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Weekend Reads: Why do adults shut students out of education policymaking?

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 03/14/2015 - 09:11
  • Students are often “honest brokers” when it comes to evaluating education policy, so why don’t we let them have more of a say? The answer might say more about adults than it does about children. (The Atlantic)
  • This weekend, a foundation that trains and funds teachers around the world will give $1 million to one of 10 finalists who have demonstrated innovative teaching practices and who are preparing students to be “global citizens.” (NPR Ed)
  • The former head of the Tennessee Department of Education’s teacher evaluation work argues that the idea that the best teachers are fleeing the profession is a myth. (Real Clear Education)
  • A nonprofit program in Mississippi, Michigan, and other cities around the country is initiating small, concrete steps to get parents more involved in their children’s schools. (Hechinger)
  • Getting involved in schools is harder for immigrant parents, who often face language barriers and broader community hostility. (Vox)
  • Twelve-year-olds from around New York City talk about goals, inspirations, and the challenges of being on the cusp of adolescence. (WNYC)
  • The increasing number of families who opt out of standardized tests is putting pressure on states and districts who use test scores to evaluate teachers. (The New Yorker)
  • Behind the scenes at SXSWedu, one reporter wonders how relevant many of the tech ideas presented are to conversations about classrooms and learning. (Hechinger)
Categories: Urban School News

Testing, school liability bills will ramp up ed debates

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 18:31

New bills on testing and on the liability of schools for violent incidents were introduced in the legislature Friday. The bills add another big element to the testing debate and introduce a new hot-button issue to the legislative session.

The testing measure, Senate Bill 15-215, is notable for a couple of reasons. (Read the full text here.)

The proposal is bipartisan and has sponsors in both houses. Senate sponsors are Republican Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Democrat Andy Kerr of Lakewood. In the House Democrat John Buckner of Aurora and Republican Jim Wilson of Salida are the prime sponsors.

The mix of sponsorship is important, given that Republicans control the Senate and Democrats run the House.

To a large degree SB 15-215 incorporates the key recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, which proposed reducing high school testing and streamlining school readiness and early literacy assessments.

The six testing bills introduced earlier have more partisan sponsorship, and some of the Republican bills propose sweeping changes like Colorado’s withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards and PARCC tests and greater flexibility for school districts to use their own tests.

(For detailed information about all 2015 testing bills, see our new Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom on this story.)

Despite its sponsorship, SB 15-215 doesn’t represent a grand compromise supported by a wide number of legislators.

It may not go far enough for many education interests. And there may be additional bills introduced including one on parental opting out of tests. There’s also interest by some groups in using a testing bill as a way to reduce the current requirement that student growth data, which is derived from test results, be used for a teacher’s evaluation.

The other major bill that surfaced Friday was Senate Bill 15-213, a bipartisan measure that would limit school district immunity from lawsuits for claims stemming from violent incidents at schools. This is a bill driven by the fatal shooting at Arapahoe High School. (Read the text here.)

Significantly, among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. But district interests may fight this one.

Another bill introduced Friday also is related to student safety. Senate Bill 15-214 would create a permanent legislative study panel on school safety and youth mental health.

House Bill 15-1275, which was introduced earlier, would tighten up requirements for reporting and compilation of violent and criminal incidents in schools. It will be considered by the House Education Committee on Monday afternoon.

The other new measure of interest introduced Friday was Senate Bill 15-216, which would place new restrictions and requirements on school districts that want what’s called exclusive chartering authority. (If a district has such authority it means the state Charter School Institute can’t authorize a charter within that district’s boundaries.) Among other things, the bill would tie chartering authority to a district’s accreditation rating. The measure is sponsored by the interesting duo of Hill and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.

For the record

The House Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1240, Fields’ proposal to encourage school districts and police departments to make formal agreements about how school incidents are handled.

The Aurora Democrat wants to reduce contacts between police and students for what she sees as disciplinary problems that should be handled by teachers and school administrators.

The debate largely reprised committee discussion earlier this week. Fields argued the bill makes an important statement that would motivate school districts to change policies. Republicans countered that the bill isn’t needed because districts are free now to enter formal agreements with police departments.

Another discipline-related measure, Senate Bill 15-184, passed the Senate Education Committee Thursday. The bill aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school.

Despite passing on a 5-4 partisan vote, the committee had a long, thoughtful and non-partisan conversation about how to handle truancy. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administration judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.

Some members were concerned passage of the bill would cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties. An amendment that would have turned the bill into a study of truancy policies and practices was defeated. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Fields is the House prime sponsor.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

More students used Denver’s school choice enrollment system this year

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 18:29

Participation in Denver’s unified enrollment system, which parents can use to apply for any of the district’s public or charter schools, jumped nearly 10 percent this year, the district reported Friday.

Close to 25,000 students applied through the system, compared to 22,729 last year. That means well over a quarter of the district’s 90,000 students used the SchoolChoice system.

Families learned by email  today which schools their children will be attending.

SchoolChoice was introduced four years ago to replace a convoluted system in which there were dozens of applications to various public and charter schools in the city.

This year, 95 percent of students were placed in one of their top five schools, compared to 94 percent last year. That’s a reversal from last year’s trend, when there was a drop in the number of students who were placed in their requested schools.

DPS officials say they will work directly with any families who did not receive a placement in any of the schools to which they applied.

Most families who used the enrollment system are preparing for transition years: Kindergarten, sixth, or ninth grades. This year, kindergartners were most likely receive first-choice schools: 83 percent, compared to 74 percent of sixth graders, 77 percent of ninth graders, and 78 percent of students overall.

Areas of the city that now have shared enrollment zones saw particularly high participation. Under the shared zone system, students are not guaranteed a spot in one particular school, but are guaranteed a spot in one of a number of schools within a limited geographic area.

DPS said the enrollment zones in west and southwest Denver saw the biggest bumps in participation in SchoolChoice, with 91 percent of students in those zones submitting applications compared to 67 percent last year.

The district created two new shared enrollment zones this year, including the one in southwest Denver.

District officials are also predicting that more middle school students will enroll next year than ever before. In Stapleton and the Far Northeast there were particularly big jumps. For instance, in Stapleton, 417 sixth graders enrolled in DPS schools in 2009, compared to 735 projected to enroll this year.

The district has at times walked a tightrope as it tries to create broad selection of school choice options while also supporting neighborhood schools.

In a press release, Superintendent Tom Boasberg emphasized that neighborhood schools still have a role. “We always recommend families look first to their neighborhood schools,” said Boasberg. “We know it is also important to provide schools throughout the city that meet the unique needs of our students.”

