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A new plan emerges among parallel discussions at Manual High School

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 18:27

What does the future hold for Manual High School? One possibility — designed by the school’s current leadership — goes public tonight.

The plan that will be presented publicly on Thursday comes out of one of two planning processes that are currently taking place at the school and that occasionally happen at the same time, just classrooms apart.

Manual has been in upheaval since district officials fired its principal midway through this school year following several years of declining test scores. (For background, see Chalkbeat’s series on the school’s struggles.)

To chart the path forward for the school, the district has solicited proposals for new school models for Manual and convened a group of community members, staff and parents — known as “Thought Partner meetings” — to determine how to improve the persistently struggling school’s performance.

Simultaneously, a group spearheaded by current assistant principal Vernon Jones, Jr., has focused on creating a plan that would keep the school’s current leadership team and staff intact. That plan, which Jones is presenting to the community this evening to solicit feedback, includes a focus on International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and another request for a longed-for middle school at Manual, which would also have an IB focus. (See the full description of the plan here.)

The school-led group is among several that submitted a proposal to the district during its call for new school models. Along with the other applicants, the Manual-led group will present their plans to the district-run Thought Partner group at next week’s official meeting. The Thought Partner group will make recommendations about what model the school should adopt to the district by May.

In its current form, the Manual-designed plan represents a departure from the school’s current experiential learning model, which is focused heavily on social justice instruction.

“A lot of hours, thinking, grappling, collaborating, challenging, and anything else that you can say that great teams do has gone into this plan,” Jones said. “Our process has included the voices of our staff, our scholars, our parents and guardians, and our community partners that believe in the strength of us.”

Jones says that the school’s current staff are best positioned to lead the school’s improvement efforts.

“We believe that we are best positioned to serve our scholars and our community well,” Jones said. “We know them and knowing scholars is essential to success.”

Students and staff have complained about the constant turnover in school model and leadership at the school, which they say has prevented the school from improving.

Stability and a strong desire for a middle school have been common threads at the Thought Partner meetings as well. Several staff members are parts of both groups, including Jones, Don Roy, the school’s principal whose name adorns the official letter of intent for the proposal, and English teacher Ben Butler, who is one of the school’s few veteran teachers.

The Thought Partner meetings have recently attracted the attention of high profile district officials. At Monday’s meeting, both superintendent Tom Boasberg and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson were in attendance.

“We’re here to be part of the discussion and to listen,” Boasberg said. He also tried to allay concerns that the discussion about the school’s future was abbreviated. The meetings kicked off in March and the board planned to make a final decision about which program to place at Manual in the beginning of June, based on the group’s recommendations.

But Boasberg also said that if the Thought Partner process took too long, any school leader would not have the time they needed to craft a plan for Manual. “I think one of the things we didn’t do well enough is allow time for planning back in either 2007 or 2000,” he said, referring to the school’s 2007 closure and re-opening and early-2000′s restructuring, which led to its closure.

The group will continue to meet through the end of the school year. Times and dates are below:

  • Tonight, 6 p.m. in room 106, Manual High School: Presentation of the Manual Plan by Vernon Jones and student leaders.
  • April 15, 5:30 p.m. at Vickers Boys and Girls Club: Presentations by all applicants for Near Northeast schools, including Manual.
  • April 21, 5:30 p.m. at Manual High School (room unknown): Manual Thought Partner meeting (these take place every Monday evening).

For full dates, see here.

Note: the article has been updated to reflect the leadership of the school design working group.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Springs teacher’s resignation letter goes viral

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 09:52

please pause

The State Board of Education passed a resolution asking the legislature to withdraw the state from a national testing consortium. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Money to move

The two key funding bills of the session won preliminary House approval, but with significant amendments. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And the third iteration of Speaker Mark Ferrandino's proposed higher ed funding overhaul cleared a hurdle. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

another kind of opt-out

And the Senate heard testimony on a proposal that would require parents to receive information before deciding not to vaccinate their children. ( Denver Post )

speaking out

A Colorado Springs teacher's resignation letter expressing frustration at new standards, low teacher pay and high stakes testing has gone viral. ( Gazette )

gold star

A Lafayette principal has been named the state's principal of the year. ( Daily Camera )

Mutual consent

The Denver Post editorial board argues that the city school district is protecting students with its use of mutual consent provisions of the state's educator effectiveness law. ( Denver Post )

fun and games

An Adams County early education program for at-risk students uses play therapy. ( Denver Post )

price hike

The St. Vrain school district is increasing the cost of its school meals. ( Longmont Times-Call )

first response

The RE-1 Valley Board of Education heard information about the state's new epinephrine auto injector rules. ( Journal-Advocate )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Bill to weaken charter panel stalls

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 04/10/2014 - 08:25

After a racially charged debate over weakening a state charter schools panel, the Illinois House voted down union-backed legislation Wednesday to give more power to local school districts to veto charter-school applications.

FUNDING FORMULA BILL ADVANCES: A proposed overhaul of the state’s complex school-funding formula got the green light Tuesday to come before a full Senate committee. The overhaul also calls for the elimination of the Chicago Block Grant and would fund Chicago Public Schools the same way as the rest of Illinois’ schools. Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said CPS is not opposed to the measure. (State Journal-Register)

UNIFORM ASSESSMENTS FOR SELECTIVE SCHOOLS: Chicago Public Schools is adopting the Northwestern Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress as the uniform assessment for all students applying to a selective enrollment school, academic center or gifted school for School Year 2015-16. (Press release)

CHOSEN FOR SCIENCE PILOT: Kenwood Academy High School, Ariel Community Academy and University of Chicago Woodlawn Charter School are three of 46 schools that have been chosen by Chicago Public Schools to pilot its new computer science curriculum next fall. (Hyde Park Herald)

DROPOUT PREDICTORS: A new research report, "College Choice Report: Part 3—Persistence and Transfer," suggests that students at the greatest risk of dropping out of college are those who earn lower ACT college readiness assessment scores, particularly those with less educated parents and lower educational aspirations themselves. Also, dropout rates tend to run significantly higher for students who planned to earn less than a bachelor’s degree, those who attended a college with less-selective admission requirements and those whose parents did not attend college. (Press release)

ACHIEVEMENT GAP PERSISTS: Maryland's Montgomery County’s efforts to close the gap in achievement between its high-poverty and low-poverty high schools have not worked, with widening disparities on many measures of student success, according to a report released Tuesday. The study found that the schools are increasingly divided by income, race and ethnicity, with African American, Latino and low-income students more isolated than they were three years ago. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Third version of higher ed makeover passes committee

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 23:43

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s proposed overhaul of Colorado’s higher education funding system got a 10-2 endorsement from the House Education Committee Wednesday, but more work and likely some controversy are in House Bill 14-1319’s future.

The bill approved by the panel was the second rewrite of the massive bill since the Denver Democrat introduced it less than a month ago. Ferrandino has long been a critic of the state’s somewhat patched-together college funding system, and the bill is intended to funnel more money to lower-income students and to reward colleges and universities modestly for meeting such goals as improving graduation rates.

The speaker is term-limited, and some see the bill as his policy swan song.

But critics of the original measure – much of the higher education establishment – argued it didn’t contain much reform, undermined the work of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, could have lots of unintended consequences and unfairly shifted scarce funding from research universities and rural colleges to access institutions like Metro State and the community colleges. Critics also have noted that a college performance contract system already is in place and current law calls for future performance-based funding.

Ferrandino got plenty of questions when he unveiled his plan to the CCHE (see story). There were still more issues when he brought a rewrite to House Education last Monday (see story).

The speaker brought a third version to House Education on Wednesday, and a bunch of additional amendments. While the bill – and the amendments – are complicated, but in general the changes are aimed at giving CCHE a greater role in the new system, cushioning rural colleges against possible losses of funding and to prevent a possible “ratchet effect” in the bill’s requirement that 52.5 percent of higher education funding be given to students through the stipend program known as the College Opportunity Fund. (That mechanism basically provides colleges with enrollment-based funding.)

The rest of college funding is provided through a device known as fee for service, which supports special services individual colleges provide, such as offering access in rural areas and providing graduate and professional education.

