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Report: Colorado kids aren’t getting enough exercise

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 18:40

Only 46 percent of the Colorado’s high-schoolers take at least one physical education class each week, according to a new report from the Colorado Health Foundation and the Colorado Health Institute.

Illustrating the impact of place, the “Extra Credit: Get Active” report highlights the vast differences in physical education participation in the state’s geographic regions. Nearly 70 percent of teens in northeast Colorado take physical education classes at least once each week, compared to just 25 percent of students in northwest Colorado.

Overall, Colorado ranks 24th among states when it comes to daily physical activity among school-aged children. In contrast, adults and senior citizens rank first and second respectively.

The report, an offshoot of the annual Colorado Health Report Card, also cites major disparities in the amount of physical activity experienced by kids of different income levels. Only about 58 percent of kids with family incomes under the federal poverty level got at least 20 minutes of exercise four or more days a week, compared to 74 percent of kids living in the wealthiest homes.

Gender disparities also exist, with far fewer girls (40 percent) than boys (58 percent) getting the recommended hour of daily exercise five days a week.

Noting that Colorado is one of the few states that has no physical education requirements, the report advocates for creative approaches to physical education programming, exercise opportunities targeted at girls and interventions for regions with few out-of-school exercise options.


Categories: Urban School News

Testing opt-out bill gets final Senate approval

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 17:42

Updated 9:45 A.M. April 7 – The Senate voted 28-7 Tuesday morning to pass the bill designed to protect parents’ right to opt students out of state standardized tests.

There were a few minutes of final debate before the vote on Senate Bill 15-223. Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, again warned about the bill’s impact on school and district accountability. “We overreached dramatically … we will eliminate any meaningful information” about performance, he said. Supporting the bill is “a vote against transparency and a vote against accountability.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said she would vote no, saying, “I want accountability. I want transparency.”

But prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said, “This bill is not about gutting assessments and evaluations, this bill is not about getting rid of report cards for schools and districts. This bill is about honoring the rights of parents.”

Voting no were Democrats Irene Aguilar of Denver, Mary Hodge of Brighton, John Kefalas of Fort Collins, Johnston, Linda Newell of Littleton and Pat Steadman of Denver. Roberts was the only Republican to vote no.

Although SB 15-223 doesn’t address the core issue of testing burden, it’s the first testing-related bill to reach the floor this session, so it has drawn wide attention.

The hour of preliminary debate on Monday was spirited but one-sided.

Holbert described the bill as a response to the legitimate concerns of parents and an affirmation of their rights.

“Thank you again to the parents of Colorado” for raising the issue, he said. “This is not an encouragement for people to opt out.”

Johnston came to the microphone to oppose the bill.

“I just think it dramatically misses the target,” Johnston said, calling the bill “grandstanding.”

As originally introduced, the bill would have required districts to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts and banned imposing any “penalties” on students, teachers, principals or schools for low test participation.

The issue of defining “penalty” emerged as a key question during committee debate on March 26. Amendments adopted quickly on the floor Monday narrowed that definition.

One clarifies that the bill doesn’t apply to local tests, so if a student declines to take a class final exam that can still affect her grade. A second change specifies that school and district accreditation ratings and educator evaluation levels aren’t defined as penalties, meaning that test scores and student growth data derived from scores could continue to be used for accreditation and evaluation.

Another amendment specifies that schools and districts should make good-faith efforts to have students take the exams and not encourage opting out. And an amendment adopted earlier in the education committee requires districts to inform parents about the purpose of statewide tests, in addition to informing them of their opt-out rights.

Much of Monday’s debate focused on parent pushback against testing.

Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said he had reservations about the bill but said, “I think we need to respond to the parents who have expressed deep concerns.” The Boulder Valley schools, in Heath’s Senate district, are a hotbed of testing resistence.

Heath referred to an open letter opposing the bill that was distributed by business and education reform groups, saying many of the signers are his friends (read the letter).

Other Democrats, including prime sponsor Nancy Todd of Aurora, Matt Jones of Louisville, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Minority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora supported the bill. Kerr, like Heath, said his vote was reluctant. Carroll said she thought the bill was necessary to reduce the atmosphere of “punishment” in schools.

Johnston came to the microphone a second time to speak against the bill, saying, “I think we spent a lot of time building a fair system” of assessment and accountability. “This is contrary to the spirit of everything we’ve done over the last 10 years.”

Johnston’s argument is that test results based on participation rates of less than the currently required 95 percent of students won’t yield accurate data on school, teacher, and student performance. He said that could undermine the foundation of data that underlies all state education reforms of the last several years. He also warned that the state could lose $360 million in federal education funding for violating federal testing participation requirements.

While the bill has 20 bipartisan sponsors in the Democratic-majority House, it may face a bigger challenge there than in the Senate. And Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, reportedly has serious concerns about the bill. Finally, it’s possible the opt-out bill could be held up or even bypassed as lawmakers turn to and perhaps advance more comprehensive testing measures.

Categories: Urban School News

What do you think: Does parent engagement matter?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 14:31

In our weekend reading roundup, we shared a story about a report that found parental involvement yielded no benefit for students.

From The Atlantic’s “Don’t help your kids with their homework”:

The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. …

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

But like all education stories there’s a counterpoint. The New York Times’ Upshot responded with the headline “Yes, Your Time as a Parent Does Make a Difference.

The upshot of the Upshot article was that the study was flawed because of how it measured parent engagement:

This nonfinding largely reflects the failure of the authors to accurately measure parental input. In particular, the study does not measure how much time parents typically spend with their children. Instead, it measures how much time each parent spends with children on only two particular days — one a weekday and the other a weekend day.

That brings us to our question of the week:


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Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Why should we keep our state exams? Because they shine a light on the path toward education equity

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 11:41

Last month, the Colorado Children’s Campaign released its annual Kids Count data, highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing kids across the state. Among the data was the startling fact that children of color in Colorado are more than three times as likely to live in poverty than their white peers with more than one in three Latino children living in a family of four earning less than $23,500.

This has implications not only for these children, but also for our state’s prosperity and future development as our population changes and becomes more diverse.

As Coloradans committed to our great state, we know that our future relies on ensuring that every child in this state has access to the best education and is held to the highest standards possible. Believing that what gets measured gets improved, it is critical that we shine a light on where we are achieving high educational outcomes and where we can do better.

Real progress has been made in the past several years in Colorado as a result of an increased focus on educational disparities and the promise of improved tools to address them. According to statewide assessments administered in Colorado, 23 percent of low-income students were proficient or advanced in math in 2004. Today that rate has risen to 40 percent. Grade level proficiency in reading increased from 44 percent to 52 percent in the same period.

