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Aurora OKs boundary lines for new school; most students will be behind grade level

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 19:18

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education last week set a broad attendance boundary for its new combined elementary and middle school, which they hope will alleviate pressure from some of its most overcrowded west-side schools.

But in an effort to also save the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity at two high achieving schools in the southern part of this Denver suburb, the district is creating a school where most students will enroll behind grade level in math and language arts.

The unanimous vote capped a sixth month community engagement process and begins a new one that will likely include staff changes at nine of the districts elementary and middle schools and some services for students who will be relocated to a new school.

The new school, which will serve about 820 preschool through eighth grade students in its first year, is being built in part to curb overcrowding at schools like Tollgate Elementary and Vista PEAK Exploratory P-8. The district also hopes to strengthen its ties with the Buckley Air Force Base community. Students who live on base will predominantly attend the new school. And Aurora officials are also using the occasion to develop a new school model that requires teachers to use strength-based classroom tactics and promote “academic resiliency.”

At least half of the students who are expected to attend the new combined elementary and middle school will be below grade-level in language arts and math, according to a sample compiled by Aurora officials. They will also be mostly Latino and poor.

Which such a composition, the new school is likely to join several of the district’s existing schools on the state’s accountability clock. Those schools are on-watch for low student performance on state exams. If they don’t improve in enough time, they may face sanctions.

But the school’s leader believes the strength-based and academic resiliency model that she and a team of teachers, district officials, and community members are developing is an advantageous solution.

“Learning is hard,” said Carrie Clark, the school’s principal. “We’re gonna tell all of our kids that. But in this building, we’re going to teach you these skills so when something is hard, you can get through it and come out the other side.”

The school will be located at East Sixth Avenue and Airport Road. The boundary runs north from Alameda Avenue to Interstate 70 and east from Sable Road to Picadilly Road.

“The new school will help, but by no means will it solve all of our problems,” said Anthony Sturges, Aurora Public School’s chief operations officer.

Nearly 10 percent of APS schools are at or above capacity, while another 38 percent are at 90 percent capacity. And according to district projections, by 2017 every desk in every high school will be filled by a student.

The elementary and middle schools that will see the biggest shift in students are also among the district’s largest. Elkhart and Tollgate elementary schools and Vista PEAK Exploratory P-8 are each expected to lose more than 100 students. That means changes in budgets and human resources.

“When you lose students, you lose staff,” said Mary Lewis, an APS board member at a meeting earlier this month.

And that’s caused some parents and teachers, especially at Vista PEAK Exploratory, to worry.

Stacey Ivey, a parent and teacher at Vista PEAK Exploratory, told the school board before the new boundaries were approved that she had three questions about the forthcoming boundary changes. How as the district planning to support students either relocate to a new school or don’t? How will the district communicate staff reductions at schools? And will there be special enrollment opportunities for VISTA Peak Exploratory students entering the seventh or eighth grade?

Superintendent Rico Munn said at the time he was aware of the concerns and that they would be addressed once the boundary zones were set.

One group of parents Munn and his team won’t have to worry about upsetting are those at the Murphy Creek and Aurora Frontier P-8 schools. That’s because the new boundary lines keep their racially and socioeconomically diverse schools intact, as those parents requested — loudly — during the community engagement process.

“We’re 40 percent Caucasian, 30 percent Black, and 30 percent Hispanic,” said Chris Capron, an assistant principal at Murphy Creek, at the school board meeting when the boundaries were discussed. “That’s why they’re going to Murphy Creek.”

If the mostly white neighborhood kids were to go to a different school, he said, “it would completely change the culture of our school. And we don’t want that.”

Categories: Urban School News

Study highlights benefits of full-day preschool in Chicago

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 17:38

Research has long shown how preschool attendance can have lifelong academic and other benefits for children, especially those from low-income families. But a new study on Chicago’s child-parent centers found that children attending a full day of preschool do even better on a range of kindergarten readiness assessments than those who attend preschool for just part of the day.

Children who attend for a full day also have better attendance, are less likely to be chronically absent and demonstrate more gains in social-emotional development and physical health. 

The research -- from the Human Capital Research Collaborative at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs -- comes just weeks after the city agreed to temporarily expand the number of half-day slots available in child-parent centers using a unique loan that ties repayment to a reduction in children needing costly special education services.

The study’s lead author, Arthur Reynolds, who has researched Chicago’s child-parent centers for decades, said he was surprised by the consistency and size of the impact of extending the hours. Previous research, he said, had already established that children in full-day classes make more progress on literacy and math skills than children in half-day classes.

“But we found even larger differences in social-emotional learning -- in terms of peer relationships, following directions, managing emotions and experiences – and also physical health, which has never been looked at,” Reynolds said.

Scores for literacy and cognitive development were not significantly different between children from the two groups, the study found. But, overall, children who participated in a full-day program scored 22 points higher on their “total school readiness score,” as measured by the observational tool Teaching Strategies Gold.

Reynolds said the benefits found by extending preschool hours in child-parent centers could likely be replicated at other kinds of high-quality preschools. Historically, most publicly funded CPS preschool classrooms have been half-day, meaning children attend class for less than three hours per day. CPS officials said that currently some 563 of the district's 663 preschool classrooms are half-day.

The study, conducted in the 2012-2013 school year, focused on about 1,000 low-income children who attended one of the 11 child-parent centers in Chicago that offered both full-day and part-day classes that year. (The number has since grown, with 13 of the city’s 16 child-parent centers now offering full-day classes.)

Child-parent centers are unique because of their wraparound services and requirements of parental involvement. They were started in Chicago in the 1960s but have been significantly improved and expanded across the Midwest since 2011, through a $15 million federal Investing in Innovations (i3) grant that’s being managed by Reynolds and a team from the University of Minnesota.

Longer days lead to better attendance

The new study – which is being published in tomorrow’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association -- found that children in full-day classes were also more likely to show up to school. The average daily attendance rate among children in the full-day cohort was 85.9 percent, versus 80.4 percent among those in the half-day programs. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, was cut by nearly half.

Reynolds said parents are more committed to sending their children each day to a full-day, high-quality preschool program. He also recognized the transportation and logistical barriers that make it challenging for parents to send their children to half-day preschool programs. A recent report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that children are most likely to miss preschool when they’re sick, although logistical obstacles for families account for nearly one-fifth of all absences.

Parents say many of those obstacles “arise because of difficulty with half-day preschool schedules,” according to the Consortium study. “Half-day programs require that parents find child care for the remainder of the day and arrange drop-off/pick-up in the middle of the day.”

In recent months, a new coalition of unions and community groups has issued a call to city officials to extend the hours of early childhood education programs and child care so that parents can work full-time.

In fact, Reynolds says the main reason that many of Chicago’s child-parent centers even offer full-day preschool classes is because of the insistence of parents who otherwise refused to enroll their children. Because the federal grant money only covers a half-day of class, “principals agreed to use their own dollars to match the i3 grant,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

DPS board takes meetings on the road

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 13:19
"Instead of asking the community to come to us, we're going to come to them."
– Anne Rowe, DPS board meeting

Denver’s school board has a new home this year—the Emily Griffith Campus on Lincoln Street (which may well be the only school board meeting room in the country with a rock climbing wall).

