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Supreme Court upholds cut in cost-of-living adjustment for PERA retirees

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 14:06

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld part of a 2010 law that made significant changes to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, including a reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase awarded to retirees.

Reduction in the COLA drew a lawsuit from retirees shortly after Senate Bill 10-001 was signed into law, and lower courts issued conflicting rulings on the issue. The PERA system covers all Colorado teachers and a wide variety of other state and local civil servants.

The law eliminated payments associated with cost of living in 2010 and cut retirees’ annual benefit increases from 3.5 percent to 2 percent starting in 2011. Future increases could drop below 2 percent under certain conditions. (While the increases are commonly referred to as cost of living raises, they aren’t pegged to inflation or consumer prices.)

Plaintiffs argued they had a constitutional, contractual right to the 3.5 percent annual increase.

The supreme court’s ruling said, “We hold that the PERA legislation providing for cost of living adjustments does not establish any contract between PERA and its members entitling them to perpetual receipt of the specific COLA formula in place on the date each became eligible for retirement or on the date each actually retires.”

Learn more

PERA doesn’t have an estimate for how much is saved every year by the COLA reduction. The law as a whole was projected to reduce PERA’s unfunded liability by $9 billion.

Observers of the case believed that overturning of the COLA reduction would significantly weaken the law’s ability to improve PERA’s financial health.

When the lawsuit was filed, plaintiffs estimated the COLA reduction could cost the typical retiree more than $165,000 over 20 years.

Here are the highlights of reaction to the ruling.

Rich Allen, president of Save PERA COLA, said, “Needless to say we are disappointed in the decision. It seems to us to be a major departure from the rule of law to allow a public entity to unilaterally abrogate an agreement to which they willingly and legally entered merely because they don’t feel like paying the costs anymore.” Read the full statement here.

The Coalition for Retirement Security, which represents several employee groups and which backed SB 10-001, said, “We are very thankful to the Colorado Supreme Court in upholding the changes we advocated for in Senate Bill 1. Senate Bill 1 represents shared sacrifice by retirees, employees and employers. This shared sacrifice put PERA on the track to being fully funded and today the Supreme Court upheld that sacrifice as legal.”

“Through the shared sacrifice approach recommended by the PERA board, the Colorado General Assembly responded after the Great Recession, and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with our collaborative approach,” said Gregory W. Smith, PERA executive director.

A Denver District judge dismissed the lawsuit in June 2011, but the Colorado Court of Appeals reinstated it in October 2012 in a mixed ruling, saying PERA retirees have a contractual right to a cost-of-living adjustment but that they are not guaranteed the fixed 3.5 percent.

The state and PERA appealed that second ruling in November 2012, and the high court agreed to take the case in August 2013.

Teachers and school administrators dominate the system with more than half of the membership. There are 58,986 education retirees who received about $2 billion in benefits in 2012, an average of about $3,000 a month. The average retirement age for both School and DPS retirees is a little above 58 years old. The entire system has about 106,000 retirees.

Supreme court Justices Allison Eid and Monica Marquez didn’t participate in the case.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board member: we need more guidance on open records

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:28

Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams believes some things should be kept private.

That includes some written correspondence with constituents who pull double duty as advisers and friends.

So, on Sept. 17 she emailed Loren Sheets, a Jefferson County mother and Tea Party activist who was interested in serving on a controversial curriculum review committee, “My email is under CORA so it is best to call or text me or talk through Donna Jack.”

Williams gave the same advice to at least two other individuals, according to email records. Jack is a confidant of Williams’ and has regularly addressed the school board during public comment.

“A lot of my friends and people I have been talking to, they’d like their emails kept confidential,” Williams told Chalkbeat after a recent school board meeting. “They have expressed that our communications are to be strictly confidential. That’s why I wanted them to know, if you email me, even if it’s a simple question, it’s open to CORA. I think they have a right to know that.”

Chalkbeat learned of Williams’ suggestion after obtaining dozens of emails she sent during the month of September through an open records request.

The problem with Williams’ advice is that text messages pertaining to district business sent or received by elected officials are subject to the state’s open records laws too.

But Williams didn’t know that.

That’s because she’s received no training on what’s in Colorado’s open records laws and she hasn’t independently sought legal advice on how to keep some of her records private.

But she said, “it’s something I’d like to pursue.”

Williams, along with board members Ken Witt and John Newkirk were elected in November. They ran on a platform of, among other things, expanding school choice, merit-based pay for teachers, and transparency. But since being sworn in, the three who make up the board majority have been under scrutiny by a vocal group of parents and teachers.

“I want there to be transparency, but I also sometimes need help with things,” Williams said. “Even President Obama has people help him with speech writing and messaging and standing up in front of crowds. Some of my friends, they’re my friends and they provide me feedback. And I don’t think everything we talk about should be subject to CORA.”

On Friday, Chalkbeat reported that board chairman Witt claimed he had no records of any correspondence he might have sent or received from a private email account. That’s despite Chalkbeat knowing of at least five instances he used that account.

Government agencies, including school districts, are supposed to have a policy on how to maintain and destroy public records, including those records that are only kept digitally, like email, said Steve Zansberg, a lawyer and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Jeffco Public Schools has no such explicit policy. A lawyer for the school system said she believes the district is compliant with all records laws.

Williams said board members need more training on the state’s open records laws and other district policies.

“We’re not given much information,” she said. “We’re not given any training. We’re learning as we go.”

Categories: Urban School News

Listen: PARCC executive discusses the future of standardized tests

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:23

On Friday, testing executive Laura McGiffert Slover spoke with Denver education reporters about the status and future of the PARCC exams.

Next spring, students across Colorado and a dozen other states and Washington D.C., will be the first to take the PARCC, short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, exams.

The assessments are supposed to test for proficiency in English and math. The data will also be used to determine school rankings and teacher ratings.

The tests and the standards they are aligned too, the Common Core State Standards, have been under political fire for months in Colorado and around the nation. As sort of a compromise, the Colorado General Assembly established a task force to study the issue.

We asked McGiffert Slover to defend her exams. Here’s what she had to say about “testing madness” and much more:

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Feds reach agreement with Falcon School District 49 over racial harassment complaints

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 11:17

Transparency talks

The disappearance of a number of district-related correspondence from Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt's email raises questions about holes in transparency laws. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

moving forward

The federal justice department announced that it has reached an agreement with Falcon School District 49 to resolve complaints about the district's handling of racial harassment and discrimination in its schools. ( Gazette )

A difficult path forward

Federally-run schools for American Indian students are plagued by decrepit facilities and intense poverty. ( Denver Post )

And an Obama administration effort to improve federally-owned schools on American Indian reservations by giving tribes more control is complicated by the disrepair of many of the facilities and a long history of poor treatment of the tribes and their students. ( AP via Denver Post )

Election 2014

The Boulder Valley School District is seeking the largest K-12 capital construction bond issue in the history of the state. ( Denver Post )

privacy vs the public's right to know

The Denver Post Editorial Board cites the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition's argument that federal privacy laws do not apply to the Arapahoe High School shooter, since he is deceased and was an adult when he died. ( Denver Post )

to test or not to test

The head of the testing consortium PARCC argues that testing is an important part of learning. ( Gazette )

staying in school

The U.S. high school drop-out rate is falling, especially among Latinos -- here's a deep dive into why. ( Five Thirty Eight )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Interim IG investigates banned company, testing petition, school funding math

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 10/20/2014 - 10:55

Banned by Mayor Rahm Emanuel from work for the city, Windy City Electric Company still managed to get $3.1 million in contracts from CPS, according to a Better Government Association story in the Chicago Sun Times. Windy City was accused of falsely claiming to be owned and operated by women. According to the article, CPS can terminate a contract with any company that is banned by another city agency. CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined to comment on why CPS continued to work with the company, but said it was under investigation by the district’s interim Inspector General Nicholas Schuler.