Of course, testing didn’t accomplish these gains — dedicated educators, supportive parents and hard-working kids did.

But without annual assessments, we would not have consistent, comparable data on how every child is progressing and how well schools and districts are serving them. Not knowing makes it easier for gaps in student learning to go unidentified and unaddressed.

Consistent assessment data provide a big-picture view of student learning and allow districts and schools to tailor their resources and focus them accordingly.

The Colorado Academic Standards set high expectations for every child, no matter where they live or their background. The assessments aligned with those standards tell parents whether their children are reaching their highest academic potential.

Recently parents, educators, advocates and policymakers have joined in a robust conversation about the value of testing in public schools.

We agree that too much testing is not an effective use of time or resources, and that assessments should be streamlined and improved to provide better and more timely feedback. We agree that “teaching to the test” must evolve into teaching kids the skills they need to excel in the 21st century, and then measuring progress against that goal.

We’re discouraged, though, to see much of the current discourse in education focused on eliminating some basic measures that allow us to shine a light where problems exist by measuring student growth consistently and comparing performance across all students. These discussions miss the point that the ultimate goal of assessment is to ensure that kids in every community of our state are being prepared for future success.

As a nation, we don’t have a particularly strong track record of holding ourselves accountable for the achievement of all kids. There was a time when low-income, minority and disabled students weren’t held to the same expectations as their peers or were excluded from access, opportunity, and assessment altogether.

We stand firm on consistent testing for every child because we know that the data provided by annual assessments will help teachers, parents and students focus attention and resources more precisely. A combination of streamlined annual assessments, transparency around results, and real accountability for schools to improve outcomes for all children has helped create urgency, momentum, and results. That momentum is critical to a stronger and more equitable system for all of our kids and a brighter future for our state.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Top exec at CDE to lead Colorado Springs-area school district

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 09:45

By the numbers

Denver families are flocking to middle schools run by local charter networks DSST and STRIVE, according to new SchoolChoice data. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

Keith Owen, who is finishing his fourth year as deputy commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, will be the new Fountain-Fort Carson School District chief July 1. ( Gazette )

Teach For America Colorado and Denver Public Schools are leading the nation in hiring teachers who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. ( AP via ABC News )

Teaching and learning

Building fluency is the goal of a program run by the Mile High United Way. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

Chalkbeat readers share how their students spent their time when they weren't taking the state's standardized tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

teachers without borders

Several Colorado educators plan to head to Liberia to open a school this summer after original plans were pushed back due to Ebola. ( 9News )

Girls rule the world

An after-school program across the Front Range strives to empower girls through running. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

The science of fun

Twenty-five students from Highlands Ranch High School launched a weather balloon at Red Rocks Amphitheater Saturday morning. ( 9News )

summer reading

A coalition in Summit County is seeking books and volunteers to help students read this summer. ( Summit Daily )

Two cents

The Denver Post argues changes should be made to a school immunity bill — and the Davis family, who lost their daughter in a school shooting, should support those changes. ( Denver Post )

A Colorado lawmaker argues school violence reporting in Colorado needs to be more transparent. ( Statesman )

Health advocates opine that access to information helps parents make the best decisions for children. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

In Denver enrollment zones, charter middle schools are clear favorite (and 4 other takeaways)

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/06/2015 - 09:00

A shift away from neighborhood schools in some parts of Denver is highlighting the fact that in families’ eyes, not all schools are created equal.

Data from this year’s first round of school choice applications show that in five of Denver Public Schools’ seven “shared enrollment zones,” one school is significantly more popular than others. In one case, one school received more than three times as many applications than the other four in the zone.

In zones where one school is overwhelmingly popular, students were least likely to get into their first choice school.

DPS  created enrollment zones to promote diversity and open access to higher performing schools to more families. Families who live in a shared enrollment zone are guaranteed placement at one of several schools in their general geographic area, but aren’t assigned to any one school.

Three of the district’s zones are new this year: the West and Southwest Middle School Zones and the Southeast Elementary Zone. [Maps of the zones]

Families who live in a zone have an extra incentive to participate in the district’s SchoolChoice enrollment system. If they don’t, they have no way of knowing which school in their zone their children will attend. In parts of town without enrollment zones, students are assigned directly to a neighborhood school.

Close to 25,000 students across the district submitted SchoolChoice applications this year. More than 4,000 of those lived in shared enrollment zones.

Dominant schools and top-choice rates

Districtwide, 78 percent of students who applied got their first choice schools. In the enrollment zones, the rates varied: In the Far Northeast, just 69 percent of students will attend their first choice school, compared to 84 percent in the Southwest. Across the district, 95 percent of students were placed in one of their top five schools.

The smallest percentage of students got their first-choice school in zones where one school was overwhelmingly popular.

What percent of people got their top choice school? | Create infographics


New zones and southwest Denver plans

Participation rates in SchoolChoice in southwest Denver increased dramatically this year, after an extensive “get out the application” effort. More than 90 percent of students in the two zones in southwest Denver submitted applications, compared to 67 percent last year.

The West zone includes Kepner Middle School, which is being phased out by the district as several new schools are being introduced. It looks like students are moving away from Kepner: Just 51 opted into the district-run school, while 76 opted into the Compass Academy Middle School, a new charter school opening later this year in the Kepner building. The most popular school in the West zone was STRIVE Prep at Westwood, also a charter.

West Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Southwest zone, 134 students listed DSST: College View, a charter, as their top choice, while just 84 students opted into district-run Henry World Middle School. The district says that information drove a recent decision to bring a new program into Henry.

Southwest Middle School Zone | Create infographics


Park Hill Zone and McAuliffe

In the Park Hill / Stapleton Zone, McAuliffe International, a district innovation school, drew more than three times more applications than any other school. It was the most popular school in any zone.

Greater Park Hill / Stapleton Middle School Zone | Create infographics

That’s led to some contention. McAuliffe’s waiting list has been the topic of private Facebook comment threads reviewed by Chalkbeat in which parents vent about having to attend a school outside of their neighborhood.

McAuliffe has applied to the district o open a new school in 2016-17 in the near northeast part of the city, but if that school is approved, it would open too late to host this year’s disgruntled families.

DPS officials say that the fact that not everyone is getting their first choice doesn’t mean the system isn’t working.

“I understand people’s frustration,” said David Suppes, Denver Public Schools’ Chief Operating Officer. “But I don’t think it’s because we’re doing something different than we said we would. What we’re seeing is the incredible popularity of some schools.”

Charters dominate middle school

Across the middle school zones, charter schools were the first choice for many families.

The most popular options in West, Southwest, Lake, and Far Northeast middle school zones are all part of either the STRIVE or DSST charter networks.

