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Rise and Shine: Colorado Springs school board may seek to opt out of state tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 08:47

taking it to the streets

The third day of Jeffco students' rallies against a proposed curriculum review committee was the largest, and more walk-outs are planned for later this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, AP via the Coloradoan, CPR, New York Times )

The president of Jeffco's teachers union applauded students for exercising their First Amendment rights. ( 9News )

history lessons

A process already exists for parents to challenge curriculum that they feel is biased or inappropriate, and since the late 1960s, it's been used to change what students learn almost 20 times. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

#jeffcoschoolboardhistory

The dust-up over the proposal to review history curriculum to ensure that it promotes patriotism and a positive view of the United States prompted the rise of a satirical hashtag on Twitter that jokingly proposed history lessons that meet the board's requirements. ( Denver Post )

a different kind of rebellion

The Colorado Springs District 11 school board will consider a resolution asking to be allowed to pursue alternatives to the state's testing regimen for three years. ( Gazette )

campaign season

Education dominated a conversation with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez in Colorado Springs; Beauprez suggested passing a "teachers' bill of rights," increasing accountability measures, and improving implementation of the state's READ Act literacy effort. ( Gazette )

The National Education Association is airing Spanish-language ads in Colorado targeting Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner. ( CQ Roll Call )

splitting down the middle

Two University of Colorado campuses that currently share leadership will move to a model in which each has its own chancellor. ( Denver Post )

to prevent another tragedy

The mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold is planning to write a book sharing her story. ( AP via 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

19 times Jeffco parents challenged curriculum and changed how students are taught

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 18:53

In 1981, a Jefferson County curriculum review committee banned The Book of Lists, which, according to the book’s publisher, is “filled with intriguing information and must-talk-about trivia it has spawned many imitators — but none as addictive or successful.”

In 1989, a similar panel said a “homosexual speaker” was only allowed to address students who had permission from parents.

And in 2008, Stephen King’s It, the graphic horror novel that depicts seven children terrorized by a clown, was removed from middle school libraries but remained in high schools.

For the past three school days, Jefferson County students have rallied in the streets against a proposed curriculum review committee. We wanted to examine how often pieces of curriculum have been successfully challenged in the school district.

Since 1968, nearly 100 pieces of curriculum — books, movies, entire courses — have been challenged by Jefferson County parents and community members.

About one-fifth of those challenges have resulted in either an outright ban on classroom materials or restrictions put in place, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of Jeffco Public Schools documents. In some instances, it is clear why certain curriculum was either challenged or banned.  

INTERACTIVE: Search the Jeffco “banned book” database here.

The complaints were filed under existing school district policies that allow parents to challenge materials his or her students are provided either in a classroom or school library.

According to Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the district has 24 such policies to either establish or review curriculum.

But conservative school board member Julie Williams wants to establish one more: a community committee that would serve at the school board’s pleasure. Williams would like that committee — which has not yet been established — to start off with an advanced history course that is drawing the ire of conservatives. It is her proposal that has ignited the three days of student protests.

While Williams’ proposal has sparked debate, it is true Jeffco has existing policies that provides the board the ability to weigh in on curriculum.

Take for example, the May 1996 case of Nova: The Miracle of Life. The school board at the time overturned a decision by the district’s superintendent to ban the video.

Here are some other interesting takeaways from our analysis of the challenged curriculum:

  • More than half the challenges to Jeffco curriculum happened in the 1980s
  • Novels, including classics like Of Mice and Men, have been challenged the most, 34 times.
  • Other language arts texts have been challenged 18 times.
  • Science curriculum has been challenged eight times.
  • Social studies curriculum has been challenged 14 times.
  • No other author had more books challenged than King. Eight of his books were challenged in the fall of 2008. Only It was removed from a middle school library. His other works were permitted to remain in the school district’s library.

Social studies material that has either been banned or had restrictions placed on them include the books Human Expression: A history of Peoples and Cultures and My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban. The movie The Seduction of Joe Tynan also makes the list.

The last recorded challenge to any Jeffco curriculum was in 2011; that would be Patricia McCormick’s book about a 15-year-old girl who self-mutilates. The book remains in Jeffco libraries. 

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco students continue demonstrations; hundreds rally along major streets

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 14:23

ARVADA — Hundreds of Jefferson County students took to the streets today for the third school day in a row to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel they believe could stifle an honest teaching U.S. history.

Meanwhile, Julie Williams, the suburban school board member who has proposed the district review an advanced U.S. history class, reaffirmed her position in an early morning statement to the media.

Williams, echoing concerns of conservatives across the country, believes the new curriculum for the Advanced Placement U.S. history course is revisionist and portrays the nation’s history in a negative context.

“I was truly surprised by the reaction of so many people regarding the AP U.S. History curriculum,” said board member Julie Williams. “I must not have explained myself clearly. I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education, understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new [curriculum]. … Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is not censorship.”

Architects of the new curriculum and teachers who are using it have said the concerns are unfounded. Instead, the new curriculum guide actually allows teachers more flexibility and focuses on key historical concepts that have shaped the nation’s identity.

Resistance to the idea that a community committee would review curriculum has grown since last Thursday, when the board tabled action on the committee.

Tuesday’s protest, made up of demonstrations across the county, is the largest so far. Hundreds of students walked out of Pomona and Arvada high schools between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. to busy intersections along the county’s main artery Wadsworth Boulevard. Students from Golden High School rallied at the district’s headquarters and some later jaunted to an intersection near Wheat Ridge High School to join students there.

Other schools that had planned protests include Arvada West and Ralston Valley high schools.

While the student protests have primarily been aimed to voice concern about the proposed committee, some students are also demonstrating on behalf of their teachers. Tension between the county’s teachers and the school board’s majority appears to be at an all-time high. The conflict has led to a teachers union vote of no confidence in board chair Ken Witt and an apparent “sick out” that closed two high schools.

“The frustration level is just so high right now among students and teachers,” said Kayla Greco, a senior at Pomona High. Greco led the walkout there. “It’s not just the teachers who are upset about changes.”

Arvada High School students rallied along Wadsworth Boulevard Tuesday morning. They’re upset over a proposed curriculum review committee.

Student walkouts are likely to continue throughout the week.

Jeffco school officials said they’re monitoring social media, which has been the main platform students have used to organize, and trying to communicate with parents as quickly as possible.

“I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class.” 

Jeffco officials this morning also dispatched central administrators to schools they knew had planned protests to help answer students’ questions. But that didn’t seem to deter them from rallying.

“I want the school board to know we don’t want to be sugar fed history,” said Leighann Gray, an Arvada High student. “They didn’t send anyone from the school board to talk to us. [The central administrator assigned to her school] is not from the board. So I don’t care.”

As the protests have grown in size, it is becoming less clear how much the students are speaking out versus acting out. Some students who left school to rally along Wadsworth were treating themselves to nearby fast food, running through intersections, and loitering in parking lots.

Others couldn’t articulate why they were protesting. Some students incorrectly believed the board had already acted and that the new curriculum was created because of the state’s new standards. Others believed teachers were going to see pay cuts if they didn’t comply with teaching American exceptionalism.

Student organizers, like Greco, took it among themselves to self-police goofballs, including asking some to leave. Arvada authorities were also on hand observing students.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Pomona High School students gathered at a busy intersection near their school to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believe will lead to censorship.

“It’s important that our community understand that no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee,” McMinimee said in his statement. 

But there is no indication at this point Williams will withdraw her proposal.

Despite her call for balance in history classes, Williams’s statement concluded with her belief students should taught American exceptionalism.

“I humbly ask our Jeffco history teachers to review their philosophical position on the [curriculum]. I think the majority will be surprised to find they agree. I invite them to join us while we investigate this curriculum together.”

The Jeffco school board may take the issue up at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Students from Golden High, who met with district staff during their rally, said they plan on addressing the board then.

“We weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” said Noelle Cohn, a Golden High senior. “We’ll be back in a civilized way to address the board.”

Most of the protests ended by the afternoon.

