As students sharpen their pencils and crack open their books, there is a tension in Jefferson County that hasn’t existed before — and raises plenty of questions. Here are the top five we’ll be asking this school year. -Chalkbeat ColoradoA turnaround poet
A Denver Public Schools student found her voice — and her way to a GED — through poetry. -KUNCReport Roll Call
Two Colorado cities are among the most educated, according to a new study, and continues to highlight the "Colorado paradox." -Denver Business JournalDenver was ranked 16th. -9News While Colorado Springs was ranked fifth. -Gazette learning to teach
Boulder Valley science teachers got to a play and learn at the University of Colorado Monday before school starts later this week. -Daily CameraOn Boarding 2015
A Pueblo City Schools board member said her frustration level with her board colleagues is so high she isn't running for re-election. -Pueblo ChieftainCareer training
A program at a Platte Valley correctional facility provides committed youth with vocational skills to help them land a variety of jobs in the food service industry. -Greeley TribuneFall into the gap
Academic gaps between white and black students were discussed at a regional conference of the NAACP. -Casper Star TribuneBack to cool
Eagle County schools are expecting record-breaking enrollment. -Vail DailyMeanwhile, it's back to school in Elizabeth. -Elbert County News Healthy schools
More than 85,000 students across Jefferson County returned to their classrooms today — the first day of school for the state’s second largest school district.
As students sharpen their pencils and crack open their books, there is a tension in the suburban Denver school district that hasn’t existed before — and raises plenty of questions. Here are the top five we’ll be asking this school year:Will teachers have a new contract on Sept. 1?
Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association reached a tentative agreement for a new teacher contract earlier this month. While it’s big on decisions being made between teachers and principals at the school level, it’s short in duration. The contract only lasts 10 months. Nationally, the average contract length is three years.
The contract’s length may be a huge sticking point for teachers already wary of a school board they don’t trust.
Members of the teachers union will vote on the contract this weekend after a membership meeting Friday. A simple majority of the membership must ratify the contract’s terms. Then the school board must give it the OK.
If the union’s membership ratifies the contract, the school board will vote on it Aug. 27.
If neither the union nor the board sign off on the deal, it’s unclear what might happen after Aug. 31 when the contract expires.How might the recall effort impact classrooms?
We’ll know Tuesday whether a group of parents calling itself Jeffco United for Action collected enough signatures to ask voters to recall school board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk this fall.
What won’t be immediately known is what — if any — effect the political unrest will have on classrooms.
Supporters of the recall claim they want politics out of the classroom and that Jeffco teachers will remain professional. But critics of the recall fear it will cause a rift between teachers who oppose the school board majority and parents who support the majority with students stuck in the middle.
Researchers who spoke to Chalkbeat in the past suggested student achievement is likely to stall until some sort of harmony is restored to the school district.Will a plan to improve chronically underperforming schools be successful?
One of the school district’s most ambitious endeavours this school year is improving academic achievement at a cluster of schools that border Denver’s west side. The schools serve mostly Latino students from low-income homes. These students lag academically behind their more affluent and white peers throughout the rest of the county.
But Jeffco school officials are putting a renewed emphasis on these schools.
All the pieces are in place. Now we wait to see if the plan works.How will Jeffco manage its overcrowded classrooms?
A flashpoint in last school year’s budget debate was how to pay for a new school in rapidly growing northwest corner of Jefferson County.
Superintendent Dan McMinimee and his team wanted the school board to authorize a private loan for about $50 million to build a new school in Arvada that would serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Not wanting to increase the district’s debt, the school board majority approved $18 million to build an elementary school.
According to the district’s own projections, the elementary school will only be a short-term fix. It will be big enough for 1,000 students, not the 6,000 projected during the next seven years.
Other school districts struggling with overcrowding — like Aurora — are beginning conversations about asking residents for a tax increase on the 2016 ballot. Will Jeffco’s conservative board majority be interested in a similar conversation?What lessons will Jeffco learn from student-based budgeting?
For decades, Jeffco principals were required to staff buildings based on a formula. A certain number of students meant a certain number of teachers, librarians, assistant principals and support staff.
But last school year, principals were asked to work with their teachers and parents to determine the unique needs of their school and hire accordingly. No more “one-size-fits-all” budget formulas.
The district did not turn school administrators loose, and this sort of budgeting approach is nothing new. But there’s bound to be lessons learned from the first year of budget flexibility. Let’s just hope no one loses $600,000.
The campaign to recall three Jefferson County school board members continues to pull in impressive sums, raking in nearly $150,000 in donations during the last 30 days. -Chalkbeat ColoradoSleepy students
A call for later high school start times fell flat in the Denver Public Schools, but current administrators say the idea was a miscommunication by an administrator who since has left. -Chalkbeat ColoradoCatch up on your reading
Check out some links to interesting education stories from around the nation. -Chalkbeat ColoradoTry again
An arbitrator is recommending another vote on a teachers’ contract for the Thompson School District after the Thompson Education Association filed grievances accusing the district of failing to negotiate in good faith because the Board of Education refused to ratify the agreement. -Reporter-HeraldScrambling
With just two weeks before school starts, the Pueblo 60 district still has more than 45 positions to fill. -ChieftainEnd of an era
The ritual of students and families crowding around the front doors of the elementary school to see the class lists before school starts is on its way out in the Boulder Valley School District. Most, if not all, Boulder Valley principals are now notifying parents directly of teacher assignments — and making students wait until the first day to find out who's in their class. Principals said the change is about privacy and efficiency for parents. -Boulder CameraPay up
Some parents in Academy District 20 say they're facing an added burden when it comes to back to school shopping because of mandatory school supply fees. -KOAA 5A good start
Both the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain schools are focusing on early childhood education as a way of reducing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. -Boulder CameraGoing to the voters
The Manitou Springs school board will ask voters for a tax increase to raise revenue of $1.8 million a year to partially offset state K-12 funding cuts. -GazetteHelping hand
The Denver City Council is considering a proposed ballot measure that would raise city taxes to pay for college scholarships. -Denver PostGetting skills
A northern Colorado youth correctional facility teaches culinary and social skills to incarcerated kids. -Greeley TribuneTwo cents
The Denver Board of Education has failed to realize that traditional schools are what the community largely wants, writes a DPS high school senior. -Denver PostColorado historian Tom Noel provides some insight into the man who may have been Colorado’s first school teacher. -Denver Post The whole community needs to be involved in supporting and improving our education system, writes columnist Deidre Sullivan. -Coloradoan
The campaign to recall three Jefferson County school board members continues to pull in impressive sums, raking in nearly $150,000 in donations during the last 30 days, records show.