Far Northeast Middle School Zone | Create infographics

Lake Middle School Zone | Create infographics

In the Park Hill / Stapleton zone, the second most popular option after McAuliffe was DSST – Stapleton. Significant numbers of students in that zone also applied to attend DSST: Cole and DSST: Conservatory Green.

The trend favoring charters doesn’t carry over to elementary zones, where the most popular choices were district-run programs.

Stapleton Elementary School Zone | Create infographics

Far Southeast Elementary Zone | Create infographics The long tail

In each of the zones, there is a long tail of schools listed as the top choice by just a handful of students. There are too many of these schools to include in these graphs. Among them are programs for students with special needs.

The district plans to release more information about this year’s first round of school choice later this spring.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Why parent involvement may not matter (and why it still might matter a lot)

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 16:40
  • A new study found that many kinds of parental involvement in students’ educations result in few academic benefits. (Atlantic)
  • But that conclusion may have been drawn from a flawed measure of what parental involvement really looks like. (New York Times)
  • A new poll reports that while a plurality of white parents oppose the Common Core, a majority of black and Hispanic parents support the standards. (Hechinger Report)
  • This week’s conviction of 11 Atlanta educators on racketeering charges related to test score tampering is an example of Campbell’s Law in practice. (Atlantic)
  • Former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein responds to a critique that he unfairly casts opponents to his reforms as cynical and self-interested. (New York Review of Books)
  • High levels of teacher turnover cost school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year, says a researcher studying teacher retention and churn. (NPR Ed)
  • Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the long-term affects of the disruption in New Orleans students’ education can be seen in high youth unemployment. (Hechinger Report)
  • Success Academy Charter Schools founder Eva Moskowitz criticizes New York City’s proposed new school discipline policy and similar restorative models as too lax. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Louisville, Kentucky provides a rare case study in successful school integration. (Atlantic)
  • New research suggests that while more education could improve the lives of middle- and lower-income Americans, it’s likely not a solution to rising inequality, which is being driven by sharp increases in wealth among the already-very-rich. (New York Times)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: How our students spent their opt-out time

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 13:11

This week marks the end of the state’s first wave of standardized testing. So, on Monday we asked our readers: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the PARCC English and math exams?

We heard from people all over the state and the responses were varied. Some parents kept their students at home for the few hours student took the exams while others spent that time in the library working on homework.

Bruce Hankins, superintendent Dolores County Schools and principal Seventh Street Elementary School, said more than 90 percent of his students opted out of the test. Here’s how his district handled those larger numbers:

We  look at our schools as a customer service organization, not a governmental organization. Which means our students and parents are our customers. Happy customers mean they keep coming back and trust you to do what is best for the them. Would you go back to a store if they told you you had to buy a certain color of shirt and you could not leave until you did? We decided to not disrupt our schedule, we feel students learning and teachers teaching is the most important job we have. So, our teachers stayed in the classroom teaching kids, and we had proctors administer the test.

On the hand, Chalkbeat reader Heather Phipps emailed:

My third and fifth grader went to the library with a few other kids, where they had supervision from a staff member.  They brought homework and books to read.  They helped reshelve books.  They had five days of testing so far and they were in the library for at least 1.5 hours each testing day. I went in 2 of the days and worked on math and reading with my children.

Karen King said on our Facebook page she kept her son home:

[T]he school respected our decision and our rights, they did not try to encourage us to take the tests.

And Lisa C replied to our tweet this way:

@ChalkbeatCO Yes! She spent it working on her spelling, which could benefit from extra time, and also on reading and social studies work.

— Lisa C (@Realrellim) March 30, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Building reading fluency goal of United Way program

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 09:56

AURORA — On most school days, Izabella Menifee, a third grader at Murphy Creek K-8 school in Aurora, leaves her class for 20 minutes to read one-on-one with her tutor Emma Blatherwick.

During their time together, Izabella will read a short passage as fast as she can while Blatherwick tracks which words she misses or mispronounces. They’ll also take turns reading every other word. The goal of these exercises and others is to get Izabella reading about 135 words per minute.

Blatherwick is one of two Colorado Reading Corp members at Murphy Creek. The reading program’s aim is to improve the reading fluency of students who are below grade level. The idea is if students can spend less time stumbling over words, they can spend more time understanding the meaning of what they’re reading.

And it appears to be working. In its first year, 76 percent of third-graders who completed the program and were previously reading below grade level showed improvement and are now scoring at or above grade level, according to internal assessments by Mile High United Way.

“Our teachers work incredibly hard,” said Chris Capron, Murphy Creek’s assistant principal said. “But sometimes students don’t get the fine tuning they need. And if teachers and students don’t have to worry about fluency, they can focus on comprehension in the classroom. These students sound like readers.”

The Colorado Reading Corps is based on a similar program established in Minnesota in 2003. Today, that program is the largest state AmeriCorps program in the country.

Reading tutors, usually recent college graduates, work for a stipend and a $5,645 education award they can apply toward their tuition or school loans. They receive three days of intense literacy training before setting foot in a school. They work closely with a school leader and a coach from United Way.

The reading corps are in 41 schools in Jeffco Public Schools, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and Aurora Public Schools.

For Capron at Murphy Creek, the reading corps fills a large gap in the types of interventions he’s able to offer for students in kindergarten through third grade, as required by the Colorado READ Act.

The federal money Aurora Public Schools receives to serve low-income students does not follow each student. Instead the district funnels the money to schools that serve mostly poor students. That leaves schools like Murphy Creek, where four in 10 students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, with less money for intervention programs.

“We do really well with what we’re given,” Capron said. “But we have a lot of hardworking families. And their students come in with skills but are a little behind. This program really catches them up.”

For third-grader Izabella that means reading “big chapter books” at home and doing research on animals she likes, especially dolphins.

“She’s gaining the confidence to try new words,” Blatherwick said.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified how many minutes schools spend with reading tutors. Students spend 20 minutes, not 30 minutes. This article has also been updated and clarified to reflect that 76 percent of students who completed the program were reading at grade level according to local assessments, not the state’s reading test. This article has also been updated to reflect how much a Reading Corps member earned as an education award.  

