On Monday, we asked our readers, “Should school boards be required to keep electronic correspondence for a certain amount of time? If so, how long and why?”
The question was prompted by a recent discussion between the Jeffco Public Schools board and its lawyer, Brad Miller. Miller said the district needed to adopted a policy that outlines how it retains electronic files, including emails. But that policy could say emails do not need to be kept.
Reader Kelly Johnson pointed out that if emails are deleted, they’re no good to the public.
If the emails — using either personal or district email addresses — talk about Board business, they’re a public record. And what good is a public record if it isn’t actually archived?
Reader Jim Earley left this comment:
Any public entity should be required to have retention policies for all correspondence, digital or otherwise. For email, I would urge a minimum two year retention policy.
But Tina Gurdikian, in a comment, said emails should be maintained for the public official’s career.
Any emails directly pertaining to board/district business and decisions/decision-making should be retained for the duration that an elected board official is in office.
That’s not long enough for Twitter user Gail Kramer
@ChalkbeatCO School board members should keep school board related emails for 7 yrs like US citizens keep tax returns.
— Gail Kramer (@Kramerreads) February 4, 2015
But Paula Reed said a shorter length of time would be fine with her.
Thirty days is a reasonable length of time. Should a situation occur that requires public oversight, that allows time to ascertain just what is needed and file a CORA (Colorado Open Records Act request). When a school board candidate runs on transparency during his or her campaign, he or she should be in favor of such a reasonable policy.
Gov. John Hickenlooper told a large audience of school administrators Friday that he “can’t imagine” the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights being repealed and that instead the state needs to “modify the different parts of the constitution to put them more in harmony.”
Hickenlooper’s message to the annual winter meeting of the Colorado Association of School Executives probably wasn’t quite what some of the group wanted to hear, on TABOR or on other issues.
After the governor had finished his 20-minute speech, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger asked Hickenlooper if he would lead a campaign to repeal TABOR. “We will need the governor to lead that charge.”
“To take on that battle … right now, that would be a doomed effort,”Hickenlooper said. “We’d be better served to look at modifying TABOR. I’m not politic, but at least I’m honest.”
Here are the highlights of what the governor said on other key issues.
School spending: He touted his proposed increase of about $380 million in state funding for 2015-16, but he warned about future years. “We’re at a serious turning point” in the following budget year, 2016-17, Hickenlooper said. For that year required K-12 spending increases “will more than eclipse all the projected new money for every other purpose in the state.”
Reducing the shortfall in K-12 spending “should be a priority for all of us,” he added. “But to create a system where no other part of the state [government] is able to grow is going to be a very great challenge.”
“There are no quick fixes, there is no magic wand out there.”
Testing: “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had over the past 12 months on testing,” the governor told the group.
He didn’t refer to any specific possible changes in testing but broadly cautioned against radical changes. “We are seeing an international jobs war. The key to winning that competition is going to be education, and we’ve got to have some way to measure our success.”
He continued, “I get it – the volume of assessments has taken too much time away from teaching. That’s something we should be able to solve.”
But, he cautioned again, “Streamlining can’t come at the expense of maintaining fairness and consistency across every Colorado community.”
Community dialogue: On both finance and testing Hickenlooper stressed the need for expanded community dialogue across the state. “All of us need to do a better job of listening. … No one’s going to get everything they want.”
How schools are doing: “Despite all the budget cuts … there has been a lot of good news coming out of Colorado schools,” Hickenlooper said, citing achievement gains in districts like Adams 12-Five Star, Denver Public Schools and Edison in El Paso County.
“I think we are beginning to close the opportunity gap in Colorado,” he said. “Colorado is the greatest state … I think our education system is well on its way to being a reflection of that.”
After the governor left, a panel of six superintendents reacted to the speech and discussed other issues.
“I would agree with the governor that I think the repeal of TABOR is a fool’s errand,” said Walt Cooper, superintendent of the Cheyenne Mountain district.
But, as the session closed, Messinger said, “I think we have to be very resistant about accepting this as the new normal.” Changing TABOR “may be impossible, but only if we believe it’s impossible. … We can accept this as the new normal … or we can create the new normal and move a lower tax state into a higher tax state.”
The TABOR amendment requires voter approval for all state and local tax increases. It also sets limits on how much new revenue that state can spend in a given year. Rising state revenues are pushing the state budget toward that ceiling and may require tax refunds as early as the next budget year.
The legislature could submit a ballot measure to voters asking to retain the extra revenues, but it’s considered unlikely that will happen this session.
A second constitutional provision, the Gallagher amendment, sets limits on property tax collections and acts in combination with TABOR to limit local district revenues, shifting the burden of K-12 funding to the state. And a third provision, Amendment 23, requires school spending to increase by inflation and enrollment growth every year.What superintendents are asking
A large group of Colorado superintendents came together to push for reduction of what’s called the negative factor, the shortfall in K-12 spending that began building after the 2008 recession.
They had some success with that lobbying effort, and this year superintendents are pushing for addition of $70 million to 2015-16 K-12 spending on top of Hickenlooper’s plan. The proposal would allocate $50 million to districts for at-risk students and $20 million to small rural districts.
A statement proposing that idea was signed by 174 superintendents in November, and several dozen of the district leaders gathered at a news conference Thursday to publicize the idea. (Read full statement.)
“This proposal is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do,” said Westminster Superintendent Pam Swanson said.Superintendents pose for group portrait at CASE convention.
Colorado students are becoming increasingly vulnerable to infectious diseases due to large number of parents opting their children out of vaccines, according to a new health report card. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
And Michele Lueck, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Institute, said there is no political will to reverse that trend. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
School funding and finance
Bridge to real life
A new program in the Cherry Creek School District aims to get special-needs students into the booming electronics recycling industry via the district’s Transition Program, which serves 18 to 21-year-old students who have graduated from high school but still receive services. ( Aurora Sentinel )
Bills that would allow state tax credits for private school tuition and guarantee parent rights in educational and medical decisions were passed Thursday by the Republican majority on the Senate Education Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Turning around turnaround policies
States can now develop their own turnaround plans for low-performing schools using federal dollars and submit them to the U.S. Secretary of Education for approval. These remedies would not necessarily have to follow turnaround principles in the department's waivers. ( Ed Week )
Marijuana and teens
A panel of experts including physicians, law enforcement, a recovery specialist and a mother and son team with a personal story of marijuana addiction were on hand to help Colorado Springs parents understand what their students might be dealing with now that marijuana is legal for adults. ( KOAA )
A social studies teacher at Community Prep School in Colorado Springs was recognized the Colorado League of Charter Schools as teacher of the year. ( Gazette )
Vista Peak P-8 Exploratory in east Aurora this fall implemented a national program to encourage men to volunteer in schools. ( Denver Post )
Jennifer Giles, the bilingual 3rd grade teacher at Longmont's Columbine Elementary, advanced to the semifinals of the Jeopardy! Teachers Tournament Thursday night. ( Longmont Times Call )
Denver civic leaders and students discussed issues of homelessness and ways in which teens in Denver could get involved in helping those experiencing homelessness. ( 9News )
In real life
Volunteers in the Spellbinders program go into Douglas County schools and tell personal stories or oral histories to engage young students and link to teachers' curriculums. ( Denver Post )
Bills that would allow state tax credits for private school tuition and guarantee parent rights in educational and medical decisions were passed Thursday by the Republican majority on the Senate Education Committee.
