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Supreme Court rejects challenge to school funding formula

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 11:34

The Colorado Supreme Court in a 4-3 decision issued Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to part of the state’s school funding formula.

At issue in the case of Dwyer v. State of Colorado was the negative factor, a calculation the legislature has used to reduce school funding to balance the state budget.

“At the end of the day, the State has not reduced statewide base per pupil funding below its constitutional minimum. That fact torpedoes Plaintiffs’ lawsuit,” the opinion said. (See full opinion at bottom of article.)

The decision was not unexpected, but it deals a hard blow to advocates of increased school funding by closing the last big court option available to them.

“This disappointing decision has slammed the courthouse doors on the children of Colorado, cementing in place our uncompetitive levels of education investment,” said Kathleen Gebhardt, a lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“We just have to keep trying” to strengthen school funding, she added. “The new normal, it’s just not acceptable. … The next step has to be the voters,” perhaps with a ballot proposal to tweak constitutional requirements for school funding.

The suit was filed just over a year ago by a group of parents and school districts organized by Children’s Voices, the Boulder nonprofit law firm that also put together the Lobato v. State of Colorado lawsuit. That case challenged the state funding system on broader grounds and was rejected by the high court in 2013.

The target in the Dwyer case was much narrower — the negative factor and the proper interpretation of Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that requires K-12 funding to increase annually by population growth and the rate of inflation.

The plaintiffs asked that the negative factor section be stricken from the state’s school funding law and that the legislature be barred from reinstating the factor in another form. The suit didn’t ask that lost funding be restored.

The case boiled down to a fundamental disagreement between the plaintiffs and the state on two key issues — the definitions of base school funding and per-student funding.

“Plaintiffs’ challenge to the negative factor presents a surprisingly straightforward question of constitutional interpretation. Quite simply, this case is about one thing: the meaning of the term ‘base,'” the ruling said.

The court’s majority came down on the state’s side.

“By its plain language, Amendment 23 only requires increases to statewide base per pupil funding, not to total per pupil funding,” the majority wrote. “The Supreme Court therefore holds that the negative factor does not violate Amendment 23.”

The ruling said that principles of ballot measure interpretation “compel the conclusion that Amendment 23 only requires increases to statewide base per pupil funding, not total per pupil funding. We know that this is what Amendment 23 means, because this is exactly what Amendment 23 says.”

The ruling also said those legal principles required that “We presume that the negative factor is constitutional, and we will only void it if we deem it to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The negative factor has been an issue of increasing concern — and even bitterness — among school board members, administrators and teachers since the legislature first used it in 2010, when state revenues still were reeling from the recession.

State and local funding for basic school operations totals about $6.23 billion this school year, an average of $7,295 per pupil. Without the negative factor, total funding would be $885 million higher. (See this spreadsheet of how negative factor affects individual districts.)

Legislators from both parties have been sympathetic about the negative factor’s impact on schools, if not to the argument that it was unconstitutional. They have concerns about reducing the legislature’s budgeting flexibility and about impacts on other state programs.

But for the last two legislative sessions, lawmakers have worked to reduce the negative factor, which had produced a funding shortfall as high as $1 billion in past years.

Budget experts fear it will be increasingly difficult to shrink the negative factor more in the future. Despite rising state revenues, constitutional requirements for annual state spending caps and taxpayer refunds make it unlikely significantly larger amounts of money will be available for K-12 in 2016-17 and beyond. (See the 2016-17 projection from the Colorado School Finance Project and these models of future negative factor impacts.)

How Amendment 23 works

Passed by voters in 2000, Amendment 23’s backers intended for it to provide a predictable and growing source of funding for schools. The amendment’s goal was to restore per-pupil funding to 1988 levels over time.

State funding for schools comes in two major chunks. The larger amount, base funding, provides an identical per-student amount to every district. The second chunk, called factor funding, gives districts varying additional per-student amounts based on individual district characteristics such as numbers of at-risk students, low enrollment and cost of living for staff.  Local property and vehicle tax revenues also contribute to what’s called total program funding for schools.

A third, smaller pot of state support known as categorical funding provides money to districts for programs such as special education, gifted and talented and transportation. That money is not distributed by the same formula that governs total program funding.

A key fact is that up until the 2010-11 school year, the legislature applied the inflation-and-enrollment increase to both base and factor funding.

Behind the negative factor

In 2010, the legislature created the negative factor (originally called the stabilization factor) to control school spending as lawmakers continued to struggle with the overall state budget. It applied to the 2010-11 K-12 budget and has been in effect ever since.

The legal reasoning behind the negative factor is that Amendment 23 applies only to base funding, not to factor funding. The original legal rationale for the negative factor is based on a 34-page 2003 memo issued by the Office of Legislative Legal Services.

With state revenues improving, reduction of the negative factor was the top priority for education interest groups during the 2014 legislative session. Their proposals ranged as high as $275 million. In the end, lawmakers agreed to a $110 million reduction.

The Hickenlooper administration and legislative budget experts resisted a larger buy down, arguing that a bigger amount would put too much pressure on the state budget in future years. That can happen because reducing the negative factor puts more money into K-12 base funding, which is subject to Amendment 23’s multiplier in the future.

Behind the Dwyer lawsuit

The suit was filed about a month after the 2014 legislative session, during which supporters of increased school funding were unable to persuade lawmakers to make a big cut in the negative factor.

Lawsuit backers met with key lawmakers near the end of the session, but legislators reportedly refused to be swayed by any possibility of a lawsuit.

But discussions about a challenge to the formula had been in the works long before that.

The lead plaintiffs were Lindi and Paul Dwyer, who have four daughters in the Kit Carson district.

Other plaintiffs  included the Colorado Springs 11, Boulder Valley, Mancos, Holyoke and Plateau Valley school districts, along with the East Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Other plaintiffs were the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus (now known as the Rural Alliance) and the Colorado PTA. Four sets of parents with children in the Kit Carson, Lewis-Palmer and Hanover districts also signed on to the suit.

The case also drew several friend of the court briefs supporting either the plaintiffs or the state.

Briefs supporting the plaintiffs were filed by the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Education Association, among others. A brief supporting the state’s position was filed by several business groups, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Monday’s ruling was written Chief Justice Nancy Rice and supported by justices Brian Boatright, Nathan Coats and Allison Eid. Justices Monica Marquez, William Hood and Richard Gabriel dissented.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Transgender policy training comes at a cost for Boulder schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 09:44
Equity in education

The Boulder Valley School District isn't funding leadership conferences for minority students this school year. Instead, the office of instructional services and equity will use $20,000 for staff training to improve consistency among schools and better implement a transgender policy approved in 2012. Daily Camera

Election 2015

Four candidates in Jefferson County are vying for two open school board seats this fall in races that will have just as much of an impact on the direction of the board as the results of the recall itself. Colorado Statesman

Higher education

Rebecca Chopp, the University of Denver's new chancellor, will have to tackle a variety of issues — including gender equity and creating better access to higher education for minority students— during her tenure. Denver Post

Colorado State University President Tony Frank used his annual fall address to launch a new effort to shape the next 150 years of the university. Greeley Tribune

college ready

A federal program in Lamar is helping low-income students graduate and transition to college. Lamar Ledger