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Littleton settles with Davis family

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 09:31

Budget Woes

Three bills that would have increased education funding are off the table due to budget constraints in the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Following Up

The Littleton School District has agreed to release information about last year's school shooting to the family of Claire Davis. ( Denver Post, 9News )


Babies learn from and experiment with things that surprise them. ( The Atlantic )

Two cents

A director of the Pagosa Charter School Initiative took his family on a road trip to explore charter schools across the state. ( Pagosa Daily Post )

Universal language

An autistic student with a musical gift is now studying at Berklee College of Music. ( KDVR )

Subbing Out

Colorado districts are struggling to recruit enough substitute teachers. ( Denver Post )

Round One

Nearly a million Colorado students are wrapping up the first part of this year's PARCC test. ( CPR )

Mascot makeover

The bill banning schools from using American Indian mascots without approval passed the House, but the schools won't get extra funds to help switch mascots. ( Associated Press via Denver Post )

Mascot Makeover, Part 2

But on the Eastern Plains, Lamar High School students don't want to stop being known as the Savages. ( Denver Post )

We're on the Run

Fort Collins students are training for a 5k and learning about self-image as part of Girls on the Run. ( Coloradoan )

Music and money, better together?

A Kansas rock band was in Longmont this week talking to high schoolers about music and... personal finance? ( Times Call )

Recent History

A decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans schools and students are still grappling with the impact of the storm. ( Hechinter )

Categories: Urban School News

Budget squeeze dooms three education spending bills

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 14:52

The House Appropriations Committee Thursday killed three major education spending bills, including proposals to increase funding for preschool and for full-day kindergarten.

The votes were expected but that didn’t make the decisions any easier for some committee members. “We just don’t have the funds. … I think it’s a sad day in appropriations,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The third measure would have created a pilot program paying bonuses to highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools.

The bills were doomed because of the state’s contradictory budget situation. Although the economy is healthy and state revenues are rising, there’s little money available for new or expanded programs because of constitutional spending caps and required refunds of surpluses to taxpayers.

These three measures were postponed indefinitely on 13-0 votes at the requests of their sponsors:

House Bill 15-1020 – The measure proposed that the state pick up the $236 million cost of providing full-day kindergarten for all students. The idea is a crusade for Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who said, “We shall return.”

House Bill 15-1024 – The $11.3 million proposal would have added 3,000 places to the Colorado Preschool Program, which currently serves 28,360 at-risk students. The legislature has been trying for several sessions to chip away at the program’s waiting list but never has found enough money to eliminate it. (Get more information of the kindergarten and preschool bills here.)

House Bill 15-1200 – This bill needed $4 million to support a pilot program of paying stipends to highly effective teachers who work in low-income schools. A similar bill died last year. (Get more information here.)

The appropriations committee did approve House Bill 15-1165. This is the bill that would require American Indian school mascots to be approved by a state review panel. The committee stripped the bill’s $200,000 funding. (Read this story about the bill.)

New bill proposes school finance study

House Bill 14-1334, introduced late Wednesday, proposes creation of a 10-member “legislative oversight committee on school finance” to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts. The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses, including Senate Education Committee chair Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood. House sponsors are Hamner and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. Both are members of the Joint Budget Committee.

The bill is seen as a modest nod to the continuing frustration of school district leaders with tight school funding. The measure will be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday. (Read the bill here.)

Similar legislative panels studied school finance in 2005 (see report) and 2009 (see story). Both committees produced extensive information but little in the way of substantive legislation. Colorado’s current school finance formula is two decades old.

In other money news, the Senate spent more than an hour in polite partisan recriminations Thursday before giving final 21-14 approval to Senate Bill 15-234, the 2015-16 state budget.

Highlights for K-12 include increased funding to cover inflation and enrollment growth but no reduction in the $880 million education funding shortfall. A small amount of additional school support will be proposed in the annual school finance bill, which hasn’t been introduced yet.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Could pot tax money for schools go up in smoke?

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 08:50

pay and play

After bursting onto the national scene a few years ago, the Pay For Success financing model is gaining traction among Colorado school districts and early childhood organizations. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

girl power

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country, including Los Angeles. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Refund madness

A year after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, millions of tax dollars are rolling in, dedicated to funding school construction, marijuana education campaigns and armies of marijuana inspectors and regulators. But a legal snarl may force the state to hand that money back to marijuana consumers, growers and the public — and lawmakers do not want to. ( New York Times )

Testing tussle

The Senate Wednesday rejected a bid by five Republicans to pull $16.8 million in testing funds from the 2015-16 state budget bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

cheaters gonna cheat

“Guilty,” Judge Jerry Baxter read the jury’s verdicts for conspiracy for 11 of the 12 defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial. ( Atlanta Journal Constitution )

Submarining sub numbers

A steady decrease in the number of available substitute teachers across the state has many school districts getting creative with ways to recruit more temporary teachers. ( Denver Post )

opening up

The Littleton Public Schools board will meet Thursday to hear district staffers recommend that the board approve a proposal allowing the family of Claire Davis more access to information about the December 2013 school shooting that left her dead. ( Denver Post )

It's a Gass for Telluride

The Telluride R-1 School District Board of Education has announced that it has unanimously selected Michael Gass, who is currently assistant superintendent for Eagle County Schools, to be the new Telluride superintendent of schools beginning on July 1. ( Vail Daily )

Gaseous Boulder

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans to work with the Boulder Valley School District in administering a "symptom survey" to staff members at Boulder's Casey Middle School, where hydrogen sulfide sewer gas has posed problems. ( Daily Camera )

Packed in

Nine crowded Poudre Valley schools need immediate fixes for overcrowding. ( Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Bid to pull testing funds livens up Senate budget debate

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 21:31

The Senate Wednesday rejected a bid by five Republicans to pull $16.8 million in testing funds from the 2015-16 state budget bill.

“What we are hearing from parents is there is too much testing,” argued Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “They want out of this product called PARCC. … This one amendment does something very simple, it defunds PARCC.”

The proposed amendment was offered during the hours-long debate on Senate Bill 15-234, the so-called “long bill” that will set state spending in the upcoming budget year.

Long lists of amendments are proposed to the budget bill every year, mostly by minority party members who know their motions will fail but who want to make political points. The GOP controls the Senate by a one-vote margin this year, and the testing amendment was proposed by five Republicans, all of whom to sit on the Senate Education Committee.

Democratic senators opposed the amendment – along with some key Republicans.

“This is not the place to do it,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and a member of the Joint Budget Committee. “This is something current law requires the state to pay for.”

Later in the debate, JBC chair Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs agreed, saying, “I don’t think this is the right vehicle either. … We try not to make substantive law in the long bill.”

Lambert was referring to the longstanding legislative practice of using the budget bill only to set amounts of funding for programs that are currently required by state law, not to change those programs. Separate sections of state law require the current testing system, and the language of the amendment wouldn’t have changed those. The amendment also didn’t refer specifically to PARCC tests.

It’s also longstanding legislative practice for JBC members of both parties to oppose changes to the long bill, regardless of which party proposes those amendments.

The 40 minutes of debate ended with an initial standing vote. Several Republicans voted no, including Lambert, fellow JBC member Sen. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker.

