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Comings and Goings: Husbands

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 11:01

Jennifer Husbands was recently named founding executive director of Schools that Can (STC) Chicago. STC unites leaders to expand quality urban education, and connects leaders from urban schools with leaders from outside organizations and industry to share innovative practices that advance school improvement. In her new role, Husbands will build and strengthen the Chicago network and lead specific cross-city initiatives. Previously, she was the inaugural director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership Institute (AUSL).

Be a part of Comings and Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones. vjones@catalyst-chicgao.org

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Husbands

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 11:01

Jennifer Husbands was recently named founding executive director of Schools that Can (STC) Chicago. STC unites leaders to expand quality urban education, and connects leaders from urban schools with leaders from outside organizations and industry to share innovative practices that advance school improvement. In her new role, Husbands will build and strengthen the Chicago network and lead specific cross-city initiatives. Previously, she was the inaugural director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership Institute (AUSL).

Be a part of Comings and Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones. vjones@catalyst-chicgao.org

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Rapid enrollment growth sparking changes in Poudre, Arvada

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 09:48

rumble in jeffco

The Jeffco teachers union's cabinet passed a vote of no confidence in the district's school board president Ken Witt. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

chain reaction

Scaling back state testing to federal minimum requirements could have ripple effects in the state's accountability system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Culture wars

The state board heard a high-school-history-class style debate over the new AP U.S. history exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Student boom

Poudre School District could consider re-drawing its school zone boundaries as a way to accommodate its growing enrollment. ( Coloradoan )

Jeffco officials are now considering how to manage rapidly crowding schools in Arvada after a construction boom increased the area's population faster than expected. ( Denver Post )

passing the baton

Bob Smith was elected the new president of the St. Vrain Valley School Board, replacing John Creighton, who will be spending his new free time serving on the state's testing task force. ( Daily Camera )

greening lunch

Boulder students are required to take fruits and vegetables on their lunch plate as well as anything else they want to eat. ( Daily Camera )

making changes

A Colorado legislator is proposing that schools change Native American-themed mascots or lose state funding. ( Denver Channel )

no high in highlands ranch

Highlands Ranch High School students will be required to pass a breathalyzer test before being admitted to homecoming. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Academic rigor, Rauner education plan, New York charter face-off

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 09:39

For a long time now, rigor has been a buzzword in education and it's one reason Common Core standards were developed and pushed. But a key finding in a new brief released Thursday is that making classes harder won’t work unless teachers get more support around student engagement and classroom control. “Without concurrent efforts around helping teachers maintain classroom order and student engagement in the more difficult work, Common Core could ultimately lead to worse outcomes for students, particularly in already low-achieving schools,” says report lead author Elaine Allensworth in a press release. The Sun Times wrote a story on the brief.

Among those potential negative outcomes: students can disengage or act out when asked to do more challenging assignments, leading to lower grades and more failures.

CCSR found that high school students made the biggest gains on the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT assessments in orderly and challenging classrooms; at the same time, order becomes harder to maintain as the work gets more challenging, particularly with low-achieving students. The researchers conclude that teachers need more support to develop strategies around classroom management and engaging students --and not just  professional development in curriculum content.

2. Sleeping in… At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Margaret Laurino submitted a resolution that calls for hearings on whether city high schools and middle schools should shift their start times back, according to DNAinfo. New research from the American Association of Pediatrics shows that it is unnatural for teenagers to go to sleep early and wake up early. Teens forced to get to school early could have physical and mental health problems and also are more prone to get into auto accidents and have poor academic performance.

Early start times are likely even worse for Chicago high school students. With more two-thirds not attending their neighborhood high school, many are traveling for an hour or more to get to school. However, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the studies findings inconclusive and too preliminary.

Also, at the City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced legislation that would make students under 18 subject to the city’s curfew laws. This would mean that 17 year olds, like their younger counterparts, would have to be inside by 10 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

3. In the details… Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner outlined his education plan on Monday, though as the Tribune article points out it does not get specific. He says he would put more money into schools, but he criticizes the way the state funds schools,calling the current method “a disaster.” However, he doesn’t say how his administration would change it. He’d figure that out once he discusses with lawmakers.

The other parts of the plan--increasing the cap on charter schools, getting rid of tenure and merit pay for teachers--are not really surprising or new. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is quoted as calling Rauner’s plan “a Greatest Hits of failed education experiments.”

4. Top of what… In addition to its annual ranking of high schools, Newsweek put out a second list of this year called the “Beating the Odds” list. This attempts to rank schools on how well they do with low-income students on a number of factors from attrition to AP and ACT/SAT scores. Northside College Prep is the top CPS school, coming in at No. 7, with Jones at No. 44 and Lane at No. 67.

These rankings always seem a bit disingenuous because it compares schools regardless of whether they are schools that get students of all different levels or schools that students must apply and test into, such as the ones in Chicago. As you know, it is extremely hard to get into Northside Prep and the other selective enrollments. Also, keep in mind that these schools have extraordinarily low numbers of poor students compared to the rest of the city. Northside, for example, does not reflect the population of the city schools at all. In a city whose public schools are 85 percent low-income, 40 percent black and 45 percent Latino, only 37 percent of Northside’s students get free and reduced lunch, 9 percent are black and a quarter are Latino.

5. New York’s face off… As Chicago gears up for what could be an epic battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis, it is interesting to think that another such confrontation could be brewing in New York. The New York Times Magazine features a profile of charter school maven Eva Moskowitz, who Bill de Blasio has taken aim at since he took over New York City. Not to ruin the ending, but Moskowitz says she is considering taking on de Blasio in the next election.