The 5-4 vote on the tax-credits measure marked the first time in several sessions that such a bill has moved out of committee.
The five hours of hearings drew an overflow crowd, and the meeting was punctuated with sometimes-emotional testimony on the parent rights bill.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud and prime sponsor of the tax-credits measure, Senate Bill 15-045, argued that the bill is needed to give more support to private schools and home schooling. The current system “encourages in every way public schools and pretty much tolerates private schools and home schooling. This bill is intended simply to change that policy,” he said.
The witness list for the bill was surprisingly short, and committee members took more time discussing the bill than advocates did supporting or opposing it. Democratic committee members took up a fair amount of time with unsuccessful amendments designed to make points about other issues like education funding and non-discrimination.
There also was a bit of back and forth among committee members about whether tax credits, as opposed to vouchers, actually involve public funds and therefore have constitutional problems.
The bill would allow a tax credit equal to half of statewide per-pupil public school spending for taxpayers with children enrolled full-time in a private school. A tax credit of $1,000 would be allowed for full-time home-schooled students. People who donate to private school scholarships could claim a credit of half of statewide per-pupil funding or the amount of the scholarship, whichever is smaller.
The bill moves next to the Senate Finance Committee, where testimony and discussion is supposed to focus on the possible fiscal impacts of the bill.
Legislative staff analysts estimate the measure would cost the state $12.1 million in 2015-16 and $37 million in 2016-17, involving 35,891 students in that second year. It’s estimated the loss in tax revenues could reach $318.3 million by 2028-29.
K-12 funding is projected to drop by $44.1 million in 2016-17 and $81.3 million in 2017-18. Total K-12 spending currently is about $5.9 billion a year. (Read the full financial analysis here.)Parent rights bill sparks emotional responses
Parent’s bill of rights sponsor Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, said those rights are under “assault” and that his bill would “reinforce” the rights of parents to raise and educate their children as they see fit.
Representatives of the Colorado Bar Association and children’s advocacy organizations testified against the bill, warning of possible unintended consequences.
Much of the testimony from both sides focused on medical consent issues and alleged problems with family courts. There also was testimony from anti-vaccination activists.
Schools were less of a focus. Witnesses representing the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives said the bill isn’t necessary because existing laws cover parent rights to opt their children out of lessons they object to, or out of sex education.
But anti-testing activist Anita Stapleton of Pueblo complained of students being coerced to take state tests and required to answer questionnaires that asked about drug use and sexual habits.
Senate Bill 15-077 declares that parents have the fundamental right to raise, educate and provide medical care for their children and that government cannot interfere with that unless there’s “a compelling interest.” It sets out a long list of parental rights, including withdrawal of children from classes whose content they find objectionable, receiving information about opting out of sex education classes, access to textbooks, and consent to medical and diagnostic procedures and to video and audio recording of children.
Read the bill text here.
It’s possible that both bills will pass the Senate, where Republicans hold a 18-17 majority. If that happens their chances are dim in the House, where Democrats have majority control. That’s what happens when there’s split legislative control – strongly ideological bills passed in one house tend to die in the other.
That’s Lueck’s take on why efforts to make it harder for parents to claim “personal belief” exemptions from childhood immunizations are unlikely to succeed. She made the comment after a briefing Thursday on the 2015 Colorado Health Report Card, which revealed the state has lost ground when it comes to childhood immunization rates. (Read Chalkbeat’s coverage of the report card here.)
Unlike most of the other 38 health indicators on the report card, immunizations are one area where the numbers go down as income goes up, said Lueck.
“It’s not an issue of cost and it’s not an issue of access.”
Colorado’s legislature tried last year to make it harder for parents to obtain personal belief exemptions by requiring them to be briefed first by a health care professional or complete an online education module. That provision was ultimately stripped from the bill.
With the national resurgence of measles making headlines in recent weeks, Colorado’s latest health report card highlights the state’s vulnerabilities to such infectious diseases.
The state lost ground on toddler immunizations since last year, moving from 18th to 30th on the report card’s state-by-state ranking. That drop is based on a continuing decline in the percentage of Colorado toddlers who are up to date on six key vaccinations. (In 2013, 69.2 percent of toddlers got the six immunizations, down from 75.8 percent in 2011.)
Immunization rates are one of five indicators that figured into Colorado’s C grade—the same as last year– on the “Healthy Beginnings” category of the 2015 report card, which is published by the Colorado Health Foundation in partnership with the Colorado Health Institute. (The Colorado Health Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat Colorado).
Update: See what the head of the Colorado Health Institute had to say about immunization rates here.
Analysts from the Institute said Colorado would have earned a C+ this year if its immunization ranking had stayed at 18th. Others indicators in the “Healthy Beginnings” category include prenatal health care, smoking status during pregnancy, low birth weight, and infant mortality.
The state also earned a C in the “Healthy Children” category for the second year in a row. Overall, there was little change in that category’s indicators, which include insurance coverage, obesity rates, poverty status, and dental care. Compared to other states, Colorado ranks particularly poorly when it comes the percentage of children without health insurance (7.1 percent) and the percentage with a medical home (55.3 percent).
Given the state’s lackluster grades in the two earliest life stages, the report card’s authors recommended a focus on improving the health of babies and children in the state. Three older groups received better grades, with “Healthy Adolescents” earning a B, “Healthy Adults” a B+ and “Healthy Aging” an A-.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the only concrete education proposal Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in his first State of the State address was to lift the cap on charter schools. Rauner singled out a Roseland parent who sends her children to charters because they “offer longer school days, enhanced learning opportunities and variety for her kids.” The current statewide cap stands at 120 schools, including 75 in Chicago, some of which are replicating charters. The cap has been raised multiple times since 2003.
Without going into detail, Rauner repeated his commitment to increase K-12 funding with an eye toward improving “our most disadvantaged school districts” and promised to beef up funding for technical and vocational training programs in high schools and community colleges.