But starting next month, the DPS school board will take some of its meetings on the road. The board plans to meet at high schools in all four quadrants in the city over the course of the year.

“Instead of asking the community to come to us, we’re going to come to them,” said board member Anne Rowe.

The board’s first meeting “on the road” will be on December 18 at South High School, 1700 East Louisiana Ave., at 4:30.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver teachers, staff make recommendations about compensation

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/25/2014 - 10:05

Compensation

As negotiations approach, a group of Denver Public Schools teachers and staff suggest a series of revisions to the district's noted compensation system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Race and Museums

An exhibit about race at History Colorado is starting conversations in Denver public schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Colorado

A student's essay inspired by the History Colorado race exhibit. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Keeping Safe

A sheriff in Park County volunteers as a school resource officer in a district that needs more than it can afford. ( 9 News )

Teacher Equity

The federal education department released guidelines for states helping to ensure "teacher equity"—placing successful teachers around the states—but the guidelines are still fairly vague. ( Education Week )

Ferguson

St. Louis-area schools closed in the wake of grand jury decision in Michael Brown. ( Education Week )

Identity

A Colorado student navigates her racial identity. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Around the network

A program in Tennessee links students to social services. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Public Education

Middle class parents might return to public schools in Detroit. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver study group: ProComp teacher pay system should be simpler, more targeted

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 19:32

As Denver’s current teacher and administration compensation system nears its expiration date, a working group of teachers and district staff are recommending a set of significant tweaks aimed at improving teacher recruitment and retention, especially in hard-to-staff schools.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver Public Schools, and the Rose Community Foundation, which helped fund the initial version of the system, released a report late last week based on the feedback of a union- and district-convened Design Team for Compensation and Career Pathways.

The team’s recommendations likely foreshadow the options on the table as the union and district enter negotiations.

“This is basically the beginning of a conversation,” said Henry Roman, president of the DCTA.

The report suggests that DPS’s Professional Compensation System, or ProComp, should be easier to explain and understand. It also suggests a set of stronger incentives to encourage teachers to stay in the classroom and teach in the schools where the district needs them most.

Under the current ProComp system, which earned national attention when it was first implemented in 2005, teachers receive bonuses for working in hard-to-staff or hard-to-serve schools, for exceeding student achievement expectations, or for working at a top-performing school, among other actions. Denver voters approved a $25 million annual property tax increase to fund the incentive program, and several local and national foundations, Rose most prominent among them, donated millions of dollars as well.

But just how those incentives have been working has been the subject of some debate. A report from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University presented to the district’s board last month finds that salaries under ProComp weren’t dramatically different than they would have been under traditional compensation schemes, and that ProComp incentives were not strongly tied to DPS’s measure of a teachers’ effectiveness in improving students’ test scores.

The new report outlines a possible new framework for ProComp that includes larger incentives that grow over time for staff in more challenging schools. It also includes more established and lucrative pathways for teachers who move into leadership roles.

Roman said that framework is just one of a number of possibilities the DCTA would explore.

The report also outlines eight principles it says should guide the negotiations. From the report:

  • Opportunities for leadership and increased compensation, including base-building opportunities and bonuses, should be available to teachers throughout their career.
  • The compensation system should be easy for teachers to understand. It should also be easy for administrators to understand and support.
  • The compensation system should attract and retain, with real incentives, effective and distinguished teachers in hard-to-serve schools
  • The compensation system should allow effective/distinguished teachers to increase earnings substantially without leaving the classroom.
  • The compensation system should attract, retain and reward effective and distinguished teachers.
  • The compensation system should value professional learning.
  • The compensation system should provide a formal and explicit structure for career progression and opportunities.
  • The design of the system should be sensitive to whether the requirements placed on teachers and school and district leaders are reasonable. The district must have systems/ practices in place to support the compensation system and support teachers in pursuing available opportunities.

The current ProComp agreement expires at the end of December, though it will likely be extended throughout negotiations. The district and the DCTA plan to establish a calendar for negotiations early in the month.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Before tackling southwest schools, Denver hopes to learn from turnaround in far northeast

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:06

dollars and sense

The proposed new formula, which would divvy up funding in a substantially different and more defined way, for funding Colorado’s public colleges and universities would give every institution an increase in 2015-16. But some campuses would gain more than others. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

DPS has released a new guide to its budget hoping to increase understanding of the way the district receive its money and the way they spend it. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

history lessons

After four years of turnaround work in the city's far northeast, Denver Public Schools is hoping to learn what it did right before taking on another struggling reason. ( Denver Post )

Hey, I know you

Colorado Senate Democrats have appointed familiar faces to that chamber's education committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Measuring success

The Jefferson County school board is expected to revise their academic goals next month. ( Arvada Press )

Grief counseling

After two students at Broomfield High School died this school year, students are struggling with grief. And teachers and administrators believe its as important to pick up on what students don't say as what they do say. ( Daily Camera )

Access granted

The Colorado Education Initative will work with 30 schools during a three-year period to provide classroom resources and provide training to teachers so those schools can offer a full range of Advanced Placement courses instead of basic ones. ( 9News )

Reunited

The Douglas County School District has re-upped its membership with the state's association of school boards. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Raising hope

Students at Lakewood High School last week met the 8-year-old boy with a rare genetic disorder they've raised thousands of dollars for. ( 9News )

The early (childhood learning) bird, doesn't get the worm

A new study points to an apparent disconnect between 21st-century knowledge about early childhood teaching and these 20th century wages ( NPR via CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Teacher evaluation study, pension reform ruling, foreign language high school

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 08:34

While most teachers still agree that the new CPS evaluation system will lead to better teaching and improved learning, there’s been an overall decrease in satisfaction with the system, a new study finds. In addition, nearly four out of five teachers say the new system has increased their stress and anxiety levels, with the majority saying the process takes more effort than it’s worth.

The report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research comes two weeks after CPS released data on how teachers performed last year under the new system, Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago’s Students (REACH Students). The system is now in its third year.

The study found that two-thirds of teachers believe their evaluations rely too heavily on “student growth” metrics, which last year accounted for up to 25 percent of REACH ratings. In addition, half of the teachers think the assessments used to calculate student growth are not fair ways to measure learning -- with special education teachers being especially concerned about their fairness.

Apart from its report on teacher and principal perceptions on REACH, the Consortium also released an analysis of the ratings data from Year 1.

2. On the hook… At least for now, Chicago Public Schools better plan on paying up its pension obligation. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled on Friday that the pension reform bill passed last year is unconstitutional. Now, the battle over pension reform will move to the Illinois Supreme Court as Attorney General Lisa Madigan immediately announced that she planned to appeal.

That pension reform, which reduced benefits for employees, did not apply to CPS teachers. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel would likely want to pursue similar pension reform for teachers, if the reform bill holds up. After taking years of a pension holiday, CPS had to write a check to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund for $634 million this year. And that pension obligation is slated to rise to $724 million in 2017.