The article lays out why there is so much conflict between de Blasio, union teachers and Moskowitz. Moskowitz runs the city’s largest charter school network. According to the article, her Success Charter School Network are “performing phenomenally.” In 2014, standardized tests put her schools in the top 1 percent of all state schools. However, de Blasio sees her schools as taking resources from all city schools to only education a few. “He talks about how all children must be saved.”

Success Schools are big on discipline and uniforms, like many of the charter school networks in Chicago. But Moskowitz also wants teachers to talk less during student discussions and wants teachers to work with students read deeply and dissect literature. The criticism with the most staying power, according to the article, is the “overly heated” preparation for exams.



Categories: Urban School News

With debate, State Board lays U.S. history flap to rest

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 21:23

Members of the State Board of Education Wednesday got it from both sides in the culture wars controversy over the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course and test.

The new AP “framework” for U.S. history has become a cause celebre among some conservative critics, who claim it presents a slanted and negative view of American history.

Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, last month proposed a resolution criticizing the AP framework and urging the College Board, which runs the AP tests, to delay the new program for a year. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for background.)

At the request of other members, Lundeen pulled the resolution from August’s board agenda, instead setting up a debate and question-and-answer session that took 70 minutes of the board’s time Wednesday afternoon. Lundeen said the resolution wouldn’t come up in the future.

The debaters were critic Larry Krieger, who owns an AP and SAT test prep company in Pennsylvania, and University of Northern Colorado history professor Fritz Fischer, who supports the new course. (Krieger participated via a video hookup.)

In classic high school debate fashion, each man had 15 minutes to make his case, plus a five-minute rebuttal. (Terry Whitney, a College Board lobbyist, also squeezed in a few remarks.)

Krieger said he supports a “balanced” approach to U.S. history but was relentlessly critical of the AP framework, saying, “Throughout the framework they left out the positives” and repeatedly referring to the course’s “bias” and “disturbing omissions.”

Fischer was having none of that, saying, “The AP history framework is actually a middle-of-the-road framework” and “is not a radically revisionist document.”

“This is a baseless argument,” he said of Krieger’s claim that the framework was the product of conscious leftist bias. Fischer said critics are “the voices of a few extreme people.”

Lundeen and other Republican board members indicated their general agreement with Krieger. Marcia Neal of Grand Junction said she’d reviewed the framework and found “There is an inordinate amount of time spent on slavery and Native Americans and negative impacts.”

Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver said, “People are always going to be dissatisfied” with presentations of U.S. history. And after a bit more back and forth between Krieger and Fischer, the board moved on to the next agenda item.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco union votes no confidence in board chair Ken Witt

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 18:45

The leader of the Jefferson County teachers union said today the school district’s teachers no longer have confidence in board chairman Ken Witt.

The Jefferson County Education Association’s council, made up of representatives from every school in county, voted unanimously on the issue last night. Nearly every school was represented in the vote.

The vote of no confidence, a symbolic boiling point, was based on similar surveys taken at the school level, according to a union spokesman. The response — from union and non-union members alike — was overwhelmingly unfavorable toward Witt, he said.

JCEA president John Ford in a statement said teachers have grown tired of the “secrecy, waste, and disrespect.”

“We are tired of the one man rule and decisions made in secret by Ken Witt,” Ford’s statement said. “As a parent of three kids in Jeffco schools, I know this will ultimately hurt our students.”

While the vote of no confidence is mostly emblematic, the union is still exploring options — legal or otherwise — to block Witt’s actions.

“Teachers absolutely put kids first,” Ford said later in an interview with Chalkbeat. “But, it’s really difficult to do that if you have a board majority and president that continue to put their agendas before kids.”

The teachers’ vote comes after the suburban board’s majority — made up of Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — approved a new compensation plan for teachers that ties pay increases to evaluations. Previously, Jeffco paid its teachers based primarily on how much time they’ve served in a classroom and on their individual levels of education.

During negotiations, both Witt and Newkirk said they categorically objected to the former compensation plan that left some of the district’s best teachers without raises. Ultimately, it was Witt who unilaterally proposed the new model in August.

At the same meeting, the board rejected an independent review that was supposed to settle ongoing compensation negotiations between the teachers union and the district. The same review found the teacher evaluation system, used since 2008, to be statistically unreliable.

In response to the vote, Witt said that he was disappointed that the union had chosen to back a compensation plan that would leave many teachers this year without raises and that he was committed to moving forward with his plan.

“This board has acted to ensure all of our public school students – neighborhood, option, and charter – have funding equity.  This board is now acting to ensure all, not just some, of our effective teachers are rewarded,” Witt said in a statement. “I will continue to focus on improving academic achievement of Jeffco students, with an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal in every school.”

PHOTO: Witt For Jeffco SchoolsKen Witt

Witt’s model has provided plenty of grist for teachers and community members who have long believed the conservatives, who were elected in November by wide margins, plan to follow in the foot steps of the Douglas County School District.

Those fears were reiterated in the statement from union today announcing the vote of no confidence.

“We’ve seen this scenario play out in Dougco over the past few years and the results have not been good,” Ford’s statement said. “Turnover rates in Dougco are high and are increasing at double the rate of the state average.”

The neighboring Dougco school district has been led by a conservative board since 2010. During the last four years, the Dougco board has, among other initiatives, ended a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union and developed a market-based compensation plan for its teachers.

Critics of the Dougco board claim their goal is push a conservative ideological agenda that doesn’t belong in school board politics. Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen and her board have stood by their reforms claiming their role is to reinvent public education for the 21st century.

Since being sworn in, Witt and other members of the majority has routinely deflected the claims they’re following the “Dougco model.”

“This is Jefferson County,” Witt has said time and time again. “We’re going to do what’s best for Jeffco.”

