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

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

Jeffco Dramarama

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

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

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

something to chew on

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

Steel City Turnaround

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

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

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

false alarms

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

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

If at first you don't succeed ...

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

CEP participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: Urban School News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo City Schools slips in preliminary state accountability rating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 08:38

do the first day wiggle

The first day of school for one brand new teacher -- which included learning that some of her students can't read their own names -- is a fairly typical experience for the nearly 700 new Denver Public Schools teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo's state accreditation rating dipped slightly on the state's preliminary reports, meaning that the struggling school district will move closer to the end of the state accountability clock. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

room to grow

Although Poudre School District's students outperform the rest of the state on standardized tests overall, the district isn't meeting state expectations for growth among students who receive free and reduced-price lunch, black and Hispanic students, and those with special needs. ( Coloradoan )

setting priorities

New Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee says he doesn't yet have the answers to what the school district needs but rather intends to solicit community support. ( Colorado Public Radio )

building steam on stem

A new roadmap for improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in the state calls for improving access to STEM instruction, particularly at the elementary level, and reducing the need for math remediation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

too busy

After a five-year run as board president of the St. Vrain Valley School District, John Creighton announced that he's stepping down. ( Denver Post )

out of balance

The Denver Post editorial board argues that the state's child welfare system needs more than just additional staff members and should instead focus on increasing efficiency. ( Denver Post )

awesomesauce

The new executive chef in Colorado Springs D-11 says his charge is to bring "awesomeness" to the district's cafeterias. ( Gazette )

record-breakers

A Fort Collins high school broke the record for the highest average ACT score in the state, topping the state's high school ACT scores for the third year in a row. ( 9News )

tax time

The South Routt school district will ask voters to renew a property tax on the November ballot. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

STEM push called vital to state’s economic future

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 20:31

Lack of a “statewide vision” and strategy for STEM education “is impeding Colorado’s ability to develop a strong local talent pipeline needed for an innovation economy,” according to a new Colorado STEM Education Roadmap.

The paper was issued Wednesday by the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) and is intended to build support for STEM education and improve such instruction in the state’s schools.

“Colorado is expected to see above national average growth in STEM occupations over the next decade as well as a rapid increase in the demand for STEM talent across non-STEM professions. However, Colorado’s students are not adequately prepared to compete for these jobs,” said the 12-page document. (Read full roadmap here, and learn more about the initiative’s STEM work here.)

The roadmap also cited a “lack of diversity” among STEM students and workers and said only about half the students who gain STEM credentials actually enter related fields.

The document was released on a busy day for STEM advocates. Safra Catz, co-president of Oracle, called for improved STEM education during a speech to the Colorado Innovation Summit (see Denver Business Journal story). The roadmap was released at the COIN conference.

Behind the acronym

    STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and math” and has become a widely used term among business leaders and educators concerned that the nation is lagging in educating students for both existing technical fields and for future jobs necessary for innovation and economic growth.

Later in the day, CEI hosted a panel discussion during which business, state and school leaders discussed the issue before a crowd of more than 250.

“Strengthening STEM education and experiences for all our students is key to developing an educated workforce and engaged community,” Lt. Governor Joe Garcia said in a statement. “The Colorado STEM Education Roadmap demonstrates Colorado’s commitment to developing a strong talent pipeline rich in diversity.” Garcia, who’s also director of the Department of Higher Education, is a member of the STEM Advisory Committee.

The vision of the roadmap is that “Colorado will become most innovative state in U.S. in growing a local talent pipeline to ensure all students have STEM education and experiences to succeed.”

The document’s goals include:

  • Building public support for STEM education, creating a definition of quality STEM education and better aligning the system.
  • Improving STEM education in elementary schools, better support of teachers and improving rural access to such training. The document noted, “Focusing on STEM education in the early grades is critical to achieving STEM literacy. … Yet, in Colorado, the time spent on science in elementary school has decreased from 2.9 hours per week in 1993-1994 to 1.6 hours per week in 2011-2012, landing Colorado in the bottom five states in terms of time spent on science in the early grades.”
  • Significantly reducing the need for math remediation in college, increasing the number of postsecondary STEM credentials issued and increasing female participation in the field.

The initiative is acting as the coordinator for the effort and is bringing together business leaders, educators and others to work on developing a statewide plan for improving STEM education. CEI also is seeking corporate funding for the effort.

CEI was formerly known as the Colorado Legacy Foundation and raises funds for initiatives and grants to schools in the areas of educator effectiveness, health and wellness, next generation learning and implementation of recent state education reform initiatives.

Categories: Urban School News

School rating system gets tweaked

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 19:14

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juke the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” said Katten, of Raise Your Hand Illinois. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test.

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.
Categories: Urban School News

School rating system gets tweaked

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 19:14

Just one year after unveiling a new School Quality Rating Policy that’s based on a range of indicators from attendance to academic growth, the Board of Education voted on Wednesday to now allow schools to be ranked entirely on their test results.

The change to the rating policy comes because high-performing schools would show less academic growth, thus affecting their SQRP scores, explained John Barker, the district’s chief of accountability.

Ultimately, this would “make it more difficult for schools that are performing at those top levels to [have] much growth that’s higher,” Barker told reporters after the meeting.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on the SQRP and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system. (See revised policy in pages 19-30 of meeting agenda.)

Elementary schools that rank in the top 90th percentile nationally in both reading and math on the NWEA will automatically land in Tier 1, regardless of their SQRP score. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of the data shows that 50 elementary schools would be automatically ranked in the highest tier based on test scores, including 21 selective enrollment or magnet schools.

For high schools, the rating will be based on the composite scores for EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT.

Cassie Creswell from the anti-testing group More Than a Score says she finds it "bizarre" that CPS is revising a performance policy before even issuing its first ratings based on it.

 "The performance policy seems to ignore social science, which shows that when you put pressure on one measure then people start to juke the stats. They will do whatever they can to get high test scores," she says.

The ratings, which will be released in about three weeks, are important because they determine whether a school may be targeted for actions – such as a turnaround or closure. And parents are more likely to try to send their children to a highly rated school, which impacts enrollment.

Delay of PARCC?

During the public comment portion of the meeting, parent activist Wendy Katten told the board she was concerned about the state’s implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (known as the PARCC), which is supposed to take place this spring.