Noting the hectic discussions that have been taking place, Ferrandino told this committee, “If this is not the death of me I don’t know what will be.”

Read the current form of the bill (not including some of Wednesday’s smaller amendments) here. The measure next goes to House Appropriations.

The session’s other big higher education measure, Senate Bill 14-001, moved to the Senate floor from the appropriations committee Wednesday morning. The bill would increase college funding in 2014-15 by $100 million – and 11 percent increases for institutions – and cap resident undergraduate tuition increases at 6 percent for the next two academic years. The bill is on Friday’s Senate preliminary consideration calendar.

Lots of other education bills on the move

The day’s big education action was debate and passage of two school finance bills in the House (see story here).

But there was a lot more going on – here’s the rundown:

Rural districts – The House gave 64-0 final approval to House Bill 14-1319, which would give some rural districts with fewer than 1,200 students relief from some Department of Education paperwork requirements.

Teacher evaluation - House Education voted 11-1 for Senate Bill 14-165. This is the measure that would allow districts to choose how much weight to assign to student academic growth in 2014-15 when evaluating teachers. In the following year the evaluation system would revert to a 50-50 balance of growth and professional practice in evaluations.

Security – The Senate Education Committee voted 7-0 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards, something districts already are allowed to do.

Alternative ed campuses – Senate Ed voted 4-3 to pass Senate Bill 14-167, which would set up a pilot program to test ways to improve outcomes at alternative education campuses, usually high schools that serve at least 95 percent at-risk students.

Bullying – Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to kill her House Bill 14-1131, which would have created separate misdemeanor crimes of cyber bullying. (The panel obliged.) The measure passed the House easily but ran into opposition in the Senate from legal and youth advocacy groups. Newell said those differences need time to work out and that she will introduce a new bill to refer the whole issue to a state criminal justice board for further study.

Immunizations - The Senate State Affairs Committee was taking testimony Wednesday evening on House Bill 14-1288, the controversial measure that would require parents who want to opt children out of vaccinations for reasons of “personal belief” to obtain a note from a doctor or medical professional certifying they have been briefed on the benefits and risks of shots. The testimony was expected to repeat much of what was said at a six-hour House committee hearing last month (see story). The Senate panel wasn’t expected to vote Wednesday.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts of the bills mentioned above (and all 2014 education bills), plus other information. Check our Top Bills list for education bills still in play during the session’s last month.

Categories: Urban School News

State board asks legislature to exit testing group

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 19:23

The State Board of Education voted along party lines Wednesday to ask the Colorado General Assembly to allow the state to design its own standardized assessments instead of participating in a multistate exam.

Board chairman Paul Lundeen asked for the vote on a resolution to with draw from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers last month. Before casting his vote today, he said the tests were too expensive, wasted too much instructional time, and  represented federal overreach in education.

Members of the board who support Colorado’s involvement in the PARCC exams, which will test for proficiency in English and math, said Colorado teachers and administrators have provided input on the exams and that it was important for the state to be able to gauge its students’ academic performance with other states.

But those points didn’t detour board members who believed the exams are too far removed from Colorado’s constitutionally protected local control.

“From my perspective, as a long time educator, when we have a federally-funded entity like PARCC, we’ve just legitimized a huge federal influence on what students are taught,” said board member Debora Scheffel. “It’s the wrong the way to influence student achievement.”

The resolution and vote should be seen mostly as symbolic as it’s unlikely the Democratically-controlled General Assembly would take up the issue this late in the session. The legislature must adjourn by May 7.

What’s more, the assessments are closely linked to the Common Core State Standards, which Colorado adopted in 2010. And the full rollout of those standards has been a priority for Democrats in Colorado and around the nation.

The education and political communities in states like Colorado have been embroiled in a debate on the Common Core standards and their aligned tests for months.

Earlier this year, a state Senate education committee spiked a bill that would have withdrawn the state from the Common Core standards and amended a bill that would have allowed districts to opt-out of mandated standardized test en masse to form a study panel on the issue.

The vote came nearly three hours after a panel discussion on the pros and cons of the tests that have yet to be officially given. Those tests are scheduled to be given in the spring of next year.

More than 400 schools gave those assessments a trial run earlier this month. And beginning next week schools will be proctoring Colorado-designed computer-based standardized tests in social studies and science.

Speaking in support of Colorado’s participation of PARCC was Bruce Hoyt, a former Denver Public Schools board member who now sits on the board of the business-interest nonprofit Colorado Succeeds.

“It’s critical we continue on this path to improve the outcome for our students,” he said.

The school choice, innovation, and accountability reforms that DPS has put into place are helping low-income and minority students, he said. And the PARCC tests, which are supposed to have more and quicker data, will help teachers, administrators and lawmakers make better decisions.

But interim-Superintendent for the Lewis Palmer school district said excessive standardized testing, including the PARCC, has stifled creativity in the classroom.

“Let me tell you what really bothers me about PARCC, the amount of time that is taking for student testing,” he said. “It has really interrupted the amount of instructional time. Teachers and parents feel like we’ve lost that creativity and innovation that used to be a landmark of Lewis Palmer 38.”

Categories: Urban School News

CPS uses creative accounting to find cash for schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 18:56

If only we were all CPS, and every time we were short on cash, a pot of one-time, never-to-be-available-again money appeared that would get us over the hump.

CPS leaders announced Wednesday that, once again, they have found a way out of a budget nightmare and plan to increase basic per-pupil funding to schools by $250 per child--in all, about $70 million more than last year--while also paying the hefty teacher pension payment due this year.

According to the plan, the district will be able to recoup several hundred million dollars by extending the "revenue recognition period" for 60 days at the end of the next fiscal year, moving it from July 30 to September 1. That way, a property tax payment that typically comes to the district in August will count for FY 2015 instead of FY 2016.

School Board President David Vitale said this trick will only work once. “The downside is that someone might say we are avoiding the problem,” he said during a conference call Wednesday.

In each of the three years since Mayor Rahm Emanuel was elected, CPS leaders have announced a hefty deficit and then eventually found one-time pots of money to fill the hole. 

Just two months ago, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett threatened doom if something was not done to ease the pension burden, which is $697 million this year. “In the absence of action from Springfield, this increase in pension costs will crowd out classroom spending, and we will see further cuts to school budgets,” she told them at the February board meeting.

Vitale said district leaders decided to use the accounting strategy to get more money to schools and “stay on the trajectory to keep children going.”

Emanuel also is up for re-election in February of 2015.   

In the past few years, as CPS leaders grappled with a looming teachers strike and the prospect of closing schools, officials waited for the district’s revenue picture to become clearer before giving principals their budgets.  Vitale said this year, leaders want to give principals their budgets in April, a common practice in the earlier years, so they could hire staff in a timely fashion.

For next year, the per-pupil allocation will be $4,390, up from $4,140 now. Schools get slightly more for students in kindergarten thru 3rd grade and for high school students.

Budget Director Ginger Ostro said the increase adds about $70 million to school budgets. Last year, CPS cut $80 million from schools.

The increase should be welcome news to parents who were gearing up for a fight to maintain their school’s budgets. Last year, they were up in arms when principals got their budgets in June, with steep cuts.

A coordinated group of parents, many of them representing schools in middle-class neighborhoods, came to the School Board meeting in February to beg the board not to cut any more.  

Wendy Katten, whose group, Raise Your Hand, just launched a petition drive for more money, said she sees the announcement as a victory. “It is a great start,” she said.

In addition to the basic per-pupil budget, schools get other pots of money for poor students, special education students and special programs. CPS officials did not give any specifics on how or whether these other line items will change in the upcoming budget.

This year, schools designated to take in students from closed schools were given extra money to help with the transition. Byrd-Bennett said schools won’t get that money in the coming year, but will be able to “keep the iPads and laptops” that were purchased to give those schools more resources.


Categories: Urban School News

House gives strong majorities to school funding bills

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 18:39

Updated 4:25 p.m. April 10 – This year’s two major school finance bills cleared the House late Thursday afternoon with solid support, sending the measures to the Senate largely shorn of controversial provisions.