PHOTO: Reader Teachers, regardless of their union membership, at Jeffco school were asked to give union representatives their impression of chairman Ken Witt Tuesday. At one Jeffco school, teachers were asked to fill out this ballot. According to the teachers union, educators overwhelming no longer have faith in Witt’s leadership.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the following: the JCEA representative council took the vote of no confidence, not the cabinet; the council is made up of representatives from every school, not some. But most — not all — schools participated in the vote.

Categories: Urban School News

Cuts in state testing could have unintended consequences

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 17:40

Some testing critics have pushed for trimming Colorado’s K-12 tests back to only what’s required by the federal government, but making that move isn’t as simple as it sounds, the State Board of Education was told Wednesday.

While the overall impact wouldn’t be huge, reduction of testing could have ripple effects in the state’s system of rating districts and schools, causing some ratings to rise and other to drop.

For instance, the Boulder Valley schools would rise from “performance” to “distinction,” the highest level of the state accreditations system. But the Littleton schools would drop one level, to “performance.” And the Greeley district would drop one step from “improvement” to “priority improvement,” the second lowest level.

Overall, 11 districts would receive higher ratings and 28 would decline. Ninety-nine schools would get higher ratings while 97 would drop. (See the slides at the bottom of this article for the full list of theoretical district changes, plus information on how ratings for individual schools might shift.)

The conversation was prompted by the release of the 2014 TCAP results, which started a lively SBE discussion on testing at its August meeting (see story). Members asked Department of Education staff to return in September with more information on questions like what would happen if Colorado scaled back its testing system to only what is required by federal law.

Colorado imposes more tests on public school students than are required by federal law, which basically calls for language arts and math tests in 3rd through 8th grade, plus once between 10th and 12th grade. Science tests are required once each in elementary school, middle school and high school.

But Colorado requires additional tests in high school and three social studies tests during a student’s career, plus ACT tests for all high school juniors, school readiness and early literacy assessments or evaluations. (See this CDE document for a full comparison of state and federal requirements.)

Test results are fed into the complicated state calculations of student performance, academic growth, achievement gaps, dropout rates and graduation rates that are used to generate district and school ratings. So changing the test results could lead to ratings changes.

CDE staff used 2013 test results to do a simulation of how use of results from only federal requirements would affect accreditation ratings. (See these slides for CDE’s full presentation to the board.)

The exercise was a theoretical one, partly because the state testing system will change significantly next year, when the new PARCC tests in English language arts and math are given in all schools. And the workings of the accreditation system are due for review in 2016.

“It could look very different under the new CMAS system,” Alyssa Pearson, CDE executive director of accountability and data analysis. (CMAS is the acronym for the new system that is replacing the TCAPs.)

But even a simulation can be sensitive, given the importance district leaders place on their ratings. As a precaution, CDE emailed every superintendent earlier this week, informing them of the exercise and stressing that it was only a simulation.

“This was a simulation … this is not something we’ve said we’re doing,” stressed Deputy Commissioner Keith Owen.

But, he said, it was important to do the exercise because, “It took us a long time to get the system we currently have. … It needs to be a thoughtful discussion about moving pieces to make sure people don’t see unintended consequences.”

Owen also said the department has queried the U.S. Department of Education about another issue of testing concern – whether results from individual district tests could be used to meet federal requirements.

“We did not get the information” in time for Wednesday’s meeting, Owen said, promising to have details of DOE’s response for the board in October.

CDE Director of Assessment Joyce Zurkowski did have one piece of concrete testing news for the board. She said the department has determined it has sufficient funding to allow districts that choose to do so to give next year’s PARCC math tests on paper rather than online. It also will be possible for districts to give third graders both the math and language arts tests on paper if they choose.

Surveys done for the department earlier this year found some concerns about third graders taking online tests, and about online math tests because students in many schools do math work with pencils and paper. (Learn more about those survey results here.)

State board members are split on testing issues, and where they go from here is somewhat unclear. Members Wednesday mentioned possibly including recommendations in the board’s 2015 legislative priorities (which members will begin discussing next month) and making recommendations to the State Standards and Assessments Task Force, an appointed group that is studying the issue and which is supposed to make recommendations to the legislature in January.

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1292682-fedminslidesexpanded91014.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1292682-fedminslidesexpanded91014' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools steel themselves for rare virus outbreak

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:50

over and out

Jeffco's chief financial officer is leaving the district. It's the second high-profile administrative departure since tensions with the board drove former superintendent Cindy Stevenson out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Uh-oh

A security guard at Denver's South High School has been arrested for sexting students. ( 9News, The Denver Channel, KDVR )

Superbug in schools

A a rare respiratory virus hits Colorado kids, schools are on the lookout and getting ready to deal with sick students ( The Denver Channel )

Tenure talks

A new report has recommendations on how to fix teacher tenure. Do they apply to Colorado? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Benefactor for babies

Montrose's school district is one step closer to a new early childhood center, thanks to a large donation. ( Montrose Press )

If he says so...

Colorado just named a new poet laureate. His first order of business? Work on getting more poetry in schools. ( CPR )

The trouble with transparency

An initiative that would make negotiations between unions and school boards open to the public goes before voters this fall and observers say it's likely to pass. But there may be unintended consequences. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Chalkbeat awesomeness

Join us tonight at 5 p.m. for a live-chat with our co-founder Elizabeth Green about what makes good teaching. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco schools’ CFO resigns amid “a lot” of change

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 18:41

Jeffco Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis is leaving her post to join the city management team in Arvada, Jeffco officials announced today.

Gillis is Jeffco’s second high-profile administrator to leave since last year’s reconfiguration of the district’s school board and the subsequent departure of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. Jeffco’s chief academic officer, Heather Beck, left at the end of the school year to become a superintendent in Oregon.