Organizations looking to create scholarships — and then double those scholarships — can now submit their applications online. Denver Business Journal

early childhood education

Game-like software, aimed at children as young as 5, teaches basic computer programming skills — "the ABCs of coding"— with no reading necessary. NPR via KUNC

pomp and circumstance

Boulder Valley, like most Colorado school districts, will update graduation requirements after the State Board of Education adopted new statewide guidelines. Daily Camera

Back to cool

Volunteers and staff at City Year AmeriCorps kicked off the school year with a pep rally at Union Station. 9News

Learning without borders

A Longmont teacher is part of a team of students, teachers and scientists making their way to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. 9News

Extreme School Makeover

Students at Centaurus High are helping decide what should be included in the school's $23 million redesign. Daily Camera

Learning matters

How much homework is too much? Here are six answers. NPR via KUNC

School safety

Turner Middle School in Berthoud may get its own school resource officer for the second half of the school year if officials from three entities approve the plan. Reporter Herald

A 19-year-old Front Range Community College student was taken into custody Friday after allegedly publishing a Snapchat video referencing a “Columbine-type” incident. 9News

Two cents

Charter schools like those in Denver would be a difficult fit for Jefferson County schools, writes school board candidate Paula Noonan. Colorado Statesman

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: When school choice means moving from a struggling school to another struggling school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 17:36
  • Neighborhood schools often serve as an anchor to personal histories and community ties. So when those schools cease to exist, there is usually a great sense of loss. (NPR)
  • School choice doesn’t necessarily lead to a student moving from a bad school to a significantly better one. In Chicago, more than a quarter of transfer students ended up at another struggling school. (Hechinger Report)

  • After 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a clock he built to his Texas school, his school sent him — and others — the message that his creativity is something to be feared. (Vox)

  • Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, committed $50 million to change the model for public high schools. Will the handful of proposals that end up with funding make a difference? (Slate)

  • Poor kids are increasingly priced out of extracurricular activities that require fees and that exclusion can have long term consequences. (WGBH)

  • School districts around the country are trying to reform zero tolerance discipline policies, but are finding that making meaningful change is difficult. (The Atlantic)

  • A Los Angeles parent explains that her decision to send her children to private school is rooted in a distrust of public schools’ expectations for young black students. (LA Times)

  • A new study reports that the number of black teachers in nine cities dropped between 2002 and 2012, raising big questions about teacher diversity efforts. (Washington Post)

  • As schools rely more and more on philanthropy, some educators worry that schools are marketing their students to donors as charity cases and the competition for donations will leave many children behind. (Tiny Spark)

  • A year after the Ferguson protests, a student-led group is trying to improve the city’s schools from the inside out. (EdWeek)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Oil and gas bust reckoning in Garfield County

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 09:12
bust times

After oil and gas revenue dried up in Garfield County, a bond issue helped the school district rebound. Post Independent

fixing culture

The Adams 14 school district on Denver’s northeast edge — one of some 1,400 districts ordered by the federal government to correct systemic discrimination — is starting to understand how to prevent bias from hurting the children it serves. Education Week

Lancer pride

Students from Abraham Lincoln High School don't believe their southwest Denver campus has space for a middle school. The Denver Post, Chalkbeat, 7News, KWGN

shrinking pains

The rural South Routt School District is trying to stem enrollment declines and budget shortfalls that come with them. Steamboat Today

Total Recall

School board members targeted in Jefferson County's high-stakes recall defend their records in language that will appear on the ballot. Chalkbeat

head count

Moffat County School District saw enrollment dip, but the high school was a surprising exception. Craig Daily Press

high fives

All 25 girls in a St. Mary’s Academy class in Englewood racked up high scores on Advanced Placement calculus tests. 9News

change of heart

A candidate for a two-year school board seat in Steamboat Springs is dropping out, although her name still will be on the ballot. Steamboat Today

safe schools

A fake gun — apparently a theater prop — triggered a lockdown at Brighton schools. 9News

A student in Florence was arrested after starting an actual fire during a planned fire drill. Gazette

Categories: Urban School News

DPS board approves two new southwest Denver middle schools, battle building over Lincoln High

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 21:52

The Denver school board signed off on plans Thursday for two new middle schools seeking to locate in southwest Denver, setting the stage for the next step of picking from among a group of district-run or charter schools vying for precious district real estate in the region.

This is the latest in a series of attempts by DPS to lift the quality of schools in heavily Latino and low-income southwest Denver.

The competition for building space in southwest touches on familiar themes, including the often emotional debate about locating multiple schools on one campus, worries that established schools are neglected as new ones open, and differing views over the roles of charter and district-run schools.

DPS wants to put a new middle school in Henry World Middle School, which is being phased out after years of struggles, and on the campus of Abraham Lincoln High School, which DPS says has the available space because of declining enrollment.

The Lincoln part of the plan is causing controversy. Students from the high school turned out in force at Thursday’s board meeting opposing the plan, saying their hallways, cafeteria and parking lots are overcrowded and that a middle school would alter the school’s identity.

“Don’t you believe in us at Lincoln?” said Carlos Martinez, a Lincoln junior. “Aren’t you proud of us? Why are you creating conditions where I have to fight for my education, every day?”

New policy test awaits

No decisions were made Thursday about putting a school in Lincoln. While the board signed off on two district-run schools, it will not vote on which schools will land in which buildings until next month.

That process will mark the first test of a new DPS policy that ties location decisions to schools’ academic performance, student enrollment patterns and other district priorities.

The board signed off on one school that wants space in the high school — Academia Lincoln, a district-run dual-language Spanish and English school emphasizing science, technology, engineering, math and the arts.

The other newly approved school, Bear Valley International School, is seeking placement in the Henry building. That school promises a rigorous International Baccalaureate program, personalized learning with a 1:1 technology ratio and biliteracy support with every student getting some Spanish programming.

Both votes were 6-0.

Two previously approved charter schools are in play for the two buildings — a new campus for home-grown network DSST, and Compass Academy. Compass Academy has temporary space in Kepner Middle School, where it opened this fall with sixth-graders only, with plans to scale up.

The charter schools identified both the Lincoln and Henry options as sought-after locations.

It is unclear what will happen with the approved schools that aren’t given buildings next fall. Board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, voiced concern about the fate of Academia Lincoln if it doesn’t get its wish for space at Lincoln High.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said schools that are not awarded a facility in this round can try again and get one, which has happened before.

Lincoln speaks out

At Thursday’s meeting, the most noise surrounded the prospect of placing a middle school at Lincoln, which has seen its enrollment decline from about 1,900 in 2009 to 1,371 this year, officials said.

DPS says Lincoln can accommodate a 300-student middle school. An alternative high school, Respect Academy, is already housed at Lincoln, with just over 100 students.

Lincoln principal Larry Irvin attributes much of the opposition to a wariness of change at a proud school with a long history of being a large, comprehensive high school serving generations of neighborhood families.

At the same time, he said, if southwest Denver needs middle school seats and Lincoln has the capacity, “part of it just makes good sense and sound logic.”

“Regardless of what happens, Lincoln will still be here serving our kids and our community and maximizing success in high school and after high school,” Irvin said. “That won’t change.”

Standing with classmates on the sidewalk outside Thursday’s meeting, Lincoln senior Eudelia Koehler was not convinced.