A report from A+ Denver, a local education advocacy group, released earlier this year found that most families in Denver that used SchoolChoice were placed in their top choice school, but that there are still inequities in the quality of schools where low-income and higher-income families enroll.

DPS officials said they would provide more information about school choice participation later this spring.

Categories: Urban School News

Adams 14 and Colorado Charter School Institute come to agreement

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 18:10

The Adams 14 school district’s board has rescinded a resolution that attempted to reassert its authority over a local charter school run by the state Charter School Institute.

The reversal comes after several months of discussion between Adams 14, the Institute, and leaders of Community Leadership Academy, the charter school in question. Adams 14, in Commerce City, had relinquished control of the school to the state Charter School Institute in 2011.

The K-8 school recently expanded to a new high school campus known as Victory Prep. The school’s leader also sent a letter to his school’s parents announcing plans to increase enrollment significantly, from 890 to about 4,000, and criticizing Adams 14’s academic performance as well as a mill levy request that was on November’s ballot. (Read more here.)

That pair of events triggered the concerns of Adams 14 leaders and board members and reignited an already contentious dynamic between the charter school and district. Adams 14 leaders said they weren’t sure the charter school had the authority to add schools and expand so dramatically.

Community Leadership Academy and Victory Prep are currently the only charter schools within Adams 14’s boundaries.

As part of a compromise, the district and the Charter School Institute created a Memorandum of Understanding under which the Institute will consult with the district on developing charter school procedures and materials, and clarifies how the Institute will communicate to the district any changes to its schools’ charters. The Adams 14 board voted to approve that agreement on Tuesday.

The board also voted to officially rescind a resolution it passed in late 2014 asserting its authority over the charter, and requiring the school to reapply for a charter or close its doors altogether. State officials had said that resolution was illegal.

“They were in no man’s land, and once the Chalkbeat article came out, there was a lot more attention on the fact that they could not do what they were trying to do,” said Ron Jajdelski, the director of the charter schools.

Jajdelski said that he still has plans to expand enrollment at Community Leadership Academy and Victory Prep to 4,000 students. That’s more than half of Adams 14’s current enrollment, and more than quadruple the schools’ current enrollment.

“I think we’re obligated morally, ethically to expand and do all we can to get kids out of failing classrooms,” he said.

Pat Sanchez, the superintendent of Adams 14, said “that MOU sets the stage for renewed cooperation and future partnership between both of our organizations [the district and the Charter School Institute].”

He said the district has begun discussions with the Institute about potentially creating a dual language charter school in Adams 14. “With the MOU, we now have the opening to actually utilize CSI’s resources and capabilities in the charter community to partner with us on that endeavor.”

Ethan Hemming, the director of the Charter School Institute, said his organization has agreements with several Colorado districts. He said he hoped that in the case of Adams 14, “if we can have communication directly between the district, CSI, and the school on any issues that arrive that cause conflict and strife, that we can avoid unnecessary appeals or actions in the future.

Categories: Urban School News

Binding legal opinion from AG sought on student health survey

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 12:14

The ongoing debate about the controversial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is becoming a story about a legal opinion pile-up.

The State Board of Education and the state health department each recently sought separate informal opinions on the topic from different assistant attorneys general. Now, the health department is seeking a formal opinion from the Colorado Attorney General’s office. That opinion, unlike the informal opinions, will be legally binding.

The issue at stake is what kind of parental consent is required before students take the biennial adolescent health survey. Currently, most districts use “passive consent,” which means students at select schools are given the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

But some critics of the survey, citing sensitive survey questions about sex, drugs and suicide, say advance written permission from parents–called active consent–should be required.

The original informal opinion presented to the State Board of Education in February stated that active consent is required for the survey under federal and state law, but at Thursday’s board meeting the attorney who wrote it said that the state law doesn’t apply to voluntary surveys. (Health department officials say the survey is completely voluntary, but some state board members say it may not be perceived that way.)

The second informal opinion provided to the health department late Thursday will not be publicly disclosed, said Mark Salley, director of communications for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

While it’s unclear if that second informal opinion aligned with the first, neither are legally binding. It will be the formal opinion now sought by the health department that will represent the final legal decision from the Attorney General’s office.

Salley said the formal opinion will be released publicly.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Roaring Fork signs two top administrators

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 09:36

Full day for SBE

Some state Board of Education members say parents need clearer, understandable information about student data collected during testing to dispel public fears about privacy and security. The comments came during a two-hour hearing intended to answer public questions about student data security. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

The board on Thursday also voted unanimously to table any decision on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey until its April meeting. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, AP via Aurora Sentinel )

DPS Changes

Denver Public Schools plans to cut the number of peer observer positions from 49 to 28 next school year as part of an effort to shift evaluation responsibilities to the school level. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Signings

After three months of meetings, the Roaring Fork School District has finalized top administrators' contracts. Superintendent Diana Sirko will stay on for two more years, as will Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein. These contracts had raised a bit of controversy in the district. ( Aspen Public Radio )

School violence

A bill to be introduced Friday in the legislature would allow the victims of school violence to sue for damages to force districts to provide information about what led to the mayhem. ( Denver Post, 9News )

College cost lifeline

Colorado Mountain College will offer a $1,000 scholarship to every high school graduate living in its multi-county district. ( Post-Independent )

Reading success

Aurora's Crawford Elementary School is making strides with its literacy program. ( Aurora Sentinel )

PARCC-ing zone

A University of Colorado professor gives an in-depth analysis of the PARCC tests. ( Denver Post )

Two cents

The way to handle growing concerns about testing is through legislation, not by encouraging students to opt out. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver to make cuts to peer observer program

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 07:34

Denver Public Schools plans to cut the number of peer observer positions from 49 to 28 next school year as part of an effort to shift evaluation responsibilities to the school level.

Peer observers are central office employees charged with providing unbiased observations, evaluations, feedback, and coaching to teachers across the district. Observers also consult with principals and assistant principals on their observations and evaluations.

The district first introduced the role in 2010. Most of the district’s peer observers are former teachers, though some are also former principals.

Mario Giardiello, the district’s executive director of school support, said the reducing the number of peer observers is part of a”move towards building the capacity of teacher leaders and school leaders to do observations and give feedback.”

“If we really believe that decisions and support closest to classroom have the greatest impact on kids, then moving from central office to school-based is part of our strategy,” he said.

