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Denver voters to decide extension, expansion of preschool program in November

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 22:11

Denver’s City Council on Monday night agreed to ask the city’s voters to extend and raise a sales tax to fund a preschool program that provides tuition scholarships to families of four-year-olds.

The vote, 10-1, was expected.

If approved by Denver voters, the sales tax would be raised from .12 percent to .15 percent, or 15 cents for every $100 spent in Denver on taxable items. It would also extend the tax until 2026.

The additional revenue would go to reinstate summer programs and keep up with the demand of full- and extended-day options, officials from the Denver Preschool Program have said.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced his intent to campaign for the tax increase earlier this summer. The official campaign backing the tax, Preschool Matters, is co-chaired by Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks and has some of Denver’s most influential politico heavyweights behind it.

Still, Denver voters narrowly approved the tax in 2006 — the third time supporters took the initiative to the ballot. And supporters, while confident they have the data to prove the Denver Preschool Program is a success, are prepping for an uphill battle.

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 Denver Preschool Program also conducts quality reviews and professional development for its partnered-preschool providers.

Eight individuals spoke in favor of the ballot initiative at the council meeting.

“I can see a notable difference in the student who attend a preschool program,” said Stephanie Romero. Students who do not attend preschool “lack the confidence to become independent learners.”

Single mother JoMarie Garcia told the council the Denver Preschool Program allowed her to send her student to preschool, something she didn’t think she could afford. Her preschooler was also ready for kindergarten by the end of the year.

“My daughter went into preschool already able to sound out words,” Garcia said. “When she went into kindergarten she was ready to read.”

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, the lone no vote, said she supports early childhood education but she would rather see the state’s program expand rather than the city — which has no official business in public education — take on the effort.

She also raised concerns about the programs administrative expenses. Under city ordinance, the Denver Preschool Program has a 5 percent limit on administrative costs. But Faatz believes its much higher because it doesn’t consider media or customer service as contract work.

Part of the reauthorization would allow the program to increase its administrative costs by 2 percent. Faatz estimated the program could be spending as much as 19 percent of its budget on items not related to tuition credits.

“That’s just too high,” she said.

The program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum said using Faatz’s math, the total costs discussed was about 10 percent of the programs budget $11.8 million budget.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS to expand STEM options with $7M grant

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:49

Money matter

School district leaders don’t necessarily see new budget and spending reporting requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

expanding options

A $7 million grant is helping Denver Public Schools to expand its science, technology, engineering, and math offerings next school year. ( Denver Post )

Scout's honor

A Longmont Eagle Scout is rounding up used band instruments for a local — and growing — middle school. ( Longmont Times-Call )

#teamchalkbeat

Don't forget, the Chalkbeat Book Club kicks off today with Elizabeth Green's "Building A Better Teacher." It's totally going to be better than Oprah's. Yeah, we went there. Join today on Facebook. ( Facebook )

Still need convincing? Check out Green's weekend interview with NPR via local affiliate KUNC. ( KUNC )

And teachers, we especially want to hear from you! We're curious how much you plan to spend to outfit your classrooms and whether new reforms are putting an extra burden on your back-to-school budget. Fill out our survey here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school

While we're on the subject of back to school, here are 37 "insanely smart" teacher hacks to file away. ( Buzzfeed )

Non-Hispanic white students are projected to be the minority this school year for the first time. The shift is largely due to a growing Hispanic population. ( AP via 9News )

Open communication between parents and students can go a long way during the back-to-school season, a psychologist said. ( 9News )

Pueblo City Schools is launching an app this year for parents and students to better understand their lunch menu. ( Fox 21 )

Every penny counts

Vail students who were dually enrolled in high school and college courses last year saved an estimated $1 million. ( Vail Daily )

Out of school context

Environmental education leaders, business people and others will meet later this month to develop an environmental education curriculum. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Introducing the Chalkbeat book club