The budget bill was debated on what’s called “second reading,” or preliminary consideration. A final Senate vote on the budget will be taken Thursday.

Testing critics will have plenty of other opportunities for debate. The House Education Committee will consider a major testing bill next Monday, and Senate Education will have a testing marathon featuring five bills on April 9. (See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for information and links on all 2015 testing bills.)

House panel advances rural aid bill

Some House Education Committee members questioned the $10 million cost of a new bill intended to help small rural school districts, but the committee passed the measure 10-1 Wednesday after listening to testimony and chewing on it for more than 90 minutes.

House Bill 15-1321 would exempt rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students from certain state requirements related to parent involvement, accountability committee membership, financial reporting, and evaluations, and also provide $10 million in 2015-16 for per-pupil distribution to those districts. (Get more details in this Chalkbeat story and this legislative staff summary.)

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was the biggest skeptic. “I have some concerns about the $10 million. … So many other schools” have financial needs as well, she said. Fields was the only no vote.

Rural administrators and lobbyists from groups including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado League of Charter Schools testified for the measure.

The rural aid bill joins a long line of proposed spending bills awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee. Each house of the legislature has been allocated only $5 million by the JBC for new or expanded spending this year. But the bills on the appropriations calendar total hundreds of millions of dollars, including more than a dozen education-related measures running to about $280 million.

House Education’s talkative session on rural aid meant it ran out of time to vote on House Bill 15-1322, which would commission a $165,000 study of the data reporting requirements the state imposes on school districts. (See a bill summary here.)

Some committee members complained about the cost; others wondered if it was necessary. When amendments surfaced just before the committee was due to be kicked out of the hearing room for another meeting, chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, pulled the bill off the table.

More education bills introduced in House

The session’s May 6 adjournment clock is counting down, but that doesn’t mean the legislative leadership is stopping members from introducing new bills. Here are education-related measures that popped up in the House on Wednesday.

House Bill 15-1326 – This bill would prohibit state colleges from discriminating against applicants who have high school diplomas from districts that have lost state accreditation. The sponsors are Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo. Both represent school districts that could soon face state intervention for low performance. The bill has no Senate sponsors.

House Bill 15-1328 – The measure would require youth sports organizations to conduct criminal background checks on staff members and some volunteers. This is a House retread of Senate Bill 15-048, which was killed in the Senate.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

GALS plans for expansion in and out of Denver

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 17:02

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will vote later this month on whether to open a brand-new GALS middle school in 2016, and GALS’ leadership in Denver is researching the possibility of opening an all-boys school in Denver.

GALS opened in Denver in 2010. The school currently enrolls 280 students — all girls — in grades 6 through 9, and plans to eventually enroll 600 students in middle and high school. GALS is in the midst of doubling the size of its school building.

Plans for an all-boys school in Denver are still in early stages, but a new task force assembled by the school’s leadership and board is studying the possibility.

Chalkbeat talked with GALS founder Liz Wolfson about why the school is considering expanding, the purpose of an all-boys school, and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why an all-boys school?

There are practical reasons and then there are philosophical reasons.

GALS was founded on an assumption that we can create a more civil society in the world by ensuring that as many young women as possible understand that they have access to all opportunities and that we can break the clear ceilings that exist in all industries for women.

Philosophically, you can’t change society by only working on women. The philosophy of GALS is based on healthy relationships.

There’s a clear, direct path from education to behavior and relationships that create a more dynamic, inclusive society. This is just our piece of adding our choice option to portfolio of schools that exist.

What boys deal with in schools is just as sensational as what’s going on for girls, in terms of achievement in schools but most importantly in terms of who they are in the world. The messages boys are receiving through public culture today are really disempowering. They need real attention in terms of knowing who they are and feeling that they matter just as they are.

Practically, now that GALS has developed this strong program around health, wellness, and gender, one could argue that a boy doesn’t have that choice, especially with Sims-Fayola [an all-boys public school in the district] closing.

Why does that learning for boys and girls have to take place in a single-gender environment? 

We’re honoring the journey of adolescence, so each gender has a chance to fully become themselves before they go into the natural organic stages of socialization, romance, interconnectedness.

It’s about honoring the reality that our public culture hypersexualizes boys and girls and hyperinflates issues of who you’re supposed to be based on a girl in a bikini and a guy watching football. The idea’s to slow that down and allow boys and girls to figure out who they are first…

All we’re saying is, we want healthy interaction, but most importantly we want kids to know who they are.

What’s most important for boys is not always the same as what’s important for girls. Empowerment isn’t the issue, it’s about finding your voice and recognizing that you don’t have to be Superman to be valued and impactful.

What are your plans for expansion outside of Denver? 

We’re in the process of putting together our strategic plan for national expansion. The vision from the get-go was to be in four or five distinct geographic regions across the country, with the idea that we want to put out a next generation of girls who have been through our schooling.

We’re not looking to expand like KIPP, or to dominate a single city. We’re looking to hit the discourse around equity around the country.

We’re not going to be a CMO [charter management organization] like DSST or STRIVE, where there’s a central office. It will be a series of place-based organizations, and the directors of each will be on the board of the national GALS.

There are a number of cities we’re interested in: Baton Rouge, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Seattle Tacoma. We believe it’s not about whether we’re interested, it’s what’s going on locally and do we have the leadership to make it happen.

What does your staff look like? Are your teachers mostly female?

I think our staff looks like every staff. The research shows it’s important to put role models of every shape color and age in front of students.

One thing is that we want role models of different ages. The idea that you can continually fill staff with just 23-year-olds…the bottom line is, a 23-year old has a different perspective than a 45-year-old. We want both. We also look for diversity of staff to match the kids in the school.

Categories: Urban School News

More groups explore how Pay For Success financing can help kids

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:20

After bursting onto the national scene a few years ago, Pay For Success financing is gaining traction among Colorado school districts and early childhood organizations.

The Early Childhood Council of Boulder County and Adams County School District 50 are both exploring the British-born financing mechanism as a way to pay for underfunded early childhood programs. Aurora Public Schools may use the model as well, to beef up college and career readiness.

The exploratory work by all three groups unfolds as state law-makers consider Pay For Success legislation for the second year in a row. Last year’s bill, which was introduced late in the session and focused exclusively on early childhood programs, died in committee.

Chalkbeat reporting on PFS

Pay For Success resources

Common PFS focus areas 

  • Early childhood
  • Recidivism
  • Chronic homelessness
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Asthma

The idea behind Pay For Success, or PFS, is that private investors or philanthropists pay upfront for evidence-based social programs. If those programs save public money by preventing costly interventions such as emergency room visits or special education services, the investors are repaid with interest.

