A pair of Department of Education employees were separately warned this week for breaking city ethics laws, according to letters released today by an ethics board.
In one case, a special education teacher, Faith Walters, used names of 15 former students without permission in a book she published in 2011. The letter doesn’t name the book, but it appears to fit the description of a poetry book that sells on paperback for $15.99 on Amazon. The name of the author of the 67-page book is also Faith Walters and she describes herself as a New York City special education teacher.
In the book’s description, Walters said she was inspired by an experience she had when she first started teaching:
The memory of my first day of teaching will forever be in my mind of having an almost fatal experience of losing one of my eyes because of a flying chair that hit the wall just as I opened the classroom door of 15 students who appeared to be very angry and fearful.
“By publishing a book containing your students’ names, you disclosed confidential information” that violated the city charter, the letter says.
Walters wasn’t fined, in part because she told the board that her publisher has revised subsequent copies so that only the students’ initials are printed.
In the other case, a principal used one of her school aides as a personal driver to transport her son from his school to I.S. 340 (North Star Academy), where she worked, according to the board. The principal, Jean Williams, asked the aide to pick up her son on three occasions during the 2011-2012 school year.
“By using your position to as the Principal of North Star Academy to have your subordinate perform a purely personal task on your behalf, you used your City position as a supervisor to obtain a personal benefit,” the letter said. Williams was not fined.
Aides are often used to fill several roles in a school, but their primary purpose is “to help the teachers get prepared to teach,” according to a job description on their union’s web site. They are also asked to monitor hallways and school yards during recess to “help keep schools safe for kids.”
Paid about $14 per hour, aides are among the lowest paid employees in a school. In 2011, the city laid off 438 aides — five percent of its workforce — to close a budget gap.
The letters are posted below.
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg stopped by Grant Beacon Middle School on Wednesday morning to help teach an eighth grade language arts class. Boasberg visited the classroom as part of a district-wide effort to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.
“The best way to say thanks is to help teachers in the classroom, to respect what they do and be willing to help,” Boasberg said.
The students were preparing to make their own public service announcement by watching, discussing and analyzing public service announcements. Grant Beacon uses a tech-based blended learning program, and on Wednesday students were using iPads to follow an online lesson prepared by their teacher, Jacob benEzra. Boasberg circled the classroom, asking students questions, sitting down with small groups and — once or twice — correcting a student whose hands were drifting toward an iPad’s screen when they weren’t supposed to be.
“I had not been part of a class here with the blended learning model, and I was impressed by how natural the use of technology was,” Boasberg said.
Boasberg, who started off the class with a question-and-answer session about social challenges, leadership and making change, helped the students with the lesson alongside benEzra.
“He did really well,” benEzra said after the lesson. “My suspicion was that he’d be a lot more uneasy, but he’s just a natural. I work with a lot of student teachers, and they’re hesitant to sit down with students, especially middle schoolers who can seem hostile. And just his ability to dive right in and freely share is just exemplary.”
The school’s principal, who observed the class while typing notes on a laptop, agreed.
“For a first-year teacher, it was pretty good!” joked Alex Magaña, the school’s principal, after the class. He promised to send Mr. Boasberg his notes.
Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday signed the bill intended to expand student participation in breakfast programs at high-poverty schools. The media event took place at Rose Hill Elementary School in Commerce City and included breakfast in a classroom.
The Adams 14 district, where Rose Hill is located, has been a leader in providing breakfast to all students after the school day starts.
The new law would require that schools with 80 percent of more students eligible for free- and reduced-price meals to serve breakfast after school starts and to all students, even those not individually eligible. Advocates for the bill argued that serving breakfast after the bell rings would increase participation and that serving all students would ease the embarrassment some low-income students feel when they’re the only ones eating.
The bill was backed by a collation of mostly health-related groups, including the Colorado Health Foundation, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and LiveWell Colorado, plus the Colorado Education Association. Other education groups had issues with the bill, primarily about possible extra costs. After the first year the program threshold drops to 70 percent, and some districts believe that schools below the 80 percent level won’t be fully reimbursed by the federal school nutrition program.
There’s been a flurry of activity this week in the Denver Public Schools board election.
Longtime school finance lawyer Mike Johnson Wednesday officially launched his campaign to fill the central Denver seat now held by term-limited Jeannie Kaplan.
“I finally decided I could organize my life to make this work and that is was too important not to do it,” Johnson said. “The issues in central Denver are in a lot of ways keeping up what we’re doing right now. I think we’ve had incredible success in schools in central Denver. I think people are excited about sending their kids to the schools.”