The Student Success Act, House Bill 14-1292, passed 51-14. House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 School Finance Act, was approved 39-26. All the no votes on both bills were Republicans.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the Senate prime sponsor, said he generally was pleased with the way the measures left the House. HB 14-1292 is considerably different than the bill originally drafted by Johnston and House sponsors. But he said the outcome shows that lawmakers listened to school district concerns and that the bill is a good compromise.

One issue that may spark some Senate debate is the bill’s provisions for district and school financial transparency. Some lobbyists indicated Thursday they would see further changes on that issue.

Both measures left the House with significant amendments that reflect the intense lobbying pressure focused on the measures as they worked their way through the House over the last six weeks.

Wednesday’s nearly three-hour House preliminary debate focused primarily on how much to reduce the state’s $1.04 billion K-12 funding shortfall (called the negative factor), how much financial information districts should report to the public and how best to spend a proposed $17 million in extra funding for early childhood education.

Noting all the wrangling and lobbying, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, said, “as a result we have package we can all be proud of. … Considering where we have come from, this is an amazing product.”

“I thank you all for caring so much about K-12 education,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon. The two are the bill’s prime sponsors in the House.

Here are the key amendments approved on the floor to House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, and House Bill 14-1298, the 2014-15 School Finance Act:

Transparency: The House approved an amendment proposed by HB 14-1292 sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, that softens some of the bill’s original requirements for district and school financial reporting. A key part of the amendment requires schools to report pay and benefits information in total, not separately. The Colorado Education Association opposed the original proposal for separate reporting and got what in wanted in an agreement with the governor’s office late Tuesday. Another amendment to ease the requirements further was defeated.

Construction funding: HB 14-1292 proposed taking $40 million in marijuana tax revenues and diverting them to kindergarten construction, technology grants and charter facilities funding, instead of letting the funds flow into the main Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. A successful amendment eliminated most of those earmarks but retained a 12.5 percent diversion to a fund for charter school facilities.

Early childhood financing: Representatives had a lively running fight over $17 million in HB 14-1298 that’s intended to increase by 5,000 the number of at-risk students who can attend preschool or full-day kindergarten. There were unsuccessful attempts to put that money into the negative factor, and an effort to divert the money to general funding of full-day kindergarten. That also failed.

District impacts

HB 14-1292 came to the floor with a proposed $110 million reduction in the negative factor. That remains in the measure.

Three other controversial elements were changed earlier in committee, and the full House agreed those changes. The bill’s original proposal to spend $10 million to convert schools to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment was removed. Instead, the Department of Education is instructed to conduct a study of new attendance-counting methods.

Also eliminated was proposed spending of $40 million in per-pupil aid to districts to help cover the costs of implementing education reforms such as new content standards, new tests and educator evaluations.

And a proposal to revamp state programs for English language learners was watered down earlier. A $30.5 million increase in ELL funding was retained but moved into HB 14-1398.

Other details of the bill

Remaining in HB 14-1292 is an additional $20 million on top of the current $16 million provided for implementation of the READ Act, the 2012 law that requires literacy evaluations of all K-3 students and creation of individual literacy plans for students with reading deficiencies.

Also still in the bill is $13 million in additional funds that would be allocated for charter facilities, split between per-student grants to schools and supplementing a reserve fund that backs charter construction debt. The full $13 million would go to per-student grants starting in 2015-16.

The Student Success Act originally seen by some as the “son of 213” in reference the Senate Bill 14-213, the sweeping school finance overhaul that didn’t go into effect because voters didn’t approve the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for it. An early bill draft didn’t propose any reduction in the negative factor.

But education interest groups mounted a non-stop lobbying campaign to put as much money as possible into negative factor reduction and to eliminate as much of the bill’s earmarked spending as possible. Some groups pushed for reducing the negative factor by as much as $275 million. The ADM and transparency elements of the original bill drew particularly heavy criticism.

That lobbying efforts had an impact, as the Success Act now contains a negative factor reduction and additional funding for existing programs such as the READ Act, not for new initiatives. And the bill’s total price tag has been lowered to about $160 million.

The School Finance Act, HB 14-1298, is partly a technical measure needed every year to set K-12 funding. In addition to the kindergarten and ELL money, it contains a spending increase for boards of cooperative education services and a declaration, largely symbolic, that the 2015-16 negative factor can’t be larger than in 2014-15.

If both bills pass, they would raise statewide average per-pupil funding to $7,019 in 2014-15, up from $6,652 this year. That’s still below the historic high of $7,078 in 2009-10. Without the proposed increase, the per-pupil average would be $6,839 next year as set by the main state budget bill, House Bill 14-1336.

This story was updated on April 11 to correct the explanation about the amendment on BEST funding.

Categories: Urban School News

Why embracing PARCC is an act of boldly leading the nation in the right direction

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 17:00

The State Board of Education allocated special time today to discuss and vote on whether to encourage the State Legislature to reverse their 2012 decision requiring the Colorado Department of Education to adopt one of the two national multi-state assessment consortia. This follows last month’s surprising political move in which Chair Lundeen argued that Colorado should discontinue its participation in PARCC, and declared that he intended to bring his recommendation to a vote. It should come as no surprise that today’s vote passed along party lines.

I voted against Mr. Lundeen’s motion and in support of Colorado’s continued participation in PARCC for the following reasons:

 1. Colorado students deserve uniform standards

In our highly mobile society, students and their families need to know that if they move from Colorado to Massachusetts, they will not skip a beat in their learning progression. State academic standards have existed in K-12 schools across the country for almost two decades. It became evident that 50 states with 50 different sets of academic standards in English Language Arts or Math were not in the best interests of the students who eventually will need to compete for jobs nationally. And furthermore, in a global economy our students must also compete internationally. Recently the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the 2012 PISA results that show in the area of problem solving skills, our students were outperformed by Singapore, Korea, Japan, Canada, Finland, Australia, and other nations.  Notably, all of the nations that outperformed students from the United States have uniform national standards.

2. Colorado students and educators need performance measures that allow students to compare their progress with peers in other states.

How does a parent of an eighth grader know how his or her child is performing compared to other students across the nation if we are not using the same assessments? The PARCC tests are a tool to compare progress in attaining standards among students across the country. Several states with high academic standards and strong student performance have joined PARCC, so there is no reason to believe that the PARCC assessments would be less rigorous than those developed in Colorado..

3. Level the playing field for higher education admission

Colorado’s new higher education admissions and remediation policies will use students’ scores on PARCC for both course placement and admission purposes. This gives students a stake in their state assessment results and provides another data point for our colleges and universities admissions offices as they assess students’ readiness for college. Also, the multi-state aspect of PARCC provides another basis for comparing Colorado students to their peers.  PARCC is based on the Common Core State Standards adopted by Colorado and 44 other states, making the comparative breadth and depth of the test results far superior in cost-savings and rigor in comparison to any state-developed test.

4. Colorado has been a leader in the development of the PARCC assessments

Colorado is an active member of PARCC. Over 50 Colorado educators from our higher education and K-12 systems are involved in a range of assessment design and review committees. Commissioner of Education Hammond serves as a member of the key decision-making body of PARCC, and more than 100 Colorado school districts are participating in field-testing the PARCC’s new online assessments which will be administered in Spring 2015. Why would we seek to start over, and throw away the work we’ve already done?

Concerns about participation in PARCC have legitimately centered  over–testing but the recommendation to pull out of PARRC is extreme.  We have heard loud and clear from parents and teachers across the state about their frustration with the amount of testing. Both Commissioner Hammond and the Colorado Legislature are studying the issues, reviewing recommendations, and weighing options about how to streamline the important work of monitoring student achievement.  Dissolving our connection to the PARRC process would not solve the issue, and a statewide assessment is still required by state statute.

Other concerns that PARRC reflects federal intrusion in state education are unfounded. The consortia is a voluntary partnership of states working together to develop a set of assessments to determine whether their students are on track for college and career. Although federal funding is available for this program development, this can hardly be considered federal intrusion. When Colorado receives federal dollars to fight wildfires, do we call that federal intrusion?