The district recently announced plans to expand a teacher leadership program it calls Differentiated Roles to all of its schools in coming years. That program means some teachers also observe, coach, and evaluate their colleagues. Next year, peer observers will help train teacher leaders and school leaders in giving unbiased observations.

Rob Gould, a peer observer since 2010 and one of the 28 who will remain in the position next year, said that most observers were enthusiastic about training others. But he said he has concerns about the decision to cut so many positions.

“We were very surprised by the cuts, mainly because it had been communicated to us the great things that our team does, and what an essential component of the system we are,” he said.

In a letter to DPS staff, Giardiello and Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust wrote that while the district plans to keep some peer observers, “at the same time, we also want to respect the feedback we have heard from teachers who feel that they already have adequate support and therefore don’t need or want an additional observation from a peer observer.” The letter says that any teacher who wants a peer observer will be assigned one.

Giardiello emphasized that the peer observer program is not going away altogether. “I believe personally we’ll always have a need to support our teacher leaders, particularly on evaluations.”

Despite those reassurances, Gould said he is concerned that the program will be permanently phased out as part of the district’s focus on placing most decision-making in the hands of school leaders.

Peer observers focus on teachers who share their subject area or specialty, partly to compensate for the fact that any given principal may not have expertise in every subject taught in his or her school.

The function of peer observers has shifted in the five years the program has existed. For instance, last school year, any teacher who scored below ‘effective’ was assigned a peer observer. This year, about half of the district’s teachers had peer observers, with the assumption that rest would be observed next year.

With the proposed cuts, only teachers who opt in will receive a peer observer next year, with the exception of novice teachers at a handful of schools.

Henry Roman, the president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said that the union is concerned that the cuts mean “there are not going to be enough peer observers to serve as a third party, as checks and balances in the system.” He said the association was not consulted before the change to the program was made.

Gould said that he is concerned that the district may not have enough peer observers to meet demand in some subject areas, and that the fact that observers will now only observe a group of teachers who have opted in could reduce the reliability of observers’ scores.

Giardiello said the district had made the decision to cut positions based on estimates of how many teachers had requested peer observers in the past. He said the district might contract out to peer observers in some subject areas. Observers in less sought-out subject areas might spend more time training teacher leaders or consulting with school administrators.

Peer observers whose jobs are being cut have not yet been placed in new roles. Giardiello said they are being encouraged to apply either for school leadership or teacher leader roles.

The cuts will save the district about $2 million. Giardiello said that money would likely eventually go to funding the expansion of the teacher leader program.

Categories: Urban School News

Questions linger after hearing on testing data

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/12/2015 - 23:30

Some State Board of Education members say parents need clearer, understandable information about student data collected during testing to dispel public fears about privacy and security.

“There has to be a reason for the public angst” about testing and data security,” board member Debra Scheffel said during a two-hour hearing focused on the student data collected during state testing. “Is this a public relations issue merely or are there real issues?”

Executives of the Pearson testing company tried to reassure the board about they handle student data.

“We do not share student information used in our assessment programs unless requested or authorized by the state,” said Walter Sherwood, president of Pearson State Assessment Services. “We do not sell any state assessment information to anyone.”

The comments came during a hearing Thursday morning at which the Department of Education and Pearson executives answered questions about the use of student data they collect. The questions were compiled from those posted by the public on CDE’s website over the last few weeks and from questions submitted on cards before the meeting.

Do your homework

    • List of data collected – pages 10-11
    • Data not collected – page 15
    • Pearson security measures – start page 17
  • CDE testing fact sheet

Pearson, a mutinational testing company, is the contractor who administers both the PAARC language arts and math tests and the Colorado-only science and social studies tests given to Colorado students.

There are concerns among some parent groups about alleged collection of inappropriate or unnecessary student information and about what organizations have access to that data.

Here are the highlights of what Pearson and CDE had to say:

What data is required – “Every piece of data we collect we are required to collect under state and federal requirements.” – Joyce Zurkowski, state testing director

“Secret” tracking of students – “We do no keyboard monitoring nor are cameras on the devices [laptops and computers] during testing.” – Randy Schuessler, Pearson vice president of assessment technology solutions

Security – “We have state of the art technologies” for data encryption, monitoring of security breaches and other issues. Those include employee background checks, multiple layers of security and compliance with an alphabet soup of industry data security standards.  – Schuessler

What’s not collected – Government identification numbers; addresses; online addresses, academic records or grades; disciplinary, criminal or health records or non-academic personal information. “We don’t do anything to collect personal biographical data on students.” – Schuessler

Data mining – “We do not do any data mining on student data.”  – Schuessler

Collection of data on students’ “emotions” – Some testing critics allege that the tests somehow can gather information on students’ emotional states through such data as how long they take to answer questions. “We do not collect any such data.”  – Schuessler

But the discussion didn’t totally reassure some board members.

“I don’t think all of these complaints have been created out of whole cloth,” said board member Steve Durham, a Republican from Colorado Springs.

Durham also was skeptical about whether Pearson needs much student information at all. “So can we just get this data collection back to name rank and service number?” he asked. “Your job is to grade papers,” he told the Pearson executives.

Scheffel also was worried about sharing of test data with the U.S. Department of Education. She implied that the state has no control over what the federal government does with the information, including giving it to other entities.

Zurkowski responded, “we will not be handing off individual student data to the federal government.”

Scheffel said, CDE “shares data, and that data can be sold.”

There also was a question about allegations that students are being asked about family religious affiliation and gun ownership.

“There is not a question that asks about religious affiliation, gun use of anything like that,” Zurkowski said.

Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said, “We’ve tried everything we can to run that down” but haven’t been able to verify the rumor.

Pearson executives didn’t have direct answer to Scheffel’s question about how parent worries can be eased, other than saying it’s difficult to translate complicated contract terms into easily understandable language.

“I hope we can really distill this information,” Scheffel said.

Democratic board member Angelika Schoeder of Boulder agreed, noting that parents are worried by “this eerie Big Brother feeling you get,” akin to when one does shopping online and then gets followed by customized ads.

Categories: Urban School News

State board tables student health survey decision again

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/12/2015 - 18:59

The State Board of Education Thursday afternoon voted unanimously to table any decision on the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey until its April meeting.

Several members said they want to see the letters that go out to parents, and other documents, before determining whether the survey is voluntary. If they decide it’s voluntary, then a state law requiring advance parental consent for certain kinds of surveys wouldn’t apply.

Thursday marks the second time this year the state board has delayed action on the survey given to middle and high school students every other year.