The potential savings accrued from Pay For Success projects are calculated by comparing the public costs of an individual or group after an intervention program to the public costs of an individual or group with no intervention.

For example, a school district considering a preschool-based Pay For Success project might use national studies showing that high-quality preschool reduces special education enrollment by 15 percent, to estimate its prospective savings.

If for some reason a Pay For Success project doesn’t yield the hoped-for savings, the investors lose some or all of their money. Therein lies part of the appeal of Pay For Success. While it can inject new funding into effective prevention programs, there is relatively little financial risk to the public entities that stand to benefit from those programs long-term.

When it comes to projects targeting children and youth, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County is farthest along in the complicated development process. (Among all Colorado projects, a Denver effort to address chronic homelessness among adults is closest to fruition.)

The council is studying the possible expansion of a 30-year-old home-visiting program—the “Community Infant Program”—that aims to prevent child abuse and neglect. If the current cost-modeling work shows an expansion is feasible, the project could launch in 2017 with an five-year investment of $2-4 million. It’s not yet clear who the project’s investors would be.

“We’re not seeing any yellow or red lights. They’re all green,” said Bobbie Watson, executive director of the council.

Growing school district interest

In the last few months, local school districts have also begun testing the waters of Pay For Success. Both Adams 50 and Aurora have applied for grants through the University of Utah Policy Innovation Lab, one of a several intermediary organizations distributing federal dollars to build PFS capacity. The grants of up to $250,000 would primarily pay for new in-house employees to help develop PFS projects in each district.

Adams 50 is also an alternate finalist for a grant through the Boston-based Third Sector Capital Partners, another intermediary for Pay For Success capacity-building grants.

The two districts’ bid for such funding speaks to one of the biggest challenges facing organizations interested in the Pay For Success path: the need for money and expertise long before a project launches.

“This is the big problem with PFS right now,” said Mary Wickersham, a consultant working on the Boulder project. “There’s this dearth of funding on the front end.”

While Watson and her team raised around $150,000 to cover those costs, it’s not easy.

Of the more than 40 Pay For Success proposals received in response to a state “Request For Information” in 2013, only two–Denver’s chronic homelessness project and Boulder’s home-visiting project–are actively moving forward.

Dozens of others, “some portion of which could be great deals … are kind of languishing right now for want of support to get them to the finish line,” said Wickersham.

Preschool potential

Following in the footsteps of school districts in Chicago and Salt Lake City, Adams 50 is considering a PFS project that would expand preschool access. Specifically, the district and two community partners, Growing Home and the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, want to increase the number of full-day preschool slots in the district and add parenting classes.

The hope is that such a PFS program would decrease special education costs and improve early reading scores, said Mat Aubuchon, director of early childhood education in Adams 50.

“I think it’s exciting: a potentially totally different kind of funding stream in [early childhood education],” he said.

While half-day preschool is relatively accessible in the district, Aubuchon said there are very few state-funded full-day slots and most families can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. Three-quarters of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a proxy for low-income status.

The district and its partners are just starting to hold meetings on Pay For Success with potential investors in the philanthropic community, said Aubuchon. The earliest any project could launch is the 2016-17 school year.

“Obviously, we’re at the very infancy state of even exploring something like this,” he said.

Creating a college-bound culture

Meanwhile, Aurora Public Schools, in partnership with the Aurora Public Schools Foundation, is looking at Pay For Success with an eye toward improving outcomes for older kids.

Borrowing a concept used in Denver schools, the project under consideration would establish “Future Centers” in district high schools where students would get advising on all matters related to college and career readiness. The goal is to strengthen the district’s college-bound culture, decrease drop-out rates, and reduce the need for remediation.

“There’s some really clear metrics of deliverables” around post-secondary readiness, said Cheryl Miller, the district’s assistant director of grants and federal programs. “It perfectly aligns to our new strategic plan.”

Among the state’s 15 largest school districts, Aurora had the lowest on-time graduation rate last year: 55.9 percent. Statewide, 77.3 of high school students graduated on time.

Miller said the district initially considered a preschool-based PFS initiative, but wanted to differentiate itself by trying something outside the early childhood arena.

The goal was to be “doubly innovative,” she said.

More money for mental health

The Early Childhood Council of Boulder County began exploring Pay For Success in late 2013. Intent on using the model to make a positive impact on the youngest children, the council looked at six home-visiting programs already operating in the county.

“My board has particular interest in the birth to three population,” said Watson. “That’s where you get your best return on investment.”

The Community Infant Program, in which nurses and psychotherapists work with families around mental health, rose to the top of the list.

“We have a 30-year track record and I think people were pretty excited about the longevity in the community,” said Program Director Janet Dean.

The program, which has 20 employees and an annual budget of $1.5 million, helps parents create healthy relationships with their babies by addressing issues ranging from post-partum depression to anger, stress and mental illness.

Absent such intervention, children may experience abuse or other types of toxic stress that have long-term consequences on their health, education and well-being. There are financial consequences too, often incurred by the public sector. These can include expensive hospitalizations, court proceedings or entry into the foster care system.

If the number-crunching underway now confirms expectations, Pay For Success funding represents a front-end investment that could defray those back-end costs.

Dean said there are usually 20-30 families waiting for services from the Community Infant Program. An expansion would allow the organization to better serve families in the mountains on the west side of the county and those around Longmont, Lafayette and Louisville.

“We have families waiting for our service,” she said. “Mental health is just not funded, in general, to the level it needs to be funded.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Researchers describe “perfect” classroom

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 09:44


With changes in its International Baccalaureate program, Denver's George Washington High School is preparing for its first school year as “One George.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Help for the smallest

Rep. Jim Wilson is continuing his crusade to relieve small rural districts of state regulatory burdens, and he wants to give them some extra money as well. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Perfect classroom

University researchers have reviewed past studies to come up with the physical attributes that make for a great place to learn. ( )


The Loveland Classical Schools charter is working to increase funding, including from the Thompson district, in an effort to keep its high school program open. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )

The Durango school board has conditionally approved the application of the K-5 Juniper School. ( Durango Herald )

Testing boycott

More than 100 families at three Eagle County high schools have opted out of PARCC testing. ( Vail Daily )

Thinking ahead

The Steamboat Springs district has unveiled a strategic plan to guide the district's future. ( Steamboat Pilot )


Two schools in the Mapleton and Westminster districts have received grants from the Foundation for Great Schools for success with their students. ( Northglenn Thornton Sentinel )

Brain science

A provocative new study suggests that poverty affects brain structure in children and teenagers, with children growing up in the poorest households having smaller brains than those who live in affluence. ( Washington Post )


Five decades and more than half a dozen revisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act later, calibrating the proper federal K-12 role remains an elusive goal. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

George Washington High prepares for more open IB

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 18:13

After three decades of housing two distinct programs and a year filled with concerns and compromise, George Washington High School, one of Denver’s comprehensive high schools, is preparing for its first school year as “One George.”