“Seeing it for myself, going to class every day, I don’t see how we’re going to fit another 300 students in there,” she said.

As it stands, DPS boasts more than 20 shared campuses. Typically, multiple schools under one roof share common spaces like cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums and fields but have their own classrooms. The district is also planning for a middle school to share space at Manual High School in northeast Denver.

In southwest Denver, several schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new shared enrollment zones, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Southwest Denver charter schools in the KIPP, DSST and STRIVE Prep networks claim wait lists 150 to 225 kids deep, and families don’t get their first or second school choices at the rate of other areas of the city, district officials say.

“It tells us it’s important to have higher-quality choices, so people can look across the choices they have, put down a choice of one or two, and feel good they will be able to get into those,” Susana Cordova, DPS’s chief of schools, said at a community forum in August.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board members, in ballot statements, explain why they shouldn’t be recalled

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 19:41

Three Jefferson County school board members up for recall this fall have provided statements to the county clerk explaining why they should not be booted from office.

The statements by board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk will appear on the ballot alongside language from recall supporters that accuse the board of misusing tax dollars, disrespecting teachers and violating the state’s open meeting laws.

The release of the statements by the clerk’s office follow an announcement that the Secretary of State has approved the clerk’s plan to align the recall with the regular Nov. 3 election.

The secretary of state’s office and others have questioned whether the recall could be part of the regular election, which saves Jeffco Public Schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The “justification statements” echo many of the board members statements since the recall effort was launched in June.

Board President Witt highlighted the board majority’s resolve for a leaner and more nimble teacher contract, as well as a new way to pay teachers.

“Because our majority stood strong, we were able to reach a leaner, more flexible union agreement that gives educators the flexibility to better provide our children with a world-class education” Witt’s statement reads. “Our new pay model is built on accountability and fairness, allowing us to recognize and reward great teachers while moving us closer to the goal of having an effective teacher in every classroom.”

Full statements
You can read the board majority’s full statements by clicking here:

Williams, the board’s vice president, renewed her vow to improve opportunities for students, like her own children, who live with special needs and are designated as gifted.

“I promised during my campaign to ensure the needs of every child were being met,” Williams’s statement reads. “My work on the Jeffco school board has been guided by that promise. During my time on the school board, I voted to support academic opportunities for every child by allocating additional resources to both special needs kids like Randy and gifted kids like Ryan.”

Meanwhile, Newkirk’s statement emphasizes the board’s work to improve opportunities for the district’s families living in poverty.

“We’ve also taken bold steps to tackle long-neglected issues, such as the community-led educational initiatives in the struggling Jefferson and Alameda areas,” his statement reads. “We have made free full-day kindergarten available to all low-income families.”

The statements represent the latest development on a long road to the November election.

Both the Jefferson and Broomfield county clerks will mail regular ballots to overseas voters later this month. Broomfield officials will mail recall ballot language at the same time.

About 2,000 voters in Broomfield live in the Jeffco Public Schools attendance boundary.

Jefferson County officials, however, will mail separate recall ballots to military and overseas voters after candidates running to replace the recall targets are certified.

If more candidates enter the recall between the time Broomfield and Jeffco officials mail their ballots, Broomfield will reissue ballots to eligible military and overseas voters — of which there are nine.

All Jefferson County voters living in the state will receive one package with both the regular and recall election ballot inside. The clerk’s office will begin mailing those the week of Oct. 12.

Both counties also will open additional polling centers for individuals to vote in person between Oct. 26 and Nov. 3.

If there is a last-minute lawsuit regarding the recall, a judge likely will decide how and when to hold that election, the Broomfield clerk’s office said.

So far three candidates running to replace the school board members have been certified for the ballot: Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert and Susan Harmon.

Two other Jeffco residents, Paula Noonan and Matthew Dhieux, have pulled petitions to be placed on the ballot.

Residents who want to run as replacements should the recall be successful have until Sept. 28 to turn in petitions.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Cherry Creek board to consider controversial charter application

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 09:45
choice and consequences

The Cherry Creek school board will vote next month on whether to allow a new charter school to open — a move that could double the number of charters in CCSD and is sparking some controversy because of its operator, Academica. Aurora Sentinel

labor day

By a 4-3 vote, the Thompson school board will appeal an injunction that protects the Thompson Education Association during a breach of contract lawsuit. The board will use an outside grant sought by a board attorney and the Independence Institute for legal fees. Reporter-Herald

Election 2015

The Secretary of State has approved the Jefferson County clerk's recall election plans, setting the stage for a November showdown. Denver Post

A slate of candidates in Jefferson County has grown from three to five. Lakewood Sentinel

Two incumbents and five newcomers are vying for three seats on the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education this fall. Aurora Sentinel

Denver school board President Happy Haynes missed a meeting Wednesday to discuss a possible conflict of interest by running both the city's parks department and school board. That's because no one told Haynes to be there. Chalkbeat Colorado


Enrollment in Pueblo City Schools has increased during the past two weeks, but the numbers continue to lag behind what officials predicted the student count would be this fall. Pueblo Chieftain


A Colorado Springs charter school, the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, is getting a new name to mark its 20th anniversary. Gazette

early childhood education

Did you know the city of Castle Rock has had its own preschool program for 13 years? Denver Post

Higher ed

Colorado State University enrolled its largest and most diverse freshman class this fall, according to new numbers. Denver Post

In an effort to give students more real-world experience, University of Colorado Denver students will work directly with City of Lakewood staff on projects that are more "environmentally, economically and socially sustainable" in an initiative called "Hometown Colorado." Denver Business Journal

Dress for success

A growing number of students and parents feel that dress codes are biased against female students. And that has led to complaints and protests around the country. NPR via KUNC

New Beginnings

A new school in Aurora is embarking on a bold experiment to link life skills such as perseverance and coping to learning, a strategy viewed as essential for students more likely to bounce from school to school. Chalkbeat Colorado

Two cents

This is what student, teacher and community engagement looks like in education. And this is why it matters, writes a volunteer in the Roaring Fork school district. Post-Independent

Categories: Urban School News

At Aurora’s newest school, students taught life skills to become better learners and writers

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 16:07

AURORA — Emmanuel Zamudio is very much a 9-year-old boy. He knows what he likes — math, science and explosions. He also knows what he’d rather avoid — writing.

“I don’t know how to spell a lot of words, like, that are super hard,” he said, taking a break from riding his bike through his mobile home park along Colfax Avenue. “Like ‘example.’ I don’t know how to spell that.”

The fourth-grader is among the first class of students at a new Aurora Public School embarking on a bold experiment to link life skills such as perseverance and coping to learning, a strategy viewed as essential for students more likely to bounce from school to school.

As part of its first year, the Edna and John W. Mosley P-8 school is applying those principles to tackling one of public education’s thorniest topics: how to better teach writing.

If teachers at Mosley succeed, they’ll not only teach Emmanuel how to overcome his spelling paralysis and become a proficient writer, they’ll provide a model for other academically struggling schools in Aurora that must boost student scores on state tests or face sanctions.

A new school, a new model
In the fall of 2013, two-thirds of Aurora’s elementary and middle schools were at 90 percent or more capacity. With enrollment projected to climb by 2 percent annually the next four years, the district had to act.