Some parents and state board members have expressed concerns about how parents are notified about the survey, which includes questions about sex, drugs and suicide. Currently, districts have a choice about what type of parent permission to get, and most choose “passive consent,” which means students are administered the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

An official from the state health department who spoke at the meeting emphasized that the survey is voluntary at every level—for districts, schools, teachers, and students. But by the end of the discussion there was still disagreement about whether it’s truly voluntary or if the wording amounts to semantics.

Board member Debra Scheffel, a Republican from Douglas County, said most parents don’t know enough about the survey to opt their children out. In advance of next month’s meeting, she said she wants to hear from individual parents, not parent groups, to determine if they perceive the survey as voluntary. The Colorado PTA was the most prominent parent group that spoke in favor of the survey and the current notification model.

The PTA representative was among more than a dozen commenters, including students, parents, district administrators, and public health advocates. Many talked about the survey’s benefits in setting policy priorities, identifying service gaps, and writing grants for adolescent health programs. All the speakers favored leaving the current notification system in place.

After the 45-minute public comment period, Board Chair Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, praised the speakers for their impassioned, reasonable and sensible arguments, and drew a laugh from the crowd when she said, “It was really a pleasant experience.”

Board member Pam Mazanec, a Republican from Douglas County, said the commenters  represented only one side of the issue and read a letter from a parent who opposed administering the survey in public schools regardless of what kind of parental consent is used.

Board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said the title of the survey is misleading and some parents may not realize they should ask more about it. After some board members asked what the board’s legal authority allows them to do, Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl said they can determine whether the survey is voluntary.

At the board’s February meeting Dyl presented an informal opinion stating that parents must give prior written consent before their children take the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, citing both federal and state law. But on Thursday Dyl said the state law requiring active consent wouldn’t apply to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey if the board determines it to be voluntary.

Both the middle and high school surveys (the middle school version doesn’t ask about sex) state on the first page that they are voluntary and that students can skip questions that make them uncomfortable.

While schools and districts are not required to administer the survey, there may be financial incentives to do so. For example, a recent grant application for youth substance abuse funding from the Colorado Department of Education includes a requirement that recipients participate in the survey.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: State Board keeps making headlines

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/12/2015 - 08:44

State Board-orama

The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday evening to reject the proposed cut scores needed to set proficiency levels on the 12th grade science and social studies tests given last fall. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The board also voted 4-3 to again delay consideration of waiver requests from more than two-dozen school districts that want to be exempted from part of state testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The State Board of Education on Thursday will again tackle the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, including the hot-button issue of how parents give permission for children to take the survey. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Other capitol news

Lawsuit or no lawsuit, the tiny Sheridan school district owes the Colorado Department of Education $900,000 a department spokeswoman said Wednesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Sometimes events don’t follow the script at the Colorado legislature, which was the case Wednesday when a bipartisan committee majority passed a bill that would pay extra stipends to highly effective teachers who work in struggling elementary schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Coach me

This year, Denver Public Schools has trained dozens of educators in a method known as cognitive coaching, aimed at helping teachers "feel self-directed in their own classrooms." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

survey slugfest

The fate of the every-other-year health survey is the latest political battleground over parental rights ( Denver Post )

Pay me

Adjunct professors at the state's community colleges often are paid poverty-level wages and struggle to make ends meet. ( I-News )

Testy debate

A former Denver school board member and a Cherry Creek math teacher debate the merits or lack thereof of the PARCC tests. ( 9News )

Budding revenues

Colorado reported its best month yet for recreational marijuana sales in January, with a tenfold spike since last year in the tax stream designated specifically for schools. ( Gazette )

Growing

The St. Vrain Valley School District's latest enrollment projections show the district growing by 775 students next school year, for a total of 30,792 students in grades K-12. ( Daily Camera )

Lawsuit defense

Pueblo City Schools (D60) denies it didn’t properly take care of a disabled student whose mother alleges in a lawsuit that the student was severely injured due to staff negligence. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

Panel gives unexpected OK to stipends for top teachers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 23:38

Sometimes events don’t follow the script at the Colorado legislature, which was the case Wednesday when a bipartisan committee majority passed a bill that would pay extra stipends to highly effective teachers who work in struggling elementary schools.

The bill was changed so much by Democratic amendments that prime sponsor Rep. Kevin Priola ended up voting against his own bill. The House Education Committee session lasted three hours but felt rushed, particularly at the end when the panel had to vote hastily before vacating the hearing room to make way for another committee.

The proposal is something of a crusade for Priola, a Henderson Republican. He introduced House Bill 15-1200 this session after seeing a similar measure defeated in 2014.

As originally written by Priola, the bill proposed creation of a $4 million grant program that districts could use to offer salary bonuses to teachers rated as highly effective who move to the two lowest-rated categories of schools — “priority improvement” and “turnaround.”A smaller bonus was proposed for such teachers who chose to stay in low-performing schools.

The program would be voluntary for both districts and teachers, and it would be a four-year pilot.

“This is a serious proposal with hard data to back it up,” Priola said. “This bill puts the best resource you can possibly have in the classroom … a highly effective teacher.”

He was less enthusiastic about the bill after amendments were approved. One made nationally board certified teachers eligible for the stipends. The second limits the definition of highly effective to the results of evaluations of teachers by supervisors and doesn’t include student growth measures.

“I’m kind of just amazed that we watered down something that is supported by research. I’m going to be a no vote on my own bill,” a visibly irritated Priola said.

The amended bill passed on a bipartisan 7-4 vote.

Testimony recycles old debates

The bill before amendments was supported by education reform groups such as Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children, and the Colorado Children’s Campaign but opposed by the Colorado Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Committee members’ discussion and witness testimony reprised some of the reformer vs. union debates of recent years, complete with liberal use of the phrase “research shows” and education jargon like “inputs” and “outputs.”

Opponents and supporters differed repeatedly on the question of how much teachers, if at all, are motivated by money. Such discussions have been rare this year, with lawmakers focused on issues like testing and the education system’s role in workforce development.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the state union, said the bill “is an insult to every teacher who has dedicated their career to serving these students. … It really sounds like Rep. Priola is proposing combat pay for teachers in these kinds of schools.”

Martin Mendez, a Mapleton district parent who testified later in favor of the bill, quipped, “I don’t think this is combat pay. I think it’s inspiration pay.”

Dallman’s tone was stern as she testified, and she sparred a bit with some Republican members.

But the star witness was Adams 14 teacher Michele Deats, who opposed the bill but captured the attention and smiles of committee members with her fast-paced and articulate testimony.

Saying she used to work in sales, Deats said, “I’m at a third of my old pay, and I couldn’t be happier. … It’s not about the money, it’s really about working conditions” for teachers, she said.