This brings up another point: When is Emanuel going to appoint a permanent inspector general? In June--more than three months ago--James Sullivan announced that he was leaving his post after 12 years. McCaffrey says the process is "moving forward. The candidates are being reviewed and we expect an appointment soon."

Schuler seems a shoo-in for the permanent job. He was a police officer for nine years before going to law school. He started in the city’s Inspector General department before transferring to CPS and was second in command. Being an interim seems like it has the potential to make the office less likely to take action. Wonder what CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Emanuel are waiting for?

2.  Putting off the PARCC… Raise Your Hand-Illinois has started an online petition to try to convince the Illinois State Board of Education to put off implementation of the new state standardized test for a year. The PARCC is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to be more rigorous than the old state standards. But there are concerns that the test is not yet reliable, hasn’t been field tested sufficiently and that many schools don’t have adequate technology to administer the test, which is administered by computer. The petition is suggesting that the state use the NWEA or another national test for elementary students and continue to administer the ACT for high school students. The petition notes that several other states have delayed using the PARCC.

Parents in Chicago are also upset because their children are being hit with a double whammy of tests this year. Not only will elementary and high school students have to take the new PARCC, but elementary students will also take the NWEA and high school students will also take the ACT. As a result, several weeks in April, May or June will be engulfed by testing. What's more, many schools are having their students take the NWEA in the fall and winter to chart their progress.

So far, the petition has 818 online signatures.

3. Playing with numbers … With just a few weeks to go before the Nov. 4 elections, The Associated Press took a look at claims made by both Gov. Pat Quinn and his opponent Bruce Rauner on school spending. Rauner, a Republican, has attacked the incumbent for a $600 million decrease in school funding since he took office. Quinn, a Democrat, says he’s increased spending.

State school data provided to the AP shows that funding on preschool through 12th grade dropped from $7.4 billion in 2009 -- the year before Quinn replaced his predecessor -- to $6.8 billion this year. However, the federal government poured in hundreds of millions of additional dollars in 2009 and 2010 through the stimulus package, which according to Quinn shouldn’t be lumped in when discussing the state’s spending on schools. “Without the federal aid, education funding in fiscal 2009 drops to $6.4 billion, which means state support has increased $442 million, or 7 percent,” according to the story.

4. Still on strike … Schools in Waukegan remain closed today as talks between the district and teachers have stalled. Teachers have been on strike for 11 days over salary issues.

District officials blamed the union for suspending contract talks indefinitely, according to the Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile the Waukegan Teachers’ Council president says teachers are “giving them time to reflect and to look at their own numbers and come back with a serious offer.”

Teachers in Waukegan say they sacrificed during lean years and now the district has a surplus that they should be sharing with teachers. However, district officials say the union’s proposal of a 9 percent pay increase would bankrupt them. Waukegan has 17,000 students and 23 schools.

5. Sign-on bonus… The City of Milwaukee has officially banned public charter schools from offering cash incentives to those who refer students for enrollment. Last week’s decision came in response to a “well-advertised offer” from a charter school that would pay $100 in cash to anyone who referred a student who enrolled a student by the state’s official head count day for state enrollment purposes. “Enrollment is the lifeblood for schools that rely on public funding because it guarantees a certain amount of per-pupil dollars from the state,” says the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The school in question “called the campaign cost-effective because it rewarded parents for doing what they might do anyway: talk up the school with family and friends.” The teachers union, meanwhile, calls it bribery.

Though it has never been substaniated, here in Chicago we have heard of charters schools offering incentives of computers or iPads to enroll. 

Also... Latasha Thomas, head of the City Council’s Education Committee, announced this weekend that she is not going to run again.

 



Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: In favor of testing, but against reading tests

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 16:55
  • “Accountability is essential and non-negotiable, and testing works. Just not in reading.” (Flypaper)
  • Pop quiz! Assess your knowledge of the two legislators who could soon head the Senate’s ed committee. (Politics K-12)
  • A new study concludes that schools are spending 2 percent of instructional time on testing. (Curriculum Matters)
  • Boyz II Men told Philadelphia students to push back against the budget cuts facing their schools. (Notebook)
  • Don’t tell teachers unions that this year’s elections are boring, because they’re spending more than ever. (TIME)
  • The latest in a series chronicling an urban classroom in Ohio highlights the challenges of tardiness. (Larry Cuban)
  • Pearson apologized for an error in one of its products that a mother publicized. (Answer Sheet)
  • On the history of the blackboard, an old-school educational tool that still works. (Slate)
  • An investigation found that a North Carolina businessman is profiting mightily from charter schools. (ProPublica)
  • An excerpt from Bob Herbert’s new book looks back at Bill Gates’ involvement in education. (Politico Mag)
  • An argument for prediction markets, instead of backwards-looking school grades, in education. (Relinquishment)
  • A new journal aims to fill education research gaps by publishing papers that detail failures. (Inside School Research)
  • Here’s a primer on John Deasy’s long-expected but still surprising resignation as L.A.’s schools chief. (Atlantic)
  • To replace Deasy for now, Los Angeles recruited twice-retired, 82-year-old Ramon Cortines. (L.A. School Report)
  • The College Board’s efforts to improve scores on exams that it designs raises big questions. (Shanker)
Categories: Urban School News

Witt’s missing emails point to possible flaws in Jeffco policy, state open records laws

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 16:00

Call it “the case of Ken Witt’s disappearing emails.”

Jefferson County school board president Witt has no official record of district-related messages that he sent or received from a private email address during the last half of September, a time when the suburban county was embroiled in a heated debate about how teachers should be paid and how U.S. history should be taught.

But a Chalkbeat investigation found several instances of official business that Witt conducted during that time using that email address.

The discrepancy was discovered after Chalkbeat submitted an open records request asking for Witt’s emails from Sept. 15 through Sept. 30 and was told by district officials and board lawyer Brad Miller that there were none from his private account.

Additionally, Chalkbeat has learned Jeffco Public Schools might not be in compliance with state open records laws because it has no explicit policy for how its employees should maintain digital records, such as email.

That no records of email correspondence discussing school business exist in Witt’s private email account raises questions about the school board president’s commitment to transparency, a value to which he has repeatedly expressed his dedication.

In total, Chalkbeat has identified five email conversations pertaining to Jeffco business that Witt participated in through his private account but that were not included in the response to the records request. It’s unclear if more official emails were exchanged during that time that should have been issued to our request.

For example, Witt has no official record, according to the results of the records request filed by Chalkbeat, of an email he received at 8:20 p.m., Sept. 20 from a constituent encouraging him and board member Julie Williams to “keep up the good and hard work.”

Nor did Chalkbeat’s request turn up an email Witt sent his fellow board members from his private account at 9:06 a.m., on Sept. 16, asking how members of the board’s advisory committee is appointed. (Witt later forwarded that email to his colleagues from his Jeffco account.)

The request also failed to yield a copy of an email sent by one of Witt’s major campaign supporters discussing how to refocus the board on achievement goals and not on a controversial proposal to establish a curriculum review committee, even though Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, told us she sent such correspondence.

“I’ve been emailing with him,” Atwell told Chalkbeat last month.

(Atwell, on Friday, told Chalkbeat she does not recall either that statement or emailing Witt during that time period. Atwell was unable to immediately review her email because she was on vacation with her family in Florida.)

And finally, the request should have yielded several exchanges with a Chalkbeat reporter discussing the future of an advanced history class offered by Jeffco Public Schools.

But Witt’s lawyer, Brad Miller, told the Jeffco official fulfilling Chalkbeat’s open records request that the board president — who has faced criticism for obscuring the board’s operations from public view — has no emails in his private accounts discussing the public’s business between Sept. 15 and Sept. 30.

“Frankly, I don’t recall what your request included,” Miller told a Chalkbeat reporter when he was asked why an email exchange with a journalist might not be disclosed as part of a Colorado Open Records Act request, or CORA. “We’ve had dozens upon dozens of requests. I’ve found Ken to be very diligent to respond every time I can tell.”