So Aurora Public Schools officials asked their board to build a new school using a loan from the private sector.

The board agreed to finance $30 million for the school. At capacity, it will serve up to 1,000 students and take enrollment pressures off up to 10 schools.

Mosley, which is adjacent to Buckley Air Force Base, serves no traditional neighborhood. Nearly 80 percent of students who attend Mosley come from one of about a dozen apartment complexes or mobile home communities that surround the school — including Emmanuel’s.

The school’s lack of defined neighborhood boundaries reflects reality in Aurora, Superintendent Rico Munn said.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Emmanuel Zamudio, 9, rides his bike in his mobile home community in August before school starts.

“We have a lot of mobility,” he said. “It’s a reality of housing.”

Nearly three out of every 10 Aurora students will change schools each year, according to state data. This fact, in part, inspired Mosley’s unique model: Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, students would be taught academic resilience.

Principal Carrie Clark and her team define it like this: The process of students using their own strengths and support systems at school and home to persevere through difficult times and view challenges as opportunities for growth and empowerment.

In other words, students will learn how not to give up when the learning gets tough and how to strive to be their best.

In recent years, more school systems like Aurora that serve mostly students of color from low-income homes have been looking to “noncognitive” skills, like “grit,” to improve classrooms.

“Kids do have innate skills for overcoming situations,” said Dorinda J. Carter Andrews, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. “Those are human traits. But when it comes to schooling, some kids based on their environment might not have the skill set to persevere in the context of those environmental conditions.”

Students at Mosley will spend 30 minutes a day during a morning meeting focused on building resiliency. But it won’t stop there. Throughout the day, teachers will ask students to put those skills to work while tackling tough math problems or reading a book with unfamiliar words.

“Academic resilience is something they can take with them,” Clark said. “It’s not something so specific only to Aurora or only to Mosley. We’re teaching them skills that they can apply in other areas. … We want to teach them something they can use in their future and not so specific to where that school is located. And I think the strategy of coping you can use anywhere you are.”

But Carter Andrews, echoing a backlash against “grit,” said asking students just to persevere isn’t enough. They need support systems before, during and after school.

“What we see nationally, where schools are the most effective, is everyone is taking part and helping those young people to learn and maintain skills,” Carter Andrews said.

She recommended that Mosley develop or partner with after-school programs with similar aims.

So far the school has teamed up with just one after-school program: Girls on the Run, a nonprofit that blends learning life skills with physical activities. More partnerships are expected, a district spokeswoman said.

Still, Mosley teachers and staff are at the ready and embracing Clark’s vision.

“There are a lot of schools in APS that don’t have a vision and don’t know what they’re working for,” said Aretha Savaloja, Mosley’s dean.

A focus on writing
Writing well is difficult. And most Aurora Public Schools students can’t do it.

Two-thirds of Aurora third-graders write below grade level, according to results from 2014 TCAP tests. That was true for sixth- and eighth-graders as well.

By comparison, about half of the state’s students are at or above grade-level in writing.

“It takes incredible attention, focus and resources,” said Steve Graham, a professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “… Writing is not a fun task for some people.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Sixth grade teachers Linda Mallory and Chris Butler worked together on creating common writing lessons during a summer training for Mosley teachers.

In national surveys, teachers report not being confident in their own writing skills and knowledge to teach writing. Teachers also report they don’t have enough time to teach writing or allow students to practice.

On average, Graham said, teachers will spend about 15 minutes a day teaching a writing lesson and students will spend 20 minutes practicing.

To turn the tide on these national trends, Mosley students in kindergarten through sixth grade will have a two-and-a-half hour literacy block to focus on reading and writing. Seventh and eighth graders will have about an hour each day.

Teachers also will work in teams throughout the year to identify proficient writing and develop shared lesson plans.

But reality is daunting: More than 800 students — at least a third of whom are learning English as a second language and 10 percent of whom have some sort of learning disability — enter Mosley at different writing levels and with different skill sets.

“How do you support students where they’re at and connect them to the rest of the lesson?” said sixth-grade teacher Chris Butler. “That’s really hard.”

To differentiate lessons, Clark, Mosley’s principal, is asking her teachers to be familiar with the gamut of content standards in order to identify where students are and how to catch them up. But teachers, Clark said, are not to lower expectations.

There’s good reason, according to research, not to lower the bar for students with the greatest obstacles to overcome, said Carol Booth Olson, an associate professor at the University of California Irvine. She’s researched English language learners since 1982.

English language learners “are capable of making really dramatic progress and people shouldn’t dumb down the curriculum for them,” Booth Olson said. “They should be given more strategies and encouragement. But they won’t get better if they don’t practice.”

As for Emmanuel, the 9-year-old who struggles with spelling, he’s ready for the challenge.

“The new school might push more people to get focused on learning,” he said. “They’ll challenge us to get better.”

Categories: Urban School News

Meeting miscue puts Haynes ethics request on hold

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 15:29

At the appointed hour Wednesday morning, members of the Denver Board of Ethics were all set to consider how Allegra “Happy” Haynes might be able to successfully navigate heading up the city parks and recreation department while remaining a Denver school board member.

Only a key player was missing from the table – Haynes.

While it was not clear at the moment, digging through emails revealed that Haynes was not informed of the time, date or place of the meeting, or that she was expected to attend, said board director Michael Henry, who acknowledged fault.

Long story short: the board may convene a special meeting to consider Haynes’s request for an advisory opinion about how she can fulfill both roles in harmony with the city’s ethics code, Henry said. Otherwise, the issue would need to wait for the board’s next meeting in late October.

Haynes is to assume her $139,293-a-year role as executive director of the city parks and recreation department on Monday after her appointment earlier this month by Mayor Michael Hancock. Haynes, the school board president, is running for reelection for her at-large board seat in the Nov. 3 election.

“A number of people have asked the question, ‘Can you do both of those?’” Haynes said in an interview Wednesday after explaining how she was not in the know about Wednesday’s meeting. “I wanted to make sure that I dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s in terms of addressing my dual role as a member of the board and as a member of the mayor’s team.”

Haynes said she has received advice from the city attorney and will rely on guidance of the DPS general counsel, as well. She said that in cases in which the city department and DPS have a contract, agreement or other legal relationship, she would recuse herself from being involved in either role.

In her Sept. 9 request for an advisory opinion, made public Wednesday by the ethics board, Haynes notes that school board members are not paid and work as volunteers.

She wrote that any contracts between the school district and the city must be approved by the City Council, and that it is unlikely the parks and recreation executive director would take “direct official action” as defined by the city ethics code over matters related to DPS.

Regardless of the circumstances, Haynes’s absence Wednesday at a meeting others knew about illustrates the difficulties in juggling both roles, said Robert Speth, a northwest Denver parent who is running against Haynes for the at-large seat.

Speth, who attended Wednesday’s ethics board meeting, said both parks and recreation and DPS are large, complicated organizations that deserve full attention. He highlighted past conflicts between the two, including an ongoing legal battle over a controversial land swap in southeast Denver.

“I believe there should be absolute separation between the management and leadership of those two entities,” Speth said.

In 2001, the ethics board issued an advisory opinion that laid out ground rules for then-school board member James Mejia as he also simultaneously led the parks and recreation department.