“The issue with the PARCC test is not that it’s rigorous or challenging,” said Katten, of Raise Your Hand Illinois. “But the instructions are confusing, and the answers are often vague.” Katten added that some parts of the computer-based version of the test are clunky.

Illinois is one of several states that are using the PARCC to comply with federal requirements related to aligning curricula to the Common Core State Standards. CPS will not consider it a high-stakes test, meaning that it will not be tied to evaluations for teachers, principals or schools.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she’s discussed the PARCC with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and both agree that there hasn’t been sufficient discussion around the piloting of it last spring. But her explanation of whether the district plans to ask the Illinois State Board of Education for some sort of waiver or delay was not totally clear.

“I’ve had additional conversations with the state superintendent and the president of the [state] board of education to say that we’d like further discussion around – and we presented why think that we should not – I’m not looking for a long-term waiver, but the opportunity for us to really to ensure that everything is in place so that our children will be the best they can be on that test,” Byrd-Bennett said.

After the meeting, Barker told reporters that school district officials from across the state have had “a number of conversations” regarding how the PARCC will be handled in the spring. Some school districts have expressed concern about the technology required to offer the assessment on computers, although there is also a paper version, while the Peru superintendent recently questioned whether states were putting too much emphasis on the test.

Barker said CPS is investigating its options but did not explain whether the district intends to seek a waiver or delay.

Meanwhile, ISBE spokesman Matthew Vanover said the state has no authority to provide a waiver or delay for the federally mandated tests.

“We did have an extensive field test this spring where about 500 districts, 1,200 schools and 110,888 students in Illinois took part in PARCC field testing,” he wrote in an e-mail to Catalyst. “The field test was a ‘practice run’ to gather input from teachers and students and to identify and correct problems with this assessment system before its first official administration in spring 2015. This field test did include the online and pen and paper versions.   These assessments are required under NCLB and we have no authority to waiver them.

NWEA analysis

Since CPS released school-level NWEA test scores a few weeks ago, it has been difficult to figure out how to analyze them. This is the first time CPS released the detailed scores and tied them to a performance policy. But the revised performance policy passed Wednesday reveals that the district is looking at the national attainment percentile—the average score of students, compared to the national average--as a measure.

Using that indicator, here are some findings:

  • Charter schools and neighborhood schools did about the same on average, while selective enrollment elementary schools and magnets did way better. Eight charter schools, including all the LEARN campuses and Alain Locke, did not provide NWEA scores.
  • The schools in Riverdale on the Far South East Side and Fuller Park on the South Side did the worst; while the schools in Edison Park and Forest Glen on the Far North Side did the best.
  • In reading, 87 schools or nearly one-fifth scored below the 10th percentile in national attainment. Ninety percent of them are mostly black and/or neighborhood schools.
  • Of the schools that scored above the 90th percentile in national attainment in reading and math and were therefore automatically given the highest rating: 28 are neighborhood schools, one is a charter school and 21 are either magnet or selective enrollment schools. Of the neighborhood schools, only one, Hefferan in West Garfield Park, is mostly black.
Categories: Urban School News

On a new teacher’s first day, some success and many challenges

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 14:45

“Let’s get all our first day wiggles out,” Mary Young told her class of roughly 30 first graders at Denver’s Gust Elementary, the largest school in the district. As the students vibrated around the room, Young joined them, getting her own first day wiggles — and jitters — out.

Monday was Young’s first day as a teacher — ever. Two hours in, things were going smoothly. No one spilled too much juice or milk during breakfast and only a few students shed tears during the goodbyes with parents.

Not long into the morning, she already had an idea of what the dynamics of her classroom might be. One student who cried when his mother left had smaller breakdowns throughout the day. Another was unable to sit still during reading times and distracted Young and the other students.

What was less clear was how many students she’d have by the end of the week. Passing each other in the hall, Young and another teacher compared notes. Her colleague had one new student arrive before the morning ended. Young had three.

And Young was quickly beginning to understand the challenges she’d face in order to get all her students working on grade-level. When asked to find their nametags at the start of class, several were unable to identify their own names. Just four could read at grade level.

“[My principal and I] had that conversation of what it would be like,” she said. “I didn’t know it would be that low.”

Young is one of nearly 700 new teachers hired on for the new school year in Denver, many of whom were hired to fill the needs of the district’s rapidly growing enrollment. If national trends are true here, most of them will also be in their first year of teaching. Experts say the challenges Young faces are typical of new teachers: daunting classroom management, enormous academic hurdles and a sense that they may not be as well-prepared as they’d like.

In fact, Young was more prepared than most to enter the classroom. She spent a year working in classrooms as part of her teacher training program and is transitioning out of a career as a social worker. Her mother and her mother’s friends, all teachers, had warned about the challenges and came to help her get setup in the week before school started.

“Being a first-year teacher is really hard,” Young said they told her. But they also said, “It’s not going to be perfect and that’s ok.”

Still, there were some challenges she hadn’t prepared herself for.

“I’ve started a list of things I needed to know,” Young said. That list included learning what exactly a scope and sequence for classes are — and how to use them. She’d never encountered the idea of having to teach to a district-mandated lesson day by day for the year.

The list also included one that will shape the next two years of her teaching: how to instruct students who don’t speak English.

Denver teachers must be certified to teach English language learners within a year of starting in the classroom. But that doesn’t help Young in her first year, while she works on getting the certification.

Many of Young’s students speak Mandarin or Spanish as their first language and only four could read at grade level. Students are scored on an 18-level scale for reading proficiency and several students who scored in the lowest tier will have to jump a reading level every two weeks all year to reach grade level.

She received a half day of training during the district’s new teacher induction, but that left her with just a short list of tips: move slowly, work in small groups and give them the start of sentences to complete themselves.

That experience is typical for many teachers, said Lynn Kepp, the vice president of the New Teacher Center, which helps support early career teachers.

“The preparation, even if it’s an excellent preparation program, may not perfectly align with your student demographics,” said Kepp. “You could be a nanny but when you have your own kids, nothing prepares you.”

Still, Young was hopeful about the year, based on what she saw on the first day.

“I was surprised by how much they talked,” said Young. Most students enthusiastically answered her questions about their favorite colors and favorite foods, including several of the most struggling kids.