Any written correspondence to conduct public business sent or received by an elected official in Colorado, regardless of its medium or whether the device used is personal or state property, is subject to the state’s open records laws, a fact Miller said all board members know.

“I have advised the board they have an equal obligation [to disclose emails] contained in personal accounts as it pertains to district business,” Miller said Thursday by phone. “I’ve made it very clear with all five, they don’t have an excuse or an expectation of privacy.”

Witt did not return repeated requests for comment. He also declined to discuss our investigation in person at Thursday’s board meeting.

It is unclear why Witt did not turn over the email conversations Chalkbeat learned about or obtained, or if they still exist on his personal email server.

Witt’s response to Chalkbeat’s request points to what experts say is a critical flaw in the state’s open records laws: There are no statewide guidelines that dictate how an elected official is to maintain public correspondence using personal email accounts.

“It could be that the [district's] policy allows them to delete these emails very quickly,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “But it doesn’t seem very transparent.”

Witt should be following Jeffco Public School’s policy on record-keeping, said Steve Zansberg, a lawyer for the Colorado Press Association.

Witt’s response also raises questions around whether he’s fulfilling his campaign promise of transparency.

Witt, Williams, and fellow board member John Newkirk, who make up the board’s majority, ran on a platform of transparency. And in an extensive interview with Chalkbeat earlier this year, Witt used the word “transparency” more than half a dozen times.

“We have worked very hard with this board to increase transparency and to increase dialogue,” Witt said in February.

Roberts argues that if an elected official truly believes in transparency, he or she shouldn’t be conducting public business outside of official channels.

“If a public official says they’re all about transparency, why are they conducting the public’s business on a private email account in the first place?” he said. “And why are [the emails] not available for the public to review for at least some reasonable time period?”

As part of its investigation, Chalkbeat asked for all emails sent or received by Witt and fellow board members Julie Williams and Lesley Dahlkemper from both their official Jeffco Public Schools account and their private email addresses between Sept. 15 and Sept. 30.

In response, the district provided hundreds of emails sent to and received by the three board members at their official Jeffco schools account. Miller also released dozens of district-related emails — that included notes from constituents, the media, and researchers — from Williams’ private account.

No emails from Dahlkemper’s personal email address were originally provided to Chalkbeat, either.

After receiving the open records request, forwarded to her from Miller, Dahlkemper scanned her personal email account for what she thought was considered “board business,” she said during an interview.

“When I think of board business, I think of conversations with other board members, about a vote or an issue,” she said.

When given other examples of what might constitute as a public document, including conversations with constituents, conducting research, or discussing political strategy with personal advisers, Dahlkemper revisited her email box and released to Chalkbeat five emails including a notice from Facebook that she had been tagged in a status update about school business and a newsletter from a Jeffco parent.

The law
Colorado law requires government agencies to establish a policy regarding digital records. The statue, 24-72-203(1)(b) reads, in part, “Where public records are kept only in miniaturized or digital form, whether on magnetic or optical disks, tapes, microfilm, microfiche, or otherwise, the official custodian shall: (I) Adopt a policy regarding the retention, archiving, and destruction of such records.”Here’s Poudre Valley’s policy, Denver’s policy,  and the Colorado Association of School Boards authored a generic policy members can adopt.

According to lawyers Chalkbeat consulted, Colorado law requires government agencies to adopt policies regarding the retention, archiving, and destruction of digital records, including emails. But the statute provides no further guidance on what those policies should be.

The state’s archive department does provided optional guidelines to different government bodies on how long to keep documents that agencies can adopt. For example, school districts should keep routine correspondence, including email, for two years.

Only about a third of the state’s school district’s have adopted the state’s guidance. Jeffco is not one of them.

Jeffco does have some written record-keeping policies, including for personnel and student files.

But the district does not have a written policy directing staff or its board when to delete emails, said district spokeswoman Melissa Reeves. And Miller said he’s never provided counsel to any of the five board members about how to either retain or destroy emails.

Kristin Edgar, outside counsel for Jeffco Public Schools, said that while she is not familiar with all of the policies Jeffco does or does not have, she believes the district is in accordance with the law regarding how the district maintains, releases, and destroys digital records — like email — because some of the district’s records are not digital.

Zansberg said Edgar’s position is “laughable.”

The district has been without a general counsel for nearly a year.

This lack of clarity and statewide expectations has created a de facto patchwork of policies, Roberts said.

“The retention issue is problematic,” Roberts said. “There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in the law, which I think is unfortunate. There needs to be some kind of system for retaining these records — whatever that is.”

Roberts said he hopes the state’s legislature takes up the issue of records — especially electronic correspondence — retention.

The state’s archive department is working to recruit more school districts and other government agencies to adopt their guidelines, said Sabrina D’Agosta, a spokeswoman for the department.

“We’re very interested in getting as many government entities to adopt our guidelines,” she said. “It creates a solid standards from one entity to the next.”

Shawna Fritzler, a Jeffco Public Schools parent and critic of the board majority that Witt leads, said she hopes the board considers adopting the state’s archivists guidelines and complies with the law.

“You want to be more transparent than less transparent,” she said. “Clearly there are a lot of us in the district screaming about this — and we can’t get them to take it seriously.”

Witt’s disappearing emails

These are a few of the emails Chalkbeat learned about that were either sent by or received by Ken Witt via his private email account. He did not provide these documents to Chalkbeat. 

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1326290-allemails.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1326290-allemails' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jury rules that Denver must pay some teachers for training time

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 08:29

the ruling is in

A jury ruled that Denver Public Schools will have to pay some teachers for time they spent in training to become certified to teach English language learners. ( Denver Post )

working out all the kinks

The results of the state's new science and social studies tests, which were supposed to be released today, will be delayed due to what state officials describe as a "small" error in the science scores. ( Gazette, 9News )

Welcome wagon

Denver Public Schools has hired Cleveland mayor's communications chief, a veteran of crisis management, for the same role for the school system. ( Denver Post )

stay in school

Local Durango community groups are joining forces to cut down on truancy. ( Durango Herald )

Election 2014

Here's a guide to the bond issue that is on the ballot in Boulder. ( Colorado Hometown Weekly )

Marcia Neal, who is running for a second term on the State Board of Education, explains her opposition to the Common Core standards and her interest in representing the state's rural schools. ( Steamboat Today )

Neal's opponent, Henry Roman, argues that policies like better early childhood education and increased school district autonomy will help schools improve access to education for everyone. ( Steamboat Today )

history lessons

A Wheat Ridge machine operator says the lesson of the uproar in Jeffco schools is that more citizens should become engaged in the political process. ( Denver Post )

looking forward, looking back

The Roaring Fork school district did slightly better than the state's average on a measure of how college-ready its 2012 graduates were. ( Post-Independent )

on track to graduate

A student service center at the Community College of Aurora is helping students make sure that they take courses that they'll be able to transfer to a four-year institution. ( Aurora Sentinel )

pera pensiveness

Conservative advocates argued that Colorado's pension program doesn't provide the incentives to attract and retain younger teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

psa

A Colorado Springs charter school will be closed on Friday due to a problem with its pipes. ( Gazette )

Denver's North High School was placed on lockdown on Thursday after a perceived threat. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

As CPS irons out school budgets, charters will also get more cash

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 18:42

CPS is increasing the per-pupil funding provided to charter schools for this year in order to “equalize” funding between them and traditional schools.

Charter school operators say that even with the slight increase, some of them are down so many students that they have had to shift spending around to create a balanced budget.

CPS will spend an additional $7.8 million on charter schools, but spokesman Bill McCaffrey says he is not sure how much more per-pupil that amounts to. 

The decision is in response to the late September announcement that CPS would not cut traditional school budgets even if they had less than the projected number of students. Under student-based budgeting, schools get a stipend for each student, but ever since implementing the new strategy two years ago, officials have declined to take money away from schools that enroll fewer students than expected.

"We must be fair and equitable and charter school students are still CPS students," McCaffrey says. 