Rauner also gave a shoutout to anti-testing advocates. He said that students and teachers are “overwhelmed by too many tests” and called on policymakers to “ensure that the amount of time we test our students doesn’t get in the way of high-quality instruction.” He stopped short of mentioning the controversial PARCC exam, though, a topic on which he’s been silent since becoming a candidate.
2. Speaking of the PARCC… As promised, newly elected State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, introduced a bill last week to allow parents to opt their children out of taking state assessments -- such as the PARCC -- while protecting students, their teachers, schools and districts from any negative consequences in terms of grades or evaluations. So far, the bill has only attracted one co-sponsor: a fellow Democrat, Jaime Andrade, Jr., from Chicago.
Guzzardi told Catalyst he was meeting with Illinois State Board of Education officials this week to discuss the language in the bill and “to make sure they’re not concerned about risking federal dollars [...]. We shouldn’t be concerned about jeopardizing school funding because seven states already done it and have seen no loss of federal funds as results,” he added, referring to California, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nebraska and Utah.
But ISBE opposes the bill for just that reason. States are required to assess 95 percent of all students, and “we are concerned that if we allow an opt out we may fall below the federal requirement which could lead to some real consequences in terms of federal money and our ESEA/NCLB waiver,” says ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus. “This is not a risk we are willing to take.”
Similar legislation is being drafted elsewhere. Last week New Jersey assemblyman introduced a bill to require schools to develop opt-out procedures beginning next school year and provide students with an alternative learning opportunity if they refuse the test, while Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order allowing parents to opt-out of the PARCC, while urging that state’s education department to protect districts from consequences.
3. Taking over Dyett… The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett once again sounded the alarm outside of Ald. Will Burns (4th Ward) office to bring attention to the fact that the door has been opened for a private contractor to move into the school. In a statement, Coalition members were joined on a webinar about the pending request for proposals for Dyett by representatives of Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy High School. Little Black Pearl currently runs a contract school for dropouts and those at risk of dropping out. The district has said that whatever school goes into Dyett must be an open enrollment high school.
Jitu Brown, a community organizer for KOCO, and other coalition members are insistent that Dyett High School, which is being phased out, be reopened as a district-run high school. “We do not want to compete for this school,” said Brown. “We want a CPS school just like they have Lakeview or Lincoln Park.”
In a statement, Burns accused the action of being politically timed to undermine his reelection. Burns said he feels as though the RFP process being pursued by CPS insures that all proposals are “fairly and impartially evaluated.”
Though acquiescing to the community by committing to reopen Dyett, CPS officials refused to go along with the coalition’s plan to run it as a school focused on “global leadership and green technology.” Representatives from five groups attended the required webinar, according to CPS. Among the participants was someone from Brinshore Development, which is building mixed income housing on the land once occupied by Robert Taylor Homes, and someone from the Digital Youth Network. These representatives could not be reached to find out if they are interested in starting a school or listened in for some other reason. Last week, letters of intent were due, but CPS Spokesman Bill McCaffrey said those are not public.
4. Austerity in Illinois… Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown reports that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration sent word to organizations to halt job training, after school and other “youth development” programs. According to the e-mail reportedly received by organizations, Rauner blamed former Gov. Pat Quinn for signing an unbalanced budget.
But a group of African American and Latino state lawmakers called Rauner out on these cuts. “You tell us you want Illinois to become the most competitive and compassionate state in the nation,” said Jacqueline Y. Collins (D-Chicago) in a press release. She invited Rauner to her Southwest Side neighborhood to discuss the decision. “We are asking you – where is the compassion? And without mentoring, job training and a chance to work, how can the next generation of low-income minority youth hope to compete?”
Cutting the $8 million program may just be a sign of what is to come. Brown says that voters can’t be too upset because they voted for Rauner who promised to cut his way to a balanced budget.
Just last year a University of Chicago study found that a summer jobs program lowered violent crime arrests by 43 percent over a 16 month period. Also, youth in poor neighborhoods are the least likely to have jobs, according to a study released last week.
5. Learning to like math … A new individualized math tutoring service has brought unexpected benefits to students at low-income CPS high schools, according to a report released by Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Doubling down on a pilot study conducted in 2013, researchers followed about 600 ninth and 10th graders enrolled in Chicago Match, a two-on-one math tutoring program folded into the curricula of many low-income schools across the city. Not only did the program significantly boost math scores, the report found, but it had a ripple effect on students’ confidence and academic well-being. A survey at the end of the study found that participants in Match were much more likely to say they enjoy math and think they’re good at it, and that they don’t think their friends study enough. Students in Match also registered a spike in non-math test scores.
“We think this pushes back on the prevailing belief that it’s too late to intervene with adolescents who have fallen behind, that we should focus more on early childhood education instead,” said Jonathan Guryan, a professor with Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy who contributed to the study. “What we’re seeing is that when you use individualized programs like [Chicago Match], it can be an effective--and cost-effective--investment in adolescents.”
It’s no secret that individualized attention leads to better outcomes for kids, but Guryan says the key distinction here is Match’s affordability to the district. At $3,800 per student, the report found that the program’s per-dollar effectiveness for raising math scores is more than quadruple that of Head Start. Chicago Match pays tutors part-time to teach specific subjects, and it can be offered as a substitution for an elective during the school day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a big fan of the program, announced last year that he’d work to expand it.
By the way, the Sun Times followed on Catalyst's story about CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett's claim that only seven students were accounted for after the school closings, when it was really several hundred.
A panel discussion at the University of Colorado Boulder today highlighted tensions between Teach For America and traditional teacher preparation programs that persist even as TFA’s priorities and practices evolve. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Future in doubt
For decades, Fletcher Middle School in Lakewood has served "medically fragile" special needs students. Now its future is in doubt. ( 9News )
Poudre School District's vaccination rate for kindergartner's exceeds the state average, but lags the national average. ( Coloradoan )
Attending state-funded prekindergarten substantially reduces the likelihood that students will end up in special education programs later on, according to a new study by researchers at Duke University. ( KUNC/NPR )
A culinary team including four ThunderRidge High School students, teacher Katy Waskey and Douglas County School District executive chef Jason Morse are spending the week showcasing their talents in Vail, cooking for the Liechtensten ski team. ( Douglas County News-Press )
The Colorado League of Charter Schools has named Eric Trujillo from Community Prep Charter School in Colorado Springs its 2015 "Outstanding Teacher." ( The Gazette )
Longtime education journalist Anya Kamenetz’s new book, “The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be,” acts as a guide for the “small, yet growing group of parents” revolting against standardized testing. ( New York Times )
Bush pushes Common Core
Jeb Bush doubled down on his support for the Common Core State Standards during an impassioned speech Wednesday at the Detroit Economic Club ( The Hill )
The head of the U.S. Department of Education's office of English-language acquisition, says she's working with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to ease the burden of testing for English-learners and their teachers. ( EdWeek )
A panel discussion at the University of Colorado Boulder today highlighted tensions between Teach For America and traditional teacher preparation programs that persist even as TFA’s priorities and practices evolve.
