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For Latinos in Colorado, college completion rates still lag

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 18:37

The number of Latinos graduating from Colorado high schools and college still lags behind the graduation rates for white students, according to a study released today.

The report, which looked at national and state-by-state trends in Latino graduation and degree attainment, was released by Excelencia in Education, a research group focused on racial and ethnic trends in education.

Colorado has the eighth largest Latino population in the country, but only 18 percent of Latinos in Colorado received a college degree, compared with 44 percent of the general population. Nationally, the average rate was 20 percent for Latinos.

The top colleges for Latinos receiving bachelor degrees were, in order,:

  • Metropolitan State College of Denver
  • University of Colorado-Boulder
  • Colorado State University-Fort Collins
  • University of Colorado-Denver
  • Colorado State University-Pueblo

For more, see the national report here and the Colorado fact sheet here.

Categories: Urban School News

How parenting programs change lives: two Spanish-speaking parents share their experience

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 15:45

Parenting programs that help the families of low-income, at-risk children learn how to prepare those children for school are attracting much interest from educators looking for ways to boost student achievement. There are many parenting programs in Denver, but programs for Spanish-speaking families are harder to find.

Doris and Jesus Enriquez have two children who are enrolled in two such parenting programs at Focus Points Family Resource Center. Doris and Jesus’s children, Adan, age three, and Naomi, age five, were in the Parents as Teachers Program (PAT) for children from birth to age three, and in Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program for kids from age three to five years old. Adan is currently enrolled in HIPPY, and Naomi graduated last year.

Doris and Jesus are originally from Mexico and came to Denver several years ago. They enrolled both Naomi and Adan in the parenting programs shortly after they were born. As part of those programs, a home educator comes to their home twice a month to talk about child development and share books and educational activities for each child. They also attend monthly parent meetings, where topics in child development are discussed and Spanish-speaking parents can talk with pediatricians and other experts in child rearing. All the parents in the program agree to read to their child daily and help them learn basics like numbers, letters and colors. Health screenings and developmental tests every six months make sure the children are on track to succeed.

Both Doris and Jesus credit the programs with helping their children thrive.

“When a home educator comes to the house, the child gets used to the idea of what a teacher does and what school is like,” says Jesus. “When Naomi started in preschool, they were very impressed with how advanced she was in letters and numbers.”

Doris said the program has helped them learn how to be better parents. “We have the habit of reading to our children now,” she says. “We have their art and activities hanging up on the wall. We also read more ourselves. We’ve seen changes in the way we parent.”

In Mexico, parents often believe that education should be left up to school teachers and they have little right to question what goes on in school. This passive attitude can hinder students’ progress. “I’ve noticed the Latino community often falls back in their studies,” says Doris. “A lot of parents want to educate their children, but they don’t know how. We want our children to graduate from high school and go on to university.”

“Children aren’t born with a handbook,” says Doris. “There’s so much more than just the educational program, they teach you how to be a better parent, how to have patience, how to use love and logic. It’s a whole wrap around.”

Categories: Urban School News

Across all races, teacher education losing students

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 14:14

Fewer college students are enrolling in traditional undergraduate teaching programs in Illinois, with whites accounting for the biggest drop. After years of holding steady, enrollment fell significantly in 2011 and 2012—by 23 percent overall, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) for 2003 through 2012. White student enrollment fell at an even higher rate of 25 percent.

Black enrollment in teaching programs showed no clear trend between 2003 and 2010, but, as with white students, declined significantly in 2011 and 2012. Hispanic enrollment, however, grew steadily between 2003 and 2010, only to fall in the next two years. But that growth means that more Hispanics than African Americans are now entering teaching.

Still, enrollment trends are important because of the mismatch between students and teachers that can lead to a cultural divide in the classroom: About half of students in Illinois public schools are minorities, but close to 84 percent of teachers are white, according to state records. In Chicago, the need for a diverse teacher workforce is especially evident: 86 percent of students are children of color but less than half of teachers are minorities.

Despite the mismatch, it’s not likely that the state will experience a massive overall shortage of public school teachers anytime soon. Illinois has long produced an overabundance of teachers in all but a few instructional categories, and the state’s population of elementary and high school aged students is expected to continue on a slight decline through at least 2019, according to national projections.

At Illinois State University, the state’s biggest producer of teachers, enrollment has gone through ups and downs during the past decade. But it hit a new low in 2012, when the numbers were 16 percent lower than a decade earlier.

“We have a very strong history of educating teachers and seeing those numbers decline has been a concern,” says Stacy Ramsey, ISU interim director of admissions. "It’s just getting harder and harder to become a teacher, with all the testing standards and continuing education […]. I don’t think it’s a career choice that is as attractive as it used to be.”

Illinois teaching institutions aren’t the only ones losing students. According to a national survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the number of full-time undergraduates enrolled in education degree programs fell by 6 percent between 2006 and 2011 – even though overall enrollment at the 581 institutions surveyed grew by more than 7 percent during that time period.

“With everything that’s going on right now, the profession is just not well received because of the [2012 Chicago teachers] strike and the closing of schools,” says Chamiyah Pugh, a first-year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood. “The teacher turnover rate is so high you will meet teachers who tell you to get out of this field and to save yourself.”

Harder exams, less prestige

University leaders and others in the field say the toughened entrance exam for education colleges that was put into place in 2010 is responsible for much of the decline. That year, the Illinois State Board of Education restructured and raised the cut scores for the required entrance exam for education colleges, now known as the Test for Academic Proficiency (TAP), and also imposed a limit on the number of times students could take the test. Overall, fewer than a third of students who now take the TAP pass it – a far cry from the previous pass rate of more than 80 percent overall.

Yet leaders also point to other circumstances that may have made teaching less attractive, such as school closures and layoffs in Chicago as well as the fight over pension reform and the growth of alternative teaching programs.

“Teaching just doesn’t seem to be appealing to certain students anymore,” says Sterling Sadler, dean of the College of Education at Western Illinois University. “What we are seeing is that the quality of those students who do enroll is improving, which is a good thing.”

Much of the public dialogue about the sharp drop in pass rates on the TAP has focused on black and Hispanic students, whose scores are significantly lower than for white students. But the numbers are bad across the board: Only 34 percent of white students passed the exam in the final quarter of 2013.

“When you change the cut score, it’s going to affect all students,” says Brian Schultz, a professor and chair of the Educational Inquiry & Curriculum Studies Department at Northeastern Illinois University. “The cut score needs to be changed, or let’s eliminate that as a requirement because it doesn’t predict performance in the classroom.”

Schultz and other critics of the test, including the organization Grow Your Own Teachers—which partners with community organizations in low-income neighborhoods to recruit community members into teaching—want the state to find alternative methods of assessing the quality of prospective teachers.

“ISBE is in a tough situation in terms of how they have decided to go down this path in terms of using rhetoric such as ‘raising the bar’ on teachers, because to change that now would suggest that they’re now ‘lowering’ the bar,” he said. “But that would be the moral thing to do. They’ve made a mistake and it’s having a disparate impact [on students of color]”.

“We know that those individuals that have the cultural competencies and are able to connect in culturally respectful ways to their students are the most successful in the classroom,” Schulz adds.

Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for ISBE, says the agency hasn’t conducted a formal analysis of the downward trend.

“While it may be the case that TAP has momentarily stopped individuals from pursuing a teaching license, it is also the case that the higher expectations serve as a gate, keeping individuals who cannot perform those foundational functions from moving forward until they can reach that point,” she added.

Last month ISBE voted to eliminate the limit on the number of times students could take the TAP, explaining that the measure sought to diversify the teaching workforce. The state board also formed a working committee that includes educators and young teachers of color to study the issue and has given colleges discretion to allow students to enroll into education programs prior to passing the TAP.

However, during ISBE’s meeting in April, state officials said many universities have chosen not to use that discretion. Staff at NEIU, for example, decided after much discussion not to allow students into the program before passing the TAP to avoid potentially burdening them with debt if they ultimately fail the exam.

