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Jeffco union president explains lawsuit on compensation plan

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 16:44
This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance its budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.
– John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association

That’s the crux of why the Jefferson County Education Association filed a lawsuit to block the rollout of a new compensation system for teachers and specialists joining the suburban school district in the fall.

We shared news about the lawsuit via Complete Colorado in our morning headline roundup, Rise and Shine, and newsletter.

Complete Colorado is funded by the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank and advocacy organization that backed Proposition 104. That measure, which Coloradans overwhelmingly approved, requires school districts and teacher unions to bargain in public.

The article correctly points out that all five school board members approved a pay bump for new hires with masters degrees, who are specialists, and teachers who are hired at high-needs schools. And that Amy Weber, the district’s chief human resource officer, urged the board to address the discrepancy between current and Jeffco educators.

However, union representatives who reached out to Chalkbeat took offense at some of the article’s claims including that the union has created anonymous Twitter accounts to stir the digital pot and has encouraged public disruptions at board meetings. Those claims lack evidence.

“We have not supported board meeting disruptions, many of those were done by the students,” said Lynea Hansen, a spokeswoman for JCEA. “We actually do rallies outside the building.”

The union and the school district resumed open negotiation meetings in public this week after several “small group” meetings behind closed doors.

The focus of those sessions was to discuss priorities around teacher evaluations, school level autonomy, compensation, and educating the whole the child.

Here’s Ford’s statement about the lawsuit in full:

This week we filed for a temporary injunction to prevent the district from violating the Negotiated Agreement between the District and everyone protected under this agreement. The injunction will prevent the Jeffco School District from implementing changes to the teacher compensation structure unilaterally.

In March, the District unilaterally changed the salary structure for new teachers who would be coming into the district. This non-negotiated salary structure will result in teachers new to Jeffco making thousands of dollars more than current Jeffco teachers with comparable education and experience.

As an example, a current Jeffco teacher with a master’s degree and five years of experience makes $38,000 and under the District’s new plan a brand new teacher to the district with the same qualifications will make $48,017.

This inequitable new salary structure will punish our loyal Jeffco teachers who have been with the district for years. The same teachers who agreed to pay freezes and roll backs during the recession to help the district balance their budget and keep cuts away from students as much as possible.

The Jeffco School District and the School Board Majority cannot continue to undervalue our Jeffco teachers if they want to continue our tradition of excellence in educating Jeffco’ s children.

The Jeffco School Board promised to improve pay when the recession ended if we would defer our salary increases during the recession, and they have reneged on that promise time and time again. Now, the School Board Majority are going to give large raises to new employees and leave current employees out.

Categories: Urban School News

Founding family watches in dismay as three-year-old school closes

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:19

Jordan Robinson was not initially enthusiastic about the idea of an all-boys school. But when you’re an 8th grader, “your parents make most of your decisions for you,” he said.

And his mother, Yashakia Robinson, had made up her mind. “The public schools were failing him,” Robinson said. No matter how hard her son studied, she said, teachers were constantly telling her he was falling behind.

Robinson, who had moved to Denver from Mississippi when Jordan was in kindergarten, was considering relocating to Chicago so her son could attend an all-boys public school there.

But then she met Dedrick Sims, who was planning to open Sims-Fayola International Academy. Robinson attended an open house and was impressed by Sims’ pitch: Public schools aren’t meeting the needs of male students, especially young black and Latino men. Sims-Fayola would be a new model, tailored to meet boys’ needs.

In 2012, Jordan enrolled in Sims-Fayola International Academy one of the school’s founding freshmen.

The Robinsons relocated from Lakewood and bought a house in the far northeast part of Denver to be closer to Sims-Fayola.

“We invested,” she said. She and other founding parents helped with everything from recruiting to painting school walls.

Jordan Robinson also invested. He says he quickly adjusted to the all-boys environment and came to appreciate the sense of brotherhood.

Jordan Robinson, a junior at Sims-Fayola, was one of the school’s founding freshmen.

He has thrived academically. This spring, he was wearing a gold tie, reserved for Sims-Fayola’s honors students. He was looking forward to being one of Sims-Fayola’s first graduates.

But this fall, word got out that the school might be in financial and academic trouble. In November, the Sims-Fayola board voted to close the high school, and in January, it announced that both the middle and high school would close at the end of this school year.

Read more about Sims-Fayola and the school’s closing.

Yashakia Robinson was furious. “In his junior year, you’re told he won’t get to be a senior at Sims-Fayola, which is everything you dreamed of,” she said. “You wanted to see him walk across the stage as a Sims-Fayola man.”

“I understand the data says this or that, but I also understand what was working,” she said. “And I know that had they given them a chance it could have worked.” She said several families had even investigated whether the school could remain open as a private school.

Denver Public Schools and Sims-Fayola staff worked with families to make sure all of the students had places to go. But Robinson wanted her son to be able to maintain at least some of the relationships he’d developed at Sims-Fayola.

So she and a half dozen other families of juniors at Sims-Fayola coordinated with each other and school officials to enroll their children at nearby Collegiate Prep, a co-ed charter school.

“Jordan will be fine,” Robinson said. “Everything he’s learned at Sims-Fayola over the last few years, he’ll take that with him.”

Jordan said that while he is frustrated that the school is closing, he is not overly concerned about the transition. “It’s a place to graduate.”

Robinson said that despite the abrupt ending, she would do it all again. She says she still believes in the value of all-boys education.

But she wishes her son had had a chance to graduate from a school they – and others – threw their hearts and souls into.

“Don’t think our boys failed,” she said. “Our boys didn’t fail. We failed our boys.”

Categories: Urban School News

Denver’s first and only all-boys public school to close

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:17

Less than three years after Denver’s first all-boys public charter school opened its doors, Sims-Fayola International Academy is preparing to close.

After external reviews highlighted financial, logistical, and academic challenges, the charter school’s board voted this winter to shutter Sims-Fayola’s middle and high schools, which currently house grades 6-11 in an office park in far northeast Denver.

The 165 boys who attend the school have been guaranteed spots at other schools for the 2015-16 school year.

But for Sims-Fayola’s students and families, the closure marks the loss of a school with a mission, unique in Denver, that some felt was critical: To provide an academic and social experience tailored to the needs of male students, especially African-American and Latino boys.

“We built a brotherhood and could be academic at the same time,” said Cy’ree Page, a junior who was one of the school’s founding freshmen. “When you think about it being taken away, it’s hard.”