Colorado has made some bold changes in public education. I urge Coloradans to continue to be bold and lead the nation by embracing the rigorous PARCC assessments for the sake of our children’s future. 

Categories: Urban School News

Education funding reform bill advances in legislature

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 16:36

SPRINGFIELD - The pending amendment to SB 16, the 419-page school funding reform amendment, was pored over and examined and scrutinized, argued over and debated by witnesses and legislators on the Special Issues Subcommittee of the Senate Executive Committee for nearly three hours yesterday before it was approved for full committee consideration.

Meanwhile, members of the Illinois State Board of Education endorsed the proposal during today’s regular meeting.

The amendment authored by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) returns most of the revenue distributed to Illinois school districts to that money's original path - the General State Aid formula that was designed to minimize the disparities in funding from one district to another.

"We own the most inequitable [school funding] system in the nation," Manar told a gathering in Springfield last week. Currently, only 44% of all school funding is directed through the GSA formula. Manar's proposal would raise that percentage to 92% and would "weight" the distribution to districts on the basis of poverty and other factors.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon led off Tuesday's testimony by congratulating Manar for having crafted a fair proposal, and she especially praised one of factor that will be part of the weighting formula:  development of "Advanced Standing Students," those who take and succeed in Advanced Placement courses and high school coursework that leads to college credits. (College-credit coursework in CPS is on the upswing.)

The panel also heard from Miguel del Valle, former Chicago mayoral candidate who is a founding board member for the advocacy group Advance Illinois and previous Chicago City Clerk, state senator and long-time chair of the Senate Education Committee. He was strongly in favor the Manar proposal because it shelters the poorest districts from fiscal harm.

State school funding fell by more than $1 billion since 2009 and cuts on the horizon (due to a scheduled decrease in the state income tax from 5% to 3.75% on January 1, 2015) will "hurt those most who can afford it least," del Valle said. By funneling most state funding through the general state aid formula, schools with high concentration of poor children will be spared much fiscal pain, he said.

Most of the interaction during the protracted hearing consisted of Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), the only Republican on the subcommittee, challenging Manar and other proponents, as well as witnesses in favor of the amendment.

Murphy pushed del Valle into a corner and an admission that "the wealthy school districts would not do as well" under the Manar bill. Currently, more state funding reaches wealthier districts in the form of block grants based on average daily attendance.

The proposal would shring the "flat grant" given to wealthier schools that are not eligible for money under general state aid.

Support that might have been unexpected came from Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable. Mays is a former state representative from Quincy, where he now serves on the elected local school board.

"When I showed this to my [Business Roundtable] board, I said ‘There are principles here that we have long stood behind,’ " Mays said.

“This is a good first step,” he added. “It may not make it all the way [to being enacted into law], but I don't think it should stop here.” The Business Roundtable is an elite club of corporate CEOs who usually oppose higher government spending.

Easily the most eloquent testimony of the hearing came from David Lett, superintendent of Pana CUSD 8, which has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in state support in recent years. He described the impact of having to cut teachers and school support staff, scale back music and art programs, and limit student access to libraries.

Since state support for education began to shrivel in 2009, Lett pointed out, the percentage of students from poor families has risen from about 40% to 60% in his district, with one elementary school posting an 80% poverty rate. These are the students who are hit the hardest when state money is cut under the current system, he explained.

He called for "boldness" and described Manar's proposal as "the boldest plan" because it has positive effects even without adding more revenue.

Another witness was Larry Joseph, director of research for Voices for Illinois Children. "We believe very strongly in the objectives" of the Manar proposal, Joseph said, praising the bill’s "effective targeting toward schools with the greatest need."

The panel voted 2-1 to send the bill to the full Executive Committee. State Sen. Kimberly Lightford and state Sen. Heather Steans voted "yes"; Murphy voted "no."

Jim Broadway is publisher of Illinois School News Service.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Rico

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 13:47

Jose Rico has been named senior vice president of community investment at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.  Rico served four years as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.  He planned policy, strategic initiatives, outreach and communications for President Obama’s education agenda and the Latino community.  He helped develop the Promise Neighborhood grants for cradle-to-career programming in distressed neighborhoods across the country.  Previously, he was a founding principal at the Multicultural Arts School at the Little Village/Lawndale High School campus.    He will lead United Way’s work on education, income and health and its Neighborhood Network model, which concentrates services in underserved communities. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS wins multi-million dollar grant for STEM classes

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:13

Fall into the gap

Despite determined efforts by a community activist and a dedicated core of teachers at Denver's flagship high school, backed by administrators, progress in closing the school's achievement gap has been painfully slow and decidedly mixed. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Things fall apart

Jeffco's board president Ken Witt told Chalkbeat Colorado the district will fulfill their agreement with the suburban teachers union, despite the association declaring an impasse during budget negations Monday night. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Mega bucks

Denver Public Schools has been awarded nearly $10 million in STEM grant funding. The state's largest school district will be given $7 million from the federal government and another $2.3 million from community foundations and donors. ( Denver Post, CBS 4 )

Sugar and spice prove to be nothing nice

Habanero peppers scattered on the playground at Jeffco Open Schools are to blame for Monday's evacuation. ( Fox 31, CBS 4 )

open dialouge

One of Douglas County school's newly elected board members is raising concerns about how transparent recent decisions by the board — including limiting public comment and appointing a new member — have been. ( YourHub )

Core concerns

Privacy concerns are at the center of debate regarding Colorado's and the Wiggins school district's participation in the Common Core State Standards. ( Fort Morgan Times )

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, a charter school CEO forecasted the results of the Common Core aligned standardized assessments, due next spring, will illustrate a "middle-class crisis." ( Connecticut Mirror )

Effectiveness efficacy

DPS is looking out for children, not ineffective teachers, The Denver Post editorial opines, when the district makes use of the mutual consent provision in the state law. ( Denver Post )

People and places

Doris Candelarie, principal at Lafayette's Sanchez Elementary, has been chosen as the 2014 Colorado National Distinguished Principal of the Year by the Colorado Association of Elementary School Principals. ( Daily Camera )

Colorado Early Colleges, which currently has a location in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, will be opening a third location in Parker in the fall. Most of the students who graduate from the charter school system last year left with more than 50 college credits — or enough to have an associates degree. ( Fox 31 )

Healthy schools

More than 500 Jeffco students can check off going to the dentist on their to-do list. A program between the county's head start program and health department provided o help provide 1,300 oral health screenings to children enrolled in the county's Head Start program. ( YourHub )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Intense competition for CPS' elite middle schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 04/09/2014 - 09:48

Competition to get into middle school at elite Chicago Public Schools programs around the city was more intense than ever this year, as scores hit record highs at some of the programs that guarantee a coveted spot at a selective enrollment high school. (DNAinfo)

CPS DELAYS TEST: Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday that the standardized test being used for the first time in applications to the city’s top selective enrollment schools will also be required for private school students, but that those children won’t have to take the test until next fall. (Tribune)

TURNAROUND PUSH BACK: CTU President Karen Lewis joined Diedrus Brown, principal of Greshman Elementary, on Tuesday in pushing back against the Chicago Public Schools’ turnaround proposal, alleging officials are more concerned about money than students’ best interests. Progress Illinois has a video.

VALLAS HIRED: Paul Vallas, who returned to Illinois last month as Gov. Pat Quinn’s running mate, has been hired to a six-figure job as a municipal finance consultant by a longtime friend and political supporter of the Democratic governor. Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, officially moved back to Illinois following the completion of his contract as schools superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn. (Tribune)

DUNCAN KEEPS HIS DISTANCE: In a hearing before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan defended the competitive grants built into his fiscal 2015 budget request, gave no substantive details about a proposed Race to the Top for equity contest, and continued to distance himself from the Common Core State Standards. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Charter school supporters rally against slew of bills

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 18:09

One bill would eliminate the state’s independent charter school authorizer. Another would place a cap on salaries for charter school CEOs and require school districts—not schools themselves--to hold lotteries for new students. A third bill would prevent the opening of new charter schools in neighborhoods where traditional public school have been shuttered in the past decade.