CPS will spend an additional $24 million to let traditional schools keep money even if they enrolled fewer students, and to provide more money for those schools that got more students.

Charter schools had been budgeted to get the same per-pupil rate as district-run schools, which is an average of $4,390. Charter schools also get an additional $1,973 per student to make up for the support that traditional schools get from the district.

State law stipulates that charter schools must receive funding per student, so the district would have had to take away extra money from charters that enrolled fewer students than expected. Also, unlike CPS-run schools, charters have a cap for how many students they can enroll and must get CPS board approval to increase that cap. If they take in more than that cap, they don’t get more money.

Last year, as many as 38 of 120-plus charter schools did not have as many students as they were projected to get, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data. Many of the charters that were short of students were new.

 Though CPS must take an official count of students for state funding purposes on the 20th day of school, which was September 30, the district has not yet released school-by-school numbers.

McCaffrey has already acknowledged that the overall projection of 400,445 students district-wide was off by at least 3,000 students, leaving the district with a total of 397,000.

Categories: Urban School News

Advocates: Pension systems a disincentive for many teachers

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 16:34

Current public employee pension systems don’t provide the right incentives to attract and retain younger teachers and need serious reform, a trio of advocates argued Thursday.

“It’s not working,” said Andrew Rotherham of Bellwether Education Partners. And school district pension costs are “crowding out programs,” said Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

They joined Amanda Kocon of The New Teacher Project to speak at an event Thursday evening sponsored by the Colorado Pension Project, an advocacy effort that seeks to focus attention on what it sees as problems with teacher pensions. Chalkbeat Colorado sat down with the three earlier in the day.

Colorado’s PERA system serves not only teachers but also state employees and many higher education and local government workers. Despite a comprehensive 2010 law designed to shore up PERA by changing eligibility requirements for new employees, the pension system has remained a partisan issue.

Republican efforts to make further changes have been stopped by legislative Democrats, who want the effects of the 2010 law to play out undisturbed. The 2014 legislative session did authorize a series of new PERA studies (see story). While PERA continues to have a significant unfunded liability, its investment returns have been healthy in recent years (see story).

The group sees two key problems in the way pension systems currently are structured.

First, in most states it can take five years or more for teachers to “vest,” or become fully eligible, for pensions, meaning teachers can lose money if they leave the system before that. Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association has a five-year vesting time. Teachers who leave before that can recoup the money they put in, but money contributed by their employers stays with the system.

Some 64 percent of Colorado teachers leave within five years, according to the Pension Project.

Second, systems like PERA are structured so that the size of future benefits doesn’t begin to grow substantially until well into a teacher’s second decade of service.

Rotherham said only about 13 percent of Colorado teachers reach their full pensions.

Pension-reform advocates argue that vesting and benefit-growth methods should be changed so that teachers can receive full value from what they put into the system, earn benefits on a faster timeline and be able to carry it with them when they move on.

The three suggested a system under which current benefits for members nearing retirement would be protected, teachers in their middle years would be incentivized to sign up for different retirement products and new teachers would be under a new system.

“You simply have to find a way to honor benefits” for longer-term members of pension systems, Rotherham stressed.

The group agreed that it would take many years for pension systems to change under that scenario and for most teachers to receive what they see as better benefits. Rotherham also noted to political challenges of persuading elected officials to change pension systems.

They also acknowledged it’s hard to predict whether changing pension systems actually would incentivize more people to enter and stay in teaching.

Rotherham said research shows younger teachers are relatively indifferent to pensions as an incentive. “You’re not going to get people up in arms about pensions,” added Kocon.

The Colorado Pension Project supports many of the steps advocated by Jacobs, Kocon and Rotherham. The project is supported by the Anschutz, Donnell-Kay, Laura and John Arnold and Telluride foundations, and its membership include several organizations active in Denver education reform work.

Learn more
Categories: Urban School News

Seeking federal grant, Illinois promises huge investments in early childhood ed

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 10:37

As part of an ambitious application for up to $80 million in new federal preschool expansion money, the State of Illinois says it can commit to increasing its own spending on early childhood education programs by $250 million annually by 2020.

That would mean a complete reversal of the state’s previous trend of cutting back allocations to the Early Childhood Block Grant, which stands at about $300 million this fiscal year – down from $342 million in 2010. Now the state says it could increase spending by $50 million during each of the next five years until it hits the $550 million mark in 2020.

The money would help fund nearly 14,000 full-day preschool slots for 4-year-olds, prioritizing children with the highest needs – including those with developmental disabilities, who are homeless, in foster care or living in poverty. In addition, the state is proposing major investments in its preschool programs for 3-year-olds as well as its Birth to Five Initiative, which includes increased funding for child care assistance, home visiting programs and outreach to pregnant women.

“Sometime the federal competitions come around and you have to twist and turn yourself around to fit what they’re looking for,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, which submitted the federal proposal. “They came to us with what we were thinking we needed to do anyway and we’re planning to do […]. We think we put together a fabulous proposal.”

A massive infusion of state funds into early learning programs would give Illinois a competitive advantage over other states that applied for the four-year grant. But, given Illinois’ ongoing financial woes and the pending loss of income tax revenues in January (when a temporary tax increase is set to expire), it’s unclear where that additional money would come from. The budget is made even more uncertain with gubernatorial and state legislative elections coming up next month.

States that successfully obtain the grant but don’t make the investments they promised risk losing the federal dollars.

Galvanizing the early learning community

Hawley, whose office submitted the grant in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), didn’t explain how the state should pay for the $250 million commitment but stressed that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is a strong advocate for expanding early education programs.

“The governor has repeatedly said the legislature left their work unfinished when they left” the spring session, said Hawley, who didn’t comment on what could happen to the grant proposal should Quinn lose.

The governor’s challenger, Republican Bruce Rauner, has promised to increase funding to the state’s early childhood programs if elected. His wife, Diana, heads the Ounce of Prevention Fund, one of the state’s biggest early childhood education organizations.

Some advocates told Catalyst that federal funding could be used as leverage with the State Legislature to ensure increased spending on early childhood education.

“I think this galvanizes the early learning community to really stand up and demand that state lawmakers stop pretending that this is not urgent,” said Maria Whelan, president and CEO of Illinois Action for Children. “This is not speculative anymore. What we’re talking about is making a significant investment in making sure that the poorest, most at-risk children and their families have high-quality learning intervention that really will change their lives. If we as a state with a multi-billion dollar budget can’t come up with the money, then shame on us.”

In recent years, though, the Legislature has cut back spending on early childhood education. According to a report earlier this summer from Voices for Illinois Children, enrollment in state-funded preschool programs has “eroded” to levels not seen since 2005. The detailed report on the disparities in access to preschool across the state called for the Legislature to increase its investment.

Full-day classes, better teacher salaries

States had until Wednesday to apply for a piece of the federal Preschool Development Grants program, which was developed by the U.S Departments of Education and Health and Human Services earlier this year. The goal of the grants is to help states build and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for children from low-income families.

Unlike the state’s existing Preschool for All program, the new federal initiative requires full-day preschool. Another key difference is eligibility: 3- and 4-year-olds who are considered “at-risk” of academic failure are eligible for Preschool for All slots, but the new federal initiative is only for 4-year-olds from low-income families. The federal initiative also requires instructional staff salaries to be comparable to local K-12 salaries.

The federal funding awards will be announced in December.

Last month (ISBE) unanimously voted to authorize the submission of the state’s grant application with no discussion on the feasibility of the spending plan.  (See summary on page 282 in ISBE agenda.)

State schools Superintendent Christopher Koch recognized it’s unusual to ask for permission from the board before applying for a grant, but that he wanted to be “up front” about it because of the spending commitment that’s part of the application.

“If you approve this, we would include that amount of $50 million annually, I wanted you to know that up front,” Koch told the board. “You may do that anyway, regardless of whether we receive the grant.”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: ISAT news, charter study and the corruption cure

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 10:33

The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois students showed improvement in math in almost every grade last year, although the passing rates for reading dropped slightly.