But, he said, “I think it should have been shut down. It was more chaotic this year.”

The school has been plagued by inconsistent leadership and high staff turnover since it opened in 2012. Three years in, the school has had three principals. Just one teacher remains from the opening year.

Another blow was when founder Dedrick Sims left the school last fall. A board member said that the board had decided that while Sims was able to inspire families, his management and planning had “some deficiencies.” Staff and students said he was rarely in the school and spent much of his time fundraising for its expansion.

Sims, who was also the school’s principal in its first year, is planning to open a Sims-Fayola school in Atlanta and could not be reached for comment.

Principal Deborah Blair-Minter, who was recruited out of retirement by the Sims-Fayola board, came to the school early this school year to help right an unsteady ship.

“Trying to create the vision and get funding—you need to be able to do that piece. But you also have to have someone who understands how to run a school,” she said.

That tension between vision and execution is present for other charter schools. Tony Lewis, who heads the Donnell-Kay Foundation and sits on the state Charter School Institute’s board, said it can be hard for a charter school authorizer to predict whether a start-up school like Sims-Fayola will succeed. “Any time you authorize a school you’re taking a risk,” he said.

But he said it’s important to look beyond a school’s written application. “Do they have the leadership both at the school and board level to pull it off? It might all sound good on paper, but can they actually do it?

“If you take no risk on a school, then you’re never going to have new school models, you’re never going to have things like Sims-Fayola,” he said. “But the flip side is, if you take too much risk and you have a school that’s open for one, two, three years, the worry is, you haven’t harmed kids but you certainly haven’t given them a stable environment.”

A vision that resonated

In Sims-Fayola’s charter application, submitted in 2011, Sims made an impassioned case for the school. Sims cites high drop-out and incarceration rates for young African-American and Latino men and says his school will create “a learning experience for young men that will increase college readiness, global competence, and global awareness.”

That vision resonated with the families of the dozens of 6th and 9th graders Sims recruited to help start the school, and with notable Denverites, including Mayor Michael Hancock and Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, both of whom visited the school.

When Sims-Fayola opened in 2012, it was the city’s second single-gender public school, after GALS Academy, an all-girls charter. (A second all-boys school, Miller-McCoy, was proposed in 2011, but never opened. GALS is considering opening an all-boys school.)

The plan was to enroll 250 6th and 9th grade students in the first year, and to build up to a 700-student 6-12 school.

The school did attract its target audience. In the 2013-14 school year, 92 percent of the school’s 198 students were identified as minorities by Denver Public Schools. More than three quarters were eligible for subsidized school lunches.

But enrollment never lived up to Sims’ projections. Some students rebelled against the all-boys model and misbehaved in class. Some parents were concerned by the academic track record and ever-changing cast of teachers. The school’s location in an office park far from downtown Denver may also have been a barrier.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year, Sims was projecting that 270 students would enroll in 2014-15. Just 202 boys showed up.

Lack of enrollment put the school in an untenable financial position, said Les Walker, a member of Sims-Fayola’s board. Schools are funded largely based on enrollment.

The board was initially going to close just the high school, which had seen the most dramatic drops. That plan was presented to and approved by the Denver school board in November.

But after those plans were announced, even more families and staff began to leave the school, Walker said. “We thought it was better to end it now.”

So far this school year, nearly 50 students have left the school.

Walker, who joined the school’s board last year, said that while he knew parents and students were upset, “they’ll probably thank us later that they went to a better school…we should have had a consultant to help with demographics, with academics.”

Still, he said, two and a half years seems to him like a short period of time to establish a new school.

Academic and social challenges It’s considered bad luck to walk on the Sims-Fayola insignia.

In 2013-14, just 31 percent of Sims-Fayola students scored proficient or advanced in reading and fewer than 15 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math on state tests. The school’s growth scores were better, but in its second year, Sims-Fayola still earned the lowest rating on Denver’s school performance framework.

Some students took that low rating to heart. “We didn’t realize that what we were doing was causing our school to be destroyed,” said one eighth grader.

But Blair-Minter said the school’s teachers weren’t sufficiently trained in project-based learning, part of the school’s model, or in the kinds of classroom management or academic strategies that would have been most effective for the students, most of whom came into the school behind grade level. She said a too-long school day, too little time for gym and fresh air, and an irregular schedule were burning out teachers and students.

Rebecca Sanders, a high school social studies teacher who has been with the school for two years, agreed.

“It wasn’t just one thing. We had new teachers who weren’t quite sure how to teach…and there was a lack of consistency about expectations and when we were observed,” she said. “Some of us pushed the kids and some took it to mean I could show a movie every day.”

“Students saw that,” Sanders said.

Jarion Hamm, a junior, said some teachers seemed afraid of the students. “We had some great teachers. But nothing was consistent,” he said. “There was a lot of childishness.”

Other parts of the school’s program also never came to fruition. Just two students went on an international trip initially intended for an entire class.

Sanders said that she thought that given more time and Blair-Minter’s leadership, the school could have been improved. “They are very loving, thoughtful, compassionate kids who deserve better than this, who deserve a better future.”

But now that the closing is imminent, the focus has shifted from stabilizing the school to preparing to close up shop and transition students to new schools.

Students are going to more than 20 schools throughout the metro area. Juniors, who will have just one year in their new schools, got special attention.

But many of the students still have a fierce sense of school pride, and frustration at what they say is a false perception, influenced by a few misbehaving boys, that all of the school’s students are “thugs in suits.”