In an email to parents, Pomona High principal Andy Geise said, “This is our students’ school. As I see it, they are trying to make it the best they can. I appreciate our community’s support of our students. We have great kids here at Pomona. I’m proud of all of them.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More students join protests in Jeffco

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 08:33

Ups and downs

More Denver schools found themselves in the district's highest tier in the rankings released yesterday. But more joined the lowest tier as well. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

And the overall number of students in top-ranking schools dipped slightly. ( CPR )

Take it to the streets

For the second day, students at a Jeffco high school protested a proposed curriculum committee over concerns of censorship ( Chalkbeat Colorado, CPR )

Similar protests are planned for the rest of the week. ( Denver Post, 9News )

The drama continues

In a letter to the district, teachers who participated in a "sick-out" last week defended their approach and said the district should have found substitutes. ( Denver Post )

Dollars for schools

State revenue forecasts bring good news but also a potential complication for efforts to restore school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School safety

Columbine High School went into lockout Monday morning over a potential threat. ( 9News )

A Denver school security guard is facing child sex charges over a sexting scandal. ( 9News )

taking the next step

Colorado Mountain College plans to work closely with nearby high schools to help students transition to college-level coursework. ( Steamboat Today )

Busting at the seams

Poudre's school board will consider its options for dealing with facilities and the growth in the number of students. One potential topic up for discussion? Redrawing boundaries. ( Coloradoan )

Work hard, play hard

A Telluride school takes a different approach to student learning -- and to work/play balance. ( The Watch Media )

Freedom of information

Want more information on what your rights are to information? Join Chalkbeat's Nic Garcia and others at a panel on school transparency tonight at 7 p.m. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

New parent group holds fair for all schools: public, private, charter

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 20:31

A new parent group is holding a school fair this fall that promises to offer something unprecedented: a one-stop place to shop for all schools, whether it be neighborhood, charter or private schools.

CPS has endorsed the Oct. 4 fair and is requiring all district-run high schools to have a display. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to parents encouraging them to come and district officials are organizing buses for seventh- and eighth-grade parents and students.

Also, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and the Archdiocese of Chicago are co-sponsors.

“As parents we send our children to someone for a long time each day to be educated,” says Chris Butler, the head of ParentPowerChicago. “We want to make sure they know the breadth of options.”

In the past, the district has run a high school fair and there was something called a New Schools Expo, which featured mostly charter schools. However, mostly the different types of schools, especially Catholic and other private schools, recruit students at different times and places.

Sullivan Principal Chad Adams says the fact that neighborhood high schools will be in attendance is a good thing and shows Byrd-Bennett’s commitment to neighborhood schools. But he says that he doesn’t expect to recruit large numbers of students from the fair.

“I will get more bang for my buck by visiting elementary schools in the area,” says Adams.

But ParentPowerChicago has raised suspicion among some parents who are concerned that the people behind the effort have an agenda. They also wonder why CPS would be so heavily involved in an effort that could draw students out of public schools and into private ones.

“Over and over, the optics are such that CPS appears not to believe in their own ability to provide a great education to all students within the public school system,” says Wendy Katten, who runs the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand Chicago.

Connections for parents

Butler was the outreach and advocacy director of New Schools for Chicago, which provided private funding for charter schools and is now in the process of reorganizing. Also, the IRS lists the address of the organization as the same as Old World Industries in Northbrook. Old World Industries was founded and is run by J. Thomas Hurvis, who served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.

Other well-connected pro-charter philanthropists, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.

ParentPower is a not-for-profit organization and, as such, will have to file public tax returns, called 990s. But because it is only a year and a half old, those returns are not yet available. The Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Database indicates that ParentPowerChicago had $800,000 in income in 2013 and $90,000 in assets.

Richard Sanderson, a brand-marketing executive who runs the administrative side of ParentPower, says he and Hurvis are the two major donors. He and Butler declined to provide the names of any other donors.

Sanderson says he and Hurvis are both businessmen who thought that parent engagement was a missing piece in improving education. He says the main purpose of ParentPower is to connect parents with resources.

“This is a total agnostic venture,” he says. “There is no commercial interest and there is no income. The whole idea is to elevate children.”

Sanderson points to the fact that district-run schools, as well as private and charter schools are invited to the fair. He also notes that school choice is only one element of what the organization plans to help parents navigate.  

Butler says that in the initial stages of the organization, 500 parents were surveyed about what they needed and wanted. “Parents said they wanted the best for their children, but they don’t feel like they have enough time to be engaged. They also said they don’t have the necessary information and relationships to make a difference for their children.”

Butler says it is not directed at any particular demographic. “But it is the parents who have least who often need the most help finding resources,” he says.

While Butler’s contention that the organization is just trying to provide information about different school choices seems innocent enough, some will argue that if the district invested in neighborhood schools, then the maze of choices and school fairs would not be necessary.

But ParentPowerChicago is setting out to help parents find resources on subjects other than schools, such as preschools, tutoring and summer programs. This spring, ParentPowerChicago attracted 3,000 parents to a summer program fair. The organization also is doing two-day parent trainings called a parent university.

It also has a hotline that parents can call. A young man who answered the hotline last week says that radio ads have led to a steady stream of calls. Many times parents ask about after-school programs, he says. He finds out what their child is interested in and what neighborhood they live in and he tries to direct them to an appropriate program. Other times they ask about tutoring.

Sometimes, but rather rarely, they ask about school options, he says.

Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts bring good news – and a big complication

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 18:38

Colorado tax revenues keep rising faster than state economists can predict them, a trend that might seem to be good news for education but which actually could make it harder to trim the $900 million shortfall in K-12 funding.

That’s because projected revenues are rising fast enough that they likely soon will hit a constitutional trigger that requires refunds of surplus revenues to taxpayers. If the trends continue, the 2015 legislature may have to set aside money in the 2015-16 budget to cover refunds in 2016.

The likelihood of reaching what’s called the “TABOR limit” was a key element in quarterly state revenue forecasts presented to the legislative Joint Budget Committee Monday morning by economists from the Legislative Council staff and the executive branch’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

“I’ve been thinking this has been coming for years,” said Lisa Weil, policy director for Great Education Colorado, a group that advocates for increased K-12 funding. “It certainly complicates” school finance discussions, she added.

Weil isn’t the only person who’s seen this coming. State economists have referenced the TABOR limit in the last several forecasts. But hitting the trigger always has been far enough in the future that policymakers didn’t think too much about it. Now, it seems, the future is just about here.

The TABOR limit is part of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which required that state revenue growth beyond inflation and population increase in a given year be refunded to taxpayers. That limit was modified by Referendum C, a 2005 voted-approved measure that shelved the limit for five years and eased its restrictions after that.

Legislative economists estimate that Ref C, as it’s called around the Capitol, has enabled the state to retain and spend $9.8 billion that otherwise would have been refunded.

The last TABOR refunds were paid in 2005, triggered by a $41 million surplus in the 2004-05 budget year. The refunds averaged $15 per taxpayer.

Do your homework

Refunds receded into the realm of the theoretical after that as the recession pushed growth in state revenues well below annual TABOR limits. The March 2011 forecasts marked the turnaround for revenues, which have been on the upswing ever since.

Legislative economists estimated Monday that $125.1 million will have to be earmarked in the 2015-16 budget to cover 2016 refunds, and $392.6 million will have to be set aside in 2016-17 to pay for 2017 refunds.

Executive branch forecasters estimate the amounts to be refunded in those two years at $133.1 million and $239.4 million. (The two sets of forecasts offer differ in amounts.)

The legislative staff forecast estimated 2016 refunds at $11 per taxpayer, provided through the earned income tax credit and sales tax refunds. The larger 2017 refund would be provided by a temporary lowering of the income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent, plus more sales tax refunds.

TABOR refunds matter to education spending because they require lawmakers to consider yet another demand as they attempt to juggle competing state spending needs.

The state’s school districts took a $1 billion hit in expected funding after the 2008 recession, a impact known as the “negative factor” after the formula used to reduce K-12 spending in order the balance the overall state budget.