Gillis’ exit comes at a precarious time for the school district. Last week, the Jefferson County Board of Education approved a drastically new compensation system for teachers that will likely take months to sort through. Her office, as well as the human resources department, will play a crucial role in the rollout of the new system that links bonuses to teacher evaluation ratings.

Gillis, like many, was caught off guard when she learned the specifics of the plan outlined by board chairman Ken Witt. At the board meeting, last month, in which he proposed the new system, she characterized it as “a lot” of change.

Gillis declined to say whether the new conservative board majority had any influence on her decision to leave the school district.

“It was just something I didn’t want to pass up,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “[Arvada] is incredibly well run and fiscally sound. It’s just an exciting opportunity.”

A transition plan has not been discussed yet, Gillis said. But her departure is unlikely to prolong teachers’ wait for their bonuses.

Gillis is also leaving as the district gets to work on its 2015-16 budget, which her office is responsible for overseeing.

Last school year, the budget process dragged out through June. In the end, Gillis and her team were left crunching numbers at the last minute as board members debated their priorities through the evening.

“We have a rock solid financial team at the district,” she said. “That helped with the decision making [to leave]. We have strong folks to step up.”

Gillis has worked for Jeffco since 2002. Since then, she has overseen the district’s financial services, as well as human resources and information technology.

“Lorie has worked tirelessly on behalf of Jeffco students and staff keeping the district financially sound.  She has always been a great steward of taxpayer dollars and has taken that role very seriously over the years,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While I’m saddened by Lorie’s departure from Jeffco, I know that she leaves an enduring legacy of financial excellence and transparency.  This is a great opportunity for her and I join many others who wish her only the very best as she begins a new chapter in her professional life.”

Gillis’ last day has not been finalized but is likely at the end of the month, she said. She begins her new job in Arvada, where she lives, Oct. 13.

Categories: Urban School News

A new report recommends eight ways to improve teacher tenure

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 17:42

Anticipating a nationwide showdown on teacher tenure laws, a teacher-focused nonprofit released a report today it says has eight ways to fix the system.

The solutions floated by TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, include lengthening a teacher’s probation period to five years and shortening the process by which teachers can appeal tenure decisions.

The report comes almost three months to the day after a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure law. Since then, two similar lawsuits have been filed in New York.

The TNTP report claims the argument about tenure has been reduced to “either, or.” In most states, tenure is granted to teachers based mostly on their number of years in a classroom. Critics of tenure claim the system protects lazy teachers and needs to be eliminated.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way, said Tim Daly, TNTP’s president.

“We think the solution is going to be somewhere in the middle,” he said. “It’s about the modernization of tenure.”

Several of the recommendations from the accountability-minded organization have already been adopted by Colorado’s similarly-oriented legislature. But there are some points, such as how to make tenure hearings more efficient, that are uncommon here.

The state’s educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 11-191, effectively rewrote the rules of tenure in Colorado. Under the law, which has been subject to its own lawsuit, teachers are granted non-probationary status after three years. Teachers may lose that status after two years of less-than-effective evaluations.

Half of a Colorado teacher’s evaluation is based a formal observation by an administrator. The other half is made up of student growth data that tracks how much a student has learned year-to-year.

Colorado’s law went into full effect last year, but a poor evaluation did not affect a teacher’s tenure track in the program’s first year. This year, while local districts have more flexibility in what data it uses to rate teachers, a less-than-effective rating will count against a teacher.

Other recommendations include: districts should focus appeal hearings on students interests, not procedure; hire independent arbitrators to make decisions on appeals; enact a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and sexual misconduct; and lower the professional stakes for struggling teachers.

“Rebalancing teacher tenure” report DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1291099-tntp-rebalancingtenure-2014.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1291099-tntp-rebalancingtenure-2014' });
Categories: Urban School News

Grassroots and union activists urge universal preschool in Chicago

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:47

As New York City rolls out an ambitious plan to offer free full-day prekindergarten for tens of thousands of 4-year-olds this fall, community activists and union members in Chicago say it’s time for universal early childhood education and child care in the Windy City.

Calling their campaign “Bright Future Chicago,” the groups say the city needs to find creative ways to finance the expansion of existing preschool and daycare programs – and extending the hours – so that parents can work full-time while their children under 5 years old are in a safe learning environment.

“The city needs to do something for us working parents,” said Hellen Juarez, a single mom and paralegal who is a parent leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “I pay $700 a month for my 2-year-old to be in day care. That’s a rent payment. How is that affordable?”

At a press conference this morning in City Hall, a handful of progressive aldermen who support the new campaign said they’ll present a resolution on Wednesday requesting a public hearing to discuss what it will take to offer full-day preschool and childcare in the city. Supporters have suggested financing the expansion with a new tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s stock exchanges.

“We want to have a hearing and talk about why it’s important to offer full-day pre-kindergarten and how we can pay for it,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward. “I’m not saying the LaSalle Street tax or interest rate swaps are the end-all, be-all of what we’re going to do, but it’s worth a conversation.”

The organizations involved in the campaign include the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Their campaign comes barely a month after Emanuel announced a plan to provide an additional 1,500 preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by next year, a goal he has described as “universal pre-K for every child at poverty.”

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement on Tuesday. “Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

The Mayor’s Office and CPS reached the 1,500 figure by subtracting the total number of 4-year-olds served in one of the city’s school- or center-based programs from the total number of children of that age who are considered at poverty level according to U.S. Census estimates.

Preschool spending on decline in Illinois

The challenges of providing early education opportunities to children aren’t unique to Chicago. As a state, Illinois has cut back spending on preschool programs by more than 25 percent, according to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children.