Starting in 2015-16, the school will house a redesigned academic program aimed at expanding access to the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which over the years has been notably more academically successful — and notably less racially and socio-economically diverse — than the rest of the school.

The “One George” plan also aims to improve the quality and sequencing of the school’s Advanced Placement and standard classes.

Starting this fall, incoming freshmen will decide whether to enroll in the two-year IB Diploma Program in the spring before 11th grade. Until now, prospective students have applied for the school-designed pre-IB program as incoming freshmen, and only those who successfully passed pre-IB have been allowed to enter the Diploma Program.

“There was a sense that starting the cohort in 9th grade seemed to close the program for some kids. It felt like they were already behind, had already lost out,” said Melanie Bryant, who will direct the IB program at the school next year. “This gives them opportunities along the way.”

Whether the changes will genuinely alter the composition and quality of IB program or the academic performance of students throughout the school remains to be seen.

The school will have three “Patriot Pathways:” IB, Advanced Placement, and college preparatory programming. In freshman year, students interested in all three pathways will be able to take a mix of classes that are designated as pre-IB, honors, and standard.

The new flexibility in 9th and 10th grade programs is aimed at broadening the path to IB. But students vying for the IB diploma are still being strongly encouraged to take pre-IB and honors classes.

The IB program itself remains exclusively a diploma program, which means students must enroll in an entire suite of IB courses junior and senior years and can’t earn certificates for individual IB classes. Many high schools across the country allow students to pursue individual IB course certificates.

Compromise seemed unlikely

That a compromise that genuinely altered the selective programs would be reached at all seemed unlikely less than a year ago. When district officials and the school’s then-principal Micheal Johnson announced plans to open up access to IB last spring, alumni, parents, and community members were furious. They said DPS wasn’t listening to community concerns.

But after a series of meetings and planning sessions throughout the summer, fall and winter, passions have cooled, and the school is moving forward with plans for a redesigned program with cautious optimism.

“Obviously it was rocky. And I wish it hadn’t been,” said DPS board member Mike Johnson. “But, while we haven’t docked the ship yet, we’ve kept it from sinking.”

The “docking” has been accompanied by some significant changes in personnel. Former IB Director Suzanne Geimer, who opposed a series of district attempts to open up the IB program over the years, is retiring after more than 30 years. A number of teachers have left the school. Bryant, a former IB teacher and district peer observer, is currently acting as co-director and will take the reins this summer.

Jose Martinez, brought in as an interim principal for the 2014-15 school year after Johnson was removed, will remain in his post next year. Many parents, students, and staff credit Martinez with bringing much-needed stability to the school after a rocky introduction of the plans for change.

Parents’ fears have not been entirely ameliorated. “I remain troubled by a certain view coming from the DPS administration that does not acknowledge the success of the IB program,” said GW alumnus and parent Steve Weil. Weil said he is concerned that the district is not committed to its selective programs, which he said are necessary to meet the needs of some students.

But, Weil said, “after everyone calmed down, I think we realized there was a cultural divide that needed to be addressed at GW. The other fact was, you have the IB program, which is excellent and doing well. Why not try to expand it? I think it’s a brilliant compromise.”

Over the course of the fall and winter, task forces of staff and community organized by school and district leadership developed proposals for school culture, implementing the DPS’s teacher leadership program, the three pathways, and student-centered learning.

How it will work

A committee that consisted mostly of teachers developed a plan to address the main logistical challenge: How students can move through 9th and 10th grade classes in different ways to be prepared for IB, Advanced Placement, or college preparatory programming. [Read the One George Action Plan released in January to see pathways and requirements.]

Next year’s freshmen will start school in August with a new orientation program, during which they’ll consider which of the three pathways they’re interested in following. The school is also starting an advisory program that will connect students with a teacher with whom they will regularly consult about their academic and personal goals.

Students will still have to qualify academically to enroll in the IB program as juniors by having on-grade-level standardized test scores and above-average grades.

But for the first time, students can technically take a mix of classes before then and still be considered for IB. Non-GW students will also be considered for admission at the end of their 10th grade year.

A document outlining the changes at the school says that “our intention is to look holistically at each student’s preparation for success.” But, it says, “we will not enroll students in Honors/PB [Pre-IB] courses who, in considering the totality of the qualifications above, are unprepared to be successful.”

Teacher Michelle Rosen, who teaches both pre-IB and standard classes, said teachers had been concerned about the changes when they were first proposed. “It was hard to take it all in, and no one wants those programs to be lost.”

But Rosen said she is optimistic about the bridging effect of the changes. “Students in all my classes are phenomenal, and I want them to talk to each other.”

Leveling the playing field

Principal Martinez said by creating chances for students who might not previously have opted into or qualified for the full pre-IB program to take some Pre-IB classes in 9th and 10th grades, “it creates that ability for someone to experience what it’s like to be in what’s typically been a program that’s not for me.”

“We’re looking for ways to level the playing field for our students,” he said. “A person’s ability to move about a community has an impact, poverty has an impact, race has an impact.” George Washington’s IB program was noted in a report for this fall for its success in sending low-income students to college.

Martinez said the school is also investing in professional development for all its teachers and is focusing on making sure that students who are not in IB are also getting a quality education. “It’s clear we need to improve the quality of instruction.”

The school is requesting funds to train its teachers in AP and IB. It also plans to standardize syllabi and curriculum in its AP and college preparatory classes to make sure that they’re solid and consistent.

Martinez said bolstering the quality of those programs will also allow students who decide IB is not their path to feel confident in their academic future.

Martinez said he has also been focused on building a school culture that includes all students this year, by creating events where all students interact.

“In this school for probably over a decade, we haven’t really attended to school culture,” Martinez said. “We weren’t talking about ethnicity, race, class, about what we do in a comprehensive high school with a diverse population to make everyone feel welcome.”

The One George Action Plan includes recommendations to have events that recognize student and staff accomplishments and “break down barriers” between students.

This year’s school choice application in Denver reflected the upcoming changes: While the application previously differentiated between IB and non-IB, this year students could only select George Washington.

Some parents and school staff feared the application would lead some people to believe that the IB program no longer exists.

But numbers from this year’s round of school choice don’t show a dramatic decline. In 2014-15, 316 students were accepted into the regular program and 151 to the IB program. In 2015-16, 455 students applied for the school’s freshmen class.