District leaders and lobbyists fought hard during the 2014 session to trim the negative factor, and lawmakers did make a $110 million cut. (Get background in this story.) Education interests have signaled their intent to push for trimming the negative factor further during the 2015 session, an effort likely to be complicated by the need to address the TABOR limit.

“It’s going to take a lot of conversation,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the group’s Capitol lobbyist.

The negative factor also is being challenged by a pending lawsuit (see story).

The amount of funding available for education also is a key concern for the state’s colleges and universities. Their state support has recovered modestly in the last two years. But the higher education system also is in the middle of fleshing out a performance funding system mandated by the 2014 legislature. Many in higher ed are worried there isn’t enough funding to allow that new system to operate properly. (Get background here.)

Lawmakers have an alternative to paying refunds – asking voters to let the state keep the money, as Ref C allowed nearly a decade ago.

“It’s time to talk about TABOR’s binding requirements,” Urschel said, adding that it’s “maybe” time to consider a new version of Ref C.

The politics of that are tricky, especially if Republicans take control of the Senate, the House, the governorship or any combination of the three in the Nov. 4 election.

“This is going to a fun session,” Weil said of 2015, with a hint of irony in her voice.

Forecast notes

The forecasts released Monday touched on three other topics of interest for education funding watchers.

State Education Fund: This dedicated account, used to supplement K-12 spending, is projected to have between $561 million and $672 million in it for spending by the 2015 legislature. The fund contained more than $1 billion last spring, prompting a tug of war between lawmakers who wanted to spend more on schools and others who wanted to save for future rainy days. The rainy day crowd mostly prevailed.

Marijuana revenues: Up to $40 million a year in excise (wholesale) taxes on recreational marijuana is earmarked for the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. Prior marijuana revenue forecasts proved way too optimistic, partly because many users so far have chosen to stick with low-tax medical marijuana. The latest legislative forecast puts excise revenues at under $12 million in each of the next two years and at only $12.3 million in 2016-17. (See this story for more background.)

College construction: The higher education lobby’s big spring 2014 gamble paid off. Scrambling to find campus construction money, higher ed helped push through a bill that earmarked some surplus 2013-14 revenues for buildings – if that surplus materialized. It did, and nine of the 10 projects on the priority list got their money on Sept. 15. The 10th is expected to get its cash near the end of the year after the state’s 2013-14 books are finally closed. The list of 10 includes a few non-campus projects. The higher ed projects are at the Auraria Higher Education Center, CSU-Fort Collins, CU-Boulder, Fort Lewis College and Adams, Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado state universities.

Categories: Urban School News

More schools at the top and the bottom in Denver rankings

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 17:57

A sea of elementary schoolers crowded into McMeen Elementary School in southeast Denver on Monday morning were eager to tell their superintendent Tom Boasberg what made their school great. “We have good teachers,” said one student. “We respect other people,” said another. “It’s fun!” said a third.

Boasberg had a more specific reason: This was the fifth year McMeen earned the top ranking, “blue,” on the district’s school performance framework, released Monday morning.

“What it means to be blue is you’re learning and you’re growing,” Boasberg said.

Explore Chalkbeat’s database of this year’s school rankings.

The number of schools in Denver earning top marks on the district’s school performance framework increased this year, but the number of schools in the lowest category also increased for the second year in a row.

The district has set a goal of having 80 percent of its students in green or blue schools by 2020, as part of its Denver Plan. Today, 60 percent of students in the district are attending schools ranked either green or blue—down one percent from last year.

“There are some really strong spots and some clear areas of concern,” Boasberg told Chalkbeat on Monday.

Overall, 92 of the district’s 185 Denver schools earned a green or blue ranking, the top two levels. McMeen was one of 27 “blue” schools in the district. That’s part of a steady upward trend, according to district officials. But the number of “red” schools—identified as the lowest-performing in the city—increased again this year, from 25 in 2013 to 31.

The district’s charter schools were disproportionately represented in both the top two and bottom two categories: Eleven of the district’s 26 blue schools, or more than two-fifths of the high-ranking schools, were charters, though charters make up just one-fifth of the district’s schools. At the same time, 11 of the district’s 32 charters were in the bottom two categories.

The district’s efforts to increase the number of schools into the top categories will be complicated by two policy changes that go into effect next year. State and local officials have predicted that scores on the state’s new set of standardized assessments, PARCC, are likely to be lower than scores on TCAP, the current testing system. That’s likely to have a ripple effect on the school’s ratings and accountability measures but the district hasn’t decided how they plan to handle those impacts.

The district is also in the process of adjusting the formula it uses to evaluate schools. Beginning next year, rankings will give more weight to schools’ absolute scores rather than to measures of how much progress students made compared to their peers.

The rankings are based students’ performance on standardized tests and a group of additional measures, including what percent of students reenroll in the school and what percentage of parents respond to a survey.

The School Performance Framework gives schools a grade out of 100 points and a color-coded status. Schools are coded as red (on probation); orange and yellow (on a “watch list”); green (“meets expectations”); or blue. The state, which uses the same terms but a different performance framework, will be releasing its scores later this year. The district also rates its early education programs and alternative programs using specially-tailored frameworks.

The rankings carry the most impact for the “red” schools, which are subject to school improvement efforts ranging from increased professional development for teachers to bringing in entirely new leadership or management.

“We were struck by and disappointed the increased number of red schools,” Boasberg said “There will absolutely be changes in all of those schools.”

Several schools that made progress in previous years slipped back into the lowest ranking, including Schmitt Elementary and the district’s all-boys charter school, Sims-Fayola International Academy.

Sims-Fayola’s charter contract is up for renewal this year. Students made an impassioned plea for the school’s survival at Denver’s board meeting last week.

Boasberg said the district should focus on retaining high-quality teachers in struggling schools by shoring up the supports teachers receive and pay incentives for working in low-performing schools. Teachers currently receive a $2,500 bonus; “that’s not nearly enough,” he said.

At successful schools, Boasberg said, “it’s not a complicated formula – you see good teaching, good leadership and a strong culture.”

Boasberg singled out improvements the district’s middle schools.

“Middle school is where we’ve seen the deepest push on many of our reforms,” he said. He said many of the district’s middle schools, both charter and traditional, are now smaller and higher-performing than in the past.

Three new middle schools—Hamilton, KIPP’s Montbello campus and DSST: Byers — joined the list of schools that met or exceeded expectations. Denver charter network’s STRIVE’s Lake campus dropped off the list, part of a pattern of declines at STRIVE schools.

Boasberg said the performance framework’s measures “all come together to form an overall view of each school. He urged parents and teachers to look both at schools’ performance and at individual children’s scores. “Every parent wants to know, is my kid learning or growing?”

Parents at McMeen today said that the rankings confirmed what they already knew about their school and its teachers.

“When we moved here from Littleton, I remember pulling in and seeing the ‘school of excellence’ banner,” said Shelley Keoppel, who has second and fourth graders at the school. “But it’s really being here, the more you’re involved, that you become more aware of what’s going well.”

Categories: Urban School News

Evergreen High students take concerns to Jeffco headquarters

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 15:05

GOLDEN — For the second school day in a row, students rallied against a proposed curriculum review committee that they believe — if established — could lead to censorship.

Additional student-led protests are planned for Tuesday morning.

“We want to get the message across that we’re not going to let [the board] mess anything up for future generations,” said Dylan Losche, an Evergreen High School senior.

Students at Pomona, Arvada West and Ralston Valley high schools have launched social media campaigns to organize their events.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee said he neither condones nor condemns the rallies, but he would prefer, for safety reasons, students stay on campus.

“I will come to them,” he said after meeting with four students this morning. “I will go to any school that asks.”

The Evergreen High students, about 100 of them, repeated several of the concerns their peers from Standley Lake High made Friday.

They believe a community committee to review standards, assessments, and curriculum — in particular for an advanced history course —  being considered by the Jefferson County Board of Education will prohibit lessons on civil disobedience and will only present the nation’s history in a positive light.