However, Johnson said he believes more needs to be done to ensure that all families have the means to attend the schools they choose. To that end, he said he supports expansion of transportation systems similar to the Success Express shuttle system in Far Northeast Denver.
Johnson, who is the legal counsel for the Building Excellent Schools Today program, which has provided $1.1 billion to construct and renovate 170 schools in Colorado, also said the district could do a better job of educating people about how the choice system works.
Johnson puts himself firmly in the camp with the board majority who support Superintendent Tom Boasberg and a raft of reforms in the district, including a portfolio approach to new schools in which the district opens its arms to new school ideas from anyone who can come up with a solid program that meets district needs.
So far, he said he has been endorsed by longtime education advocate Anna Jo Haynes, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, former DPS board member Les Woodward, environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s wife Susan Daggett and former U.S. Congressman David Skaggs.
“I think Tom Boasberg is doing a great job. I think the school district is headed in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think it’s perfect, and there are things I’ll disagree with… from time to time.”O’Brien also pondering run for DPS board
Also in this camp is former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, now head of Get Smart Schools, who said she is considering running for the at-large seat now held by board President Mary Seawell. Seawell shocked her colleagues when she announced last month that she would not seek re-election due to work and family issues.
O’Brien, a well-known figure in Colorado and former head of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, would no doubt generate huge dollars and high-profile support in her campaign bid.
Get Smart Schools is a 5-year-old Colorado nonprofit dedicated to expanding the number of charter schools as well as other autonomous schools serving low-income children in Colorado. To that end, the organization offers a leadership development program to identify and train leaders for such schools and works to help charter schools thrive through advocacy at the policy level.
O’Brien previously told EdNews she is especially interested in focusing on quality school leadership by providing support and training to principals, assistant principals and lead teachers. She has also expressed interest – in her role at Get Smart – in expanding the reach of successful charter school programs in traditional schools as well.
O’Brien said she didn’t think her work for Get Smart would create a conflict of interest should she serve on the board but she said she would consult with district counsel. DPS board member Nate Easley served as vice president of the Denver Scholarship Foundation while he served on the board.
O’Brien said she wouldn’t announce her decision until after Memorial Day weekend.
“I do know education has been the heart and soul of my career over many years,” she said. “I think DPS is at a point where there are some really interesting decisions it needs to make…the directions it can go for English language learners, and getting reading sores up in elementary schools, and schools on the turnaround clock.”
However, O’Brien said she had professional and personal issues to consider as well. Her running a campaign and serving on the board would have to be a “win win” for Get Smart Schools.
“I also have a nonprofit to run, and I really like having my private life back,” she said. “It’s a matter of taking a deep breath over Memorial Day weekend… and at least having the time to think and do pros and cons.”Union organizer running for Merida’s seat in SW Denver
Meanwhile, another candidate for DPS board member Andrea Merida’s seat in southwest Denver is union organizer Rosario De Baca.
De Baca is a mother of five and field organizer for Colorado Wins, a union representing 31,000 state employees. She recently helped organize custodians at the Auraria higher education campus who were upset about working conditions there.
De Baca is also a former community organizer with the American Federation of Teachers who worked on Obama’s first campaign.
In October, De Baca expressed concerns about Denver schools on a Facebook page promoting an informational event by opponents of the 3B bond.
“I am pretty upset that upkeep at neighborhood school languishes, kids go to classes without AC, libraries limited and classrooms are intolerably hot. Yet DPS wants to pump huge sums into Loretto Heights (privately owned). I WILL NOT VOTE TO FUND UPGRADES OF A PRIVATE BUILDING. Privateers are making money fist over barrel and cheating students and educators of necessary funds for our neighborhood schools, then attack same for “failing.””
De Baca was scheduled to address the Denver metro branch of the Colorado Latino Forum Tuesday evening. The forum was supposed to endorse candidates in the DPS but opted to postpone those decisions until August or September, according to Denver chapter co-chair Lisa Calderon.
Cod and black bread anyone? How about a hike up a glacier or an afternoon of whale-watching?
An Aurora fifth-grader will soon get the chance to try out these Nordic delights after winning a five-day trip for two to Iceland on Wednesday for his efforts to eat healthfully and stay physically active. The Kenton Elementary School student earned the grand prize through 5th Gear Kids, a wellness program for fifth-graders launched last fall in the Aurora and Cherry Creek school districts. Icelandair is one of the program’s prize partners.