Jeffco United for Action’s total fundraising since its mid-June launch stands at $190,899, according to campaign finance reports with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
That’s almost double the stated fundraising goal of the political 527 group, a committee that can raise and spend an unlimited amount on ballot questions. It’s nearly 10 times the amount spent by a committee two years ago that helped elect the three reform-minded Republican board members now targeted for recall.
Another 527 group opposing the recall effort, Kids are First Jeffco, registered with the state on Aug. 10 and has yet to report any donation information.
The recall organizers’ burgeoning war chest doesn’t mean fundraising will slow anytime soon, said spokeswoman Lynea Hansen.
“We expect to continue to raise money,” Hansen. “And we expect with students heading back to school, the word about how to support us will only grow.”
The majority of the money reported late Thursday evening — $90,000 — was donated from the organization’s nonprofit arm, Jeffco United.
Because Jeffco United is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, it is able to raise an unlimited amount of money then funnel that money to the 527 group without disclosing the donors’ identities.
While recall organizers accuse board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk of a lack of transparency, Hansen portrayed the campaign donor issue in different terms.
“It’s the field of play with how campaigns are run today,” Hansen said. “You don’t know who is donating to Jeffco Student First or American for Prosperity.”
Those organizations, both registered as nonprofits with the government, broadly support the three school board members subject to the recall.
Jeffco United for Action’s single largest donor during the reporting period of July 7 through Aug. 8 was businessman Robert Pew.
Pew, who is chairman of the Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, inked a check for $25,000.
Pew owns a home near Aspen and has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and issues since 2010, according to a review of state and federal campaign finance reports. He’s given to Jefferson County lawmakers including state Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Max Tyler. Most recently he gave $5,000 to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s re-election campaign.
Pew did not immediately return a request for comment.
An analysis of Jeffco United for Action’s most recent campaign finance report found an extension of earlier patterns. Most donations were small — the average donation was $93 — and were from Coloradans. Fewer than a dozen of the donors listed an out of state address.
Last fall, a top Denver Public Schools administrator sent an email to 10 secondary principals asking that high schools and sixth-12th grade campuses push their start times later this year—to 8 a.m.
It would have meant changes at many of the city’s secondary schools, most of which start between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m.
But most students and parents shouldn’t expect to see any schedule shifts this fall. Only one of the schools that received the email—Denver Center for International Studies-Baker—changed its start time, moving from 7:25 to 7:55 a.m.
A handful of Denver high schools, including the new Northfield High, Manual High and DSST charter high schools, also have start times of 8 a.m. or later this year, but such schedules were either already in place or planned prior to the email request.
While district administrators say there was never any mandate to push back start times at other schools, the email appears to be more than a casual suggestion.
Fred McDowell, the district’s former instructional superintendent for high schools, wrote in the email, “The data indicates a direct correlation to student levels of alertness and engagement. Therefore we are asking all high schools and 6-12 campuses to institute a start time of 8am beginning in the 2015-16 school year.”
Towards the end of the email, he wrote, “There will be ongoing discussion in order to work out the logistics and support needed to operationalize this across DPS (Food Services, Transportation, Athletics, After school Activities, and etc).”
The email went to principals at most of the district’s traditional high schools on Nov. 14. (See the full email at the end of this story.)
Nine months later, it appears miscommunication between top administrators and logistical obstacles stymied the late start proposal. McDowell resigned at the end of the school year and took a job in the School District of Philadelphia. He could not be reached for comment.
Greta Martinez, assistant superintendent for post-secondary readiness and McDowell’s supervisor, said the email miscommunicated the district’s intention, which was to launch conversations about later start times, not change to them this year.
Asked why McDowell sent the message, she said, “Fred’s not here so I can’t ask him. It’s all in interpretation. I can’t guess what he was intending with his message.”Why are later start times better for teens?
Suzanne Morris-Sherer, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School, said she believes later start times are a great idea but aren’t currently feasible because of transportation constraints and sports schedules.
When she received McDowell’s email last fall, she forwarded it to her staff and asked for feedback to provide to central administrators. About a half-dozen staff members responded, most concerned about the issues she cited.
Morris-Sherer said she didn’t recall any follow-up from central administrators afterwards.
The debate about later start times in DPS and elsewhere is nothing new. But with recent calls for change from national health experts and some of DPS’s own leaders, the inertia is striking. It’s possible these kind of proposals may hold even less sway moving forward given the district’s embrace of decentralized decision-making, which gives principals’ significant autonomy for making building-level decisions.
Scott Mendelsberg, McDowell’s replacement, addressed the issue of decentralization, saying, “It wasn’t really about, ‘We don’t have to do what they’re asking.’ I think principals thought it would be an okay idea, but really did worry about the logistics of this.”
“It’s a little surprising that more didn’t go to this model, but I don’t think it’s a dead issue.”
Martinez agreed, saying there will be further conversations about moving start times with even more schools involved than the 10 targeted by McDowell’s email.
“I think we just needed a little better messaging about what this means and what this looks like,” said Mendelsberg.The early side of late
While the 8 a.m start time McDowell requested last fall would have moved district high schools in the right direction according to research, it wouldn’t have gone as far as experts recommend.
A policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics last fall recommended start times of 8:30 a.m. for middle and high schools. And in 2002, the Colorado PTA passed a resolution urging state and federal legislation for 9 a.m. secondary start times.
Cindy Daisley, the group’s president and the mother of two North High School graduates, said even 13 years later, it’s still a big issue.
