Caucasian and Asian students go to neighborhood schools that show the most growth.

Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy points out that some of the higher-performing charter schools, such as the LEARN network and Namaste, did not provide scores on the NWEA, a test that allows for national comparisons. CPS leaders have said that as part of contract renewals, they will require to charters to agree to provide NWEA scores, but currently, most of their contracts say the district will judge them based on the ISAT.

There are other reasons to be a bit cautious when drawing conclusions from the data. All the growth in CPS-run schools is a comparison between spring 2013 and spring 2014. But of the 58 charter schools that provided scores, 35 did not provide information for spring 2013. A number of the charter schools did not even exist or were adding grades at the time, so it's unclear what time period the growth is measuring.

4. Speaking of the charter school debate…. Some familiar names---former CPS communications head Peter Cunningham, along with former deputy Michael Vaughn, former Chicago Tribune education reporter Tracey Dell’Angela and a network of others--launched a website Monday called The three issues they intend to tackle are: high standards for all children; taking responsibility, which is about accountability and testing; and high-quality charter schools. Cunningham and the others left CPS with Arnie Duncan and went to Washington. Now they are back in Chicago.

In his opening blog, Cunningham states upfront that the organization is being supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation--all strong backers of charter schools. Cunningham is being transparent by admitting this and surely he and the others involved know that these funders are political hot buttons, and their support will elicit assumptions about the blog’s point of view and true intent.  

Still, Cunningham’s blog insists the organization wants to engage in a conversation with diverse voices. The website will feature columns written by parents, teachers and students, he writes. “At Education Post, we want to foster a new education conversation--based on more hard facts and fewer unsupported opinions, more fair-mindedness and less name-calling, more concrete solutions and fewer impassioned excuses for why nothing can be done.”

The webpage also features an impassioned argument in support of the Common Core by Dell’Angela and a nifty little first day of school video at Montessori School of Englewood.

5. Later start time? Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics urged schools to push back the starting times for middle- and high-school students to 8:30 a.m. or later, noting that the average teenager is sleep-deprived.

Judith Owens, lead author of the academy's policy statement and director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, called teen insomnia "a national public health crisis” and told the Chicago Tribune that "delaying school start times is one of the most effective interventions to reduce the negative consequences of chronic sleep loss.”

But don’t expect any changes any time soon at CPS. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he’s not about to use “preliminary research” to reconsider start times in Chicago.




Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Are Common Core anxieties normal?

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:48

Paper for food

Anxious about losing funds due to changes in access to food for low-income families, schools are helping families to fill out eligibility paperwork. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Schools are my sunshine

Families at a Far Northeast charter school will receive a discount on their energy bill, if they make the switch to solar. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Coming storm?

The rollout of a new set of tests aligned with Common Core standards is producing anxiety over testing. But officials say that may be part of a normal process. ( Denver Post )

Meanwhile, policymakers nationwide have begun to question their support for the tests. ( Denver Post )

More iPads, please

After much resistance, Colorado schools are now finding ways to bring digital devices into the classroom. ( Denver Post )

My school is hipper than yours

In an attempt to boost school lunch participation, Boulder is turning to a trendy tool: food trucks. ( Daily Camera )

Union relations

Pueblo's school board is slated to decide on an agreement with its teachers' union. They've been in negotiations for months. ( Chieftain )

Steel City Turnaround

Almost half of Pueblo's schools were rated in the two lowest tiers on the state ranking system. ( Chieftain )

Dollars for schools

A number of city offices, including Steamboat's school board, are opposing an urban renewal plan over concerns it would divert funds from schools. ( Steamboat Today )

Packed to the gills

Steamboat schools are over capacity and likely to become more so. The situation has raised questions about the district's transfer student policy and put the superintendent on the defensive. ( Steamboat Today )

Healthy schools

Montrose schools are turning more to local food sources as they try to provide healthier lunch options. ( The Watch Media )

By the numbers

Sterling's school board will review its school rankings but unlike many districts around the state, they have something to celebrate. ( Journal-Advocate )

Setting the stage for election season

Yet another district, Ouray, is seeking more local funding in the form of a bond this election season. ( The Watch Media )


Need some catch-up reading after the long weekend? Check out our recommended reads from last week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: When a whole district “opts out” of tests