To offset some of the loss, Emanuel pledged $36 million in additional funding over three years, starting in 2012 for his Ready to Learn initiative.

As part of Ready to Learn, the city also centralized its application process for early childhood programs, which are administered by the Department of Family Support and Services and CPS. The goal was to prioritize the high-poverty areas of the city with the most need. But parents struggled to navigate the new process and complained that it was harder to access preschools in their neighborhoods, which ultimately led to an enrollment drop of about 1,000 4-year-olds.

Parents and organizers say that while they’re glad the mayor is trying to expand the number of available seats, that it’s still not enough. True universal preschool, they say, would apply to all children, not just the poorest. Juarez, for example, says she doesn’t qualify for state childcare subsidies. In addition, recent studies including one by the Latino Policy Forum have found that there simply aren’t enough available slots at existing preschool programs in some densely populated Latino neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park or Belmont-Cragin.

And a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children showed that just 53 percent of Chicago’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended some sort of preschool, with the lowest participation rates in the heavily Latino Northwest and Southwest sides.

Categories: Urban School News

Grassroots and union activists urge universal preschool in Chicago

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:47

As New York City rolls out an ambitious plan to offer free full-day prekindergarten for tens of thousands of 4-year-olds this fall, community activists and union members in Chicago say it’s time for universal early childhood education and child care in the Windy City.

Calling their campaign “Bright Future Chicago,” the groups say the city needs to find creative ways to finance the expansion of existing preschool and daycare programs – and extending the hours – so that parents can work full-time while their children under 5 years old are in a safe learning environment.

“The city needs to do something for us working parents,” said Hellen Juarez, a single mom and paralegal who is a parent leader with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “I pay $700 a month for my 2-year-old to be in day care. That’s a rent payment. How is that affordable?”

At a press conference this morning in City Hall, a handful of progressive aldermen who support the new campaign said they’ll present a resolution on Wednesday requesting a public hearing to discuss what it will take to offer full-day preschool and childcare in the city. Supporters have suggested financing the expansion with a new tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s stock exchanges.

“We want to have a hearing and talk about why it’s important to offer full-day pre-kindergarten and how we can pay for it,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward. “I’m not saying the LaSalle Street tax or interest rate swaps are the end-all, be-all of what we’re going to do, but it’s worth a conversation.”

The organizations involved in the campaign include the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Action Now, Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Their campaign comes barely a month after Emanuel announced a plan to provide an additional 1,500 preschool slots for low-income 4-year-olds by next year, a goal he has described as “universal pre-K for every child at poverty.”

“Mayor Emanuel agrees that every child should have access to high-quality pre-school, which is why he has already committed to ensuring every 4-year-old from a low-income family will be offered free pre-school within a year,” a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement on Tuesday. “Throughout his time in office, Mayor Emanuel has prioritized ensuring every child in every neighborhood has a quality education that allows them to succeed, through early learning programs, a full day of kindergarten, a full school day and a full school year.”

The Mayor’s Office and CPS reached the 1,500 figure by subtracting the total number of 4-year-olds served in one of the city’s school- or center-based programs from the total number of children of that age who are considered at poverty level according to U.S. Census estimates.

Preschool spending on decline in Illinois

The challenges of providing early education opportunities to children aren’t unique to Chicago. As a state, Illinois has cut back spending on preschool programs by more than 25 percent, according to a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children.

To offset some of the loss, Emanuel pledged $36 million in additional funding over three years, starting in 2012 for his Ready to Learn initiative.

As part of Ready to Learn, the city also centralized its application process for early childhood programs, which are administered by the Department of Family Support and Services and CPS. The goal was to prioritize the high-poverty areas of the city with the most need. But parents struggled to navigate the new process and complained that it was harder to access preschools in their neighborhoods, which ultimately led to an enrollment drop of about 1,000 4-year-olds.

Parents and organizers say that while they’re glad the mayor is trying to expand the number of available seats, that it’s still not enough. True universal preschool, they say, would apply to all children, not just the poorest. Juarez, for example, says she doesn’t qualify for state childcare subsidies. In addition, recent studies including one by the Latino Policy Forum have found that there simply aren’t enough available slots at existing preschool programs in some densely populated Latino neighborhoods, such as Brighton Park or Belmont-Cragin.

And a recent report by Voices for Illinois Children showed that just 53 percent of Chicago’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended some sort of preschool, with the lowest participation rates in the heavily Latino Northwest and Southwest sides.

Categories: Urban School News

Join us Wednesday at 5 p.m. to chat with Elizabeth Green about her new book

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:01

After wrapping up the Chalkbeat Book Club discussion of  our CEO Elizabeth Green’s new book “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone)”, we’re excited to bring the conversation to a larger audience.

We’ll be hosting a live chat (embed coming soon) right here on Wednesday from 5-5:30 p.m. MT.  Until then, catch up with this Q&A, read over what we’ve discussed in the book club, and submit your questions in the comments section below.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teachers trained to fight, not flee active shooter

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 09:17

The Big Ask

Districts around the state are putting local tax increases on the ballot to ask for more money for schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

That list includes six districts in the Pikes Peak region. ( Gazette )

School safety

Teachers at a Denver-area charter school were trained how to fight back against an active shooter, rather than hunker down. ( The Denver Channel )

Follow the money

Which Colorado organizations have gotten Gates dollars? Check it out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

I'm more than a sixth grader

One Colorado district's move away from grade levels is part of a national trend to focus on what individual students need. ( KUNC )

Testing to teach

Early testing may help students learn, according to research. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Not enough helping hands

A Pueblo student mentoring program is coming up short for mentors. ( Chieftain )

All kids and no money

Steamboat Springs' school district is looking for someone to figure out if they need a new elementary school and design it. But where to find the money? ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Walking a financial tightrope through college

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:00

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Categories: Urban School News

Walking a financial tightrope through college

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 01:00

In 2006, the Consortium for Chicago School Research issued a report that sent shock waves through the Chicago Public Schools system. The discovery that somewhere between only 6.5 and 8% of CPS students graduated from four-year colleges (and only 2% of African-American boys) was a call to action. 