“I would love to see something happen districtwide, even statewide, because I think it’s important for our teenagers to perform better,” she said.
When her twin boys were in high school, she said, “getting them out of bed in the morning was so painful for all of us because they just required that much sleep.”
There’s science to back up her experience. It indicates that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night and are hardwired to favor later bedtimes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on start times noted that teens who get enough sleep are at reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in car accidents, and have better grades and higher standardized test scores.
Generally speaking, no one disputes the research on teen sleep habits and later school start times. The sticking point is putting it into practice.Navigating logistics
So what makes it so hard to change high school start and end times?
One of the biggest issues is the transportation jigsaw puzzle. Because middle and elementary school bus routes usually follow early-morning and early-afternoon high school routes, changes to the high school schedule can impact schools all down the line.
Even in DPS, where few high schoolers use district buses, transportation still matters. In part, it’s because special education students do rely on yellow buses to get to high school, so moving their start times could mean fewer district buses available to transport younger children.
Morris-Sherer said even with the current 2:50 p.m. dismissal at Thomas Jefferson, her special education students often have to leave their last class early to make it to the school bus in time. She worried that with a later dismissal time, they’d miss even more of their last class.
“It would just impact my instructional day,” she said.
Later start and end times could also cause transportation woes for general education students. For example, city buses currently make stops on Thomas Jefferson’s campus twice after school lets out. If the dismissal time were delayed, Morris-Sherrer said those students could miss the two on-campus buses and be forced to walk across the bridge over Interstate 25 for a later and more inconvenient off-campus pick-up.
Scott Mendelsberg said such issues, which might involve negotiating different on-campus pick-up times with the city bus system, must be addressed at the district level, not left up to schools to handle.
“There are solutions to…some of these concerns,” he said.
The other major challenge in changing start and end times revolves around after-school obligations including school sports, after-school jobs or family responsibilities like caring for younger siblings.
At the 2,500-student East High School, student athletes sometimes miss half of their last class to get to games on time even with the current 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. schedule. Principal Andy Mendelsberg, who is Scott Mendelsberg’s brother, said a later dismissal would mean an even bigger dent in class time.
At Northfield High, where the school day runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Principal Avi Tropper said most games will be scheduled for 6 p.m. on weeknights or on Saturdays. For sports like cross-country, in which multi-school meets are often scheduled around 2 p.m., students may have to leave early, he said.
Andy Mendelsberg said with East fielding four teams in almost every sport and limited daylight in late fall, it would be impossible to eliminate weekday afternoon games.
“There’s no way for us to work around that…We can’t play everybody on Friday and Saturday and get through the season.”The schools that make it work
While late high school start times are hardly the norm in Denver or Colorado as a whole, they do have a small presence.
Manual’s 8:10 a.m. start time has been in place for years, said secretary Carol Grant, who’s worked at three high schools during her 20-year career in DPS.
She believes the later start makes it easier for students to get to school on time and that they’re more awake once there.
When she worked at West High School, she said, “I’d write a thousand passes in the morning” for the long line of kids arriving late.
But Thomas Jefferson Principal Morris-Sherer said the school’s 7:30 a.m. start time is not a problem for most kids.
“I don’t have kids falling asleep habitually in class,” she said. “It is what it is. You just adjust your life.”
Andy Mendelsberg said East allowed students to opt for an 8:20 a.m. start several years ago as part of an experiment that added a ninth period to the school day. Only 31 students took advantage of the option.
At the four high school locations of the Denver School for Science and Technology, or DSST, start times range from 7:55 a.m to 8:15 a.m.
The later-than-average start times were intentional, said Andrew Mendrop, manager of communications and development for the charter school network.
The physiology of teenagers was a key consideration, but there were competing priorities, he said. Network leaders didn’t want to push start times back so much that it would inconvenience parents dropping their children off before work or students with after-school activities or jobs.
Last year, the Harrison School District near Colorado Springs pushed back start times at all 20 of its schools after a committee studied the issue for two years. High schools now start at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m, and elementary and middle schools now start at 8:35 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. (On Mondays only, middle schools start at 10:05 a.m. and high schools start at 9:15 a.m.)
Northfield has the latest start time among comprehensive high schools in Denver, but at least one Colorado district has even later starts.
Middle-schoolers in the Cortez-Montezuma district start their day at 8:50 a.m. and high-schoolers at 9 a.m.
Some Denver students may dream about reporting to school so late, but for now they’ll have to keep setting their alarms.
An array of issues is driving the high-profile effort to recall three reform-minded Jefferson County school board members. -Chalkbeat Coloradotesting testing
Officials with the Boulder Valley School District — where opposition to state-mandated testing runs high — tallied the time spend on test prep and administration to bolster their cause. -Daily CameraGrim Lessons
A fenced-in field at Colorado Mesa University is filled with decaying human bodies — and opportunities for students studying how bodies at crime scenes decompose. -Colorado Public RadioSuper Super
The superintendent of Woodland Park School District RE-1 wins recognition from the Colorado Association of School Executives. -GazetteServe, Protect ... and Discipline
The presence of police in schools — which accelerated after the shootings at Columbine and other school campuses — raises questions about the roles officers should play. -Christian Science MonitorPutting out fires
A Cherry Creek School District bus driver is credited for quick thinking after the engine caught fire on a full bus bound for an Aurora high school. -9NewsFeeling presidential
A Smoky Hill High School physics teacher is one of two Colorado teachers to win a prestigious presidential award that was two years in the making. -9NewsSomething's brewing
Drawing inspiration from a similar project, a Colorado Springs commercial real estate broker wants to convert the former Abraham Lincoln Elementary School — purchased from District 11 for $875,000 — into a destination that includes a brewery and restaurant. -The GazetteHomework Blues
Students voicing the timeless lament of being asked to bring too much work home with them may be onto something, according to a new study. -9NewsTwo cents
The Denver Post editorial board says common sense prevailed in the tentative agreement struck by the Jeffco school district and the teachers union. -Denver Post
Returning from its July break, the State Board of Education Wednesday elected a new chair, welcomed a new member, paid tribute to an old one and held its smoothest meeting in several months.