This year, as the mayoral election approaches, CPS officials found money to avoid major cuts. But they have warned that without some relief, those cuts are pending. The CTU, however, argues that the city needs to stop trying to get out of pension obligations. “The only constitutional solution going forward is to find ways of raising revenue in both Illinois and the city of Chicago,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey in a statement.

3. Good news… CPS announced that 20,000 students took Advanced Placement tests in the spring of 2014, earning the district a place on the AP Honor Roll for the second year in a row. This is the fifth year that the College Board has honored school districts that have increased access to AP classes and increased the number of students getting college credit for AP.

CPS has yet to post detailed 2014 school-level data on AP participation. But in the press release on the honor roll, it says that the district is now a leader in participation in AP by black students. It also says the number of black students earning a 3 or higher, which is what is needed to get college credit, has increased.

Still, there likely remains a big gap between white students and black and Latino students. In 2013, 30 percent of white high school students took AP classes and 64 percent of those classes were passed. Only 14 percent of black students took AP classes and only 17 percent of Latino students. In 2013, 17 percent of black students passed, and 35 percent of Latino students did so.

Low pass rates is one reason many CPS high schools are starting to offer dual credit programs in which students can take classes certified by City Colleges of Chicago.

4. Immigration news … President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he will use executive action to grant temporary status to 5 million undocumented immigrants could have a significant impact on millions of students in public schools in the U.S. An estimated 7 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grades have at least one parent who is undocumented, according to Census data analyzed by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project; in Illinois, it’s about 8 percent.

"If this alleviates that situation, it's going to create a sense of security for families that will allow students to focus on their schoolwork" instead of worrying their parents or other family members might be deported, said Claire Sylvan, executive director of the International Network for Public Schools, a network of 17 high schools around the country that serve newly-arrived immigrants and English-language learners, in an interview with EdWeek.

Some teachers in Chicago used last week’s announcement as a teaching moment with their students, including Hancock High School’s Ray Salazar, who publishes the White Rhino blog. Salazar wrote about his students’ reaction to the decision last week.

5. A foreign language high school? A group of parents with children at language-focused elementary schools is pushing CPS to create a high school language academy, DNAinfo reports. While there are four public elementary schools where students can intensively study languages, it’s extremely difficult for these children to continue their language studies in high school. The city’s top selective-enrollment high schools offer numerous language classes, but getting into them isn’t easy and the language offerings differ at each school.

"CPS invested all this money and time, and the kids invested, and the families invested," says Michele Dreczynki, a LaSalle II Magnet School parent. "Say you take eight years of Arabic, and the high school you go to, they don’t offer it. Then you’ve lost the investment you put in."

Parents have made their case to top city and CPS officials, and district spokeswoman said CPS would consider community requests though there isn’t a formal process for proposing new selective-enrollment schools. The language academies are magnet schools and admissions is through lottery with consideration of socio-economic tiers. If the district were to create a new magnet high school focused on language, it would likely mirror the demographic makeup of the elementary language academies -- which are disproportionately whiter and more affluent than the rest of CPS.

One final note ... Voters in 36 of the city's 50 wards will have the opportunity to vote in a symbolic referendum on whether Chicago should have an elected school board. A coalition of unions and community organizations behind the ward-level campaign will turn in more than 50,000 signatures to election officials today, which is the deadline to file for items -- and candidates -- to appear on February's municipal ballots.

Categories: Urban School News

All win – more or less – under new high ed funding model

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 11/23/2014 - 15:19

The proposed new formula for funding Colorado’s public colleges and universities would give every institution an increase in 2015-16, but some campuses would gain more than others.

That’s because the model would divvy up funding in a substantially different and more defined way than has been used in the previous years, when campus financial support was based on past funding, political jockeying and legislative compromise over how much money was left over in the state budget for colleges.

Creation of the formula was mandated by a new law, House Bill 14-1319, that seeks to make higher education finance more transparent and to give colleges “performance funding” for how well they do in retaining and graduating students, among other factors.

Another goal of the law – an aspiration mirrored in the 2012 higher education master plan – is to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation of low-income and minority students.

That law sparked a summer of intense work by the Department of Higher Education, assorted advisory committees and outside consultants. All that work came to fruition this week with approval of the model by two key advisory groups.

The mood was upbeat Friday at the final meeting of the Executive Advisory Group, one of the panels that reviewed the model.

“We’re really shooting for the stars with this one. This is going to be an example a lot of other states are going to look to,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of DHE.

Do your homework

Garcia also said the plan has “a great deal of focus on affordability … targeted toward low-income and minority populations.”

And, Garcia said, the new model should be “more transparent for the public. … We hope it will lead to more public support for funding higher education going forward.”

The next stop for the plan is review and approval by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education at its Dec. 4 meeting. After that the plan will be subject to the uncertainties of legislative review and the annual budget process.

Here’s how the model would work, based on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s 2015-16 budget request for higher education, which overall proposes a 10 percent increase.

  • The full appropriation for higher education would be $665 million.
  • After money is be taken off the top for “specialty education programs” – CU medical programs, CSU veterinary programs, two area community colleges and vocational schools – $525.6 million would be left for distribution through the new formula.
  • Of that, $294.5 million – 56 percent – would be distributed as tuition discounts for resident undergraduate students, known as the College Opportunity Fund stipends. (The new law requires that at least 52.5 percent of funding be distributed in this fashion.)
  • Of the remaining amount, $138.6 million would be distributed to colleges based on factors related to what’s called their “role and mission,” which includes factors such as size, numbers of low-income students, costs of academic programs, location and other attributes.
  • $92.4 million would be distributed among campuses based on their performance, including such factors as graduation and retention of all students, graduation and retention of low-income and underrepresented students and number of degrees and certificates issued in STEM and medical disciplines. Distribution of these funds also would be weighted to account for differences between small and large campuses.

Hickenlooper’s proposed budget also includes some extra funding intended to compensate colleges for a legislative requirement that tuition increase no more than 6 percent in 2015-16 and to provide extra funding for campuses that would receive the smallest increases under the formula. That last measure is intended to ensure that no college receives a funding increase of less than 10 percent in 2015-16. The administration is proposing such transition funding for five years.

Under the formula, Metropolitan State University would receive an increase of more than 16 percent and Fort Lewis College in Durango would get 13.2 percent. At the low end, the University of Northern Colorado would receive only 2.9 percent more. Other colleges and systems would receive increases of between 8 and 11 percent. (The percentage increases are based on the model’s calculations. But the law stipulates that no institution will receive more than a 15 percent increase nor less than a 5 percent hike, so that requirement would override the calculation.)

DHE staffers said Metro and Fort Lewis would benefit because of relatively high numbers of low-income and underrepresented students, while UNC’s increase would be smaller because it has fewer of those students. But, the transition funding would bring UNC and some other colleges up to a 10 percent increase in 2015-16.

While there is widespread support for the formula, some members of the Executive Advisory Group noted that the situation could be much different in years when state funding is flat or is cut.

Jean Adkins, an administrator at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, noted, “If we did not get a 10 percent increase … it would look very different.” She added, “When there is no new money coming in, it is rural Colorado that will get hurt.”

Garcia acknowledged that potential problem, saying, “If you’re in a flat funding year, this [model] looks kind of ugly. That is something that is a long-term concern for every institution.”