5th Gear Kids, which was available to 6,700 fifth-graders this year, is funded by the Colorado Health Foundation and run by the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, Children’s Hospital Colorado and the two school districts. Students earn points in the program by doing sports, using recreation facilities, choosing healthy foods at King Soopers and ordering healthier menu items at restaurants like McDonalds and Subway.
It was already slim odds that education would get much action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature this session after they increased school aid, funded several education grants, and amended the teacher evaluation law during budget negotiations in March.
But in the aftermath of a federal corruption dragnet that has brought down several lawmakers, any glimmer of hope that education could get some attention seems to have vanished.
“With this legislative session, with all the corruption, I would be surprised if anything gets passed,” said Mona Davids, who runs the New York City Parents Union, a parent advocacy group. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, of Brooklyn, sponsored a bill to end mayoral control that Davids lobbied for. The bill’s long odds grew even longer after Montgomery’s named surfaced last week as one of seven lawmakers recorded in the home of former Senator Shirley Huntley, who was cooperating with investigators to reduce a prison sentence. Huntley was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for embezzling funds from a charity she ran.
Davids said she believed Montgomery, who has not been charged, has done nothing wrong. Still, she said she doubted the bill could proceed before the session ends on June 30. “It’s May, but it’s over,” Davids said.
Davids’ pessimism reflects a growing sentiment in Albany that began shortly after the legislature passed the budget, when the first corruption cases surfaced. Since then, four lawmakers have been arrested on corruption charges as part of a federal investigation that seems to broaden by the week. As a result, even Cuomo’s agenda — which include a women’s equality act, publicly-funded campaign finance, and bringing casinos to New York — is in doubt.
Lobbyists, legislative aides, and advocates said in interviews this week that it’s not unusual for education to be placed on the back burner after the budget gets passed, though they said the recent events have further doomed the outlook.
Education was a top priority in 2010, when the state needed to pass laws to qualify for the federal Race to the Top grant, but since then, “most of the action has been around the state budget,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “Once the budget passes, that’s it.”
Williams said it’s been like that for the last two years, in response to steep budget cuts to education spending that have chilled lobbying efforts.
Occasionally though, hot-button issues do arise and get placed onto Governor Andrew Cuomo’s agenda. That was the case last year, when one of the last bills passed by the legislature before going home for the summer was a law to shield teacher evaluation ratings from public view.
This year appears was different, sources said.
“A lot got addressed in the budget,” a legislative source said. “There is no clear issue.”
This year’s budget included funding for grant programs that Cuomo championed through his education reform commission, including money for extended day, community schools, universal prekindergarten, and early college high schools.
Those were relatively easy compared to an amendment to the teacher evaluation law that Cuomo pushed for. The amendment inserted a financial penalty for districts that aren’t implementing their approved plans according to the law’s intent.
“Nobody wanted to touch this thing,” a source close to the negotiations said. “The union on one side, Bloomberg on the other. Both have strong advocates, but at the end of the day, they were sort of forced to figure out a solution.”
The unions are still hoping for traction on some of the bills they’ve proposed. The state teachers union’s big push is the “Truth-about-testing Act,” which would require the State Education Department to audit the costs of the state’s testing program. The two sponsors of that bill, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Sen. George Latimer, did not respond to requests for comment.
At the city level, the United Federation of Teachers is hoping to push longstanding priorities on its agenda, including changes to the mayoral control (it isn’t supporting Montgomery’s bill), place a temporary ban on school closings, and require local approval for school siting plans. It also is backing a bill that would eliminate the waiver option available to New York City chancellor candidates with no education experience.
The legislative session closed early this week due to a holiday. Speaking at a press conference to announce support for a bill to improve working conditions for farmers in the state, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he still had big plans for the rest of the session, beginning with the introduction of the DREAM Act next week and reforms to policing tactics known as stop-and-frisk.
“I would hope that we can stay focused on the kind of legislation I’m talking about,” said Silver.
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a May 3rd memo, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago wrote: “Chicago Public Schools have asked the Chicago Fire Department to assist in its transition strategy with the closing of over 50 schools. And that involves having a strong physical presence on each safe passage route for all welcoming schools for three weeks," WGN TV reports. The head of the Fraternal Order of Police says that request shows that the Chicago Police Department is not up to the task.
UTILIZATION OUT, RESOURCES IN: The rhetoric around school closings is now about focusing resources, writes Curtis Black of Newstips.org. This shift in communication strategy is dictated by the fact that school closings turn out not to be about deficits or utilization — given they won’t save money for several years, if ever, and since the “utilization crisis,” caused by adding 50,000 charter seats during a decade when CPS lost 30,000 students, is being addressed by adding more charters. CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett now says closing schools will allow CPS to provide libraries, air conditioning, iPads and “learning gardens” at a small group of receiving schools.