Conservative board member Julie Williams, who proposed the committee’s scope of work, said critics are reading too much into the proposal.

While McMinimee has not explicitly said he’s opposed to the panel, he did tell the board at its Thursday meeting the district has 24 different policies to establish and review which text books and lessons are taught. One policy includes how a parent can challenge a book in a library or a classroom.

The crux of the discussion between McMinimee, his staff, and the students, was to explain the board’s process.

Some students incorrectly believe that the board has already taken direct action to curtail the Advance Placement U.S. history course.

“I learned a lot about the process,” said Eric Temple, a senior at Evergreen. He knew the board hadn’t put the committee into place, but was unclear about what would happen next. “I thought I was pretty well researched — more than the average student.”

McMinimee said he hopes the students left feeling that they had been heard.

The students, who said their concerns have not been answered yet, plan on addressing the board at the next regularly scheduled board meeting, Oct. 2.

Meanwhile, Jeffco staff is continuing to monitor its teachers’ substitute requests. On Friday, the district canceled classes at two high schools because there wasn’t enough substitutes to cover the unusually high number of requests. About one-third of the teaching staff at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools either called in sick or took a personal day in an apparent “sick out.”

All schools were open today. The number of call-ins was not out of the ordinary.

Teachers have grown increasingly frustrated with the school board’s majority. Earlier this month, the board’s chairman introduced a new compensation model that links bonuses to evaluations.

McMinimee said central office staff is working hurriedly to issue guidance to teachers on the compensation changes.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco school closures rattle suburban communities

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 09:00

Jeffco turmoil

About a third of the teaching staff at two Jefferson County high schools were absent Friday forcing the district to cancel classes for the day. Meanwhile, students at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools protested a proposed curriculum panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR )

Here's a look at how journalism students at Standley Lake covered the day. ( The Lake via Chalkbeat Colorado )

The principal at Standley Lake is concerned about what's to come. ( CPR )

Over the weekend, district officials are worried the "sick out" could continue Monday. ( Denver Post, 7News )

in other news

Meanwhile, Jeffco officials proposed redrawing school borders, reconfiguring grade layouts, and building a new K-8 school along Highway 93 and 58th Avenue to help alleviate overcrowding. ( Arvada Press )

Transparency 101

Join Chalkbeat and Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Monday, Sept. 29, at the Jeffco Fairgrounds for a panel to discuss your rights to information and open meetings in your school district. ( Colorado Freedom Of Information Coalition )

The Denver Post editorial board opined the school board was correct to table the controversial curriculum review committee — and provides a bit of advice if the board seeks to move forward with a community panel to review texts in the future. ( Denver Post )

keeping it in the classroom

At one Colorado private school, no homework means a new approach to learning during school hours. ( 9News )

Rated 'G' for Green

The Boulder Valley School District showcased its most eco-friendly practices to federal officials last week. ( Daily Camera )

The Core debate

CBS's "Sunday Morning" takes a look at the debate over the Common Core State Standards. The Sunday news magazine stops by a Florida and New York school to exam the issues. ( CBS News )

Contract disparity

Denver Public Schools is correct to reconsider its bidding process that has left out businesses owned by women and people of color, The Denver Post believes. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Finding dropouts, missing the point on Obama Prep, charter unions

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 08:42

WBEZ’s Becky Vevea looks at the challenges of re-engaging dropouts in Chicago. One of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first goals in office was getting more of Chicago’s 60,000 school-aged dropouts back into class. Vevea reports that the district’s new Student Outreach and Re-Engagement (SOAR) has helped bring 1,700 students back into CPS since it started last year; 130 of these have since gotten their high school diplomas.

Vevea rides along with staff from Prologue, a long-time alternative school operator, as they try to bring young people back into school. Not-for-profit operators, like Prologue and the 20-some Youth Connection Charter School campuses, are under pressure to get students. CPS has beefed up its recruitment of dropouts at the same time as it has embarked on a major expansion of for-profit alternative schools. Seven of these schools are slated to open this year. These schools, like all CPS schools, receive funding on a per-student basis.

Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that the district’s graduation rate has increased under their administration and is now nearly 70 percent. All ethnic and gender groups have seen increases, but Black male student gradutation rates, already the lowest, did not go up as much and remain the lowest, with only 51 percent of Black male freshmen graduating in five years.

2. More subs… A Chicago Tribune analysis shows that students are increasingly coming to class to find that they have a substitute for the day. The analysis only included suburban and downstate schools, not Chicago. While students might be happy, experts say learning suffers when they are not with their regular teachers. School district officials say that some of the teacher absences can be attributed to participation in professional development to learn how to implement new standards, called the Common Core. Another reason is that, as a generation of teachers retire, districts are hiring a crop of young teachers, who often go on maternity leave.

In Chicago, the lack of substitutes is often a problem. Principals complain that the substitute center often doesn’t send substitutes, even when they ask for them several days in advance, according to a February 2013 Catalyst story. When substitutes don’t show up, city principals often pull assistant principals, special education teachers and art teachers to cover classes. Catalyst has heard that the problem has not improved over the last two years.

3. What’s in a name… Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that he wouldn’t pursue his plan to name a new North Side selective enrollment high school after President Barack Obama. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes that, even as he backs down from using the Obama name,  Emanuel misses the larger point. She says he should reconsider building a new selective enrollment school on the North Side altogether. “These voters aren’t worried about what name hangs on a school. These voters are still seething because they couldn’t even control the pitiful, failing schools in their own neighborhoods,” she writes.

The building of a new selective enrollment high school, which Emanuel still wants to do, brings up another point. As required by state law, CPS had to develop a 10-year master facilities plan. The plan, which was completed last year, should have outlined what the district has and what the district needs. Hearings on the plan should have been about the specific types of new construction that the district would undertake over the coming years. But the plan is thin on specifics and is more a description of current conditions than anything else. Decisions about what new schools will be built, which ones will get annexes and which ones will get improvements seem to be made in a vacuum, without any justification or public input.

4. Charter unions … Why have we not seen more of them? The answer, according to Dara Zeehandelaar, research manager at the Fordham Institute in Washington in an Education Week article, is in part because teachers at charter schools “believe in the importance of autonomy .. They’re young, and young teachers believe in [unionizing] less.”

Zeehandelaar says the national unions -- the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) -- began moving in on charter schools after recognizing that it’s better to be “on the table” than not be there at all. Quite simply, “the greater percentage of those schools that are charters, the fewer percentage of schools are district schools, and the fewer teachers that are unionized.”

In Chicago, teachers are organized at about a quarter of all charter schools. The most recent school to unionize is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest, where teachers voted to unionize in May and are negotiating a contract. Meanwhile, teachers at Latino Youth Alternative School are nearing a vote on their own contract.

Read more about charter school unionization in these EdWeek stories, as well as a Catalyst story from earlier this year when teachers at the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) network voted on what some say is one of the largest labor contracts for a charter network in the country.

5. Benefits of a full-day of Pre-K … With all this recent talk of universal preschool, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commitment to expanding slots for low-income children and a recent call by progressive unions for full-day preschool, it’s worth taking a look at a program here in Chicago that’s been providing comprehensive educational intervention to young, low-income children and their families for nearly three decades.

Last week, the Hechinger Report posted a Q&A with Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, who has been following a class of 1,539 children from Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers for nearly 30 years. (This longitudinal study has tracked all sorts of long-term benefits of preschool, from academic achievement to a reduction in remedial education and juvenile arrests.)

Child-Parent Centers in Chicago and elsewhere got a funding boost from the federal government a few years ago, which is why they’ve been able to expand. And at more than two-dozen schools, principals are putting in additional funds to make the programs full day. At those schools, Reynolds says, “We found [significantly better] learning gains compared to kids in the half-day preschool. … That also reduced chronic absence rates by 40 percent. This fall, the program has over 30 full-day pre-K classes in the city of Chicago. This has been a tremendous expansion.”