“We weren’t just a bunch of well-dressed hooligans,”said junior Angel Magana, a founding freshmen. “We were a family.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco union sues school board

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 09:04

Shot in the arm

The State Board of Health voted unanimously today to approve rules that would require parents to submit non-medical exemption forms opting children out of immunizations more frequently to schools and child care facilities. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

girl power

GALS, a Denver all-girls charter school, will be opening a second school in Los Angeles in 2016. The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved the school this week. ( LA Times )

Contract contretemps

The Jefferson County Education Association has taken a page from the Greeley Education Association and filed suit against its district during the height of contract negotiations. ( Complete Colorado )

Dome doings

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing tizzy

A state representative from Salida is worried that if fellow lawmakers draw lines in the sand on this issue, this year’s efforts to reduce the number of tests students have to endure may go for naught. ( Colorado Statesman )

Pony up

Snowmass Village, which accounts for almost 20 percent, or 299, of Aspen School District students, was this week asked by a contingent of administrators and school board members to significantly increase its contribution to local school funding. ( Aspen Daily News )

baleful math lesson

An agriculture education teacher has teamed with a math teacher in rural Oak Creek, teaching to Common Core math standards by having students build an octagonal steel bale feeder. ( KUNC/CPR )

parental largesse

Denver's East High School is getting a revamped college counseling center after parents raised $500,000 to pay for the project, much of it from CU President Bruce Benson and his daughter, Ann Reidy, whose children attend the school. ( 9News )

Boulder moves

The Boulder Valley School District has filled eight of its 10 open principal positions, including hiring Creekside Elementary's James Hill as the next principal at Boulder High School. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

When it comes to the profitable world of student data mining, Colorado lives up to its Wild West reputation, an op-ed writer says. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

“Diploma protection” bill jumps first hurdle

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 21:17

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would prohibit state colleges and universities from discriminating against applicants who earn high school diplomas from districts that have low ratings or aren’t accredited by the state.

The measure, House Bill 15-1326, is being pushed by lawmakers whose legislative districts include low-performing school districts that face state intervention, including loss of accreditation, in 2016. (Get background on the process in this story and in Chalkbeat’s accreditation timeline.)

This bill is one sign of the rising anxiety about the state’s five-year accountability clock. One of the proposed testing measures, House Bill 15-1323, would designate 2015-16 as “timeout” year for the clock.

Loss of district accreditation could affect college applicants’ “ability to apply for scholarships, get financial aid or even be admitted,” said prime sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “To me this is an issue of fundamental fairness.”

Both Moreno and cosponsor Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, acknowledged that colleges don’t necessarily consider accreditation when reviewing applications. But Esgar said, “We’re putting this in as a safety net.”

Kiera Hatton, the mother of an 8th grader in the Pueblo 60 schools, supported the bill and said she’s moving her daughter to another district because of uncertainty about the district’s future accreditation. “We will have a lost generation of Pueblo kids, and we will have families leaving.”

Pueblo 60 is in Esgar’s district, and the Adams 14 district is in Moreno’s. Six other districts are in the same situation.

The bill applies only to state colleges and universities, not private colleges or out-of-state schools.

The bill passed to the House floor on a 9-2 vote.

House Ed runs out of time on other bills

The main act for Wednesday’s late-morning House Education session was supposed to be Senate Bill 15-173, the proposal to set security and privacy requirements for data vendors who work with school districts.

The bill left the Senate with some unresolved issues (see story), but the committee didn’t get to amendments or even finish public testimony. Because House floor work dragged on Wednesday, the committee didn’t get started until nearly 11:30 a.m. and had to vacate the hearing room by 1:30 p.m. for another committee.

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, delayed additional testimony until a special meeting sometime Friday. Buckner was startled when prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, announced, “I actually won’t be in the state on Friday afternoon.”

Buckner said that means action on the bill won’t come until next week. “That would have been really great information for me to have this morning,” Buckner said sternly to Pabon about his absence.

The committee also had to delay consideration of House Bill 15-1339, which makes important changes in district financial transparency reporting, and House Bill 15-1273, which seeks to improve compilation and reporting of dangerous incidents at schools.

For the record

It’s the time of year when multiple education bills are on the move – or being killed – daily, so here’s a quick rundown of what else happened Wednesday. Also check the Education Bill Tracker for updates on other bills of interest to you.

American Indian mascots – The House gave 33-32 approval to House Bill 15-1165, which would require state approval for school use of American Indian mascots and logos. This measure has little or no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate (get background here).

Truancy – Senate Bill 15-184, a watered-down version of a measure originally intended to end jailing of truant students, passed the Senate 31-4 (get background here).

Teacher evaluations – The Senate Education Committee voted 9-0 to kill Senate Bill 15-003, which would have eliminated the use of student academic growth in teacher evaluations. The bill was largely a symbolic statement by Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs – he joined the vote to kill the bill. More modest changes to teacher evaluation are contained in Senate Bill 15-257, of which Merrifield is a cosponsor.

Categories: Urban School News

Health board votes to toughen rules for opting kids out of immunizations

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 16:00

The State Board of Health voted unanimously today to approve rules that would require parents to submit non-medical exemption forms opting children out of immunizations more frequently to schools and child care facilities.

The change, which will take effect July 1, 2016, requires parents of K-12 children to submit personal belief or religious exemption forms annually and parents of younger children to submit the forms up to five times prior to kindergarten. (See this story for more background.)

A related provision meant to reduce the paperwork burden on schools will create an online exemption form that parents can submit directly to the state health department.

Currently parents have to submit an exemption form just once during their children’s schooling.

Health department officials say the more stringent requirements, which are still far from the strictest in the country, will help reduce exemptions claimed out of convenience rather than conviction and help push down Colorado’s higher-then-average immunization exemption rates.

Today’s hearing comes about a year after the state legislature passed House Bill 14-1288, which required schools to release immunization and exemption rates upon request and assigned the Board of Health to examine the exemption frequency issue.

The vote took place after a public comment session that featured a number of speakers who expressed strong support for the change, several who opposed the change, and several who said they wished the rules made it even harder to claim exemptions.

In the brief discussion that followed public comment, some board members agreed that the rules need to be even tougher, but said the change strikes a balance between two extremes.

“I am concerned that it doesn’t go far enough, but I do think it is a good first step,” said Board Member Jill Hunsaker-Ryan.

In addition to the exemption frequency rule, the Board of Health approved a plan to create a public database of immunization and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and child care facilities. That database represents a major expansion of the work Chalkbeat Colorado started in February when it published a first-of-its-kind database of immunization compliance and exemption rates for more than 400 schools in the state’s 20 largest districts.

The state’s database, expected in the 2016-17 school year, will create a standardized system for reporting school immunization rates, and set an annual Dec. 1 deadline for districts to report their data to the state. Since such a reporting deadline doesn’t currently exist, Chalkbeat’s database included rates that were compiled at all different times during the school year.

Finally, the rule changes approved today include an overview of a new online immunization module that’s being created by the state for parents who want more information. The module will include information on vaccine benefits and risks, vaccine safety, Colorado immunization rates, vaccination schedules, and a video on how vaccines work.