These are just three of nearly a dozen charter school-related bills before the Illinois Legislature this year that pick away at the historic autonomy granted to charter schools.

Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy says it’s the biggest wave of anti-charter school legislation he’s ever seen.

“There’s no question about it. This year is the most dangerous year to the charter school system we’ve ever had,” Broy said in a recent interview with Catalyst Chicago.  “These bills would fundamentally alter the way charter accountability works.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and other critics say that publicly funded but privately run charter schools need more oversight, citing as proof last year’s corruption scandal at the United Neighborhood Organization Charter School Network.

“Taxpayers are demanding more accountability from charter operators,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a statement. “They want to know whether the money going to these schools is actually being spent on educating students.”

Some outside observers say it might be time to have a conversation about whether Illinois should continue having charter schools, period, instead of addressing the issue through piecemeal legislation in a highly charged and impassioned environment. In a way, the bills are a response to the outrage felt by many educators and parents after CPS closed 50 neighborhood schools last year.

The battle over charter schools plays out differently from state to state. National attention has recently been focused on New York City, where the state Legislature thwarted Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s attempt to charge rent to charter schools operating in public buildings.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called the anti-charter school bills under consideration in Illinois “out of step” with the best practices in state laws across the country. She weighed in on the legislation in a press release sent out on Tuesday in support of the close to 1,500 Illinois charter school students and parents who traveled to Springfield to lobby legislatures to vote against the bills.

Here’s a summary of the major bills and where they stand in the legislative process:

  • House Bill 6005/Senate Bill 3030: More accountability. This multi-layered amendment to the state’s charter schools law has been voted out of both the House Education Committee and Senate Subcommittee on charter schools. It would remove the authority to operate lotteries for new students away from charter schools and place it into the hands of the school’s “authorizer” (usually the district). The bill includes several accountability measures, such as: prohibiting charter school staff from being employed by the school’s management company; requiring charter schools to pay back a pro-rated portion of public funding provided to the school district when students transfer out; preventing charter schools from using public dollars for advertising purposes; capping the salary for charter school CEOs at 80 percent of the district superintendent’s salary, and charter school principals’ salary at 10 percent more than the average salary for other principals in the district; and creating an audit process for charter schools that spend more of their budget for administration purposes than the district. Also, the bill would require the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to conduct an assessment of the impact of charter schools on the school system – including funding flow, enrollment, graduation and attrition rates. Charter schools could also lose state funding if they don’t meet all reporting requirements.
  • SB 2627/HB 3754: Scrap charter commission. The bill to repeal the Illinois State Charter School Commission – which has authorized four charter schools since its creation – has been voted out of the full House, and a companion bill is in the Senate education committee. The bill would also require ISBE to prepare an annual report based on the evaluations of charter schools sent in each year by local school districts. ISBE opposes the bill, arguing that the commission complies with all state requirements and should be allowed to continue its work.
  • SB 2779/HB 4237: Approval referendum. This bill would significantly change the appeals process for charter school applicants that are denied by local school boards. It has been voted out of the House education committee, but remains in the Senate education committee. It would require prospective charter school operators whose applications are approved by the state in the appeals process to then go to a referendum. 
  • HB 4655/SB 3004: Curbing disciplineThis bill seeks to reduce the use of expulsions and out-of-school suspensions unless the safety of other students or staff is at risk at traditional public schools, while requiring charter schools to comply with some new requirements. It has been voted out of both the House and Senate Education committees.  Under the bill, all schools – including charters -- must provide behavioral and educational support services to suspended students and submit to the school district detailed documentation about incidents leading to out-of-school suspensions or arrests; school districts must compile these reports into annual summaries that are available for public review. Charter school employees can’t encourage students to leave a school to avoid formal disciplinary procedures or fine students for breaking the rules, both common practices in some Chicago charter schools. Catalyst has reported on some of these controversial disciplinary policies on several occasions.
  • HB 4527: Special education, ELL. This ISBE initiative explicitly mandates that charter schools comply with all state laws on special education and English Language Learners students. It has been voted out of the full House, but has not yet been voted on by the Senate’s Education Committee. ISBE believes all schools should comply with special regulations on educating vulnerable populations, but charter school supporters say it’s unnecessary because schools already comply with federal laws – which are less stringent. 
  • HB 4591: Return of public funds. This bill would require that state funding follow students who are dismissed from charter schools into their new schools. The bill has been voted out of the House Education committee but it has no companion bill in the Senate. Charter school operators would have to return 100 percent of the district’s per capita student tuition money, on a pro-rated basis for the time the student is no longer enrolled in the school. Critics say the bill ignores the fact charter schools receive less money in per-pupil funding than other schools.

Another bill -- SB 3303, which has had no traction in the state Legislature -- would prohibit the opening of any new charter schools in neighborhoods where a traditional public school has been closed in the past decade. Meanwhile, HB 5328 would require charter schools in Chicago to be administered by local school councils, just like traditional public schools. While that bill has been approved by the Education committee, it has no companion bill in the Senate. 

INCS is tracking all charter school-related bills on its web site, as is the CTU

Categories: Urban School News

At Denver’s flagship high school, “shocking” achievement gaps and small steps forward

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 18:08

When Ron Sally moved to Denver in 1995, he bought a home in the Park Hill neighborhood in part because he wanted to live within the East High School attendance zone so his young children could one day attend the city’s flagship high school.

A decade later, when his eldest son was in eighth grade, Sally, a 51-year-old corporate lawyer, looked at East more closely and backed away fast.

“In hindsight what I realized was everybody I had talked to about East was white,” said Sally, who is African American. “Then I dug a little deeper, did my due diligence, talked to current and former students, current and former parents, experienced teachers, and they were universal in their concern about the challenges they thought (my son) would be facing at East, as an African American male coming from a family that had high aspirations for him.”

So Sally enrolled his son instead at Colorado Academy, one of the Front Range’s priciest private schools. The lad thrived at CA and went on to Princeton University.

What Sally saw that alarmed him so was evidence of distinctly different school cultures and educational outcomes for kids of color and low-income students at East compared to their white, more affluent peers.

Although the achievement gap is endemic in schools and districts across the nation, it is especially glaring in high schools like East, of which there are dozens in cities and suburbs from coast to coast. These are the schools that look integrated from the outside, but are in fact segregated inside classrooms.

In such schools, top-performing students, most of them white or Asian and on the more affluent side, take honors and Advanced Placement classes and regularly gain admittance to the nation’s elite colleges and universities.

Meanwhile many African American, Latino and Native American students, predominantly from low-income families, fare far less well, tracked by their academic history into “regular classes” where expectations are lower and the pace of teaching and learning much slower.

Over the past decade, successive East principals and true-believing teachers have worked to narrow the gap with several initiatives, including:

  • launching “detracking” efforts to bring honors and regular-track students into heterogenous classes and providing extra academic support classes for the lower-performers
  • raising awareness among students of color and their parents about the availability of honors and AP classes
  • identifying high-achieving minority students in regular classes and urging them to challenge themselves academically with tougher classes.

In addition, a school-based foundation provides low-income students with funds to buy AP books, and pays for AP exams for those who cannot afford the $89-per-exam fee.

PHOTO: Alan GottliebProject Greer Street founder Ron Sally (right) chats with program member Daylen Bowen, an East High junior A small drop in a cavernous bucket

Although Ron Sally decided not to enroll his son at East, the school’s gaps gnawed at him, and in 2009 he founded Project Greer Street, a mentoring program for African American male students at East. Its aim is getting students with unrealized academic potential through high school and into elite four-year colleges. His program has helped all of its graduates attend top-tier four-year schools.

“I’m from St. Louis, where the inner city schools look nothing like the palace we’re in right now,” Sally said on a recent Saturday, seated in a spacious East classroom with enormous  windows.  “So when I came to Denver and people said this was an inner city high school I said, ‘this is Xanadu, compared to where I’m from.’ I thought to myself, if this can’t work in a place like East, which I think is a fantastic high school — it’s like a Benneton commercial, as far as student composition — then we’ve got a real problem here in America.”

But Sally is the first to admit that his project, which this year serves seven juniors, amounts to a small drop in a cavernous bucket.