That’s her goal for the first few days: create a warm environment where students feel comfortable sharing, talking and making mistakes, so that the hard work of getting her students to literacy can happen.

For example, Young and her classroom aide will be distributing the free breakfast that nearly all her students qualify for, due to their family income level.

“There’s something very powerful about being the person giving them the food,” said Young. And she tried to quickly learn and call students their names.

She has also tossed out the “stoplight” discipline strategy that most teachers in the school use, which she called “public shaming.” Instead, she is using more subtle cues to allow students to calm themselves, including a chair called “Australia,” a name taken from a children’s book, where students can go if they need a quiet moment.

She’ll plans to use herself to destigmatize it for her students and to take the biggest piece of advice her fellow teachers gave her: “Just breathe,” because the hardest work still lies ahead, experts say.

“[First-year teachers] are super excited about the first day,” said Kepp. “As they begin to go through the first year, and they face these complexities, they start to feel overwhelmed. [They] feel alone.”

Soon, Kepp said, she’ll have to make tough decisions as the challenges of trying to get her students on grade level. Most first-year teachers benefit from extra support, mentoring and professional development.

The key for even the most prepared teachers like Young, Kepp said, is having someone there when you don’t meet your own expectations.

“That’s why you need people there to realize you’re doing ok,” said Kepp. Those relationships Young will have to start building to make it through the year. She has started to reach out to other teachers for help with English language learners and the school has assigned her a mentor.

But for now, she’s focused on building relationships with her students.

And they’re excited to reciprocate. Students jostled to sit next to her during class meeting. During independent reading, students called out to her to show them what they were reading. One student, summed it up when asked how she felt about the first day, “I’m excited to meet my new teacher.”

Tell us your first day of school stories and we’ll collect the best ones in an article next week. Email us or tell us on Facebook or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Brighton board asks for tax increases

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 09:52

New year, new duties

The new school year is bringing changes for Denver Public Schools’ two most influential administrators: Alyssa Whitehead-Bust and Susana Cordova. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Opening day shuffle

Teachers at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College are being asked to take attendance with paper and pencil and pop in a movie for upperclassman Wednesday while school and district officials work hurriedly to finalize student schedules. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Cost of growth

The Brighton school board is asking voters for a $148 million bond issue and a $7.5 million tax override in the November election. The district is one of the state's fastest growing. ( Denver Post )

Performance pay

The Eagle County school district spent more than $759,000 in performance bonuses this month as part of its performance pay program. ( Vail Daily )

Fewer sore shoulders

All 500 freshman at Denver's South High Schools are getting a Kindle Fire HD tablet, loaded with software, to replace backpacks full of books. ( The Denver Channel )

Moving ahead

The Greeley school board has named an interim superintendent and hired a search firm to find a permanent one. ( Greeley Tribune )

Boulder boom

Both of Boulder County's school districts say enrollments are up as the school year starts. ( Boulder Camera )

Full circle

Nathan Dirnberger, once an at-risk student in Colorado Springs District 11, has returned as the district's executive chef. ( Gazette )

FAFSA woes

Counselors and students agree with Sen. Michael Bennet's effort to drastically simplify the federal student financial aid application form. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Students to report to MLK Jr. Early College despite scheduling snafu

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 22:08

Teachers at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College are being asked to take attendance with paper and pencil and pop in a movie for upperclassman Wednesday while school and district officials work hurriedly to finalize student schedules.

Wednesday is the first day for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at the combined middle and high school in Far Northeast Denver. But a computer glitch is preventing the school from finalizing and printing student schedules.

A district spokesman said he was unsure of the nature of the technology glitch. But he said the delay “isn’t because the staff wasn’t doing their job.”

The technical difficulties may lead to more confusion than just which classes students are supposed to attend.

Teachers, parents, and students were notified mid-afternoon Tuesday that classes were going to be canceled for those students who did not have a final schedule. However, district officials, including Superintendent Tom Boasberg, later told the school to stay open. A second notice was sent out.

“As this matter was brought to my attention, the decision was communicated to cancel instruction the rest of the week,” wrote Kimberly Grayson, the school’s principal, in a second letter to parents announcing that school would, in fact, remain open. “After careful discussion and consideration, and thanks to support from district and Superintendent Boasberg, we have decided that school will continue tomorrow for middle school and begin for high school as originally planned.”

In a schoolwide email to teachers, obtained by Chalkbeat, Grayson apologized for “jumping the gun.”

“[T]omorrow we will be sending students to their advisory class and the students will remain there all day,” she wrote. “You will take attendance via paper attendance. Please bring a few movies to watch with your students tomorrow (a clean movie).”

In that email, sent shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, she also suggested teachers research some ideas for team-building activities.

Advisory classes are akin to home rooms.

Had classes remained canceled, the school would have been Denver Public Schools’ second false start this school year. Last week, district officials told parents school would start later than expected for students at Bromwell Elementary.

Monday was the first day of school for most DPS students.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver’s top two deputies on their new jobs and the district: “We’ve evolved”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 18:32

A new school year usually guarantees changes for students — whether its a new teacher, a new subject, or a new friend.

But this school year is also guaranteeing changes for Denver Public Schools’ two most influential educators: Alyssa Whitehead-Bust and Susana Cordova. During summer break, Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced a reconfiguration of his cabinet that effectively made Whitehead-Bust and Cordova his top lieutenants when it comes to teaching and learning.

In their new roles (Whitehead-Bust is chief academic and innovation officer while Cordova is chief schools officer), no two people within the district’s bureaucracy will have more to do with what and how leaders lead, teachers teach, and students study.

Wanting to know more about their new roles, what they learned from last year, and what’s on their minds as a new school year starts, Chalkbeat reporters sat down with Whitehead-Bust and Cordova (and some chips and guacamole) earlier this month.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Schimel: You guys worked together for a while now?

Alyssa Whitehead-Bust: We have.

Susana Cordova: You joined three years ago? It starts to feel like one really long school year.

KS: So then you know how to work with each other.

AWB: Yeah we’re getting to know each other. We’ve spent a lot of intentional time together. We spent several weeks together before you made a decision, talking about how do we want to work together? How do we want to be together?

SC: Alyssa’s going to be my work wife.

Nicholas Garcia: You two are close. We’ve established that. It’s interesting, Alyssa, that you said “before you made a decision.” What role did you have in this shift? Was this something Superintendent Tom Boasberg tasked you with, to kind of reimagine?