Opting for other careers

Of course, not everyone who earns a bachelor’s degree in education goes on to earn a teaching certificate, and even fewer wind up teaching in public schools. A longitudinal study published last year by the Illinois Education Research Council, at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, showed that less than half of those who get certified wind up teaching in an Illinois public school, with some entering private schools and other educational jobs in the private sector.

The study sought to inform the design of policies meant to improve the supply of academically skilled and racially diverse teachers in Illinois by tracking students who graduated from high school in 2002 and 2003, through college and into the workforce. Among its findings: Minorities are far less interested in becoming teachers starting in high school, when they indicate their desired career on their ACTs. The trend continued all along the teacher pipeline.

“Regardless of academic preparation, minority high school students still aspired to teach at lower rates, minority bachelor’s degree recipients were less likely to have earned teaching certificates, and minorities with teaching certificates were less likely to become teachers in Illinois public schools, compared to whites,” according to the study. “These all indicate that other factors besides academic preparation also have a large impact on the relatively low minority representation of new public school teachers in Illinois.”

Certified black teachers, according to the study, are the least likely ethnic group to become a public school teacher in Illinois.

 “Amongst people of color, becoming a teacher has zoomed down to [no] more than 8th place in their interest level,” says Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of Golden Apple, a non-profit organization dedicated to recruiting and developing good teachers in Illinois. “There is a sense out there that teaching is a difficult task that has a limited payoff as far as salary, as far as prestige, as far as challenge. Trying to make teaching cool again with all of these obstacles is a tad difficult.”

That’s part of the reason why educators at ISU launched the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline more than a decade ago. The program seeks to prepare students from high schools in Little Village, Auburn Gresham and Albany Park for college – and careers as Chicago teachers.

“The end goal for students that we’re recruiting from CPS is that they’ll return home to teach,” explains Robert Lee, the program’s executive director. “And many of our alums will continue living in these communities we serve.”

About 800 students have successfully gone through the pipeline and are now teaching in Chicago Public Schools, Lee said.

 Another facet of the program brings ISU students into Chicago neighborhoods, where they live for a month while taking teaching classes and interning at a local community organization. Pugh, the first- year teacher at Mays Elementary School in Englewood, spent the summer of 2012 in the program, which she said prepared her to teach in the city. 

Pugh was impressed with the program’s community and cultural emphasis.

“As an African-American girl growing up in Chicago, most of my teachers didn’t understand what it was like for us,” she says. “I wanted to be the person who ‘got’ the kids because I rarely had anybody I could relate to.”

Alternative routes to the classroom

The growth of alternative teaching programs, such as Teach for America and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), may also be influencing some students to pursue a teaching certificate post- college instead of earning a bachelor’s degree in education.

Mike Konkoleski, a math teacher at Solorio High School, knew since his senior year in high school that he probably wanted to become a teacher. But he chose to study math at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and later added a double major in Spanish. Fulfilling the requirements for both majors made it difficult to also schedule the education courses he’d need to earn a teaching certificate.

He considered staying at U of I for a fifth year in order to get his teaching certificate, but instead applied to several post-college alternative teaching programs in Chicago. He entered the AUSL program in 2008, where he earned his teaching certificate along with a master’s degree in education while spending a year in the classroom under the watchful eye of a mentor. Konkoleski says he has no regrets.

“No matter what education program you look at, you only learn so much in the courses. The only way you learn is by teaching,” he points out.

Konkoleski and others in his cohort earned traditional teaching certificates through the AUSL master’s degree program at National-Louis University. Those who enter Teach for America, meanwhile, earn provisional teaching certificates during their first year on the job, and an initial certificate after their second year, provided they have fulfilled the necessary coursework and other requirements through Dominican University, National-Louis University or the University of Phoenix.

In 2005, ISBE granted 337 alternative teaching certificates to new educators that received their training through alternative programs. The number peaked in 2010, when 1,302 alternative teaching certificates were granted in Illinois, and has since dropped to 514 in 2012, the most recent year for which ISBE had data.

Despite the growth, however, it’s important to note that the vast majority of teachers still earn traditional certificates. In 2012, for example, 14 times as many traditional teaching certificates were granted when compared to alternative teaching certificates.

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado teachers demand state drop PARCC tests

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 11:10

A majority of delegates at an annual meeting of the Colorado Education Association approved a resolution “demanding the state’s withdrawal from the PARCC assessment, and to call for a moratorium on high stakes standardized testing,” according to a statement from the statewide teachers union.

The resolution, which charges CEA to join coalitions that oppose high-stakes testing, was passed April 12 during the union’s annual Delegate Assembly. More than 500 union members — including current teachers, retirees and bus drivers from across the state — attended the weekend meeting, which sets the union’s policy agenda for the year.

The conference is not usually opened to media. Chalkbeat Colorado first learned of the resolution from social media updates from delegates.

The delegate vote comes two months after a CEA survey found its members believe there is too much testing and not enough instructional time. The vote also follows a similar resolution passed by the State Board of Education asking the Colorado General Assembly to allow the education department here to develop its own standardized assessments instead of using the multi-state PARCC tests.

Colorado students are expected to begin taking the PARCC — short for Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career — tests next spring. Some 400 Colorado schools just completed a trial run of the exams.

The aim of the PARCC tests is to measure student proficiency and academic growth, or how much a student learns year-over-year compared to their peers, against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based on the national Common Core State Standards.

Supporters of the new assessments believe the results will allow Colorado policy makers, school leaders, and parents to compare student successes here with those in other states participating in the PARCC coalition.

The statement from CEA concludes:

Teachers are not ‘anti-testing’; in fact, teachers invented testing to examine student growth and improve classroom instruction. However, educators cannot passively sit on the sidelines and watch a corporate-driven testing agenda strangle the quality and rigor of a public school education they’ve worked so hard to deliver to students over their careers. We will work collaboratively with other concerned groups to determine standardized testing’s proper role in our schools that supports all students in a positive, meaningful way.

Because Colorado’s involvement in the PARCC group is tied to state statute, it seems unlikely any action will be taken this year. The General Assembly must adjourn by May 7.

Some states that have previously pulled out of the PARCC exams include Florida and Indiana. States still participating include New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More teachers affected by mutual consent speak out

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 09:03

Longer day, tempers fray

The principal at one Denver elementary school is pushing for a longer day, with the support of teachers. But many parens oppose it and the conflict has divided the community and raised questions about how to make that kind of change. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Partisan politics

Republican lawmakers complained about bills that earmarked school spending but both parties advanced bills that promised to designate spending for certain programs, rather than pay down the negative factor. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teachers speak out

A look at some of the teachers affected by the use of mutual consent in Denver Public Schools, which is currently embroiled in a legal challenge over it. ( Westword )

crunching the numbers

Boulder Valley School District's board will get a first look at next year's budget numbers and they're already talking about their priorities: employee health insurance, literacy materials and more staff. ( Daily Camera )

new faces

St. Vrain Valley School District has selected a new principal for Niwot High School. ( Times-Call )

Planning for the future

The Steamboat Springs school board moved forward with a strategic plan yesterday that includes a focus on staff retention, academic excellence and individual responsibility. ( Steamboat Today )

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

A vaccine researcher says he was surprised by how few bad reactions there are to vaccines, in a discussion of a House bill that could require parents who opt their students out of vaccines to receive education on the risks. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Students test driving Common Core; you can, too

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/15/2014 - 08:54

Millions of American students this spring are piloting new online standardized tests linked to the Common Core State Standards. You can try out sample tests and see for yourself if they boost your critical thinking skills. (The Hechinger Report)

The main reason for the trial run is to see if computer systems are ready to handle millions of students logging on to take the exams at the same time. But it’s also a public relations test. Students are getting a first look at the exams in full, and educators will now have a better sense of whether they will live up to their promise.