And despite determined efforts by Sally and a dedicated core of East teachers, backed by administrators, progress has been painfully slow and decidedly mixed.

On the one hand, minority student participation in AP classes is on the upswing, thanks in large part to a concerted, nationally-recognized effort by a student-led initiative called Angels for AP Excellence. Even as a more diverse group of students take AP classes and exams, exam passing rates have not dipped at East.

On the other hand, a much higher proportion of white students pass AP exams than do African Americans or Latinos. Last year the AP exam pass rate among white students was 65 percent. Among African Americans it was 35 percent, and among Latinos it was 47 percent.

Also, gaps measured by the state TCAP test remain yawning, wider than the gaps in Denver Public Schools as a whole between white and minority students.

Still, the breadth of East’s TCAP gaps may be explained in part by how high-achieving East’s top students are. In fact, East’s minority students outperform their counterparts across the district even though the gulf between them and East’s white students is so huge, as measured by standardized test scores.

At East, for example, the gap between white and African American ninth and tenth graders on math TCAP tests in 2013 was 51 percentage points – 68 percent of white students scored proficient or advanced on the tests compared to 17 percent of African American students. The gap across DPS on those same tests was 41 points.

But the district gap was smaller mostly because just 56 percent of white students DPS-wide scored proficient and advanced. Fifteen percent of African American students were proficient or advanced in math across the district.

Unlike DPS as a whole, gaps between white and Latino students are narrower at East than between whites and African Americans. Teachers, administrators and advocates speculated that this may be because a large number of East’s Latino students “choice” into the school, while many African American students live within the attendance boundaries and therefore don’t have to make an affirmative choice to attend East.

Other data are mixed as well. Across racial and ethnic lines, on-time graduation rates at East are relatively high – 93 percent for whites, 89 percent for African Americans and 85 percent for Latinos. Dropout rates are extremely low – under 2 percent for each group.

But there are significant disparities in percentages of students requiring remedial course work in college. Among East’s white graduates, 13 percent require remediation. That number climbs to 45 percent for Latino graduates and 67 percent for African Americans.

Attacking the gap

Anyone serious about attacking the stubborn challenge of achievement gaps has to take a long view, according to Andy Mendelsberg, East’s current principal.

“Nobody is changing achievement gap stuff significantly over one year,” said Mendelsberg, who has worked at East for 16 years, the past three as principal. “It’s got to be a prolonged effort. We are impatient to close the gap, but we’re patient in the things we’re putting in place to achieve the desired goals.”


The attitude toward the gap at East has shifted over the past decade from something like complacence to a school-wide fixation on tackling the issue head-on, Mendelsberg said.

“When I was dean here [in the late 1990s] I would have told you that I never understood why everyone thought East was such a great place,” he said. “I thought it was great for one kind of kid but I didn’t think it was great for every kind of kid walking in the door.”

Today, Mendelsberg said, “I would tell you we are still a long ways from any kind of trumpeting success. But we are all unbelievably aware of the gaps, we all know what role we have to play to help kids close those gaps. We just know it’s going to take time.”

Some teachers in the trenches, though, said they wish the school would be more strategic in its gap-closing efforts. Jessica Donovan-Massey has taught English at East for nine years. She, along with a group that also includes science teachers Margaret Bobb, Bonnie LaFleur, and Nate Grover, are among the teachers at the heart of the effort to place students in untracked, heterogeneous classes.

A key component to making mixed classes work is academic success classes, which provide extra learning time to all students who wouldn’t normally be in an honors class. To be effective, these classes need to be small, teachers said, but they keep growing in size, demonstrating a lack of understanding of their importance among the administration.

Also, for mixed classes to work well, Donovan-Massey said, the school needs to pay attention to research that says a mixed class should have balance of at least 60 percent higher-achieving, more affluent students and no more than 40 percent lower-performing, usually lower-income students. She describes the split as between “high-achieving students and reluctant students.”

Instead of using the 60-40 split as an outer limit, Donovan-Massey said, East administrators, those who are even aware of the research, use it as a norm. Given the slippage that invariably occurs, she said, this means that many heterogeneous classes are skewed closer to 60-40 in the other direction.

“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “It is very hard to rally that kind of a class behind you, which is what you need to do: rally them behind you in academic pursuit. And they are reluctant to rally behind you because they don’t believe; they’ve been mistreated, they’ve been put down, they’ve been marginalized, and so when you have a whole bunch of them, like a whole class full, it’s a critical mass in the wrong direction.”

Getting strategic

It helps when developing strategies for attacking achievement gaps to recognize that they are multifaceted, said Christine Miller, East’s parent and community liaison.

“The achievement gap is linked to two things: a knowledge gap and an advocacy gap,” Miller said. “A lot of students of color here don’t have the knowledge of what’s available, and their parents don’t either. But they don’t know how to advocate for themselves or their children either. When you are lacking in those two things you end up being tracked.”

Students confirmed this. Ray Pryor is a high-achieving, African American East junior who attended the Odyssey charter middle school and who belongs to Ron Sally’s Project Greer Street. He entered East feeling academically prepared for any challenge. He immediately enrolled in freshman honors-level courses, where he thrived. But he knew nothing about the next logical step.

“I had no idea what AP was until a counselor made me aware of the opportunity” during his freshman year, Pryor said. “And once I learned about it, I said why not, because I said why not to honors classes and I felt it would be the most enriching academic experience I could have at East.”

Pryor is now an active member of Angels for AP Excellence, the student-led group promoting broader AP participation. This school year, he and some of his peers have presented their program before the College Board, AP’s parent organization, and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Kate Greeley is in her second year as an assistant principal at East, and serves as a staff liaison with the student AP advocacy group. Before coming to East she worked as a data specialist at DPS headquarters, and she has brought a data geek’s focus on numbers to the school’s gap-closing efforts.

“[The gap] is not being swept under the rug,” she said. “It’s not like we say ‘oh that’s shocking’ and then move on with our day. Instead we have tried to take the approach of, ok it is shocking, now what are our action steps?”

The first step Greeley and her team took last school year was identifying students of color who had scored proficient or higher on the TCAP reading exam and who had a grade point average of 3.0 (B) or above but were not enrolled in high-level courses. There were about 100 such students. Christine Miller sent letters home to those families. Many responded, like Ray Pryor, that they had never heard of AP. And if AP provided college credit and could help them save tuition money, and their kids were ready for it, by all means sign them up.

Students were invited to meetings led by Angels for AP Excellence to demystify AP, and had the opportunity to shadow students into AP classes.

Greeley’s next move was to dig down one layer deeper and find last year’s ninth- and 10th-grade students of color who had scored partially proficient on the TCAP and weren’t in high-level classes – 324 in all. Last fall, East staff reached out to those students and their families to offer them counseling and informational sessions on college admissions, ACT testing, and test-taking strategies.  Of those invited, 131 have participated in informational events and counseling sessions.

How many of these students decide to take higher-level classes will become clearly when the 2014-15 school year begins. But last year’s efforts yielded some big gains. The number of African American students enrolled in AP classes increased this year at East by 36 percent. Latino student AP participation climbed by 26 percent.

Still, the AP participation rate by ethnicity is nowhere near mirroring the composition of the school’s student body. White students are over-represented in AP classes, while African American and Latino students remain significantly under-represented.

Breaking through the discomfort

Ask kids of color at East and they’ll tell you that honors and AP classes don’t always feel welcoming to them, and it requires some courage to cross the threshold for the first time.

Senior Karina Orellana decided as a junior to take an AP government and politics class. She and her friend Luis Cotto enrolled together. The first days especially were tough.

“We walked in and right away the minorities (four out of a class of about 15) all sat together and everyone else sat on the other side of the room,” Orellana recalled.

PHOTO: Alan GottliebAngels for AP Excellence members (L to R) Ray Pryor, Sarah DeMoully, Karina Orellana, and Luis Cotto

And even after she started feeling more comfortable, there would be awkward moments. When class discussion turned to immigration issues, “everybody just turns around and looks at the little Hispanic girl expecting me to say something about immigration because I am Hispanic.”