As part of an effort to build relationships between Teach For America and academic researchers, Raegen Miller, TFA’s vice president of research partnerships, told a room full of doctoral students and faculty that the organization is hoping to dig into a set of questions that is broader and deeper than just asking whether corps members help students’ test scores improve.
“It’s boring to talk about how much better teachers score,” Miller said. “TFA has got to be a valuable lens into getting into some of these bigger questions.”
“If you’re interested in having the U.S. be more selective about teachers…if you’re looking at whether diversity among those serving low-income students matters…policymakers can’t lean in without good evidence,” he said.
Teach For America is a 25-year-old nonprofit that recruits teachers-to-be and places them in high-needs schools for a two-year commitment, after a six-week-long summer training. TFA has been in Colorado since 2007, and currently has 235 teachers in Colorado schools.
Miller was joined by Jennie Whitcomb, Associate Dean of Teacher Education at CU’s School of Education, and Terrenda White, an assistant professor at the school and a Teach For America alumna who describes herself as a “critical friend” of TFA. The conversation was hosted by Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center, a national research center housed at the school.
Miller said that there has been a perception that TFA is most interested in publishing research that casts it in a favorable light.
“There’s some kernel of truth to the observation. But it’s not the way things work now going forward,” he said.
But the conversation at today’s event surfaced a continued skepticism among much of the audience about TFA’s approach to teacher recruitment, training, and placement—and about what kinds of projects TFA would want to work with researchers on.
Miller said that over time, TFA has increased its focus on recruiting teachers from low-income backgrounds and teachers of color; beefed up its training; given its local offices more decision-making power; and, perhaps most significantly, taken the official stance that it is good for teachers to stay in the classroom for longer than their two-year commitment through TFA, he said.
He also noted that the organization has for the first time begun to take stances on political issues. TFA recently announced its support for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) which would grant permanent residency status to certain immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as minors.
Still, White said she wondered if the organization would welcome research about whether it was recruiting educators with different attitudes toward teaching, and whether it would change its training model now that it aims to keep more teachers in the classroom.
An audience member asked how committed TFA is to keeping teachers in the classroom for longer than two years, pointing out that the short commitment is still a prominent part of TFA’s advertising.
Miller said he thought the two-year commitment was likely to be part of the program for the foreseeable future, but that TFA still sees part of its mission as creating change in education systems through people who go on to become leaders in systems as well as through those who remain in classrooms.
The pointed questions directed at Miller were likely not a surprise to anyone: NEPC is often skeptical about current education reform efforts, and last year released a piece questioning Teach For America‘s claims that corps members are more effective than other new teachers.
The brevity of the program’s training, the fees districts pay to bring in TFA recruits, the cultural competency and temporary commitment of recruits, and TFA’s marketing of teaching as a stepping stone to graduate school or a higher-paid profession have all been called into question as TFA has grown. The program has also garnered attention for having an admissions rate comparable to elite colleges.
In general, TFA has been fielding more criticism in recent years, some from its own alumni, as a report released earlier this week highlighted.
“In terms of partnering with critical friends, I don’t think there’s really a choice,” Miller said. “This is how you’re going to address questions that relate to the deepest issues around eliminating education inequity.”
This article was updated to clarify Ms. White’s comments and TFA’s current Colorado membership.
Grow Your Own Teachers helps low-income people of color who have the desire to become teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in Education—a goal that would otherwise be almost impossible for them to achieve. Yet a recent news article falls short by viewing the program as a conveyor belt, and failing to capture what I and many other graduates felt by becoming the first person in our family to graduate from a university and get a job as a CPS teacher.
It also fails to capture how important it is for children in my classroom to have a teacher who looks like them and who shares their life experience. (“Illinois falls short in $20 million effort to develop 1,000 teachers,” Jan. 16, Chicago Tribune.)
I am a Hispanic female, born to Mexican immigrant, working parents. I was born and raised in Chicago, one of five siblings. I attended four different CPS elementary schools and, given the bad timing of my parents’ divorce, graduated with a very low GPA from a low-performing, low-income high school on the Northwest Side. I can count on one hand how many of my fellow high school graduates went on to complete a bachelor’s degree. With a lot of struggle, I earned an associate’s degree from a community college, and at the age of 19, seven months before receiving that degree, I gave birth to my first child.
While growing up, my parents constantly reminded me of the hardships and poverty they endured in their small village in Guerrero, Mexico. My mom is the oldest of eight siblings and completed school through 6th grade. My father had to help my grandfather work the land and attended school only up to 3rd grade. My parents would always tell me and my siblings how important it was for us to take advantage of the opportunities of this great country. Unfortunately, I was missing two of the most important factors that impact college attendance: financial support and, most importantly, informed guidance. I knew I was going to graduate from a university one day but I had no idea how to make that a reality.
Crucial support to overcome hurdles
That’s where Grow Your Own Teachers comes into play. By the age of 31, I had gone back to school at Northeastern Illinois University. I was a part-time student and a stay-at-home mother of two, studying for a degree in elementary education. But it was a constant struggle, especially when it came to math. Pre-algebra, for instance, was one of three math courses that I had to pass before I was eligible to take college math--but it would not earn me any credits toward graduation. I also struggled to pay for books since my loan did not cover them and my husband’s income was barely enough to cover the family expenses.
That same year, I was a parent volunteer at my son’s CPS preschool. An assistant preschool teacher there told me about a program called Grow Your Own Teachers that could help me. The program was for parent volunteers and school paraprofessionals who wanted to get a degree in elementary education at Northeastern Illinois, where I was already enrolled. I applied and got in.
I became a full-time student, attending year-round. During the summer, I took four classes—the maximum number of classes allowed. That was difficult because my husband worked and my children were out of school. On some occasions, my children would wait for me outside of my classroom in the study area. The professor knew I was a mom and did not object to my frequent breaks to check on my children. Other times, Grow Your Own Teachers provided child care and I was able to focus in the classroom.
Another hurdle was passing the Basic Skills Test. Now known as TAP or the Test of Academic Proficiency, it is one of three state tests that teachers have to pass before they can earn a teaching license. Grow Your Own Teachers provided me with a math tutor and test workshops. I finally passed the five-hour test on the second try.
Those were just a few of the many hurdles that Grow Your Own Teachers helped me to overcome.
After three and a half years, I graduated with honors from Northeastern Illinois University. One of the best moments in my life was having my mom watch me walk across the stage to receive my degree.