Subsequent follow-up reports pinpointed some of the “potholes” on the road to college, despite the almost universal aspiration, across all racial and ethnic groups, to attend college. There was enough blame to go around, targeting schools, parents and communities, as well as the colleges themselves. And there was enough room for a variety of constructive approaches to improving the track record on each of these fronts, from the creation of freshman on-track indicators that would help raise high school graduation rates, to the establishment of mentoring programs to provide the personal support many students need to keep their eyes on the valuable prize of college graduation.

It is these mentoring programs that I want to focus on because they offer some strong prospects of success for students as they face obstacles that can only be overcome with support beyond their own capacities. The task for these programs is two-fold: getting students accepted into colleges that match their level of potential and from which the odds of graduating are in their favor; and keeping them in school despite the potholes that threaten to derail them. 

In recent years, these programs include:

The Network for College Success—working inside CPS schools to support leadership teams in each school that create a college readiness environment for students.

Umoja—a veteran in the work of leadership development among students, aimed at improving their chances of success as college students.

Bottom Line—a new arrival in town, with an impressive track record in New York and Boston on both college admission and college completion.

Schools like Noble Street and North Lawndale Charter Prep, which have developed strong databases for tracking their alums and brainstorming solutions to overcoming obstacles to graduation.

AIM HIGH—the program I am most closely involved with, built on a unique model of pairing students with teams of mentors from the corporate world who stay with them from their freshman year of high school all the way to college graduation.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather a sampling of the variety of work being done in this area. I am sure there is other valuable work under way of which I’m unaware, and the problem is so monumental that there is room for many more willing participants. 

Bottom line is economic inequity

Whatever the particular design strategy, all of these programs are wrestling with problems that reflect the fundamental inequities of our economic system. The low-income students who represent the vast majority of those in CPS are operating without the safety net that is invisible to most middle-class families—so invisible that they recognize it as little as fish recognize the medium of water that sustains them. 

Much of my work with AIM HIGH involves the almost inevitable financial shortfalls that our students encounter. These shortfalls block their ability to register for classes at the beginning of the term or, most unjust, prevent them from receiving their transcripts when they decide to transfer schools. These debts, often as small as three-figure sums, would be resolved in middle-class families with a call home providing access to a fatigued credit card—the kind that most low-income families don’t even possess. Any new strain on the finances of a student or a family already struggling to provide for basic needs—an unexpected medical bill, a costly car repair, an increase in dormitory costs, an unanticipated medical bill—is sufficient to lead students to drop out or take a leave from school, from which they are unlikely to return.

Colleges themselves must provide help

All mentoring programs have to face the question of how these inevitable shortfalls are going to be addressed. Part of the answer lies with the colleges themselves, many of which have demonstrated admirable social consciousness by seeking out low-income students of color in an effort to diversify their student bodies, but have not provided the resources to keep those students heading toward graduation. 

They have an obligation to set aside the modest sums that will help students who have made good-faith efforts to meet their debts, but have encountered insurmountable obstacles. The failure to do so places these students in jeopardy of leaving school with no degree and a burden of debt that puts them in a worse position than if they had never entered college at all.

In one recent situation faced by a student, the university sent this debt to a collection agency, with which she is now forced to deal, unprepared though she may be to deal with the often predatory practices of these agencies. Heartlessness should not be the trademark of an institution which pretends to play a high-minded role in our society.

These low-income students are a precious resource. They have the potential to bring new skills and commitments to their home communities and to the entire society. The existing mentoring programs can go a long way in accompanying them to their goal, but they need help with the deep-seated financial obstacles that stand in their way.

Marv Hoffman, now retired, was the associate director of the Urban Teacher Education Program at the University of Chicago. Prior to that he was the Founding Director of the University of Chicago Charter School—North Kenwood Oakland Campus.

Categories: Urban School News

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 23:09

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Categories: Urban School News

Dirty schools the norm since privatizing custodians: principals

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 23:09

The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

The contract is the first issue the group is taking a hard stance on, hoping that their input will force the district to make some changes. About 230 principals responded to the survey, with most of them saying the number of custodial staff has been reduced and is now inadequate and the cleanliness of their buildings has been negatively affected.

A principal of a South Side school that is comprised of three buildings and more than 1,500 students says she now has just one day custodian, down from three. “The day custodian is running around here like a crazy lady,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified. “And it is filthy.”

In February, the Board of Education approved two three-year contracts—one for $260 million for Aramark and the other for $80 million to Sodexmagic. Aramark was to take over the training, supervision and management of custodians for all but 33 schools. Sodexmagic would handle the job for the other 33 schools.

When Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley presented the proposal to the board, he said the deal would save the district $40 million, lead to cleaner buildings and incorporate state-of-the-art cleaning technology, such as cleaning Zambonis.

Cawley did not say the contract would result in layoffs.

Email acknowledges problems

Though CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says most schools had a smooth transition to the private vendor, on Monday that vendor, Aramark, sent out an e-mail to principals acknowledging significant problems and asking to meet with them and their staff.  

In the e-mail, shared by a principal, the Aramark official wrote that company officials hear “loud and clear” that “we have not delivered on the promise of making life easier for principals.”

In a white paper, AAPPLE is proposing that the contracts be voided if the buildings are not brought up to Level 2 industry standards for cleanliness, as promised when the contracts were approved. The group also wants CPS to consult them on any contract of more than $500,000 that will impact schools.