DEPAUL DEAL: Word leaking out of City Hall indicates that a big chunk of the financing for a new DePaul arena would come from the pot of cash that robs millions from public schools, WLS is reporting. This would be very controversial because Emanuel is on the point of closing 54 schools.
ANOTHER WAY: CPS has an alternative to school closings, turnarounds and charters, according to writer Rob Warmowski: a school improvement approach called Focused Instruction Process that was developed by non-profit Strategic Learning Initiatives and was used successfully in six Chicago schools and is now being used in several high schools outside Chicago. Catalyst has this op-ed about the approach and its success.
TEST TOUTING: In an attempt to slowly change the academic culture of Proviso Township High School District 209, teachers, administrators – even the PTO – have been reminding students of the importance of state testing. The results seem to have paid off with significantly more participation, especially at Proviso East High School. (Forest Park Review)
IN THE NATION
THE FIRE NEXT TIME: In the Atlantic, John Tierney writes that he sees a new revolution taking shape in American K-12 public education.
CORE SUPPORT: Backers of the common core intensify their efforts to tout the standards in the face of high-profile opposition in some states. (Education Week)
Students who were turned away from city charter schools this year could fill some of the city’s grandest landmarks, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s final tally of charter school applications.
According to the center, more than 69,000 students applied for 18,600 seats at the city’s soon-to-be 183 charter schools for next year. After filling their seats in lotteries last month, the schools had to turn away more than 50,000 students, the center said today, noting that this year’s wait lists contain more students than Yankees Stadium or the Great Lawn in Central Park could hold.
The center held a press conference today on the steps of City Hall to tout the numbers, which reflected a slight increase in the number of families applying to charter schools since last year as 24 new schools prepare to open this fall.
Citywide, the number of students applying to charter schools is rising less quickly than the number of seats in charter schools, so the odds of admission actually rose this year. But that wasn’t true at every school.
“Our demand is always high, but this year it’s higher than ever before,” said Shubert Jacobs, principal of Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, which he said had received 1,500 applications for 50 seats. The mother of two children at the school, Nadine Graham, appeared at the press conference and said her family was “truly fortunate” to have won spots in the school’s lottery.
Charter school wait lists are both politically significant and hard to pin down. The charter sector points to the size of wait lists as evidence that the public wants more charter schools. But charter school advocates in other districts have come under fire for counting students who apply to multiple schools twice on districtwide wait lists.
The city’s numbers count individual students, not applications (there were 181,600 of them, according to the center, mostly submitted online). But even so, because applicants are automatically added to wait lists if they are not selected in schools’ lotteries, it is unclear how many students on wait lists are unhappy with the schools they end up attending.
The tally announcement came days after several Democratic candidates for mayor said at the teachers union’s spring conference that they would not support raising the limit on the number of charter schools that can operate. The limit was last lifted in 2010 after a bruising legislative battle and now stands at 214 for New York City, which this fall will have 183 charter schools in operation.
Department of Education Senior Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the latest application numbers showed that the candidates are out of touch with families in the city want.
“While some want to turn back the clock to when New York had only a handful of public charter schools, these record application numbers show parents overwhelmingly demand them,” Sternberg said. “We believe in giving them those choices.”
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, which recently launched an ad campaign aimed at building support for charter schools, said the press conference highlighted three independent charter schools in part because mayoral candidates have aimed their fiercest criticism at networks that manage multiple charter schools.
In addition to criticizing charter schools, leading Democratic candidates have also taken aim recently at high-stakes testing and policies that curb teachers’ creativity in the classroom.
In his comments, Jacobs touted his school’s low student attrition rate, the fact that it allows teachers to write their own lessons, and its emphasis on measures of student learning other than state test scores.
The executive director of Colorado GEAR UP, Scott Mendelsberg, highlights attempts around the state to prepare students for college and reduce the need for remediation.
Quick, what is one-half divided by one-sixth?
If you encountered that question on a test today, how long would it take you to reach back across your years of education to remember the formula for multiplying fractions?
Many students in Colorado’s graduating class of 2011 would have trouble with that question, based on the results of the annual remedial education report released April 16 by the state Department of Higher Education.
The report found 40 percent of the Class of 2011 who enrolled in a state college or university needed remedial help before they were ready for college-level work. Most of those – 51 percent – needed help in math.