 





Categories: Urban School News

By students, for students: How the Standley Lake High journalism department reported today’s rally

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 14:57

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

Journalism students at Standley Lake High School have been following today’s rally and “sick out” on social media. The school’s news team has pulled together updates from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites you haven’t even heard of yet, to keep us all in the know.


[View the story "SLHS teachers didn't show up today. Here's why:" on Storify]
Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reading: Guns, germs, and tanks in L.A. schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 13:04

Check out our updated feature with all the best education reading for your Friday afternoon!

  • New Jersey KIPP schools respond to criticism about student attrition with raw (and reassuring) data. (TEAM Schools)
  • Boston Magazine retracted its rankings of area private schools amid concerns about the data. (Boston Globe)
  • The probable mayoral run of Chicago’s teachers union chief, Karen Lewis, has broad implications. (Vox)
  • Vaccination rates are low and infection rates are on the rise in some Los Angeles-area schools. (Hollywood Reporter)
  • L.A.’s education department is shedding grenades but keeping other weapons in an effort to keep schools safe. (Salon)
  • A new coalition, Educolor, is aiming for a “progressive way to discuss race in education reform.” (Jose Vilson)
  • Nineteen states (but not this one) are planning to delay tying student test scores to teacher ratings. (Politics K-12)
  • A national poll finds growing support for making it harder to become a teacher. (Teacher Beat)
  • Across the country, a growing number of charter schools are serving mostly students with disabilities. (EdWeek)
  • Research and common sense say it’s unwise to judge superintendents by test scores during their tenure. (Shanker)
  • As expected, the Common Core is proving to be a cash cow for education publishers. (Hechinger)
  • Tech concerns caused Florida to suspend its early-grades reading test. (Curriculum Matters)
  • D.C. teachers are drawn to Project Zero, a teaching approach aimed at getting students to think. (Greater Greater)
Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco closes Standley Lake, Conifer high schools due to teacher absences; students rally

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 12:14

[Updated] JEFFERSON COUNTY — School might have been canceled for students at Standley Lake High School, but that didn’t stop about 100 students from rallying this morning to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel.

Jeffco Public Schools canceled class at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools this morning due to a large number of teacher absences.

About a third of the teaching staff at the each of the two schools called in, district staff said. Jeffco does not have an explicit policy on when to close down a school due to teacher absences. The decision to close a campus is made on a case-by-case basis.

The protests are the latest development in an escalating series of conflicts between vocal segments of the Jefferson County community and its school board. In recent weeks, conflict has centered around a new teacher compensation model the board adopted earlier this month that bases teacher raises on their evaluation ratings, as well as around a proposed new committee to review curriculum on criteria such as whether it promotes patriotism.

“While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways to work through these differences without putting kids in the middle,” said Dan McMinimee, Jeffco’s superintendent, at a press conference today.

McMinimee stressed several times during the press conference that 153 of Jeffco’s 155 schools were still open.

On average, about 410 teachers call in sick or take a personal day each day in Jeffco, with an average of 480 calling in on Fridays. District officials said teacher absences were normal throughout the rest of the county.

District staff was monitoring its substitute teacher request phone line throughout the evening. As of 7 p.m. last night, Jeffco staff reported there was no sign of a mass call-out. But that changed at about midnight when Jeffco began contacting television news stations with the Standley Lake closure.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Superintendent Dan McMinimee apologized to parents for having to cancel school Friday at two county high schools. About one-third of the teaching staff of those schools were absent.

Meanwhile, the Standley Lake students had planned to walk out of class as a sign of protest at 8:20 a.m. But with the school closed, they met at the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth Parkway instead. Students held posters they made yesterday after school and chanted “my school, my voice,” and “isn’t it great to have an education?”

Students said they were worried the board’s proposal aimed to censor their history classes.

“We can’t let this start with AP U.S. history,” said Ben Smith, a junior. “It will spread to the entire school.”

Board member Julie Williams — who has asked for a community panel to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history course, which has been a target of conservatives across the country — said critics have misinterpreted her request. Standley Lake is one of the schools in the district Williams represents.

“All I’m asking is that we look at it,” Williams said at last night’s board meeting.

While the student’s protest was clearly taking aim at the board’s debate over curriculum review, it was less clear why teachers called out sick.

The rumored “sick out,” which was discouraged in an email from district staff yesterday, was not organized by the suburban teacher’s union.

“District leadership has heard from several sources that a significant number of employees may be planning an organized ‘sick out’ on Friday, Sept. 19 and Monday, Sept. 22,” the email to teachers read. “While we hope this isn’t true, we also can’t disregard the impact on our students and schools if this were to happen.”

The email also cited a Colorado law that makes an organized “sick out” illegal. While the district is reviewing all options, leaders were not prepared to “pigeon hole” teachers at the two schools who called in on Friday.

But in a statement, board president Ken Witt blasted the teachers who called in sick, saying that he was disappointed in the teachers’ choice to force schools to close.

“These same teachers that yesterday were wearing ‘Stand Up 4 Kids’ buttons, today decided not to stand up for our students, only one day after the board chose to give them generous performance raises,” he said. “I am saddened to see Jeffco students being used as union pawns, and am heartened that only two schools out of over 140 in Jeffco chose to be a part of this abuse of our students.”

Rumors about the “sick out” swirled throughout Jeffco Public Schools yesterday, including at last night’s board meeting. Teachers familiar with the “sick out” plans, speaking privately, said teachers throughout the district feel their voices have been ignored.

Earlier month the union issued a vote of no confidence in board chairman Ken Witt’s leadership. Witt, in August, unilaterally proposed a new compensation model for teachers that link evaluation scores to pay increases. While all teachers will be see some form of pay increase this year, many kinks in Witt’s model still need to be worked out.

In a statement, Jefferson County Education Association spokesman Scott Kwasny said that while the union was not involved in organizing the protest, officials empathized with the feelings that motivated it.

“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their elected officials are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” he said. “Last night’s discussion about censoring the AP history curriculum is yet another example of this board majority shortchanging our students.”

Students are expected to return to the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth at about 4 p.m. to resume their rally.

Jeffco officials are monitoring teacher absences for Monday. McMinimee said he plans to continue having conversations with teachers one-on-one and in small groups.

“For me, it’s less about punishment, and more about understanding and picking up the pieces and moving forward,” he said. “We have to schools in session. Our kids deserve to have an opportunity to learn.”

One Standley Lake mom, Lindsay Woltz, said she was sorry tensions between teachers and the Jeffco board had come to this.

“Our teachers have their act together,” she said. “I know today was an act of rebellion, but I don’t think they had a choice.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco tables AP, curriculum review decision

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 08:26

Public Face

In their first year, Denver's new school board has adopted a quieter approach to resolving conflicts, with board members working behind the scenes to come to a vote. But their actions have raised questions of transparency. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

rumble in jeffco

A proposed (and controversial) committee in Jeffco would review curriculum at the behest of the board, starting with the new AP history curriculum. It prompted fears of censorship from some parents. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News )

The district's PTA denounced the proposal. ( Denver Post )

But the board tabled a vote on the subject after a high-drama school board meeting, in which audience members loudly signaled their displeasure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

In other news, the board approved a base salary for high performing teachers of $81,000 but questions still remain about the district's compensation plan. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Fallout

Two Jeffco schools are closed today due to a large number of teacher absences. It may be tied to a planned walk-out. ( 9News )

Land of the Free

Longmont students celebrate Constitution Day with a lesson on the First Amendment in schools, taught by CU-Boulder law students. ( Times-Call )

By the numbers

Colorado's child poverty rate dropped for the first time since the 2008 recession. ( CPR )

Dollars for schools

Hayden's school board is asking voters to approve an extension on a 2010 bond measure they say has been essential to improving student achievement. ( Steamboat Today )

Tips of the trade

You have ten minutes with your child's teacher. What do you ask? ( nprED via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board tables vote on curriculum review, AP history

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 00:25

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County Board of Education tabled plans to develop a new curriculum review committee after a spirited conversation that included a debate about the purpose of studying history.