Deats teaches sixth grade language arts at Kearney Middle School. Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, former Salida superintendent, was so impressed he half seriously tried to recruit Deats to move to the mountains.

The amended bill’s prospects are highly uncertain from here on out. Its $4 million price tag makes it vulnerable in end-of-session debates over K-12 spending. And if HB 15-1200 makes it out of the House its Democratic amendments may not survive long in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board blows up science, social studies test scores

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 21:02

The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday evening to reject the proposed cut scores needed to set proficiency levels on the 12th grade science and social studies tests given last fall.

The action means the Department of Education won’t be able to release district, school and student scores to school districts.

Cut scores are the benchmarks that sort a student’s results into one of four achievement levels. CDE had recommended cut scores that would have put only 1 percent of seniors taking the social studies test in “distinguished command,” the highest level of achievement. Only 9 percent would have been rated with “strong command.” The percentages for science were 2 percent distinguished command and 17 percent strong command. (See department proposal.)

Similar low achievement levels for last spring’s elementary and middle school science and social studies tests were recorded because of high cut levels (see story). The board, with slightly different membership, approved the recommended cut scores for those two tests.

Debate before the vote was heated at times as members clashed on the motion to reject.

“The test is fundamentally unfair,” said Republican board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs. He made the motion to reject the cut scores.

“You can’t get past the fundamental problem these are going to be used as a demonstration of failure for our education system,” said Durham. “For some schools we have set an impossible barrier.”

But rejecting the cut scores was “just devastating to me,” said board chair Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, noting the years of standards-setting and work that led up to the tests. “I just think this is a terrible step backwards, and I’m sorry to see us take it.”

Referring to the new board members, Neal said, “You’re wanting to redo six years of State Board work because you’re smarter than we were.” Shortly afterwards she apologized for that remark. (Neal is starting her second six-year term.)

Republican member Deb Scheffel of Douglas County questioned the whole process that led to the proposed scores, calling them “very arbitrary cut scores.”

Durham also was dismissive of the panel of teachers and other experts who proposed the cut scores, saying “I’d rather the first 100 people in the Denver phone book set these cut scores. I have no reason to believe there is any validity whatever” in the process that created them.

Durham rejected two suggestions from CDE staff to delay the vote so they could figure out what to do next.

Asked by Chalkbeat about what’s next, education Commission Robert Hammond said, “We’ll have to think this thing through.”

The decision was the last item considered during a long, often chaotic meeting which saw members hopscotching around their agenda and running behind schedule all day.

The vote was third bombshell dropped by the board since two new members joined in January. That month a divided board voted to allow districts to seek waivers from parts of state testing. (Something that since has been declared illegal.) In February the board voted to exempt school districts from any penalty if student test participation is below required levels.

Wednesday’s motion was supported by what appears to be the board’s new majority – Durham, Republicans Scheffel and Pam Mazanec of Douglas County and Democrat Val Flores of Denver.

Democrats Jane Goff of Arvada and Angelika Schroeder of Boulder voted no, as did Neal.

Durham and Flores are the new members. Flores, who won the primary last year against a candidate heavily backed by Denver education reform groups, has quickly emerged as the wild card on the board.

The vote sent a ripple effect through the education world. Informed about the vote by Chalkbeat, one veteran education lobbyist simply replied “OMG!”

Categories: Urban School News

CDE stands by claim that Sheridan owes nearly $1 million

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 17:16
CDE has been working with the Sheridan School District and has conducted a thorough and comprehensive audit of its pupil count. It has been determined from this audit that Sheridan must return approximately $900,000 of funding it was not entitled to receive. CDE has not received any lawsuit from the district and therefore cannot comment on what it may allege. CDE stands behind its audit and is confident that it will be affirmed by the courts.
– Dana Smith, Colorado Department of Education spokeswoman

That’s CDE’s response to news Chalkbeat reported late Tuesday that the tiny Sheridan School District southwest of Denver is suing the state over about $1 million in student funding.

What’s in dispute is how the Sheridan district counts some of its students who are in a “concurrent enrollment” program and how it wants the state to calculate its graduation rate for accountability purposes. Students who are in concurrent enrollment programs are high school students who take college-level classes either at their school or a nearby college.

Sheridan, which serves mostly low-income and Latino students, offers three diploma levels, among them an advanced degree that includes college credits that could add up to an associate degree from a community college.

Many students who are seeking the advanced diploma, which the district calls a 21st Century Diploma, have earned enough high school credits to graduate from high school with a traditional diploma. The district, in a pitch to the State Board of Education last year, said those students should count toward the district’s graduation rate and remain in the school system, bringing in state per pupil funding that Sheridan would pass along to the community college to cover the cost of tuition.

Sheridan is at the end of the state’s accountability watch list timeline. The district faces state intervention if does not prove it has done enough to boost student achievement, and its graduation rate, by the end of the school year.

Sheridan’s superintendent Michael Clough, in a statement this morning, said the lawsuit is about more than the money, but about a fundamental problem of how the state runs its concurrent enrollment:

“The state’s current approach for managing concurrent enrollment programs is haphazard, at best, and we believe the court will concur. As a district, our approach to providing college-level opportunities for students was unchanged for many years before a question regarding accreditation caused a sudden, abrupt change in the state’s approach. The end result is an attempt by the state to punish our district in a way that is, at the very least, arbitrary. Our students don’t deserve an arbitrary system. In addition, taxpayers statewide expect to have a state-funded concurrent enrollment program that is fairly administered across the board.”

Categories: Urban School News

State board may weigh in on health survey

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 16:49

The State Board of Education on Thursday will again tackle the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, including the hot-button issue of how parents give permission for children to take the survey.

Last month, the board received an informal opinion from an assistant attorney general stating that parents must give written permission before students can take the survey, but delayed action on a motion that would have informed school districts of that opinion.

Meanwhile, the state’s health department, a lead agency in the survey work, is still awaiting a separate informal opinion on the issue from a different assistant attorney general.

While the health survey is on the state board’s agenda for Thursday afternoon, it’s unclear what action, if any, it will take.

The controversy about the health survey given to middle- and high-schoolers has bubbled up in recent months, piggy-backing on a growing outcry about student data privacy from some parents and lawmakers. Besides concerns that certain students could be identified by their responses, critics of the survey say some questions are too explicit. They also express concern that many parents don’t know their children are taking the survey because most districts don’t require advance parental consent.