The new model also doesn’t change one key fact about higher education funding, that parents and students will continue to pay the bulk of college costs. State funding cuts in recent years have forced colleges and universities to rely on tuition increases to keep the doors open. Tuition revenue currently provides roughly 75 percent of college revenues.

Categories: Urban School News

Senate Education Committee membership filled out

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 18:32

Senate Democratic leaders on Friday named members of the Senate Education Committee, bringing back familiar names to a panel where Republicans now have a one-vote majority.

Returning to the committee are Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, Mike Johnston of Denver and Nancy Todd of Aurora. Kerr, committee chair during the last session, will be ranking minority member.

New to the committee but not to the halls of the Capitol is newly elected Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, who formerly served in the House and was known for his strong hand as chair of the House Education Committee.

Merrifield is a retired music teacher and former Manitou Springs council member known for his assertive manner and skepticism about some education reform initiatives. He should be an interesting foil for some of the more conservative GOP committee members and perhaps even for Johnston, the legislature’s leading reform advocate in recent sessions.

Kerr is a teacher who was a central figure in school finance and higher education bills during the 2014 session. Todd is a retired teacher who fought hard last session for reduction of the K-12 funding shortfall, commonly referred to as the negative factor. Both are former House members and served with Merrifield on House Education.

Senate Republicans made their committee assignments previously, and the new education committee leaders are Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs as chair and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins as vice chair. They will be joined by new Sens. Chris Holbert of Parker and Tim Neville and Laura Woods, both of Lakewood. Holbert previously was a representative and served on House Education.

Gone from the panel are Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, who’s becoming Senate majority leader, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who was narrowly defeated by Woods in the Nov. 4 election.

The election gave the GOP 18-17 control of the Senate, the same majority that Democrats held for the last two sessions. The new Republican leadership has expanded Senate Education back to nine members. It had only seven members in the last two sessions.

Committee members haven’t been named in the House, where Democrats retained majority control.

Categories: Urban School News

Parents push for testing 'opt-out' bill

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:22

As they continue to push state education officials to ask the federal government for a waiver to delay a new standardized test scheduled to be given next year, parent advocates announced Friday they also want the state legislature to pass a bill allowing parents to opt their child out of the exam. The group made the announcement on their way to deliver a petition with more than 3,700 signatures to state education officials, who were holding a budget hearing at the Thompson Center. The petition demands that the state ask for a waiver on the new test called the PARCC.

The PARCC is aligned with new Common Core standards, which are supposed to be academically tougher than the existing state standards. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the PARCC also include tasks such as drawing graphs and aswering more complicated questions.

Concerns about the PARCC include how schools will manage the logistics of administering the computer-based test, to the time it will take to answer the questions. Parents are also concerned about the classroom time eaten up with testing overall.

State Sen. William Delgado and Rep. Will Guzzardi will be the sponsors of the opt-out bill and plan to introduce it in January, said Wendy Katten of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. Last year, when parents tried to opt their children out of taking the ISAT (the state-mandated standardized test), the state board sent CPS a letter stating that parents had no right to do so. As a result, students themselves had to refuse.

A couple thousand students opted out of the test, activists say.

Parent Tara Baldridge, who spoke at the press conference and is running for alderman in the 8th Ward, says the current law requires schools to administer state-mandated tests. Baldridge said her 13-year-old son was fine with telling his teachers he did not want to take the test.

“But what about children who are five or nine?” Baldridge said at the press conference. “Let me make clear, the law does not currently allow parents to make the decision."

Chicago parents were joined at the press conference by several from the suburbs. Cedra Crenshaw, who has children in school districts in Glen Ellyn and Bloomingdale, says it is especially important to her that there is a law allowing her to opt out because she would not want the task handed to her fifth-grader.

Saul Lieberman from Evanston said he thinks the PARCC is too long and he is against over-testing in general. “I would rather my children do art or music or play with friends,” he said. It has not been explained to parents how these tests benefit children, Lieberman said.

High school principals are especially worried about the logistics of the PARCC. Lara Pruitt, who has a son at Lane High School, says that 30 superintendents of high school districts have signed a letter to the state saying they don’t want to administer the test this year. They foresee having major problems  trying to figure out schedules as students take the PARCC.

Pruitt said this is especially complicated because at the same time students are taking the PARCC, they also have to take Advanced Placement exams. At Lane, more than 5,000 AP exams are taken each year, she said.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also does not want students to take the PARCC this year. She has sent letters and is in conversation with state and federal officials. Byrd-Bennett’s major objection to the PARCC is that, given the other tests given by the district, Chicago students will wind up taking too many exams.

*This page was amended on Dec. 1, 2014, to include a copy of a letter sent by Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch to the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 25, 2014, asking for affirmation on the state's interpretations of federal requirements administering the PARCC.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: A teacher makes waves with ‘Bored of Education’

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:57

  • A New York City teacher who is also a rapper is making waves with “Bored of Education.” (NPRed)
  • Educators are increasingly reassessing the once-popular “no excuses” approach to discipline. (Atlantic)
  • An investigation found that Chicago’s school financing has come with great risk and little scrutiny. (Tribune)
  • Tracking effectively segregates schools by race and class, and the U.S. DOE wants that to change. (Quartz)
  • Cable news channels aren’t featuring education very much — and they’re featuring educators less. (Answer Sheet)
  • A new report finds that professionals missed many chances to intervene with the Sandy Hook shooter. (Politico)
  • Take a look inside creepy, abandoned school buildings in the United States and Japan. (Buzzfeed)
  • Minnesota could be the next state to see a Vergara-inspired challenge to teacher tenure laws. (Teacher Beat)
  • A new website aims to close the gap between education researchers and practitioners. (Inside School Research)
  • A request for personal recollections of teaching in U.S. schools has already yielded 800 replies. (Gawker)
  • One promising student illustrates the challenges and possibilities of a struggling New Jersey school. (Hechinger)
  • One teacher swapped the podcast phenomenon Serial for Hamlet to achieve Common Core-alignment. (Slate)
Categories: Urban School News

DPS releases first annual “citizen’s guide” to complex district budget

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 15:33
Budget for Success helps make a difficult-to-understand process very understandable.
– Happy Haynes, DPS board president

Curious about how Denver’s school system budget works but don’t have time to read a 400-page budget book?

Denver Public Schools released a new booklet today called “Budget for Success” that it hopes will serve as a sort of citizen’s guide to the complexities of school finances.

Mark Ferrandino, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said the goal of the new book was to “increase an understanding of the way we receive our money and the way we spend our money,” and to increase the district’s fiscal transparency and accountability.

Other school systems have created similar books, including Douglas County, but this is Denver’s first.

Ferrandino said the book might be especially useful in explaining DPS’s school-based budgeting, which has earned the district national attention. This year’s book also explains state oddities that affect the district’s budget, like the negative factor the legislature uses to keep school spending in check, and highlights the district’s grants from Next Gen Systems, its blended learning pilot, and its educator effectiveness grant.

Ferrandino said that the district will release a Budget for Success book each year after the budget is released in the spring. The book currently only exists in English, but future iterations will also have a Spanish version.