FREE ACT COULD END: Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to continue paying for high school juniors to take the ACT and debating whether to pass along the $52.50 exam fees to students and their families as a way to save money. (State Journal Register)

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS: The Springfield School District will undertake more than $5 million worth of building improvements this summer, including repaving parking lots, installing central air conditioning and replacing two roofs. The upgrades are part of $90 million in health and life safety improvements for which the Springfield School Board agreed to issue bonds in late 2008. (State Journal Register)

DENVER CONSIDERS HIRING UNDOCUMENTED TEACHERS: The Denver Public School system has joined with Teach for America to hire undocumented immigrants who were granted temporary legal presence and work authorization under a presidential initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Think Progress)

CLARITY ON STUDENT PRIVACY: Several groups are working to establish more clarity and guidance with new policies for K-12 schools that are struggling to deal with the atmosphere around issues of student-data privacy. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Republicans grouse about earmarked spending

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 20:08

Reducing the negative factor, the state’s $1.4 billion school funding shortfall, has gotten most of the attention this year, but there are plenty of bills floating around that propose spending money on a variety of other education programs.

A couple of Republican House members put a spotlight on some of those bills Monday with unsuccessful arguments to defeat the measures.

“Here we go again with expanding a program we can’t afford to expand,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, after House Bill 14-1156 came up for preliminary debate. The bill would make students in third through fifth grade who now are eligible for reduced-price lunches able to get free lunches. (Preschool through 2nd grade students already get free lunches.)

Sponsor Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, originally included students up to grade 12 in his bill, but scaled it back to reduce the cost.

“I hesitate to speak against this,” Murray said, saying state spending ought to be focused on highways, basic K-12 support and public safety.

Moreno countered by saying, “We are talking about one of the most fundamental things in school, that kids get fed.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said, “It seems to me like we’re trying to raise test scores in the lunchroom. … Schools are for learning. They’re not for social programs.”

There was similar back-and-forth on House Bill 14-1276, which would create a modest grant program to pay for programs to teach high school students how to perform CPR.

“Here we go again, spending money on a new program, which could go to spending down the negative factor,” said Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial.

“What we’re doing is creating a new program when can’t fully fund the programs we have,” Murray added.

(There was a similar argument over House Bill 14-1124, which would provide resident tuition eligibility to Native American students who belong to tribes with historic ties to Colorado. “We can’t afford it,” argued Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.)

In all three cases, the GOP arguments were for naught, as the bills passed on voice votes.

There is a wide range of bills that proposed spending on education programs other than the negative factor, and both Democrats and Republicans are involved in backing those efforts. Here’s a rundown on the measures still in play:

Democratic spending bills

Total cost – $7.2 million

Achievement gaps – House Bill 14-1376 would require the Department of Education to gather data, broken out by ethnic groups and other student characteristics, on how students perform in core courses. The measure is so new that a fiscal analysis hasn’t been done yet. (Awaiting House committee action)

Alternative ed campuses – Senate Bill 14-167 would create a pilot program for improvement of alternative education campuses’ performance, at a starting cost of $62,639. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

Adult education – House Bill 14-1085 would create a $960,000 program to fund adult education and literacy programs. (Awaiting final House vote)

Gifted students – House Bill 14-1102 proposes to spend about $3 million to beef up programs for gifted and talented students. (Awaiting initial House vote)

Health – House Bill 14-1276 proposes a $300,000 grant program for training high school students in CPR. (Awaiting final House vote)

Minority teachers – House Bill 14-1175 would give the Department of Education $50,000 to prepare on report on recruitment and retention of minority teachers. (Passed House 38-24 Monday)

Principals – Senate Bill 14-124 would spend $2 million to create a program for training school turnaround leaders. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

School meals – As amended in committee to reduce its cost, HB 14-1156 would make those students currently eligible for reduced-price school lunches eligible for free lunches, as a cost of $809,095. (Awaiting final House vote)

A Republican spending bill

Rural districts – Wilson’s House Bill 14-1118 would provide financial incentives to rural school districts to offer Advanced Placement classes, at a cost of $499,061. (Passed House 53-9 Monday)

Bipartisan bills

Total cost – $6.1 million

Counselors – Senate Bill 14-150 would increase funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps to the tune of $5 million. (Awaiting initial Senate floor action)

Safety – House Bill 14-1301 adds $700,000 in funding for the Safe Routes to School program run. (Passed House 42-20 Monday) Senate Bill 14-002 would provide $281,952 for placing the Safe2Tell program in the attorney general’s office. (Awaiting Senate initial consideration)

Testing – House Bill 14-1202 would spend $142,750 to help support a task force that would study the state testing system. (Awaiting Senate committee review)

Out of the running

Several proposed K-12 spending bills with a total cost of nearly $20 million have been killed. Here’s the list:

Data – House Bill 14-1039 proposed to spend $593,945 on linking ECE student data with the main K-12 data system. (Democratic)

ECE quality – House Bill 14-1076 would have cost $12.5 million to set up a program to improve quality of early childhood facilities. Senate Bill 14-006 proposed $470,115 to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators. (Both Democratic)

School supplies – House Bill 14-1094 proposed an August sales-tax holiday on school-related purchases at an estimated $2.8 million loss in state tax revenues. (Bipartisan)

Teachers – House Bill 14-1262 would have created a $4 program to pay bonuses to highly effective teachers who worked in low-rated schools. (Bipartisan)

Several of the surviving bills have had their price tags reduced to improve their chances for survival, but some have costs that would balloon after the 2014-15 budget year.

The two bills that comprise the main school finance package, House Bills 14-1292 and 1298, propose reducing the negative factor by $110 million. But they also include some specialized funding, including $20 million for READ Act early literacy programs, nearly $20 million for charter school facilities, $17 million to expand kindergarten access for at-risk students and $30.5 million in additional money for English language learner programs.

Those two measures have passed the House and will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Big bills move with little debate

While the House squabbled a bit over minor education bills, some big measures advanced with no debate. They are:

  • House Bill 14-1202, the proposed study of statewide testing requirements, passed 62-0.
  • House Bill 14-1294, which sets requirements on CDE for protecting the privacy of student data, also was approved 62-0.
  • Senate Bill 14-165, which would give districts flexibility in how much to weight growth data for teacher evaluations in 2014-15, passed on a preliminary voice vote.

Over in the Senate, the College Affordability Act, Senate Bill 14-001, easily passed a preliminary vote. That debate consisted only of brief positive comments from supporters.

The measure is an “historic reinvestment in our higher education system,” said prime sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

“Arguably it’s not enough, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.

The bill would increase higher education funding by $100 million next year and cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two academic years.

The Senate Monday also gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1291, which would give charter schools authority to hire armed security guards.

Categories: Urban School News

Longer day divides school community at Denver elementary school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 12:38

The push for a longer day at a Denver elementary school has parents up in arms and has raised questions about the correct protocol for making substantial changes to a school’s model.

Denison Elementary School in southwest Denver is one of several district schools that has considered making the change to a longer school day. At some schools, the transition has gone smoothly, but others backed away from the model after uproar from parents or struggles with the longer day’s day-to-day implications.

At Denison, the conflict has divided parents and staff, with a majority of parents opposing the change and a majority of staff supporting it.

The conflict, which has played out in heated community meetings and the school’s Facebook page, has centered on two questions: what is more time in school worth, and how should the decision to add more time be made? Parents have said their input was ignored, questioned the academic value of the time and complained of lost time with their children. But for the school’s staff, the change would mean uninterrupted time with students, more planning time and a stronger commitment to the school’s Montessori model.

The plan that principal Katy Mattis and other members of the planning committee put before the school’s governing committee for approval last week includes three major add-ons to the school’s schedule:

  • an uninterrupted work period of 120 minutes for students to do their own work at their own pace, which is a common practice in private Montessori schools but is often difficult to work in around other constraints in public Montessori schools.
  • additional planning time for teachers to meet as grade-level teams.
  • an extra day added to parent teacher conferences.

It’s the second iteration of the plan, created after parents vehemently opposed the original addition of nearly two hours to the school day. Denison’s plan for an extended day came out of a design process funded in part by the National Center for Time and Learning, which is part of a national movement pushing for “more and better learning time.” But Mattis says their plan is an anomaly; their focus is on improving the Montessori elements of the school, rather than the more typically touted benefits of an extended day and year.

“From the moment that we applied for this, I have been very clear that my sole motivation is the full implementation of Montessori,” said Mattis.

And she says it came from community input.

“Last year, I spent a lot of time listening to parents’ and teachers’ concerns,” said Mattis, who took over as principal last year. “What came across from teachers was that they could not have a full Montessori experience.”