At least two public commenters argued that the module should include information on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which provides financial compensation to people hurt by vaccines. After the public comment period, state officials said that was a reasonable suggestion and information on the topic would be added.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Social studies, science test briefly put on hold after technical difficulties

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 09:57

Mo money mo problems

Colorado superintendents are likely to be disappointed after reading the recently introduced School Finance Act. Schools are likely to only see a marginal increase in funding this year — about $25 million, not the $70 million they hoped for. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

Colorado's social studies and science standardized tests were put on hold for about four hours yesterday at some schools due to a technology problems. ( Denver Post, 9News, CPR )

One Colorado Springs teacher said Tuesday's technology hiccup was emblematic of the intrusion testing has on classroom instruction. ( Gazette )

Meanwhile, teachers guilty of cheating on Georgia's state standardized tests are going to prison, a judge decided Tuesday. ( New York Times )

Capitol Report

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Here's a closer look at a pair of senate bills dealing with violence and mental health in schools that received initial approval Monday. ( Denver Post )

No room at the Inn

Aurora Public Schools is running out of room. And officials hope a better economy could lead to more buildings. ( 9News )

Get it? "Gearing" up

Coronado High School’s robotics team is gearing up for a world championship competition held in St. Louis, Mo. ( Gazette )

Stepping up

Adams County parents and community members interested in understanding how a school district works will get their chance by participating in the Adams 12 Five Star Leadership Academy. ( Adams County Sentinel )

on the stump

Likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush endorsed the reform efforts in Douglas County during a campaign stop near Denver. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Human Resources

The new Greeley-Evans superintendent Deirdre Pilch will earn $198,000 in her first year. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

House committee endorses “pay for success” bill

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 20:55

The House Finance Committee Tuesday voted 13-0 to advance a bill that would allow the state to craft “pay for success” plans.

House Bill 15-1317 would enable the state to launch such pay for success programs through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. Funders would be repaid if those programs produced savings in other government services but would have to absorb their costs if programs didn’t produce results.

A oft-cited example of such programs is private funding for quality early-childhood education. The hoped-for savings would come in remedial and special education costs after those children enter school.

“We need to be careful with taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver and one of the bipartisan measure’s prime sponsors. “It shifts the risk from the taxpayers to those individual investors.”

Testimony at the hearing featured endorsements from witnesses representing groups like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Gary Community Investments, Colorado Concern, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.

A similar measure died in the closing days of the 2014 legislative session, but sponsors feel they have a better chance this year. See this article for more background on the bill.

Senate strips main element from truancy bill

Sen. Chris Holbert’s imaginative plan to end jailing of truant students who defy court orders to stay in school ran aground on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

As introduced by the Parker Republican and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Senate Bill 15-184 would have shifted truancy cases from district courts to the Office of Administrative Courts, whose judges don’t have the power to jail people.

Administrative judges typically handle licensing, workers’ comp and teacher firing cases, among other matters. (Get more background on the original bill here.)

School districts now can take truant students to court, and a student can be sent to juvenile detention for contempt if he or she refuses to return to school.

Holbert and Fields want to end such jailing.

“This bill is a step right now to say that zero kids will go to jail because of truancy,” Holbert said on the floor Tuesday.

The idea of using administrative judges first ran into polite opposition at a mid-March hearing of the Senate Education Committee. Justice Brian Boatright of the Colorado Supreme Court and other judges testified about innovative steps already being taken by many courts to deal with truancy.

Some committee members wanted to replace Holbert’s idea with an amendment basically calling on the courts to review truancy policies and continue working on new methods to deal with the problem.

Holbert was able to hold off changes in the education panel and in another committee. But on Tuesday a big coalition of Republicans and Democrats passed a floor amendment to keep truancy cases in the regular courts.

The sponsor wasn’t fazed. Holbert noted that he’d earlier promised, “If I didn’t have the votes I would stand by the will of the body.”

He said he hopes the amended bill goes to the governor’s desk but vowed, “If that number [of jailed students] doesn’t go down to zero I’ll be back with Senate Bill 16-something. Ending the practice of sending kids to jail for truancy is the right cause.”

Sponsor scrambles to save Indian mascots bill

Final floor votes on bills are usually routine, given that members have expended all their rhetoric during preliminary consideration and that sponsors presumably have lined up their votes.

Lamar High School Savages logo

But things didn’t go according to the script on Tuesday when the House prepared to vote on House Bill 15-1165, the Indian mascots bill. (Learn more about the bill and Monday’s preliminary debate here.)

During Monday’s debate bill opponents criticized the bill’s proposed heavy fines for schools that refuse to change offensive Indian mascot names.

On Tuesday prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, offered an olive branch on that issue, saying, “I’m happy to talk with our Senate sponsor about pulling back on that fine.”

But Salazar faced a new problem after Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, came to the microphone to say he couldn’t support the bill and that decisions to change mascot names should be made locally. Vigil’s district includes the La Veta Redskins and the Sanford Indians.

With Vigil a no and a second Democrat excused, Salazar didn’t have the 33 Democratic votes he needed to pass the bill, so a final vote was delayed until Wednesday.

Bill to improve awareness about child sexual assault advances

The Senate Monday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

Sen. Linda Newell has shepherded the bill through three Senate committees since late January. The Littleton Democrat is an advocate on mental health and abuse issues and argues the bill is needed to give school staff greater awareness of child sexual abuse and enable them to better help victims.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado schools likely won’t see big increase in revenue as once hoped

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 17:45

It’s become increasingly apparent in recent weeks that the state’s schools would receive only a modest funding increase next year, and that fact was underlined with Tuesday’s introduction of the annual school finance bill.

The measure proposes only a $25 million reduction in the state’s school funding shortfall, commonly known as the negative factor. The shortfall currently is about $880 million.

“That’s our starting point,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. She’s the House prime sponsor and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The $25 million is a far cry from the $200 million one-year cut in the negative factor originally proposed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It’s also far below the additional $70 million urged by the state’s superintendents for at-risk students and rural districts.

The bill would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion next year, up from $5.93 million in the current school year. (Total program is the combination of state and local revenues used to fund basic classroom and administrative functions.)

Senate Bill 15-267 was introduced late Monday and is the second piece of legislation needed to provide annual school funding. Base support, including constitutionally required increases to cover inflation and enrollment growth, is contained in the annual state budget, Senate Bill 15-254.

In past years the school finance bill has been used to enrich school funding beyond the amount in the state budget, but it doesn’t look like that will happen this year.

