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Rise & Shine: Colorado Latinos believe education opportunities getting better

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 10:03

getting to know you

The founding dean of the new School of Education at the Metropolitan State University of Denver shared her views on some of the hottest education topics, including Common Core, how to fund teacher training programs, and what new teachers need to know before taking attendance on the first day of school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A change in the air

The Denver school board is expected to vote on a series of changes to the district's southwest corner — including placing two different charter schools at the struggling Kepner Middle School. ( Denver Post )

Survey says

Most Latinos like their community schools and more than a third see opportunities improving, according to a new survey. But education remains one of those areas where positive feelings decline as Latinos get older, progress farther into the school system, and become more affluent and assimilated. ( Denver Post )

Pay Day

The Northwest BOCES is poised to earn a multi-million dollar federal grant — if it can find matching funds. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Stay awhile

A new report released today by suggests that districts, teachers, and students benefit from programs like the Denver Teacher Residency that give teachers a year of school-based mentorship and coaching. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What's the plan, Stan?

One of Roaring Fork's top educators explains the school district's new guiding document in an op-ed. On the to-do list: more with less. ( Aspen Times )

History repeating itself

"Boards of Education across the United States, but the Douglas County Board of Education in particular, should search for viable alternatives to the existing AP courses controlled by the College Board." — Jim Geddes, Douglas County Board of Education, University of Colorado regent ( Denver Post )

Not on my watch

A Colorado eighth grader is taking an ethical stand against against Sea World. The student convinced her Layette school to cancel a trip to the amusement park due to animal captivity concerns. ( Daily Camera )

Common Concerns

The Common Core State Standards is causing a huge shift in how educators teach reading ... ( NPR via KUNC )

... and math. To better understand those changes, and how to help their children with homework, some parents are going back to school (for a night) to learn the new-new math. ( The New Star )

Categories: Urban School News

Metro State’s new education dean: Fund ed schools on quality, not quantity, of teachers

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 19:54

When Elizabeth Hinde signed on to be the first dean of Metro State University of Denver’s brand-new school of education earlier this year, she took responsibility for a new vision of what is already the second-largest teacher education program in Colorado.

The new school is focused on at preparing students to teach schools serving multi-cultural, bilingual, and historically underserved populations. Right now, it places teachers in 17 districts and charter schools in Colorado.

Chalkbeat sat down with Hinde to talk about her goals for the program, what’s changed in teacher education in recent years, and what’s stayed the same.

On what to expect from MSU:

We’re establishing residency models. But people say “residency model” like it’s one model — but they have to be different. The school of education needs to make a local impact, otherwise what’s the point? We’re here in Denver, we need to serve Denver and the area.

The residency models we’re designing fit Denver. The first one will start next year…they follow the district calendar. Students will co-teach with a mentor teacher….We’ll also build our programs in JeffCo and Aurora…We want to expand pathways into the classroom.

We will increase our enrollment, we will grow….There are so many creative things we can do. There are a lot of professions where they need the skills, the expertise, the knowledge we have in the school of education. We can share our expertise with other programs. There are schools, religious and private, that don’t require state certification that still need to know about child development….I’d like to see us provide professional development.

On alternative training programs:

If you look at history, there have always been multiple pathways to being a teacher. I embrace the good ones.  We don’t want to sacrifice quality for convenience. But some of these alternative programs that have popped up, they popped up because teacher prep wasn’t meeting needs. If they can meet needs we can’t, let’s partner rather than conflict.

On funding education schools:

I’d like to see us funded not based on input but based on output — some sort of metric where the funding’s not based on how many students you have exclusively, but on what’s the impact of your students in the field. A metric that says we’re focusing on quality, not quantity.

On what teachers need to know before they go into the classroom:

Teachers need to be able to meet the needs of all kids. Most schools do inclusion now, so ELLs and special needs students are in the classroom.

Plus technology. Teachers need to be go in and use a smart board right away. They have to understand that kids have cell phones, period—figure out how to use them well. And teachers, you’re going to be filmed.

What they’ll come out of our school of education with, first of all, is real life experiences with good teachers in real classrooms. The goal is, their first year they’ll be more like second year teachers, or third year teachers. They’ll have this experiential base but also a fund of resources, cognitive as well as physical, in how to meet the diverse needs in a school.

They’ll understand as teachers that they’re in a fishbowl, everyone’s watching us. So we have to tell our story – not the fluff, but the real story of being a teacher.

On Common Core: 

Teacher prep has always had to deal with curriculum trends and curriculum changes. Some are new trends and some are actual changes. We’ve always had to be very nimble — that’s something people don’t understand. We have to be aware of policies, politics, trends, and how kids learn.

As far as Common Core, yes, we do need to prepare teachers to teach Common Core. It promotes a different way of thinking. If we could just cut away the politics and look at the type of thinking the Common Core is promoting, it’s very good. We need to prepare our teachers to teach high-level thinking and not just teaching outside the box

I think every citizen has to have to be able to think mathematically — that’s what the Common Core could do if you could cut away the noise.

At Metro, the faculty who were here before I got here and continuing now have been adjusting the curriculum to adapt.

On assessment:

Tests are being overused. You’re taking time away from teaching. Teachers assess all the time, good teachers do, which is why there’s that unique teaching exhaustion — you’re assessing, are they getting what I’m saying, do I have to switch and get a different tool. But when you throw in test after test after test…

I think the root is that people don’t trust that teachers know what they’re doing. But they do! Let them do what they know.

I’m not saying throw them off altogether, but when the whole month of April is about testing there’s something wrong. If you give a test and everyone fails, the problem is the test.

On what gives her hope:

The next generation, the kids. It’s always about the kids. I came here because I wanted to come to a place in a city — where it’s defined more by its potential than by its tradition.

Even though there’s some cynicism right now and some sarcasm around teaching profession, there’s a sense among teachers that there’s that one student you might make a difference for.

There is this passion, this desire, this drive to make a difference in the next generation that you can’t find in any other profession.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Denver’s teacher residency held up as a model

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 17:22

Since 2009, 140 new teachers in Denver have skipped traditional teacher education programs and student teaching in favor of an intense, yearlong apprenticeship known as the Denver Teacher Residency.

And a new report argues that those teachers may be better prepared for the classroom than their peers trained through other programs.

A new report released today by Urban Teacher Residencies United (UTRU) suggests that districts, teachers and students benefit from programs like DTR that give teachers a year of school-based mentorship and coaching.

The report, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlights both the Denver Teacher Residency and a similar program at Aspire, a network of charter schools with schools in Tennessee and California, as particularly effective residency programs. (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also supports some of Chalkbeat’s coverage.)

Teaching residencies have become increasingly common in the past decade, even as traditional teacher preparation programs have seen a steep drop in enrollment.

The report describes the Denver and Aspire programs’ recruitment and selection programs, which screen candidates for their aptitude; coursework and seminars “built around the classroom experience;” coaching and feedback for residents; evaluation systems focused on continual improvement; and school systems that the report’s authors say reflect “a collaborative culture, clear teacher effectiveness rubrics, and a growth mindset.”

The report highlighted common practices in Aspire and Denver:

  • Residents in each program “take over” a class for a number of days each semester. The idea is that teacher residents’ confidence and voice will develop over the course of the year.
  • Both the Aspire and Denver programs are housed within the school system itself, rather than outside it.
  • Both programs offer stipends to mentor teachers but also emphasize that mentoring also helps mentor teachers reflect on their practice.

The report argues that both traditional teacher training programs and residencies can benefit by focusing more on practical lessons and less on theory.