SC: Tom’s been grappling for a while. You know, we’ve made some really nice incremental gains. But when we look at the Denver Plan, incremental gains aren’t going to get us there. So he’s been really grappling with what is the right structure to help really accelerate the pace of reform.

AWB: I just want to add and I think this is really important. In my mind, organizational structure is contingent on the status of the organization. So I think the structure we formerly had served us really well for that moment in time. But we’ve come to a different place. We’ve evolved. We’ve got a new baseline. So to think about how we move from the current baseline to the expectations of the Denver Plan, now we need something different.

KS: So to make a comparison, for a school it might be the difference between “we don’t have systems in place” to “our staff’s on board. Let’s get ready to take the next big leap forward.”

AWB: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The theory is called contingency theory, that the structure that supports an organization is dependent on the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. One would imagine that as a learning organization, our strengths and weaknesses are different at different moments in time.

NG: That next leap forward for DPS is to 2020 and the Denver Plan.

AWB: Susana’s point is that we’ve been really successful in making several point gains every year and we’re nationally applauded for the fact that we’ve been on a positive trajectory for so many years because of Tom’s leadership, Michael’s leadership before him. And we know that that trajectory needs to look entirely different to meet the Denver Plan goals. So I think this is a very responsive move to think about how are we going to get where we need to be by 2020.

KS: If a parent were to wander up to you on the street and be like, “what do you and Susana do, each of your roles?” do you think you could give us that sort of understanding? Because we’re trying to wrap our head around it.

AWB: So my team is very much a service center, developing academic and innovation policy and practice. Susana’s team is very much about implementing those policies and practice. For them to be successful, we obviously need to be collaborating on both sides of that so I don’t want to suggest it’s a handing of a baton. It’s more like running alongside one another.

SC: We’re doing a lot of work from the support team side in terms of tiers of service, like what are the things you can just use as a school leader on your own and it’s on our website, it’s in a toolkit, you can access it, you can get at it. What are the things that need teams of people that go out and do coaching in your building or things like that.

NG: What was your big lesson learned last school year and how are you going to implement that learning into this coming school year?

SC: So I would say the concept of focus was really really critical for us. One of the places where we’ve seen some bright spots in terms of gains has been a couple areas where we saw very intense focus. So the progress of our English learners on TCAP, Lectura, and Access is one of the places where we saw really nice gains, nice movement.

(Editor’s note: Lectura and Access assessments measure English proficiency levels of students identified as English language learners.)

It was an area of incredible focus on always setting up the right teacher training,making sure kids are in the right classrooms, making sure that we had the right structures, more than we’d had as a district in the 20-plus years I’ve been in the system for sure. And it definitely paid off in terms of that level of focus.

Another area, at least  our early analysis is some really nice gains around math tutoring that was a really focus at some specific grade levels.

NG: So what are you going to be focusing on this year? How are you going to be applying that this year?

AWB: I think I would say what you heard me talk about earlier, the label “executional excellence,” focus is an enormous part of that. That is an enormous lesson learned for all of us. So I think the idea for this year is how do we really ensure some consistency and coherence around a whole variety of strategies — some as simple as using the same vocabulary.

KS: To take that down to the ground, what might be different about the experience of a teacher in a classroom this year?

SC: So things like LEAP (DPS’s teacher evaluation tool). We’ve got a really great framework and some really good systems for peer observers and principals to observe and give feedback to teachers. What we really want to work on this year is how are we getting into classrooms, how are we setting the expectations. So the focus this year is how do take what we’ve learned about observational feedback and turn it into these smaller, more manageable opportunities for teachers to focus, practice, get better and measure it.

KS: So that’s essentially going to be a change in the principal’s day. So they might go into a classroom for ten minutes, tell that teacher at lunch, “hey this is what I saw”—

SC: Or tomorrow at the latest.

KS: And come back the next week and see if it made a difference.

AWB: That’s exactly right.

NG: I want to get into a couple specific issues from last year that might turn into trends for the coming year. There were a lot of apparent changes happening to some pretty high-profile high school communities in late spring — changes at George Washington and at East and Manual. We heard some very vocal parent backlash. What are your takeaways?

SC: I was a DPS grad and have worked in DPS for my entire career. So I’m not really surprised by the kind of backlash that we experienced and will say — kind of humbly — that I don’t know that we always go into these large, really complicated situations, with all of the right information, with all of the right community engagement strategies.

I don’t know that we get all of the pieces right. What is pretty clear in the couple of examples that you talked about that we could have done a better job in how we do that.

What I will say is that where parents are, but not just where parents are but where communities are, schools are really important to people who have a long history in the community.

People are really committed and caring about the concept of what they believe their school has to offer. Whether or not the concept of what they believe the school can offer and what the school is actually offering is sometimes not well synced. And sometimes what it’s offering to some kids versus what it’s offering to other kids is also not always well synced.

AWB: One of the elements of the Denver Plan is that by 2020, 80 percent of schools in every neighborhood must provide a quality option to families who live in that neighborhood. fully concur that we have a lot of learning to do on how we engage in those conversations in a manner that leaves everybody feeling heard and respected and also allows us to push with urgency to make sure that all kids do have access to the kind of education they deserve.

NG: So on the East side, we had parents who were angry because there was change coming or apparent change coming, On the West side, we saw parents that were angry because they feel change isn’t happening fast enough.

SC: I know.

NG: Did you hear their message and if you did, what’s the game plan in southwest Denver?

SC: Yeah, you know, I was really engaged in the southwest Denver process and Alyssa’s team was for sure. It’s really clear we need to do a better job for our kids in southwest. It’s certainly the case at Kepner. We’re really hard at work in terms of trying to recruit a leader for the district-run school at Kepner, as well as thinking about the region and how we can do a better job for the kids that are there right now. And this is a place where I feel like we have to — it’s a moral imperative for us to learn from our colleagues in our charter schools. Because same kids, same region, much different performance. We have the obligation to learn from what is working in those place and replicate it. So that’s definitely one of the highest priorities that I have is how do I help our leaders, our teachers and the networks learn from what is working in other places.

NG: Is there a specific timeline or anything that you can share as a big next step for you?