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:28
  • Discussion of “Building a Better Teacher” is starting in the brand-new Chalkbeat Book Club. Join now!
  • A critique of the book says content, not teaching quality, has derailed Americans’ math learning. (Brookings)
  • A new kind of calculator that requires estimation could be a tool in Common Core-aligned classrooms. (Voice of San Diego)
  • The story of one student arrested in a Chicago school last year shows the potential of diversion programs. (Catalyst)
  • A new nonprofit joins a cadre of others in evaluating Common Core teaching materials. (Curriculum Matters)
  • In a hift, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel picked a former teacher and school administrator to advise him on education. (Sun-Times)
  • An educator rounds up the best advice she’s got for new teachers. (On the Shoulders of Giants)
  • A New Jersey district that gave some students iPads and others Chromebooks now prefers the less expensive gadget. (Atlantic)
  • Formal collaboration agreements between charter schools and districts allow strong practices to be shared. (Education Next)
  • Graduation rates are on the rise again in Texas. Is it another miracle? (Texas Tribune)
  • A Detroit school that lost students when it lengthened the year highlights the challenges of expanding learning time. (Hechinger)

Join the club!

Categories: Urban School News

“The places are poor, and the people are poor.”

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:06
“My goal here is that these kids aren’t out there slashing tires,” [Mimi] Marmon says. Everything she does, she says, is oriented toward setting their minds on getting jobs, which might not be the norm they grow up with in a place where government benefits often substitute for work. “My fear is that these kids grow up, and they think, ‘my parents lived through this, so I can too,’” Marmon says. “If you’ve got this mindset that the world owes you something, and that’s all you hear, it’s a very scary thing. I watch these kids and I just think, they’re so adorable when they’re little, but what’s their future going to be?”
– "How rural poverty is changing: Your fate is increasingly tied to your town," Washington Post

The southeastern Colorado town of Las Animas is fading, along with many rural towns. The Washington Post explores the intertwined fates of the town and its inhabitants, who often stay despite a lack of opportunities. Read the full article here for a look at how that decision impacts the lives of children who live there.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Districts take wary view of new transparency law

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:19

School district lobbyists did their best to kill the idea during the 2014 legislative session, but now that new financial reporting requirements are law, school districts and the Colorado Department of Education are scratching their heads and sorting out how to make them work.

There have been ripples of anxiety – and not a little confusion — in many districts as details of the mandate started to sink in after both the legislative session and the school year ended.

“People are grumpy,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer for Colorado Springs District 11. “No doubt about it.”

Some district leaders don’t necessarily see the requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes.

The financial transparency requirements are part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act that was at the center of fierce school finance policy debates during the 2014 session. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on all the bill’s provisions.)

What the law says has to be done

While many nuts and bolts of implementing the transparency requirements remain to be worked out, the new mandate goes significantly beyond a 2010 transparency law (get details on that here) and requires three main things:

Uniformity – The law requires greater standardization in how districts display financial information on their websites. “All districts will have to report [data] in the same fashion,” said Leanne Emm, associate commissioner for school finance at CDE.

Data for every school – Districts ultimately will have to report spending information for individual schools, information that some districts report now but others don’t.

One-stop shopping – Three years from now there will be a single website containing financial information about all districts and schools. The law requires the website to be designed so as “to ensure the greatest degree of clarity and comparability by laypersons of expenditures among school sites, school districts, the state Charter School Institute, and boards of cooperative services.” (The site will be created by a to-be-selected contractor, not CDE.)

What worries districts

A wide variety of district officials interviewed by Chalkbeat raised four main concerns about the law:

Implementation – District officials generally agree that compliance will be relatively painless for large districts but presents a greater challenge to some medium-sized and small districts. “It is going to be a lot of work for a lot of people. It depends on how big you are and how many people you have working for you,” Gustafson said.

Comparability – Even with the requirement for greater uniformity, some district officials wonder if district and school data will be fully comparable. They raise the question of likely district differences in how they account for costs borne by multiple schools – things like the salaries of special education teachers, psychologists and other staff who split their time among buildings.

“It is a significant change to set up your personnel systems [to account for] a teacher or even a principal who works at several different schools,” said Bill Sutter, chief financial officer of the Boulder Valley School District.

Use & Misuse – District officials say they support transparency as an ideal but are openly skeptical that new financial data will see much use by the public.

“Who’s going to actually look at this website?” asked Tracy John, business manager of the 606-student Peyton School District northeast of Colorado Springs.

Anecdotally, districts say there’s little public use of financial information currently available online. “I don’t receive very many calls about transparency,” said Guy Bellville, chief financial official of the Cherry Creek Schools.

And districts are nervous that advocacy groups will use school-level financial data for their own ends, ignoring the context and nuances of why districts spend money as they do.