Mejia pledged not to take part in any “contract requests, grants, cooperative agreements, as well as negotiations, progress reports, vouchers or other forms of payment receipts of revenues and associated correspondence” involving DPS, instead delegating those duties to a subordinate.

The advisory opinion said that the dual roles themselves do not represent a conflict of interest. The code, it noted, prohibits a city official from taking “direct official action” on a matter before the city if the employee has a “substantial employment, contractual or financial interest in that matter.”

However, the board urged Mejia to take additional steps to make sure he wasn’t involved directly or indirectly as a DPS board member in any matter involving parks and recreation.

Here, you can review Haynes’s request and the board’s 2001 opinion on the Mejia situation:

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Parents fight school traffic with carpools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 09:28

With record enrollment in the St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley school districts, traffic congestion at schools is at an all-time high, and parents are turning to an online program called Schoolpool to organize carpools. Daily Camera

Teen marijuana use

An annual report by law enforcement officials finds youth and teen marijuana use in Colorado has “skyrocketed.” KOAA5

Athletic angst

The job status of a longtime high school baseball coach in the northern Colorado town of Eaton remains in limbo as debate from community members persists. Denver Post, 9News

Thompson troubles

The Thompson school board will discuss a lawsuit filed against the board by the teacher's union in both closed and open sessions on Wednesday. Reporter-Herald

Fundraising flap

The size of a professional fundraiser’s fee for running an event at a Poudre district school has sparked controversy. Coloradoan

STEM rising

Students at a Colorado Springs elementary school learned some surprising STEM skills just by making bread. Gazette

Job done

Almost three years after Pueblo County District 70 voters approved a $59.5 million bond program, all projects promised have been completed. Chieftain


The Greeley school district is selling 2.7 acres of land to Habitat for Humanity, enough to build about 20 single-family homes for needy families. Greeley Tribune

New life for old school

Another former elementary school in Colorado Springs may be getting a fresh look, this time as a community gathering center and retail space. Fox21

Teacher licenses

The Colorado Department of Education is considering increases in teacher licensing fees. Chalkbeat Colorado

Categories: Urban School News

Cost of being a Colorado teacher may be going up

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/15/2015 - 13:38

Colorado teachers could see a 12.5 percent increase in their license fees under a plan being considered by the state Department of Education.

Out-of-state applicants could feel an even bigger bite – 37.5 percent. Resident fees would rise from $80 to $90, while non-resident rates would jump from $80 to $110.

The alternative to increasing fees is reduction of licensing staff and deterioration of customer service, including longer wait times for licenses, CDE officials say.

The department is considering a number of options, and licensing office head Colleen O’Neil presented them to the State Board of Education last week. The board is expected to make a decision in October. Any increases would go into effect Jan. 1.

The reason for the increase is budgetary.

“We absolutely won’t have enough money if we don’t increase fees,” O’Neil told the board.

Learn more

The licensing office is funded entirely by the fees and receives no revenue from CDE or the tax-supported state general fund. As its name implies, the Office of Educator Preparation, Licensing and Enforcement is responsible not only for licensing and special endorsements but also teacher background checks, investigation of license revocation cases and review of teacher preparation programs operating in the state.

Teacher licensing was in the spotlight a few years ago – including at the legislature – when wait times were running about six months.

“We now have a four- to six-week turnaround time, and in the slower months of the year, two weeks,” O’Neil said. “I don’t ever want to go back to six months, but we definitely would be increasing licensing times” without a fee increase.

Longer wait times can directly affect school districts because it delays their ability to hire, O’Neil noted.

Here are the three options she outlined for the board:

No fee increase – Without cuts, the office would have a $150,582 deficit at the end of 2015-16 and be $443,022 in the red at the end of $443,022.

Recommended increase – Raising fees $10 for residents and $30 for non-residents would allow the office to hire three more staff members, the office would stay in the black and no future increases would be needed for at least five years.

Minimum increase – Only non-resident fees would be raised — by $20 a year — no additional staff would be hired and another increase likely would be needed in two years.

O’Neil said the number of license applications has stayed relatively stable in recent years but that increasing amounts of time are required for investigations, review of preparation programs, customer service and license revocations. The office has a current annual budget of about $3 million and a staff of 24.

About half of initial license requests come from out of state, and those take twice as long to process than resident applications.

More than 37,000 license applications are received each year, and the office issues about 33,000 licenses, credentials and authorizations.

The last fee increases were in 2004 and 2011.

Most teachers don’t have to pay annual license fees. Initial licenses are good for three years, professional licenses run for five years before renewal, master teacher certificates are valid for seven years and substitute licenses are good for one to five years depending on the license type.

Board members asked O’Neil how Colorado compares to its neighbors.

O’Neil said Wyoming charges $150 for residents and $200 for non-residents, while Utah charges $40 and $75. New Mexico charges $125 for both but hits non-residents with $95 fees for each endorsement. Endorsements recognize that teachers have received appropriate training in fields such as special education.

The options
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado to revisit Native American mascots at public schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/15/2015 - 09:49
Mascot makeovers

Ernest House Jr., executive director of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, says a commission to study Native American mascots at Colorado public schools is likely to be established within weeks Durango Herald

higher ed access

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a streamlined application for college and for aid. The changes, Duncan said, should encourage more students to apply for college and grants. NPR

Meanwhile, a panel will discuss the importance to Colorado of increasing access to higher education as part of the inauguration of the University of Denver’s 18th chancellor Rebecca Chopp. University of Denver

Helping hand

An organization that helps newly arrived refugees and immigrant students learn English at Greeley West High was awarded a $3,200 grant. Greeley Tribune

Election 2015

The St. Vrain Valley School District, with no contested races for its four open seats, has canceled its November school board election. Daily Camera

Happy Haynes is seeking guidance from the Denver Board of Ethics about her imminent plans to take over as executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department while continuing to serve as Denver school board president. Chalkbeat Colorado

The Loveland 912 Project will host a forum Thursday for candidates running for the Thompson School District Board of Education. Reporter-Herald

ACT results

Continuing a multi-year trend, the average composite ACT scores for Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley juniors held steady in 2015. Daily Camera

The circle of life

A Woodland Park elementary school received a grant called "The Lion King Experience," which will bring a new arts- and literacy-based curriculum to all students. Gazette

up close and personal

Roots Elementary, a new charter school in northeast Denver, emphasizes personalized learning by asking students to followed learning schedules that are programmed onto their personal iPads. Chalkbeat Colorado

School safety

Four northeast Denver schools were on lockout Monday because of police activity in the area. Denver Post

At the same time, three schools in Adams County were put on lockout while authorities searched for an armed suspect Monday morning. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Haynes seeking ethics guidance on plans to hold DPS board seat while heading parks and rec

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/14/2015 - 21:42

Allegra “Happy” Haynes is seeking guidance from the Denver Board of Ethics about her imminent plans to take over as executive director of the city’s parks and recreation department while continuing to serve as Denver school board president, Chalkbeat has confirmed.

Haynes requested an advisory opinion, which the city board will consider at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday morning, said Michael Henry, the ethics board’s executive director.

The board will likely advise Haynes on whether the dual roles might violate any section of the Denver code of ethics, and possibly provide restrictions or boundaries if she were to do both, he said.