SC: One of the things that I’m starting with is how can we set up a consultancy around what is happening currently in specifically some of those southwest Denver schools and inviting folks from Alyssa’s team, folks from our charter schools, to come listen to “here’s our approach to managing these schools. Here’s our problem. Let’s engage around what we’re getting right, what we’re getting wrong” so that we can really embrace that opportunity for conversation.

NG: We’ve talked a lot about the Denver Plan. A blue or green school in almost every neighborhood. Name your exemplar for the current district-run school that’s already or very closely meeting the goals of the Denver Plan.

AWB: I think McMeen Elementary has just consistently knocked it out of the park. They are incredibly diverse, serves a population of students for whom in other schools we are trying to get it right. And they get it right.

SC: There are like 100 different languages spoken at McMeen.

AWB: And they’ve been blue for years.

KS: Is there a story that folks should know about that they don’t know about, whether it’s about a school, whether that’s about a moment you had in a classroom?

AWB: I’d say there were a few. At Grant Beacon students there are really starting to own the school culture. The emphasis in that building has been on student leadership and seeing the influence that’s had on student culture and engagement and then on outcomes.

SC: A place some really great things are going on at the classroom level is Skinner Middle School and both around this idea of kids knowing and owning their data and their performance and their academic core classes. But I was in a Skinner Spanish class with seventh graders and I have a seventh grader myself in a Spanish class in our district and I was just so intrigued at what a great classroom culture this teacher had set up. Other teachers from other schools were there. They were watching, they were briefing her. It was just a fabulous example on multiple levels. What it did the for the kids, what it did for the school, what that teacher was doing for her teacher colleagues from around the city was great.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: State pot campaign raises hackles

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 09:33

A Chat with chalkbeat

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Denver's superintendent discusses some of the controversies of last year and the district's push for diverse schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Turn that gap upside down

Denver's largest charter network, which opened its third high school yesterday, celebrated a rare benchmark: closing and even reversing the achievement gap at two campuses. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Don't call me a rat

The state's campaign to inform teens of the risks of marijuana is coming to districts around the state but Boulder school officials are opposing the campaign over the use of a human-sized rat cage. ( Daily Camera )

No clean bill of (financial) health

More and more of Colorado's schools have financial issues, a state audit found. The eastern plains saw the most red flags for schools' financial health. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Hit that snooze button, kiddo

Pediatricians are now recommending that schools start later, especially middle and high schools, for teens' health. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Dollars for tests

More Colorado students will soon have the costs of AP and IB tests covered, thanks to a federal grant. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

City or school

Steamboat Springs school board members are skeptical of an urban renewal plan that could draw money away from schools and the county. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

After unusual accomplishment, Denver charter network opens third high school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 18:17

Just moments after Ben Cairns dismissed his teachers and freshman from their morning meeting, he huddled with DSST Public Schools’ head of schools Rochelle Van Dijk.

Cairns, a former Denver Public Schools employee, is founding school director of  the charter network’s newest high school at the Cole campus in northeast Denver. Monday was the first day of school for most of Denver Public Schools including freshman at DSST Cole High.

“Going to college starts today,” Cairns told his students during their morning check-in. “Everything you do matters … Your grades matter.”

Students at DSST schools are expected to move quickly in the halls and between tasks, be respectful, continually push themselves toward higher academic goals. So are the adults.

Setting the school’s high expectation and culture immediately was job number 1 for today.

Van Dijk, who previously opened DSST Green Valley Ranch, pointed out what Cairns did right and what he needed to work on. Cairns could of have had a little more fun with the freshman and built excitement about it being the first day of school, Van Dijk said.

Then it was off to check-in on classrooms with the associate school director Becca Bloch.

“If you don’t practice it right on day one, you’re not going to get it right on day two,” Cairns said.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaFreshmen at DSST Cole High School in Dexter Korto’s morning advisory class look to the back of the class where English standards are posted. Korto, standing, taught at DSST Cole Middle School before following the freshman to open the new high school in northeast Denver.

Getting it right from day one and continually improving systems and instruction within the network are in part what several DSST leaders believe have led to the charter networks most recent and unusual accomplishment.

For the first time in DSST history, tenth graders who qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices at both DSST high schools outperformed their more affluent peers in some subject areas on state tests last spring.

“One paradigm we haven’t been able to shift is the income achievement gap,” said DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg at a recent meeting with the staff at Green Valley Ranch High. “What’s so shocking about the results here is that you’ve turned the gaps upside down.”

At DSST Stapleton, 92 percent of low-income 10th graders scored proficient or advanced on the state’s reading test, compared to 89 percent of their middle-income peers. Eighty-five percent of low-income 10th graders scored proficient or advanced on the state’s writing test compared to 81 percent of their middle-income peers.

At DSST Green Valley Ranch, 63 percent of low-income 10th graders scored proficient or advanced on the state’s math test, compared to 58 percent of their middle-income classmates.

At both campuses and in all subject areas, DSST’s 10th graders who qualify for free- or reduced-lunch, a proxy of poverty, either met or beat the district’s middle-income students proficiency rates.

While Stapleton’s low-income student population is below 50 percent, Green Valley Ranch’s rivals the districts at 71 percent.

Results like DSST’s inverted achievement gap are rare but not unprecedented, said Daria Hall, K-12 policy director at The Educational Trust, an education advocacy group that focuses on income and racial disparities in public education.

“To be clear, there are not nearly enough of these schools that points to a real change in high schools,” Hall said. “You see across the board high school’s aren’t doing as well, that’s why success at the high school level is that more important to celebrate and understand.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia DSST Cole High School Director Ben Cairns and DSST Director of Schools Rochelle Van Dijk discuss Cairns’ first morning meeting.

Hall said her organization has identified four traits most schools that serve mostly low-income or large populations of African American and Latino students and that post high results on standardized tests share. Those are a belief that all students of all backgrounds can achieve at high levels; a commitment to developing leadership; a tight correlation between instruction and assessment; and quality teacher requirement, retainment, and development. 

Leaders at both high schools echoed Hall when asked what led to the surprising results.

Further, specific instructional changes last year at the charter’s high schools could have also contributed to DSST’s 10th graders beating the gap. At Green Valley ranch there was an emphasis on more complex problem solving and written statements in math. And at Stapleton there was a shift to more nonfiction texts, deeper readings, and evidence-based writing.