In Denver, which launched its residency in 2009, 84 percent of DTR graduates have stayed in the district for at least three years. The report says that graduates of the residency outscored their peers on each of the 12 components of the district’s evaluation system.

The report said that efforts to extend Denver’s program into schools where fewer students qualified for free and reduced-price lunches in 2013-14 proved less than effective, as residents and mentors were less connected to their peers in other schools.

Still, the program will likely remain part of the district’s human resource strategy. At a meeting of Denver’s school board this week, superintendent Tom Boasberg sported a fleece with an embroidered DTR logo. And the district is planning to create residencies for assistant principals and aspiring leaders as well.

Categories: Urban School News

Northwest Colorado BOCES poised to receive multi-million dollar federal grant

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 15:08

The Northwest Colorado BOCES needs to find about $440,000 in private sector funds in order to be awarded a multi-million dollar federal grant.

The funds, nearly $3 million in total, will be used for online tools to build teaching communities across the northwest corner of Colorado. Those communities will be used for professional development linked directly to their evaluations.

The BOCES’s application for the Investing in Innovation grant was dubbed as one of the “highest-rated” by the U.S. Department of Education. If the Northwest Colorado BOCES secures matching donations, it will be the only Colorado recipient of the federal grant.

All highest-rated applicants in previous years have successfully secured private matching funds and become grantees.

“This Investing in Innovation grant will help empower our teachers in northwest Colorado and provide them with valuable tools and resources to become even better teachers for our kids,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in a statement issued by the BOCES. “In order for this project to reach its full potential, these schools need support through matching funds that will work alongside the federal resources.”

Northwest Colorado BOCES developed the project on behalf of seven rural school districts in Grand, Jackson, Routt, and Moffat counties.

In these districts, high quality professional development and opportunities for significant connections to others in similar positions can be difficult to provide to teachers.

“Just like kids, teachers are at all different levels of mastery,” said Amy Bollinger, executive director for the Northwest BOCES.  “The project is a shift away from ineffective one-time workshops toward ongoing dynamic professional learning. It will help struggling teachers improve, average teachers become great, and excellent teachers grow.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Seniors across state protest new tests

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/11/2014 - 10:03


Two high schools expect mass protests of tests from high schoolers this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


The state CMAS tests, new for seniors this year, have already met with resistance in other schools. ( Lone Tree Voice, Daily Camera )

Civil Rights

A lawsuit claims Colorado Springs schools limit students' rights by prohibiting them from praying during free time. ( Gazette )

Editorial, Sick Out

The Denver Post writes that parents should be able to request the names of teachers who participated in a "sick out" in protest earlier this fall. ( Denver Post )

Snow Days

Clear Creek district delayed because of snow this morning. ( 9 News )

Just Say No

Castle View seniors lay out their concerns with the test. ( Douglas County News Press )

Around the network

New York City plans to boost services for English learners. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Burn Out

In Newark, charter schools try to figure out how to close the achievement gap without burning out teachers. ( Hechinger Report )

Mean Girls

Why do some high schools form cliques and others don't? ( The Atlantic )

Categories: Urban School News

Two Colorado high schools expect mass opt-outs from tests this week

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 19:08

For the first time, two Colorado school districts could see their high schools face sanctions because a critical mass of seniors are refusing to take the state’s new standardized tests.

In what will likely be the largest — and most public — assault so far on the state’s school accountability system, nearly 200 high school students at a Boulder high school are expected to opt-out of the new standardized tests they’re supposed to take Thursday and Friday. Instead, they will hold a public protest Thursday morning outside their school.

And in Douglas County, at least one principal has made a formal plea to parents to do what ever they can to have their students take the social studies and science tests this week.

And rumors continue to grow that more schools across the state will see similar levels of students opting out.

While opponents to standardized tests cite many reasons why they opt their students out, students at Boulder’s Fairview High School, where the public demonstration will take place, say they’ve been tested their entire educational career and enough is enough.

“We want to change the community for the better, and change the way our education system works,” said Rachel Perley, a senior at Fairview High School and one of the lead organizers behind the protest.

In interviews with Chalkbeat Colorado, and in a YouTube video and open letter to school and state officials, Boulder students said the new exams won’t have a direct impact on their college or career trajectory. They also claimed the tests don’t align with their high school curriculum. And they fear the gap between their ninth grade science class and their senior year won’t serve as a reliable indicator of how much they learned.

While the decision by students and their families not to take the test will have little impact on their future, their respective schools might face repercussions not seen before in Colorado.

State law requires that schools maintain a 95 percent participation rate in each exam. But if 95 percent of students don’t participate in two or more content areas the school’s accreditation rating is lowered. If a school’s accreditation drops too low, and stays there for five years, the school district that operates that school could face more sanctions.

And while it’s likely that this is the first year that any school is in serious jeopardy of not meeting that 95 percent threshold, it’s not yet clear how the state might respond if schools miss that bar.

Some schools, fearful of a lowered accreditation rating, are urging parents who are wavering to make their students participate.

Douglas County’s Mountain Vista High School Principal Michael Weaver, in a Oct. 31 letter to parents, said the number of opt-out letters he’s received already crosses a threshold that puts his school’s accreditation in jeopardy. He requested parents do whatever they can to make sure their students take the test.

“I am certain that the Class of 2015 understands that Mountain Vista and our staff have never considered opting out or refusing to support them as they have navigated through their high school careers,” he wrote.

Other schools are keeping meticulous track of parent refusals, hoping that evidence will be sufficient to keep their accreditation rating. At urging of state officials, they’re collecting letters, emails, and keeping phone logs of conversations.

As of Friday, administrators at Fairview had 180 letters of refusal, or 30 percent of the senior class.

“It will be interesting if our accreditation is jeopardized because of the lack of participation of CMAS,” said Don Stensrud, Fairview’s principal. “Kids here literally go to all the Ivy’s across the nation.”

Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger said he’s had ongoing conversations with the students behind the Fairview protest and that he is empathetic to their concerns about testing. But, he said, his schools will still proctor the tests.

“What I’ve conveyed to them — and nothing has been confrontational — is that ‘just so you know, you’re not in a very different place than where your board of education or superintendent is. We’re having those same conversations with state lawmakers, but we’re under a legal obligation to administer these tests,'” he said.

Colorado has an established opposition to the state’s exams, and small number of families have always chosen to opt their students out of standardized tests. But on average, the number of students who don’t take the test based on parent refusal — Colorado’s technical term for opting out — has been less than one percent. Even last year, when it appeared the opt-out movement was stronger than ever, opt-outs only ticked up slightly.

But the students in Boulder are working outside the established opt-out community and said they’ve come to their conclusions about the new tests on their own.

Because of that, the protest and apparent increase of students refusing to take the test at other Colorado schools is likely to provide established opponents of standardized tests with plenty of ammunition as the state continues to wrestle with the question of standardized exams.

“A lot of it has to do — and I’ve been wondering what is the difference is this year, myself — with trying to test seniors, because that’s crazy,” said Karen McGraw, a Mountain Vista High School parent and leader at United Opt Out, an organization that organizes parents against standardized tests across the nation.

McGraw has opted her children out of Colorado’s testing system for three years.

“I don’t think the tests are good for kids, I don’t think they’re good for teachers, I don’t think they’re good for the future of public education,” McGraw said.

The debate over the November tests mirrors a much larger conversation happening across the nation and state.

Parents in Florida blasted their state’s testing system at a recent parent meeting. During the summer, media personality Glenn Beck held a virtual town hall to rally opponents to the Common Core State Standards and their aligned exams. And last spring, two teachers in New York decided to not administer the tests themselves.