“Rather than build confidence in school budgeting decisions, it is more likely to provide ammunition to public education detractors who have no interest in learning the deeper context or complexity that comes with school budgeting,” argues Jason Glass, superintendent of the Eagle County Schools.

Impact on student achievement – “Tell me how this is going to impact student achievement,” Gustafson said. “This is a distraction that takes away from student achievement.” Said Boulder’s Sutter, “I’m fairly certain there are no studies about how one more accountant in the district office is going to affect outcomes.”

Another view on data use

Sen. Mike Johnston, a prime sponsor of HB 14-1292 and the instigator of much recent education reform legislation, has a different take on the law.

The Denver Democrat made his case at a recent meeting of district finance officials and CDE staffers who are starting to flesh out the details of implementing the law.

“People will use the data depending on how easy it is to use,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of presenting information in the right way.”

Johnston also made the pitch that greater financial transparency might make voters more sympathetic to increased funding for education.

During the Amendment 66 campaign in 2013 many voters has “this misperception that education was this large overfunded bureaucracy.” He argued the state needs “to allow parents to understand in regular language where the dollars go in their schools. Our belief is doing this well will paint a clear picture to parents and taxpayers about where those dollars are going. … This makes it easier to make that case” for more funding.

Education interest groups have a variety of reasons for supporting greater financial transparency. Reform groups that advocate for funding equity hope it will provide greater insight into whether low-performing schools are getting the money they need to help at-risk students. Charter schools think greater insight into district spending will show whether or not they’re getting an appropriate share of funding. Republican lawmakers hope transparency will shed more light on pension costs. And others hope transparency is a step toward greater control of money at the school level and even “backpack” funding for individual students.

Transparency a second-tier trend

While financial transparency doesn’t have the high profile of issues such as Common Core State Standards or testing, “it’s a trend we’re seeing right now, and it’s been going on for awhile,” said Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

“Most states require districts to report on financial data,” Griffith said, and now policymakers are saying, “You need to start accounting on a school-level basis.”

Part of the trend is rooted in overall technological change. “As the technology has advanced and people have gotten used to looking things up … that has pushed policymakers.”

Griffith added, “When the idea is presented to policymakers they get excited because they like data. The question is what they do with it when they get it.”

On the school district side, he said, “There’s another fear – they’re going to have to change the way they do business.”

As Colorado administrators discuss the new law, Michigan and Rhode Island are frequently mentioned as possible examples to follow.

Michigan’s state system is under construction; get more information here. To see how districts report, see this page on the Lansing School District site. (All Michigan districts are required to have a prominent financial transparency logo on their home pages. But school-level data isn’t currently required.)

Learn more about Rhode Island’s system here.

The transparency to-do list

The state transparency website doesn’t have to launch until July 1, 2017, but that doesn’t mean CDE and districts don’t face a lot of work – starting now.

A subcommittee of CDE’s Financial Policies and Procedures Committee is working to develop a standard template for districts to use on their websites and hopes to finish that by October.

The full FPP group is supposed to develop a recommendation for the State Board of Education on how to report district revenues.

CDE plans to have a request for proposal finished by the end of the year. This contains specifications that outside bidders will have to meet if they want the $3 million contract to build the statewide website.

Districts will have to use the new template starting July 1, 2015, posting the financial information required by the 2010 transparency law.

In late 2016 or early 2017, using a second template developed by the state, districts will have to post individual school financial data on their sites.

Using data provided by districts, the contractor is supposed to launch the statewide site July 1, 2017.

Emm said the current 2014-15 school year “is almost a planning year” but that districts will have serious work to do starting in about February.

But it’s not fully clear what that work will require. “School districts will not understand what’s required until the FPP completes the template,” said Cherry Creek’s Bellville.

Finding district information can take some effort

District leaders and lobbyists last spring repeatedly made the point that state law already requires posting lots of financial information on district websites, making a new mandate unnecessary.

They were right that the 2010 law requires districts to post annual budgets (full budgets and summaries), audits, quarterly financial statements, salary schedules, check registers, credit and purchase card statements and investment performance reports. (See CDE’s suggested – not mandatory – current template for displaying that information.) The new law allows districts to drop quarterly statements, check registers and card statements after July 1, 2017.

But in many ways the current system is more translucent than it is transparent.

Chalkbeat clicked around the websites of Colorado’s 10 largest districts plus eight more districts of varying sizes – one district with about 1,000 students, another with about 900 students and so on down to a 100-student district.