District superintendents told the Tribune the improvements in math make sense, as they’ve been revamping curricula for three years in order to meet the more rigorous Common Core standards. Last year’s ISATs used only questions that were aligned to the new, controversial standards.

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has not officially released any of the data on the ISAT scores. But that information -- including school- and district- level data -- will be accessible to the public on October 31. CPS has traditionally released its ISAT information well before the state's official release, but officials have not said whether they plan to post it before October 31. This year, CPS will not be using the ISAT for its accountability system, leading a movement among parents to question why their children were forced to take it.

In addition to ISAT scores, a revamped state report card will include several new metrics and data, including information on post-secondary enrollment, freshman on-track rates and even rates of principal turnover and teacher retention. ISBE discussed some of the key, state-level findings from the report card during its meeting yesterday, including the fact that the percentage of white students has dropped below 50 percent for the first time

2. Looking forward…This week Chicago learned the grim details about the serious illness that has made CTU President Karen Lewis temporarily step down from her union position and back away from considering a mayoral run: Lewis, according to several media reports, suffers from a cancerous brain tumor. She had emergency surgery last week and is now recovering at home.

Her potential mayoral bid had excited many in Chicago’s progressive community who thought she’d be a formidable challenger to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Now, as Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos writes, progressives in Chicago are left without a standard-bearer, although a movement to elect progressive aldermanic candidates as well as put an elected school board to referendum in all 50 wards is underway.

The CTU, too, must now face contract negotiations without Lewis. The union has been in the process of forming its “big bargaining team” which will begin meeting with city officials in the coming weeks to discuss the teachers’ contract that expires next summer. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey admits he has big shoes to fill in a Crain’s article profiling the temporary new union boss. But even though Lewis isn’t running for mayor, the fight for equity in the city continues, Sharkey told a group of teachers Wednesday evening. So it was no surprise that shortly after Emanuel presented his proposed budget to City Council on Wednesday afternoon, the CTU was quick to issue its own response on how the budget “continues a top-down imposition of two distinct cities, one for the privileged and one for everyone else.”

3. More charter fodder… The Tribune, Sun-Times and Crain’s all covered the release of a report that concluded charter schools perform worse than traditional schools, even as the fact that families select them--and students are presumably more motivated--seemingly signals that they should be performing better. As the report’s author Myron Orfield points out, other more comprehensive studies have found mostly mixed results when comparing Chicago’s charters to traditional, non-selective schools. Orfield, however, only uses one year of data to conclude that, as a group, charters are worse.

Orfield’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota is mostly focused on how housing and school segregation is harmful. The report notes that Chicago’s charter schools are less likely to be diverse than other district schools. Orfield identifies schools as diverse if they have a mix of black and Latino students, as well as black, Latino and white students. But it is hard to blame school segregation on charter schools. With only 9 percent white students and neighborhood segregation pretty much the only traditional schools in the district that are truly diverse are some of the selective and magnet schools.

According to the Tribune, Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools quickly dismissed the report as a "policy piece masquerading as research."

4. Tangled web…There is growing concern about the way charter schools are allowed to do business. A ProPublica story looks at a North Carolina businessman named Baker Mitchell. Mitchell sat on the board of a charter school network and, at the same time, the companies he owns served as vendors for the charter, providing everything from the management to the buildings they rented to their desks and computers. North Carolina regulators eventually pressured him to step down from the board, but he still serves as the board’s secretary, taking notes at meetings.

Mitchell also played a political role, sitting on the state’s Charter School Advisory Committee and later pushing through a bill that loosened regulations over charters and get this, gave tax breaks to landlords, like Mitchell, who rent to charter schools.

ProPublica’s story says that the U.S. Department of Education is looking into such relationships and notes that the FBI sent out subpoenas to operators of at least three companies.

5. Cure for corruption?... Professor and researcher Dick Simpson told a state task force on Monday that the lack of “citizenship education” is the main reason that Illinois is one of the most corrupt states. He and others at the Monday hearing endorsed the recommendations in a preliminary task force report that calls for all students to take a civic learning class and for a revision of service learning requirements. If approved Illinois would join 20 other states that have standards related to civic education and engagement.

Barbara Cruz, a senior at Hancock High School, said that students in her community often don’t feel accurately represented by their elected officials, but don’t know what to do about it. “We are not apathetic, we are not hopeless, and we are not too stubborn to change. The truth is, we are going to be at the forefront, if you guys let us.”

Speaking of teaching service, over 100 schools in Illinois have already signed up to participate in this year’s We Day, an April event that celebrates students’ community service. The event was launched this week at Farragut High School where Martin Luther King III among others spoke. The initiative started in Toronto, Canada and has since expanded to 14 cities in three countries, including Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Big bucks raised in preschool tax campaign

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 09:44

A new IB

Northfield High School, which will open next August in Stapleton, will offer a rare mix - an International Baccalaureate program for all students, up to half of whom may hail from low-income families. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Campaign cash

Well over a quarter of a million dollars has been raised by the campaign to pass an increase in the sales tax that supports Denver Preschool Program scholarships. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Campaign committees supporting proposed school district tax increases around the state have raised nearly $340,000, according to reports filed with the secretary of state this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Today's Jeffco Interrupted

Who's writing what you're reading online about the endless Jeffco schools mess? We decided to take a look at the who's who of the online players in the debate as it's unfolding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Test anxiety

A group of top state education officials said Wednesday it aims to whittle down the number of tests students take in elementary and secondary schools by identifying and eliminating unnecessary ones. ( NPR )

Clock is ticking

Checking on progress, the Greeley school board tours a middle school that is in the fourth year of the five-year accountability clock. ( Greeley Tribune )

Progress report

Pueblo 60's new superintendent updates reporters on her first 100 days on the job. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Education divide

Candidates in a battleground state House race displayed sharply divergent views on education during a debate. ( Durango Herald )

Commentary

A consortium of Colorado leaders and educators who believe in the critical importance of early learning are using an important and provocative television broadcast to launch a movement, writes RMPBS chief Doug Price. ( Gazette )

Another A68 naysayer

Another newspaper joins the list of editorial pages urging voters to reject Amendment 68, the slots-for-schools constitutional amendment. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Big bucks raised in campaign for Denver preschool tax

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 23:17

Well over a quarter of a million dollars has been raised by the campaign to pass an increase in the sales tax that supports Denver Preschool Program scholarships.

The $277,900 dwarfs the amounts raised by even the largest-contribution campaigns for school district tax increases – see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on those efforts.

The Denver campaign war chest also is reminiscent of the hefty amounts donated in recent elections to pro-administration Denver Public Schools board candidates and to the effort to pass a DPS bond issue in 2010.

The list of donors to Preschool Matters also includes a lot of familiar names – corporate, philanthropic and individual – from those prior donation lists and from a variety of education reform initiatives.

For instance, the Gary Community Investment Co. kicked in $100,000 to pass the proposal, which is measure 2A on Denver ballots. (See the chart to the right and below for a full list of donors who’ve given $5,000 or more to the effort.)

The campaign’s income is expected to grow. A fundraiser was held Wednesday evening at Denver’s latest hot public space, the Great Hall at Union Station. Suggested contributions ran from $100 for a “guest” to $5,000 for a “host.”

The amount raised by Preschool Matters is a fraction of the $1 million raised – and $992,355 spent – in 2006, when the tax was approved on the third try. For all that campaign effort, the measure passed with only 50.6 percent of the vote.

The campaign so far has spent $136,822, primarily on mailers and online ads, according to Lynea Hansen of Strategies 360, the political consulting firm that has handling the campaign and that has received the bulk of committee spending.

This year’s 2A proposes to increase and extend the sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

Since 2007, the program has provided about $55 million in tuition credits to 31,816 four-year-olds. The credit is determined by family need and the quality of the preschool provider. The average tuition credit during the 2013-14 school year was $290. The program also conducts quality reviews and professional development for its partnered-preschool providers.