No major policy decisions were made, but members had a couple of thoughtful discussions on two complicated policy issues — the state’s draft application for flexibility in meeting some federal education mandates and high school graduation guidelines.
Both issues will be back on the board’s agenda for its Sept. 9-10 meeting.
The day started with the swearing-in ceremony for new 3rd District member Joyce Rankin, selected last weekend to replace chair Marcia Neal, who resigned earlier this summer.
That was quickly followed by a 7-0 vote to elect Steve Durham of the 5th District as chair through 2016. Tensions between Durham and Neal, both Republicans, were part of her decision to resign. Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder, who represents the 2nd District, remains as vice chair.
Neal made a cameo appearance later in the meeting after the board unanimously passed a resolution honoring her past service. Neal congratulated Durham and said, “‘It’s been a great time, and I thank you very much for recognizing me. … Best of luck to you all as you move ahead … I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”Learn more
The two most substantive issues on the board’s agenda were the federal flexibility application and the graduation guidelines.
Much of the flexibility discussion centered on test refusal. The board passed a resolution in February stating districts and schools shouldn’t be penalized if parental opt-outs cause testing participation to drop below the federally required 95 percent.
Department officials said the U.S. Department of Education has stressed its commitment to high test participation but isn’t giving direct answers on what it might do with policies like Colorado’s.
“Frankly, what we’ve heard from them [is] they’re trying to figure out for themselves what they’re going to do,” said Interim Education Commissioner Elliott Asp. “It’s almost like they’re not sure what they’re going to do.”
Significant percentages of students opted out of tests last spring; see this Chalkbeat story for details.
There are other loose ends with the flexibility application, so the board voted 7-0 to delay any action on the application until September.
The board wasn’t scheduled to act on graduation guidelines Wednesday, but Durham noted the board probably needs to vote in September so school districts will have time to develop their own graduation requirements that conform to the state’s guidelines.
The guidelines are required by a 2008 law but won’t go fully into effect until the 2020-21 school year.
The board approved a “menu” of guidelines — primarily scores on various tests — in 2013. But panels of educators studied the guidelines after that decision and recommended a larger menu of options and, in some cases, lower test scores.
Some board members are concerned about the lower scores, while others share district worries that the guidelines don’t provide enough flexibility, especially for small districts. The board declined to vote on the revised menu earlier this year.
“This is an important issue, and we’ve put it off,” Durham said. “The controversy has been around small school districts concerned that they couldn’t meet the requirements.”
Members discussed the idea of allowing individual districts to seek waivers from the guidelines.
Debora Scheffel, a Republican member from the 6th District, suggested the guidelines could be merely advisory.
“The legislature gave use a task … but not the discretion to not do the task,” Durham said. “Just allowing the districts to submit plans probably doesn’t meet the requirements of the statute.”
Durham said individual board members should come up with suggestions for what items should be on the guidelines menu.
EDGEWATER — Along with standard worksheets with equations to solve, Ali Goecks’s math students this fall will be given a list of terms like “integer” and “product” to master.
Her students at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, most of whom are Latino and come from low-income homes, will be required to use those sophisticated terms to explain their work in class discussions and homework. Lesser synonyms like “number” and “answer” won’t work.
At a cluster of academically lower-performing schools getting renewed attention in Jefferson County, teachers are expanding efforts to boost the academic vocabulary of their students.
The goal: to improve their chances to perform well on new standardized tests that emphasize critical thinking and prepare them for tougher courses to come.
“By focusing on the language behind math and the meaning of these words, students can focus on the purpose of math,” Goecks said. “They can understand the ‘why.’ It’s not just memorization. It’s something more.”
The challenge of incorporating higher-level language skills is a new test for a historically middle-class suburban school district adapting to a changing student population.
The predominantly Latino and low-income students who attend the schools just west of the Denver city limits, are likely to begin their educations knowing fewer words than their more affluent and white peers in the school district. The fear is that without consistent learning and reinforcement from teachers, the vocabulary gap will only widen by graduation.
“In general, students in this area don’t come from language-rich environments,” said Robin Techmanski, a Jeffco Public Schools achievement director who oversees schools in Edgewater, home to three of the four schools.Why ‘academic language’ is important
Too often students with limited vocabulary underperform on classroom assignments and critical standardized tests, said Moker Klaus-Quinlan, a senior director of education at the Public Education and Business Coalition, a Denver-based teacher training nonprofit.
“They won’t realize what they’re being asked to do,” Klaus-Quinlan said. “So what it looks like they can do on an assessment is not actually reflective of their ability.”
The results can provide teachers, principals and state officials with inaccurate information that can compromise the entire system. Students may be placed in the wrong classrooms or may act out, frustrated with communication barriers.
“When anxiety goes up, the learning goes down,” said John Ramo, CEO of the Colorado-based Digital Directions International, a software firm that has created math curriculum for English language learners.
On the other hand, Ramo said, if students get a handle on more complex language, not only will it be an ego boost, they’ll be able to use that knowledge regardless of what class they’re in.
“Having the ability to understand a concept improves self-efficacy as well,” Ramo said. “This language will help transfer learning skills to other domains.”More than one classroom
Providing students with an elevated vocabulary is one of several efforts to boost student learning at the cluster of four Jefferson County schools. Teachers from the schools, which have bounced on and off the state’s accountability watch list for poor academic performance, met last week to network and brainstorm teaching strategies for the year.
Ideas included covering walls with a wide range of higher-level words to daily vocabulary lessons in every subject.
“It can’t just be in one classroom,” one teacher said during the meeting.
That won’t be the case, district officials said.
A committee of parents, teachers, and administrators from all four schools will meet to develop one set of goals for the area.
Teams of teachers will use student testing data to refine strategies throughout the year.
Teachers will spend more time monitoring other teachers with proven track records of boosting student achievement.
And teachers will also receive more training days than their district peers.
“We can do this better if we do it together,” said Goecks, the math teacher. “It’s a little less daunting when you know you have a community to support you in this.”Assumptions and turnover
On paper, 43 percent of students who attend a school in Edgewater are learning English as a second language. But the number of students who need more help in developing their vocabulary is probably much greater, which teachers must be aware of, said Klaus-Quinlan.