“It’s not about softening it for them,” said Jeff Desserich, school director at DSST Stapleton High.

Cairns has no plans on softening the DSST model at the Cole campus. After all, he was one of dozens of parents who lobbied for a high performing program to come to the northeast corner of the city.

“We didn’t want a pathways school,” he said, recalling the community’s feelings in 2007 when DPS was considering options for the campus. “We had enough of those in northeast Denver.”

This morning Cairns led the first morning meeting with the first class of freshman of DSST Cole High.

“We’re creating a school together,” he told the class of 2018 sitting in front of them.

Categories: Urban School News

Auditor’s review highlights financial stress for districts

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 17:05

Tight state funding and enrollment declines in some areas have taken a toll on the financial health of more and more Colorado school districts, according to a new report from the state auditor.

According to the report, in the 2012-13 school year, 20 districts missed two of more of the financial benchmarks the Office of the State Auditor uses to evaluate the financial health of districts. In 2011-12, only nine districts missed two of more benchmarks.

In 2012-13, a total of 76 districts missed one or more benchmarks, compared to 48 the year before.

Most of the 20 districts missing two or more benchmarks were small and rural, and several of those also experienced declining enrollment, which further stretched their finances. State K-12 funding cuts and the cost of construction and maintenance needs forced many districts to dip into their reserves. One of the auditor’s benchmarks relates to reserves.

“Rural districts, particularly on the eastern plains, are showing signs of financial stress,” Crystal Dorsey, deputy state auditor, told the Legislative Audit Committee Monday morning. She said 15 of the 20 district have 1,000 or fewer students.

Leanne Emm, associate commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, agreed that eastern Colorado districts have been hardest hit.

Do your homework

The five indicators

  • Ratio of general fund assets to liabilities
  • Adequacy of revenue available for debt payments
  • General fund ending balance
  • Amounts added to reserves
  • Annual change in general fund balance

State auditors review three years of individual district audits to compile the report. This year’s document covered to 2010-11 to 2012-13.

She noted that 12 of the 20 districts have fewer than 400 students and most have declining enrollments. “Normally those have maybe one building,” she said. “You cannot cut your fixed costs” when enrollment drops.

“You still have to turn the lights on, you still have to maintain the building, you still have to have your principal, who’s probably also the superintendent. … So these small districts are going to see significant strains.”

Emm predicted that even more districts will be on the missed-benchmarks list next year after the auditor reviews district information for the 2013-14 school year.

“Absolutely there will be more,” she said. Even though state K-12 funding has improved somewhat, “You can’t pull out of it that fast,” she said.

Only one of the 20 districts, 64-student Silverton, missed three benchmarks. In a response provided to the auditor, the district said it debt burden was up because of a 2010 bond issues, its operating margin and fund balance ration were down “due to severe decreases in state funding.”

The only larger district that missed two benchmarks in 2012-13 was 9,257-student Pueblo 70. District officials told the auditor’s office that “the district has made multiple cuts over time, however, without the spend-down of reserves, drastic cuts would have been required and the impact on student achievement would have been devastating.” Pueblo 70’s use of reserves affected its operating margin and the amount of change in its fund balance, two of the benchmarks.

Two of Colorado’s largest districts, Jefferson County and Adams 12-Five Star, missed two benchmarks in 2011-12 but none in 2012-13. The annual Colorado School Districts Fiscal Health Analysis report includes information from a three-year period.

The period covered by the new report was a time of budget cuts for districts. In 2010-11, statewide average per-pupil funding was $6,814, down from $7,078 in 2009-10.

In the following year, 2011-12, the statewide average was $6,474. That rose very slightly to $6,479 in 2012-13.

Small rural districts receive significantly higher per-pupil amounts than the statewide average – more than $15,000 per student in a few cases. But at that amount even the loss of a few students can have significant financial impacts.

The annual district financial health study is not an audit in that it doesn’t assess the compliance of districts’ financial practices with accepted procedures. Every district is required to have an outside audit done annually, and Emm said CDE didn’t find problems in the latest round of audits.

And, auditor’s office staffer Gina Faulkner noted, “Missing the benchmark might not necessarily mean there’s a problem.” But the report does highlight the steps some districts have had to take to maintain programs during a time of budget cuts.

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:37

On a sunny August morning, several dozen teachers from a range of schools crowded into the cafeteria of Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont-Cragin. No children were in the room. On this day, teachers were the students, and the class was the Lesson Study Alliance’s summer institute.

In one corner, teachers from South Shore Fine Arts Elementary School presented their plans for teaching two-step word problems involving addition and subtraction to third-graders. Over several days, they explained, one teacher would go over addition and subtraction problems separately. On the sixth and final day, she’d combine both concepts into a single word problem about someone collecting and discarding rocks while on a nature walk.

The other teachers in the cafeteria asked how they thought students would respond, including the kinds of wrong answers they might offer. They also discussed the best order in which to write out students’ answers on the board, and how that might be important for future lessons on the order of math operations.

“When you’re working with a team, you think of things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” says Kelly Miller, one of the South Shore teachers. “We’ve all been to PD where it’s just a waste of time. This isn’t like that.”

Teachers and CPS leaders say workshops like those offered by Lesson Study Alliance are an example of quality professional development that both improves their teaching and fulfills requirements for state certification renewal and salary advancement.

But with limited time and resources, many teachers say it’s harder to get access to good PD during the school year. Even though 10 days for PD are built into the calendar year, teachers say it’s simply not enough.  In some cases, time is eaten away by administrative announcements or other school business – especially at schools that have cut support staff that used to handle those duties.

That means educators have to be creative to find and take advantage of opportunities, by applying for them over the summer and sharing with colleagues who don’t get to attend.

Mariel Laureano, the principal at Prieto, for example, offered to host the summer Lesson Study institute in exchange for allowing teachers from her school participate for free.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, as it really deepens their understanding of learning overall so that they want to be here,” she says.

Teacher-led trainings

In the meantime, CPS is trying to improve in-school opportunities by using a model of teacher-led PD. The district says the shift, which began two years ago, has less to do with saving money than it does taking advantage of the trust teachers have in their own colleagues.

The district trains so-called “teacher leaders” from each school on specific skills or curricula, and the teacher leaders are then expected to go back to their schools and share what they’ve learned, explains Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, executive director of Professional Learning at CPS.