Meanwhile in Colorado, parents, school officials, and lawmakers have for the past year been embroiled in a debate about what role standardized assessments should play in the classroom and in the state’s accountability system.

“I do know we have a number of families who believe this [new] test does not make sense,” said Liz Fagen, Douglas County’s superintendent.

Earlier this year, the school district hosted a series of meetings to discuss the state’s testing system.

While Fagen declined to discuss specific numbers of parent refusals the district has received so far this fall, she said, “It seems to me, [the number of opt-outs] have been building over the last few years. But our response is we’re required to give these assessments. And we’re going to — in good faith — administer these tests, document parent refusals, and provide makeups.”

Meanwhile, the district will continue to lobby for a change to the system, she said.

“We’re big fans of accountability, but we don’t think this is the answer,” Fagen said.

Currently, every Colorado student enrolled between the third and 11th grade are required to take language arts and math exams. Also, one grade per elementary, middle, and high school level are required to take a social studies and science test. High school juniors are also required to take the ACT.

During the last legislative session, a bill that would have allowed some school districts waivers from the state’s standardized tests — which goes above and beyond what’s required by the federal government — was amended to instead form a review committee to study the issue. That committee, which is currently on a listening tour throughout the state, must make recommendations — if any — to the General Assembly next year.

Broadly, supporters of the exams believe there is power in the data the tests yield. They believe the results can hold schools accountable to teach every student regardless of race, economic background, or ability, and can inform how effective teachers are at their jobs. Opponents, meanwhile, believe the tests are punitive, gobble up too much instruction time, and are nothing more than a ploy to make money for curriculum companies.

Which path the legislature may take next session is unknown.

If the Fairview students have it their way, the senior social studies and science tests will be abolished.

“Hopefully, the protest make a change,” Perley, the Fairview senior, said.

Fairview High School students explain why they’re opting out

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: CTU's fight against risky financial deals, ed policy under Rauner

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:44

Chicago Teachers Union leaders have repeatedly warned about the district’s high-risk financial dealings. Now, the Chicago Tribune weighs in with a story on “auction rate” swaps that will cost the district about $100 million more than it would have using traditional, fixed-rate bonds.

The story -- part of a series that continues this week -- says that financial advisors did not clearly spell out the financial risks, at least according to the documents the district turned over after the newspaper hired attorneys. The interest rate swaps and the auction rate swaps are part of the same series of deals, says Saqib Bhatti, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute who has been providing information to the CTU about the swaps.

In fact, the Tribune has nifty little videos explaining how these deals work. So far, though, the Tribune hasn’t mentioned that the CTU has been harping on these deals for years, though Bhatti says he was interviewed by the reporters. 

In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Bhatti says that it is clear that the banks misled district officials and that they could join other government agencies who have sued over them. “It is clear that CPS dove in head-first and went deeper than other borrowers,” Bhatti says. “Now that we can see what happened we need to try to get out of these deals.”

The district disagrees with the Tribune’s analysis, and the main financial advisor highlighted in the article accused the reporters of singling her out because she’s a woman. David Vitale, a top district administrator at the time the debt was approved, championed the complex financing method and told reporters he understood the risks. “I am not a neophyte,” he said.

What is really troubling to Bhatti is that CPS hired an outside firm to do an analysis of these deals to justify getting into them, rather than to consider the options for getting out of them.

2. More PARCC testing backlash The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) hasn’t budged on its refusal to delay the new Common Core standardized test this spring, despite parents’ and CPS officials’ requests. In fact, state Superintendent Chris Koch recently reminded district officials that “opting out of the PARCC is not an option.”

But a  Sun-Times story points out that at least six other states do allow parents to opt out. And “even more remain mum when parents do so” including New York City, where thousands of children refused to take their annual state test last year with no repercussions.

It’s unclear how or whether governor-elect Bruce Rauner will address parents’ concerns about the PARCC and over-testing. As governor, Rauner will appoint new ISBE members who share his vision on education policy -- and who will be responsible for hiring a schools chief. Still, if the new governor decides to side with parent groups, delaying the PARCC could come too late in the school year and throw districts’ testing calendars into upheaval.

Chicago isn’t alone in concerns about the PARCC. The New York Times this weekend reported on how school officials across the country are responding to the pushback from parents on over-testing. Meanwhile, a survey by the Center on Education Policy found that 75 percent of 187 school system leaders who responded “said they face either major or minor challenges [with the PARCC], including a lack of computers with adequate processing speed, bandwidth and personnel who can handle technical problems during testing,” according to a Washington Post story. 

3. What will Rauner do?  The results of a non-binding referendum on the ballot last week showed that more than 74 percent of voters support the idea of providing more money to poor students. But what is unclear is how they want to distribute that money to students.

Senate Bill 16 would redistribute money from wealthy school districts to poor ones. But Rauner said during the campaign that he would not support the bill, which passed the Senate and which House Democrats have been meeting about for the past few months. Rauner said he did think the education funding formula should change, but did not spell out specifics. Democrats could try to push it through during the veto session, but State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia said she likely won’t bring it up until the new January session.

According to the Illinois Review, a conservative website, 120 superintendents are calling on Rauner to support SB 16. Two of them mentioned are Peoria and Elgin. But several school boards, including two in Evanston, have come out against it.  

Need help understanding SB16? Catalyst publisher Linda Lenz will moderate a forum on the bill this Tuesday afternoon at the Union League Club of Chicago. Speakers include: Andrea Zopp, a CPS school board member and president of the Chicago Urban League; Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois; State Sen. Daniel Biss; Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability; Dr. Diane Rutledge, executive director of the Large Unit District Association; and Juan Salgado of Instituto del Progreso Latino.

4. Education policy under the GOP.  Illinois isn’t the only place that could see significant changes in education policy under new Republican leadership. Come January, Republicans will be in the governor’s offices of at least 31 states -- up from the current 28, according to a story in Education Week. The winners “could be advocates of school choice programs,” although in many states, like Illinois, Republican governors will still need to battle with a Democratic-controlled legislature.

Still, the elections could provide a particularly strong mandate for governors to expand the reach of charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers, says Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a Washington-based advocacy group that backs such scholarships and vouchers that parents can use to pay private school tuition.

At the federal level, Republicans -- who easily took control of the U.S. Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives -- say that an overhaul of No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act is at the top of their agenda, according to another Education Week story. Previously, Republicans have proposed that states test students but not necessarily set achievement goals or intervene in schools that aren’t making progress with particular groups of students. Another proposal would scale back the federal role in K-12 policy.

5. Leadership at The Ounce Just as she’d said during the heated gubernatorial race, Diana Rauner plans to remain in her role as president of the Ounce of Prevention come January, when her husband takes the governor’s office.

The Ounce, a leader in early childhood education, has received more than $123 million in state funding over the past 11 years -- making up about a fifth of its budget, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. A spokeswoman for the organization told Crain’s there is no conflict of interest if The Ounce’s president is married to the governor: “The Ounce has received state contracts for decades under administrations of both political parties because of its excellence in high-quality programming and training early-education professionals.”