Board president Happy Haynes said at a meeting of the district’s board last night that the resource should help to make the complexities of the district’s budget more understandable.

Read the full “Budget for Success” booklet here.

 

Categories: Urban School News

How to stop controlling students and start helping them control themselves

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 13:24

Terrance was a third grader whom teachers described as “impulsive.” He couldn’t — or didn’t — stay quiet in class, calling out while the teacher was teaching, during silent work time, and when the class was supposed to be walking silently through the halls.

In the 23 years I’ve been working in schools, including when I was Terrance’s teacher Lauren’s principal, I’ve learned that most teachers have at least one Terrance, if not more. Like most teachers of impulsive children, Lauren wanted him to stop calling out when his behavior interrupted the flow of work in the classroom, over and over again. What’s more, Lauren knew Terrance had to learn to control himself for his own success and for her own peace of mind in the classroom.

More and more teachers are aware that students’ social emotional skills influence their success, alongside their academic ones. But how those skills are taught is crucial and too often, educators turn to what they see as a quick fix.

One typical response focuses on rewards: Give a student like Terrance a “ticket” each time he raises his hand to speak so that he can earn 20 tickets, select a prize from the treasure chest, and eventually, internalize the desired behavior.

Another common response is to issue penalties. That’s the strategy Lauren initially chose. In Terrance’s case, Lauren had him start the day with a pile of colored cubes at his work space. Each time he talked out of turn, she took away a cube. The repeated visual cue, she thought, would teach that he did something wrong.

But in my experience, neither the carrot nor the stick truly works. In both responses, teachers are controlling the child’s behavior rather than teaching the student the skills necessary to manage his behavior on his own. This is a fundamental confusion in so much of the instruction that I see. The end goal should be focused on the student:  What skills am I teaching you so that over time, you don’t need me anymore?

This is an important thing to do because there’s ample research that socially and emotionally competent students behave better, perform better academically, stay in school longer, and have better job opportunities. The research also tells us that social and emotional skills need to be explicitly taught — by educators who know that they must go beyond a quick fix to change behavior for the long term.

That’s where I came in. I’d been a teacher and a principal for long time and had seen many challenging students come through my classroom. Finding a way to devise a strategy that works for every student is an almost insurmountable challenge. A good place to start is talking to the student themselves.

So now, Lauren starts with a conversation: Does he know he calls out repeatedly? Is he aware of when he does it or how frequently? Is he aware of its impact on others? Does he know why he does it?

Then, we developed different strategies to address students’ particular situations. Those ranged from having him keep track of his calling out to encouraging him to research what kinds of talk is appropriate in different places—when do we whisper, shout or be silent. In class, she made sure he had a chance to practice the different kinds of speech and that he had time to talk without holding back, too.

Certainly it can be a slow process and it’s tempting to hope for a quick fix—a ticket, a stop light, a demerit—that will change student behavior. But teaching the emotional and social competencies that will make a student successful takes patience, skill, and repetition. I hope more teachers will turn to less controlling forms of classroom management and focus on developing self-aware students who can decide what is right for themselves.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Program helps more students take AP classes

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 09:45

DPS charters approved

In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The testing debate

Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year, according to a new study. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Going separate ways

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Expanding AP access

The Colorado Education Initiative is celebrating the results of its program to increase access to Advanced Placement classes for more diverse group of students. ( 9News )

Grow your own

Roaring Fork High School's 1,300-square-foot "grow dome" attracted a visit this week from a federal agriculture official. ( Post-Independent )

Caught on video

A fight between two high school girls in Colorado Springs escalated into one of them punching a school resource officer. ( Gazette )

Points of view

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg writes about the challenges of educating the district's richly diverse population. ( Denver Post )

Two former governors argue that the Public Employees' Retirement Association may not be providing the best pensions for teachers and other public servants. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board approves slate of charter renewals, enrollment changes

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 00:53

In a series of mostly-unanimous votes, the Denver Public School board renewed its agreements with 15 charter schools and approved changes to school enrollment zones in southwest and southeast Denver.

The board also adjusted the terms of its contracts with one charter school and two contract schools and finalized the placement of the Denver Montessori High School.

The board’s monthly meeting tonight followed a series of community meetings and internal working sessions in which the plans were described, debated, and adjusted.

In southwest Denver, the district held more than 30 meetings with parents and students focused on tailoring and communicating the somewhat contentious enrollment changes there.

And at a public comment session last week, representatives from several schools noted by the district for low academic performance, including Sims-Fayola and Escuela Tlatelolco, spoke on behalf of their schools, while a neighborhood group and representatives of the district’s Montessori secondary school voiced their disagreement over plans for the Smedley Elementary School building.

Check out our board tracker for a run down of how board members voted on each item on tonight’s agenda.

Enrollment changes

The biggest change is in southwest Denver, where local advocacy groups and community members had been pushing for more school improvement efforts. (See below for a letter from the superintendent explaining the changes.)

In response to that pressure, the district has created two new attendance zones in the area. Rather than being zoned to one particular school, students in the area will have their choice of a number of schools in the area—though they are not guaranteed access to any.

The new enrollment zones are part of a broader set of changes in the Southwest, which is home to more than 20,000 students—nearly a quarter of the district’s overall enrollment. Charter schools Compass Academy and Rocky Mountain Prep will open their doors in the Kepner middle school building next year, while the current program is phased out. Two other charter operators, DSST and Strive, and a new district-run program plan to open schools in 2016-17.

In a public comment session before the meeting, Veronica Barela, the president of NEWSED — a community development corporation in West Denver — told board members that she was concerned the plan would negatively affect some students who were currently enrolled in schools at West High School. “I would hope that next time there’s more inclusion of parents and people who will be affected by the changes.”

Board chair Happy Haynes responded that the district would monitor how the changes affected families in the area.

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiStudents at Grant Beacon. The district plans to bring the school’s model to Kepner Middle as part of its effort to improve schools in Southwest Denver.

The board unanimously approved the plan. Board members Arturo Jimenez and Rosemary Rodriguez said they supported the plan despite initial reservations.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he was excited about Southwest changes. “I think the community access zones in the southwest will spur quality and help increase enrollment and be of great value to families in the area.” He said similar efforts in the Far Northeast had had a positive effect on enrollment and academics in schools there.

One adjustment was to a resolution that places Denver Montessori High School, a public school, in the Smedley Elementary building while creating a community task force to discuss the space’s use in the future.

In the public comment section, parent Irene Glazer blasted the district for not consulting parents before it made plans to place the school. “You should rename it the community disengagement office,” she said.

Board president Haynes said the district’s effort to find a compromise between the two parties was a “lesson in civic engagement…and how difficult it can be to make decisions that seem easy…We sometimes differ on the details, but I have no doubt everyone here came to the table with what’s best for children in mind.”

The district also approved an enrollment zone change in southeast Denver and the creation of a new “competency-based” program, also in southeast Denver. The district will hold community meetings about the competency-based school next week.

Charters and Contracts

The board also approved a set of actions on the contracts it has with its charter sector and placements for some of its other specialized programs and contract schools.

At a work session of the board last week, the district’s chief schools officer Susana Cordova said staff used information from the district’s School Performance Framework and other qualitative and quantitative information about the schools to determine which contracts to extend for how long.