The model has its pros and cons, teachers say. On the one hand, teachers can learn more from colleagues than outside providers because they have an intimate understanding of the local context and student body.

“It can be a powerful thing because of the local knowledge and relationships,” says Mark Sidarous, a biology and chemistry teacher who has done trainings for his colleagues at Community Links High School.

But on the other hand, many teachers said trainings are limited to what people in the building already know or happen to learn at one of the district’s trainings. And it’s extra work for which teachers don’t get paid.

To avoid burdening the same teachers repeatedly with extra work, CPS asked principals to develop plans for one of the district’s learning priorities, the Common Core, during a three-day summer training.  Annette Gurley, chief of the Office of Teaching and Learning, says this should have a positive impact on the overall professional development of teachers.

“We asked, ‘Who are you counting on to help you do this in your building,  to make sure we are not pulling on the same people all the time?’” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity to stop and really reflect on who we’re using without overloading them.”

Building trust, camaraderie

At Wadsworth Elementary, administrators and staff spent part of the summer developing a plan to encourage more teachers to lead trainings among their colleagues, especially on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas. The idea is not only to spread knowledge, but to build camaraderie and trust in a school that has had a tumultuous past year. Wadsworth was recently designated a STEM school and last year welcomed students from closed schools, at the same time making a move to the former Dumas Elementary building when a charter high school took over the former Wadsworth building.

Many teachers seemed disinterested last year in learning more about STEM. “But when teachers were motivated and [got the chance to] train others, they would come in and share their personal narratives, and that was really the key that broke down some of the walls,” says Michelle Warden, the school’s STEM technology specialist.

The Wadsworth group worked on the plan to promote teacher-led training during the recent Summer Design Program, a project of The Chicago Public Education Fund. The Summer Design Program brought teams of teachers and principals from 40 schools together to find solutions for specific school challenges.

About 80 schools applied for the free summer program, which itself was a form of professional development that can count toward teachers’ requirements for certification renewal. Heather Anichini, president and CEO of The Fund, says she was pleased at the level of interest even though the program is only in its second year.

“People are really hungry for professional development that takes into account what teachers know and experience in schools,” she says. “So much of the professional development that’s out there is lecture-driven, non-engaging, kind of rooted in the idea that someone has one solution and it’s going to work in all schools.”

On their own time, educators are also seeking professional learning opportunities around the Common Core State Standards and the Framework for Teaching, on which teachers are now being evaluated, says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

“We are seeing a lot more people attending the study sessions we’ve developed around the Framework for Teaching,” she says. “Ratings are coming up this year and teachers want to know what they need to do to improve.”

Menu for principals

Meanwhile, the district is trying to make it easier for networks and schools to vet outside professional development providers.  Earlier this summer, CPS issued a broad request for proposals from PD providers that could support the implementation of some of the district’s top priorities, including the Common Core and Framework for Teaching. Principals and network chiefs will be encouraged – though not required – to use the approved vendors.

Last year, CPS issued a similar but more narrow RFP. Lesson Study Alliance, which offered the summer institute at Prieto earlier this month, was one of 19 providers that made the cut. Thomas McDougal, executive director of the organization and a former teacher himself, says what makes the “lesson study” model so useful to other educators is the opportunity to practice lessons in a controlled setting before taking them into the classroom.

 “Imagine a soccer player watching a video of a new move. That’s a helpful start, but does that mean he’s ready to go out and play?” McDougal says. “That’s how most American professional development is structured. You learn about ‘unpacking’ the Common Core or talking about ‘differentiated instruction.’ But does this mean teachers are ready to go out and teach this stuff?”

The RFPs also help the district itself to know what kinds of professional development opportunities are offered across CPS and how much is being spent, which is a challenge for any school district. In addition, district officials say the process will ensure providers charge schools the same rate for the same trainings.

Gurley says giving principals a go-to “menu” of pre-approved PD providers should save them from wasting time doing their own research.

“As the instructional leaders in a building, principals are very busy. We really want them to spend the time in the classroom monitoring and supporting instruction,” she said. “Whatever we can do to take something off their plate that is the focus of Central Office.”

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers get creative to find time for professional development

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:37

On a sunny August morning, several dozen teachers from a range of schools crowded into the cafeteria of Prieto Math and Science Academy in Belmont-Cragin. No children were in the room. On this day, teachers were the students, and the class was the Lesson Study Alliance’s summer institute.

In one corner, teachers from South Shore Fine Arts Elementary School presented their plans for teaching two-step word problems involving addition and subtraction to third-graders. Over several days, they explained, one teacher would go over addition and subtraction problems separately. On the sixth and final day, she’d combine both concepts into a single word problem about someone collecting and discarding rocks while on a nature walk.

The other teachers in the cafeteria asked how they thought students would respond, including the kinds of wrong answers they might offer. They also discussed the best order in which to write out students’ answers on the board, and how that might be important for future lessons on the order of math operations.

“When you’re working with a team, you think of things you wouldn’t have thought of on your own,” says Kelly Miller, one of the South Shore teachers. “We’ve all been to PD where it’s just a waste of time. This isn’t like that.”

Teachers and CPS leaders say workshops like those offered by Lesson Study Alliance are an example of quality professional development that both improves their teaching and fulfills requirements for state certification renewal and salary advancement.

But with limited time and resources, many teachers say it’s harder to get access to good PD during the school year. Even though 10 days for PD are built into the calendar year, teachers say it’s simply not enough.  In some cases, time is eaten away by administrative announcements or other school business – especially at schools that have cut support staff that used to handle those duties.

That means educators have to be creative to find and take advantage of opportunities, by applying for them over the summer and sharing with colleagues who don’t get to attend.

Mariel Laureano, the principal at Prieto, for example, offered to host the summer Lesson Study institute in exchange for allowing teachers from her school participate for free.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, as it really deepens their understanding of learning overall so that they want to be here,” she says.

Teacher-led trainings

In the meantime, CPS is trying to improve in-school opportunities by using a model of teacher-led PD. The district says the shift, which began two years ago, has less to do with saving money than it does taking advantage of the trust teachers have in their own colleagues.

The district trains so-called “teacher leaders” from each school on specific skills or curricula, and the teacher leaders are then expected to go back to their schools and share what they’ve learned, explains Susan Kajiwara-Ansai, executive director of Professional Learning at CPS.