Still, for weeks, some in Chicago’s early childhood education community have been asking themselves whether it’s appropriate. Few if any would say anything publicly, however, because, as one advocate recently told Catalyst, “You don’t want to make enemies with the wife of the future governor of Illinois.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pueblo will seek independent accreditation

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 09:49

The votes are (finally) in

Colorado Republicans will narrowly be in control of the state Senate next year. That means a big change on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

We asked, you answered

Chalkbeat readers who shared their feelings with us last week overwhelmingly told us the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education and some of its decisions weighed on their minds while filling out their ballot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

This week's question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

You are my sunshine

While it's still unclear how Proposition 104 will affect school districts, a few Colorado school districts that already negotiate in public provide a glimpse of what might be in store. ( Denver Post )

Packing heat

About 500 teachers participated in a conceal carry class in Centennial. ( Denver Channel )

Tick tock

As the state's accountability clock winds down for Pueblo City Schools, the struggling school district took the first step toward a third party accreditation service. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

reading is fundamental

Boulder High School aims not just to teach students how to read, but how to love reading. ( Daily Camera )

Teacher quality

Drawing on 150 years of classroom experience, NPR attempts to answer the question, "what makes a great teacher." ( NPR via KUNC )

Common confusion

The RE-1 Valley superintendent told the Sterling Rotary Club how her district is implementing the Colorado Academic Standards and what role the Common Core plays. ( Journal-Advocate )

home away from home

Here's a look at how Oakland Public Schools (now run by a former Denver Public Schools executive) is trying to improve the lives of recent undocumented immigrant children. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat wants to know: how much time should students spend on computers during class?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 09:46

Last week we shared with you news about a report on personalized learning.

Depending upon the a school’s model, personalized learning maybe very dependent on technology. According to the report: “Slightly less than half of teachers surveyed said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among  the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.”

This week’s question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have?

Every Monday, 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.

See last’s week’s responses here

Categories: Urban School News

Counting ends with GOP in control of Senate

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 11/09/2014 - 23:19

The long days of post-election vote counting ended late Friday, giving Republicans an 18-17 majority in the state Senate.

Vote counts in Adams County, slowed by tabulation of write-in votes for a county office, ended with victory for Republican Beth Martinez Humenik in Senate District 24. She narrowly defeated retired teacher Judy Solano, a former House member.

The outcome was part of as surprising Republican surge in the traditionally Democratic county. Another apparent victim was Democratic Rep. Jenise May, who lost to Republican JoAnn Windholz in District 30.

But Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar, who had trailed in early counts, pulled off a narrow win in neighboring District 31 over Carol Buckler. Salazar’s win will bring the Democrats’ House majority to 34.

The Republicans’ Senate win and May’s loss will bring important changes to the Joint Budget Committee, which includes members from both houses. Now controlled 4-2 by Democrats, the new committee will have a 3-3 makeup.

Senate Republican leaders will have to find a second member to serve with committee veteran Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs. And Senate Democrats will have to decide between current members Mary Hodge of Brighton and Pat Steadman to fill their one seat.

In the House, Democratic leaders will need to find a replacement for the defeated May. Other current House members are Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

The changes mean half the members will be new to the committee, as Rankin was named to the panel only after the 2014 session adjourned. The committee will face key decisions about both K-12 and higher education funding during the 2015 session. (Get more background on those issues in this Chalkbeat Colorado story about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget plan.)

Learn more about the possible implications of the legislative changes in this earlier story.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reading: The performance revolution comes to education

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 17:29
  • What the “performance revolution” in sports and music means for how we build better teachers. (The New Yorker)
  • Diane Ravitch reviews Yong Zhao’s new book, which concludes that that Chinese schools are not, in fact, inherently superior to American schools. (The New York Review of Books)
  • The former head of D.C schools donates a trove of education memorabilia to the Smithsonian. (Washington Post)
  • Joel Klein shares the letter he wishes he’d sent to New York teachers while he was chancellor in an excerpt from his book. (The Atlantic)
  • Ballot measures around the country brought education spending before voters, with mixed results. (The Atlantic)
  • How is President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative going so far? (Education Week)
  • On striving for perfection while knowing it’s not attainable in the classroom. (Huffington Post)
  • Do schools really need principals? Some schools are pushing back against the idea of “principal-as-CEO.” (Slate)
  • Eva Moskowitz discusses the scalability of schools like Success Academy and lambastes unionized teacher forces in a video interview. (Reason)
  • Some of the college prep and access programs created during the War on Poverty almost fifty years ago are still having an impact. (Education Week)
  • Voters across the country rejected Common Core-supporting governors, education chiefs, and senators. (Reason)
  • Twenty-six organizations and school districts will win federal Investing in Innovation Grants if they can find matching funds. (Politics K-12)
  • The NEA has a new distinction: New York Times crossword answer. It may be less than pleased about the prompt: “Common Core org”. (Alexander Russo)
  • A special education teacher recommends empowering middle schoolers to advocating for themselves to keep them in school and out of prison. (Hechinger Report)
  • One parent says her son’s teachers simply do not use email. (Inside Schools)
  • Echoes from the Gap profiles a student named Cornelius and asks how he came to drop out of school. (Edtrust)
  • A parents’ guide to the Common Core explains the standards’ intentions, the debate that’s swirled around them, and how parents can engage. (Lifehacker)
  • The New York Times announced a pair of school-wide digital subscription options. (New York Times)
  • An international school in Flushing shares how to teach students who are in the U.S. without parents or family members. (NPR)
  • “I wish I told my students about my troubles with drinking.” (Pacific Standard)
  • Music education might improve students’ grammar skills. (Vanderbilt)
  • In D.C., teachers work to understand their own math stories and dive into content before they even talk about lesson planning. (Education Week)
  • The Roots are creating a music education foundation after their alma mater, the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, suffered major budget cuts. (
Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat readers: Jeffco board controversies weighed on their ballot

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 16:21

On Monday, we asked our readers, “What role — if any — have public education issues played in your vote this election?” Here’s a look at their answers.

[View the story "Readers: Jeffco board weighed on their ballot " on Storify]
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Superintendents look forward on school funding and new construction

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 10:41

rebel rebel

A group of Jeffco high school students, upset over the board's decision to redesign a curriculum review committee, interrupted Thursday's school board meeting by reading passages about civil disobedience aloud from their texts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

one take

A Washington Post editorial writer argues that the conflict over AP US History in Jeffco is less about culture wars and more a continuation of a battle over education reform started in Dougco but bungled by the Jeffco board. ( Washington Post )

new verse just like the first

Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The differing fates of bond measures in Boulder and Adams County highlights differences between the two counties. ( 9News )

revving their engines

In the wake of the elections, superintendents around the state are gearing up for a renewed push to increase school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

election week 2014

As of Thursday afternoon, Democratic leadership in the legislature was confident that they would retain control of the House; a change in leadership could have big implications for education policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

New tests

Students in Cherry Creek and Aurora, like their peers around the state, did not fare extremely well on new, more challenging social studies and science tests. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco students interrupt board meeting, leave peacefully

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 22:54

GOLDEN — Jefferson County students, upset over how their board of education redesigned a curriculum review committee, interrupted the school board’s proceedings tonight by reading aloud from their history books.

About 10 students either read out of turn about historical figures, known for acts of civil disobedience, at a podium or from their seats. Another dozen students also recited the Pledge of Allegiance before making a mass exit.

All students left peacefully. No arrests were made.

As part of their demonstration, the students said they had four demands: a public apology from the school board’s conservative majority for referring to students as “union pawns;” a reversal of an earlier decision to amend content review policies; proof from the board that they listen and act on community input instead of what students called an “ideological” agenda; and more resources for classroom instruction.

Some of the students, members of the recently-formed Jeffco Students for Change, played a role in organizing a weeks worth of walkouts at their individual high schools.

The walkouts at each of Jeffco’s neighborhood high school were also in response to curriculum review committee. At the time, board member Julie Williams was requesting a new committee be established by the board. She hoped the new panel would review an advanced history course she believed was unpatriotic. Critics of Williams’ proposal believed her intentions were to censor some of the nation’s less flattering moments.