It remains to be seen just how many students enroll in each of the three pathways. The school reached out to students individually to gauge whether they were interested in IB in order to help plan for the fall.

Martinez said it is important that students be able to choose their desired program and that all of the school’s classes be of high quality. “This schedule is built as a choice of studies. We don’t track students and say you’re relegated to this pathway. We say, what would you like to study?”

Categories: Urban School News

Rural flexibility bill includes $10 million for small districts

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 18:10

Rep. Jim Wilson is continuing his crusade to relieve small rural districts of state regulatory burdens, and he wants to give them some extra money as well.

House Bill 15-1321, introduced late Monday by Wilson and Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, would exempt rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students from certain state requirements related to parent involvement, accountability committee membership, financial reporting, and evaluations of staff members with multiple job titles.

It also would provide $10 million in 2015-16 for per-pupil distribution to such districts and increase the ceiling on tax overrides the districts could ask from voters. (Get details in the bill text.)

For now, the bill’s on a fast track and will be heard by the House Education Committee Wednesday morning.

The regulatory burden on rural districts has been a cause for Wilson, a retired superintendent who spent his career in small districts. He started the effort last year with a bill that originally proposed wide regulatory relief for small rural districts. As finally passed, that bill allows districts that are in the two highest state accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually.

Earlier this session Wilson introduced House Bill 15-1155, which includes some of the same provisions as the latest bill but which also proposes giving small rural districts flexibility in implementing school readiness and early literacy requirements. That idea makes some legislators and education reform lobbyists nervous.

Asked Tuesday if he’s going to let HB 15-1155 slide in favor of the new bill, Wilson said he’s holding the first measure “in his back pocket” while he sees what happens.

“I’m taking one step at a time.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida / File photo

Some interest groups and other officials also have called for increased rural district funding. The state’s superintendents have urged lawmakers to provide $20 million for rural districts and $50 million for at-risk students on top of regular funding.

Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is pushing House Bill 15-1201, which would create a $10 million grant program that boards of cooperative education services could use to help small districts share non-academic services like administration, technology, and transportation.

So there will be competition for the $25 million the Joint Budget Committee has set aside for any K-12 spending beyond the roughly $6 billion in basic school support in the main state budget bill.

The $25 million would come from the general fund, the state’s main account. While extra money is available in the separate State Education Fund, there’s not nearly enough there to pay for multiple rural initiatives, at-risk funding, reduction of the $880 million school funding shortfall, and other projects lawmakers are interested in.

The state includes 105 small rural districts, defined as having fewer than 1,000 students and being a certain distance from urban areas. Those districts enroll 35,151 students, so the proposed $10 million would amount to about $284 per student.

Another 45 districts are defined as rural but not small and have between 1,000 and 6,700 students each. They wouldn’t be covered by Wilson’s latest bill. Colorado has 178 districts.

See the full list of rural districts, small and otherwise, here.

Wilson and Petterson on Monday introduced another bill aimed at state education regulations. House Bill 15-1322 would require the Department of Education to hire an outside consultant to review data reporting requirements the state imposes on schools, with an eye to determining which mandates provide unnecessary data and which requirements impose burdens greater than any value they produce. (Read bill here.)

The measure also will be heard by House Education on Wednesday.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New testing bills introduced in legislature

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 09:39

Testing, Testing

Two new testing bills were introduced yesterday in the state legislature. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher Leadership

Chalkbeat sits down with Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “The Cage-Busting Teacher," for a conversation about teachers, leadership, and more. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Pay for Success

The state's legislature is considering a "Pay for Success" bill, through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher Turnover

Nationwide, teacher turnover costs schools billions of dollars each year. ( Colorado Public Radio )

States of Beeing

A Louisville middle schooler is heading to the national geography bee. ( Daily Camera )

Education Tech

Schools have spent billions on education technology. ( Hechinger Report )

Teaching Rura

Teachers in rural areas use blogs and the internet to keep up-to-date on practice and issues. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Education committees offer different testing visions

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 22:21

Two new testing bills introduced in the legislature late Monday afternoon remix elements of other measures and toss in some new ideas, adding more choices to the stalled Capitol testing debate.

The latest measures seem to set up a face-off between the legislature’s two education committees, with a majority of the House panel supporting the new House bill, and a majority of Senate Education backing the fresh Senate bill.

Nine testing-related bills were introduced earlier in the session, including one that covers only parent opt-out rights. Most of the rest, including measures that propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, are considered not viable for a variety of reasons.

One recent measure, Senate Bill 15-215, has bipartisan sponsorship and the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper. But it was greeted with faint applause elsewhere in the statehouse and has faded from consideration.

Here’s a look at the two latest bills:

House Bill 15-1323 (read bill)

What’s included: Elimination of state-required tests in 9th, 11th and 12th grades. The ACT test would continue to be given to juniors, and districts could give 9th grade tests. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations.

New twists: Holding districts unharmed from accountability and ratings consequences in 2015-16. (This is related to the opt-out issue.)

What’s not included: Any mention of Common Core or PARCC.

Who’s pushing it: House prime sponsors are Reps. John Buckner, D-Aurora, and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Eight additional House Education members, six Democrats and two Republicans, are cosponsors, plus former committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. But there are no Senate sponsors.

Senate Bill 15-257 (read bill)

What’s included: Requires only one set of language arts and math tests in grades 9-12; individual districts can test in two additional grades if they choose. Keeps 11th grade ACT test. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations. Social studies tests appear to be gone.

New twists: Local tests can replace state tests, creation of a pilot program for new assessment and accountability systems, extension for three more years of the current one-year of district flexibility in using student growth for teacher evaluations.

What’s not included: The bill doesn’t mention Common Core or PARCC, but its goal is to ultimately give districts options for using a broader array of tests.

Who’s pushing it: Senate prime sponsors are Republican Owen Hill and Democrat Mike Merrifield, both of Colorado Springs. Five additional Senate Education members, four Republicans and one Democrat, are co-sponsors. The two committee members not signed on are Democrats Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. The two House prime sponsors are people not previously involved in testing bills, Reps. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. No members of House Education are signed on.

Despite widespread criticism of testing by legislators, action on the issue has been stalled by disagreements between the parties and within the parties, and by a reported lack of communication among legislative leaders. (See this story for background.)

Only one testing-related bill, Senate Bill 15-223, has had a committee hearing. That measure, which involves parent rights to opt out and a ban on penalizing districts for low student participation, faces its own challenges (see story).

Even if one of the new bills gains traction – or becomes the vehicle for a compromise plan – lawmakers have little time to deal with the issues. The Senate is focused on the state budget this week, and the House faces that multi-day task the week after Easter.

That will leave only a bit more than three weeks until the required May 6 adjournment date.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

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