“We want to be conscious of the language we expect students to use and teach that explicitly,” Klaus-Quinlan.
She said it’s appropriate for teachers to use common language with students at first to establish understanding. But then they never move students forward with more sophisticated terms.
“That’s robbing the students of the ability to have academic conversations,” she said.
Higher teacher turnover at the four Jeffco schools is another obstacle to the effort. Crucial training, like the week’s worth in August, must be replicated each year.
“We need to explicitly identify the mindset and key characteristics of teachers who want to be here,” said Karen Quanbeck, a Jeffco achievement director who oversees the schools in Edgewater.
Update: This article has been updated to clarify the name of the Public Education and Business Coalition.
New State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin promises she’ll have an “open mind” in her approach to serving on a body that’s had its share of bumps over the last several months.
“I need to just get in there and listen and make my way from the beginning without preconceptions,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado, signaling a diplomatic approach to a board that has been split on issues such as testing.
Rankin, a former educator who’s married to a state representative, also said her understanding of the legislature will be useful in her new, unpaid position.
Although the board has a 4-3 Republican majority, its divisions usually have been philosophical, with Democrat Val Flores of Denver sometimes voting with Republicans and Neal voting with Democrats. In recent months the board sometimes has spent a lot of time on issues it didn’t have power to see through, including giving testing waivers to school districts.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Rankin wrote, “First meeting and swearing in ceremony….. Wednesday. Who better to put the ‘fun’ back into dysfunctional?”
Neal said, “I think Joyce is a lot like me. I think she’ll do a good job; she’ll be just fine.” Neal said she and Rankin talked on Sunday about the board.
Rankin was similarly diplomatic when asked about touchy issues such as the Common Core State Standards, PARCC and the overall burden of testing.
“The more local control in school districts the better. … Bring it closer to the kids and the parents,” Rankin said, adding that she’d like a reduced federal role in education. Local control also has been an emphasis of GOP board member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, who is expected to be chosen as chairman when the board meets Wednesday.
On testing, Rankin said, “I’m glad the legislature did something at the end – at least something was done. But she doesn’t think the debates over testing and other issues are finished. “We’re doing to be revisiting a lot of this stuff in the upcoming year.”
In January, the board voted 5-2 to endorse a Republican-sponsored bill that would have pulled Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing group, reduced state assessments and given districts more testing flexibility. That measure, House Bill 15-1125, later died in a legislative committee. The legislature ultimately passed a different testing reform bill.Joyce Rankin
Commenting on the board’s role in state government, Rankin said, “My job is take what the legislature does and work with that, and with the school districts.”
“Communication between the board and the legislature is a real important skill for a board member,” she said.
Rankin has a direct line to one legislator — her husband Bob, a House member who represents District 57 in northwestern Colorado. Rep. Rankin is a member of the Joint Budget Committee and has taken an interest in school finance issues.
Rankin has worked as her husband’s legislative aide and indicated that she plans to continue in that role. “I don’t see that’s going to be a problem at all,” she said, adding that her exposure to the legislative process should be an advantage in her board work.
She said she has “a real interest is rural Colorado. I think it’s really important to be a voice for rural Colorado and bring some of their concerns to the state board.” Rankin’s 3rd District includes 54 of the state’s 178 school districts, many of them small. The 3rd District representative traditionally has been the board’s strongest voice on rural issues.
Rankin said she’s concerned about funding inequities for rural districts, given that many of them don’t have the same ability to increase local revenues as some larger districts do.
“I think in the next couple of years we’re going to see the pinch” on school funding, she said.
Inspired by a teacher, Rankin said she decided when she was in 5th grade to go into education. She holds education degrees from Michigan State University and San Jose State University and worked as a teacher and principal in California. She hasn’t worked in education since moving to Colorado in 1981.
A 13-member Republican Party vacancy committee met for about five hours Saturday in Gunnison before selecting Rankin on the fifth ballot. The committee interviewed each of the eight applicants before voting.
“We had a very difficult choice because we had a number of highly qualified candidates,” said panel chair Frieda Wallison of Snowmass. She declined to provide the final vote count or the name of the second-place candidate.
Other applicants for the seat included two current members of local school boards, one former board member, a retired teacher, a parochial school principal and two anti-Common Core activists.
Rankin said she plans to run for her seat in the 2016 election.
Colorado’s plan to ease the testing burden for 10th graders may well get federal approval, but the state still has to jump through some hoops before the change is a done deal.
The testing reform law passed by lawmakers last spring made several changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system, including a shift in high school standardized testing and a one-year timeout in the rating system for districts and schools.
But lawmakers didn’t necessarily have the last word, given that some changes require U.S. Department of Education approval as part of Colorado’s request for flexibility on requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s main education law.
State Department of Education officials have been discussing the changes with the U.S. Department of Education all summer and will present the proposed request to the State Board of Education for its approval on Wednesday.
“We’ve been going back and forth to make sure we know their issues” before going to the State Board, said Alyssa Pearson, the state education department’s interim associate commissioner of accountability, performance and support. After the board takes action the request will be submitted to Washington, but state education officials still will have work to do.
Here’s a rundown of the status of key issues, based on the draft flexibility application and on explanations provided by Pearson.High school testing
There’s a little bad news and some good news here.Learn more
Legislative backers of the testing reform law, House Bill 15-1323, hoped that the results of PARCC language arts and math tests given in 9th grade could be use to fulfill federal requirements for giving those tests once in the high school years.
Pearson said that after talking to federal officials, the state concluded such use of 9th grade tests to meet federal requirements “wasn’t an option for us.” (Colorado has tested 9th graders for years, but the federal government defines high school as grades 10-12.)
The good news is that federal education officials are open to use of a different 10th grade test. “They said that should work,” Pearson said. But here’s where the hoops come in. The feds want assurances that a new test would be aligned to state academic content standards and want to see a detailed implementation plan. She said the state has 30-45 days to come up with that plan.