The board skipped action on the plan, at the advice of legal counsel, after board member Jill Fellman asked if the conversation about the Advanced Placement U.S. history course fell under the scope of the posted agenda topic.

The board’s discussion, which in part included questions about whether the advanced U.S. history course should promote respecting authority and laws, was interrupted several times by a skeptical audience.

“What about Martin Luther King? What about Rosa Parks?” one audience member asked.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper called the plan, as worded, “too extreme for Jeffco.”

Board member Julie Williams, who authored the proposal for the “community committee,” said critics misinterpreted the criteria she outlined in a proposal to review the history course.

“I am not suggesting that we eliminate any of our factual American history,” she said.

The proposed committee came after repeated attempts by Williams to pass resolutions to curtail the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by Colorado, and their companion assessments.

Williams, in an interview with Chalkbeat, said she wanted the panel to first review the advanced history class because she felt the program was still new enough to curtail if there were questionable content, as she believes.

Williams concerns about the standards and AP U.S. history course echo the concerns of some conservatives throughout the country. Defenders of the history course in Jeffco and say those fears are baseless.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teachers’ base salary to top out at $81,000

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 23:26

GOLDEN — Jefferson County’s best-paid teachers will earn a base salary of about $81,000 this year as part of the suburban district’s new teacher compensation model.

And those teachers already at the top of the salary range that would be eligible for additional compensation based on evaluations will earn a one-time stipend.

The issue over where to stop annually increasing a teacher’s base salary and begin issuing one-time bonuses has been one of the lingering questions over the new compensation model, which was introduced just weeks ago. And there are still more questions to answer, Jeffco staff told the board tonight, including how the board would like to pay veteran teachers that may join Jeffco in the future.

Teachers should see there raises by their November paycheck, district officials said. Jeffco staff must still resolve any evaluation disputes, align payroll systems, and determine retroactive pay.

In a separate action, the board’s also voted 4-1 to approve a laundry list of unresolved issue from negotiations. Board member Lesley Dahlkemper voted no.

The board’s discussion  on the compensation model tonight is the latest in a months-long process. Negotiations between the board and union began in public early this year. By April, the union declared an impasse. A resolution was near at hand as summer approached. But the board’s majority rejected a ratified tentative agreement. Ultimately, Witt proposed his own model, the current framework, in August.

 

Categories: Urban School News

In the first year for Denver board, no public spats and more behind-the-scenes work

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 16:32

This story was the result of Chalkbeat’s new project BoardTracker, which monitors how Denver School Board members voted. Take a look and tell us if there’s anything else we should look at by email co.tips@chalkbeat.org or on Twitter @ChalkbeatCO.

It’s been much quieter in Denver Public Schools’ board room since the induction of a new board last November — and that might be thanks to the previous board’s high profile spats.

Every issue to come before Denver’s school board has passed in the ten months since a new slate of members was voted in, an examination of the board’s voting records reveal. What’s more, most of those votes have been unanimous.

That’s a distinct change from the workings of the district’s previous board, whose meetings were often marked by contentious debates and split votes. Last fall, Denver voters elected a slate of candidates largely supportive of the district’s agenda for transforming schools.

That came on the heels of several years of high-profile and heated debates between board members that culminated in a divisive process to replace a former board member, Nate Easley, who resigned. In previous years, the board split 4-3 on many issues with the minority votes – former board members Andrea Mérida and Jeannie Kaplan, current board member Arturo Jimenez — frequently opposing the district agenda backed by the majority.

These days, board meetings are far less likely to resemble the climax of a tense political drama. Instead of public spats, board members said they work to resolve disagreements before they ever reach the board table. But experts say that the quieting of those noisy disputes can come at a cost to public dialogue and may be a direct result of the previous years of tension.

“Parents hate it when school boards argue,” said Kris Amundsen, the executive director the National Association of State Boards of Education and a former member of a divided board. “When a number of us moved on, they elected a school board that was committed, most of all, to reaching harmony.”

Barbara O’Brien, one of the district’s at-large members elected last fall, said that’s the feedback she has gotten from constituents.

“What I’ve heard is we’re so glad there’s a board that’s doing its job,” said O’Brien.

Still, discontent over the board’s unified front has cropped up. During campaign season, O’Brien and other candidates were met with suspicion that they would simply rubber-stamp what the district brought before them.

Those criticisms still linger among opponents of the district’s approach to overhauling schools. At a recent community gathering in far northeast Denver, community members criticized the board for failing to listen to their concerns and for adopting a corporate-style reform agenda.

“Except Arturo [Jimenez], they do exactly what [Denver superintendentTom Boasberg] and his staff of mostly non-educators tell them to,” said Mary Sam, a former DPS teacher and community activist, afterwards.

But O’Brien says that she and other board members have been highly critical of the district, behind closed doors.

“Tom [Boasberg] has pushed back on me and I’ve pushed back on him,” she said. “All that’s very healthy when we’re sitting around a table.”

Doing it in public would mean that less gets done, says board member Landri Taylor.

“When I came on in 2013, we spent a lot of time on things that did not make a difference,” said Taylor. “We were stuck in the conversation of disagreement. We have to move forward.”

Board members said most conversation is conducted in one-on-one or two-on-one meetings, or by email, with district staff or between board members. That practice, while within the bounds of the law, may approach actions that have created trouble for other public boards.

The Denver school board, like other public boards, is subject to open meeting laws, which mandate that if a quorum of board members is present, the meeting must be made public. Denver board members said their conversations did not reach that threshold nor did they “daisychain” or meet successively until all had spoken.

The board’s actions are part of a larger nationwide trend towards school boards maintaining public unity, in spite of personal disagreements. Districts elsewhere have adopted policies that prevent individual board members from speaking to the press or to designate a spokesperson. That’s not the case in Denver and isn’t on the table but board members said that they preferred to maintain the collegial spirit.

But Amundsen says that impulse, while a good one, can lead to a loss of transparency and obscure public input.

“If you believe part of the role of the school board is to discuss the issue, not just decide the issue, especially if they’re going to lose the vote, [board members] need to have their say,” she said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean shouting matches in board meeting.

“It doesn’t have to be mean and contentious,” said Amundsen. “It does have to be visible.”

She suggests mentioning in public meetings disagreements that occur behind closed doors.

“It can be, “I want to thank the superintendent because he had originally proposed we make the start time at X time,” Amundsen said. “Thanks to our collaboration, it’s now at Y time.”

Jimenez, the only board member to have submitted a no vote since last fall, agreed with Amundsen’s counsel.

“I know they’re critical and I know they’re thoughtful but they’re unwilling to bring it out in public,” he said.

Jimenez attributes what he calls the “passivity” of the board to the business-style education reform he says pervades the district.

“We’re not the board of a private corporation that acts in unison in public and resolves our conflict in private so we protect our share of stock,” he said. “The board should be a check on the district and we should ensure that there is accountability.  I don’t think we’re doing it.”

Part of that, he says, is simply speaking up.

“There is this unspoken line where we aren’t supposed to criticize the superintendent and the district,” said Jimenez. “I hope that changes.”

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco parents fear censorship as board considers new curriculum panel, AP history

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 15:40

A proposed panel that would oversee Jeffco Public Schools’ standards, curriculum, and assessments is provoking anxiety among some parents who fear the panel could be a de facto tool for censorship.

That’s because the committee’s first task might be to ensure that revisions of an advanced American history class are patriotic and teach students to respect authority.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is expected to decide whether to establish the panel tonight at its evening work session.

The nine-member panel, as outlined by conservative board member Julie Williams, would be appointed by the board and report directly to them on an ongoing basis. The committee would most likely be comprised of lay citizens — not necessarily education and curriculum specialists.

The impetus for the panel is a number of new standards and curriculum questions that have lately proved to be political flash points, including the introduction of the Common Core State Standards and their related assessments.

But, if formed, the new committee is expected to first take up the revised Advanced Placement U.S. history course, which has become the target of conservative criticism across the country.