McCaffrey says CPS officials are working with contractors to address complaints. “CPS recently contracted with two proven facility management companies to improve cleanliness in all schools while saving millions of dollars that can be redirected to classrooms,” he said in a statement.

Principals say the cleanliness of their buildings is integral to student learning, and note that they are naturally held accountable for it. However, under the new contract, principals do not supervise the custodians at all. Some principals say the custodial managers turn over on a regular basis.

“The person who supervises them comes once a week,” says one principal, who did not want to be identified. “That is just not going to work.”

Bad timing, no new tech

That principal of a Northwest Side school said that at the end of the school year, the custodians assigned to her school left urine in the toilets for weeks. Then, they moved furniture out of a classroom, but broke things when they brought it back in. Her building is more than 100 years old and she says that it is difficult to clean when it gets dirty.

A big complaint of the principals is that staff has been laid off or reassigned at bad times, leaving someone new to take over at crucial moments. One principal said his custodians told him they had been notified that they will be laid off two weeks after school started.

Another had all his custodians sent to new buildings for no apparent reason. “The [ones who were reassigned] were custodians who knew the building, knew the children, knew the community,” he says. “They did not want to leave.”

Two of them were reassigned the Friday before school started. “That is really bad timing,” says the principal, who, like the others, didn’t want to be identified. He says the new custodians are okay, but that he is still waiting on Aramark to let him know their schedules.

The principal also is bothered by the fact that he has seen none of the new technology that was supposed to make the cleaning more efficient.   

One principal from a South Side school that took in children displaced from last year’s closings says she had to get parents, teachers and students to volunteer, in the days leading up to the opening of school, to get her building ready. She says they spent much of the time throwing out an enormous amount of trash, sweeping and mopping.

During the summer, she sent e-mails on a daily basis to her network chief complaining of the problem, but never heard back. One of her biggest complaints concerned the bathrooms, which she says have a bad smell. The custodians tell her it is a drainage problem, but there are no plans to fix it. “Can we just get some air freshener?” she said. “I have kindergarteners going into these bathrooms and they are scary.”

“I feel like this community is already disenfranchised,” she said. “You go up north and you can eat off the floors of the schools. I feel like my community should have that kind of building.”

Categories: Urban School News

Districts roll the dice on $1.4 billion in tax increase measures

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 18:58

Will 2014 be the year that voters in Colorado school districts loosen up their wallets and approve well more than $1 billion in local tax increases for school construction and operations?

A year ago, voters were almost as skeptical of local proposals as they were of Amendment 66, the $1 billion K-12 statewide income tax hike that was defeated overwhelmingly. Hoping that voters are in a different mood this year, some two dozen Colorado school districts are seeking some $1.4 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and operating funds.

“On the bond side, it’s going to be the largest group of bonds that anybody’s ever seen,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, which compiled the detailed list displayed at the bottom of this article.

This year’s ballot measures are interesting for several important reasons, including:

A big year – The total $1.4 billion request exceeds the nearly $1.2 billion districts proposed in 2012, although there were 38 measures on the ballot that year, compared to about 30 this year.

Boulder has biggest ask – The Boulder Valley School District is asking for a $576.4 million bond issue this year, exceeding the high set previously by the $515 million combined bond and override requested – and won – by Denver Public Schools in 2012.

Bond & Mill

  • Bond measures are voter-approved increases in property taxes for facilities needs. Districts sell bonds to raise the cash to pay for construction, then use the additional tax revenues to pay the bonds off.
  • Overrides are voter-approved hikes in a district’s general property tax rate that a district generally uses for operating expenses or special needs like technology purchases.

Five Adams districts asking – Most of the money – about $1.1 billion – is being requested from voters in just two counties, Adams and Boulder. Five districts in western Adams all are on the Nov. 4 ballot, an apparently unprecedented event.

Financial pressures – Despite a modest bump in school funding provided by the 2014 legislature, district leaders say that additional money is far from enough, and they have to ask voters for additional local revenues to cover building and program needs that can’t be put off.

A possible distraction – A statewide casino-expansion proposal, Amendment 68, is also on the ballot, and it promises more than $100 million in additional revenues for schools. District leaders are skeptical of A68’s promises and hope it doesn’t confuse voters about the need for local revenue. (Get details on A68 here.)

BEST off the ballot – For the first time in several years, 2014 ballots don’t include a long list of small districts seeking bond issues to raise local matching funds for Building Excellent Schools Today construction program grants. The state portion of that program has reached its ceiling for larger projects such as new schools and major renovations, so there’s no money for locals to match.

Voter mood – Finally, the 2014 election may provide an update on where some voters stand on school taxes. Voter attitudes have been on a roller coaster in this decade. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways last year. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.

Boulder – the big ask

“This is a big ask, we understand that,” says Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger when questioned about his district’s proposal for a $576.4 million bond issue. “It’s a hard choice.”

But, he added, “The facilities needs are not going to go away,” and if building systems begin to fail the 30,500-student district isn’t in a position to cover significant building costs from its general fund.

About half the money would be used to bring all district buildings “to acceptable standards,” he said, with the rest devoted to a variety of other needs. (See the district’s detailed facilities plan here.)

PHOTO: Boulder SchoolsBoulder Valley Supt. Bruce Messinger / File photo

As is common with larger districts, Boulder went through a long planning and public consultation process before the board approved the ballot proposal in August.

Messinger said polling put the district’s overall approval rating is at “an all-time high” and that polling and focus groups indicate, “Taxpayers understand … schools are assets.”

While Messinger is feeling reasonably good about the proposal’s chances, he does note the possible of confusion with Amendment 68. “It’s a concern,” he said. “It’s on people’s minds.”