The goal of the testing law was to reduce the testing burden on 10th graders by allowing them to take a college readiness test that takes less time than PARCC tests. The law requires the state education department to seek competitive bids for both that test and an 11th grade test. (The ACT test has been given to all high school juniors for several years.)Timeout for school and district ratings
The testing law requires that the upcoming school year will be a time-out year for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this fall, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014. Test scores and student growth data derived from scare are a major part of the ratings.
“They’ve allowed that for other states, so that should not be an issue for them,” Pearson said.Alternative tests and accountability
A much-debated section of the testing law allows districts or groups of districts to create pilot programs to try out new tests and accountability systems, the hope being to eventually find something to replace the current systems.
The state’s draft application doesn’t include any requests on this issue, but the federal education department has made it clear that students participating in pilot programs also would have to take current state tests for two years, Pearson said.
That could be a disincentive for districts to propose pilots. One group of rural school districts, the Rural Innovation Alliance, has expressed interest in launching a pilot, but that work is in its very early stages.Opting out of tests
The draft application doesn’t include any request related to penalties for schools and districts that fail to meet federal requirements that 95 percent of students participate in tests.
Test refusal became a hot issue in Colorado starting last fall, when the statewide participation rate on 12th grade science and social studies tests was about 82 percent.
In February, the state board passed a resolution stating districts shouldn’t be penalized for low participation, and test refusal was debated in the legislature last spring. A separate out-out bill died, and HB 15-1323 contains language that clarifies how districts should handle parents who want to opt out.
And spring test participation in major districts generally fell below 95 percent, a recent Chalkbeat investigation found (see story).
Whether districts or the state ultimately will be penalized for lower participation rates is unclear. State law penalizes districts for low participation by lowering their accreditation ratings. But because the accreditation rating system is on hold for a year, there isn’t expected to be any immediate impact from last spring’s widespread test refusals.Teacher evaluations
Federal officials have raised questions about recent state board approval of an innovation application from the small Holyoke school district in northeastern Colorado. That innovation plan gives the district wide flexibility in meeting the state requirement that 50 percent of teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth data. (See details on the Holyoke plan in this document.)
“We have to give them more information” about the Holyoke plan and whether it meets the intent of state evaluation law, said Katy Anthes, the CDE interim associate commissioner.English language learners
Various changes in testing of some English language learners are included in HB 15-1323. The U.S. Department of Education wants Colorado to do further work on a couple of those, Pearson said.What’s next
The state board has gained a reputation for unpredictability since two new members joined in January. (A third new member was appointed over the weekend to fill a vacancy.) A majority of the board has been critical of PARCC tests and the Common Core State Standards. So Wednesday’s discussion of the waiver application bears watching.
Once the state files its waiver application – and answers other questions from the federal education department – it’s hard to say when Washington will make a final, formal decision on the application. The timeline is unclear, Pearson said.
Theoretically, federal rejection of Colorado’s flexibility application could threaten federal education funds for the state. But there’s a long bureaucratic process that would have to happen. And the rules for state-federal education relations could change if the U.S. Senate and House reach agreement on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Talks on how to reconcile competing bills are expected to resume when Congress returns from its summer recess.
Along with blue and gold balloons, an array of district dignitaries and the usual first-day-of-school jitters, there was a sense of excitement among the 220 ninth-graders who gathered Monday morning outside Denver’s Northfield High School.
Before entering the gymnasium building for a welcome assembly, Larry Esteen and his friends Elijah and Earl Watkins said they felt good about starting at Denver Public Schools’ newest high school.
“This is good because I’ve been getting bored in the summer,” Esteen said.Northfield High ninth-graders head out of the gymnasium for their first day of classes.
“I see familiar faces,” said Earl Watkins, scanning the crowd for friends from middle school.
All three boys, who plan to play football for the Northfield Nighthawks, said they think the school is going to be cooler than other district high schools they could have attended.
“Better opportunities,” Esteen said.
Northfield, the district’s first new comprehensive high school in 35 years, is located on the corner of Central Park Boulevard and 56th Avenue in fast-growing northeast Denver.
Its approach to education will be a bit different than that of its counterparts around the city. First, it will offer the International Baccalaureate program to all students—addressing concerns raised at other schools that minority students have been shut out of the prestigious diploma program.Northfield stats
Percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals
Northfield also requires daily physical education classes, starts two weeks earlier than most district schools, and has a later daily start time than most other high schools, running from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
On Monday, before students dispersed to search for their first-period classes, they listened to welcome remarks from Principal Avi Tropper, Superintendent Tom Boasberg, School Board President Happy Haynes and School Board Member Landri Taylor.
“You’re the founding class of Northfield High School,” said Boasberg, standing in front of the shiny gold and navy nighthawk logo emblazoned in the middle of the gym floor.
“Every year that you’re here, every day that you’re here, you’re the leaders of this school,” he said to applause from students, parents and staff.Students were encouraged to ring the bell under the red archway as they entered Northfield High School for their first day on Monday.
At around 9:15 a.m., Tropper asked students to pull out their schedules and report to class in the academic building, at the front of the Paul Sandoval campus.
Friends Ben Chew and Adam Snowden, sitting near the top of the bleachers, scrutinized the white forms while waiting to be officially dismissed.
Chew said he anticipated an interesting year.
“I think it’s going to be cool to be part of a new school and establish a culture,” he said.
Snowden, wearing a navy Northfield T-shirt, admitted that he wasn’t too excited about the year. He complained about having to read five school-assigned books and do corresponding assignments during the summer.
“I felt like it was a little over the top,” he said, listing off other district high schools where there was little or no summer work.
After the assembly, Tropper chuckled about the comment as he hurried along the sidewalk to the academic building. If summer reading was the biggest complaint so far, “I’ll take it,” he said.
Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, was selected Saturday to fill the vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education.
She won the appointment after a 13-member Republican Party vacancy committee made the choice from among eight candidates.
Rankin will take the seat vacated by SBE chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this summer, citing board dysfunction and personal health issues (see story).