Teachers felt students were constantly pulled out for interventions or for second language instruction. Teachers who were pulling students out disliked pulling them away from the student-driven work time that characterizes the Montessori model.

“For the kids who are pulled out all the time, it’s hard to get in the flow,” said Mattis. She took a hard look at how much it was impacting teachers’ time. “I took one teacher’s classrooms. She has one day a week where 15 minutes her whole class is with her. [There's] one day where she has zero minutes where her whole class is with her.”

What’s more, both teachers and parents agreed that district-mandated assessments were also interfering with students’ Montessori experience.

“We are testing them on a totally different curriculum than we are teaching them,” said Mattis. She wanted to add more planning time so teachers could write school-wide tests that better matched what they teach in class.

Those goals have found support even among parents who oppose the longer day.

“Everybody has agreed on the standardized testing things,” said parent Nathan Jaret, who has been vocal in opposing Mattis’ plan. “It would be better to implement assessments that are authentically Montessori.”

But he and others feel that those problems don’t require the 45 additional minutes proposed under the latest plan for teachers to plan for assessmens (that’s down from the hour and a half extension proposed earlier this year that provoked substantial outcry).

“How much time would it take for teachers to get together outside of school hours to write tests?” said Jaret. “I don’t fault them for that but they’re not willing to sacrifice their time to make it more authentically Montessori. But they are asking parents to sacrifice their time with their families.”

He also worries the longer schedule will drain students and teachers’ energy.

“I would expect many kids in the school will get extremely tired and burned out,” said Jaret. “For my family personally, it’s going to mean significantly less time to spend with our children.”

And for many parents, the motivation for the changes is unclear.

“The driving force kind of shifts around,” said Jennifer Greig, whose children attend Denison. “To me, it appears you could do a 90 minute uninterrupted work period and only add 15 minutes.”

She said a lot of parents would be supportive of that plan, without the other additions to the school day.

Greig said, “Why not focus on one thing and do it well without alienating parents?”

But the most contentious debate has focused on the school’s community input process, a fight which attracted media attention earlier this year. After parents protested a planned vote on March 18th, shortly after the plan drew widespread attention, the school hosted a series of parent meetings and distributed a parent survey. Even so, many still feel the outreach was insufficient and parental input has been ignored.

“We don’t feel enough effort has been made to involve the community in a systematic way,” said Jaret. He took issue with the survey, which was not anonymous and was completed by only 57 percent of the school’s families. School officials said the survey wasn’t anonymous so the school could follow up with those who didn’t return it and that the return rate was higher than most surveys distributed by the school.

Denison is one of several schools participating in similar planning processes, although it has received the most attention.

“All of these schools in this process are different,” said Mary Lindimore, the local representative for NCTL, which has supported Denison’s planning process.

When Chalkbeat asked if the community engagement process met NCTL’s expectations, Lindimore replied, “absolutely.”

Just because the conversation has been heated doesn’t mean the community process isn’t working, she said.

“Parents ask good questions and they should ask good questions,” Lindimore said. “It’s their students going to the school.”

The divisiveness of the issue at Denison is not atypical, said Lindimore. “You will never get 100 percent agreement,” she told parents at the contentious March 18th meeting.

And the process plays out differently at each school.

“Some schools just ask more questions,” said Lindimore. And, she said, not all of them will take action to turn their plans into reality. Last year, eight schools participated in the same program. Only four opted to add time to their school day or year.

“It’s a very big review process,” said Lindimore. “Nothing has been decided.”

Still, members of the school community on both sides of the issue believe that the school is moving forward with the plan. The school’s governing body voted to move forward with the changes outlined by school leaders, despite a parent survey which showed 109 of the school’s 296 families preferred no change to the schedule. And while a majority of staff supported the changes, Mattis said the divide between staff and a large segment of parents has not affected relationships within the school.

Some opponents are already looking for a new school, in anticipation of the schedule changes. A recent parent survey showed that as many as 13 families were likely to leave. Opponents say that number may be even higher after next year as few families want to go through the hassle of getting into a new school long after the district’s deadline for choosing a new school has passed.

“This says that this is a done deal,” said Jaret. “Oh and by the way, it’s too late to participate in the choice process.”

And Mattis has already put the wheels in motion to change one of the crucial parts of the school’s current schedule: busing. Parents whose students take the bus to school have worried about whether busing will be available and the late hours their students will spend on the bus.

“At this point, we are submitting our bell change request to transportation,” said Mattis.

Even so, she admits, nothing’s written in stone, yet. The bus schedule is one of several concerns — including feedback from district officials, who met with members of the planning committee last week– that could stall out her plan. “If they can’t change our bell time, we’ll have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

As for the decision to move forward instead of waiting a year, as some parents would like, Mattis said she and her staff feel that wouldn’t be in the best interest of the school’s student body.

“Moving forward with plan b is in the interest of 100 percent of our students,” she said. “What I have heard strongly from a lot of parents as well as for a majority of staff is, ‘if we know this is what’s best for kids, why don’t we do this immediately?’”

As for the parents now looking for another school, she hopes they’ll reconsider.

“Our hope is that families are at Denison because of our strong Montessori program, which we are only going to strengthen,” said Mattis. “We are a community and we need to heal.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: St. Vrain’s Hispanic, English-language learners doing better, but more work needs to be done

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 09:58

You've got test

Schools across Colorado will begin administering new computer-based exams. If school officials can work out all the kinks in time may be the ultimate test. ( Chalkbeat Colorad )

New Schools on the block

Kepner Middle School parents got a sneak peek at possible new school models last week. The pitches are part of a broader conversation taking place across Denver this month. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Fall into the gap

The St. Vrain Valley board of education approved its district's unified improvement plan last week. While the district is already meeting many of the state's objectives, including academic growth, it still falls short of closing the achievement gap — but not by much. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Who you gonna call?

Student referrals to law enforcement are down in Grand Junction schools. But the state's 12th largest school district ranked sixth in a statewide survey that tracked, among other discipline statistics, the number of times authorities was involved in student discipline issues. ( Grand Junction Daily Sentinel )

Save me a seat

The budget backlash that is often a byproduct of school choice is becoming more and more evident at Fort Collins High School. Last year, 70 fewer students enrolled that equated to a loss of more than $400,000. This year, however, more students are choosing to enroll there and the school is expected to see a budget surge. ( Fort Collins Coloradan )

Un-Common Core

Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidates took aim at the state's participation in the Common Core State Standards this weekend at the party's state convention. ( Denver Post )

The Common Core criticism from the candidates came just days after the state's school board passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to allow the state to develop its own standards. The Denver Post's editorial board told the lawmakers to pay no mind. ( Denver Post )

Two cents

There's never been a more important time to be a part of the public education system, writes a law student turned charter school administrator. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Two former board of education presidents for Denver Public Schools believe the varied reform strategies DPS has put into play are working. ( Denver Post )

From the playground to the football field

Adding academic-related markings to school playgrounds are proving to bolster student activity. And some southern Colorado schools will have the chance to win grants to do just that. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Colorado high school sports and activities directors joined their colleagues from neighboring states to discuss concussions, excessive heat and conflicts. The aim of the talks was to share lessons learned from the past season. ( Daily Herald )

May I have this dance?

Hundreds of Colorado Springs high school students got a heck of a deal on a prom dress. Each was just $10. The proceeds went to Urban Peak, a youth shelter. ( KKTV )

On the job

How the Colorado National Distinguished Principal of the Year, Doris Candelarie, turned around Lafayette's Sanchez Elementary School. ( Colorado Hometown Weekly )

Bully this

Students at several Colorado Springs high schools were expected to take part in a national day protest Friday to raise awareness on bullying. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

The national "Day of Silence" came 24 hours after a state Senate committee killed a bill that would have cracked down on cyber bullying. The Senate committee raised concerns on limiting free speech. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Public schools more segregated than 40 years ago

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 04/14/2014 - 09:06

African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, while most education policymakers and reformers have abandoned integration as a cause. That reality is explained in a new report called “For Public Schools, Segregation Then, Segregation Since: Education and the Unfinished March” by Richard Rothstein of the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, which looks at the reasons and the implications of continued school segregation. (The Washington Post)

WINDFALL FROM PENSION PLAN WILL HELP CPS: Crain's Greg Hinz is reporting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to restructure two city pension funds brought to light a little-noticed quirk in state law that will result in a windfall for the city—and help Chicago Public Schools. For many schools, the windfall could be enough to "hire a couple of teachers, or put in some new programs," said Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, who along with colleague Will Burns, 4th, unearthed the money.