The model has its pros and cons, teachers say. On the one hand, teachers can learn more from colleagues than outside providers because they have an intimate understanding of the local context and student body.

“It can be a powerful thing because of the local knowledge and relationships,” says Mark Sidarous, a biology and chemistry teacher who has done trainings for his colleagues at Community Links High School.

But on the other hand, many teachers said trainings are limited to what people in the building already know or happen to learn at one of the district’s trainings. And it’s extra work for which teachers don’t get paid.

To avoid burdening the same teachers repeatedly with extra work, CPS asked principals to develop plans for one of the district’s learning priorities, the Common Core, during a three-day summer training.  Annette Gurley, chief of the Office of Teaching and Learning, says this should have a positive impact on the overall professional development of teachers.

“We asked, ‘Who are you counting on to help you do this in your building,  to make sure we are not pulling on the same people all the time?’” she says. “It’s a rare opportunity to stop and really reflect on who we’re using without overloading them.”

Building trust, camaraderie

At Wadsworth Elementary, administrators and staff spent part of the summer developing a plan to encourage more teachers to lead trainings among their colleagues, especially on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subject areas. The idea is not only to spread knowledge, but to build camaraderie and trust in a school that has had a tumultuous past year. Wadsworth was recently designated a STEM school and last year welcomed students from closed schools, at the same time making a move to the former Dumas Elementary building when a charter high school took over the former Wadsworth building.

Many teachers seemed disinterested last year in learning more about STEM. “But when teachers were motivated and [got the chance to] train others, they would come in and share their personal narratives, and that was really the key that broke down some of the walls,” says Michelle Warden, the school’s STEM technology specialist.

The Wadsworth group worked on the plan to promote teacher-led training during the recent Summer Design Program, a project of The Chicago Public Education Fund. The Summer Design Program brought teams of teachers and principals from 40 schools together to find solutions for specific school challenges.

About 80 schools applied for the free summer program, which itself was a form of professional development that can count toward teachers’ requirements for certification renewal. Heather Anichini, president and CEO of The Fund, says she was pleased at the level of interest even though the program is only in its second year.

“People are really hungry for professional development that takes into account what teachers know and experience in schools,” she says. “So much of the professional development that’s out there is lecture-driven, non-engaging, kind of rooted in the idea that someone has one solution and it’s going to work in all schools.”

On their own time, educators are also seeking professional learning opportunities around the Common Core State Standards and the Framework for Teaching, on which teachers are now being evaluated, says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis, who heads the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center.

“We are seeing a lot more people attending the study sessions we’ve developed around the Framework for Teaching,” she says. “Ratings are coming up this year and teachers want to know what they need to do to improve.”

Menu for principals

Meanwhile, the district is trying to make it easier for networks and schools to vet outside professional development providers.  Earlier this summer, CPS issued a broad request for proposals from PD providers that could support the implementation of some of the district’s top priorities, including the Common Core and Framework for Teaching. Principals and network chiefs will be encouraged – though not required – to use the approved vendors.

Last year, CPS issued a similar but more narrow RFP. Lesson Study Alliance, which offered the summer institute at Prieto earlier this month, was one of 19 providers that made the cut. Thomas McDougal, executive director of the organization and a former teacher himself, says what makes the “lesson study” model so useful to other educators is the opportunity to practice lessons in a controlled setting before taking them into the classroom.

 “Imagine a soccer player watching a video of a new move. That’s a helpful start, but does that mean he’s ready to go out and play?” McDougal says. “That’s how most American professional development is structured. You learn about ‘unpacking’ the Common Core or talking about ‘differentiated instruction.’ But does this mean teachers are ready to go out and teach this stuff?”

The RFPs also help the district itself to know what kinds of professional development opportunities are offered across CPS and how much is being spent, which is a challenge for any school district. In addition, district officials say the process will ensure providers charge schools the same rate for the same trainings.

Gurley says giving principals a go-to “menu” of pre-approved PD providers should save them from wasting time doing their own research.

“As the instructional leaders in a building, principals are very busy. We really want them to spend the time in the classroom monitoring and supporting instruction,” she said. “Whatever we can do to take something off their plate that is the focus of Central Office.”

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Categories: Urban School News

Latino Youth Alternative School teachers to vote on union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 13:22

Nearly five years after they started organizing to form a union, teachers at the alternative Latino Youth High School in Pilsen say they’re preparing to vote on their first labor contract.

Organizers said they are still finalizing the details on the tentative agreement with the school’s operator, Pilsen Wellness Center. The 12 teachers included in the contract won’t vote on it until after school begins in September, and the school’s board also has to ratify the contract.

The tentative agreement includes language on due process and the formation of committees for teachers to participate in making decisions about the school, including on social-emotional and academic issues. Teachers will also work with management to develop the process and tools to be used in their own evaluations.

The tentative agreement also creates a step and lane system for salary increases, a first in any union contract for charter teachers in Chicago.

“This makes it more attractive to teachers with advanced degrees to work for the school, and encourages people who are already there to continue their educations,” said Chris Baehrend, an English teacher at Latino Youth and the vice president of Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS). “Overall, we’re satisfied with the contract.”

Administrators of Pilsen Wellness Center and an attorney representing the non-profit organization did not respond to requests seeking comment on the negotiations.

Teachers at Latino Youth had voted to unionize under state labor law in 2010, but the school appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the state’s education labor laws didn’t apply because it was a charter school. After a protracted fight, teachers again voted under federal labor law last fall, and have been negotiating their first contract ever since.

Baehrend said the process helped rebuild the relationship between teachers and management.

“Sitting down with that board and having discussions really created trust in that we all want to do what’s in students’ best interest,” he said.

Latino Youth is one of 20 alternative schools that operate under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS), the non-profit organization that hold the charter with Chicago Public Schools. Last year Latino Youth reported an enrollment of about 200 students, grades 10 through 12.

It’s one of 29 unionized charter schools in Chicago, representing about a quarter of all charter schools in the city. Apart from Latino Youth, the only other school that lacks a contract is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest.

Teachers there voted to unionize in May after a months-long standoff with CICS. Those teachers are currently in contract negotiations with the school’s management group, ChicagoQuest Schools. Another three CICS schools managed by a separate management group already have a contract.

Categories: Urban School News

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