The board approved a slightly-modified version of that set of recommendations:

  • DSST College View Middle School renewed for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • KIPP Denver Collegiate High School renewed for five years
  • Southwest Early College Charter School renewed for two years
  • STRIVE Smart High School renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Monarch Montessori renewed for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • Omar D. Blair renewed for five years
  • Sims-Fayola renewed for one year as a middle school, contingent on performance; its high school will be “surrendered’
  • SOAR Green Valley Ranch approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Green Valley Ranch approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • STRIVE Montbello approved for three years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Rocky Mountain Prep approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • The Academy of Urban Learning Charter School approved for two years with one-year extension contingent on performance
  • ACE Community Challenge Charter School approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Cesar Chavez Academy approved for two years with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Colorado High School Charter approved for one year with two-year extension contingent on performance
  • Contract with Escuela Tlatelolco renewed for a year contingent on board not seeking further renewals after 2016. (Read Chalkbeat’s story here)
  • Contract with Wyatt Academy adjusted to require board to meet certain conditions.

Board member Arturo Jimenez contributed the only nay votes of the evening. He voted against a two-year extension of a school run by the Strive network of charter schools, saying that the district should take into account the fact that its scores dropped precipitously last year and extend the contract for just a year.

Board president Haynes said that “one year’s dip in performance is not a reason to panic. It is a reason to pay attention.”

Jimenez also opposed a construction project that would refurbish a Strive building, saying it had been hastily arrived at.

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Categories: Urban School News

Study: Testing costs up to $78 million, covers most of school year

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 21:11

Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year, according to a new study.

“Only accounting for direct costs, and not the additional opportunity costs incurred by redirected staff time, in total $70-$90 a student is spent on assessments in Colorado. This is between $61.1 to $78.4 million annually,” said the study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a Denver education research firm.

On the issue of testing time, the study said, “When considered in the context of a typical school year of 175 days … between 7 percent and 15 percent of time in the school year [is spent] preparing for or taking assessments.”

The study was done for the Standards and Assessments Task Force, the 15-member appointed group that is studying the state testing system and which will develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. The task force and the study were authorized by a 2014 law that was a legislative compromise in response to growing concerns about assessments. The group was briefed on the study last Monday.

The study’s conclusions were based primarily on information provided by surveys of district-level administrators, building administrators and teachers. Information about testing costs was based on the survey, state data and interviews with administrators in five districts.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • “It is clear that both teachers and students are spending a significant amount of time that could otherwise be devoted to instruction on these assessment-related activities,” despite variations among respondents about specific amounts of time spent on test prep and test taking.
  • “Respondents from all three levels indicated significant impacts and relatively few benefits for most assessments. … A majority of respondents at all levels reported disagreement that the benefits of assessments outweighed the impacts.” (The one exception was general agreement that the benefits of the ACT tests given to high school juniors outweigh its impacts.)
  • “Respondents … suggested changes to assessments, focusing on reducing the length and number of grades of students taking assessment or reducing to the federal minimum.”

The educator opinions collected by the study mirror those captured in an earlier Department of Education survey (see this story for details). But the APA study does combine a wide range of testing data in a single document and provides a fresh look at the alphabet soup of tests facing Colorado students every year – DIBELS, STAR, CMAS, ACCESS and many more.

Here’s a quick look at some of the study’s major findings.

Tests and the school year Do your homework

From a week of school readiness assessments in August to three weeks of early literacy progress monitoring in May, testing goes on across the school year, the study found.

“In this … example, over 40 weeks of assessment windows are open for 10 unique assessments (with specific date ranges overlapping) over a typical 36 week school year. This does not include additional formative assessments, course exams, or AP/IB exams. As is apparent, assessment is a year long process with at least one assessment testing window being open nearly every week of the school year.”

Student time on tests

“While the number of assessments administered varies by grade level, students at every level spend over a week of school time preparing for assessments, with students at key grade levels spending over two weeks of school time preparing for assessments. Time spent taking assessments is similarly high, taking at least a week of school time for students at all levels and more than two weeks of school time for students in some grade levels.”

Teacher time on tests

In the context of a 175-day school year, teachers spend between 5 percent and 26 percent of their time “preparing for or administering assessments.” The variation is accounted for partly by different loads for teachers depending on the grades and subjects they teach.

Costs of testing

The study found direct per-student costs for testing varying between $5 and $50 for state tests and $15-$58 for district tests.

“These figures would be much higher if opportunity costs due to diverted staff time were included. The costs range dramatically between districts and represent different resource starting points and capacity capabilities. Though there is not a perfect correlation the smaller districts tended to have higher costs than the larger districts.”

Costs & benefits

“Ratings of assessment impacts were remarkably similar across district, school, and teacher respondents. Teacher respondents tended to rate the impact of assessments as slightly higher than district and school respondents, but differences were not large. Impact ratings did, however, vary significantly by assessment, with all respondents indicating high level of impact from the CMAS and TCAP/PARCC assessments across all impact areas. Conversely, respondents indicated lower impacts from the ACT.”

What should be done

“A minority of respondents at all levels suggested keeping assessments as they were, with the exception of the ACT. Across all assessments, respondents at all levels favored reducing the length of assessments. There were not major differences in suggested changes from respondents at the district, school, and teacher level.”

The study found about 60 percent of district administrators want to reduce language arts and math tests to the federal minimum of testing 3rd-8th graders and once in high school. Only about a third of building administrators supported that. There was majority support across all three groups for reducing the length of tests.

What happens next

The study is expected to be a key piece of evidence in the task force’s deliberations as it works to prepare its report – or possibly reports – during its final two scheduled meetings on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12.

The group also has gathered a wide variety of information, including comments at several public meetings around the state. (See this page for links to summaries of those meetings.)

An outside advocacy group, the Denver Alliance for Public Education, also is seeking additional parent comment through an online survey, which it intends to present to the task force.

Some members of the task force have indicated support for trimming the testing system back to federal minimums. But there is a wide variety of views represented on the group, and members representing education reform groups are nervous about tinkering too much with the current system. (See the list of members at the bottom of this page.)

While the task force is still deliberating, members of the legislature already are at work on the issue.

“The legislators are drafting their own bills. We’re going to see bills that are across the spectrum,” said one lobbyist. “The legislature is going to have to pick and choose.”

How study was done

APA gathered information through document review, an online survey of district administrators, school administrators and teachers, follow-up interviews with five districts (Aurora, Center, Eagle, Kit Carson and Poudre) on costs and from CDE information. Here’s the breakdown of responses:

  • District-level administrators – Reponses represent 64 districts, or 36 percent
  • School-level administrators – Responses represent 12 percent of schools
  • Teachers – Responses represent 4 percent of statewide workforce

The study concluded that the responses were representative of statewide opinion.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board calls for testing cutbacks

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:46

After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system.

The letter was sent to the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a 15-member appointed group that is developing recommendations on testing for the 2015 legislative session.

During meetings stretching back to August, when 2014 TCAP results were released, board members have clearly indicated that they wanted to add their collective voice to the flow of comment being considered by the task force.