She has served recently as an aide to her husband, Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, who’s a member of the Joint Budget Committee. Last session Rep. Rankin was among backers of an unsuccessful attempt to launch a legislative study of the school finance system.
Two other board members have close legislative ties. Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker is the sister of Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel. Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs is a lobbyist and a former member of both the House and Senate.
The board, which gained two new members at the start of the year, has had some tense discussions over the last several months on issues such as testing, parent exam opt outs, a state student health survey and student data privacy. Some board members feel that the body’s previous patterns of decorum and procedure have frayed this year. (Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.)Rep. Bob Rankin and Joyce Rankin
The board will meet Wednesday and will elect a new chair. Most observers expect Durham to be elected chair. The body has a 4-3 GOP majority.
A key job for the board will be selection of a new education commissioner to replace Robert Hammond, who retired earlier this year. The board selected a search firm just last week to find candidates (see story).
State law requires that a vacant elected office be filled by a committee made up of members of the same political party as the person who resigned. Rankin will have to run for the seat in the November 2016 general election and has indicated she will do so.
The vacant seat drew wide interest from candidates across the sprawling, 29-county district, which covers much of the Western Slope plus Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.
The other candidates included:
Michael Lobato, a San Luis Valley rancher and member of the Center School board, applied for the post but withdrew before the vacancy committee met.
It’s not just parents and students who are hitting the back-to-school sales these days.
It’s teachers too—many of whom expect to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money outfitting their classrooms with books, games, activities and decorations.
In fact, that’s why Gwen Vann, a retired Jeffco teacher launched the Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale last year and expects up to 600 customers this year.Sale details
The massive sale, running through the weekend at the Resource Area For Teaching office in Denver, offers all manner of teaching supplies at deep discounts.Gwen Vann, a retired Jeffco teachers, spearheaded the Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale.
On Thursday evening, during a time slot reserved for newly-minted teachers, Vann teared up as she watched several young women browse the long tables of merchandise.
“It brings me back…I know they don’t have money. They’re just getting out of school. They have debt,” she said. “It’s about sharing the wealth that we have.”
She said many parents don’t realize how much teachers spend to create the attractive, colorful classrooms their kids walk into every day.
One shopper on Thursday evening was second-year kindergarten teacher Linda Richardson, who loaded bright blue tote bags with rhyming and counting games and other hands-on activities.
As a first year teacher in Aurora last year, she spent $1,000 on classroom supplies, she said, and was able to write off only $250 through a tax deduction.
Richardson, who this year will move to Hodgkins Elementary in the Adams 50 district, said she appreciates the discounts at the sale, and also the fact that the items have been road-tested by veteran teachers.
“I found some great games for every single content area,” she said.
Jodi Katz, a retired Aurora teacher who volunteered at the sale on Thursday, likened the event to “a teacher’s Candyland.”
“We needed this 30 or 40 years ago,” she said, reminiscing about the annual $1,200 out-of-pocket expenditures she made to equip her classroom and support her students.
Besides helping young teachers like Richardson, Vann hopes the consignment sale is a boon for retired or grade-switching teachers who want to jettison unneeded supplies.
In fact, it was the garage sale she held after she retired that prompted the idea for the consignment sale. She sold two truckloads worth of supplies gathered over 30 years of teaching.
Young teachers flocked to the sale, some of them tweeting the news to their friends. Meanwhile, she knew that many of her retired friends had a wealth of teaching materials stashed in their basements and garages too.
It was a good fit for both groups, and the sale was born.
It has already garnered many fans. Teri Kimbell, a retired teacher who volunteered at the sale Thursday, said she enjoys connecting teachers with sought-after supplies.
“I watched some teachers walk in and go, ‘Oh my God, they have this,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”
Joey Casas doesn’t like speaking English.
“It’s too hard,” Joey mumbled in Spanish. “I don’t like when teachers make me speak it.”
The 8-year-old is one of more than 14,000 Aurora Public Schools students who is classified as an English language learner. He speaks primarily Spanish at home, which is where he spends a majority of his summertime.
Occasionally, Joey goes to the park or plays with friends, but they also speak Spanish, which means the student usually doesn’t utter a word of English between the end of school and the beginning of the next academic year.
Some educators and parents believe English learners have a deeper learning loss during the summer than their native-English speaking peers, partially due to less practice when they’re on break.
But there’s no national, statewide, or district data that proves this, which can raise several problems for students and schools.
Without knowing the depth of the problem, the nearly 127,000 students learning English as a second language in Colorado could be falling further behind in reading and writing without anyone noticing. And the issue is a tricky one, with factors both in and outside of school impacting students’ language skills.
In addition, these same students may not be aware they’re losing ground and their parents might be unaware of existing programs that can help curb the loss, or even turn it into academic gains with some assistance.
There are case studies where English skills for groups of students are measured before and after summer break, but there’s no large database that measures the problem, said Kathy Escamilla, who is the project director for the Bilinguals United for Education and New Opportunities Center.
Part of the reason the data is limited is because there are some factors that are hard to account for.
For example, some English language learners leave the U.S. during the summer while others don’t, which can affect how much English exposure they get. So measuring their language abilities before and after summer break wouldn’t be accurate unless their exposure to English was also measured, which would be difficult to do.
“It’s very dependent on context, where the kid spends the summer,” Escamilla said. “What affects [summer slide] is your opportunity to continue practicing language.”
And not every student has that opportunity to practice during the summer, especially in homes where the primary language that is spoken is not English.
According to a 2012 study from an assistant professor at the University of California Irvine, students from non-English speaking homes experienced a deeper summer setback in English vocabulary than students from English speaking homes. And an article from 2012 highlighted the back-to-school struggle for Spanish-speaking English learners in Arizona who spent all summer without much exposure to English.
But a majority of the evidence that shows non-English speaking students suffer from summer learning loss more than their English-speaking peers is largely based on studies with small sample sizes or anecdotes.
So how do educators know this problem exists without consistent and broad data?
The issue starts with summer slide in general. It is well documented that students suffer learning losses during the summer. There are dozens of studies that show students score lower at the end of summer on the same math and English tests they take at the beginning of break.