Hopes for a bigger cut in the negative factor have been blighted by the state’s paradoxical financial situation. A healthy economy is driving higher state tax collections and other revenues, but that income has pushed the state above the annual spending limit imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. That triggers refunds to taxpayers.

Introduction of the finance bill disappointed but didn’t surprise education interest groups. Some lobbyists feel schools are lucky to get the $25 million while others want the legislature to try to do more for districts.

Hamner said she hopes some additional funds can be found so “we can do some one-time spending” on education needs. “There could be some changes,” she said, acknowledging that the bill probably won’t see any big increases.

The legislature has some options for freeing up revenue that could be used for schools, but the odds of that happening may be long, given that only three weeks remain in the 2015 session.

Both tax collections and income from various fees drive state revenues above the TABOR limit. One large source of cash funds called the hospital provider fee generates money for Medicaid programs. There’s been talk of redefining those revenues so that they don’t count in the TABOR formula, but no such bill has been introduced yet.

“There are still pieces in motion that could affect” school finance, Hamner said.

See the link on this page for a spreadsheet listing how SB 15-267 would affect individual school districts. Read the bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Families rally at Denver school after weapons incident

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/14/2015 - 09:51

Showing Support

Parents rallied at Skinner Middle School to support the school after several students were found with weapons late last week. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Hard topics

A bill involving school districts' liability for school violence moved forward in the state legislature. ( 9News, AP via Aurora Sentinel, Denver Post )

What next?

The House Education Committee is in the process of developing a testing bill that looks to be different than proposals in the Senate. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Testing, testing: PARCC released its parent score sheet. Chalkbeat wants to know if you think it's accessible for parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Still it lingers

Oklahoma has repealed the Common Core, but after several years of training many teachers still use some Common Core-inspired strategies. ( Hechinger Report )

Two cents

A Michigan teacher writes that she is opting her own child out of the standardized tests in her state. ( Education Week )

ESEA redux

In Washington, senators are beginning to work out the details of the new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ( KUNC )


It turns out MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - haven't destroyed higher education as we know it. ( KUNC )

How DO they get well soon?

The state announced this year's selection for One Book 4 Colorado, a program that distributes books to the families of four-year-olds. This year's choice: "How do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?" ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

House panel loads lots of changes onto testing bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 21:26

The House Education Committee Monday added key amendments to a proposed testing bill, including language that would keep ninth grade language arts and math tests as part of the state assessment system.

The measure, House Bill 15-1323, was sent to the House Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan 9-2 vote, with only Republican Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Paul Lundeen of Monument opposed.

In addition to the ninth grade testing amendment, other notable changes include:

  • A provision that would freeze the state rating system for schools and districts for the 2015-16 school year, a nod to concerns that results from the new tests given this spring will come too late and will be skewed by student opt-out numbers, making them unreliable to be used for accreditation. The amendment passed 8-3.
  • A related amendment that forbids school districts from using student achievement data derived from state test results for teacher evaluations. Districts could continue using locally generated growth data. Districts have had flexibility this school year in using student growth for evaluations, and the amendment would apply to next school year. It passed 6-5.
  • A change to the original bill making social studies tests optional for districts. That amendment passed 8-3.

The committee killed two amendments that would have given districts the ability to choose among multiple tests to fulfill state requirements. A related amendment that would have required the state to pull out of the Common Core State Standards and create new content standards was ruled out of order.

Approval of nine amendments was a political compromise to get the bill out of committee. The amendments cater to the desires of individual members and of education interest groups. And no one expects the committee vote is the last word on testing.

“I understand this is not the perfect bill, nor do I think we will see one,” said Salida Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a prime sponsor of the measure. The other cosponsor is Aurora Democrat Rep. John Buckner, who is chair of House Education.

“We do anticipate there will be continued discussion as this bill goes forward,” Buckner said.

The Senate Education Committee last Thursday passed its own bipartisan testing bill – plus two others (see story). While the main Senate and House bills share some elements, there also are significant differences.

Lundeen, the former chair of the State Board of Education and a dissenter on many of the amendments, warned, “There is a very different version that’s coming from the Senate” and that “the lifting ahead of us remains incredibly heavy.”

A total of 34 amendments to HB 15-1323 were drafted, but not all were offered. Nine passed, two were defeated and three were withdrawn or died for procedural reasons.

Other amendments that were approved would allow limited district pilot programs for new testing and accountability systems, would exempt some immigrant students from testing during their first year in school, require districts to prepare comprehensive testing calendars for parents, and allow paper tests.

Additional elements of the original bill, none of which were discussed Monday, would ban mandatory states tests in the 11th and 12th grades (except for the ACT test), increase the number of years in which non-English speaking students could take tests in their native language and streamline several requirements of the READ Act early literacy program and of state school readiness assessments.

The committee took testimony on the bill a week ago (see story). Several witnesses representing education reform and business groups urged the committee to continue ninth grade testing.

“I am committed to seeing that we get something through the process,” Wilson said Monday, adding that the “absolute worst thing” is if the legislature passes no testing bill this session.

See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for links to details about all 11 of the assessment bills introduced so far this session.

Committee passes bill to change district liability for violent incidents

Many education lobbyists Monday afternoon were paying more attention to the Senate Judiciary Committee than they were to House Education.

That’s because the Senate panel was considering two school violence bills, one of which would open districts to financial liability if they fail to exercise “reasonable care” in protecting students from violent incidents (see bill summary). Current state law generally gives government agencies immunity from such lawsuits.

The bill stems from the December 2013 death of Claire Davis, a student who died after a shooting at Arapahoe High School. Her family feels the district has not been forthcoming in in providing information about the incident, and her parents, Michael and Desiree Davis, provided emotional testimony at Monday’s hearing.

School districts are concerned that it’s difficult to define “reasonable care,” and that passage of the bill could lead to such unintended consequences as schools expelling students who might even remotely be considered threats.

Senate Judiciary approved some amendments to soften the bill, including removing a section that would have made the measure retroactive. The bill passed 4-1.

School district lobbyists face a tricky task working against SB 15-213, given that among the prime sponsors are Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

The committee also voted 5-0 to pass Senate Bill 15-214, which would establish a legislative study committee to look into school violence and youth mental health issues.

American Indian mascot bill gets preliminary floor approval

A bill that would require schools to get permission to use American Indian mascots and images received preliminary approval from the House after a spirited partisan debate Monday.