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 16:40
  • A Florida district is “opting out” of the state’s standardized tests, and the consequences are not clear. (Curriculum Matters)
  • Some states are planning to give PARCC tests as originally scheduled next spring. Here’s how one is getting ready. (N.J. Monthly)
  • Why one teacher — once a supporter — now opposes the Common Core and what lime green shoelaces have to do with it. (American RadioWorks)
  • Here are some takeaways from the trend of teachers of high-need students getting lower ratings. (Teacher Beat)
  • A homeschooling mom describes how her children dive into themes that keep them learning at different levels. (Angry Chicken)
  • Adults and students often have very different ideas about which test questions are hardest. (Grand Rounds)
  • Expanded learning time isn’t just for students. Teachers say they need it, too. (Catalyst Chicago)
  • Charter schools top U.S. News’ annual list of the country’s best high schools. Here’s why. (Daily Beast)
  • A Chicago teacher chose a charter school for his children because of its longer day and language classes. (Chicago Now)
  • An N.C. district that has gotten acclaim for going digital really highlights the challenges of doing so. (Hechinger/TIME)
  • A Texas high school guidance counselor who serves 2,000 students tells his story. (Houston Public Media)
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has sided with teenagers and said schools should start later. (Atlantic)
  • A teacher describes how he’s shaking up his “word wall” to get students more engaged with vocabulary. (Mr. Foteah)
  • In honor of Labor Day, here’s a satirical look at what back-to-school checklists have become. (New Yorker)



Categories: Urban School News

Charter school families in Far Northeast Denver get discounts for going solar

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 16:34

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was on hand Thursday afternoon for the announcement of a unique partnership to between a health and wellness charter school in the Montbello neighborhood and a community solar company.

The partnership between Academy 360 and the Denver-based SunShare will provide participating families with 20-30 percent discounts on their energy bills for making a partial switch to solar power. That doesn’t mean they have to install solar panels on their roofs. Instead, they will tap into community solar energy produced by a “solar garden” that SunShare will build this late this fall near Green Valley Ranch Middle School.

While other customers, including a number of school districts and colleges, pay for Sunshare’s solar energy, the company will donate it to the families of Academy 360. Principal Sally Sorte said Academy 360 families will enjoy the energy discount as long as they are part of the school, which is intended eventually to cover the cradle to career continuum. About 79 percent of students at the K-3 school are eligible for free or discounted meals.

Karen Gados, community outreach coordinator for SunShare, said the company launched the projects because it wanted to contribute to low-income families and create a school-based partnership that can be duplicated in the future.

“We really like Academy 360’s mission because they really look at the whole child…They target healthy body, healthy mind, the sustainability component,” she said. “We hope to do this with other schools across the state.”

Categories: Urban School News

Anxious about loss of funds, schools lend parents a helping hand with paperwork

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 14:29

At Thornton Elementary’s recent back-to-school night, the computer lab was so mobbed that Principal Betsy Miller had to quickly open three nearby classrooms so parents could access more than a dozen additional computers.

At an event often characterized by teacher talks and classroom visits, why the rush on desktop computers?

The rush came at the urging of school staff as part of a new push to get more families to fill out Free/Reduced Price Meal applications. As cafeteria staff, volunteers and translators stood by to help, Miller took in what, to her, was a beautiful scene.

“It was packed all night long,” she said. “It was awesome.”

The effort at Thornton, where 80 percent of students qualified for free or discounted meals last year, is not unusual. Many school districts undertake special efforts—from school bus ads to outreach events at community agencies–to get the meal applications filled out by eligible families. Often the push starts well before the first day of school.

Parents at Thornton Elementary filled the computer lab during the school’s recent back-to-school night.

To be sure, these efforts aim to ease the financial burden of struggling families by extending meal benefits and other fee waivers.

But they’re also intended to accurately measure the level of need in schools and ensure schools get their fair share of millions in federal Title 1 dollars and other at-risk funding, especially at a time when some efforts to expand low-income students’ access to food may be having the unintended consequence of encouraging parents to pass on the paperwork.

“The more people you get to apply, the more funding you get that benefits the kids,” said Naomi Steenson, the director of nutrition services and Before and After School Enrichment in Adams 12.

Moving toward universal meals

With Colorado’s “Breakfast After the Bell” law, as well as district policies that increasingly emphasize universal meals for all students in high-poverty schools, getting the Free/Reduced forms completed can be a tricky task for district staff.