Curious about who else has contributed – and who hasn’t – to Preschool Matters? Peruse the September, August and July lists of contributors.

Categories: Urban School News

Developers, contractors, teachers union big donors in district tax campaigns

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 18:18

Campaign committees supporting proposed school district tax increases around the state have raised nearly $340,000, according to reports filed with the secretary of state this week.

The biggest donors were construction companies, bond advisors, real estate developers and education unions, who contributed more than half the $338,888 given to campaign committees in 20 districts.

Some two-dozen districts are seeking about $1.5 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and increased operating funds. (Get full details in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.)

The biggest war chests have been raised by committees supporting multi-million bond issues in two rapidly growing districts, Falcon in El Paso County and Brighton in Adams County.

Significant sums also have been raised by committees backing tax proposals in the Adams 12-Five Star, Boulder Valley and Mapleton districts.

In Falcon, Citizens for District 49 has raised $85,000 and spent $62,130. About half the contributions – $40,000 – has come from an independent expenditure committee named the Committee for Colorado Education Reform. That group, in turn, has been funded by MREC Oakwood CO Ranch LLC, a partnership that is developing the Banning Lewis Ranch, a large development in the district.

The committee also has received $25,000 from Falcon Community Builders for Classrooms, a construction-industry related group, and $20,000 from Stifel Nicholaus, an investment banking company that works with school districts.

Falcon is seeking voter approval for a $107.4 million bond issue to build new schools.

In Brighton, the IAM27J committee has raised $66,668 and spent $50,173. Large contributions include $3,500 from the Brighton Education Association, $4,000 from JHL Constructors and $10,000 from Oakwood Homes. (Oakwood is a partner in the Banning Lewis Ranch development referenced above.)

The district is proposing a $148 million bond issue for new schools and other projects.

Residential development in the two districts has sparked significant enrollment growth. Falcon grew from 8,660 students in 2003 to 18,880 in 2013, rising from 19th to 14th on the list of districts as ranked by enrollment. Brighton ballooned from 8,265 to 16,698 students in the same period, rising from 21st to 16th.

Both districts have a mixed history of persuading voters to pay for new buildings to hold all those students. A $125 million Falcon bond issue failed in 2010, and the last bond to pass was $28 million in 2001.

Over the last 14 years Brighton has passed three bond issues totaling $167.4 million but lost three others totaling $241.5 million.

Fundraising in other districts

The third largest amount of money, $58,020, has been raised by Citizens for Adams 12 Schools, which is backing the district’s $220 million bond and $15 million override. The largest contributions include $20,000 from real estate company WS-ACB Development, $17,000 from Stifel Nicolaus, $10,000 from Adophson & Petersen construction company, $5,000 from the district classified employees association and $4,000 from the Colorado Education Association.

In addition to Adams 12 and Brighton, three other districts in western Adams County have tax measures on the ballot. (Get details on those and all district tax proposals in the spreadsheet at the bottom on this story.)

In Adams 14 the We Believe committee has raised $10,259 and spent $5,451. RBC Capital Markets gave $2,500.

In Mapleton the Yes for Mapleton group has raised $17,415 and spent $14,279. Major contributions include $10,000 from Mountain States Toyota, which is in the district, and a combined $4,500 from construction firm Neenan Co. and three executives.

There’s no campaign committee in Westminster, where the district is requesting a $20 million bond. (State laws bars districts from spending public money in support of ballot issues, so independent campaign committees are formed in some, but not all, districts.)

The Boulder Valley school district is proposing this year’s largest tax measure, a $576.4 million bond issue. District enrollment — 30,546 in 2013 — has grown only about 10 percent in the last decade. But district leaders say years of budget cuts and deferred maintenance require the large bond issue.

The Yes on 3A committee has raised $33,623, including donations of $4,000 from CEA, $2,000 each from two executives of Adolphson & Peterson and $1,500 from the Boulder Valley Education Association, along with a large number of smaller individual donations. The committee has spent $24,021.

Cheyenne Mountain is the only other district where a campaign committee has raised more than $10,000. All of that money has come from relatively small individual and business contributions.

Overall contributions to district campaigns fluctuate election-to-election depending mostly on how many big districts have measures on the ballot. In 2012, the most recent election with a large number of districts on the ballot, nearly $1 million had been raised by mid-October. Aurora, Cherry Creek, Denver and Jefferson County all had proposals before voters. There also were a large number of district ballot issues in 2011, but the only big district was Douglas County, and mid-October fundraising totaled only about $263,000.

The next reporting deadline is Oct. 31.

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Oct. 6.

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Categories: Urban School News

Northfield’s “IB for All” a dramatically new model for Denver high schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 17:58

On the surface, the new Northfield High School slated to open in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood next year might seem as traditional as can be — a large, comprehensive high school drawing students from the surrounding neighborhood.

But the school’s new principal, Avi Tropper, also has an audacious and unusual ambition for the school: to prove that all students — no matter their prior academic history — can thrive under the demanding International Baccalaureate course of study that’s typically targeted only to high-achievers.

Many other high schools have “de-tracked,” meaning they’ve placed all students in higher-level courses instead of tracking them into classes of varying difficulty based on their past academic performance. A few have implemented “IB for all,” in which every student spends ninth and tenth grades in rigorous preparatory classes and then transitions into the IB Diploma Program as a junior.

But Northfield may be the first school in the country to try “IB for all” with so high a proportion of low-income students.

Tropper, 34, plans to recruit at least a third of his student body from the lower-income neighborhoods of Far Northeast Denver, and an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the school’s students will likely be from low-income families, as measured by eligibility for federally subsidized school lunches.

“What Avi is trying to do will be challenging, and to be blunt it should be,” said Kevin Welner, a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who has studied de-tracking efforts nationwide. “It should be hard.”

But, said Welner, there may be a moral imperative to try.

“The reason we have so much tracking is that people say, ‘de-tracking looks too hard. I am not going de-track,’” Welner said. “But when you put kids in low track classes you give up on them.”

LEARN MORE:
Northfield High School Principal Avi Tropper will be holding a series of informational meetings for parents over the next several weeks, including one Thursday Oct. 16 in Stapleton. Here are the dates, times and locations.Visit Northfield High’s Facebook page

Denver has already seen its share of resistance to the idea of making selective academic programs more inclusive. Last year, the district signaled its intention to open its well-known, 30-year-old IB program at George Washington High School, to students in its general-track program who have historically been barred from taking the more demanding courses. The move drew fierce protests from some parents, who fear that opening the program to a broader pool of students will dilute its rigor. Changes take effect next school year.

But Tropper is confident that his model will work, and he bristles at the suggestion that a student body with more low-income kids will be tougher to get over a high bar.

“I don’t believe that free- and reduced-lunch status determines whether a student can learn,” Tropper said during a recent interview. “At some level I just don’t accept the question. Underlying the question is a question I have thought a lot about, which is when you implement a program that is rigorous and challenging school-wide, how do you support every single student through it?”

PHOTO: Alan GottliebAvi Tropper

The answer, Tropper said, is relatively straightforward. Design a system where teams of teachers work closely with the same small group of students over four years. Use proven, engaging curriculum at ninth and tenth grades that ties seamlessly into the 11th and 12th IB Diploma Program. Provide a variety of extra supports for struggling students. And, perhaps most important, focus as much on the psychological well-being of students as on academics.

“Developing the ‘whole person’ is “an important part of high school, of working with adolescents,” Tropper said. “It is a time of exploration, a time of self-definition, a time to figure out who am I, what do I want to do with my life, what do I value, what’s important? Sometimes schools don’t do a good job of working with students as they explore these questions. We are focused on that.”

Will all that be enough to make Northfield work for all students?