On the flip side, officials involved in the survey’s administration emphasize that it is anonymous and voluntary, and say the survey data is critical to tracking state and local progress on adolescent health and identifying trouble spots.

Survey proponents fear that under the “opt-in” consent model, student response rates will fall dramatically and the data won’t provide as clear a picture of teen health in the state.

“It’s the only source of comprehensive adolescent health data that we have in the state,” said Sarah Nickels, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey lead at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

History

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey has been given under various names to the state’s middle and high school students since 1991. The most recent version folds together multiple health surveys that were previously given separately. Along with questions from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is given in 47 states and the District of Columbia, it includes additional Colorado-specific questions on topics such as tobacco and marijuana use.

Also new in 2013 was a much larger sample size. Before 2013, around 2,500 students in about 80 schools were surveyed, compared to 40,206 students in 224 schools in the most recent survey.

The high school version of the survey (included at the end of this story) asks questions about sexual orientation, sexual behavior, suicide, smoking, alcohol, drugs, bullying, exercise, nutrition, grades and school involvement. The middle school version of the survey doesn’t ask questions about sexual orientation or sexual behavior, but does ask about the other topics.

Invaluable information or an invasion of privacy?

State officials say the survey data helps win health-related grants. One recent example is a nearly-$2 million grant the Colorado Department of Education received to train educators about youth mental health. State-level survey data is also used by the Colorado Health Foundation and Colorado Health Institute for most of the adolescent health indicators in their annual Colorado Health Report Card.

At the district level, some administrators say information gleaned from survey drives key decisions about what services and interventions to offer students.

Katrina Ruggles, the health coordinator and a counselor in the Center school district, said that the survey data has informed several district health initiatives in the last decade. These include providing new teacher training on suicide prevention, changing the snack policy to require more fresh fruits and vegetables, and altering bus schedules so secondary students could get to school in time to eat breakfast.

It’s also sparked efforts to combat drunk and drugged driving with special programs around prom time.

Virtually every health-related grant proposal includes data from the survey, said Ruggles.

“I think it’s just really, really crucial,” she said. “I’ve had zero complaints.”

While parent critics of the survey say they’re not seeking to ban such surveys, they believe schools should have to get explicit parental permission, called “active consent,” before students participate. That’s what the informal attorney general’s opinion provided to the state board last month said is required under federal and state law.

“I don’t know many people who discount the effectiveness and use of data,” said Jillian Moster, a Douglas County mother of three. “My great concern is this passive participation trend we’re seeing in Colorado.”

The health department’s Nickels said it’s currently up to school districts to decide whether to use active consent or passive consent for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Passive consent means that students will be asked to participate unless parents sign a form asking the student be excused.

Nickels said about 92 percent of schools that participated in the 2013 survey chose passive consent. The assistant attorney general’s opinion shared with the state board last month could push those schools to use active consent.

In 2013, student response rates at Colorado schools that administered the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey using passive consent were between 89 and 96 percent. At active consent schools, the rates were between 61 and 64 percent.

Moster, who has one son in sixth grade and one in seventh, said her kids haven’t taken the survey but she wouldn’t let them if she was asked.

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Categories: Urban School News

State Board delays vote on testing waivers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 14:10

The State Board of Education voted 4-3 Wednesday to again delay consideration of waiver requests from more than two-dozen school districts that want to be exempted from part of state testing.

The board itself kicked off the waiver requests in January with 4-3 approval of a resolution inviting districts to apply for waivers from the first part of PARCC testing in language arts and math.

Since then, the attorney general has formally ruled that neither the board nor the Department of Education can legally grant such waivers, and the tests in question are being given in every district.

Despite those facts, some board members argued Wednesday that keeping the waiver requests lying on the table has symbolic value. (In February the board first delayed action on waivers until this month.)

“While it is unlikely the waivers will be granted under the attorney general’s opinion, I think the process since we passed the resolution has been positive,” said Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs. He proposed the original January resolution.

Keeping the waiver requests alive “continues to keep some pressure and interest in the testing issue on the education system,” Durham said.

Member Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat, countered by saying, “Those waivers didn’t change anything except create confusion. … I disagree that this is in any way helpful. It suggests that we can’t make up our minds.”

Chair Marcia Neal, a Grand Junction Republican, agreed, saying, “I think we’ve created confusion in the schools.”

Republicans Pam Mazanec and Deb Scheffel of Douglas County, along with Denver Democrat Val Flores, voted with Durham for the delay.

Neal, Schroeder and Arvada Democrat Jane Goff voted no.

If the board hadn’t voted for the delay, its procedural options would have been to deny the waivers or rescind the January resolution.

Most of the districts that have applied for waivers are small and rural, with the exception of Douglas County and Jefferson County.

Categories: Urban School News

Coaching model aims to help support teachers’ thinking

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 12:36

A teacher at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy in southwest Denver felt she was having trouble getting buy-in from her class of high schoolers. She was the most recent in a series of teachers who had taught this particular class during the past few years, and the students didn’t seem engaged.

She decided to create a unit on magical realism in literature, hoping it would catch students’ attention and help her build relationships. That’s when she turned to her coach, Mandy Israel, a teacher leader at the school.

“So we sat down and we had a planning conversation about it: Why does this matter, what is your purpose, how are you going to differentiate?” said Israel. “At the beginning of the conversation she had an idea. At the end she had a plan.”

The progression sounds straightforward. But the strategies Israel used in that conversation were actually part of a coaching style, known as Cognitive Coaching, that Denver Public Schools officials hope will help teachers improve their practice in a way that sticks.

This year, the district has trained dozens of teacher leaders, peer observers, and principals in Cognitive Coaching. It also has a full-time staff person — coaching coordinator Sarah Baird — who is newly dedicated to cognitive coaching training.

“The belief is that every teacher has experiences they can draw on to support them in making their own decisions,” Baird said. “The other belief is, a coach, a principal, any other person is not with the teacher all the time. So how do we support teachers to feel self-directed in their own classrooms?”

At a time when teachers are faced with adjusting to new evaluations, new standards, and changing school and district initiatives, Baird said, Cognitive Coaching focuses on supporting and empowering individuals to set, reach, and reflect on their own goals.

“It’s much different than coaching in the past,” said Mario Giardiello, the executive director of school support for DPS. “Coaching had such a bad reputation…Cognitive Coaching really respects the learner. You want the learner to bring the next steps to the table.”

He said the new training is particularly important as the district builds its teacher leader program, which means more staff have hybrid teaching-coaching-mentoring-evaluating roles.

Cognitive Coaching was developed more than 30 years ago by two educators, and is now run as part of the Thinking Collaborative, which also runs a team-building training known as Adaptive Schools.