Ultimately, under the eye of international media outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian, the Jeffco board amended existing policies that govern how the district responds to concerns about classroom content. Those changes include adding students and board-appointed members to a panel to review materials, and putting the review process under the auspice of the school board.

Board chairman Ken Witt called the 3-2 vote a compromise. But vocal teachers, parents, and students didn’t buy it.

In fact, the same students who disrupted tonight’s board meeting earlier held a weekend rally to gauge interest in a recall election for the board’s majority. There has been no further public discussion on that matter.

Categories: Urban School News

Needs linger where voters reject building bonds and funding requests

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 18:11

Lamenting the low turnout that they believe doomed a slate of bond and levy questions, superintendents across Colorado said Thursday that the building and budget needs that would have been alleviated by the tax measures will still have to be met eventually.

Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future.

“We’re going to see a lot more of the breakdown of infrastructure. The community we serve will feel it more,” said Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sánchez. He said the Commerce City district would likely request funds again next fall to renovate elementary schools and build a new middle school.

In Mapleton, where officials had requested $67 million to update and repair roofs, electrical systems and bring buildings up to safety code, Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said that the district’s board would meet to determine how to move forward after the election. “It continues to be clear how many in our community lack understanding of the needs of a public school district, and how many people are choosing not to engage in conversations.”

Statewide, districts were seeking $50.9 million in 26 mill levy overrides. Just 11, totaling $17 million, passed. Mill overrides are additional tax hikes that must be approved by voters. Districts use the extra revenue to support various programs and fill funding gaps, which have increased during the past few years as the state begun using the so-called “negative factor” to cap state spending.

Colorado superintendents plan to push for more money from the state during the next legislative session.

School boards were also seeking $1.5 billion in 18 different bond overrides to support building construction and maintenance; voters passed nine worth $710 million. The bonds were proposed to create new buildings in fast-growing areas of the state or to replace deteriorating infrastructure in rural and suburban counties.

Colorado voters have a mixed record on supporting local referenda. While just over half of the mill levies and bonds passed both in 2014 and 2013, more than 90 percent passed in 2012, and fewer than a third passed the year before.

This year, mills and bonds passed mainly in rural districts, such as Pawnee and Platte Valley, and in more affluent areas, including Telluride and Boulder, which passed a $567.4 million bond for construction — the largest in the state’s history.

But in fast-growing Adams County, where all five districts requested additional funds, five capital construction bonds and four mill levy overrides all failed.

“I’m a little blue…Statewide, it seems like a lot of people didn’t get involved and didn’t vote.” said Commerce City Superintendent Sánchez. He said the lack of bond funds in particular would be a challenge. “We have to do the best with what we have.”

Groups in each Adams County district had organized to support the additional funding measures.

A spokeswoman for the campaign that supported the bond measures for the R27J school district that serves students in Brighton, Commerce City, and Thornton said of the results: “We are disappointed in the outcome of the election, because the bond would have helped the district address the very serious overcrowding happening in our schools. This situation will not get any better, and in fact will only get worse as more and more families move to the community.

Adams County district leaders said they were disappointed both by the outcome of the vote and by low voter turnout — just 43 percent in the county. Statewide, voter turnout hovered just below 55 percent. That’s still higher than the overall national turnout — 36.6 percent.

Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski said in a letter to parents that some voters might have assumed Amendment 68, which would brought more revenue from gambling into schools, would address funding woes. That amendment did not pass in Tuesday’s election.

In El Paso county, voters in Falcon school district 49 supported a mill levy override that would give $7.5 million in operating expense to the district, but blocked a measure that would have brought in $107 million to support new buildings.

Peter Hilts, the district’s chief education officer, said in an email that the override would “allow [the district] to pay our excellent teachers wages that are competitive with the more affluent districts to our west.”

Still, he wrote, the district needs to determine how to accommodate a student population that has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.

Categories: Urban School News

Democrats confident they’ve held House control

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 17:46

“We’ve very much poised to hold the majority in the state House,” Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino told reporters Thursday as ballots still were being counted in several tight legislative races. “We feel very confident that we are at 33 and maybe more.”

Thirty-three constitutes the bare majority in the 65-member House.

“We feel very good, knowing what remains to be counted,” he added, acknowledging that tallying continue in Adams County and elsewhere. There were indications that the Adams count might drag into Friday.

Democrats are tentatively declaring House victory based on narrow winning margins for two Arapahoe County representatives, Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Su Ryden of Aurora.

Ferrandino acknowledged, “There are ballots to be counted in Arapahoe County, but not enough to see those [numbers] move against us. … If we were concerned we would not be sitting here today.”

The situation is murkier in a few key races for the Senate, where Democrats are hoping to hold their current 18-17 majority.

Education implications of the election

Democratic control of the House – and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election – likely means the policy landscape for education and other issues will be similar to that of recent legislative sessions, regardless of what happens with the Senate. Republican takeover of both the executive and legislative branches might have opened a path to new initiatives, such as tuition tax credits.

If Democrats don’t hold the Senate, Hickenlooper still will be on familiar ground. His party controlled the Senate but Republicans ran the House during his first two years, 2011 and 2012.

The 2011 session was the single one in the last six years that didn’t produce major education legislation, partly because lawmakers were focused on revenue and budget problems. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Things got more interesting for education during the 2012 session, which saw passage of the READ Act, the bill intended to improve reading levels in grades K-3; an easing of school zero-tolerance policies, and passage of the law that led to Colorado joining the PARCC multi-state testing group. That last issue is likely to come back in 2015, giving rising public and lawmaker discontent about testing. (Get a full review of the 2012 session here.)

The undecided races

As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Kagan was leading Republican Candice Benge by a bit more than 400 votes. His total has been climbing slowly but steadily since Tuesday night, when he was running behind.

Ryden was leading Republican Richard Bowman by almost 600 votes. Her totals have been following a trend line similar to Kagan’s.

Five other races in both houses remain very tight, with votes still to be counted.

In Senate District 20, Sen. Cheri Jahn leads Republican Larry Queen by 116 votes. In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez Humenick leads Democrat Judy Solano by about 1,000 votes. Democrats need to win both of these to hold the Senate.

Here’s the House situation:

  • District 30 – Democratic Rep. Jenise May was trailing Republican JoAnn Windholz by about 475 votes.
  • District 31 – Republican Carol Becker held a margin of about 50 votes over Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar.
  • District 59 – Republican former Rep. J. Paul Brown was leading Democratic current Rep. Mike McLachlan by about 230 votes.
Many familiar faces will be back, but some won’t

The races have been decided for current members of the House and Senate education committees.

Democrats Millie Hamner (the chair), John Buckner, Lois Court, Rhonda Fields, Brittany Pettersn and Dave Young won re-election, as did Republicans Justin Everett, Kevin Priola and Jim Wilson.

Three 2014 members – Republicans Frank McNulty and Carole Murray and Democrat Cherilyn Peniston – won’t be returning because of term limits. And Republican Chris Holbert will be leaving because he won a Senate seat.

On Senate Education, Democratic chair Andy Kerr narrowly won re-election while fellow Jeffco Democrat Rachel Zenzinger lost.

Four members – Democrats Mike Johnston and Nancy Todd and Republicans Vicki Marble and Mark Scheffel – are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And Republican Scott Renfroe won’t be returning because of term limits.

Another familiar education figure will be joining the Senate as a freshman. Mike Merrifield had long service in the House as chair of the education committee. (Solano also had multiple terms on House Education.)