The veteran civic leader is running for reelection for her at-large board seat, and her plans to juggle the two demanding roles are expected to emerge as a campaign issue.

Haynes said in an interview after the announcement she didn’t foresee any problems. She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Not one but two precedents exist involving a school board member heading the very same department.

In 2001, the city ethics board was in its earliest days when it issued an opinion setting boundaries for then board-member James Mejia after he was named parks and recreation director by then-Mayor Wellington Webb, Henry said. In 2008, Kevin Patterson was representing District 4 on the school board when he, too, became director of parks and recreation.

DPS’s history with parks and recreation has not been without controversy. A land swap between the school district and the city involving 11.5 acres of open space in southeast Denver was the target of a lawsuit brought by Friends of Denver Parks. A district court judge ruled in favor of the City and County of Denver last year, and a DPS-run elementary school opened this school year on the former park property.

Amber Miller, a spokeswoman for the city, said the ethics board opinion will help the city determine what, if any, guidelines are appropriate for Haynes to navigate the two roles.

“The mayor and the administration have no doubt that Happy will be able to give this position her all, as well as continue to dedicate her time to the DPS board,” Miller said.

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, a Denver-based watchdog group, said it is difficult to see how Haynes could serve in both roles given how frequently public schools use parks and recreation facilities. At the very least, he said, Haynes would have to delegate responsibilities to others when inevitable conflicts arise.

“Sometimes, they will get along fine,” Toro said of DPS and parks and recreation. “But there may be conflicts between the two over liability, or scheduling. That is the situation where it’s hard to see how she’d be able to to function wearing both hats because she’d be on both sides of the dispute.”

Toro credited Haynes — who draws no salary serving on the school board —  for being proactive and seeking the advisory opinion.

Assistant city attorney David Broadwell declined comment Monday, citing the pending ethics board meeting.

Haynes gained a last-minute challenge for her board seat from Robert Speth, a relatively unknown northwest Denver parent active in schools issues who is running against what he describes as a rubber-stamp board.

Haynes has largely supported the reforms of DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s tenure.

Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Hancock named Haynes to replace Lauri Dannemiller, whom Hancock did not reappoint. Haynes, whose salary will be $139,293, is to begin the role Sept. 21. She is leaving her position with lobbying firm CRL Associates.

Categories: Urban School News

Northeast Denver charter puts a new spin on teaching and learning

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/14/2015 - 20:04

One hundred kindergartners and first-graders scrambled to get their iPads from black metal cases around the lunchroom on a recent morning at Roots Elementary, a new charter school in northeast Denver.

A few stared blankly at the screens, which displayed large letters or symbols showing the children their first learning station of the day. Some swarmed around teachers for help while others figured out their destinations and headed off with little fuss.

The September morning marked a new beginning for students at Roots, which opened its doors in mid-August in the Holly Square neighborhood’s Hope Center. It was the first day that each child was following a personalized schedule, moving to a new station every 15 minutes for much of the day.

Principal Jon Hanover, a former business consultant and kindergarten teacher, said, “It’s literally the first time something like this is happening with elementary school.”

The scene—with 5- and 6-year-olds checking iPads and navigating along colored tape lines to get to their appointed stations—does appear to be a huge departure from the traditional school model. Students no longer have a single teacher, classroom or a standard sequence of lessons.

But Hanover said such a drastic shift is needed in an area that’s not been well served by traditional neighborhood schools.

“When you look at the achievement data of the schools in the region, there’s a crisis at the elementary level,” he said.

The percentage of third-graders reading proficiently at five nearby district schools — Smith, Barrett, Hallett, Columbine and Stedman — ranged from 35 to 47 percent, according to 2014 state tests. All have large populations of low-income students.

Roots, where about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, won’t have a comparable third-grade achievement data until 2018. Still, when the time comes, Hanover’s goal is that 90 percent of students who’ve been at Roots for at least two years will be proficient or advanced in all subjects.

It will be an immense challenge, he said, but one that can be overcome by teaching “the right objective to the right scholars, at the right time, in the right way.”

For parents like Adam Harmon, who lives a few blocks from the school, Roots is a godsend.

“This is a new school with a revolutionary idea,” he said. “I don’t see the traditional elementary school surviving in 20 years.”

He believes Roots’ personalized approach will allow his 5-year-old son, Sir Adam, to advance unfettered by traditional grade levels.

“Their structure…is blended so you don’t know where kindergarten stops and first grade starts,” he said. “My son is in kindergarten but he just learned to count to 120.”

Differentiation with a twist

On the inaugural day of personalized schedules, 5-year-old Leilani was confused at first. She followed the crowd into The Grove, the large open room where students work independently at stations like the “Writing Center,” the “iPad Center” or the “Flex Center.”

Roots Principal Jon Hanover helps 5-year-old Leilani find her next station.

Hanover came to the rescue, reminding her that the orange symbol on her iPad corresponded with the orange sashes hanging from the ceiling above the Writing Center. After a couple reminders by a supervising teacher to find her portfolio, she settled in to draw a picture of a house.

A few minutes later, chimes sounded, signaling students throughout the room to move to a new station. Some stayed in the Grove and others followed a blue tape line called “The Trail” to mini-classrooms around the perimeter.

It’s in these spaces, named for the neighborhood’s flora-themed streets, that students will work more directly with teachers. All told, the children will spend about half their academic time in these rooms, but the size of the group and the lessons they’ll focus on will depend on their personal needs.

In the “Birch” mini-classroom, the scene was similar to that in any early elementary classroom—though it was impossible to tell which students were officially kindergarteners and which were first-graders.

During one rotation there, writing and social studies teacher Mackenzie Wagner led 18 students as they practiced tracing then writing their names on paper attached to clipboards. During the next rotation, Hanover, subbing for a teacher who was sick, read the classic book, “Where the Wild Things Are” to a group of 24 students.

Students work independently at stations in this large open room, called “The Grove.”

Students do have breaks from shuttling between stations. Besides lunch and recess, they have “opening circle” and “closing circle” each day. Staff members called coaches lead these sessions, which focus on social-emotional skills and always include the same group of students.

“It’s very familiar there,” said coach Debbie Van Roy, a former teacher who will follow a cohort of 50 students throughout their Roots career.

In addition to working with children in groups and individually, coaches spearhead communication between home and school.

“We’re constantly in touch with kids’ families,” she said.

Another piece of the puzzle

While Roots may be a school to watch for its re-imagination of instructional delivery, it’s also distinctive for the gap it will fill in the geography of the Holly Square neighborhood.

Its permanent building, set to open next fall, will soon rise a stone’s throw away from its current quarters, on a plot once occupied by the Holly Shopping Center. That building was burned down in 2008 in a gang-related arson.

Roots Elementary’s permanent building will go up where these temporary basketball courts are now.

The new school will be nestled among a complex of buildings that includes a Boys & Girls Club, the Hope Center, a library and a city recreation center. It was selected for the spot, which is owned by the Urban Land Conservancy, by a group of community stakeholders.

“This idea of creating a children’s campus…really resonated with everyone around the table,” said Tony Pickett, vice president of master site development at the Urban Land Conservancy.

“Seeing Roots fit into that was a sort of natural evolution.”