Unfortunately, these numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been involved in education for long. As the former principal of Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, I was as frustrated as my students – many of them the first in their families to go to college – by this added obstacle to higher education.
But I believe more attention needs to be paid to the work now being done in K-12 districts and on college campuses across Colorado to reduce the need for remedial courses and to lessen the time students spend in these classes.
These efforts are thoughtful, bold – and unprecedented in our state’s history. Consider three examples:
1. The Colorado Community College System has approved dramatic changes in how remedial classes are delivered. Students who need help will no longer be placed in courses that can consume up to four semesters.
Instead, community colleges by fall 2014 will offer individualized solutions that include brief refresher courses or placement in a college-level course with an accompanying support class. The goal is completion of any remedial work in one semester or less.
2. Partnerships between K-12 and higher education have resulted in efforts such as those in Aurora Public Schools, which is posting lower remediation rates. In APS, students whose 11th-grade ACT scores show they may need remedial help can take the courses as high school seniors.
For example, students can take a remedial math course in the fall followed by a college algebra course in the spring.
3. More than a dozen middle and high schools across Colorado are tackling the remediation issue even earlier, through participation in the federally-funded Early Remediation Pilot. In this initiative, nearly 700 eighth-graders and ninth-graders are enrolled in math classes that mirror the work done in remedial math courses on college campuses.
This effort – a partnership between Colorado GEAR UP, which I lead, and Adams State University in Alamosa – is in its second year. As students complete the classes, they receive a transcript from Adams State documenting their work.
The transcript is important because it allows our students to begin taking college courses as early as grade 10, with GEAR UP picking up the tab. So students are putting their math skills to work right away.
Statistics show our students are the most likely to need remediation – they’re typically low-income, minority and the first in their families to go to college.
We’ve proven our strategies can help them succeed: GEAR UP students graduate high school, enroll in college and persist in college at higher rates than state averages. And GEAR UP students graduate high school having already earned 17 college credits.
But many of them still need remediation in college, whether because they are poor test-takers or because they forgot – like many of you, perhaps – the simple trick behind dividing fractions.
These three examples aren’t the only efforts underway in Colorado to address the remedial issue. But they highlight the promising work that can be done when K-12 and higher education join forces for better outcomes for students.
Oh, and the trick behind dividing fractions? Flip the second fraction upside down and then multiply it by the first fraction. So 1/2 multiplied by 6/1 equals 6/2 or 3.
Anybody ready for division with fractions and whole numbers?About the author
Scott Mendelsberg is executive director of Colorado GEAR UP, a pre-collegiate access program serving low-income and minority students. He is a former principal of Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, where he helped create the state ASCENT program, allowing high school students to graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year college degree.
Nutritionist Cathy Schmelter says parents should be concerned about food dyes and flavorings even though the research can be mixed.Q. I’ve heard red dye can make kids super hyper. Is that true?
A. Any of the artificial additives or preservatives can have an impact on kids’ moods, their alertness, their ability to concentrate. So yes, there is a possibility that food dyes could make children super hyper. It depends on the child and how they process things.
What happens is that when chemicals break down they are not absorbed right away and end up staying in the blood stream. The chemicals go to the brain and can interfere with neurotransmitters.
When doing research for my book one thing I found out about artificial colorings in general – and I probably read 1,000 studies – one thing that came up time after time again was that artificial food colorings can cause cancer.
In my research, none of them are safe. It’s sad because they’re in all these kids’ foods. Many people are campaigning for Kraft to ditch the dyes in its iconic yellow Macaroni & Cheese.
As far as food dyes or red dye causing ADHD, that is more challenging to pin down because the research is contradictory.
Suggestions? Avoid dyes or flavorings, including anything that says “natural flavorings.” You have no idea what that is made from. In a November 2011 episode of “60 Minutes, researchers revealed that strawberry and vanilla flavor can come from the gland in a beaver’s backside, and that is still labeled “natural flavor.”
More tips If you can’t read it, don’t eat it. Eat foods that are not processed at all – or minimally processed. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc. One easy and healthy snack for kids would be hummus and pita chips, for example, with some fruit or vegetables on the side. Also, edamame (soy beans) is usually a crowd pleaser, or even bananas with cocoa powder on top if your child has a sweet tooth. Try to buy only organic produce.
With a rising din of complaints from teachers about increasing discipline problems in Denver classrooms, district officials Monday updated the school board on plans to pump $1.5 million into mental health services for students next year, create a new out-of-school suspension option and add additional programming for troubled students.