GOING AFTER SCHOLARSHIPS: With college costs increasing and the prospect of paying back student loans intimidating, Chicago Public Schools are becoming increasingly aggressive about encouraging students to pursue scholarships. According to the district, students received $400 million in scholarship offers during the 2012-13 school year, up from $266.7 million the year before. (Tribune)

NOBLE DROPS DISCIPLINE FEE: The Noble Network of Charter Schools has dropped a $5 fee charged to students hit with a detention, one of the most controversial aspects of its strict discipline policy. Noble informed parents of the change a day after the Tribune detailed the privately run school's tough approach to student discipline. (Tribune)

CHEMICAL CONTENTS: It took a Freedom of Information Act to get the Chicago Public Schools to disclose what's in the chicken nuggets they serve in their cafeterias. NPR's Scott Simon reveals the chemical contents:  brown sugar, salt, onion powder, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, citric acid, potassium chloride, sodium phosphates and, oh, yes, a little chicken.

POOR STUDENTS GET POOR TEACHERS: The Center for American Progress released a new report that finds that poor and minority students are more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective and less likely to be taught by one who is exemplary. “We’ve known for awhile that poor and minority students attending U.S. public schools are more likely to be taught by underqualified or brand-new teachers,” said Jenny DeMonte, co-author of the report and associate director for education research at the Center for American Progress. “Our new report takes this idea a step further. Using new evaluation data, we found that these same children are also more likely to be taught by a teacher rated ineffective.” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Categories: Urban School News

Quinn, Rauner spar over education

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 17:48

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and his challenger, Bruce Rauner, met for the first time this afternoon at the Illinois Education Association's 160th Representative Assembly and annual meeting in Chicago.

The Democratic governor and his Republican oponent sat down for an hour with IEA President Cinda Klickna, who asked hard questions about everything from funding and pension reform to charter schools and the minimum wage. She asked Quinn why teachers should trust him this time around, and Rauner about his admiration for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Neither candidate was too popular with the 1,000+ educators in the room. The Chicago Teachers Union is not part of the IEA.

Catalyst live-tweeted the event from the back of the International Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, along with several other journalists and political junkies. The following is a Storified compilation of tweets. The IEA has posted a video of the event online.


[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Quinn, Rauner debate before teachers" on Storify</a>]

Categories: Urban School News

The looming storm ahead

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 14:00

In 2009, I found myself wandering the streets of New York City caught up in the winds of uncertainty that were sweeping the country. Economic doom had darkened the national mood as companies everywhere had begun to unload employees. I was in desperate need of a job after three years of law school, but as luck would have it, I picked the worst conceivable time to enter the work force.

In April of 2010, I got a call from a friend I met in college. Five years before, he opened a charter school in one of Colorado’s lowest performing school districts that served a community of children who were primarily lower-income and Latino. The mission at his school was simple; to get these kids to college.

I had nothing to lose, so I took a job at the school with a law degree but no experience in education and no idea what I was walking into. That’s when I discovered that teaching kids how to read, write and multiply is only half the battle when you consider the complexity of today’s generation.

An overwhelming number of today’s students come from households that lack structure and discipline, while others get preoccupied with the world of celebrity nonsense they discover on their smartphones. Discipline is an explosive subject where educators, parents, and the public often clash, so many schools dance around behavior problems in order to avoid parent complaints, costly law suits and negative press. Accordingly, the giant pharmaceutical industry has stepped in to provide an easy fix in the form of Ritalin or Adderal, and has struck gold in the process.

In high school, my own academic performance hit rock bottom on several occasions due to an inability to focus in class. At the time, the drug Ritalin had taken off as a solution for what the medical establishment had coined the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Millions of dollars stood to be made as a giant new market opened up, comprised of youth like me who went to class with girls, parties and car stereos on their minds as opposed to U.S. history.

After a short visit to a psychiatric expert, I was approved for a prescription of Ritalin which I tried for a week before a loss of appetite and a zombie-like effect led me to stop. Several years later, I’m noticing that various forms of ADD have become the standard diagnosis for any disruptive kid. Yet ironically, this same kid will go home and spend hours in a trance-like focus sitting in front of an Xbox or Pixar movie.

Numerous strides have been made in education over the past 50 years as innovative methods of teaching have combined with a new generation of instructional tools. Many schools have defied the odds and are achieving results in some of the nation’s most difficult neighborhoods. Yet despite this success, a deeper look into the statistics will reveal a looming storm on the road ahead that educators in the U.S. must race to prevent.

Consider this…

The percentage of college and high school grads has steadily increased in the U.S., with a vast majority of the population (85.2%) holding diplomas, and nearly a quarter (22%) holding a Bachelor’s degree. However, the stats reveal an achievement gap where certain communities are being left behind. Specifically speaking, only 57% of Latinos have a diploma, with a mere 11.4% holding a college degree.

Now cross this with the fact that Latinos are the largest growing ethnic group in the U.S., and one will begin to see the problem. The achievement gap is growing wider at a time when the workforce is undergoing a major transformation toward high-skilled labor. The service industry of yesterday is being obliterated by an emerging force of smarter, stronger, and cost-effective machines, which means that engineers and IT wizards will now be needed to program and repair these machines.

Banking jobs will disappear as we start cashing checks and making transactions through our smart phones. Warehouse positions will be lost to robotic inventions, while a host of cashier jobs will evaporate with the emergence of automated tellers (think Colorado grocery stores like Safeway and King Soopers). An increasing number of sales jobs will vanish as more of us opt to buy our goods on-line. And what’s not lost to automation will likely get outsourced to other countries if current trends are any indication.

With that said, there has never been a more important time for people out there searching for a cause (like I was in 2009) to join the race to reinvent education in the U.S. For tomorrow’s forecast predicts a long period of stormy skies that we must act to avoid. Otherwise…take cover now.

Categories: Urban School News

Computer-based assessments testing the wherewithal of Colorado schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 13:47

For Hanover Superintendent Paul McCarty, the coming move to online exams is playing out as a series of puzzles he needs to solve.

Last week, the question at hand was how the district would  provide the necessary accommodations for the school’s students living with disabilities who will begin taking new computer-based standardized assessments later this month.

Earlier this year, when students in the small rural district in southeast El Paso County took the first round of standardized assessments, the pencil- and paper-based TCAPs, serving students with special needs was simple enough, McCarty said — the school was able to use unoccupied conference rooms or the school’s library for students who needed more time or fewer distractions.

But when the school begins to administer online exams later next week, McCarty and his counselor, who pulls double duty as the school’s assessment coordinator, will need to find a way to move enough of the school’s 75 desktop computers out of computer labs and classrooms to separate testing locations for those students.

“There’s today’s problem,” McCarty said.

Colorado school officials are trying to anticipate as many problems as they can as they prepare their campuses for the new tests, which begin Monday. Top concerns include making sure buildings have enough computers, aligning schedules to accommodate for a longer test, and elbow room to ensure students are comfortable — and can’t cheat.

And while the level of anxiety is certainly high, assessment and information technology administrators know this spring’s round of computer-based testing — which most described as limited — is just a warm-up for much larger changes that will be necessary when the state rolls out online standardized assessments in language arts and math for grades three through 11 next year.

For now, schools only have to worry about administering the state’s social studies test to fourth and seventh grade students and the state’s science test fifth and eighth grade students will take the science tests. Next fall seniors will be given variations of both tests, as well.

Still, despite the smaller scope of this round of standardized exams, the shift is testing Colorado school officials at every level.


Colorado schools have administered standardized tests for almost two decades. For years, test prep included making sure there are plenty of No. 2 pencils sharpened and urging students to get a good night’s rest.

But this year, schools are trading in their pencil sharpeners and scratch paper for tablets and wireless Internet access.