That evolution is set to continue in the fall of 2016 with the opening of a new charter middle school, the Near Northeast Community Engagement School, inside the Boys & Girls Club space, Pickett said.

“I think there is a tremendous opportunity to really change the life course of young people in that community,” he said.

While Roots, like any charter, is technically open to students from across Denver and even outside the district, Hanover and his team have put a premium on attracting students from the neighborhood.

“We knocked on every door in Northeast Park Hill at least four times during the enrollment process,” Hanover said.

Pickett noted that Hanover and other school leaders have consistently showed up to community meetings and worked to build relationships with parents.

Those efforts seem to have paid off. About 80 percent of students are from the immediate neighborhood.

National influences

Before Hanover taught kindergarten for two years at Rocky Mountain Prep charter school, he worked at the Broomfield-based Charter School Growth Fund.

That organization, which gave Roots a $200,000 “Next Generation” grant, funds expansion of high-performing charters across the country and provides start-up grants for promising schools.

Given Hanover’s background, it’s not surprising that Roots is heavily influenced by certain high-profile charter sector practices. Examples include the school’s gray and blue uniforms, the way teachers address students as “scholars” and reminders for children to track the speaker.

But it extends beyond that. For example, the school’s math program, Cognitively Guided Instruction, is drawn from the high-achieving Success Academy charter network in New York City. Summit Public Schools, which operate in California and Washington, was the model for Roots’ “Habits for Success.”—reminders like “I stop, think and make a good choice when I’m upset.”

Finally, the school’s approach to culture, which emphasizes core values like kindness and respect as well as community-building activities, comes from the Brooke Charter Schools in Boston.

Hanover describes the various charter school influences as “taking the best from the best.”

At the same time, he believes working closely with other local youth-serving groups is critical to the school’s success.

“A great elementary education is super important but not enough,” he said. “The only way for us to meet our mission is if we’re really smart in how we’re partnering with other entities in the community.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco criticized for not need seeking bond issue

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/14/2015 - 09:40
Election 2015

Some parents and community members are criticizing the Douglas County School District for failing to put a bond measure on the November ballot to help pay for $275 million in construction and maintenance needs. Castle Rock News-Press

A school board candidate in Colorado Springs District 11 had to go to court to get on the ballot. Gazette

The vast majority of Colorado school districts are taking a pass on proposing tax increases this year. Chalkbeat Colorado

Sports matters

Controversy over the future of a legendary high school baseball coach has divided the Weld County town of Eaton. Greeley Tribune, 9News, Denver Post, KOA Radio

Denver reform

In another step to turn around performance in southwest Denver, the Denver Public Schools board will vote Thursday on two new schools that could replace a low-achieving school. Denver Post

Dougco in court

It’s anybody’s guess whether the U.S. Supreme Court will accept the voucher case appeal by the Douglas County schools. Castle Rock News-Press

Teacher Prep

Teachers who are in training will spend more time in the classroom before graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in education. Denver Post

ACT results

Liberty Common High School, a Fort Collins charter, has posted the state’s highest average composite ACT score for the fourth consecutive year. Coloradoan

Colorado composite scores remain much the same. Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post

Four graphs tell story about how districts and schools performed. Chalkbeat Colorado

Search for individual district, school results. Chalkbeat Colorado

Testing burden

Colorado students will see fewer tests this school year, but some would like to see more cuts. 9News

Bus safety

Federal officials are looking at the issue of whether seat belts should be required on school buses. KOAA5

Public participation

The St. Vrain Valley School District recently was honored for its dedication to including the public in its work. Daily Camera

New leadership

Dorothy Horrell, a veteran higher-education leader and former CEO of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, has been named sole finalist for chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver. 9News

Categories: Urban School News

Tell us how Chalkbeat can better serve you

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/14/2015 - 06:37

At Chalkbeat Colorado, we’re ready for another year of high-impact education coverage. And that’s why we’re coming to you, our readers, for some feedback.

What do you like about reading Chalkbeat? What can we do to improve?

Suggestions, questions and comments are all welcome — just fill out the survey below. It should take you less than 10 minutes to complete, and we hope you’ll pass it along to your friends and colleagues, as well.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: Seattle teachers strike the latest dramatic education development in Washington

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 17:38
  • A teacher strike has delayed the start of the school year in Seattle after contract negotiations broke down over issues of teacher pay and staffing; district officials say they have no plans to force teachers back into classrooms through legal options and are hoping instead for a swift resolution. (Seattle Times, New York Times)
  • The Washington state Supreme Court ruled late last week that charter schools are not public schools because their boards are not accountable to voters; now the state’s nine existing charters are trying to raise money to stay open and begin a lobbying movement for a state constitutional change. (Seattle Times)
  • A dozen Chicago parents and activists are closing in on nearly a month of their hunger strike to determine the fate of Dyett High School; one of those protestors explains why the district’s proposal to reopen the school as an arts program isn’t good enough. (The Takeaway)
  • The California drought is taking a quiet but devastating toll on many of the state’s school districts, which are seeing students (and funding) disappear as the families of farm laborers leave in search of work. (The Atlantic)
  • For the principal of a high poverty middle school, finding teachers willing to put in long, taxing hours for the low salary he can offer is an exhausting annual ordeal. (Hechinger Report)
  • Four teachers explain how their work has changed because of the Common Core standards. (Slate)
  • Teachers are taking advantage of the sharing economy to buy and sell  lesson plans and other classroom tools. (New York Times)
  • A look inside the three-year journey of starting the International Charter School of New York, which just opened in downtown Brooklyn. (New York Times)
  • The New York City school buildings designed by C.B.J. Snyder remain impressive. (Brownstoner)
  • As Professor Pedro Noguera departs for Los Angeles, Jose Vilson explains his impact on conversations of race and education in New York City. (Jose Vilson)
  • Cure the kindergarten jitters with this school advice from much older and wiser second graders. (WBEZ)
  • When an outsider superintendent arrived to shake up Newark’s failing public school system, she discovered that disrupting even a totally broken status quo can have harmful consequences. Read an excerpt from Dale Russakoff’s new book on Newark public schools and enter to win a copy. (Chalkbeat)
Categories: Urban School News

What we learned from Colorado’s ACT scores in four graphs

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 17:14

The Colorado Department of Education on Friday released results from the ACT exam high school juniors took this spring.

Like so many years before, the results were flat. You can read a wrap-up of state trends here.

Here are some stories we found by digging deeper into the data, told in four graphs:

In Colorado’s largest districts, results didn’t budge much.


Data source: Colorado Department of Education. jQuery(function () { jQuery('#10ACT').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['Denver', 'Jefferson County', 'Douglas County', 'Cherry Creek', 'Aurora', 'Adams 12', 'St. Vrain', 'Boulder Valley', 'Poudre', 'Colo. Springs D11' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '2015 ACT Composite scores' }, }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, legend: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: '10 largest districts', color: '#2BA8E0', data: [18.3, 21.1, 21.9, 21.8, 17, 19.3, 20.5, 23.3, 22.5, 19] } ] }); });

Not one of Colorado’s 10 largest school districts were able to move the needle on ACT scores by a full point. Then again, they didn’t lose much ground either. Four of the state’s most populous districts fell below the state average of 20.1: Denver, Aurora, Adams 12, Colorado Springs’ District 11. Those district, compared to the other six that scored above the state average, serve more living in poverty.