Overall we found that if you’re looking for district financial information, be prepared to make educated guesses about which homepage link to click and be ready to do a fair amount of clicking, scrolling and opening of large PDF files.

Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of what we found, along with a few hints to help your searches.

  • Home page links to transparency information aren’t consistent. We found them near the top of some pages, in the middle of others and at the bottom of some. (Boulder Valley gets kudos for its blue “BVSD Financial Transparency” button near the top of the home page. Dougco has a Transparency link in a row across the top of the home page.)
  • The link doesn’t always read “Financial Transparency.” If you don’t see those words, look for links with wording like District Finance, District Office, Financials, Administration, Finance & Budget and even About. Pull-down menus generated by such links sometimes reveal a Financial Transparency link.
  • When all else fails, type “financial transparency” into the search window on the district’s home page and see what you find.
  • District budgets and budget summaries can contain a wealth of information, including school-level information for some larger districts. But every district uses its own format. Cherry Creek, for instance, provides easy-to-read information for every school, including photos and demographic details. Other districts’ budgets contain multiple number-crammed spreadsheets of school information. Some districts provide per-pupil spending by school; others don’t.
  • You’ll need to click and scroll. Once you find it on the website, open your district’s budget in Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, use the table of contents column on the left and start hunting.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teen marijuana use down very slightly in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 09:48

Welcome wagon

Several weeks before school starts, members of Manual High School's small incoming class met their teachers, each other, and began to prepare for high school life. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

mea culpa

State education officials said that their processing mistake led to the omission of the Arapahoe High School shooting from violence reports, not the district's failure to report it. ( Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio )

starting early

Thursday was the first day of school for a handful of Denver schools that are adding more time to their school years. ( 9News )

Less lighting up

Teen marijuana use in Colorado is down slightly, but health officials say it's too early to declare legalization the reason for the decline. ( Denver Post )

out in the field

A new regional council of environmental education leaders is meeting to make their programming more accessible to students and schools around the state. ( Steamboat Today )

outside the schoolhouse

More families are choosing home-schooling and other alternative education options in Mesa County. ( Post Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:53

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:53

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Categories: Urban School News

A new, uncertain year ahead for soon-to-be Manual High School freshmen

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:08

Jen Strasheim was nervous when she first found out her son would be attending Manual High School.

“There’s some stuff on the internet that makes you go, ‘Oh my god, I’m not sending my kid there,” Strasheim said. But after watching from the sidelines for the school’s freshman academy, a three-day program that involved a combination of pep talks and practical preparation for the coming year, her fears had calmed.

“I can’t tell you how amazing it is,” she said.

The academy is just one of a host of changes at the school, where declining academics and mismanaged budget led to a high-profile mid-year change in school leaders.

District officials announced plans to introduce a still undefined overhaul of the school, potentially as soon as next year. If those plans go forward, it would be the fourth attempted transformation of the troubled school in the past decade.

The fallout from the school’s public troubles has trickled down to the prospective students. The number of students slated to attend the school this fall dropped by more than third from previous years. As of this week, just 70 students were projected to enroll at Manual as freshman, compared with 145 last October.

And the roughly 17 students who showed up to freshman academy said they were well aware of the school’s issues.

But most were more nervous about the challenges that face ninth graders across the district: will I make my friends? Will my work be hard? How will I find my classes? Chalkbeat spoke with students and their families about what they anticipate for the coming year.

Caroline Herrera, who will be a freshman at Manual this fall, sat with her friend Monica Villanueva in the cafeteria. Both students attended Whittier K-8 School and were among the 49 students who assigned to Manual automatically because they did not submit a form in time to pick a different school during the district’s school choice process.

The two girls said they’d been warned off the school, due to its low performance, but decided to go anyway.

Herrera: [I told my parents] It doesn’t matter who goes there and what people say about it. We’ll go and find out for ourselves.

Herrera was intimidated by the transition to high school but she was more worried about her social nerves.

Herrera: I did OK in middle school but I’m worried about high school…I’m not a talkative person. I’m nervous about fitting in with people. Yesterday we talked about how some people would act like clowns.

But Manual’s shrinking student body could prove an unexpected boon to Villanueva.

Villanueva: I’m shy so I’m glad it’s a smaller school.