Understanding heritage, inspiring students
Today, I am proud to say that I am a kindergarten teacher at a low-income CPS school. Every day I go to my classroom ready to inspire my students. Most of them are amazed that my background is similar to theirs. For example, no one in our families has a college degree, our parents do not speak English and they were born in another country. The children get a kick out of the fact that I also secretly ate hot Cheetos for breakfast when I was young because my parents left early for work and they didn’t have time to make breakfast.
During the 12 years that I attended CPS, I encountered very few minority teachers and no teachers with a Mexican background like me. I always wished for one. I felt that a teacher who shared my background would understand my heritage and would inspire me. Now, I can be that teacher who has a positive influence on the children I teach. Our common background provides me with tools and references that facilitate making connections. The other day, I read Gary Soto’s “Too Many Tamales” to my students and they were excited to learn that my family also makes tamales for Christmas.
The hurdles that I had to overcome to earn my degree were few compared to my fellow Grow Your Own members. Some of them are working full-time or part-time and have been in the program and attending classes part-time for more than five years. One woman told me how she had to leave school temporarily to take care of a sick, elderly parent. Some have to cut back on their own studies so they can earn extra money to pay tuition for children who are starting college. I admire their resilience. Most participants stick with the program, working and studying hard and knowing that they will achieve their goal one day. To them I say, “Keep trying, because earning a college degree is worth it.”
So many people around me now see me as a role model—my children, my family, my fellow Grow Your Own members, my students, my students’ parents, my para-professional colleagues. I am only one of the many graduates who can inspire others like me.
It reminds me of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”
Idalia Vasquez is a 2013 graduate of the Grow Your Own program and a CPS teacher.
churn, baby, churn
There is a growing awareness that high teacher turnover is hurting student learning in Denver. And the school district is taking its first steps toward solving the problem. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
In the Great Assessment Debate of 2015 all sides have claimed they know how many hours students spend testing. Here's a closer look at where the numbers come from. ( Denver Post )
Colorado kindergartners have the lowest vaccine rates for measles, mumps and rubella in the country, according to federal data. One reason is a high exemption rate, with parents claiming personal views in opposition to immunization programs. ( Denver Post )
And this week Colorado lawmakers will debate legislation that would underline the rights parents already possess to opt out of immunizations as well as comprehensive sex education in schools. ( KDVR )
Healthier Colorado, a nonprofit that focuses on health related policy changes, began a statewide tour Monday in Greeley to bring healthy food options to Colorado schools. ( Greeley Tribune )
A bill introduced Tuesday would create a pilot program that would give financial incentives to highly effective teachers who work in struggling schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Heading into the new negotiation season, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education said it's starting with a clean slate, and hope to smoothly negotiate a new agreement with the county's teacher union. ( Arvada Press )
An Ohio University professor with a deep background in higher education will lead the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' College of Education. ( Gazette )
No Bennet Left Behind
Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said he's prepared to ditch the party line as Washington is primed to rewrite the nation's out-of-date education laws. ( The Hill )
No room at the Inn
Residents of northwest Arvada are wondering where their kids are going to go to school next year as enrollment numbers rise. ( Arvada Press )
Meanwhile, School District 27J in Brighton will use a split schedule next year at two high schools to alleviate overcrowding. ( Denver Post )
sorry, not sorry
Colorado Springs students who walked out of class Friday afternoon to protest the firing of the school's head football coach have all received a day of in-school suspension. ( Gazette )
Parents and students can get free help filling out the FAFSA this Sunday, Feb. 8. ( 9News )
Rep. Kevin Priola has introduced his promised bill to create a pilot program that would give financial incentives to highly effective teachers who work in struggling schools.
The bill was introduced Tuesday, the same day that Priola joined the 2015 session. He’s been out while recovering from a skiing accident. The Henderson Republican tried a similar bill last session, but it didn’t gain traction. He’s hoping for better luck this year.
Among other education bills introduced in the last couple of days are Republican measures designed to protect student data and another bill to pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards.
Also introduced Tuesday was a measure intended to help boards of cooperative educational services take over some administrative functions for small school districts and charter schools. District consolidation is considered a nonstarter in Colorado for various political, geographical, and financial reasons. The new bill seeks to deal in a different way with some of the challenges faced by small districts.
Here’s a quick look at the latest education bills:
House Bill 15-1199 – Comprehensive Republican bill on privacy of student data, including a requirement that most individual student data be destroyed after five years of graduation. Prime sponsors: Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton; Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins
House Bill 15-1200 – Establishes a pilot program to create incentives for highly effective teachers to teach in low-performing schools. Prime sponsor: Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson; Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs
House Bill 15-1201 – Creates a $500,000-a-year grant program for boards of cooperative educational services to provide centralized administrative services to small districts and charter schools that choose to use such services. Prime sponsors: Reps. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and John Buckner, D-Aurora; Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora
House Bill 15-1208 – Would take Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards, require adoption of new state standards and new Colorado tests and give districts some flexibility in choice of tests. Prime sponsor: Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, sponsor information, fiscal notes and much more detail about every 2015 education bill.
A growing awareness that perennially high teacher turnover is hurting student learning is prompting Denver Public Schools to seek the root causes of churn and develop strategies to keep teachers in the classroom.
More than 20 percent of all DPS teachers left their positions between 2012 and 2013, according to state data. And according to district information, half of all teachers leave the district within three years.
“Right now, our teacher turnover, in particular in high-poverty schools, is a problem,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg. “Nothing is more important for closing achievement gaps than being able to have our best teachers and our best school leaders working at and staying at our high-poverty schools.”
Denver Public Schools released a report last week highlighting recommendations for reducing turnover, especially in high-needs schools. The district has also started tracking voluntary teacher turnover in schools to determine when and where teachers are leaving for reasons other than retirement or advancement.
The quality of leadership, an unsustainable workload, and too much assessment were among the factors the task force of teachers behind the report identified as leading to high turnover.
At Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, teacher Martha Burgess said that each teacher’s decision was different. “It’s different factors over time: People not feeling respected, not feeling like they’re making an impact. Certainly workload,” she said. “Some retire, some transfer to other schools. But it is important. When you look at what veteran teachers bring, that can’t be underestimated.”Keeping teachers in the classroom
Denver’s difficulty retaining teachers is part of a statewide trend: A fifth of all Colorado teachers left their positions between 2012-13 and 2013-14, according to the state Department of Education. That’s higher than the national turnover rate of 14 percent.
Statewide, “turnover is at crisis level,” said Shelley Zion, the director of the Center for Advancing Practice, Education and Research at the University of Colorado Denver. The university has also recently launched a program called EDU focused on supporting teachers and reducing turnover.
But the fixes on the table aren’t always simple. “If we want to retain really quality teachers, we need to really shift how we empower and support them to get what they need,” Zion said.