Some of the state’s best and worst scores came from charter schools.


FRL = Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Data source: Colorado Department of Education. jQuery(function () { jQuery('#5stateACT').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['Liberty Common Charter, Fort Collins, 3% FRL', 'Thomas MacLaren State Charter School, Colo. Springs, 24% FRL', 'D-Evelyn Junior/Senior High School, Jeffco, 6% FRL', 'Peak to Peak Charter School, Lafayette, 7% FRL', 'Fairview High School, Boulder, 9% FRL', 'New America School, Thornton, 80% FRL', 'Southwest Open Charter School, Cortez, 67% FRL', 'Excel Academy, Denver, 84% FRL', 'New America School – Lowry, Denver 81% FRL', 'Lester R Arnold High School, Commerce City, 49% FRL' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '2015 ACT Composite scores' }, }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, legend: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ color: '#F6C241', data: [27.1, 27.1, 26.5, 26.3, 26, 13.7, 13.6, 13.6, 13.3, 12.8] } ] }); });

Independent third parties operate three of the five schools that earned the highest ACT scores in the state. Independent third parties also operate four of the five schools that earned the lowest ACT scores in the state. The district-run school that earned the highest score was Fairview in Boulder. D’Evelyn Junior-Senior High School in Jefferson County, which is co-managed by the district and a community-based steering committee, also ranked in the top 5. The district-run school that earned the lowest score was Lester R. Arnold High School in the Adams 14 school district.

In Denver, non-neighborhood schools lead while alternative schools lag.


FRL = Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Data source: Colorado Department of Education. jQuery(function () { jQuery('#5ACT').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['DSST: Stapleton, 53% FRL', 'Denver School of the Arts, 12% FRL', 'East, 36% FRL', 'DSST: Green Valley Ranch, 69% FRL', 'Denver Online High School, 29% FRL', 'P.U.S.H. Academy, 85% FRL', 'West Career Academy, 89% FRL', 'Denver Center for 21st Learning at Wyman, 85% FRL', 'Justice High School, 85% FRL', 'Excel Academy, 84% FRL' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: '2015 ACT Composite scores' }, }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, legend: { enabled: false }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ color: '#EF0F52', data: [24.1, 24.1, 22.2, 21.9, 21, 14.1, 13.9, 13.8, 13.7, 13.6] } ] }); });

Only one of the schools to place in the top five composite scores in Denver was a traditional neighborhood school: East High. The others were DSST charter schools, the selective-magnet school Denver School of the Arts and homeschool program Denver Online High. Meanwhile, all five schools with the lowest scores in Denver serve students who are in credit recovery programs or attempting to earn their GED.

At Colorado’s lowest performing high schools, ACT scores aren’t climbing.


FRL = Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Data source: Colorado Department of Education. jQuery(function () { jQuery('#turnaround').highcharts({ chart: { type: 'column' }, title: { text: ' ' }, xAxis: { categories: ['Manual High School, Denver, 90% FRL', 'Adams City High School, 67% FRL', 'Aurora Central High School, 74% FRL', 'Colorado Provost Academy, Greenwood Villiage, 40% FRL', 'Southwest Early College, Denver, 69% FRL' ] }, yAxis: { min: 0, title: { text: 'ACT Composite scores' }, }, tooltip: { headerFormat: '{point.key}', pointFormat: '{}: ' + '{point.y:.1f}', footerFormat: '', shared: true, useHTML: true }, credits: { enabled: false }, legend: { enabled: true }, plotOptions: { column: { pointPadding: 0.2, borderWidth: 0 } }, series: [{ name: '2014', color: '#333333', data: [16.1, 16.1, 15.2, 19.1, 16.4] },{ name: '2015', color: '#C2C932', data: [16.2, 15.9, 15.1, 18.1, 16.7] } ] }); });

ACT scores at five of the state’s chronically low-performing high schools didn’t see the kind of increases likely needed to stave off state sanctions. In fact, one school dropped a point — significant on a test like the ACT. High schools, like middle and elementary campuses, are rated on how well students do on the state’s standardized tests. However, student results on the ACT and graduation rates are also factored into a high school’s rating. If a school’s composite ACT score doesn’t climb, its state rating likely won’t either. If a school is dubbed as either “turnaround” or “priority improvement” by the state for more than five years in a row, the state may ask the school district running the school to close it or turn it over to a charter school.

Update: This post has been updated to include the role of a school-based steering committee that co-managed D’Evelyn Junior-Senior High School in Jefferson County. 

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado ACT test scores remain flat

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 15:39

Colorado’s run of flat test scores continued with the release Friday of ACT results that showed high school juniors recorded a composite score of 20.1 on the college readiness test last spring, down from 20.3 in 2014.

State scores on the test have budged very little since 2008, from a low of 20 to last year’s scores as the high.

The composite score is drawn from the scores of all students on the test’s four sections – English, reading, math and science. Composite scores in individual subjects were down except for science, where the score was 20.5 compared to 2014’s 20.4. The perfect score on all SAT test sections is 36.

The scores, released by the Colorado Department of Education, are the second set of data from the spring testing season to be made available.

Scores on state science and social studies tests, released in July, showed a modest uptick from 2014. Scores for the new PARCC language arts and math tests will be made public in November.

The 2015 ACT scores showed familiar gaps between different groups of students. Some examples:

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  • The composite scores were 20.3 for females and 20 for males.
  • Students who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches had a composite score of 17.3.
  • White students scored 21.7, while scores were 17.3 for Hispanics, 17.1 for blacks, 22 for Asians and 17.9 for American Indians.
  • Students with non-English language backgrounds scored 13.7.
  • Students receiving Title I services, with individual education plans and other special services scored 16.8.
  • Immigrant students scored 15.7.

The ACT scores are one element used by the state accreditation system to rate how well districts and schools are preparing students for college and the workforce. All juniors are required to take the test. While the scores aren’t used by schools to rate students, ACT results are vital for students who are applying to college.

Results from the ACT or a similar test may take on greater importance in the future.

A testing law passed earlier this year requires that Colorado students take a college and career readiness test in the 10th grade as well as the 11th grade exam. The two tests are supposed to be aligned, so they are expected to be provided by the same testing company.

The new law also requires that the contract for the two tests be put out to bid, so ACT won’t necessarily be the winner. The department hopes to select a testing company by November.

Results of college entrance tests also are one indicator that districts can use to meet new state high school graduation guidelines approved this week by the State Board of Education.

There’s also talk among some policymakers and legislators of adapting the ACT or another 11th grade test so its results can be used to fulfill federal requirements for giving a science test once in high school. Doing that would eliminate the current 11th grade science test.

The results released Friday – officially known as the Colorado ACT – differ somewhat from national results provided recently by the testing company. The state results cover only public school students who took the test as juniors. The company’s results cover 2015 high school graduates and include non-public students and students who took the test as seniors.

Categories: Urban School News

Find your school’s 2015 ACT scores

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 09/11/2015 - 15:28


Colorado’s ACT college readiness exam scores were flat in 2015. Again. Use this tool to see how your school — and others — performed:

Categories: Urban School News

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