“We are trying to protect children,” said prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton. “The psychological effect on American Indian children” is negative when they see mascot names such as “Savages” and “Redskins,” he said.

House Bill 15-1165 would create a “Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools” in the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. All schools and colleges with Indian mascots would have to notify the subcommittee of such uses by Sept. 15 and stop using a mascot by Oct. 1 or request subcommittee approval for continued use.

If the subcommittee doesn’t approve a mascot, a school would have two years to discontinue use. A school that didn’t stop using a mascot could be fined $25,000 a month.

Republican critics of the bill argued that changing offensive mascot names should be handled at the local level and that the proposed fines and the cost of repainting gym floors and buying new uniforms would be prohibitive for small school districts.

But prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, argued that the state needs to have a say because “there are communities that refuse to change.”

The other prime sponsor, Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora, told House members, “Think about being called a savage, think about being called a redskin. This is about fairness, this is about respect.”

Rep. Don Corum, R-Montrose, said, “I’m not sure that everyone who is Native American feels redskin is offensive.” Corum’s district includes the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation.

The original bill included funding to help districts pay the cost of changing mascots, but that was stripped in the House Appropriations Committee. The House could take a final roll-call vote as early as Tuesday. The bill’s chances are iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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

What do you think: Is the PARCC score sheet for parents user-friendly?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 14:58

On Friday the testing consortium PARCC, which Colorado is a part of, released a sample of the report parents will receive with their student’s results.

PARCC is responsible for creating, launching, and scoring the state’s new online standardized tests, which students are taking this spring.

Here is what parents will see to tell them how their kid did on the new tests:

You can click on the document to enlarge it. You can also see other examples and a FAQ here.

One of the promises of PARCC was to provide more meaningful information to parents, students and teachers about what students are learning.

That brings us to our question of the week:


Powered by Typeform

For comparison, here’s a look at what parents received from the state’s previous standardized test the TCAP:

Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Districts rethink how to support popular dual language programs

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 09:42

Healthy schools

Colorado parents who want to opt their children out of immunizations may have a little extra work soon. The State Board of Health is considering a policy change that would require parents to submit opt out paperwork each year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Second thoughts on a second language

Metro-area school districts are considering how to keep up with the demand for dual language programs. ( Denver Post )

Testing madness

State Sens. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Chris Holbert, R-Parker, took to the airwaves this weekend to share their different visions for a path to reduce the testing burden. ( 9News )

Speaking Up

Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly told us they believe parent engagement matters to a student's education, despite what a new study found. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

safe schools

Students of color are still being suspended and expelled at a higher rate than their white peers in Colorado schools, according to a report from Padres y Jovenes Unidos. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Three students were taken into custody after police say two guns were found on the campus of Skinner Middle School in Denver Friday morning. ( 9news, CPR )

School violence

A bill that would make Colorado schools liable for shootings faces its first test Monday at the General Assembly. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Pay Day

Denver Public Schools and its teachers union are still at odds over how to update ProComp, the taxpayer approved pay incentive program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Location, location, location

Pikes Peak Community College is relocating its campus east of Colorado Springs closer to Falcon School District 49. It will also add courses in the fall geared toward high school students. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How students took over the opt-out movement

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 17:11
  • The push to opt out of standardized tests began as a point of protest for parents, but ended up as a student-led movement. (The Atlantic)
  • Why Common Core math is like baking: learning a series of calculations like steps in a recipe doesn’t always help you understand why the ingredients work the way they do. (Vox)
  • New York City charter network Success Academy’s devotion to test preparation has in part led to results that far outpace citywide averages on state exams. But the charter-school network’s methods and culture are not for everyone. (New York Times)
  • On the fiftieth anniversary of the legislation that became No Child Left Behind, which greatly expanded the federal role in education, a look at how far education policy has moved away from Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty goals. (The Atlantic)
  • By age 2 1/2, the achievement gap between Mexican-American children born in the U.S. and white children is up to five months when it comes to vocabulary and pre-literacy skills. (NPR)
  • By approaching school discipline through helping students cope with trauma, schools can catch the problem before it results in a suspension or expulsion. (Hechinger Report)
  • Most teachers who cheat on standardized tests never get caught, and those who do rarely face consequences as severe as those who will serve prison time in Atlanta. (Marshall Project)
  • Testing critics who argue that high-profile families like the Obamas have opted out of high-stakes testing by sending students to private schools often ignore that those schools require standardized tests for admission. (Education Post)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Heck yes, parent engagement matters to student learning

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 17:00

On Monday, we asked our readers if parent engagement matters in a child’s education.

Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly said that it does.

Our readers’ opinions diverge from the findings of a recent study suggesting that most parent engagement does not affect academic achievement.

Teacher Mark Sass left this comment on our website:

What type of parental involvement is the key. Internationally data suggests that parental involvement at the school has little impact–involvement like volunteering for recess duty, or working in the library. But parental involvement at home does impact student learning. Ensuring a quiet place to study; asking students about their studies; reading with their students. That works.

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Check back Monday for a new question!


Categories: Urban School News

Report: Students of color still more likely to face harsh discipline in Colorado schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 16:23

Harsh disciplinary actions were less common in Colorado schools during the 2013-14 school year than in previous ones, according to a report released by Padres y Jóvenes Unidos today.

But black, Native American, and Latino students were still significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, or referred to law enforcement than their white peers.

The reports examine the impact of the 2012 Smart School Discipline Law, which rolled back zero tolerance policies and increased data collection related to discipline incidents. Padres advocated for the state law and for a number of changes to school discipline policies in Denver in recent years as part of an effort to curb rules it said were racially discriminatory and pushing students out of school.

This is the second such report by the advocacy group focused on equity in schools.

Padres says the report aims to help “uncover promising practices and examples of effective educational accountability while … highlighting the numerous ares for improvement and the deeper systemic issues that still need to be addressed.”

The report describes state trends as promising.

Colorado’s out-of-school suspension rate fell 7 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years. Rates of expulsion and referrals to law-enforcement fell 15 percent apiece. Since the passage of the 2012 law, suspension rates statewide are down 17 percent, expulsion rates down 36 percent, and referrals to law enforcement down 23 percent.