The aim of the discipline policy, revised in recent years, is to reduce in-school or out-of-school suspensions and expulsions so that students can continue to be in a learning environment. It also aims to erase the longstanding disparity between white students and students of color in terms of consequences for student misbehavior.
However, some teachers are complaining about the policy’s numerous tiered approaches to handle each infraction, abundant paperwork and uneven distribution of resources for teachers and students. That complexity has led to confusion, some teachers say, which in turn means students are getting away with bad behavior that wreaks havoc on a quality learning environment.
Board member Andrea Merida asked for an update on the discipline policy from the district’s student services office after a 14-year-old girl was attacked at Henry World Middle School on March 8. The girl’s classmates lured the teacher out of the classroom so another girl could attack the victim. Students videotaped the assault and posted it on social media.
And on March 20, 60 Bruce Randolph Middle School teachers, office staff and custodians sent a letter to Superintendent Tom Boasberg complaining about the policy. And 44 staff and teachers at Morey Middle School sent a letter the following day expressing similar concerns.
“The disproportionate amount of time and resources that in the past would have been spent on improving instruction is instead spent by our entire staff, including administrators, instructional team, support staff, and teachers on habitually disruptive students that continually return to our classrooms,” the letter from the teachers at Bruce Randolph states. “This has now reached a critical point.”
The teachers’ letter did not name specific incidents at the school. But Greg Ahrnsbrak, a PE teacher at Bruce Randolph who supports the letter, said that students have been caught with drugs, threatened to harm or kill teachers, or even threatened blow up the school “with no meaningful consequences.”
Ahrnsbrak said students caught fighting no longer automatically face suspension under the revised policy, which he said went into full effect at Bruce Randolph this year. As a result, he said, students with serious behavioral issues are being kept in class, disrupting the educational experience of other students.
The letter indicated that staff feel that their hands are “tied” and that they are “left with no alternatives.”
One Bruce Randolph teacher, who asked not to be identified, said that this year, 1,113 disciplinary “events” have been reported at the 600-student school. The teacher estimated that about a third of the school’s students were involved in the instances. She said seven students racked up 25 incidents each.
Ahrnsbrak said it’s his belief DPS is basically not allowing schools to effectively deal with habitually disruptive students “to make the numbers,” or ensure that the number of students being expelled or suspended keeps going down.
“Consequently, the message to all students is there are no limits,” Ahrnsbrak said.District numbers paint different picture
District officials say that the policy is successfully reducing the number of students missing school for disciplinary infractions and is keeping schools safe. For instance, the number of out-of-school suspensions this year dropped 38 percent to 5,309 from 8,542 two years ago. Meanwhile expulsions have dropped to 69 from 108 two years ago. Most of the expulsions were for weapons violations, according to the report presented to the board.
But not all board members were feeling good about the numbers.
“If we’re looking at data so we can pat ourselves on the back when in fact teaching in some of our schools is being affected by the bad behavior — shame on us,” board member Jeannie Kaplan said. “I don’t know how we get an actual picture of what is going on.”
At Monday’s work session, Boasberg reinforced the district’s commitment to treating students equitably, keeping them in school when possible and emphasizing restorative justice programs. He described the district’s schools as “safe” and said “there’s lots of learning going on.”
“To get that balance right takes a heck of a lot of thought,” Boasberg said.
District staff highlighted additional money that will be made available next year to pay for increased mental health services for students. Specifically, $1.5 million will be spent on mental health services for students as follows:
In addition, district staff are meeting with middle school communities this month to get feedback on the disciplinary policy’s implementation. Officials said they are also planning new school programs and pathways to support students who are struggling to succeed in a traditional district classroom.
Eldridge Greer, head of DPS psychological services, said the goal of the meetings is to find out what supports and services are necessary to ensure a positive school culture without “resulting in an inordinate number of students out of class.” Some board members expressed support for additional cultural competency and verbal de-escalation training for staff and teachers in light of concerns raised.
Greer acknowledged challenges the district faces dealing with students deemed “habitually disruptive,” and indicated a desire to nip certain student behaviors in the bud. One proposal is to implement a 15-day out-of-school suspension process with home-bound instruction in the highest need cases.
Assistant Superintendent Antwan Wilson told the board that having students misbehave on a regular basis “runs contrary to your student achievement goals.”
Board members also questioned a spike of incidents in the “detrimental behavior” category and shared colleagues’ concerns about the vagueness of the term.