While many schools across Colorado have given their own interim assessments online, the results aren’t attached to any accountability like the results provided by the state’s assessments.

The challenge for schools comes on many fronts. They must ensure they have enough technology to proctor the exams, make certain their Internet access is reliable to send testing data back and forth, shuffle their schedules to safeguard instructional time and protect the fidelity of the tests by providing students enough room to be comfortable, limit distractions, and deter cheating.

These new proctoring factors, coupled with the high stakes attached to the results, have manifested angst in many schools and districts.

“We’ve never had state assessments given in an online format before,” said David Bahna, director of assessment and accountability for that Adams 12 Five Star district, northeast of Denver. “There is a level of anxiety for everyone. Will the technology work? Will it hold up? Schools are held accountable, and we want the results to be as accurate as possible.”

For the Adams 12 district, preparations for the new tests have included purchasing more computers — with more to come — and beefing up school networks. But for the most part, Bahna said, “we’re kind of going with what we have right now.”

While the investments for school districts, including even the largest bureaucracies with multi-million dollar budgets, have been painful during difficult economic times, the state’s charter schools that generally act independently of large networks have had to shoulder both the financial and human costs of preparing for new tests by themselves, said Terry Croy Lewis, vice president of school quality and support for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

“We’re stand alone schools in most cases,” she said describing her member schools. “Since you’re doing everything in-house, you don’t normally have an entire assessment or IT department to help. Your own personnel is going to have to figure that out.”

The League, Lewis said, does provide some assistance in identifying technology needs, but that’s mostly for startup schools.

“When charters are working on startup grants, they’re going to want to be cognizant of their technology needs,” she said. “Now it’s critical. You’re going to have to have technology. This is something [new schools] can’t overlook. Tech adverse schools [such as Waldorf inspired schools] are going to have to wrestle with this.”


Even for districts and schools with adequate technology on hand, figuring out the scheduling is proving to be a pain.

While Colorado parents, activist and lawmakers are engrossed in a debate over how much time students spend taking standardized tests, school administrators are grappling with a less theoretical quagmire: how to schedule a 90-minute test in an hour long class period.

Testing for fourth and fifth grades will be easier, administrators said. Their school day is more moldable. But for McCarty, Hanover’s superintendent who also serves as the principal for the district’s middle and high school, scheduling blocks of time for the new tests is proving irksome on multiple fonts.

First, his school has two computer labs that are used throughout the day for technology classes. Passing a computer class is a graduation requirement in Hanover. Teachers who instruct students on how to type and use computer software will likely need to do so — without computers, he said, during testing time. Second, a large portion of his students participate in track and field events in April. They have to leave their rural campus by 11:30 a.m. to make almost any out of town meet. There’s a strong likelihood, McCarty said, they’ll need to reschedule meets, if not postpone contests outright. And third, the campus will likely have to create a modified block schedule to accommodate the longer tests, he said.

And that’s only if everything goes according to plan and no students miss testing segments. If they do, he said, the school will need to make special accommodations for them because testing sections can not be taken out of order, as they previously could with the paper and pencil test, McCarty said.

“I don’t know how logistically this is possible,” he said. “We’re going to have to make lemonade out of lemons, I guess.”

At least all of McCarty’s students are in one place. Online schools face an entirely different set of scheduling challenges, said Amy Valentine, executive director of both the Insight School of Colorado and Colorado Preparatory Academy.

“Online schools come in different shapes and sizes, which can affect the testing environment,” she said. “Due to the fact that we are a program that enrolls students throughout the state, our biggest challenge is the broad geographic landscape in which our families reside.”

The schools have to manage multiple testing locations, coordinate with teachers and students across the state, increase and update the amount of technology for their families and manage the instructional impact of teachers being away from their home office for hours a time, she said.

But it’s all coming together, at least in theory, she said.

“Insight School of Colorado and Colorado Preparatory Academy are meeting, and exceeding, the challenges of the virtual environment,” she said. “Increased collaboration with a strong leadership team, supporting teachers with more clarity, and working with CDE as closely as possible allows us the opportunity to better support our testing environment and varied needs of learners that we have based on our statewide student population.”

Elbow room

They say the devil is in the details. But for school officials proctoring the CMAS, the devil may be in a computer’s virus scanner.

That’s because the testing software must be sensitive enough to detect when a student may be cheating by launching an alternative web browser. So, according to information technology directors, the software picks up when any other programs  are running in the background.

Making sure those modern marvels of technology — like cloud syncing and virus scanning — are just some of the minute (and last-minute) details IT officers and assessment directors are attending to as schools ready for the new tests.

“These computers are [primarily] used for instructional purposes,” said Steve Clagg, chief information officer for Aurora Public Schools. “But the computers need to be locked down, if a virus scan kicks off during the test, the testing software can boot a student out. For fidelity, it’s a good thing [the software] is doing it. But [Microsoft] Windows isn’t something you can just shut down.”

His team, which has been preparing for 18 months, is finalizing a checklist for all of Aurora’s schools to run through prior to testing kicking off, he said.

“What’s on that checklist — that’s the question,” he said.

To-dos for the Adams 14 school district have included: preparing workstation space for elbow room, creating unique logins for security purposes, standardizing school web browsers, and software changes including writing in-house code, said Teresa Hernandez, Director of Assessment and Technology for the Adams 14 school district.

Dress rehearsal

When it’s all said and done, the months and months of preparation school districts have under their belt for the state’s historic foray into computer-based testing really will come down to just a few hours of actual testing. But that’s OK by them. Because they know the true Herculean task awaits them next year.

That’s when students in third through 11th grade will be required to take not only the CMAS tests, but also exams in language arts and math.

“We’re gonna get a lot of feedback,” Aurora’s Clagg said. “We’ll learn a lot.”

He said Aurora plans to have two computers for every high school student, three computers for every middle school student and four computers for every elementary school student by the next wave of assessments.

Other administrators, like McCarty, aren’t so optimistic.

“I’m not sure I see the full value,” he said. “I feel like we’ve lost our way.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Categories: Urban School News

Kepner parents get sneak peek at new school models

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 13:39

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

Ricky Garcia, an eighth grader at STRIVE Prep Federal, told a committee of Kepner parents why he thought a STRIVE charter school at the Kepner campus would be a good fit for the low-performing school. The charter network’s pitch was one of four made to the committee Wednesday.

The committee has been tasked with making a recommendation to the Denver Public Schools’ board of education on which models the school should adopt in 2015 as part of a phase-in-phase-out intervention to improve student achievement at the school. Other models considered by the parent committee included a district-run dual language program, a charter school backed by the education nonprofit City Year that traditionally partners with high-needs schools to provide support, and charter operator DSST.

The larger southwest Denver community will be able to weigh in next week when DPS hosts a series of town hall meetings. Similar meetings are also happening across the city as DPS nears a June 2 board meeting, at which staff will make recommendations to the board on which new schools to open.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Secretary of State’s Adams 12 order struck down in court

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 09:11

Make nice

Three districts who could see the clock runout on their turnaround efforts in the next year or two presented to the state board yesterday, in an effort to establish a mututal understanding before the board has to make accrediation and intervention decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One district to present was Pueblo City Schools, whose superintendent said she has streamlined a lot of broken systems. ( Chieftain )

You can go ahead

Bills for a study to look at the state's testing regimen and for data privacy standards for the state's education department passed the House yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

parallel tracks

A group of students, staff and school leaders have been meeting to come up with a plan for the future of Manual High School even as the district-sanctioned community group undertakes its own planning for the school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Echoes of the election

The Secretary of State's order not to count votes for a 2013 Adams 12 school board candidate who did not live in her district was struck down yesterday in court. ( Westword )

Denver Public Schools will be the first school district in the nation to specifically recruit teacher candidates who were brought into the country illegally as children. ( 9News )

Today's meal item: Hamburger surprise

Boulder parents had strong feelings but little consensus about school lunches, in a survey done by the district. ( Daily Camera )

Make this garden grow

A Lafayette school with a learning garden for students wants to expand it to include space for community members to participate as well. But it's been an uphill battle to get approval. ( Daily camera )