“A parent mentally thinks, ‘Well, I’m at a school where it’s free. I don’t have to apply,” said Steenson.

Part of her job is to combat that misperception, which she believes led to lower free-and-reduced percentages at several of the 13 district schools that offered universal breakfast and lunch last year. To get her message out, she asks her staff to fill out the form themselves so they can vouch for how easy it is. This year, she’s also emphasized the online version of the application form, commissioning school bus ads and suggesting principals offer open computer lab time so parents can fill it out.

For principals like Miller, it’s an easy sell. She believes last year’s free-and-reduced rate at Thornton doesn’t capture the true need among the school’s students and is hoping her efforts this year will boost that percentage.

“We’ve just been more diligent this year,” she said.

While Thornton students already enjoy universal free breakfast and lunch, Miller likes to remind parents that filling out the application could exempt them from the $45 student fee, and possibly other activity fees if they have older children in the district.

Aside from the financial impact on individual families, there’s also the larger school budget question. In addition to free full-day kindergarten, Thornton’s Title 1 funds pay for a bilingual family liaison and other instructional supports.

“When parents don’t complete the application it can impact our federal funding,” said Miller.

Free-and-reduced rates can also affect certain kinds of state funding as well as grant funding.

Administrators in other districts are also acutely aware of the potential funding at stake if parents fail to fill out the free-and-reduced forms. In Pueblo City Schools, where a number of schools offer universal free meals, Nutrition Services Director said she was forced to eliminate that model at two schools a couple years ago because too few parents continued to submit the applications.

“We basically say if we don’t get all the apps in we’ll go back to a paid system,” she said. “We do hold out, not necessarily the carrot, but the stick.”

In Adams 14, where universal meals are available in every school, the annual application process is routine for many parents, said Jim Rowan, the district’s director of nutrition services. Still, he’s found that principals push harder to get those forms turned in if their schools teeter close to the Title 1 funding cut-off.

“They are more focused on ensuring that number is higher,” he said. “It’s amazing how funding motivates people.”

Behind the numbers

On a Friday morning in early August, Lola Campos, a free and reduced meal specialist with Boulder Valley School District, met some of the parents behind her district’s statistics at a local food bank, Community Food Share in Louisville. It was part of a three-day outreach effort to connect parents with staff from Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley school districts.

Lola Campos worked with a parent to fill out an application for free and reduced-price school meals.

“School districts are trying to get more involved, which is a great idea because these people who have one need usually have several needs,” said Carol Cortez-Sagor, the food bank’s direct distribution coordinator.

Campos sat in a conference room along with staff from district preschool and Medicaid outreach programs, greeting parents and helping them fill out the free-and-reduced application. One mother followed Campos’ soft-spoken instructions as her elementary-age daughter spun around in a black swivel chair next to her, her toddler stood on tippy-toes repeating “Mama,” and her oldest leaned against the table watching intently.

“Your signature here,” instructed Campos. “And that will be it.”

In the end, the process took only about six or seven minutes. While parents are not required to provide proof of income, Campos noted that 3 percent of applications will be selected for further inspection in October and those parents will have to provide documentation of income then.

Aside from expediting the application review process for school districts, which are flooded with free-and-reduced forms during the early weeks of school, outreach efforts like the one Campos attended help parents avoid paperwork hassles later and calm hesitation about passing on sensitive personal information.

Shelly Allen, director of nutrition and warehouse services for St. Vrain Valley, said, “It’s a great opportunity for us to have one-on-one contact with parents.”

Without that personal connection, procrastination or confusion can inadvertently make life harder for families.

“What happens is mom just keeps sending them to school and we keep feeding them until we send letter home that their application from last year expired,” said Allen. “They run up these terrible bills.”

In addition to sending employees to Community Food Share every August, Allen ensures free-and-reduced applications are available at local churches, the housing office and homeless center. She also prints her name and number on school menus so parents can call her directly.

Things were different when she first arrived in the district, she said. There were no visits to the food bank or other concerted efforts to reach eligible families.