Orellana and Cotto are now leaders of the Angels for AP Excellence group.

Ray Pryor took AP human geography as a sophomore and experienced the same self-segregation of students. Then the teacher switched up the seating chart and forced students to mix.

“I think it was best for me not to get used to this comfortable enclave in the minority corner,” he said. “I got to meet some fantastic new people who come from a different culture than I do.”

It’s easy at a school like East for white students to remain in their bubble and remain oblivious. White senior Sarah DeMoully, who is a leader of Angels for AP Excellence, said she was unaware of the achievement gap until a friend who writes for the school paper did a story on the issue and DeMoully accompanied her during some of the reporting process.

“Honestly, before that my awareness was zero,” she said. “When you are in a classroom with kids who just look like you, the awareness just really isn’t there because you are comfortable.”

Until she attended a meeting with her reporter friend, “I hadn’t heard how some students can feel uncomfortable in classrooms, and that was really eye-opening to me and I knew I wanted to do something to help change that.”

Eliminating the gaps will be a long-term struggle, Pryor said, because inertia comes from both sides of the chasm.

“In American society, conformity is very comfortable. It’s OK to fit in the groups society says you belong in,” he said. “I think that’s a huge challenge when you come to a school like East where you have so many kids from different groups that have been conforming for a majority of their lives. How as a school do you ensure success for everybody when you have people coming from all these backgrounds?” 

Schools like East will continue struggling with that question into the indefinite future.

Categories: Urban School News

Citing impasse, Jeffco teachers union breaks off open negotiations

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 17:12

Negations between the Jeffco Public Schools teacher union and board of education are on hold after the association declared an impasse Monday evening.

“It has become clear to the JCEA bargaining team that this year’s bargaining process is disrespecting a 45-year tradition that has made us great,” said Stephie Rossi, bargaining chair for the Jeffco Education Association and a Wheat Ridge High School social studies teacher, to a crowd of teachers gathered outside the district’s administration building in Golden. “The Board has not empowered their team to bring truth to the table and we cannon reach a mutually agreed upon outcome without the truth.”

According to the Columbine Courier, the union walked away after the union asked district staff for the school board’s position on teacher salaries.

The union, referring to a memo signed by the district and union as part of last year’s negations, was looking for the district to restore funding for teacher salary ladders,  Ami Prichard, JCEA president, said Tuesday. Those ladders are a formula that outlines how much compensation a teacher is supposed earn based on years of experience and continuing education.

Jeffco employees said the board had yet to give specific direction regarding teacher compensation and rates.

The school board and staff are simultaneously working through the suburban school district’s budget, which must be completed by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year. The district is expecting more funds as the economy recovers, said Lorie Gillis, Jeffco Public Schools’ chief financial officer, during a separate interview Monday with Chalkbeat Colorado.

And if the district were to follow the memo’s directive, Prichard said, that money would go toward teacher compensation, which has been frozen since 2010.

Gillis said the current budget includes an additional $11.7 million for teacher salaries, which would equate on average to a 2.5 percent increase for teachers.

But that estimate was higher at $15.9 million, Prichard said, when negotiations first opened.

Working through the budget has been a little slower this year, Gillis said, because three of the five members are new to the board.

“Everybody is still learning each other,” she said.

The meeting Monday was the fourth of open talks between the union and district staff, representing the board. While the current contract does not expire until August 2015, the two sides meet annually to discuss interim issues including compensation.

Union leaders and supporters have regularly posted updates from the meetings on social media sites like Twitter. The tone of the updates have ranged from skepticism to rage. The social media posts illustrate continued distrust between some portions of the Jefferson County community and the newly elected conservative majority on the board.

Kerrie Dallman, who is president of the Colorado Education Association, sent these tweets last night:

BOE doesn’t even seem to respect their own bargaining team #standup4kids

— Kerrie Dallman (@KerrieDallman) April 7, 2014

How do expect to attract and retain our great educators when the district can’t honor agreements to restore steps #standup4kids

— Kerrie Dallman (@KerrieDallman) April 7, 2014

Board president Ken Witt, in a statement to Chalkbeat, said he was disappointed in the association, but that the board was committed to honoring its agreement with the union:

The district values its employees and remains committed to the negotiations process. The board will work with the negotiating teams to determine appropriate next steps and move forward. I am disappointed that the association has decided to abandon the open negotiations process for a closed impasse mediation process, and hope they come back to the negotiating table. The board is honoring last year’s summit results which said after PERA and other mandated increases the board will look at additional compensation in order to recruit and retain great teachers. The district has maintained a budgetary $11.7 million dollar total compensation increase placeholder in accordance with the expectations from last year, and I hope we are able to move forward to mutual agreement on compensation and honoring the terms of the agreement. We are committed to honoring the association agreement.

At an earlier bargaining session, district officials said the current contract would not be extended past 2015, which was one of the issues JCEA raised. Other issues still to be worked out besides compensation are class size, terms of leave and work load.

If the board and union can not agree on a mediator, one will be selected by the American Arbitration Association, according to the current contract.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Gresham principal fights turnaround

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 09:26

If Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown is going to lose her job in what CPS calls a "turnaround,"  she said Monday she’ll go down telling the truth. Brown will join Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis outside the school Tuesday to try to persuade CPS to leave Gresham alone. In the evening, she'll join supporters from Gresham and the other two schools recommended for turnaround — Dvorak Technology Academy in North Lawndale and McNair Elementary School in South Austin — outside the Kenwood home of Board President David Vitale. (Sun-Times)

CHARTER ADVOCATES RALLY: As a raft of legislation that could curtail the autonomy of charter schools in a number of ways, advocates of the privately run but publicly funded schools are set to descend on the state Capitol for a Tuesday rally. (Tribune)

AUSTIN SCHOOL GETS FEDERAL FUNDS: On Monday the White House announced Chicago's Manufacturing Renaissance organization won a $2,670,909 "CareerConnect" federal grant, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel said will go to the Austin Polytechnical Academy High School on the city's West Side. (Sun-Times)

MORE FUNDS FOR WORK/LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: President Obama traveled to a high school in the Washington suburbs on Monday to announce the winners of $107 million in grants intended to update curriculums to better integrate work experiences and real-world learning opportunities. (The New York Times)

DESIRE TO DEFUND COMMON CORE: Ten Republican senators don't want to see another dime of federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards. That includes the Common Core State Standards, now embraced by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The senators also don't want any more federal funding going to develop assessments that go along with the Common Core, or any other set of standards. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Regular schools outperform charters, data examination reveals

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 09:26

Even as many parents have embraced new charter schools, there’s little evidence in standardized test results that charters are performing better than traditional schools operated by the Chicago Public Schools system, an examination by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University has found.

In fact, in 2013, CPS schools had a higher percentage of elementary students who exceeded the standards for state tests for reading and math than the schools that are privately run with Chicago taxpayer funds.

CHARTER ADVOCATES RALLY: As a raft of legislation that could curtail the autonomy of charter schools in a number of ways, advocates of the privately run but publicly funded schools are set to descend on the state Capitol for a Tuesday rally. (Tribune)

PRINCIPAL FIGHTS TURNAROUND: If Gresham Elementary School Principal Diedrus Brown is going to lose her job in what CPS calls a "turnaround,"  she said Monday she’ll go down telling the truth. Brown will join Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis outside the school Tuesday to try to persuade CPS to leave Gresham alone. In the evening, she'll join supporters from Gresham and the other two schools recommended for turnaround — Dvorak Technology Academy in North Lawndale and McNair Elementary School in South Austin — outside the Kenwood home of Board President David Vitale. (Sun-Times)

AUSTIN SCHOOL GETS FEDERAL FUNDS: On Monday the White House announced Chicago's Manufacturing Renaissance organization won a $2,670,909 "CareerConnect" federal grant, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel said will go to the Austin Polytechnical Academy High School on the city's West Side. (Sun-Times)

MORE FUNDS FOR WORK/LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES: President Obama traveled to a high school in the Washington suburbs on Monday to announce the winners of $107 million in grants intended to update curriculums to better integrate work experiences and real-world learning opportunities. (The New York Times)