The core of the approach is a set of conversation “maps” aimed at helping teachers draw out the thinking behind their practice. Coaches and teachers move through the maps during a series of one-on-one meetings before and after observations. There are maps for planning, reflection, and problem-solving. The trainings also include lessons on paraphrasing, giving feedback, body language, using data as part of reflection, and other strategies to help aspiring coaches consult, evaluate, and collaborate with other adults.

Victoria Harp, a teacher leader at Garden Place Elementary, said that while the strategies might sound simple, “it’s a really difficult approach to implement consistently because it really taps into so much of your brain.”

Jane Ellison, the Colorado-based executive co-director of the Thinking Collaborative, said that the program’s creators “were mostly interested in principals interacting with teachers in a more humane way,” but that the tools are useful for anyone working with teachers.

Ellison said that though the model has been around for years and is supported by neuroscience research, most of the districts that have adopted it on a large scale are suburban. “The potential in a large urban district like DPS is huge,” she said.

And at a time when the state is experiencing high rates of teacher turnover, she said, offering a strong coaching program might help districts attract and retain teachers.

Baird said one of the biggest challenges she hears from the coaches she has trained is mixing the evaluative part of their role with giving feedback. Another is that cognitive coaching is just one of several strategies DPS teacher leaders and coaches learn about.

The training also requires a large investment of out-of-building time. Baird said that coaches must be perceptive, well-trained, and supported or their guidance will not be well received.

Harp said that it took time for teachers to buy into the new style of coaching. “It’s a big shift in terms of really building capacity as an individual versus [coaches] coming in and telling them what to do.”

Kate Claasen, a teacher at Kunsmiller, said she appreciated the change.

“Anyone who’s gone through Cognitive Coaching training, it just makes the dialogue so much more constructive and so much more positive,” Claasen said.

She said she hopes she can eventually take the training herself, but most sessions have been full.

Baird said there has indeed been more demand for the training than the district currently has the capacity to meet.

Still, the basics of Cognitive Coaching can be useful even if you are not fully trained, Baird said. She said she finds herself using strategies like active listening even in conversations with friends and family members.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS grade changes investigation begins

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/11/2015 - 09:13

Jeffco Interrupted

The Jefferson County school district and teachers union began contract negotiations in earnest Monday and both sides left the first meeting feeling optimistic. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

what's in a grade?

Denver Public Schools has hired an outside expert to investigate allegations that a high school principal altered failing grades to passing ones. ( KDVR )

Testing madness

The Cherry Creek School District had plenty of problems proctoring the state's new standardized exams this week. Meanwhile, the district is experiencing high opt out numbers. ( Denver Post )

Schools won't be held responsible for students who opt out, reminded State Board of Education Chair Marcia Neal. ( NBC 11 News )

As the opt-out movement continues to grow across the nation, activists behind the wave say it isn't about tests. ( US News )

Capitol Roundup

The state budget committee OK'd paying for five of the seven staff members CDE asked requested. The reasons why they aren't getting the full seven? in part, Bill Gates. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Colorado teachers would get a tax break for spending up to $250 a year on school supplies under a bill that won unanimous approval Monday in the state House. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

The Sheridan school district on Tuesday filed suit against the state Department of Education asking a court to bar the state from enforcing a claim that Sheridan owes the state money because it allegedly received funding for ineligible students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

THe Adams 12 school district is seeking to fill a contested seat on its board of education after the state Supreme Court ruled the position should be vacant. ( Denver Post )

A Jeffco elementary school principal was arrested on suspicion of incest and sexually assaulting a child. ( Denver Post )

As a social science teacher, I can’t help but assign meaning and context to the recent student protests, and what I see is a group of young adults who desperately want to be a part of change, but don’t fully understand what it takes to make that happen. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Sheridan sues education department in enrollment dispute

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 23:06

The Sheridan school district on Tuesday filed suit against the state Department of Education, asking the Denver District Court to bar the state from enforcing a claim that Sheridan owes the state money because it allegedly received funding for ineligible students.

The state claims Sheridan should pay back $1.2 million received for students whom the state believes weren’t eligible for state funding.

At issue is student enrollment in Sheridan’s 21st Century Program, under which some high school students also take classes given by Arapahoe Community College.

Those students are part of a larger, long-running dispute between the district and CDE over whether graduation rates for those students should count in the district’s graduation rate. The district believes CDE has not given credit for the graduation rate of those students, artificially lowering Sheridan’s accreditation rating.

The district is entering its final year on the state’s accountability watch list for low performance. Sheridan appealed that rating to the State Board of Education last year, but appeal was denied. If Sheridan does not prove it has boosted student achievement — including its graduation rate — the district faces state sanctions.

After that, the district claims, CDE began an audit of Sheridan’s enrollment and incorrectly concluded the district owes the state money it received for ineligible students.

Sheridan leaders are scheduled to release a statement on the lawsuit Wednesday morning. CDE officials were not immediately available for comment.

Categories: Urban School News

Budget panel gives ed department half a loaf amid staffing controversy

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 22:23

The legislative Joint Budget Committee agreed Tuesday to fund five of the seven staff positions the Department of Education had requested to help districts with teacher evaluations and rollout of new standards.

Funding for those jobs has been a touchy issue for some committee members for a couple of reasons. First, because the state is being asked to pick up costs previously borne by federal and other one-time sources. Second, because a private foundation paid for two of those CDE employees in the past.

Committee staff analyst Craig Harper recommended funding none of the positions, largely as a symbolic way to express displeasure with the department.

But some committee members argued that not funding the jobs would hurt school districts that need help evaluating teachers and integrating new content standards into classroom teaching.

“Discontinuing this kind of support sends a very poor message to our school districts,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat and vice chair of the budget panel.

The committee voted 4-2 to fund five positions in CDE’s educator effectiveness unit but deadlocked on a motion to fund two content specialists who help districts with standards. A tie vote means the jobs won’t be included in the department budget. However, the committee is recommending that five other content specialists already on the CDE payroll be funded in 2015-16.

The JBC’s decision isn’t the final word on the issue. The department could request the committee reconsider this issue, or the content specialists could be restored by an amendment when the full legislature considers the long bill.

CDE officials didn’t have immediate comment Tuesday on the committee vote.

This kind of dry business is usually followed only by top bureaucrats and lobbyists, but the CDE issue has a complicated backstory that makes it interesting. Here are the elements:

Worries about outside influence: Starting in 2012-13, two employees from the private foundation the Colorado Education Initiative (formerly known as the Colorado Legacy Foundation) worked at CDE as director of standards and instructional support and as a literacy specialist. They were paid directly by the foundation.