Jen Strasheim and her 15-year old son just moved to Denver from Littleton and she now lives just 10 blocks from Manual. Despite her initial hesitation, she hoped Manual would prove to be a good school for her son.

Jen Strasheim: I was talking to [Fernando Branch, the assistant principal] and he was saying there are two paths at Manual, the A track and the B track…You don’t see teachers trying to connect with students [at other schools]. A lot of kids say they’re the best teachers they’ve had.

Besides, she said, the message her son gets at home will be important too.

Jen Strasheim: I’m his mom. I’m going to be there every step of the way. He’s got to stay on the right track or he won’t like being at home (laughs).

Jeremiah Strasheim was less worried about the school’s reputation. He had never attended a school with three floors and the prospect of losing his way made him nervous.

Jeremiah Strasheim: Just, like, getting lost. Last year, I went to a pretty big middle school. I got my huge schedule and I asked one of the teachers where my classroom was. He said, “You should know that.” I was so late.

And the phantom of schoolwork and tests is already hanging over his head, with older students warning him to get ready to work hard.

Elijah [Huff], a junior, took the ACT and he said it was the hardest test he’s taken. He said to prepare and to get help.

The students he talked to also told him to tread carefully during the first heady days of school, as he finds his social group.

[Students] were saying, “Make new friends but be careful. You don’t want them to choose for you.”

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Peters, Sheren, Swanson, Rivera

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 15:29

Harrison Peters, a former CPS chief of schools, is now the chief school officer for the Houston Independent School District in Texas. Peters was with CPS for the past four years.

Amy Sheren is leaving her position as executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Education and relocating to Singapore to be with her family. Sheren was at the foundation for five years.

In case you missed it:

Beth Swanson has resigned as deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Arnaldo Rivera, chief operating officer of the Chicago Public Education Fund, has succeeded her.

Swanson is moving to the Joyce Foundation, where she will serve as vice president of strategy and programs. Previously she was an administrator for the Chicago Public Schools and executive director of The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Before joining the Chicago Public Education Fund, Rivera was deputy chief of staff for CPS CEOs Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Jean-Claude Brizard. Rivera began his education career as a teacher at Disney Magnet School. 

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

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Peters, Sheren, Swanson, Rivera

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 15:29

Harrison Peters, a former CPS chief of schools, is now the chief school officer for the Houston Independent School District in Texas. Peters was with CPS for the past four years.

Amy Sheren is leaving her position as executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Education and relocating to Singapore to be with her family. Sheren was at the foundation for five years.

In case you missed it:

Beth Swanson has resigned as deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Arnaldo Rivera, chief operating officer of the Chicago Public Education Fund, has succeeded her.

Swanson is moving to the Joyce Foundation, where she will serve as vice president of strategy and programs. Previously she was an administrator for the Chicago Public Schools and executive director of The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Before joining the Chicago Public Education Fund, Rivera was deputy chief of staff for CPS CEOs Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Jean-Claude Brizard. Rivera began his education career as a teacher at Disney Magnet School. 

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: School violence reporting data varies widely

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 08:35

the future is now

Some Colorado districts have been proactive in embracing technology for the classroom, while others have policies in place that are outdated or even illegal. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And one Arvada middle school has now added personal tablets to students' school supply list. ( 9News )

accountability talks

A deeper analysis of last year's school violence data shows that the variability in reporting is so high that it's difficult to know if any information is accurate. ( Denver Channel )

And the Denver Post Editorial Board argues that variability means school district discipline reports have little value to parents. ( Denver Post )

back to school

More than 100 volunteers are helping distribute school supplies to 2,500 Poudre students. ( Coloradoan )

bright shiny and new

The staff of a new charter school in Greeley got their first peek inside the school's new building. ( Greeley Tribune )

new faces

A new nonprofit alternative school is opening in Breckenridge. ( Summit Daily )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:14

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:14

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Categories: Urban School News

Some districts shine, others falter in coupling of learning and online media

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 19:57

Five years ago, Noah Geisel made what seemed like a simple request of Denver Public School officials: could he have a set of iPods for his students to use in class?

“It was about putting a computer more powerful than those that got the first man landed on the moon in every kid’s hands,” Geisel said. “We knew then that we were at the tip of the iceberg in what we would eventually be doing, but at the time, using the coolest device in the land for digital Socratic Seminars, virtual field trips with GoogleEarth and finding celebrity tweets in Spanish felt like we were changing the world.”