Perhaps, but if the school truly intends to work with students at widely varying levels of academic preparation, then Tropper is taking on a huge challenge, said Frederick M. Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

“If your reality is some kids doing math at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, and you are trying to run an IB program, it will take an enormous amount of energy to get those kids up to grade level, much less to an IB level,” Hess said. “That time and energy will come at expense of other kids, most likely the more prepared kids.”

Northfield will launch with some advantages, Hess said. First, the fact that the school will open with only ninth-graders makes it possible to establish a strong school culture with the founding class. Also, hiring Tropper a year before the school opens gives the principal a chance to plan, build a program, and recruit an aligned and fired-up teaching staff.

Given those advantages, Hess said, It seems likely Northfield will get off to a strong start.

Then, “as you add grades, add teachers, add kids, it just gets harder to keep the web as tightly wound,” he said. “It’s easy to imagine a story of one to two years of great success but then to see things starting to get more challenging.”

Despite Hess’ cautions, Tropper and his plans have fans among educators who have implemented “IB for all” in their schools.

“Avi’s is a wonderful experiment,”  said Carol Burris, who has gradually rolled out an “IB for all” program at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y. over the past several years.

Although her school has a much lower proportion of low-income students than Northfield — about 14 percent — Burris said the way Denver Public Schools and Tropper are thinking about the school’s student composition gives it a real shot at succeeding.

“His school has a nice natural alignment of an attendance area that is predominantly upper-middle income, with lower-income kids choicing in because they have bought into the challenge and want the challenge,” Burris said. “I am so excited for him. He can count on me and the few other pioneers of ‘IB for all’ to give him support.”

Eric Hieser, who has run the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, Mass. for 10 years, said one key to Northfield’s success will be in carefully defining what the principal, staff, and district consider success to be.

Hieser said his school (where fewer than 10 percent of students qualify for subsidized lunches) does not measure itself based on how many students pass IB exams or earn the prestigious IB diploma. Rather, he said, staff focuses on helping each student achieve at his or her highest potential. Passing IB exams and getting college credit is not nearly as important as challenging oneself and putting forth maximum effort, he said.

“You take IB (classes) so you can move on and be successful, develop analytical skills that prompt you to question everything,” he said. “If you hustle, you will be better served for having been in IB, whether you pass exams or not, than going through a 11th or 12th grade history class that has no accountability to it.”

Tropper plans to help develop these critical and analytical thinking skills in part by giving students a major say in how their school operates. Students will play key roles in designing many aspects of the school’s culture, including its dress code and discipline policies. He has enlisted the services of Project VOYCE, a Denver nonprofit, to train students in advocating for their own empowerment.

Empowering students comes with risks, but Tropper said the payoffs are potentially huge.

“Sometimes I get questions about this: ‘well, students might make mistakes.’ I like to point out that adult government makes plenty of mistakes as well,” he said. “What  happens in high school is there is a space and environment of support where yes, we might make some mistakes, but we can support each other and move beyond that. That  is critical to success for a high school.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco interrupted: Who’s writing what you’re reading?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 15:57

The first post on JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch.org, a website created to track the efforts of a new school board majority who many fear will lead to radical change in their school district, was uploaded nearly a year ago on a January evening.

It reads, in part, “Specifically, we are worried about the ideological direction that they may try to take the district.”

Since then, hundreds of blog updates, links, videos, and comments have been posted on that website and several others that have sprung up. These websites, mostly critical of the Jefferson County Board of Education and its new majority, have served as part watchdog, part organizing tool, and part rumor mill.

While the motives driving the websites and their creators are clear, the identities of the individuals behind the sites and their financial backers are often not.

What’s happening in Jeffco is a smaller example of the phenomenon that’s happened all over the world of on-the-ground activism being spread and aided by online tools like WordPress and Twitter.

During a week’s worth of protests last month, students and adults panned a controversial proposal that would review an advanced history class. At the height of the protests, a hashtag “#JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory” was trending nationwide.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco interrupted 

“Social media has definitely become a player in how news is reported, but in some cases it also has a role in how news happens,” said Gil Asakawa, manager of student media at the University of Colorado-Boulder and an expert on social media. “Social media, because it gathers together all these voices of like mind, it can actually facilitate an event, like a protest. It happened in Iran during the elections there four years ago, and it has happened pretty much anywhere there’s a big policy protest.”

Both journalists and consumers of online media need to be wary.

“The accuracy of stuff that is out there in social media, well, you have to take it with a little bit of a grain of salt because of how easy it is to say whatever you want,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the consumer, public to question everything and decide what sources you can trust.”

With promise of more websites and advocacy organizations to come, Chalkbeat Colorado decided to take a look at the who’s who of the online players in the debate as it’s unfolding.

Support Jeffco Kids

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: February 2014
Founded by: Jeffco parents Shawna Fritzler and Jonna Levine. Fritzler has held many voluntary positions in the district, including serving as chair of the Strategic Planning and Advisory Council. Levine previously served on the district’s budget development committee.
Claim to fame: Support Jeffco Kids has a large library of videos, produced by another organization called Transparency Jeffco, from previous board meetings. The videos capture on film some of the board’s most controversial movements, giving viewers a sense of the tense atmosphere at board meetings. But, viewers should be aware, the videos are edited and are sometimes accompanied by commentary.
FYI: Support Jeffco Kids is a social welfare nonprofit that claims tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the federal tax code. Unlike other nonprofits, these organizations are allowed to endorse candidates and donate to candidates.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @supportJeffkids, and is on Facebook.

JeffcoTruth.org

Position: Anti-teachers union
Founded: September 2014
Founded by: Unknown
Claim to fame: JeffcoTruth launched during a week of student walkouts with two videos. The videos intend to blame the Jefferson County Education Association for the student walkouts. In one video, a compilation of student interviews, the organization tries to reclaim the narrative of the curriculum review committee by attempting to discredit the students’ motives and highlighting the school board’s duty to review curriculum. Like some of the Support Jeffco Kids videos, the JeffcoTruth reels have a clear agenda. Unlike the Support Jeffco Kids video, they have a killer soundtrack featuring the ominous attack-ad themed music.
FYI: Rumors have circled across Jefferson County about who exactly is behind the website. Some point to local conservatives. Others suggest out-of-state money is behind the effort.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @JeffcoTruths, and is on Facebook.

Stand Up For All Students

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: Spring 2014
Founded by: Jefferson County Education Association
Claim to fame: More than anything, Stand Up has been more of a social movement and brand than a just website. The organization has launched and maintained a successful hashtag on Twitter, #standup4kids,” and “IRL” will begin to sell T-shirts. Other organizations have adopted similar branding. Stand Up has also led the organizing behind three countywide protests, including two along Wadsworth Boulevard that stretches 30 miles.
FYI: Critics of the union claim that rather than basing their arguments on fact, they’re using their outsized might and “field-tested” talking points of secrecy, waste, and disrespect to win emotional support. A union spokesman told Chalkbeat the union hasn’t polled on any language.
Social media: No official Twitter of Facebook presence. Advocates are encouraged to tweet with the hashtag “#standup4kids.”

JeffCo School Board Watch

Position: Anti-board majority
Founded: January 2014
Founded by: Unknown
Claim to fame: No other website spooks supporters of the board majority like JCSBW, short for JeffCo School Board Watch. Some believe it’s backed by local Democrats. But sources close to the organization and those who claim to have interacted with the organization say that’s not true. Perhaps JCSBW’s signature post is this breakdown of all the elements of a recall effort.
FYI: If you’re looking for shortcuts to specific pages on the actual Jeffco Public Schools website, JSBW is a great place to start. It has links to meeting agendas, school ratings, and email addresses for board members.
Social media: The group has a Twitter handle, @JCSBW.

Other organizations and resources

Before there was a new board majority, there was already an active online ecosystem surrounding Jeffco Public Schools. Here is a look at a couple of additional players who have continued to play an active role as the politics have intensified.