CDE officials told Chalkbeat Colorado they approved the arrangement because they were having trouble finding applicants for what would be short-term jobs.

Harper, the JBC’s staff analyst, raised questions about the propriety of that arrangement during a committee briefing in December. Department officials maintained there were no legal problems with the two workers but ended the arrangement Dec. 31.

The two employees now are classified as state workers, and the foundation has made a grant to CDE. (It’s common for outside groups to make direct grants to the department to help support specific programs, but it’s not common for an outside group to directly pay individual salaries.)

Some budget committee members were concerned that the arrangement distorted how the state personnel system is supposed to work. But some Republican lawmakers and activist groups had other concerns about the Colorado Education Initiative because it has received substantial funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is a frequent target of criticism by groups opposed to the Common Core State Standards, multi-state testing, and other education reform efforts.

Glossing over the costs of reform: A bigger issue is the legislature’s propensity to create sweeping programs without paying for them up front. The education department’s request for state funding of the educator effectiveness staff and content specialists represents bills coming due for earlier education laws the legislature chose not to pay for when those laws were created.

Sponsors of both the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and the 2010 educator effectiveness law downplayed the potential costs of those reforms, because high price tags would have made the bills less popular, and because true costs were hard to estimate, given that both programs had long implementation timelines.

In the case of educator effectiveness, sponsors were counting on use of federal Race to the Top money, which didn’t come in until a couple of years after the law was passed.

CDE has funded implementation of education reform measures through a combination of one-time state, federal and private funds, money that largely will run out this year.

“We’ve been over the river and through the woods” on promises that education reform was cost-free, said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Criticizing “winking and nodding and pretense that it wouldn’t cost anything. That’s all water under the bridge.”

Putting the educator effectiveness law into practice has evolved in some unexpected ways. For instance, CDE developed a model evaluation teacher evaluation system that districts could choose to use. State officials expected most districts would develop their own systems. But the vast majority of districts have opted to use the state system, requiring continuing support by the department.

School finance base set

The JBC devoted most of its day Tuesday to figure-setting for the alphabet soup of CDE programs as well as base district funding for 2015-16.

The panel opted for a plan that would increase average per pupil funding from $7,025 this year to $7,265 in 2015-16. That would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion, an increase of $281 million in state and local funding over current district funding of $5.9 billion.

The JBC’s recommendation is not the final word on school funding for next year. The proposal basically increases support based on constitutional and legal requirements. A separate piece of legislation, called the school finance act, typically is used to provide additional K-12 support.

So proposals like Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to give schools a $200 million one-time increase, and a plan by superintendents to funnel another $70 million to at-risk students and rural districts, will be part of the discussion on that second bill.

For the record

The House gave final 45-19 approval to House Bill 15-1104, which would provide a $250 tax deduction to teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets. The bill is considered a feel-good measure that would recognize teacher contributions to their classrooms but not provide significant tax savings.

Who says bipartisan sponsorship helps pass bills in a split-control legislature?

The Finance Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday killed House Bill 15-1079, a bipartisan bill that would have expanded a teen pregnancy and dropout prevention program now operating in three Western Slope counties. Anything involving “sex” is a touchy issue in the Senate, given the strong social conservative views of Republicans in that chamber.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teacher contract talks off to a “good start”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 19:16

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school district and teachers union began contract negotiations in earnest Monday and both sides left the first meeting feeling optimistic.

“It’s a good start,” Stephanie Rossi, a Wheat Ridge High School history teacher and lead negotiator for the Jefferson County Education Association, said at the end of the four hour meeting.

Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the union hope to have a new contract solidified by the end of May. But the district’s board room is reserved for negotiations almost every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday until the contract expires on July 31.

Some teachers and community members are worried Jeffco will become the largest school district in the state without a teachers union. That’s because they believe the aim of the conservative board majority, elected in 2013, is to weaken the teachers association just as the Douglas County school board did to its union in 2012.

Jeffco school board president Ken Witt has deflected those accusations and called for a fresh start with negotiations earlier this year. Last year, the union declared an impasse and the school board majority ultimately developed its own pay compensation system based on performance, not years in the classroom.

And if the district negotiating team has its way, that’s exactly what the end result will be: a near-complete rewrite of the teacher contract that is more of a blueprint to managing human resources and priorities than a proscriptive set of steps to cope with conflict.

“While it might not look like a traditional [interest-based bargaining] process, we are very committed to the collaborative aspects of the IBB process,” said Jim Branum, the district’s lead negotiator, during his opening remarks. “By working around the table, we’re going to come out with a much better agreement.”

While it appeared everyone left the bargaining table in high spirits after several laugh-out-loud moments, the meeting did not get off to a smooth start.

Early on, the independent moderator Jon Numair pointed out that the district is asking to invert the model of collective bargaining.

Normally, when a contract is renegotiated, both the employees’ association and district assume if particular language or issues are not discussed, those sections of the contract remain intact, Numair said. But the district is asking that only language that is discussed and approved by both sides stays.  Everything else in the contract could be dumped.

Members of the union said multiple times that they understood the district’s position and were starting from a similar point. But union members stressed they believed most of the language needed only to be tweaked, not eliminated or completely rewritten.

Despite everyone at the table seeming to be in agreement on this “starting point,” the moderator appeared unconvinced. He repeatedly asked, “are we sure?” “Do we have agreement” on a starting place?

Finally, Lisa Elliott, the union’s executive director, suggested the group identify common interests based on both sides’ opening pitch. Those common interests, she said, could become the focus of the first working groups to develop contract language.

The rest of the meeting was spent working through some of those topics including effective teachers, educating the whole child, and school-level autonomy.

One mild scuffle that could foreshadow future conflict was a discussion between Elliott and Amy Weber, Jeffco’s human resource director, about how principals should work collaboratively with teachers.

“School-based autonomy sounds great until you’re in a building where it’s the principal’s way or the highway,” Elliott said urging for oversight.

This is the second year contract negotiations between the Jeffco school district and its union are open to the public. There were about six audience members as the meeting started, a far cry from the hundreds who usually pack school board meetings. The numbers fluctuated throughout the evening. At most there were a dozen. Toward the end of the four-hour session, only four teachers remained in the audience.

This marks the first year all school districts must negotiate with their respective teachers unions in public. Colorado voters in 2014 approved Proposition 104 which made contract talks public meetings.

Categories: Urban School News

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