DESIRE TO DEFUND COMMON CORE: Ten Republican senators don't want to see another dime of federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards. That includes the Common Core State Standards, now embraced by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The senators also don't want any more federal funding going to develop assessments that go along with the Common Core, or any other set of standards. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco school closes due to unknown toxin

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 04/08/2014 - 08:52

At the capitol

A bill to alter higher education funding brought out divisions between elected officials of the same party and drew criticism from university representatives. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

And Representative Joe Salazar exchanged barbs with Denver's superintendent over a bill that would forbid districts from placing teachers on unpaid leave to avoid putting them in a school. Salazar killed the bill to allow more time for fixing it. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, AP via Denver Post )

Outbreak at school

A Jeffco school closed yesterday after an unidentified irritant caused an allergic-type reaction in students. Officials are still in the process of decontaminating the school. ( 9News )

Showdown in Jeffco

Union leaders abruptly broke off talks with the district Monday night, saying the board was disrespectful of the process. ( Columbine Courier )

A flood of emotions

Lyons students participated in a photography project to celebrate the community's resilience in the face of last fall's devastating flooding. ( Times-Call )

First Person

A former vice president at MillerCoors brewing company says Colorado's economy depends on its schools and right now there are some crucial parts missing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Getting ready for work

Denver won a $7 million grant to improve workforce preparation. It will likely go to more STEM education opportunities in the district. ( Denver Post, Edweek )

Schooling the competition

A group of North Dakota sixth graders beat out universities and top business traders in a stock market investment competition. ( Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed funding bill sparks high-level differences

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 23:16

It’s rare to see vigorous public debate between the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor, especially when they’re from the same party. But a proposed higher education funding bill brought out just that at a House Education Committee hearing Monday.

At issue is House Bill 14-1319, a proposal by House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. In broad terms, it would shift funding to “access” institutions, such as the community colleges and Metropolitan State University, and target some funding to state colleges and universities based on such performance indicators as graduation rates.

In addition to highlighting differences between Ferrandino and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of the Department of Higher Education, the hearing also revealed divisions between research universities and smaller rural colleges on one side and Metro and the community colleges on the other.

Although Ferrandino has been working on the idea for a long time, the bill surfaced publically only on March 13 and immediately raised big questions in the higher education establishment (see story).

Some observers questioned the timing of the bill so late in the legislative session and speculated that Ferrandino was pushing for a “legacy” measure, given that he’s term-limited so will leave the legislature after this session.

In response to criticism and questions, Ferrandino wrote a whole new version of the bill even before Monday’s three-hour hearing. Further changes are expected, given continued concerns. The panel didn’t discuss possible amendments nor vote on Monday and may consider the bill again on Wednesday.

Ferrandino’s amendment would give the Colorado Commission on Higher Ediucation a greater role in fleshing out the new funding system, but Monday’s hearing made clear that he hasn’t eliminated all concerns about the bill.

A key element of the bill is the proposed requirement that 52.5 percent of higher education funding be funneled through the College Opportunity Fund, a mechanism that provides tuition discounts to resident undergraduate students. The actual per-student amount has fluctuated up and down (mostly down) in recent years as state revenue declines have forced lawmakers to cut higher education funding. While 52.5 percent is about what has been allocated to stipends in recent years, many college leaders oppose locking that percentage into state law.

In his testimony Garcia made it clear that the department doesn’t feel the bill makes a significant change in the current system. “This funding model is based primarily on enrollment and includes some outcome-based factors,” he said.

Garcia said the bill “will inevitably shift resources” from research universities and rural colleges to large open-access institutions like Metropolitan State University and community colleges. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

He said later, “I think the bill makes a valiant effort to address really important issues” like college completion and closing ethnic completion. Bit, he added, “The current system’s that in place can work and is working.” Under terms of a recent higher education master plan, the DHE has negotiated performance contracts with all institutions, and an existing state law requires a portion of college funding be based on performance later in this decade, after certain base levels of state support for higher education are achieved.

The lieutenant governor said Ferrandino’s bill is “a too-complex way to get to where we’ve already decided we want to go.”

Ferrandino wasn’t convinced, saying, “I have to disagree. The current system isn’t working” because it’s based on an old model of allocations to institutions that penalizes schools like Metro.

The discussion was very polite, with Garcia and other witnesses all praising Ferrandino for listening to their concerns and being willing to make tweaks in his proposal. Officially, DHE is neutral on the bill.

Metro President Steve Jordan testified strongly in favor of the bill, as did Mark Superka, vice president of finance and administration for the community college system.

Representatives of Fort Lewis College, Western State Colorado University and Adams State University raised concerns about the bill, as did Todd Saliman, chief financial officer of the University of Colorado System.

“It will drive our tuition up. Students will pay more at the University of Colorado if this bill becomes law,” he said. “We think there should be access and affordability not just for the students of community colleges but also for the students of the University of Colorado.” Rich Schweigert, Colorado State University chief financial officer, echoed Saliman’s concerns.

Dick Kaufman, chair of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, echoed the concerns of others when he said, “The basic problem here, I think everybody knows, is that we don’t have enough money in the system.”

Ferrandino said he would work on additional amendments to the bill, although he’s not willing to compromise the 52.5 percent earmark for tuition stipends. “I would leave it up to the committee on that issue.”

Read the current version of Ferrandino’s bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Sponsor beats up on DPS, has teacher placement bill killed

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 04/07/2014 - 21:18

The sponsor of a bill that would have forbidden school districts from putting unassigned teacher on unpaid leave asked the House Education Committee to kill his measure Monday, but not until after he ripped the Denver Public Schools for its personnel policies.

On the other side of the rhetorical spat, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Democrats for Education Reform criticized Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, for cutting off the possibility of testimony against his House Bill 14-1268.

Salazar said he wanted to kill the bill both to allow more time to work on a 2015 version and to allow DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association to perhaps work out their differences.

Another factor may have been that the bill also was not expected to get out of committee, with at least one Democratic member and all Republicans expected to vote against it. In the unlikely event the bill would have passed the House, it was considered dead on arrival in the Senate. (Asking that a bill be postponed indefinitely is often a face-saving technique to avoid defeat of a measure. The committee granted Salazar’s request on a 13-0 vote.)

The measure was seen as something of a symbolic effort in the ongoing feud between DPS and the DCTA (along with the Colorado Education Association) over the district’s use of a portion of Senate Bill 10-191, the state’s landmark educator evaluation law.

The DCTA filed suit against the district at the same time that plans for the bill was announced (see this story for background).

The fight is over a section of SB 10-191 that requires mutual consent of principals (or hiring committees) and teachers for placement of a teacher in a school. While the more important parts of the evaluation law are still being phased in, the mutual consent provision went into effect immediately after the bill became law. The DCTA contends that DPS has used to law to push some teachers out for budgetary reasons, not because they’re bad teachers. Use of the mutual consent provision has been an issue only in DPS.

Salazar called DPS’ use of the law “shocking, staggering and unconscionable” and said district administration had been “intransigent” in refusing to discuss possible amendments to his bill. “They were not willing to work on anything,” he told Chalkbeat Colorado after the brief committee hearing.

In a later interview with Chalkbeat, DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg disputed that, saying, “We talked at great length” and hinting that perhaps Salazar was intransigent. “It takes two to compromise.”

Boasberg also was critical of Salazar’s move to kill the bill, saying, “We were all surprised and disappointed that we didn’t have the chance to clarify the situation.” He also claimed “egregious factual inaccuracies” in what Salazar said.

Salazar’s move caught most people by surprise. Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, said she learned of his plan only just before the meeting convened. In a news release, Salazar said, “I could look to push the legislation through committee with hours of heated testimony, only to have hours of heated debate on the House floor if this bill gets passed out of committee. Or I can ask that this bill be postponed, take the next year to work with the stakeholders, bringing in respected community leaders to encourage DPS administrators to engage in the legislative process in good faith. I elect to take the next year to bring these stakeholders to the table.”

According to both CEA and Boasberg, only 57 DPS teachers are currently on unpaid leave because they haven’t been placed in schools.

Categories: Urban School News



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