And as far as the school district was concerned, he might have been.

“It was the first time the district had dealt with this,” said Geisel, who is now a teacher trainer at the professional development firm An Estuary. “At first I ran into a lot of hurdles and messages about what I could not do and would not be supported in doing.”

Geisel and school officials were eventually able to work out their questions and concerns, and now Denver teachers are able to access more support from the district to help them integrate new technology in the classroom.

That trajectory — from confusion around how to support technology in schools to integration into the daily workings of the district — is playing out around Colorado, but at vastly different speeds. And districts are taking a variety of approaches to balance two sometimes competing concerns: how do you meet students’ and teachers’ need for increased access to educational technology and online media while simultaneously protecting their privacy?

Some districts, like Denver, have been relatively proactive about establishing procedures and support for teachers who want to use online material and educational technology. Last school year, DPS introduced Google Apps for Education (GAFE), giving schools the option of using Google Docs, Gmail and Google Drive. In one year, 16,600 students logged into their accounts, said Kristen Savage, the district’s web communications senior manager.

With thousands of students and teachers using GAFE, the district has to take certain measures to ensure schools’ safety. Students’ Gmail accounts are filtered for inappropriate words and pictures, even if they are accessing them from outside of school.

By contrast, other districts have either avoided the issue or have created policies that are, at best, outdated or worse, possibly illegal.

Take Pueblo County School District 70, for instance. The southeastern Colorado school district of about 9,000 students’ current web policy allows students to create personal web pages, but also says that the district will not consider it an infringement on students’ right to freedom of speech if the student is required to remove any “material that fails to meet established educational objectives or that is in violation of a provision of the Student Acceptable Use Policy or student disciplinary code.”

Although the policy could ostensibly be used to protect students from harmful online content, it’s also “transparently illegal,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, who works on student freedom of expression issues.

Goldstein said districts are not obligated to allow students to create personal websites, so they cannot curtail their freedom of expression. Colorado state law, he said, protects students’ freedom of expression, unless the material is obscene, defamatory or creates clear and present danger. Despite all three of those stipulations being in the district’s Student Acceptable Use Policy, the district can’t control the content on students’ personal web pages, Goldstein said.

Tim Yates, Pueblo 70’s district of technology, said that its policy, which was adopted in 2002 and reviewed in 2009, is very outdated. But the issue hasn’t seemed very pressing: in Yates’ two decades at Pueblo 70, he said, he has never encountered an instance where a student wanted to create a personal or classroom webpage.

The onslaught of new technology can be intimidating for school districts who are concerned about protecting students’ privacy, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects students’ and parents’ right to access and correct educational records kept by institutions. But, since content created online is not protected by this federal mandate, LoMonte said there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the use of online media.

And some of those concerns are warranted, said Khaliah Barnes, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Student Privacy Project. For example, one online tool that teachers increasingly use to communicate with their students, Edmodo, made headlines last year after parents found out the company was not encrypting users’ connection after logging in, thus threatening users’ information security. The issue has since been fixed.

But for many teachers, those risks are often outweighed by the appeal that technology like Edmodo offers them for their classrooms.

“I need tech that makes my job easier,” said Nathan Grover, an AP biology teacher at Denver Youth High School. He started using Edmodo in order to connect with students in a digital language that they understand.

“For me, it was just adding another communication piece to the classroom and utilizing what they already know how to use for education,” he said. Grover now trains other teachers how to use Edmodo and other tools in their own classrooms.

And for some educators, district restrictions that are intended to protect students, like blocking social sites like YouTube, can actually interfere with instruction.

Mike Clem, principal of Denver Online High School, said that because schools have to get approval before they can use blocked sites — like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — students do most of their work from home, keeping students from coming into the school’s brick-and-mortar facility.

“We encourage students to use YouTube for instructional purposes and we ask our teachers to help students link to those sites,” Clem said. “If they’re blocked at the school level, they can’t access it, so there’s no reason for them to come in.”

Slow progress toward integrating online media with teaching and learning is to be expected. Geisel said such large districts inevitably take a long time to evolve.

“We can’t expect the necessary slow change to keep pace with tech innovation and I think that’s OK,” he said. “It’d be great to throw open the firewalls and give students the same open access to content that they are going to get outside of school so we can prepare them to handle that responsibility, but I don’t believe we’re there yet.”

Categories: Urban School News

Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 14:36

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

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