Merida said she’s talked to some schools who say they used to have a restorative justice staff member who is no longer there, or other schools where there isn’t a room for a student “time-out.”
“What I fear is that we have a patchwork quilt when it comes to how we deal with some of these kids,” Merida said. “This has a lot of parents scared, it has a lot of teachers scared.”
However, Merida added, “I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Bruce Randolph math and geography teacher Patrick Millican said he hopes the district further simplifies the policy and ensures that it has teeth.
“This has gotten to the point it’s beyond ridiculous,” Millican said. “There is no of set consequences for these kids’ actions. It’s not fair to those kids who come to school every day, work hard and try to get a good education.”
With the race for City Hall the most contested the city has seen in years, education voters have a lot of options. But keeping track of the major candidates’ views on complex education policy issues can be a challenge.
That’s why we created “The Next Education Mayor,” a special feature that tracks mayoral candidates’ statements on important education policy issues during the 2013 campaign season. It launches today with over 150 opinions from all nine leading candidates and will be continually updated through November’s mayoral election.
Click on candidates to learn about their background and see all of their positions in one place. Or navigate by issues to see who’s saying what about charter schools, accountability, high school admissions, and other issues. On the right side, you’ll find links to the latest installments of our ongoing reporting about the mayoral election.
“The Next Education Mayor” is a living feature. Campaigns had a chance to review the opinions we collected and submitted a few new ones in the last couple of days. As candidates release more complete education platforms, and take stands on controversial topics where they’ve remained silent up to now, we’ll be adding their opinions. We’ll also add new topics as they become part of the campaign conversation. And when candidates’ views flip-flop over time, we’ll keep a record of that, too.
While we’ve taken on the responsibility of keeping track of candidates’ education statements, we’d appreciate assistance from our readers. Let us know if you see content in “The Next Education Mayor” that needs refining — and please tell us what issues you’d like candidates to take a stand on that they haven’t already. We have lots more education election coverage coming up.
The Chicago Teachers Union and other activist groups said Monday they would hold marches over three days to protest CPS' plan to close 54 schools. The marches will begin Saturday in the South and West side neighborhoods where many schools are slated for closing and culminate in a rally Monday afternoon outside City Hall. (Tribune)
A DEMAND FOR EMANUEL: The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus is demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board follow hearing officers recommendations to keep open 13 of 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing. (Sun-Times)
MATH AS PROBLEM SOLVER: Researchers expect a program that combines “math tutoring on steroids” with sports-based mentoring for troubled teens in Chicago to help reduce school misconduct, absenteeism and course failures. About 50 boys at Harper High School in Englewood have taken part in the program since the school year began in fall 2012. The MacArthur Foundation has committed $1 million to expanding the combination of math tutoring and the mentoring program, which is called Becoming a Man — Sports Edition, or BAM, which is run by a Chicago nonprofit agency called Youth Guidance. A private source has pledged another $1 million and additional funding is being sought. (Sun-Times)
UNO FUNDING: As the largest charter-school operator in Illinois, the United Neighborhood Organization depends largely on City Hall and Springfield. It also borrows money — from banks and on Wall Street — to pay its bills. Private fund-raising accounts for under 2 percent of UNO’s charter-school funding. Investors, including banks and Wall Street, which together are owed about $70 million. About $37.5 million of that came through the issuance of bonds in 2011. (Sun-Times)
CHALLENGING THE TEST SYSTEM: Timothy Anderson, a student leader with Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools and Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, explains why he boycotted the Prairie State test. "When the future of a school rests on its test scores, students like me get demoted or pushed out," he writes. (Catalyst)
IN THE NATION
ALL TEACHERS FIRED, SCHOOLS CLOSED: Summer break has started very early for students in one Michigan school district. Buena Vista schools have been closed for five days already, and on Monday, the district's website stated that the school would be closed until further notice. Buena Vista school district, which educates approximately 450 kids, is out of money. All the teachers have been laid off and a financial emergency has been declared. The district has suffered from declining enrollment that has led to a loss of $3 million in state funding since 2010. (Take Part)
OFF THE MAP: The Seattle School District will no longer require MAP tests at city public high schools, Superintendent José Banda announced Monday. Opponents of the test argued that it detracts from valuable classroom time, has little to do with instruction subject matter and are not taken seriously because students know they don’t affect their GPAs. (Central District News)
Each weekday morning, we search websites of various media, comb through RSS feeds and peruse Google alerts to bring you a roundup of the day’s top education headlines, in Colorado and across the country, by 8 a.m. If you’d like to suggest a story we’ve missed or a source we should add to the list, please email us at email@example.com.