Denver, Cherry Creek, and Jefferson County schools led the way in the decrease in out-of-school suspensions between 2009 and the present. In Denver, 9,567 students received an out-of-school suspension in 2009, compared to 6,328 in 2013-14. Denver and Jefferson County were also the two districts with the largest reductions in expulsions.

But in most of the state’s districts, white students were still less likely to be subject to harsh discipline than black, Native American, and Latino students. In some cases, the disparity between white students and students of color has actually grown since 2012.

Padres calculated an “inequitable discipline risk indicator” to highlight how much more likely students of color were to receive a harsh disciplinary action than a white student. Aspen, Bayfield, Steamboat Springs, Denver, and Animas were the districts with the largest disparities.

The disparities are not uniform across the state. In 89 districts, for instance, students of color are not more likely than white peers to be expelled, suspended, or referred to law enforcement.

The move toward more lenient discipline policies has not been without complications. Last month, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association told the district’s board that lack of consistency and training in alternative discipline approaches such as restorative justice are leading to disorder in classrooms and stress for teachers.

DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1815319-discipline-report-card-2015' });
Categories: Urban School News

How Colorado parents opt kids out of immunizations could soon change

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:45

Parents might have to work a little harder to opt their children out of required immunizations if the State Board of Health approves a set of policy changes on Wednesday.

Currently, parents can submit a “personal belief” or religious exemption form just once during their child’s K-12 schooling. If the new rules pass, parents would have to submit those exemption forms annually.

The rule changes also include a provision for a new public database of immunization and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and childcare facilities.

Such a database would be a significant expansion of the work Chalkbeat Colorado began in February by publishing a first-of-its-kind immunization database for schools in the state’s 20 largest districts.

State health department officials said the database amendment was a last-minute addition that came in response to feedback from stakeholders during the last two months. A state law passed last year — House Bill 14-1288 — requires schools to release immunization and exemption rates upon request.

That law doesn’t specify that the health department collect the data, but officials there believe it’s within the department’s broader legal authority as long as the Board of Health approves the plan.

Advocates of the new exemption requirements and database which would take effect in  2016, say they could help push down exemption rates and better inform the public about communicable disease risk in their communities.

Last year, about 4.6 percent of the state’s kindergarteners — around 3,000 — had “personal belief” exemptions from some or all shots.

At individual schools, those rates vary wildly. More than 140 schools in Chalkbeat’s database posted exemption rates of 10 percent or more and several had exemption rates higher than 30 percent.

It’s those schools that worry public health experts most.

That’s because exemption rates of 10 percent or higher can threaten herd immunity, which offers protection against disease outbreaks. Herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent.

Toughening exemption rules…a little

Colorado currently has one of the most lenient personal belief exemption policies in the country.

To qualify for such exemptions parents simply sign a form on a one-time basis. In contrast, many of the other 19 states that allow philosophical or personal belief exemptions make the process tougher.

Some, such as Arkansas, require parents to submit notarized documents every year. Others, such as Washington and Michigan, require that parents be briefed by doctors or county health workers one or more times during the K-12 years.

Childhood vaccination rates in Colorado and the nation | Create infographics

Advocates of the exemption frequency rule say it will require parents who exempt to put forth a similar level of effort as parents who vaccinate — a tenet know as “equal effort.” 

“It should not be easier to exempt your child than to vaccinate your child,” said Rachel Herlihy, acting director of the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Under the proposed change, the increased number of times parents must submit paperwork aligns with the childhood schedule for doctor visits. While parents of school-age children would have to submit the forms annually, parents of younger children would have to submit the forms at any point new shots are required — up to five times before kindergarten.

Better data versus extra red tape

Proponents of the new rule also say increasing exemption frequency could also yield more accurate data. For example, when family circumstances change — say a hesitant parent later decides to vaccinate — the decision is recorded and the outdated exemption is removed.

Opponents worry the provision will heap new administrative work on already stretched schools and child care providers. One large district that is speaking out is the Boulder Valley School District, which has a districtwide exemption rate of 12 percent. In a letter to the state board, the district’s director of health services calls the new requirement an unfunded mandate.

But districts like Greeley-Evans, where school exemption rates range from 1 to 13 percent, have fewer concerns about extra work.

“It would put a burden on us…but it wouldn’t be a lot,” said Lead nurse Maribeth Appelhans.

Opponents of the frequency rule also worry that it amounts to government interference in carefully considered health care decisions.

“We believe it should, like any other medical decision, rest in the hands of the people who are taking the risk,” said Theresa Wrangham, executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, a group opposed to vaccination mandates.

Besides worrying about new administrative burdens on schools, she has concerns about data privacy since the new exemption rule would shift from the current paper exemption form collected by schools to a new online exemption form that would go to the state health department.

“My concern is it’s not [the health department’s] job,” she said. “The law says the schools gather it… It’s information they should be handling and protecting.”

Combatting convenience exemptions

One amorphous group that comes up often in immunization discussions are parents who choose “personal belief” exemptions for convenience rather than strongly held convictions.

These might be frenzied parents who aren’t particularly worried about the risks of vaccinations, but signed the exemption form because it was quicker than searching for lost paperwork or scheduling last-minute doctors appointments.

The state health department has no firm data on convenience exemptions, but both advocates and opponents of the rule changes say they’ve heard anecdotal accounts of school staff offering parents the exemption option if their immunization paperwork is missing or incomplete.

“That’s a school problem, not a parent problem,” Wrangham said. “We need to revisit how school personnel are trained.”

But Appelhans said while some district staff may have taken such shortcuts years ago, they don’t anymore. Health clerks, and even substitute health clerks, now receive comprehensive training about immunization rules, she said.

While Wrangham doesn’t believe the rule change will reduce Colorado’s exemption rates, Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, does. 

“Other states that have…common sense parameters around how parents can claim an exemption get much more meaningful, accurate data…in terms of getting rid of the convenience factor,” she said.

She doesn’t expect the rule to affect the decisions of parents who have strongly held beliefs about vaccinations, but thinks it could impact parents who are “fence-sitters.”

A missing conversation

Regardless of what happens at the Board of Health meeting, some observers say immunization advocates need to look at how they communicate with parents who are hesitant about vaccines.

Jennifer Reich, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver, has studied how parents make vaccination decisions and found that those who opt out see it solely as an individual choice with little or no health impact on the broader community.

“The problem is that’s just not how vaccines and illness work,” she said.

Still, she said most messaging about immunization doesn’t focus on community benefits.