The board’s letter adds to the rising drumbeat of discontent about state testing, which has steadily expanded in recent years with the addition of school readiness and early literacy evaluations, new online science and social studies tests and additional high school tests, including the first assessments for seniors.

Things will change even more dramatically next spring when the first online PARCC tests in language arts and math will be given statewide.

The letter, signed by all seven board members, said, “We ask that the task force give consideration to a system of assessments which is reduced to the federal minimums, with the addition of social studies.” It also suggested a testing system that has limited impact on instructional time, considers sampling systems instead of testing every student every years, allows local district choice of tests and exempts students from further testing if they’ve demonstrated mastery of academic content.

Related stories

“The board is keenly aware of the public’s concerns around the burdens imposed on educators, students, and districts – the impacts on instructional time, questions around transparency, unintended consequences related to course sequencing, and interruption of concurrent enrollment programs. By providing our observations to the 1202 Task Force, we continue that dialogue,” the letter said.

Board chair Paul Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado that the letter represents “a gathering of thoughts and ideas that have been talked about for months.” He said the board discussed the letter during its meeting last week and considered talking about it further in December but decided “we needed to get it out immediately so that the task force would have it.”

The task force has only two more scheduled meetings, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12, before it has to make its report to lawmakers. (The 2014 law that established the group allows the task force to prepare majority and minority reports if it chooses.)

Several task force members are believed to favor cutting the testing system back to federal minimums, although the group hasn’t yet developed detailed drafts of proposals.

Colorado requires more testing, both of additional subjects and in additional grades, than is mandated by the federal NCLB law. Some of those additional tests have been required by the wave of education bills passed by the legislature since 2008.

The issue of federal minimums was discussed at length during the board’s September meeting, when members received an extensive briefing by Department of Education staff. That report indicated cutting back could have unintended consequences, particularly on the operation of the state’s model for tracking student academic growth over time. (See this story for details.)

Testing, including test results and growth data, are key to the state’s systems for rating schools and districts and for the education evaluation system, which is yet to be rolled out fully.

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Categories: Urban School News

Escuela Tlatelolco and Denver Public Schools to end contract

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:18

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday to approve a proposal that would extend the school’s contract with the district for a single year while ensuring that the Escuela board will not seek to renew the contract, which has been ongoing in some form since 2004.

The proposal recommends that the school and district discuss creating a new, different agreement of some sort at this time next year.

Escuela Tlatelolco, founded as a private school in 1971 by civil rights leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, will remain open in its landmark building after the end of the contract, and school leaders say they plan to raise funds to keep all of their current students enrolled.

But while Escuela’s staff and board of directors agreed to the resolution on tonight’s agenda, the school community is contesting the district’s assessment of their school’s academic successes and the timeline of the end of the contract.

“We weren’t thrilled that we came to this place,” said Nita Gonzales, the school’s principal and the daughter of its founder.

When the district and Escuela first entered into a contract in 2004, Gonzales said, “it seemed like a win-win.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiElementary students at Escuela Tlatelolco.The influx of public funds were welcome as more than 90 percent of its students received scholarships and were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Denver Public Schools was looking for ways to help educate English learners and Latino students in West Denver—the same students Escuela, with its bilingual Montessori model, small classes, and focus on heritage and community, seemed to have success with. Some students were already coming to Escuela from DPS schools.

The district agreed to provide funds to Escuela in exchange for the school meeting certain academic and operational benchmarks. The school contracted with the district for some special education services, but retained its status as a private, independent nonprofit.

The contract with DPS was a welcome source of income for Escuela, which provided scholarships to more than 90 percent of its students, most of whom were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

But the school has received low marks on the district’s accountability system for multiple years. It was ranked red—the lowest possibility—each of the past four years. The district’s School Improvement Accountability Council has recommended Escuela for closure three times.

The district’s recommendation to the board last year included a set of cautions about the school’s performance, but the board voted to approve the contract extension.

Gonzales said the current accountability system doesn’t accurately capture the school, which currently houses preK through 12th grade, and its work with students. “Part of what we were trying to do was to see, is there a way to work with DPS to frame an alternative scoring model?”

In a letter to the district’s board, members of Escuela’s board say that the school’s low performance on the district’s performance metrics were representative of systemic problems “teaching and evaluating with standardized tests the large West Denver Latino and English Language Learner population.”

A mural of Corky Gonzales, the founder of Escuela Tlatelolco, on the first floor of the school’s building.

In 2013-14, 72 percent of Escuela’s students were identified as English language learners and 98.4 percent were minority students. In a letter to the Denver board (see below for full letter), Escuela board members state that many of the school’s middle and high schoolers transferred to the school after struggling or considering dropping out of DPS schools. The school is also smaller than average—it has 161 students this year, including preschoolers, and some high school classes have fewer than 16 students.

“It was never evaluated or measured as an alternative school, because their elementary and preschool was a lot more like a regular charter. But they’re actually operating closer to an alternative school,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area around Escuela. He compared Escuela to Florence Crittenden, a contract school that works mainly with pregnant teens, for its ability to meet the needs of a specific group of students.

“We’re looking at numbers and data in this snapshot without all the other things that come into play,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t tell anything about Escuela–but I’m not sure it tells anything about any school.”

“What are you looking for? At the end of the day, is it that your students graduate? Those numbers are high,” she said. “Is it that at the end of the day that parents are involved? Our parental engagement is very high. Is it at the end of the day that students are engaged in their learning and participate? That’s what you’ll find here. Can you gauge that all on a single test? Maybe not.”

The resolution the board will vote on Thursday explicitly acknowledges the school’s point of view. It reads, in part, as follows: “Escuela offers a unique educational opportunity within the Denver context and whereas Escuela does not believe that the school’s model designed to support the whole child can be fully realized or evaluated within the district and state performance and accountability context.”

The move will have financial repercussions for Escuela: Some 50 percent of its funds came through the Denver district. Gonzales said the school had hoped for a two-year extension, rather than the one-year plan currently on the table.

At a public comment session of the Denver school board last week, Angela Alfaro, a parent representative for the school, said that “a one-year contract extension places extreme financial burdens on the school. We think it’s not enough time to raise the necessary funds to continue during the transition away from DPS funding.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiA student and teacher at Escuela Tlatelolco work together. “Did the mom FELL something or DROP something?” “She dropped it.”

The school’s reliance on fundraising had raised concerns in the district about the sustainability of the model. “We have a costly program,” Gonzales said. “But we’re raising money all the time.”

At a work session earlier in the week, Denver board member Rosemary Rodriguez noted the school’s many accomplished alumni and the children of notable Denverites who attend the school, especially its preschool program.

“That’s one of the creative conversations we’d like to have. We have respect for so much of what Escuela has and does, especially creating culturally competent school programs,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s academic and innovation officer. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the school last year to tout the benefits of early childhood education.

Gonzales said that while the school will enter conversations with the district next year about future partnerships, “we really don’t have thoughts on what that’d look like.”

“We were here long before [the contract],” said Gonzales, “and we’re going to be here after.”