Legal dreams

Aurora lawyers and DU's law school teamed up to provide a scholarship for Aurora students interested in law. ( Sentinel )

A house divided

Ridgeway's school board still remains deeply divided over the hiring of an interim superintendent, after the resignation of a number of staff, including the superintendent. ( The Watch )

(Lots of) Dollars and cents

Paying off student loans, which burdens young people with long-term debt, also has impacts on the national economy. ( NPR via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Teacher engagement can predict academic success

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 04/11/2014 - 08:15

Students who have teachers who make them “feel excited about the future” and who attend schools that they see as committed to building their individual strengths are 30 times more likely than other students to show other signs of engagement in the classroom—a key predictor of academic success, according to a report by Gallup Education. (Education Week)

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE MOMS: The 2014 recipients of the Chicago State University Foundation’s “Essence of An Angel” Awards will share their stories of challenge and triumph at an event Sunday that celebrates the achievements of some of Chicago’s most successful single mothers while funding scholarships for single mothers who attend the university. Honorees are Brenda Palms Barber, Executive Founder, North Lawndale Employment Network; Cristina Baines, Manager, Chicago State University Creative and Print Services; Aundrea Holland, CSU Student; Lisa Haley Huff, Senior Vice President, PNC Bank and Gwendolyn Mackel Rice, Non Profit Consultant. (Press release) 

HOST OF SUMMER PROGRAMS: The Chicago City of Learning initiative will bring together more than 100 Chicago city agencies, youth serving and community organizations to offer free summer programs to the city’s youth and provide digital badges to those who participate and gain skills through them. (Press release)

TEST SCORES FACTORED OUT: Departing from the past decade's heavy reliance on test scores to determine which students advance to the next grade, the New York City Department of Education said Wednesday that schools will use a basket of measures instead. (The Wall Street Journal)

NO TESTING FOR VOUCHER STUDENTS: Republicans in the Florida House on Wednesday firmly rejected a proposal to require students who attend private schools with state-sponsored vouchers to take the same high-stakes tests given to students in public schools. (The Tampa Tribune)

THE PROBLEM WITH GRIT: Author Alfie Kohn offers 10 concerns about the "let's them grit" fad championed by the school reform crowd. Grit, he writes, can be counterproductive and unhealthy. The push to teach kids “grit,” to make them more persistent, has become wildly popular in the last couple of years, spurred by journalist Paul Tough’s bestseller How Children Succeed and the widely publicized views of Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania researcher. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Testing study, data privacy bills move ahead

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 21:18

The Colorado House Thursday granted preliminary approval of bills to launch a study of the state testing system and to set student data privacy requirements for the Department of Education.

Both measures are somewhat mild responses to education issues that have become contentious in the last year.

The bills passed on voice votes, with no audible noes, and with remarkably little discussion. There was no debate on the testing bill, and there were just a few supportive remarks from a few members on the data privacy bill.

The testing study, House Bill 14-1201, started its legislative life as a sweeping proposal to allow individual school districts to opt out of state achievement tests. Political realities quickly turned the bill into a proposal for a study. And House Bill 14-1294, the data bill, codifies procedures that CDE officials say they follow already.

There was no debate on the testing bill, nor any rhetoric about testing in general.

“It’s something we’ve needed to do for a long time,” said Sponsor Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction. “I believe this bill is going to be very helpful.”

The $142,750 testing study bill would create a 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force to review how the state student assessment system is administered, how data are used and the impact of state tests on local testing, instructional time and administrative workload. The panel also is supposed to review the feasibility of waivers from testing.

The two party leaders in each house of the legislature and the chair of SBE will appoint the members. The panel’s report and legislative recommendations are due Jan. 31, 2015, and minority reports are allowed. The bill’s appropriation is to fund CDE to study testing costs, potential effects of changes on the accountability system and do legal analyses. The department is already conducting its own review of testing, which is supposed to be used by the task force.

Another testing measure, Senate Bill 14-136, proposed a one-year delay in implementation of new academic standards and of PARCC tests. It was killed by the Senate Education Committee (see story). The House had a lively debate last month on an unsuccessful amendment to remove funding for PARCC tests from the 2014-15 state budget (see story).

On Wednesday the four Republicans on the State Board of Education outvoted the panel’s three Democrats to pass a resolution urging the legislature to withdraw Colorado from participation in PARCC (see story). The resolution isn’t expected to have any traction in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The sponsor of the privacy bill, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said, “This is a very difficult topic, and I think we’ve just begun to talk about it. … This is something that has worried parents. … This is a start at the state level.”

HB 14-1294 requires CDE to prepare a publicly available “data inventory,” to comply with all relevant federal and other privacy laws, to set formal requirements for use of data by outside vendors such as testing companies and to formalize its process for considering outside requests for student data. The bill also requires districts to create a “data security template” for districts to use, including information about data security for online education, security practices for other software and apps and guidance for districts about publishing lists of outside vendors.

Provisions added to the bill by House Education would require CDE to publicly disclose the names of outside agencies and companies with which it shares data, to develop specific criteria for how and when data is destroyed, to limit contractor disclosure of data and ban contractor use for commercial purposes. Language added to the bill also bans CDE from selling student data for commercial use. (The department says it doesn’t sell data now.)

The bill does not address two things privacy activists have pushed for, data security mandates on local districts and parental opt out of data collection and disclosure. Lawmakers have been reluctant to impose new requirements on districts during a session when tensions have been high over school funding and state mandates on districts.

The House Thursday evening also gave preliminary approval to two other education bills:

Advanced Placement incentives - House Bill 14-1118 would spend $757,974 to create a four-year pilot program under which rural school districts could receive $500 for each student who completes an AP class and takes the exam. Teachers and mentors could get $50 per such student.

CDE estimates that only 2-7 percent of rural students take AP classes and that bill could affect about 1,400 of the more than 28,000 rural high school students. The bill has been something of a crusade for Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, a retired rural superintendent. He significantly reduced the original amount of money he wanted in order to gain support for the measure.

Wilson said on the floor Thursday that 101 of Colorado’s 178 school districts don’t offer AP classes.

Minority teachers - House Bill 14-1175 would give CDE $50,000 to hire a consultant to study and develop strategies to increase and improve the recruitment, preparation, development and retention of minority teachers. The study’s findings are supposed to be reported by Dec. 1.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, successfully had the bill amended to name it “Aliyah’s Law,” after student Aliyah Cook, whose letter about the absence of black teachers in her school helped prompt Fields to introduce the bill (see story).

Community college salary bill meets its doom

The odds were stacked against Rep. Randy Fischer for the start, given that his House Bill 14-1154, by some estimates, would have cost more than $100 million.

The bill would have required the state’s community colleges to set a standard pay schedule for both full-time and adjunct faculty. Adjuncts now typically make less than other faculty even when they teach similar class loads.

The Fort Collins Democrat has long been an advocate for adjunct faculty but has had mixed success in his efforts. He proposed to trim his bill’s cost to about $55 million and require the community college system to figure out to equalize salaries out of its existing budget and financial reserves.

Critics of that idea said it could force the colleges to increase tuition by 24 percent. The House Appropriations Committee Thursday sided with the system, and a motion to send the bill to the floor died on a 4-9 vote. The panel then postponed the measure indefinitely.

There was some tension during the half-hour discussion. Fischer complained the predicted 24 percent tuition hike “was misinformation from the lobby.”

Rep. Jenise May, D-Aurora, took exception, saying, “I don’t listen to the lobby – never have. I take offense at that comment.”

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and other information.

Categories: Urban School News

Struggling districts share success with state board

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 21:12

Culture shifts, districtwide cooperation, and new leadership are all necessary ingredients to improve student achievement, school leaders from three of the Colorado’s lowest performing school districts told the state school board Thursday.

Staff and elected representatives from the Adams 14, Pueblo City, and Karval school districts met with the board  as part of an ongoing conversation between the board and those districts that are nearing the end of the state’s so-called “accountability clock.”

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

Eleven districts, including the three that met with the board Thursday, have been dubbed low-performing for either four or five years. The aim of the conversations between the state and local districts is to foster an understanding between them, as the state board may soon have to strip the local districts of their accreditation and make a series of recommendations on how the districts regain their standing.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. In October, staff from the Colorado Department of Education outlined what might happen if a district ran out the clock before making the necessary changes to improve student achievement.