“We don’t talk about vaccination like that,” said Reich, who will publish a book about vaccine decision-making in 2016. “Most parents didn’t recognize the problem of free-riding.”

Even among parents who fully vaccinate, 25 percent have concerns about the standard immunization schedule, she said.

“I’m wondering more broadly how we haven’t succeeded in communicating science in a way parents can trust.”

Proposed changes DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1808905-boh-rules-change-package-2' });
Categories: Urban School News

Denver teacher incentive negotiations stalled for another week

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:02

Negotiations between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association about adjustments to ProComp, the district’s 10-year-old taxpayer-funded teacher incentive pay system, stalled again Thursday.

The union and district officials have not reached an agreement about how much needs to change in this round of negotiations, which was initially aimed at extending and tweaking the current ProComp system before a larger redesign of the program later this year.

In March, district officials proposed a set of changes that include shifting more bonus money to teachers in high-needs and hard-to-serve schools, tying one incentive to teachers’ evaluation score instead of directly to test scores, and altering several other incentives to reflect changes to the state’s new standardized tests.

This week, the teachers union proposed that the current incentive structure remain largely intact until the larger redesign work starts later this fall, with the exception of some adjustments due the switch in assessments. It also proposed that the union’s contract with the district be extended until 2019. The proposal suggests that additional funds for teachers in high-needs schools come from a pot of money the district might have if a bill currently being considered in the state legislature passes.

A study group this fall recommended that the ProComp should tie incentives to teachers’ career progression, be simpler and easier to understand, and that the next agreement should increase incentives for teachers in high-needs schools. In a report released in January, the district said that it had found the current incentives are not attracting and retaining teachers, especially in high-needs schools.

Union officials say they are expecting information from a laundry list of data requests to the district about who would be affected by the changes early next week.

The district and union plan to meet again next week. This is the first round of bargaining sessions between the district and union that is open to the public, after a state law requiring open meetings was approved by voters last fall.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo talks innovation zone with State Board

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:54

Testing madness

The Senate Education committee passed three bills late Thursday evening, including one that would require Colorado to drop the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams. But the fact remains that no one knows what the final compromise on testing reduction looks like. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One of the bills the Senate committee passed was Republican Owen Hill's and Democrat Mike Merrifield's more conservative Senate Bill 257. ( Denver Post )

The marathon of testing bills drew an anti-testing crowd from Colorado Springs up to Denver. ( Gazette )

As the testing debate rages at the Capitol, education officials in several states and Washington D.C. are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to manage the increase in students opting out of state tests within current policies. ( Education Week via Huffington Post )

Turnaround Talks

Pueblo City Schools, one of the state's lowest performing districts, pitched the idea of creating an innovation zone to the State Board of Education as a strategy to improve its schools. ( Pueblo Chieftain, KRDO )

An Aurora Central High School alum wonders why Aurora Public Schools hasn't done much to improve the school "until the 11th hour." ( Aurora Sentinel )

The sound of music

Coloradans donated more than 1,000 musical instruments and $60,000 to repair some of them. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education Committee advances three testing bills

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 01:26

Two major and significantly different testing bills were approved late Thursday evening by the Senate Education Committee, continuing the uncertainty about where lawmakers are headed on the 2015 session’s top education issue.

The two bills emerged from the panel after a drawn-out hearing that featured nearly six hours of witness testimony and another three hours of committee deliberation, including votes on long lists of amendments.

Senate Bill 15-233 passed on a 5-4 party-line vote, with majority Republicans supporting the measure. Given that it has an $8.4 million price tag, the bill has to be considered next by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Republican-sponsored bill would pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, reduce the number of tests and temporarily revert to old standards and tests until new state standards and tests are adopted. It would also reduce from 50 percent to 15 percent the proportion of an educator’s evaluation that has to be based on student academic growth data.

Senate Bill 15-257 was approved on a 8-1 bipartisan vote, with only Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, voting no. It also goes to the appropriations committee.

Key elements of that second measure include the cutting of state testing to one set of language arts and math tests in high school plus the ACT test, flexibility for districts to use their own tests, the creation of district pilot programs to develop new accountability and assessment systems, the streamlining of early literacy and school readiness assessments and the extension of flexibility for districts in use of student growth data to evaluate teachers.

(Get details on these bills and all other 2015 assessment bills in the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this article.)

The committee’s votes basically kick the final Senate decision on testing down the road. With fewer than 30 days left in the legislative session, SB 15-233 isn’t likely to advance much further, given that it’s probably not acceptable to the Democratic-majority House or to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the House is working on its own testing bill, which proposes even fewer changes than SB 15-257. The House Education Committee heard testimony on a single assessment bill, House Bill 15-1323, on Monday but took no action (see story). The panel is scheduled to take another crack at that bill next Monday.

Testing has proven to be a tough issue for lawmakers, with disagreement both between the House and Senate and within the party caucuses. Legislators also have been subjected to a lot of lobbying, with teachers, districts and some parent groups pushing for significant reforms in the testing system while education reform and some business groups want fewer changes.

For good measure, Senate Education also passed a third testing bill Thursday night, Senate Bill 15-056. It would change the system of social studies tests. The bill passed 9-0, but its future also is uncertain.

One testing bill was killed. Senate Bill 15-073 generally would have reduced state standardized assessments to the minimums required by the federal government and made changes in READ Act and school readiness assessments. It was postponed indefinitely at the request of the sponsor, Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs. He said many of its provisions were covered by SB 15-257.

The hearing provided a full-blown airing of the wide range of deeply held views people hold on testing, from parent Lily Tang Williams, who said, “Common Core is communism,” to Leslie Cowell of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, who said, “I urge you to stay the course on Colorado’s standards and aligned assessments.”

Individual witnesses – there were 47 — included parents, teachers, interest group representatives, business lobbyists, district administrators and more. Testimony was hard to follow at times as different witnesses spoke about different bills.

Representatives of such activist groups as the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Denver Alliance for Public Education, Stop Common Core Colorado and Seeking Equity and Excellence for Kids urged the legislators to reduce state testing and withdraw from Common Core and PARCC.

Some of those testing critics made pointed references to philanthropist Bill Gates and to his funding of education reform efforts, including Colorado advocacy groups.

Speakers representing the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Stand for Children, Colorado Succeeds, Democrats for Education Reform and A+ Denver stressed the importance of maintaining the state’s accountability and assessment systems without major changes.

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

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