“It wasn’t quite as important here at that time,” she said. “We didn’t do it and we struggled.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: McMinimee wants Jeffco principals to have more say in schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:06

Jeffco Dramarama

The Jefferson County Board of Education rejected the recommendations of a third party to give "partly effective" teachers a pay raise this school year. Chair Ken Witt also surprised the board and district staff his own ideas of what compensation should look like. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The fact finder, mutually agreed to by the board and teachers union, said the evaluation tool that measures a teacher's skill is unreliable and should be updated. You can read the rest of fact finder's report and recommendations here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meanwhile, Superintendent Dan McMinimee told CPR he wants his building principals to have more of say on what happens in their buildings. ( CPR )

something to chew on

A new federal program could feed more than 12,000 Colorado students in participating districts — with no application for free or reduced-price meals required. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo City School's superintendent will appeal a preliminary accreditation rating that is a few points lower than last year's. ( KRDO )

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

Families of a Montbello neighborhood charter school can expect to see their energy bill fall because of a partnership with a solar energy provider. ( Denver Post )

false alarms

A possible prank was the reason why one Littleton school was put on lock-in status earlier this week. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, faulty equipment is to blame for a Denver school going on lock down. ( 9News )

If at first you don't succeed ...

A charter school that had wanted to open in Douglas County is now eyeing Jefferson County after its initial application was sent back for revisions. ( Arvada Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 22:28

GOLDEN — Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.”

Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

The board’s 3-2 majority blocked a resolution to accept the recommendations of the third party fact-finder that suggested teachers who were rated “partly effective” under the district’s evaluation system be given raises. The fact-finder also recommended that the district and teachers union improve the teacher evaluation tool that they said was not statistically reliable.

Because the board rejected the recommendations from the fact-finder, the final compensation system will be determined by the five-member elected body, as outlined in the district’s collective bargaining agreement. Given the conservative and free-market tendencies of the board’s majority, that could mean a radical shift in how teachers are paid.

During the board’s discussion of the fact finder’s report, board chairman Ken Witt presented his own compensation proposal, which surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.

Witt’s proposal, characterized as “a lot” by Jeffco Public Schools’ chief financial officer Lorie Gillis, calls for every teacher to make at least $38,000 per year. The current base salary for a first year Jeffco teachers is $33,616.

Further, Witt also recommended compensation be increased based on the most recent employee evaluation ratings. Every “effective” and “highly effective” Jeffco teacher would receive a compensation increase, and “highly effective” teachers would receive a compensation increase that is at least 50 percent higher than the compensation increase of “effective” teachers.

Gillis, who said she had only seen the proposal for the first time tonight, told the board her team would need time to crunch all the numbers.

Jefferson County Education Association executive director Lisa Elliott said she was “flabbergasted” by Witt’s proposal.

“This board majority knows exactly what they’re going to do,” Elliott said earlier in the evening during an interview with Chalkbeat. “They’re just walking through the steps.”

The majority — comprised of Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — said they rejected the recommendation of the fact-finder because his suggestions were not in line with the district’s goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom.

Additionally, the three continued to raise fundamental concerns that the current pay structure for Jeffco teachers — generally based on a teacher’s number of years in the classroom — was unfair and not competitive.

“We need to explore making pay for new teachers more aggressive to competitive,” Newkirk said.

Minority members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted to approve the recommendations, repeatedly citing the report’s claim that the teacher evaluation tool is unreliable.

“There’s a lot of questions marks,” Dahlkemper said.  

Dahlkemper and Fellman also indicated their desire to move beyond the contract negotiations, which they said have had the unintended byproduct of sowing fear and mistrust between many of the district’s teachers and board majority.

The teacher evaluation system has been in place since 2008 and was created by the district and union together. However, this would be the first year teachers’ evaluation ratings would be tied to compensation across the district. The district has piloted a pay-for-performance model at 20 schools.

Salaries for teachers have been frozen since 2010. Teachers agreed to the salary freezes as the district weathered budget cuts from the Great Recession.

The current negotiations are only about annual compensation. The district’s and union’s full agreement expires in 2015.

According to the union, this is the first time the Jeffco Public Schools’ Board of Education has rejected either an arbitrator or fact finder’s recommendation during contract negotiations.

Categories: Urban School News

Universal free meals coming to high-poverty schools in eight districts

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 14:47

Eight Colorado school districts, most small and rural, are participating in a new federal program that will allow them to offer universal free meals in some or all of their schools.