Boulder has had a history of success with its voters. It last lost an election in 2002, when voters rejected a $7.5 million override that would have funded technology improvements.

Adco’s “referendum” on school spending Election history

  • Adams 12 – $9.9M override passed, $80M bond failed 2008
  • Adams 14 – $44M bond failed 2013
  • Adams 50 – $5.2M override failed 2013
  • Aurora – $15M override passed 2012
  • Boulder – $22.5M override passed 2010
  • Brighton – $4.8M override fail 2011
  • Cherry Creek – $125M bond, $25M override passed 2012
  • Colo. Springs 11 – $21.5M override failed 2008, $131.7M bond passed 2004
  • Dougco – $200M bond, $20M override failed 2011
  • Denver – $466M bond, $49M override passed 2012
  • Jeffco – $99M bond, $39M override passed 2012
  • Littleton – $80M bond passed 2013
  • Mapleton – $32M bond passed 2010
  • Poudre – $120M bond, $16M override passed 2010
  • St. Vrain – $14.8M override passed 2012

More information

While Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties have but one school district each, Adams County is served by seven. Each district is considerably smaller than DPS or Jeffco, but combined the five largest districts in Adams had about the same enrollment as their neighboring counties did in 2013-14, about 85,000 students.

This year most Adams County voters have the rare opportunity to vote on school taxes at the same time. Those five districts – Adams 12-Five Star, Brighton, Commerce City (Adams 14), Mapleton and Westminster (Adams 50) – all have proposals on the ballot.

All five are seeking both bond issues and overrides for varying reasons. Each district is seeking bond money to upgrade existing buildings, while new schools would be built in growing parts of Adams 12, Brighton and Commerce City. Tax override revenues would be used to recruit and retain teachers, offset state budget cuts and cover a variety of needs. (See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this story for details on those district proposals and all tax measures statewide.)

Adams 12 Superintendent Chris Gdowski said the five sets of ballot measures weren’t coordinated but, “What’s driving it are common factors. We all have needs that haven’t been met.”

For Adams 12, he said, “The need is pressing, and we can’t wait any longer.”

Other county superintendent sounded the same note. “We decided to go this year because our needs just continue to mount,” said Mapleton Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio. “We have just been so far behind for so long … we just had to go.”

Westminster Superintendent Pamela Swanson said, “We’re trying to avoid any more cuts. We have some wonderful things happening, and we don’t want to take any steps backwards. We felt a moral obligation to go back out” to the voters, even though the district saw a $5.2 million override defeated last year.

Commerce City Superintendent Pat Sanchez had a bond issue defeated last year by about 300 votes. He called that a “hidden blessing” that forced the district “to be really crystal clear about what the voters are getting” this year. He and other Adams superintendents are hopeful that academic improvements in recent years will make voters more amendable to tax hikes.

Adams 12, Brighton and Mapleton are rated as “improvement” districts by the state accreditation system. Commerce City and Westminster are “priority improvement” districts but have moved up in recent years from “turnaround,” the lowest accreditation category.

Superintendents have varying answers about what happens if proposals are defeated. Gdowski said a loss could mean schedule changes in Adams 12. Sanchez said defeat “would change a five-year plan to a 10-year plan,” and Ciancio said, “If it doesn’t pass we’ll just have to keep going back to the ballot.”

Around the state

Two districts in El Paso County also have large measures on the ballot. Cheyenne Mountain is proposing a $45 million bond, and Falcon’s bond proposal totals $107.4 million.

Denver voters face a proposed sales tax increase and an extension for the Denver Preschool Program, which is separate from DPS. (Get more details here.)

There are no district proposals on the ballot this year in Denver, Douglas County, Jefferson County or in any of Arapahoe County’s seven districts.

State law bars school boards and districts from spending public funds on ballot measure campaigns.

The campaign load typically is carried by outside citizen campaign committees that raise money for brochures, yard signs and other materials. Such committees already have been formed in Boulder, in most of the Adams County districts and in Cheyenne Mountain and Falcon.

The bigger issue

Passage of bond issues and overrides in individual districts has the unwelcome side effect of increasing gaps between districts that have the political and financial capacity to pass them and those that don’t. (There’s a limit on district bond debt based on the value of property within a district, and there also are state ceilings on overrides.)

“The long range solution to this [school funding] is not doing this district by district,” Messinger said. “I worry that the gap [between districts] could widen over time,” said Gdowski.

But Sanchez, noting that there’s still a $900 million shortfall in state school funding, said it’s hard to districts to resist the pressure to raise their own money. “I think you’re going to see a trend of more bonds and mill levy overrides.”

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Sept. 8.

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Categories: Urban School News

Early testing may help with learning, according to research

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 18:09
Taking a practice test and getting wrong answers seems to improve subsequent study, because the test adjusts our thinking in some way to the kind of material we need to know.
– Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, U.C.L.A. psychologist

That’s the finding of a recent study highlighted in Benedict Carey’s new book How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens.

An excerpt of Carey’s book was published in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

To test her theory, Bjork gave her college students a pre-test before some of her lectures. At the end of the year, students answered correctly a higher percentage of questions that had similarly appeared on one of their pre-tests than those that they were just seeing for the first time.

While the percentage was just 10 percent, Carey points out that could be an entire letter grade.

There are some limitations to this theory, Carey writes. Pretests might not be beneficial for learning a language based notations or characters like Chinese and Arabic. That’s because there is no familiar language for your brain to latch on to.

Sunday’s edition of the magazine was the glossy’s annual education issue. Also featured were articles on Bill Gates’ personal mission to revamp history in public education, as well as the very public political fight between charter school executive Eva Moskowitz and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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