The DPS teacher retention report was based on the work of a group of district teachers, most of whom work in low-income schools. In Denver, teachers who do stay in the classroom tend to transfer to schools with lower poverty rates.
The recommendations fell into four themes: Leadership, supports for students, supports for teachers, and rewards and recognition.
In a public email, Boasberg said the district would heed the task force’s advice and was already taking steps to address the issues it raises. And in an interview, Boasberg said that the district also planned to adjust its ProComp system, which offers financial incentives to teachers who work in high-needs roles or schools, or who accomplish certain objectives, to make it more effective. The district is currently negotiating an update to ProComp with its teachers union.Baby steps
This school year, DPS officials started using high rates of voluntary teacher turnover as a “flag” that that school may need support or more attention.
At a meeting of the district’s board last November, DPS Chief Academic Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust mentioned turnover as one of the non-academic factors the district uses to gauge school quality. “We know in schools that lack stability, it’s so much harder to improve student outcomes,” she said.
But even as the district looks to reduce turnover, some of its strategies for struggling schools involve replacing staff or entire schools. One teacher, who requested anonymity because she said she feared retaliation, told Chalkbeat that the lack of job security at high-needs schools had influenced her own and peers’ decisions about where to work.
Some of the district’s charter schools are independently examining their own teacher retention and satisfaction. Charter network DSST, for example, has made teacher fulfillment one if its strategic priorities for the current school year.Beyond “Hoop Jumping”
Teacher fulfillment and satisfaction—or the lack thereof—also drove the creation of EDU, said the University of Colorado’s Zion. “The big idea behind it has been that teachers in the last several years have been disempowered, scrutinized, deprofessionalized and stressed beyond measure,” she said.
EDU members, who can come from anywhere, pay $20 per month to access a set of courses and resources, online and physical, that address both the pedagogical, professional, and social-emotional elements of teaching.
“We in teacher education feel like we do a really good job of preparing them,” Zion said. “But then they go into district schools and classrooms in which they’re sometimes supported well, but often not.”
At Kunsmiller, teacher Mandy Israel said outsiders often underestimate teachers’ workload and emotional commitment. “I get here at 7. The contract doesn’t say I have to get here at until 8:30. And when I get here there are other people in my hallway who are already here.”
Israel is now a teacher-leader at her school—a role that she says has increased her professional satisfaction but added to her workload.
Burgess said she had been reflecting on why teachers leave schools after encountering an editorial by Josh Waldron, who had been named Teacher of the Year by a local group in Virginia only to leave the profession several years later.
In the editorial, Waldron writes that teaching in his district had become unsustainable financially and personally. His top concern at his district was what he describes as “hoop jumping”—adjusting to a constantly-shifting and time-consuming set of requirements from the district.
Burgess, also a teacher-leader, said that in her sixth year teaching, she still enjoys teaching but empathizes with Waldron’s concerns. “I’m excited that there is finally some attention being paid,” she said.
Last summer, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett penned an open letter in which she boasted that the district had determined where all but seven children affected by 2013’s mass closings had landed in school. More than 11,000 had been displaced, so it seemed a major accomplishment.
The information had been verified through the Illinois State Board of Education, according to the letter, which also repeated “Seven” to underscore the point.
Byrd-Bennett’s letter also criticized outsiders who had speculated that children would fall through the cracks after the closings, with no one knowing where they landed in school—something that had happened in the past. “The horror stories about hundreds of children “lost” to the streets during this transition were simply misguided efforts to distract us from our mission to give every child in every neighborhood the great education they deserve,” she wrote in the letter that was published in the Chicago Sun-Times.
But Byrd-Bennett’s letter was not accurate. After five-and-a-half months of wrangling, Catalyst Chicago finally received information from CPS that shows officials were not certain about the whereabouts of at least 434 students at the time the letter was published. (Catalyst received the documents only after a lawyer threatened legal action if the district did not comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.)
These 434 students were not located in a search done by Illinois State Board of Education officials.
Officials now admit that 154 children of those children were either coded as “unable to locate” or “did not arrive,” or had absolutely no code attached to their record. After being out of school for a year or enrolled elsewhere, 39 of the 154 students showed up this school year, according to CPS.
Another 279 children were coded as transfers--to home school, a private school or an out-of-state school--though CPS could not verify whether these students were in fact enrolled in a new school. One student died.
While it might be unrealistic to expect CPS to track 11,000-plus students, critics note that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and district leaders devoted an unprecedented amount of resources to the task. They hired a former Marine colonel to oversee the process with a staff of 40 and hired retired principals to go to each closing school in part to make sure that students did not vanish in the transition.
After first standing by the claims in the letter, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey acknowledged that the statement asserting that only seven students were unaccounted for was a mistake. McCaffrey says that an internal data analysis this summer found only seven students with blank records and did not take into account other codes that indicated officials did not know where the students were.
“Chicago Public Schools takes the accuracy of its statements and the integrity of its data very seriously,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Paperwork problems and missteps?
Two former CPS data strategists told Catalyst that the district would not have any way to systemically track these students. One of them notes that the loss of these students probably is the result of a combination of poor data entry, lax bookkeeping and little accountability when a student transfers.
“All this is to say, I'm afraid we can only speculate about these missing students and likely will never know where they ended up,” said one of the employees.
King Elementary in East Garfield Park and Goodlow Elementary in West Englewood had the largest percentage of missing students. Parents at these schools fought vehemently against the closings and were very negative about the designated welcoming schools.
“The parents who were active in the fight placed their children in decent schools,” says community activist Carol Johnson. “A lot of the other children got lost in the shuffle.”
Melanie Goldman, whose granddaughter went to Goodlow, agrees that many parents found other options for their children. But some parents didn’t get their children into the schools they applied to, and didn’t feel safe sending their children to the designated welcoming school, which was Earle.
Initially, CPS called some parents to find out where the children were, especially because so few showed up at Earle, Goldman says.
“They [parents] know where they are, but they are not saying. They are still angry,” Goldman says. “I guess they are being low-key.”
Looking for missing children
West Side activist Dwayne Truss says a member of the district’s Office of Family and Community Engagement came to Austin’s Community Action Council meetings and explained to the group that he had been charged with finding students from closed schools whose parents hadn’t requested transcripts for a new school.
“This is how some kids fall through the cracks,” Truss says. “Students being lost are one of the unintended consequences.”
Lettrice Jamison’s children might be among the missing. After Emmet in Austin closed, she moved to Gary, Indiana for a host of reasons, including the fact that she was upset at the closing. Jamison says she didn’t tell anyone in CPS that she and her children were leaving the district.
With no records in hand, Jamison says she just walked into the Gary, Indiana school down the block from her house and told them she wanted to enroll her children. She gave them information about where her children went to school previously, but has no idea if they reached out to CPS for her children’s transcripts.