The earliest studies go back more than 100 years, showing that summer slide has been a noticeable phenomenon for more than a century. A more recent study from the 1990s shows that at best students made no learning gains over the summer. But in the worst cases students lost about a month’s worth of reading, language and math skills.
The loss is even more striking for low-income students, who lose more than two months of reading skills, according to other studies.
One way families combat summer slide is by enrolling their kids in summer learning programs. But because English language learners also tend to hail from low-income homes, there can be difficulty accessing programs that cost money.
“I wish there were more [summer programs] that didn’t cost money,” Escamilla said. “A lot of our English language learner families also tend to be poor.”
But as much data as there is on summer learning losses for all students, how it specifically affects students learning English as a second language is not studied with as much fervor.
Even with a lack of data, educators and parents of students who are learning English know the problem is more pronounced for these kids.
One of these parents is Flor Vasquez, who came to the U.S. 12 years ago from Puebla, Mexico. She has three children who attend Swansea Elementary in northeast Denver and all of them are in the English Language Acquisition program, which tries to help non-English speaking students transition to full-time English instruction.
During the summer, her children don’t practice their English skills at home as much as she would like, Vasquez said. One of the challenges the family faces is that she is also learning English. Her first language, and the one she is most comfortable speaking in, is Spanish.
“[My kids] are pretty good at speaking [English], but not good at writing,” Vasquez said. “They don’t read or write as much during the summer. We’re all kind of learning English together. But it’s harder for them to learn when school is out.”
Vasquez and her three children all attended a summer learning program at Swansea held by Scholars Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that tries to improve literacy among high-risk students by offering afterschool and summer programming that incorporates reading and writing. This summer, about 700 Denver Public Schools students in 12 schools participated in the Scholars Unlimited summer program.
In addition, parents of these students could also participate in the program if they wanted to learn English.
Maria Valle, the site coordinator for Scholars Unlimited at Swansea, said students who don’t speak English often have parents who also don’t speak the language — which can be an especially difficult hurdle to overcome during the summer, she said.
“I’m more than sure [students who are English language learners] are more affected by [summer slide],” Valle said. “In talking to the parents, we have to let them know that everything they learned during the school year is going to be lost during the summer if they don’t continue to read and write [in English]… but parents aren’t able to help them, they don’t speak English and they don’t know how to help their kids.”
Even students themselves notice the problem.
Rainah Trujillo and Margarita Fonseca are both 9-years-old and attend schools in Denver. They both speak English and Spanish at home.
“I didn’t used to like writing but now I do,” said Rainah, who speaks mostly in English with her parents but mostly in Spanish with her grandparents.
Rainah admitted that if she hadn’t attended the Scholars Unlimited summer program, she would most likely not be reading or writing during the summer. Margarita echoed the same sentiment.
Joey, the ELL student from Aurora, stands in stark contrast to these girls. Since he doesn’t participate in any programs during the summer he doesn’t read, write or speak English for nearly three months.
A possible solution
These kids exemplify one of the main contributors to summer slide: availability of programs. While they participated in a summer program that keeps them writing and reading in between school years, that’s not the case for most students.
“There are limited opportunities for kids to engage in the kind of things that enrich your vocabulary and continue to propel your language learning,” Escamilla said.
Summer programs don’t even have to be specifically geared toward learning English or take place in a school setting to be beneficial, Escamilla said. For students learning English, simply engaging and practicing the language by talking and playing with other students can help stave off summer slide, she said.
“You can learn [English] by playing board games, you can learn English by being in little league and being on a team where everyone speaks English and you have to understand all the rules and you have to interact with kids,” Escamilla said. “There are all sorts of context and ways to learn English.”
But these programs come at a cost — literally. According to data from Afterschool Alliance, an organization that raises awareness of how important after school programs are, the average cost of summer programs in 2013 was $250 per child. If this applied to Vasquez and her three kids, they would have had to pay $1000 to keep learning English during the summer.
In addition, summer slide doesn’t just affect students during the summer, but the following school year as well, when these learning losses spill over.
In a survey from the National Summer Learning Association, 330 teachers out of a sample of 500 said it takes them three to four weeks to re-teach their students material from the previous year and 120 said it takes them even longer.
This can have a discouraging effect on students learning English, said Valle, the bilingual site coordinator.
“They have to start all over [the beginning of each academic year] and they get frustrated because they are coming again and again and making the progress but losing it,” she said. “They think ‘Why do I have to do it again?’”
But with some help from outside programs, these students might not have to “do it again.”
In addition to the summer program offered by Scholars Unlimited in Denver, Emerald Elementary in Broomfield works with the YMCA to host the free Cultural Awareness Through Creative Horizons (CATCH) camp.
While not specifically geared toward English language learners, the camp is free and targeted toward at-risk students in a historically white and middle-class community, such as those who are economically disadvantaged or behind in reading and writing.
More than half of the students at Emerald receive free or reduced lunch. In addition, about 45 percent of the students are Hispanic and almost a quarter are English language learners.
“It’s a really nurturing environment for kids to come into CATCH camp,” she said. “If they can have that summertime where they have fun, low pressure opportunities to practice English that’s not the high stakes experience of raising their hand in the classroom when you’re not sure if you have the answer right, I think it helps build this more trusting community for the kids.”
The feedback and data from these programs reflects the potential benefits.
According to teacher surveys at Emerald, students who participated in outside academic programs, including CATCH camp, saw an improvement in homework completion, participation and behavior.
In addition, commentary from parents on surveys indicated that they saw improvements in their children’s reading and homework.
And the Scholars Unlimited summer program reflects the same pattern seen at CATCH camp.
Students are given a reading comprehension assessment before and after the program to measure their English skills. Data from 2014 showed students made significant gains in literacy skills. A majority of the students were at or above grade level in reading, writing and speaking English by the end of the program.
If the data holds true for this summer, students won’t only avoid summer slide, but actually make gains in their language skills.
“We have many students who are new to the U.S. At one point we had 21 languages spoken in this school,” Reuss said. “Children and their families love these programs. These students are exposed to opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They love coming to summer school…it’s just a shame it’s not offered everywhere.”