So new members will be filling vacant seats on the education committees, and past membership doesn’t necessarily mean continued service. Legislative leaders often shuffle committee memberships after an election, based on member preferences and political needs.

Ferrandino won’t be presiding over the new, smaller majority because he’s also term limited and now works as the chief financial officer for Denver Public Schools.

Categories: Urban School News

With elections over, superintendents to push for more money from Hick, legislature

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 16:00

Colorado’s electorate might be as polarized as ever, but the state’s superintendents are finding plenty of consensus on how the state funds its schools. Or, as they see it, how the state doesn’t fund its schools enough.

“The number one concern is state funding. After that it’s testing and everything else,” said Bruce Messinger, Boulder Valley’s superintendent, in a post-Election Day interview.

And now, with a better understanding of who will shape the state’s next budget, those school leaders intend to make their frustrations known loud and clear.

Superintendents from across the state plan to send a letter to the governor and General Assembly outlining their recommendations for the next budget cycle. The letter is expected to be signed by most — if not all — of the state’s superintendents.

In that letter, which should arrive before the start of the next legislative session in January, the superintendents will ask Colorado’s lawmakers to both restore the estimated $900 million the state owes its schools and provide more funding targeted to the state’s neediest and rural students, multiple superintendents said.

The letter will also request that the state hand over the tax dollars without earmarks specifying how the money should be spent.

“The state doesn’t know what we cut, so how do they know what to give back?” said Mark Hale, superintendent of Montrose and Olathe schools.

School funding has been contentious in Colorado for some time. During the Great Recession, the legislature had to juggle constitutional requirements to fund education and balance its budget. To do so, it created the “negative factor,” which led to about a billion dollar in cuts.

“It’s very important that we invest in our kids and in our schools,” said Tom Boasberg, Denver’s superintendent. “Right now we continue to be one of the lowest-funding states in the country.”

Boasberg said the lack of funding hasn’t helped any school district boost student achievement, especially those school districts with a large population of students of color and those who qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices. If anything, he said, the lack of funds has made the work more difficult.

As the economy has recovered, schools have begun to see more money. Some of those funds, however, have been only been provided to fulfill projects created by legislators. For example, earlier this year the legislature provided school districts money to create websites to report how individual schools spend their revenues.

“We’d really like to see our voice back — the way its been going, it’s been to have accountability at the local level but decision making at the (legislative) level,” Hale said. “There’s a disconnect there.”

While superintendents are fed up, they are optimistic about a recovering economy and what appears to be a willingness to collaborate on the part of state officials.

Prior to the election, Democratic lawmakers extended a sort of olive branch to superintendents inviting them to work together on school finance issues. And in his first draft of the 2015-16 budget, Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed an increase in student funding. But those extra dollars wouldn’t be guaranteed in the future.

“It’s a good starting place,” Hale said. “Maybe [Hickenlooper] is a little serious about giving us due consideration.”

The superintendents plan to send their letter outside the auspice of any formal organization. The process, they said, has been organic. Clusters of superintendents have been meeting off and on at different retreats for months. But the school leaders have decided there is strength in numbers.

“We’re a much more unified voice,” said Pat Sanchez, superintendent of Adams 14. “And we want to have a stronger voice at the legislature — like we used to have.”

They also decided that they can’t waste energy fighting among themselves and their respective priorities.

“There’s a saying, ‘the cure for Denver is often the disease of Montrose,'” Hale said. “[But] I don’t want to fight with Douglas County or Cherry Creek.”

That’s one just another reason why district officials want more control over how they spend tax dollars.

“There needs to be recognition that there are different needs between large schools and rural schools,” said Dan McMinimee, superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools. “On the eastern plains, they may have issues like infrastructure. They might have to hire more people. Here we might need technology and books, or to build new schools. The question is, how can we put together a package that we all want and need, knowing that each district is different. The bottom line: We want to make those decisions locally.”

Categories: Urban School News

From classroom to City Council?

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 14:22

In South Chicago, an elementary school counselor tells her neighbors that City Hall needs to begin paying attention to the working class. In Avondale, a social studies teacher says an elected school board and a higher minimum wage are essential to improving neighborhoods. In Austin, a special education teacher says she doesn’t want to work at another school that gets turned around or closed.

These Chicago Public Schools educators are each running for aldermanic seats, pushing a progressive agenda with the ambitious goal of unseating incumbents in the February 2015 elections. Though Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is no longer considering a run against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at least eight CTU members have entered the political fray.

You could call it the political year of the teachers. 

The CTU House of Delegates, which will endorse aldermanic candidates in stages, voted on Nov. 5 to endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor, along with three of the teacher candidates:  Sue Sadlowski Garza, a counselor at Jane Addams Elementary School, running in the 10th Ward, which includes South Chicago; Tim Meegan, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School, running in the 33rd Ward on the North Side; and Jenner Elementary teacher Tara Stamps, in the 37th Ward.

More endorsements will come next month.

Though it has historically been difficult to unseat sitting aldermen—especially those who aligned themselves with City Hall and, in turn, received mayoral backing—the candidates hope that widespread dissatisfaction with Emanuel and his City Council allies will set the stage for grassroots change next February.

“Everything I’ve done up until now has been instrumental in getting me ready for this moment,” says Sadlowski Garza. “I was really inspired to run by Karen Lewis’ [potential] bid … but had been poked and prodded to do this for a while. I think we really have the potential to change the entire political landscape of the city."

Candidates have until Nov. 24 to gather signatures and file nominating petitions to run. 

On a personal level, Sadlowski Garza and other candidates say events such as the historic 2012 teachers’ strike (the first in Chicago in more than two decades) and the protests over last year’s massive school closures convinced them that they won’t see the changes they want in schools and neighborhoods unless the political system is radically transformed.

On a broader level, the decision by CTU members to run for public office speaks to the union’s wading more deeply into electoral politics. The shift started in 2010, when the progressive Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) was first elected into the union’s leadership. The new CTU prides itself on being a “social movement” union concerned with social equity and economic justice, not just the bread-and-butter issues that impact members in schools. 

As such, the union and its progressive allies in labor and community organizations consider politics as critical to advance that mission. It’s a strategy that is also playing out on a national level, as progressive unions work to elect pro-labor candidates.

“This is not about one race,” Lewis herself reminded supporters in September. “It’s about building a movement so that our city can be what it’s supposed to be—a city that responds to every single person, a city that responds to every single neighborhood.”  

From activism to campaigning

In a way, it’s not surprising that Sadlowski Garza is running for office. She grew up in a radical union home in South Chicago, the same working-class neighborhood where she still lives and works. Her father, Ed Sadlowski, was a steelworker and local union leader who nearly won the presidency of the national United Steelworkers in the 1970s.

“As a child, I spent a lot of days getting woken up at 6 in the morning, dressing in the dark to go to gates at the mill to hand out pamphlets,” says Sadlowski Garza. “I was taught that when you see a picket line, you raise your fist and beat your horn—and then you go to the doughnut shop and bring the guys doughnuts.”

Unionism might be in her blood. But Sadlowski Garza, who worked as a “lunch lady” and teaching assistant before becoming a counselor, says her personal awakening didn’t come until the 2012 strike. There’s a telling photo of Garza from one of the last days of the strike: Pulling out of a parking lot in her silver 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis, which is covered in union signs, Garza is waving her fist out of the car window.

Across town, in the Austin neighborhood on the city’s impoverished West Side, Tammie Vinson says the strike generated a welcome uptick in activism among teachers. That summer, Vinson and other black teachers [who have been hardest hit by layoffs stemming from closings] revitalized a fledgling Black Caucus within the union. 