“Our goal is to improve from ‘priority improvement’ to ‘distinction,’” said Kandy Steel, assistant superintendent for Adams 14, referencing the state’s accreditation rating. “People are talking about going from worst to first. Our people are determined.”

Steel, like Superintendent Pat Sanchez, joined the district 18 months ago. Since then, the district has entered a 20-month program run by the University of Virginia that works with struggling school districts to transform them through data-driven decisions, developed a series of standard-based interim assessments and aligned their school’s courses to provide multiple pathways for students.

The district’s results from 2013 state standardized tests were the best anyone had seen since 2007, district officials said.

But none of the gains would have been possible, Sanchez said, if the culture of the district, which is northeast of Denver, hadn’t changed.

“We’ve been embracing the conversation — not just about high expectations and rigorous expectations — but also equity,” he said. “The goal is to end the predictability of low income kids and kids of color.”

Members of the state board applauded the district’s efforts but wondered if the district, which self-admittedly has much more room to improve, would beat the clock.

“We’ll be sliding in sideways,” said Sanchez, who has been a vocal critic of state’s accountability clock.

He asked the board if they were confident the department of education would be able to rank schools because so much of the annual review depends upon student growth, or how students improve year over year on standardized tests, data.

Next year, the state will be using a new assessment known as the PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career.

Department staff said they were confident they’ll be able to determine student growth and will rely on districts to provide supplemental data if necessary.

Meanwhile, the state board was curious whether a leadership transition would postpone Pueblo City Schools from beating the clock.

Pueblo’s superintendent, Maggie Lopez, is retiring at the end of the school year, but that won’t cost Pueblo it’s accreditation rating, said Kathy DeNiro, the district’s board president.

“Maggie has been great,” DeNiro said. “She’s led us, however, we’re insistent on moving forward. … We can’t miss a beat, for our children’s sake.”

Lopez — and 10 district staff that joined — her spoke of the district’s commitment to building districtwide structure that was not dependent on one program.

“What we know is we’re going to have to build infrastructure,” she said. “[We can] not be program or people dependent.”

Pueblo, about 100 miles south of Denver, was once the darling of the Colorado education community. In the mid-2000s low-income students there posted some of the best literacy rates in the state. The district’s success also garnered national attention. But after the district’s superintendent moved on and the district could no longer afford its literacy program those trends began to reverse.

“We have to be very serious about [sustainability and consistency] to move forward,” DeNiro said. “If we are 3.1 percent points away from improvement [accreditation], going backward is not an option.”

While Pueblo is losing its superintendent, the Karval school district has just gained a new one: Todd Werner. And with his new leadership has come a renewed partnership with the department of education.

The small rural district, which has just 28 students in its brick and mortar schools, has also developed its own interim-assessments and for the first time using them online.

CDE Commissioner Robert Hammond pointed out if Karval was to close it’s online school the achievement at its physical school was enough to beat clock. But that would spell financial doom for the district’s spreadsheets, state officials recogonize.

“In the past, CDE was not a welcome partner in turnaround practices,” said Cari Micala a member of the district’s online school. ”Under new leadership, CDE has not only been an active partner but a welcome one.”

The board, president Kenny Yoder said, is 100 percent behind Werner and his collaboration with CDE.

— Kate Schimel contributed to this report. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed comments to Karval school leaders. It was state officials who recognized the school district could see financial troubles if the district’s online school closed.  

Categories: Urban School News

A new plan emerges among parallel discussions at Manual High School

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 18:27

What does the future hold for Manual High School? One possibility — designed by the school’s current leadership — goes public tonight.

The plan that will be presented publicly on Thursday comes out of one of two planning processes that are currently taking place at the school and that occasionally happen at the same time, just classrooms apart.

Manual has been in upheaval since district officials fired its principal midway through this school year following several years of declining test scores. (For background, see Chalkbeat’s series on the school’s struggles.)

To chart the path forward for the school, the district has solicited proposals for new school models for Manual and convened a group of community members, staff and parents — known as “Thought Partner meetings” — to determine how to improve the persistently struggling school’s performance.

Simultaneously, a group spearheaded by current assistant principal Vernon Jones, Jr., has focused on creating a plan that would keep the school’s current leadership team and staff intact. That plan, which Jones is presenting to the community this evening to solicit feedback, includes a focus on International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and another request for a longed-for middle school at Manual, which would also have an IB focus. (See the full description of the plan here.)

The school-led group is among several that submitted a proposal to the district during its call for new school models. Along with the other applicants, the Manual-led group will present their plans to the district-run Thought Partner group at next week’s official meeting. The Thought Partner group will make recommendations about what model the school should adopt to the district by May.

In its current form, the Manual-designed plan represents a departure from the school’s current experiential learning model, which is focused heavily on social justice instruction.

“A lot of hours, thinking, grappling, collaborating, challenging, and anything else that you can say that great teams do has gone into this plan,” Jones said. “Our process has included the voices of our staff, our scholars, our parents and guardians, and our community partners that believe in the strength of us.”

Jones says that the school’s current staff are best positioned to lead the school’s improvement efforts.

“We believe that we are best positioned to serve our scholars and our community well,” Jones said. “We know them and knowing scholars is essential to success.”

Students and staff have complained about the constant turnover in school model and leadership at the school, which they say has prevented the school from improving.

Stability and a strong desire for a middle school have been common threads at the Thought Partner meetings as well. Several staff members are parts of both groups, including Jones, Don Roy, the school’s principal whose name adorns the official letter of intent for the proposal, and English teacher Ben Butler, who is one of the school’s few veteran teachers.

The Thought Partner meetings have recently attracted the attention of high profile district officials. At Monday’s meeting, both superintendent Tom Boasberg and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson were in attendance.

“We’re here to be part of the discussion and to listen,” Boasberg said. He also tried to allay concerns that the discussion about the school’s future was abbreviated. The meetings kicked off in March and the board planned to make a final decision about which program to place at Manual in the beginning of June, based on the group’s recommendations.

But Boasberg also said that if the Thought Partner process took too long, any school leader would not have the time they needed to craft a plan for Manual. “I think one of the things we didn’t do well enough is allow time for planning back in either 2007 or 2000,” he said, referring to the school’s 2007 closure and re-opening and early-2000′s restructuring, which led to its closure.

The group will continue to meet through the end of the school year. Times and dates are below:

  • Tonight, 6 p.m. in room 106, Manual High School: Presentation of the Manual Plan by Vernon Jones and student leaders.
  • April 15, 5:30 p.m. at Vickers Boys and Girls Club: Presentations by all applicants for Near Northeast schools, including Manual.
  • April 21, 5:30 p.m. at Manual High School (room unknown): Manual Thought Partner meeting (these take place every Monday evening).

For full dates, see here.

Note: the article has been updated to reflect the leadership of the school design working group.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Springs teacher’s resignation letter goes viral

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 09:52

please pause

The State Board of Education passed a resolution asking the legislature to withdraw the state from a national testing consortium. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Money to move

The two key funding bills of the session won preliminary House approval, but with significant amendments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And the third iteration of Speaker Mark Ferrandino's proposed higher ed funding overhaul cleared a hurdle. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

another kind of opt-out

And the Senate heard testimony on a proposal that would require parents to receive information before deciding not to vaccinate their children. ( Denver Post )

speaking out

A Colorado Springs teacher's resignation letter expressing frustration at new standards, low teacher pay and high stakes testing has gone viral. ( Gazette )

gold star

A Lafayette principal has been named the state's principal of the year. ( Daily Camera )

Mutual consent

The Denver Post editorial board argues that the city school district is protecting students with its use of mutual consent provisions of the state's educator effectiveness law. ( Denver Post )

fun and games

An Adams County early education program for at-risk students uses play therapy. ( Denver Post )

price hike

The St. Vrain school district is increasing the cost of its school meals. ( Longmont Times-Call )

first response

The RE-1 Valley Board of Education heard information about the state's new epinephrine auto injector rules. ( Journal-Advocate )

Categories: Urban School News



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