 

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder gets $1M to improve teacher training

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 09:41

Battle Lines

Denver Public Schools wants to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building. But nearby residents argue the building should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Making a better teacher

Wanting to improve teacher training, a family has donated $1 million to the Boulder Valley School District. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Shuffling the deck

The Colorado House Education Committee is getting a makeover after two members were re-assigned to the budget panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Home at last

After moving several times, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School has a permanent home in Jefferson County. ( Denver Post )

It takes a village

A nonprofit, which has built a broad coalition, aims to improve student achievement in Jefferson County's poorer schools in Edgewater. ( Denver Post )

A helping hand

Lakewood High School students are raising money for an 8-year-old boy who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called FOP. ( 9News )

Taking candy from a baby

A Bennet woman is accused of taking more than $15,000 for her schools parent-teacher association. ( 9News )

After school special (report)

According to a new report, 15 percent of kids in Colorado, or about 146,856, in public schools take care of themselves after the afternoon bell rings. ( Gazette )

Connection failure

President Barack Obama called on school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to nearly every student within a few years. ( AP via Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: New rating system OK'd, Oppenheimer awards end, Advance Illinois report

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 08:56

Screaming from the audience, reprimands from Board President David Vitale and security guards carting people out are nothing new to CPS Board Of Education meetings. But the audience was much larger, more engaged and emotionally charged than usual at Wednesday’s meeting, which was held in the late afternoon in the auditorium of Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side. Many parents and teachers thanked board members for moving the meeting into the community, to which Vitale responded that they’re giving serious thought to holding more meetings outside of downtown headquarters.

It was the first opportunity for many to openly ask the Board to seek legal recourse over a series of financial transactions with banks since the publication of a Chicago Tribune investigation concluding they cost millions more than traditional municipal bonds. More than a dozen speakers  -- including mayoral candidate and Ald. Bob Fioretti -- took on that issue during the public comment period, though board members did not say much in response.

Other speakers included many parents from Mollison and Cook elementary schools who  complained about insufficient resources to pay for teachers and other key staff, while two opposing groups from Decatur Classical School debated whether the city should divert $15 million in tax-increment financing to expand to seventh and eighth grades and relocate into the shuttered Stewart Elementary.

In addition CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the district is looking into raising the wage for school employees and those of contractors to $13 per hour, mirroring a new city policy. The Board also approved another change to the district’s school ratings process, which Byrd-Bennett called a “perfecting” of the system already approved in 2013. To show the district had taken account public input on the controversial changes, the CEO asked several school representatives in the audience to stand and read a letter of support from Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. The final vote was not immediately available Thursday morning.

2. Goodbye Oppy awards … After 39 years of supporting CPS educators, the Oppenheimer Family Foundation is ending its Teacher Incentive Grant and OPPY achievement awards. Ted Oppenheimer said the work involved in putting together the annual grants has gotten exhausting for him and his wife, Susan. “There’s got to be a better way to support Chicago public school teachers without putting that much pressure on her,” he said.

The Oppenheimers plan to partner with another education organization through which to funnel their money and continue their mission of supporting teacher-developed, hands-on projects in classrooms. Over the years, the foundation has awarded grants totalling $3.7 million to 7,348 teachers.

“To see the enthusiasm of the kids, the excitement of the teachers being able to do projects they would not been able to afford to do otherwise has been very uplifting for us,” said Oppenheimer, a former CPS teacher himself. “And when we have [our award ceremony] each year and hand out the grants, we try to make them feel as positive about being a CPS teacher as possible, as opposed to how they’re being knocked down by politicians. We’re there. We have their backs.”

In its final ceremony this evening, the foundation will award 263 grants totalling $157,000 in addition to recognizing two educators for their work: jazz musician Diane Ellis, a band instructor at Dixon Elementary, and Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president and former chemistry teacher.

3. A complete picture, but not a pretty one overall. There’s good news, albeit sprinkled among plenty of not-so-rosy statistics, in The State We’re In 2014, a report from the group Advance Illinois. While the report doesn’t provide much in the way of “new” news, it offers a comprehensive look at how Illinois compares to other states when it comes to education from preschool through college.

Overall, elementary school students have made small gains in reading and math, with CPS students making gains at a faster rate than students elsewhere. It’s worth noting that the report measures gains made on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, which is a tougher test than the state’s ISAT and is probably more in line with the new Common Core-aligned tests that students will take this school year. Plus, high schools are offering more college-level courses, and more students, including students of color, are graduating.

Yet more students are living in poverty; fewer children are enrolled in preschool; the achievement gap between minority and white students hasn’t narrowed and remains widest for black students; minority students are still less likely to graduate from college; and the cost of college has become prohibitive.  Currently, a family earning $50,000—near median household income for the United States—would have to pay 32 percent of its annual income for one child to attend a public, four-year university in Illinois, the report states. That puts Illinois 47th among the 50 states for college affordability.

Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, acknowledges that there’s good and bad news in the report. The circumstances children and schools face are more challenging, given the increase in poverty and the growing number of students who are English-learners.  But the signs of academic progress, however small, show that “if we make the right investments, who knows what we could do?” Steans points out.

4. Illinois spending problem…  The Advance Illinois report points out that Illinois remains shamefully almost-dead-last among the 50 states when it comes to K-12 education funding. Illinois provides just 25 percent of total public education dollars, while other states average 50 percent; and state per-pupil spending on education has fallen by $1.4 billion in the past decade.

The lack of state funding and the funding formula have put many school districts in a bind. Using Illinois State Report Card data, the Chicago Tribune found that, in 2013, 500 of 860 school districts in Illinois spent more than they took in. Overall, school districts were almost $1 billion in the red.

But a big part of that $1 billion was CPS. CPS spent $5.7 billion, while only bringing in $5.4 billion, according to CPS’ report card. Only one year in the past decade did CPS spend less than it took in. However, 2013 was one of the worst years.

Meanwhile, the state average spent per student rose to $12,045, about 2 percent more than the year before. The Chicago Tribune points out that some school districts in Illinois are now spending more than $20,000 per student.

Lawmakers have done nothing to change that equation—and appear poised to continue doing same. The latest funding reform bill Senate Bill 16, , which was bantered about this week in a joint House committee hearing, is “…actually a dead bill, a repository of school funding reform bill language in a vehicle that is stalled and will cease to exist when the 98th General Assembly expires on January 13,” according to Jim Broadway of State School News Service.

5. A new vision … Leaders from school districts across the state say they want teachers to be represented on the state’s board of education, licensure reciprocity with neighboring states and expansion of broadband Internet access.

These were among the 25 education policy recommendations released this week by an alliance of school management organizations. Other suggestions in their report Vision 20/20 include prioritizing effective educators, learning integrity, shared responsibility, and equitable and adequate funding.

“We’re good at knowing what we lobby against [...] but this is an effort to lobby for things we are for,” said Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

The alliance doesn’t take a stance regarding the controversial PARCC assessments set to roll out in the spring. Jason Leahy of the Illinois Principals Association said his group supports “what the elements of PARCC are attempting to do,” such as providing more immediate instructional feedback and growth assessment aligned to Common Core, but urged caution.

“We’ve got to be very careful moving forward with how high-stakes we’re making this assessment,” Leahy said. “Because we’re hooking a lot of big decisions to that.”

 











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