The new version of the course spends more time on early and recent American history and places greater focus on the role of women and minorities. Many conservative critics have complained that the changes are revisionist and present a negative view of the country. The Colorado State Board of Education has debated the topic but has taken no action. Meanwhile, the Texas State Board of Education just took a preliminary step to curtail the course.

As currently outlined, the proposed panel in Jeffco will be charged with ensuring the course is aligned to Jeffco Public Schools’ standards, and is factual and taught without bias. But the panel is also supposed to make sure materials do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” and instructional materials “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Those directions, which Williams said she replicated from another source, has sparked the most conversation among critics.

“Does that mean we’re going to eliminate slavery from class discussions, because that wasn’t a particular positive time of our history?” asked Jeffco PTA President Michele Patterson, rhetorically. “Hiroshima didn’t necessarily look great.”

Williams, in an interview with Chalkbeat, said she recognizes dark times in the nation’s history need to be taught, but she believes the coursework goes further than just pointing out blight spots on the nation’s record.

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place. When [the course questions] our American values and leaves out so many of our founding fathers, that’s concerning to me.”

Taught with fidelity, students should be able to identify and discuss broad themes that have helped create the nation’s identity, including happenings before the British colonies were formed, said Fred Anderson, a University of Colorado professor and one of the architects of the course redesign.

“American history doesn’t start in 1775,” Anderson said. “That’s actually the midpoint. Everything that happens in the national period goes back as equally far. That’s one of the great things [students] should come away with. We’re an amazing nation. It’s an outgrowth of specific historical circumstances. For example, there was a native population that inhabited the land before any European knew it was here.”

Wheat Ridge High School history teacher Stephanie Rossi said that despite the revised curriculum guide, her classes’ content remains the same.

“It’s America’s story,” she said. “But the new approach engages students in a more thoughtful way that does not make the test the only focus of the curriculum.”

Rossi would not directly comment on the proposed committee, but she did say she was disappointed by the approach.

“I’m saddened to think that anyone doesn’t believe Jeffco U.S. history teachers aren’t already engaging students in healthy discussions,” she said. “Do they not think we’re not talking about patriotism? They don’t even know us. They don’t know what we’re doing.”

Williams admitted she doesn’t know. And that’s the point of the committee.

“All I can say is that this has been brought to me by so many of my stakeholders,” she said. “There are certainly enough questions about this. All I’m asking is for a committee to review it. What does it hurt to look at it?”

Critics of the proposal note that Jeffco Public Schools already has two different curriculum committees that might be able to answer those questions.

One is a regular committee made up of administrators who review and make recommendations on new curriculum before its purchased. The second is an ad-hoc committee pulled together when a parent challenges a specific text.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students first and general supporter of the board’s majority, said parents should be more involved in curriculum selection in the first place.

“JCSF is very supportive of the move to increase transparency around curriculum and text book review,” she wrote in an email. “I absolutely agree the community should be involved in selections, but I am not certain of the manner and make up of the review committee. For years, the Jeffco board has talked about community involvement in the curriculum selection and text book review, but what that meant in reality was the books were placed in some libraries for a few weeks and no one really knew about it or even knew who was on any relevant committees.”

While the board has engaged in some conversation, including a lengthy study session with standards experts in August, it has failed to act, mostly because board chairman Ken Witt has asked for more information and time.

Because feelings on standards, curriculum, testing and local control can blur ideological lines, it’s not clear how the board will act — if at all. But some observers believe Witt likely be the swing vote on the matter. Fellow conservative board member John Newkirk is likely to follow William’s request.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Danger in interest-rate swaps; Winckler's gone and Lane cuts architecture

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 09:37

For years, the Chicago Teachers Union has been warning that so-called “toxic” swaps are costing the district millions and that they put it in a precarious position. This week articles in Forbes and Bloomberg confirm what union leaders have been saying and that CPS and the city, which also has these deals in place, must initiate arbitration by October if they want any chance of getting out of these deals.

Last decade, CPS and the city of Chicago, like many other cities, agreed to sell its debt and do interest rate swaps with companies, such as Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Loop Capital Markets. The governments went into these deals to protect themselves should interest rates spike, but they fell apart when rates plummeted in 2008. These kinds of swaps contributed in part to Detroit’s bankruptcy.

A provision in these deals stipulates that CPS and the city are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if their credit ratings falls too low. CPS, which repeatedly has emptied out its reserves to balance its budget, is two ratings away from triggering a payout of $224 million, according to Bloomberg. The companies could also ask the district to put up collateral instead of paying up.

With this danger looming, on Tuesday in a press release, the CTU, AFSCME Council 31 and SEIU Healthcare IL called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to file for arbitration to get out of the deal and ask for refunds for all the money paid to the banks. They also are holding a press conference on Thursday. A press release issued by the group notes that Los Angeles and Harris County (Houston), Texas, have taken steps to end these deals and recoup money.

The Forbes article notes that winning arbitration is difficult because cities must prove that underwriters knew city and district officials did not understand the risk. Another approach being bantered about on the Oakland and Los Angeles city councils is to threaten to blacklist the companies if they won’t renegotiate the swaps, according to Forbes.

While this seems like a rather technical issue, it gets to the heart of some bigger political issues. Emanuel and others make the case for pension reform by saying that the city and CPS are broke. But the unions say the city could recoup hundreds of millions of dollars by trying to renegotiate these deals. And they try to paint his refusal as evidence that he is more interested in keeping his banker friends happy than getting money to support the workers and services.   

2. Winckler out... CPS confirmed Wednesday that Chief Talent Development Officer Alicia Winckler is leaving her post, but there’s no word on why or who is taking her place. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said union officials, who negotiated with her during the strike, will not miss her. He is especially critical of the fact that the administration pushed the overhaul of the teacher evaluation during the last contract negotiations, but that this year--the first year the evaluations count---the evaluations won’t be available til October. Starting the school year and another round of evaluations without getting the last evaluations, he says is difficult for teachers. “That is just one thing that is a mess,” he says.

But in a letter to staff, Byrd-Bennett praised Winckler: “Under her leadership, CPS has begun the transformation from a compliance to a performance based culture, initiated very positive supports for families to take care of their health and wellness and implemented systems to support talent movement within CPS."

Byrd-Bennett said Winckler is leaving to “blend her private and public background to consult with organizations within and outside of education.”

Winckler came to CPS five years ago after working for Sears and Coca Coca. She was one of only four chief level executives to remain when Jean-Claude Brizard left and Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over. Now, the only holdover is Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley.

3. New design plan… Lane Tech High School cut its architecture program this year because its superstar teacher retired and the program had trouble competing with AP classes and electives, reports NewCity Design. The post by a blogger named Designy Mom notes that the architecture program was a staple at Lane since its early days when it was more of a vocational high school. Once upon a time, architecture was in several other vocational high schools in the city, including Lindblom, its counterpart on the South Side. A former design instructor, Designymom writes that Lane's program was a feeder to the University of Illinois Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s architecture and engineering programs.

While there was a big outcry this summer when Simeon’s principal cut the electrician program, there’s hasn’t been a stir around the loss of the architecture program at Lane. That’s likely because Lane is a selective enrollment school and almost all students are college bound; whereas Simeon’s electrician program is seen as an alternative for students who won’t go to college.

What’s more, Lane will had a ribbon cutting this week on its new “Makers Lab,” which has 3D printers, 3D scanners, wood and vinyl cutting machines, laser cutters and industry standard CNC machines, which uses computers to control machine tools. In his letter on the website, Lane’s principal writes “this type of learning will continue our pursuit of cross-curricular science, engineering, math, technology, and art.”

4. Cuts a coming… Portage Park Elementary School has 79 fewer students than its projections and now stands to lose a whopping $400,000, according to DNAinfo. For the first time this year, CPS is doing the official enrollment count on the 10th day, rather than the 20th day as has been done in the past. Also new this year is that schools will lose about $4,300 for each student less than projections.

Portage Park Elementary Local School Council members and the principal say that they think the loss is due to families moving to the suburbs or putting their children in Catholic schools.