The program, called Community Eligibility Provision or CEP, could feed more than 12,000 students in participating districts—with no application for free or reduced-price meals required. While CEP is intended to reduce child hunger and make life easier for families, some districts shied away from the program this year for fear of losing state at-risk funding or because of concerns that meal reimbursements under CEP won’t be enough for food service departments to break even.

Among the districts trying out CEP this year are Harrison, Moffat Consolidated, Centennial, Mesa County Valley 51, Sierra Grande, South Conejos, Alamosa and Mountain Valley. Notably absent from the group of eight is Pueblo City Schools, where some administrators initially hoped to pursue the program.

CEP participants

  • Harrison-19 schools
  • Mesa County Valley 51-1 school
  • Alamosa-districtwide
  • Centennial-districtwide
  • Moffat Consolidated-districtwide
  • Mountain Valley-districtwide
  • Sierra Grande-districtwide
  • South Conejos-districtwide

Jill Kidd, the district’s director of nutrition services, said former Superintendent Maggie Lopez didn’t want to saddle the new superintendent with an untested program as she started the job in July.

“Mostly it had to do with the potential loss of at-risk funding,” said Kidd. “With the new superintendent and 6 new principals, the former superintendent didn’t feel she should do that before she retired.”

The reason that school administrators worry about the loss of at-risk funding under CEP is that parents aren’t required to submit Free/Reduced-Price Meal applications, which have historically helped determine schools’ low-income populations and their eligibility for the funds. While parents at CEP schools will now be asked to complete a similar form called a “Family Economic Data Survey” to help track poverty levels, it’s voluntary.

While Kidd said CEP could have saved her department much time and effort, she added, “You really don’t tell want to tell your district, I just took $6 million out of your pocket.”

Community Eligibility, which was piloted in six states and the District of Columbia over the past three years, is being rolled out nationally this fall. Schools or entire districts are eligible for the program for four years if 40 percent or more of their students are “directly certified,” which means they are identified as low-income because they receive certain types of government benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program), or are classified as homeless, migrant or in foster care.


Categories: Urban School News

“Partially effective” Jeffco teachers should get raises, fact finding report recommends

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 13:14

Jefferson County teachers who were rated “partially effective” last year should get raises, a fact-finding report recommended.

The report, released today, also concluded teachers who are not rated as effective or above this school year should not be eligible for raises, so long as the district and teachers union agree to an improved evaluation system.

The recommendations, which are non-binding, are the latest in ongoing teacher contract negotiations between the Jefferson County Education Association and Jeffco Public Schools. The board asked for the third party opinion on negotiations after the board’s majority rejected a tentative agreement in June.

That contract provided raises for “partially effective” teachers. That was a nonstarter for board chair Ken Witt.

Negotiations between the two parties began in February. The Jeffco Board of Education now has 30 days to act on the fact-finders’ report. The board is expected to discuss the report in an executive session tonight before their first regular school board meeting of the school year.

Jeffco rated 89 teachers out of more than 5,000 as “partially effective.” The current budget has an $18 million placeholder for salary increases for teachers and other Jeffco employees. However, salaries will remain the same until an agreement is reached.

“It’s critically important that we ensure every Jeffco student has an effective teacher and we want to make sure that those teachers see an increase in their paychecks as soon as possible,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “We also want to provide additional support to those teachers who haven’t met that benchmark. We want every teacher to achieve their highest level of professionalism because our students deserve that.”

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford said that fact-finder’s report will allow the district and the union to work together to refine the evaluation process and make it more accurate, provided the school board chooses to follow the report’s recommendations. 

“Teachers and the community have been calling on the Board to accept the fact finder’s recommendations throughout this entire process and now that those recommendations have been released, the District is stepping away from the commitment it made when it went into fact finding of honoring the process,” Ford said in a statement.

This story has been updated with response from the teachers union.

Fact-finder’s report DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1281017-jeffco-fact-finding-report' });
Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Graduation rate up, Urban Prep's first class, end of PURE?

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:17

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are basking in the latest graduation and on-track rate numbers, saying the five-year cohort graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent. Instead of holding a press conference and taking questions, though, Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett announced it in an editorial in the Sun-Times.  They credit full-day kindergarten, the longer school day and better programs in neighborhood high schools, such as International Baccalaureate and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.