“Gary schools are messed up like Chicago schools,” she says. Jamison says she thinks her children’s new school is worse than Emmet.
Members of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force say the situation is proof that the district was not prepared to close so many schools at once. The state legislative task force includes a number of activists who have wrangled with CPS through the years. At the group’s meeting in September, CPS officials failed to show up and the district has since refused to provide any other documentation, says Jacqueline Leavy, former executive director of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group who helped the task force in its work.
CPS was supposed to come up with individual transition plans for each school, but the first drafts were boiler-plate and made without community input, says task force member Valencia Rias-Winstead. Once the schools closed, more detailed plans were developed. Only by then, few parents at the schools knew about them.
No mass exodus
McCaffrey points out that, according to a recently released Consortium on Chicago School Research report, the number of students who left CPS after the 2013 closings is similar to the number who left those same schools in previous years. In other words, the closings did not precipitate a mass exodus.
The Consortium report also notes that twice as many students in closed schools were too old for their grade, making them far more likely to drop out. CPS recently acknowledged that some 900 6th, 7th and 8th graders are not in school, and the district is seeking operators to launch alternative schools for middle-grades students.
The issue of missing children came to the forefront when CPS released a detailed report on enrollment last year, prompting Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to publicly scold the board in March. At the time, Lewis said the numbers showed some 800 children were unaccounted for.
A CPS spokesman promised the district would release the results of its work with the Illinois State Board of Education to locate the students. Catalyst began regularly requesting the information but did not receive it. In July, the Sun-Times published the letter from Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
Catalyst submitted a FOIA request on Aug. 8, with no results. On the heels of a Better Government Association FOIA lawsuit against the district, Catalyst reached out to BGA attorney Matt Topic of Loevy & Loevy.
Topic threatened legal action if Catalyst did not receive a response by Jan. 16. At 5:47 p.m. on Jan. 16, a heavily redacted report arrived via e-mail.
Moments after the morning bell rings at Irma Ruiz Elementary in Pilsen, Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro asks the parents scattered across the cafeteria to draw closer and form a circle. Now that the students have lined up and made their way to class, the 20-or-so moms and dads are ready to be drilled on a topic they’ve been dreading for months.
“How many people here have heard of something called ‘Common Core?’ ” Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro asks in Spanish. A handful of parents raise their hands.
“OK. And how many have heard of a big change that’s going to make your kids’ classes a lot harder?” Every hand in the room shoots toward the low ceiling.
Across the country and in Chicago, parents have rallied against the new PARCC exam, a standardized test aligned to the Common Core Standards, citing ambiguous questions and saying it represents an unreasonable jump in academic expectations.
But for those whose kids are not native English speakers, the cloud of doubt surrounding the new test is doubly worrying. And national advocates say until the test has been proven effective, parents are right to be concerned.
“Because there’s been this politically-mandated rush to get Common Core on the books, it really hasn’t been sampled across diverse communities. They’re just being asked to take it at face value,” says Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, a group that is critical of annual standardized testing. “A lot of parents, especially in non-English communities, are wondering whether this is ready for prime-time.”
Concerns reached all the way to city leaders, too. Recently, CPS officials announced they’ll only require 10 percent of schools in the district to give the PARCC, in what they are calling an “expanded pilot.” State education officials, however, are threatening to withhold federal funds under that scenario, and state law calls for all Illinois students to take the PARCC or some Common Core-aligned standardized test. English-learners are exempt from the English portion of standardized tests, but only in their first year after arriving in the U.S.
Vonderlack-Navarro says she is not convinced the state's PARCC consortium did all it could to include English-learners students in preparations for the PARCC. For example, the PARCC--like the ISAT before it--will offer a Spanish version of its math exam, but that version was never piloted in Illinois, an oversight she calls “unconscionable.”
“Hungry for information”
Vonderlack-Navarro’s presentation in Pilsen is her latest stop on a wide-scale information campaign launched by the Latino Policy Forum, a Chicago organization whose mission is to involve the city’s Hispanic population more directly in local government. Vonderlack-Navarro, a research associate for the Latino Policy Forum, has been bringing her presentation to groups of Latino parents all over the city who she says are “hungry for information” on their kids’ changing curricula. The presentations began in September and have already reached more than a thousand Latino parents.
The hour-and-a-half PowerPoint session provides reams of numbers and information on the history of Common Core. In the middle, Vonderlack-Navarro passes out two sheets of paper. On one are the familiar multiple-choice questions given on the state’s now-retired ISAT exam. On the other is a quintessential PARCC problem--a fractions quiz in three parts that asks students to drag numerical icons into boxes to complete an operation.
“I think the new test makes more sense--it makes you think more, not just [pick by] eenie- meenie-minie-moe,” said Luz Melesio, a mother of three CPS students, as she looked down at the two sheets after the presentation. Melesio said Vonderlack-Navarro’s walk-through made her feel, for the first time, as though she could be involved in the shift to the new test, which still makes her uneasy.
“I’m just not sure if teachers will have good strategies for helping kids with it, especially with taking the test on a computer,” she said.
Advocates of the PARCC say these parents shouldn’t worry that their children will be unfairly penalized or “left behind”--the new standards are a leap for sure, but it’s a leap the whole state will take at once. Take the 2014 ISAT scores: The test was more closely aligned to the new standards and the drop in scores was more-or-less even across the board, regardless of demographic or learning ability.
Not soon enough
For Barbara Radner, giving her own presentation to educators across town, the PARCC exam can’t come to Chicago soon enough.
Radner, a professor of education at DePaul University, spoke at a “PARCC Preview” workshop at the Chicago History Museum and praised the test for going beyond facts and numbers to test kids on their critical thinking skills. If children don’t develop these skills, Radner said, “they’ll be counting on their fingers their whole lives.”
Radner is confident the test will pass muster for a diverse group of students.
“This test has gone to greater lengths to be fair to kids--and to accommodate kids who need extra help--than any test I’ve ever seen,” Radner said. She pointed to a manual published by PARCC administrators cataloguing special measures to be taken for students with special needs and extra resources that should be ready for English learners: extra time, extra proctors available to explain questions, test prompts adapted into Spanish and other languages, and more. Since the exam is computer-based, the description of extra help to be provided is more detailed.
Whether CPS can provide all these resources, however, is another question. After her stop in Pilsen, Vonderlack-Navarro hopes she’s convinced more parents to approach teachers and administrators with questions about CPS’s ability to put these accommodations into practice.
Many of them are from countries that set federal assessment standards, so the idea of Common Core isn’t beyond them.