On Monday, the news was that Goethe School in Logan Square was recruiting students to try to shore up enrollment. Catalyst has also heard of magnet schools offering seats in recent days, something that is pretty unusual after the school year has started.

CPS officials say that school-by-school enrollment counts will be available soon. What will be worth taking note of is whether overall enrollment in CPS is down and whether charter schools are also struggling to get their projected enrollment numbers.

5. Further allegations at Concept … Authorities in Ohio have widened their inquiry into allegations of misconduct inside Concept Schools, the chain of charter schools based in Des Plaines, the Associated Press reports. The state-level investigation had previously focused on allegations of test-tampering, sex games and other possible criminal acts at a Dayton school, but now authorities are also looking at schools in Columbus and Cincinnati run by the same operator. Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Concept charter schools in several states in for its use of a federal “E-rate” program, which helps schools pay for internet access.

The new allegations come as the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University issued a series of recommendations this week on accountability for charter schools. “While most charter operators are working hard to meet the needs of their students, the lack of effective oversight means too many cases of fraud and abuse, too little attention to equity, and no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence,” the report’s authors write. Among the group’s recommendations: require members of charter school governing bodies to file full financial disclosure reports and identify potential conflicts of interest or relationships with management companies; prohibit online charter schools or halt their expansion until there has been an assessment of performance and operation.

In other news... Access Community Health Network, SGA Youth & Family Services, Near North Health Service Corp. and Healthcare Consortium of Illinois (HCI) received “Healthy Start” funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a press release, SGA said it will be using a total of $10 million in funding over a five-year commitment in partnership with HCI to provide early childhood education services in Roseland and surrounding neighborhoods. 




.

 

 



Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Danger in interest-rate swaps; Winkler's gone and Lane cuts architecture

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 09:37

For years, the Chicago Teachers Union has been warning that so-called “toxic” swaps are costing the district millions and that they put it in a precarious position. This week articles in Forbes and Bloomberg confirm what union leaders have been saying and that CPS and the city, which also has these deals in place, must initiate arbitration by October if they want any chance of getting out of these deals.

Last decade, CPS and the city of Chicago, like many other cities, agreed to sell its debt and do interest rate swaps with companies, such as Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Loop Capital Markets. The governments went into these deals to protect themselves should interest rates spike, but they fell apart when rates plummeted in 2008. These kinds of swaps contributed in part to Detroit’s bankruptcy.

A provision in these deals stipulates that CPS and the city are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if their credit ratings falls too low. CPS, which repeatedly has emptied out its reserves to balance its budget, is two ratings away from triggering a payout of $224 million, according to Bloomberg. The companies could also ask the district to put up collateral instead of paying up.

With this danger looming, on Tuesday in a press release, the CTU, AFSCME Council 31 and SEIU Healthcare IL called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to file for arbitration to get out of the deal and ask for refunds for all the money paid to the banks. They also are holding a press conference on Thursday. A press release issued by the group notes that Los Angeles and Harris County (Houston), Texas, have taken steps to end these deals and recoup money.

The Forbes article notes that winning arbitration is difficult because cities must prove that underwriters knew city and district officials did not understand the risk. Another approach being bantered about on the Oakland and Los Angeles city councils is to threaten to blacklist the companies if they won’t renegotiate the swaps, according to Forbes.

While this seems like a rather technical issue, it gets to the heart of some bigger political issues. Emanuel and others make the case for pension reform by saying that the city and CPS are broke. But the unions say the city could recoup hundreds of millions of dollars by trying to renegotiate these deals. And they try to paint his refusal as evidence that he is more interested in keeping his banker friends happy than getting money to support the workers and services.   

2. Winkler out... CPS confirmed Wednesday that Chief Talent Development Officer Alicia Winkler is leaving her post, but there’s no word on why or who is taking her place. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said union officials, who negotiated with her during the strike, will not miss her. He is especially critical of the fact that the administration pushed the overhaul of the teacher evaluation during the last contract negotiations, but that this year--the first year the evaluations count---the evaluations won’t be available til October. Starting the school year and another round of evaluations without getting the last evaluations, he says is difficult for teachers. “That is just one thing that is a mess,” he says.

But in a letter to staff, Byrd-Bennett praised Winkler. “Under her leadership, CPS has begun the transformation from a compliance to a performance based culture, initiated very positive supports for families to take care of their health and wellness and implemented systems to support talent movement within CPS,” Byrd-Bennett wrote.

Byrd-Bennett said Winkler is leaving to “blend her private and public background to consult with organizations within and outside of education.”

Winkler came to CPS five years ago after working for Sears and Coca Coca. She was one of only four chief level executives to remain when Jean-Claude Brizard left and Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over. Now, the only holdover is Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley.

3. New design plan… Lane Tech High School cut its architecture program this year because its superstar teacher retired and the program had trouble competing with AP classes and electives, reports NewCity Design. The post by a blogger named Designy Mom notes that the architecture program was a staple at Lane since its early days when it was more of a vocational high school. Once upon a time, architecture was in several other vocational high schools in the city, including Lindblom, its counterpart on the South Side. A former design instructor, Designymom writes that Lane's program was a feeder to the University of Illinois Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology’s architecture and engineering programs.

While there was a big outcry this summer when Simeon’s principal cut the electrician program, there’s hasn’t been a stir around the loss of the architecture program at Lane. That’s likely because Lane is a selective enrollment school and almost all students are college bound; whereas Simeon’s electrician program is seen as an alternative for students who won’t go to college.

What’s more, Lane will had a ribbon cutting this week on its new “Makers Lab,” which has 3D printers, 3D scanners, wood and vinyl cutting machines, laser cutters and industry standard CNC machines, which uses computers to control machine tools. In his letter on the website, Lane’s principal writes “this type of learning will continue our pursuit of cross-curricular science, engineering, math, technology, and art.”

4. Cuts a coming… Portage Park Elementary School has 79 fewer students than its projections and now stands to lose a whopping $400,000, according to DNAinfo. For the first time this year, CPS is doing the official enrollment count on the 10th day, rather than the 20th day as has been done in the past. Also new this year is that schools will lose about $4,300 for each student less than projections.

Portage Park Elementary Local School Council members and the principal say that they think the loss is due to families moving to the suburbs or putting their children in Catholic schools.

On Monday, the news was that Goethe School in Logan Square was recruiting students to try to shore up enrollment. Catalyst has also heard of magnet schools offering seats in recent days, something that is pretty unusual after the school year has started.

CPS officials say that school-by-school enrollment counts will be available soon. What will be worth taking note of is whether overall enrollment in CPS is down and whether charter schools are also struggling to get their projected enrollment numbers.

5. Further allegations at Concept … Authorities in Ohio have widened their inquiry into allegations of misconduct inside Concept Schools, the chain of charter schools based in Des Plaines, the Associated Press reports. The state-level investigation had previously focused on allegations of test-tampering, sex games and other possible criminal acts at a Dayton school, but now authorities are also looking at schools in Columbus and Cincinnati run by the same operator. Meanwhile, the FBI continues to investigate Concept charter schools in several states in for its use of a federal “E-rate” program, which helps schools pay for internet access.

The new allegations come as the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University issued a series of recommendations this week on accountability for charter schools. “While most charter operators are working hard to meet the needs of their students, the lack of effective oversight means too many cases of fraud and abuse, too little attention to equity, and no guarantee of academic innovation or excellence,” the report’s authors write. Among the group’s recommendations: require members of charter school governing bodies to file full financial disclosure reports and identify potential conflicts of interest or relationships with management companies; prohibit online charter schools or halt their expansion until there has been an assessment of performance and operation.

In other news... Access Community Health Network, SGA Youth & Family Services, Near North Health Service Corp. and Healthcare Consortium of Illinois (HCI) received “Healthy Start” funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a press release, SGA said it will be using a total of $10 million in funding over a five-year commitment in partnership with HCI to provide early childhood education services in Roseland and surrounding neighborhoods. 




.

 

 



Categories: Urban School News

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