“The CTU has been like a beacon of hope,” Vinson says. 

Vinson, a special education teacher running in the 28th Ward, had been organizing against so-called “school actions” (turnarounds, in which the entire staff has to reapply for their jobs, and closures) since 2008. That year, the school where Vinson worked, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary, was turned around. Vinson lost her job and moved on to Emmet Elementary. Emmet closed last year.

“With both schools, we were actively fighting, mobilizing the parents, going to the board, strategizing for ways to keep it opened,” says Vinson, who now teaches at Oscar DePriest Elementary.

Stamps, who is running in the neighboring 37th Ward, is the daughter of a longtime Chicago housing and civil rights activist, Marion Nzinga Stamps. “I was kind of born into revolution and activism. This is what I inherited,” Stamps said at a forum on social justice activism and violence in September. 

And nearby, in the 29th Ward, community activist and parent Zerlina Smith, is running for aldeman, too. Smith was an active parent leader in last spring’s boycott of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, where her daughter attends preschool. She says CTU staffer Jackson Potter, who is widely considered the union’s de facto political strategist, became her mentor.

Other teacher candidates are Dianne Daleiden, a math teacher at North River Elementary School, running in the 40th Ward on the North Side; Guadalupe Rivera, a bilingual teacher at Morrill Elementary School, running in the 16th Ward on the Southwest Side; Ed Hershey, a science teacher at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, running in the 25th Ward on the Southwest Side; and Marcia Brown-Williams, a recently retired teacher running in the 9th Ward on the Far South Side.

Like the other teacher candidates, Brown-Williams says schools aren’t the only issue on her agenda. She’s concerned about bringing economic development to her neighborhood, reducing crime and adding affordable housing for families. The 9th Ward includes parts of Altgeld Gardens and Roseland, two communities that are in dire need of an economic boost.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of education,” says Brown-Williams, who resigned from her job in June because of what she considered a “bullying” atmosphere against teachers at her school. “But if you have economic growth in your neighborhood, then you have better schools, more parent involvement, and more businesses involved.”

Building a movement

Though some of the candidates went through the union’s summer organizing program, union leaders say there was never a concerted effort to get educators to run for office.

“But there was a political conclusion that was drawn going into the school closings fight,” reflects CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “People saw their aldermen taking cowardly positions and just going with the person in power as opposed to supporting the teachers.”

Conversations about forming an independent political organization in Chicago and planning what its agenda would be began during CORE’s annual convention last year.

“We were asking ourselves, do we step out and form an independent political movement or do we work with the Democratic Party?” remembers Meegan, who is running in a ward that includes Avondale and Albany Park. “I’ve mostly voted Democrat my whole life but I’m no longer interested in supporting the party […]. Nobody is representing the working class anymore.”

What was born out of those and other discussions is United Working Families, an independent political organization made up of the CTU, SEIU Healthcare Illinois and the community groups Grassroots Illinois Action and Action Now. Although they share similar names and visions, the group isn’t officially connected to the Working Families Party in New York and New Jersey, which helped progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio win last year’s mayoral race in New York City.

United Working Families’ mission is to support progressive candidates in the 2015 municipal race who agree to champion an elected school board and a $15 minimum wage as part of their campaign platform. (Emanuel is opposed to an elected school board, but supports a $13 minimum wage to be implemented gradually over the next few years.) 

Kristen Crowell, the group’s executive director, says United Working Families will likely make early endorsements for the city’s incumbent progressive aldermen. It will also train and vet the nearly three dozen progressive candidates before making endorsement decisions. With those endorsements, of course, will come financial backing.

Crowell notes that United Working Families will have a long-term strategy that goes beyond a single election cycle. That means continuing to hold accountable—and support—any progressive candidates who win their races. Plus, she adds, “We need to shift the culture of how we work together after the elections.”

Crowell is known in progressive circles for her role in helping to put together organized labor’s recall effort against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose policies ended most collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. A year ago, Crowell moved to Chicago from Wisconsin, in part to get away from what she describes as a depressing political atmosphere that formed after the recall failed.  

Crowell was attracted to the movement she saw building in Chicago since the CTU strike. “There’s hope here,” she says. “The fight is alive and well.”

In the coming weeks, United Working Families will form a political action committee that can start serious fundraising. Crowell says she expects the PAC will be able to easily collect donations from organized labor and “lots of progressive small donors” from across the country. 

Chicago’s organized labor

It’s not unheard of for union members or labor leaders to run for political office. Among the aldermanic candidates in the 11th Ward, for example, is John Tominello, who spent more than a decade working to unionize state court reporters. (“It’s not just Rahm,” he says. “It’s the City Council. They’re anti-union.”) And a handful of former local teachers’ union presidents have been elected to the state legislatures in Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin.

But those who study organized labor and politics say that what’s happening with the CTU and the upcoming elections is part of a larger national trend. In locales as diverse as Vermont; Minneapolis; New Haven, Conn.; and Jackson, Miss., among other places, progressive unions have encouraged their members to run for office to try to unseat incumbent Democrats who don’t value labor concerns. 

“It reflects the disenchantment with [President Barack] Obama, six years of lowered expectations and disappointments” in the Democratic Party, says Steve Early, an author and former union organizer who studies labor movements. “People are trying to intervene at the local level, where mobilized union members and local issues can energize voters and you can overcome the disadvantage of not being able to spend as much on politics.”

In Chicago, unions have historically held an important role in fundraising and getting out the vote for candidates who were friendly to organized labor. With few exceptions, that meant joining the Democratic Party coalition and supporting that party’s candidates. Trades unions were especially loyal to City Hall because of the benefits of prevailing wages and yearlong work; in addition, unions tended to support the incumbent politicians who controlled the city’s purse strings.

Things started to change after 2006, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley exercised his first and only veto on the so-called “big box” ordinance. Unions—and especially the more liberal ones such as SEIU and AFSCME locals—wanted stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot to increase wages and provide healthcare benefits to workers.

Disenchanted with Daley, many of these same unions poured millions of dollars into the following year’s aldermanic races and gained seats for a handful of progressive aldermanic candidates– including now-mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti—over incumbents who had Daley’s backing.

The trend has accelerated since Emanuel’s election in 2011 as “labor unions have become disaffected with City Hall, thinking that it doesn’t represent them,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago and former city alderman.

Still, organized labor is divided. The city’s trade unions and the Teamsters have already given the mayor and his PAC hundreds of thousands of dollars—even though the deadline for candidates to file isn’t until Nov. 24.  It’s too early to tell who many of the other unions will support.

Next for CTU

In September, the CTU’s House of Delegates voted to allow union staff to provide some technical help to members who are considering electoral runs. The resolution notes that, as a general rule, CTU won’t formally endorse candidates until they’ve secured a place on the ballot—and any early help doesn’t constitute an endorsement.

“Candidates know an endorsement from the CTU means something,” says the union’s political director, Stacy Davis Gates.

To get a sense of the work CTU might do for mayoral or aldermanic candidates, it’s helpful to look at two of last spring’s state legislative primary races in which the union campaigned hard for two progressive candidates with strong education platforms: Will Guzzardi, a journalist-turned-organizer, who won his race in the 39th District, which includes Logan Square and Belmont-Cragin; and community organizer Jhatayn “Jay” Travis, who lost hers for the 26th District, which snakes down from Streeterville to South Chicago.

The teachers union poured money into both campaigns, while also encouraging members to write their own checks, help out at phone banks, and knock on doors for the candidates, Davis Gates says.

“To be perfectly honest, this past spring was the most intense amount of work we’ve done for an electoral cycle before. It was intense, intentional, and focused,” she says. The upcoming electoral work promises to be more intense.