“In a lot of ways, immigrant communities could have been natural allies to the Common Core movement, but I don’t think advocates did a good job tapping into that,” Vonderlack-Navarro said. “Instead, a lot of these parents feel like no one is talking about them--they feel like they never had a seat at the table.”
Photo by William Camargo. It shows Margarita Avalos, a parent concerned about the new PARCC test, asking a question during a presentation by the Latino Policy Forum at Sandoval Elementary in Gage Park. So far, the group’s presentations have reached more than a thousand parents in heavily Latino areas.
The role of principal supervisors is shifting across the country and in Denver. ( Education Week )
The Gazette maps which districts had the highest high school dropout rates in 2013-14. ( Gazette )
Dead bill week
A House panel voted against a bill that would have halted expansion of the breakfast after the bell program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Three African-American students share their perspective on being students of color. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Tell Us More
Question of the week: Should school board members be required to save their emails? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
This Sunday is "College Goal Sunday," when students and parents can get assistance in filling out their FAFSA applications. ( 9 News )
Degreed and Pedigreed
Denver's most educated neighborhoods, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, are Golden Triangle, Belcaro, Washington Park, and Hilltop. ( 9 News )
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has a new dean of its College of Education. ( Gazette )
A Longmont teacher competed in Jeopardy's Teachers Tournament. ( Times Call )
A team of high schoolers from ThunderRidge High will be cooking for a team from Liechtenstein during the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championsihps. ( Douglas County News Press )
A high schooler working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award organized acts of kindness around Chaparral High School. ( Douglas County News Press )
What kind of education do students get at virtual schools? ( KUNC )
The House Education Committee Monday killed a bill that would have stopped expansion of the breakfast after the bell program to additional schools and students.
Committee Democrats provided the majority in the 6-5 vote to indefinitely postpone House Bill 15-1080. Representatives of health advocacy groups opposed the bill, while school district witnesses supported it. They said scheduled expansion of the program would impose financial burdens on districts that wouldn’t be covered by federal school meal reimbursements.
The bill’s chances were considered slim from the start, but House Education took nearly four hours and 45 minutes to hear testimony, ask questions and indulge in a few moments of parliamentary waffling before voting.
The program, mandated by the 2013 legislature, requires districts to provide free breakfasts after the school day starts to all students in schools where 80 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
The law drops that threshold to 70 percent starting in the 2015-16 school year. The change will cover an estimated 72,000 students, although many of those students already receive school breakfasts before school starts.
HB 15-1080 proposed eliminating the switch to 70 percent. An analysis prepared by the Colorado Springs District 11 staff estimated that lowering the threshold to 70 percent could cost 17 districts more than $660,000 a year. District witnesses said that money could be better spent on classroom instruction.
The problem is that the federal government reimburses districts different amounts for full-pay students, reduced-price students and free-lunch students. But district meals cost the same for all students. So, districts argue, when a school has 30 percent full-pay students, it doesn’t get enough total federal reimbursement to cover the costs, forcing them to make up the difference with their own funds.
Beyond just providing food for students who might not get breakfast at home, the after the bell law is based on two assumptions. The first is that more students will eat breakfast if it’s offered after school starts, rather than before. The second is that serving free breakfast to all students, even those who could afford to pay, puts all students on an equal footing and eliminates the stigma some poor students might feel about getting a free meal.
Prior to the law, many districts offered free breakfasts before the school day started, and many continue to do that. The law is a favorite of many Democratic liberals in the House.
Several witnesses acknowledged that breakfast after the bell has attracted more students than participated in before-school meals.
Witnesses representing districts as diverse as Cherry Creek and Pueblo 60, Jefferson County, and Mapleton testified in favor of the bill. Several warned that unless the bill is passed, districts might be forced to use less-healthy prepared foods in order to save money.
Districts witnesses also said new federal requirements such as larger servings of fruit – without a corresponding increase in federal reimbursement – and rising milk prices have increased the financial pressure.
But in the end the Democratic committee majority wasn’t convinced. Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was particularly skeptical about district concerns. “Hearing all these numbers is kind of frustrating. … One child that is food deprived is one too many.”
Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, sponsor of the original breakfast after the bell law, said he was open to developing a new bill in an effort to reach a compromise but offered no details. Joshi said he doubted a new bill was likely to be drafted and passed this session.
Elsewhere in the Capitol Monday afternoon, the Republican-controlled Senate State Affairs Committee killed two Democratic bills.
Senate Bill 15-033 would have earmarked surplus state revenues for full-day kindergarten, while Senate Bill 15-068 would have set an interest rate cap on some student loans and provided a tax deduction for student loan repayments.
Later in the week Republican bills on union membership and use of locker rooms by transgender persons are likely to be killed in a House committee. A Republican parents’ right bills may get out of the Senate Education Committee and even the full Senate, but it will have no chance in the House.
Such partisan votes on bills are a natural consequence of having split legislative control, and the phenomenon actually is welcomed by many interest groups because it tends to eliminate the more extreme bills from either end of the partisan spectrum.
AURORA — About 100 African American male teenagers from Hinkley High School gathered at a church, just a stone’s throw away from their campus, Friday to discuss what it takes to be successful in today’s society.
The first African American Male Empowerment Summit was organized by Hinkley teachers and mentors. Students worked with African American business and community leaders throughout the day. They talked about how to overcome obstacles, how to set goals, and what sorts of programs or services the school could offer to improve their school experiences.
In Aurora and across the nation, African American males are more likely to fall behind academically, be suspended, and drop out than their white peers.
For example, 37 percent of Aurora’s African American male third graders were reading at or above grade level last year, according to state test results. That’s compared to the 67 percent of white male third graders who were reading at grade level last year.
African American males last year in Aurora were suspended at slightly more than twice the rate as their white peers — 22 percent to 9 percent.
The event also featured Jameel Mallory, a Hinkley alum, who went from being a successful high school football player to gang member and alcoholic. Mallory is now sober and a research assistant for the University of Colorado’s Department of Family Medicine.
“As an African American male, you know how much pressure there is for you to do the right thing — or the wrong thing,” he said.
At the summit, Chalkbeat asked three students about that pressure. Listen to the clips below.Kelsey Williams, senior Armand Green, junior PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Kason Hill, junior PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Last week, the Jeffco Public Schools board members learned they need to adopt a policy that governs how long they must keep their emails.
State law requires local bodies, like school boards and city councils, to develop such a policy. But the law stops short of saying for long those emails need to be kept. Jeffco school board attorney, Brad Miller, correctly pointed out the policy can “be as simple as ‘they are not required to be maintained.’”
Miller’s presentation to the board came two months after a Chalkbeat investigation that found inconsistencies among board members in how they manage their emails, which are public records.
That brings us to our question of week: Should school boards be required to keep electronic correspondence for a certain amount of time? If so, how long and why?
Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.