Jeffco Students First

Founded in 2011, Jeffco Students First has been leading the charge for education reform ever since. In 2013, the nonprofit’s political arm Jeffco Students First Action supported the candidates who now make up the board majority and has continued to do so. Its website features talking points and blog posts that generally back up — and sometimes elaborates — the reasons board majority’s thinking. Jeffco Students First also distributes the Jeffco Observer, an education only publication. The organization has a Facebook page and Twitter handle, @JCStudentsFirst.

Jeffco PTA

This isn’t your mother’s PTA bake sale. One of the organizations most critical of the board majority has been the Jeffco Parents and Teachers Assocation. Led by Michele Patterson, the Jeffco PTA is a regular at board meetings and played a role in several of the countywide protests. When not acting like a watchdog, the organizations help recruit parents to volunteer on a number of school committees. It has a Facebook page and Twitter handle, @JeffcoPTA.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Father of Arapahoe High shooter breaks his silence

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:32

Decision time

One year after a proposed billion dollar tax hike to fund public schools was spiked at the ballot box, there are plenty of education related issues and races for voters to decide this Election Day. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arapahoe High School shooting

The father of Arapahoe High School shooter Karl Pierson said he's trying to rationalize how his son, a former Boy Scout, could be a killer. ( Denver Post )

Road show

Have opinions about the state's testing diet? The appointed task force that is studying K-12 testing in Colorado is going on the road to gather public opinions about the issue. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

For the second time since 2009, the Greeley school board has approved a contract its teachers union didn't. Teachers told the board morale is at an all time low. ( Greeley Tribune )

Some Douglas County parents are upset over a teacher's abrupt departure. They believe the exit has something to do with a larger problem. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Cleveland's chief communications officer is taking a job at Denver Public Schools. ( Cleveland.com )

Student enrollment is down in the Brush school district. If voters don't approve a local tax increase, the district will have to cut more than a half million dollars from its budget. ( Brush News Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force wants to hear what you think

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 14:23

The appointed task force that is studying K-12 testing in Colorado is going on the road to gather public opinions about the issue.

The series of roundtable discussions kicks off at 5:30 p.m. next Monday in the library of Denver’s North High School, 2690 N. Speer Blvd. It’s the only meeting scheduled in the metro area.

Some members of the task force will attend all the roundtables, and they’re interested in hearing comments on the elements of a statewide testing system, how to improve Colorado testing and about local district testing.

The 15-member Standards and Assessments Task Force was established by a 2014 law and is assigned to study the state’s testing system and develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. It has met three times, and the clock is ticking for the group, which for now has four more full meetings scheduled before the Jan. 31, 2015, deadline for a report and recommendations on what’s probably the most contentious issue in Colorado education today.

Seven other meetings are scheduled throughout the state from Oct. 22 to Nov. 13. Locations include Edwards, Colorado Springs, Loveland, Monte Vista, Grand Junction and Fort Collins. See the detailed list of times and locations here. The task force also is accepting public comment by email at 1202taskforcefeedback@gmail.com.

Learn more about the group in this recent Chalkbeat Colorado story, and get more information on the task force webpage.

Categories: Urban School News

An education voter’s guide to the 2014 election

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 13:32
The political scene for education

The results of Colorado’s 2014 elections could have important implications for education policy, even if education hasn’t necessarily been a high visibility issue in many campaigns.

At the state level, a shift in partisan control of the governor’s office or the legislature could mean changes in academic standards (including use of the Common Core State Standards), testing and more flexibility for local school districts. But how such changes might play out is difficult to predict, given the possibility of split partisan control of the governorship and the two houses of the General Assembly.

Education groups with money – campaign committees affiliated with the Colorado Education Association and Democrats for Education Reform – are putting their campaign contribution bets on Democrats. And the reform-oriented group Climb Higher Colorado recently announced availability of a “truth squad” – executives of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and Stand for Children – for comment on issues like Common Core and PARCC tests.

Voters statewide will decide if school districts will receive a modest amount of additional funding from expansion of casino gambling and if district-union negotiation sessions will be conducted in public. Schools districts around the state have proposed a record total amount of bond issues and property tax overrides, and Denver voters will decide on a tax increase for the Denver Preschool Program.

And several seats are up for election on Colorado’s only two elected statewide education bodies, the State Board of Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Top of the ticket

Education has not been a high-profile issue in the race between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and GOP challenger Bob Beauprez.

Hickenlooper campaign materials don’t promote any new education initiatives but tout education measures he supported in recent legislative sessions, including early literacy, district financial transparency, increased funding for higher education and college scholarships, improved K-12 funding and streamlining of state early childhood programs. (See the campaign statement on education policy here.)

For the most part Beauprez’ education platform is short on details, supporting “high educational standards,” promising teachers “more flexibility” and less time spent on tests and support for school choice. Beauprez does criticize “one-size-fits-all federal approaches to education” and promises to take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards – all standard GOP talking points these days. (See his full education statement here.)

Beauprez repeatedly has talked about the importance of early literacy, supporting many provisions already required by the READ Act, and promising his wife will launch a privately funded foundation to provide a new book every month to all Colorado children under age 5.

Education takes an even lower profile in Senate and congressional races.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s website makes a brief reference to legislation on refinancing college debt, while GOP challenger Cory Gardner’s site mentions saving for college and his support of “efforts to entrust parents and educators with improving curriculum in their communities.”

In the hot 6th Congressional District race, Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff’s site says, “Schools aren’t factories, and students aren’t widgets. We will continue to lose effective teachers if we force them simply to teach to a test.” GOP Rep. Mike Coffman’s site makes no mention of education.

The legislature

The fight for legislative control is focused on the Senate, where Democrats currently have only an 18-17 majority. Ground zero is Jefferson County, where three Democratic incumbents are spending big to hold their seats. Among them are Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, and committee member Rachel Zenzinger.

Other Senate races feature two high-profile former Democratic House members, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.

Democrats are expected to have an easier time retaining House control.

See the charts below for information about legislative races of particular interest to education. Hover over the name of a district to see a breakdown of registered voters by political party or over a candidate name to see more information about them.

State Senate

State House

State Board of Education

There are two contested races this year. In the 3rd District Republican incumbent Marcia Neal Neal is being challenged by Democrat Henry Roman, former Pueblo 60 superintendent. Democratic incumbent Jane Goff faces Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member, in the 7th District.

Democratic newcomer Valentina Flores is unopposed in the 1st District. In the 5th District GOP incumbent Paul Lundeen is running unopposed for the state House so will be replaced by a Republican appointee after the election.

» Learn more

Statewide ballot measures

Two of this year’s four statewide ballot measure involve education.

The most visible is Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would allow creation of a casino in Arapahoe County, with some of the revenues earmarked for per-pupil grants to school districts statewide. Voters have been barraged with a heavy schedule of TV ads both for and against the measure. Education groups are neutral or opposed to the measure, as is traditional with proposed “sin taxes” to fund schools.

» Learn more

Proposition 104 has had a much lower profile. Backed by the conservative Independence Institute, the measure would require collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open. Education unions and interest groups are opposed.

» Learn more

Local district ballot measures

It’s a record year for school district tax proposals – some two dozen districts are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion income tax increase for K-12 funding.

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

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

» Learn more

Denver Preschool Program tax

In Denver voters will decide whether to increase and extend a sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

» Learn more

CU Board of Regents

Three seats on the nine-member board are being contested, and some observers think Democrats have a shot at gaining the majority on the board.

In the 6th District Democrat Naquetta Ricks and Republican John Carson are seeking the seat vacated by Republican Jim Geddes, who’s now on the Douglas County school board, where Carson formerly served. Ricks is outspending Carson, and Romanoff is given a chance at unseating Coffman in the same district.

In the 7th District, incumbent Democrat Irene Griego faces Libertarian Steve Golter in the 7th Congressional District. Both the 6th and 7th districts registration is evenly split among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

In the traditionally Democratic 2nd District Democrat Linda Shoemaker, Republican Kim McGahey and Libertarian Daniel Ong are running.

» Learn more (Boulder Daily Camera)

Categories: Urban School News

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