Meanwhile, the teacher candidates are putting in long hours after school and on weekends to gather the signatures they need to qualify as candidates.  It’s a lot of work, admits Daleiden, but people are getting the message.

Daleiden tells voters she wants to fight the privatization of public schools and “stop corporations from siphoning public money from public assets.”

 “I’m not out there knocking on doors to save my job in a public school,” she says. “I’m knocking on doors because I think children deserve quality schools and we all need to stand up to this as community members.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some theories on the future of teachers contract negotiations in an open age

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 10:01

election day turned election week

After a confusing day of vote-counting, it was still unclear late on Wednesday which party would have control of the state legislature, a situation with big implications for education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

testing holiday

When Colorado's high school seniors start taking new standardized tests this week, some younger students will be getting the days off entirely. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

look into my crystal ball

Now that voters have decided that teachers union contract negotiations should be public, what does the future of negotiations look like? Here are a bunch of predictions, ranging from more confusion and legal expense to more districts cutting union ties. ( 9News, Gazette )

One last time

The Thompson school board held a closed session Wednesday to discuss contract negotiations, technically legal because Proposition 104 hasn't actually gone into effect yet. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )

District tax measures

Boulder Valley School District is now in planning mode after voters approved the state's largest K-12 construction bond issue. ( Daily Camera )

Low turnout of younger voters contributed to the defeats of some school tax proposals, some other district leaders think. ( Denver Post )

There's no "we" in personalized learning

A new report outlines how schools in Colorado and around the country are utilizing "personalized learning" -- but it's still unclear exactly what "personalized learning" means or how effective its methods are. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Modeling success

Longmont's Burlington Elementary School is under the Colorado Department of Education's microscope, with a goal of figuring out why the school is successful so other schools can replicate that success. ( Longmont Times-Call )


Louisville's Monarch High School students are producing the premiere of a never-before-seen play, "Bubble Boy: The Musical," written by a New York high school student and based on the Colorado family's hoax. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Preschool deal gets OK, principal training, middle school success

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:26

The City Council voted on Wednesday to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to borrow $17 million from investors to pay for a temporary expansion of a high-quality preschool program. Under the so-called “social impact bond,” the city and CPS will only repay the money if fewer children need expensive special education services and have high academic achievement. But as we reported earlier this week, banks face little risk in the complex financial agreement.

That's due largely to the fact that the chosen program -- child-parent centers, which enroll children through third grade -- are backed by decades of research proving their long-term savings. If the program is very successful, Goldman Sachs and other investors stand to double their money. Only five aldermen voted against the proposal, including Northwest Side Ald. John Arena, who said that if he “was at Goldman Sachs, I would be doing this, too,” according to a Sun-Times story. Critics from the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, meanwhile, called it “another parking meter deal.”

During a finance committee meeting on Monday, Lois Scott, the city’s chief financial officer, threw a lot of numbers at aldermen to convince them it was a good idea. At one point, she even said the city could save up to $300 million over the duration of the students’ K-12 education if all of them avoided special ed. The Chicago Tribune parroted this claim without questioning why Scott would ever suggest that 100 percent of any preschool class would need special ed services to begin with, whether they attended preschool or not, since district data show that about 12.6 percent of CPS students need the services. In addition, children with severe disabilities, who are part of that total, won’t be included in the program. 

2. Expected endorsement… The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted Wednesday to endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor. CTU President Karen Lewis had already said she backed him and he was the keynote speaker at the union’s legislative dinner on Friday.

The fact that union leadership had seemingly already thrown their support behind Garcia, before the vote, frustrated some delegates. But delegates said that inside the meeting, they were told the endorsement shouldn’t wait. An activist teacher questioned on Facebook who Garcia was and why he had seemingly come out of nowhere. Lewis, who has a brain tumor and had to bow out of the mayoral race, responded: “Point of personal privilege: I endorsed Chuy because many of my non-CTU supporters wanted to know what to do once it became clear I could not continue my mayoral bid. Chuy was an invaluable advisor to me in terms of building coalitions throughout the city.”

As the Tribune article pointed out, the other main mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti was not happy with the union for so quickly running to Garcia’s camp. "Bob has been in the trenches fighting with parents and educators from the start and will continue that fight as mayor," campaign spokesman Michael Kolenc said. "He has been there for educators over the years, and we know a lot of them are with us now."

3. More principal training... This week the district quietly announced a three-year partnership with Northwestern University to provide professional development, executive coaching and other leadership opportunities to at least 20 principals each year. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett called it an “unparalleled opportunity” for principals. 

Sound familiar? You may recall that CPS awarded a $20 million no-bid contract last year for another principal training program, the for-profit SUPES Academy, run by a private operator. A Catalyst investigation revealed questionable ties between Byrd-Bennett and the founders of the business, while many principals still complain about the quality of the training. The CPS Inspector General is investigating the contract.

The 21 fellows chosen under this program won’t have to attend SUPES trainings. Under the new Chicago Public Schools Principal Fellowship program, Northwestern faculty will provide participating principals six days of academic training, a 360-degree assessment -- which involves feedback from coworkers, not just superiors -- and group and individual coaching from Northwestern experts. 

“We recognize that principals may need different types of support or different experiences to grow professionally, depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses,” said a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Education Fund, which has committed $500,000 to fund the new training program and had previously funded SUPES Academy before it became a district program. Catalyst has written about Chicago’s efforts to better prepare and retain principals.

4. Getting poorer… WBEZ offers up a rather academic discussion on what it means for the state to have more than half of its students identified as low-income. Michael Rebell, the head of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, says that the trend has “tremendous” implications because poor students need more services, such as before-and-after school programs.

But the president of the Fordham Institute notes that the numbers may be inflated and points out that the number of students identified by schools as low-income has grown more than the official numbers of children in poverty. He says that not many low-income students make it through college and that the nation might need to rethink the idea that college is the path to the middle class.

In Illinois, the child poverty rate went from 15 percent in 2000 to about 21 percent in 2012, according to Voices for Illinois Children. For schools, the definition of low-income includes students whose families have incomes just above the poverty line as well as those below it. WBEZ's Linda Lutton points out that two-thirds of low-income children live outside of Chicago and all of the increase occurred in the suburbs or downstate.  

A Catalyst analysis of state data shows that 24 school districts had increases of more than 20 percent. On average, 64 percent of the students in these school districts are white, 15 percent are Latino and 11 percent are black.

Karen Triezenberg, principal of Willow Spring School District 108, says her low-income numbers jumped by more than 30 percent as student population in the one-school district went up. The mobile home park in the area offers specials to families, she says, and some of the houses vacated during the housing crisis are now being rented to low-income families.

5. Middle-school intervention… Thirty-four CPS schools will get extra help to make sure sixth- through eighth-grade students are on track to graduate.The new initiative, called The Success Project, will also use a program called 6to16, designed at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute to help middle-schoolers set and reach goals for high school and beyond. The Lefkofsky Family Foundation is funding the project.

John Gasko of the Urban Education Institute called the initiative a “compelling answer to what research says matters.” A new study released today by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that middle-grades performance is strongly connected with both high school and college success.

Ten neighborhood schools will gain a full-time “success coordinator” and 23 Academy for Urban School Leadership  turnaround schools will receive training and professional development. A final school, Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center, which already has a strong focus on high school preparation, will also use the curriculum.

“We feel there’s inconsistency across the country, especially here in Chicago, in terms of trying to get students to pay more attention to the choices they make in high school,” Gasko said.

Categories: Urban School News

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