Of course, these initiatives probably had little effect on the graduation rate, as they are too recent to have had any impact on the cohort of students in question, who entered high school in 2009-2010. The Consortium on Chicago School Research has another theory: In 2005, the consortium put out a study stating that freshmen who earn at least five credits and no more than one “F” in a semester in a core course are 3-1/12 times more likely to graduate in four years. The findings prompted CPS to hire on-track coordinators to stay on top of freshmen, though many of those support positions have vanished due to budget cuts.

Even without the supports, though, the on-track rate is 84.1 percent, according to Byrd-Bennett’s announcement at Wednesday’s board meeting. (See a CPS summary of improvements.) Board member Henry Bienen said it was a fresh change of pace to hear positive news about CPS. “We hear so much criticism of staff and the board, on school closings, on investments, on our priorities,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the metrics are the metrics. This tells us not that we’re perfect, but that success is happening […]. We can put almost everything else on the side when we see this kind of data.”

Chief of Accountability John Barker said school-level graduation and freshman on-track data should be available sometime Thursday.

2. After graduation… The Chicago Tribune revisits the first class of graduates from Urban Prep Charter School, the city’s only all-boys charter school. Earlier this year, the Associated Press did a similar story. The school made news in 2010 when all its graduates were accepted into college. National Student Clearinghouse data later showed that 76 percent of the graduates actually enrolled. The question since then has been: How many of those students will persist and earn their college degree? The backdrop for this question: In 2006, a Consortium on Chicago School Research report found that only 3 percent of black male freshmen in CPS earned a bachelors’ degree by the time they were 25.

Urban Prep’s head, Tim King, declined to provide information for the Tribune on how many students from the first graduating class got their college diploma this fall. (Tribune columnist Eric Zorn says he should have talked about the problems students encounter as they transition.) But profiles of four of the students show that they struggled with figuring out how to find a support network and deal with the increased academic rigor. One impressive point: Urban Prep stepped up and helped support these students, paying for one student to have a writing coach and another to take summer classes.

The article doesn’t confront the fact that many of the students entered college with low ACT scores. In 2010, the average was 16; last year, 17.1. A 20 is generally considered the minimum for college readiness.

3. PURE activist moves on… Through the years, PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education) Executive Director Julie Woestehoff has sounded alarms about a myriad of issues in the school system, including the dangers of retaining students and of relying too much on standardized testing. She and PURE were perhaps the first to sound alarms about UNO Charter Schools when in January of 2013 they met with the Illinois Office of the Executive Inspector General to ask for an investigation into the charter school’s financial condition.

But Woestehoff, who has been trying to keep PURE going on a shoestring budget, announced in a blog post that she has moved to Wyoming. She says later this month the board will have a meeting to decide if PURE will continue without her. 

4. Some school-related politics… The Sun-Times reports that Edward Oppenheimer is CTU President Karen Lewis’ first campaign donor for her potential mayoral run. The Oppenheimer Family Foundation is well-known among teachers for giving small grants for classroom and school projects, such as mosaic and gardening projects. Records show that Oppenheimer contributes to many campaigns. In 2011, he gave $500 to Miguel Del Valle’s mayoral campaign.

Also, this week lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas said that Chicago schools would face “devastating cuts” if Bruce Rauner becomes governor. He said that under the budget Rauner presented, schools would lose $4 billion annually. It is worth noting, however, that the education budget, among other areas, has been cut under Vallas’ running mate Gov. Pat Quinn. Neither candidate is talking about addressing structural problems that lead to annual deficits.

5. A look at the numbers … Chicago schools have long had more students of color than white students – not surprising, given the city’s demographics. But national student enrollment in public schools is catching up: For the first time ever, the number of Latino, African-American and Asian students is expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic white students, according to Education Week.

Projections by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 50.3 percent of schoolchildren will be minorities this fall, with these populations remaining in concentrated major urban areas like Chicago, where just over 90 percent of CPS students are students of color.

The story points out that the most dramatic changes in public schooling have been seen in the increased numbers of students whose first language isn’t English. And the numbers are expected to rise, both in traditional urban immigrant hubs as well as the suburbs and rural communities. In Chicago, about 16 percent of CPS students were considered to have limited English proficiency last year. We reported on the challenges of bilingual education and how the suburbs are responding to the increased numbers of English Language Learners in 2012. 

Categories: Urban School News

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