Updated - Much has been made of the discord on the Denver school board: the 4-3 votes on key issues; the diametrically opposed viewpoints on the performance of Superintendent Tom Boasberg; the lengthy and sometimes tension-filled meetings.
“Dysfunctional” is a word commonly used to describe this board.
And while members of the board minority – Arturo Jimenez, Andrea Merida and Jeannie Kaplan – tend to be known for their oppositional stances — blocking reform initiatives, lambasting charter schools or digging in their heels when they don’t agree with something — they do have a vision of their own. And it’s a vision shared by some school board candidates.
Of the three board minority members, only Merida is up for re-election and she has decided to run. Term limits mean that Kaplan will be leaving her seat.
But there are a total of four open seats on the board up for grabs in November. That means the make-up of the board could shift away from the current slim majority’s focus on the current brand of school reform in DPS, which emphasizes an openness to new school models and charters and a heavy reliance upon data to make decisions and ensure accountability. Observers say the stakes are high, and national school reform organizations are already lining up to back like-minded candidates as they emerge.
So what could happen if the board minority became the majority?
All three minority board members said they want the district to put more time and energy into existing district-run schools with neighborhood boundaries – and less emphasis on recruiting outside school operators.
“The district has done very little to address issues of where most of our children are attending school,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said she would like to see a moratorium on new schools in Denver for three to five years to “stop the proliferation of new schools… so we could actually evaluate the new schools we have and see which ones are working.”
There’s also the question of charter schools. Kaplan said she believes the influx of the publicly-funded, privately-managed schools – there are now about 39 in the district – is sucking resources away from traditional district schools, a concern shared by some of her colleagues.
But Merida, who used to describe herself as an “anti-charter activist” in her early years on the board, said she wouldn’t support a wholesale abandonment of charter schools.
“We can’t be in the business of saying, ‘No, we can’t have charters,’” Merida said. “What I need to do (as a board member) is ask, ‘Are charters…dealing with a particular need that our kids actually have?’ I would never interfere with parent’s ability to go to a charter.”
Likewise, Jimenez said that since the district can’t ban charter schools because they are allowed under state law, DPS should simply quit offering them space in district buildings.
“That’s why we’re receiving charter applications from every corner of the country,” he said.
Still, Jimenez said he’s not completely “anti-charter.”
“I support charter schools that were created to fill a void and serve the students we could not serve,” he said, citing ACE Community Challenge, P.S.1 (which is now defunct) and Colorado High School Charter.
Merida said she could see supporting what she called a “rolling moratorium” on charter schools to make sure each neighborhood’s needs are being met.
“What I need in southwest Denver, I need more elementary schools, and I would want those to be new traditional schools,” she said.
As it stands now, Jimenez said he sees a patchwork of schools in Denver but no cohesive vision.
“We’re not desperate. We shouldn’t be acting like we’re desperate.”
And what might that cohesive vision be? Merida said she would like to see the district “return to a primary focus on the quality of neighborhood schools,” a theme echoed in numerous interviews for this story.
“We need to respect and honor essential roles schools have in a community,” Merida said.
Even board majority member Anne Rowe, who represents southeast Denver, said she finds herself somewhat frustrated by how much time the district spends looking at new schools versus current ones.
Van Schoales, head of the DPS advocacy group A+ Denver and longtime school district observer, said he believes that if the board minority had the power, one of the first things it would do would be to shut down “much of what OSRI and news schools is doing.”
OSRI refers to the Office of School Reform and Innovation, which cultivates, authorizes, launches and oversees high-quality autonomous schools, such as innovation or charter schools.
“I think their philosophy is generally that we should fix existing schools, that we shouldn’t support the development of new schools or close schools,” Schoales said, noting that the district would likely move away from its portfolio management approach to schools under a new regime.
Schoales described what would result as more of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to schooling.
Schoales is right there would likely be changes – if not the outright elimination — of OSRI, but members of the board minority have more nuanced views on types of schools. Merida has publicly pushed for more traditional neighborhood schools. But Kaplan and Jimenez often talk about a desire to see more specialized schools, those focusing on dual language programs or the arts, but created by the district instead of outside operators.
Merida also said she would like more staff at OSRI who truly understand the needs of the district’s growing number of English language learners, who now make up about 40 percent of district students.
“I’d like to see a lot more involvement by our ELA department in looking over those (new school) plans,” Merida said. “I would like to see ELA have veto power over the plans…”
Jimenez said he would like to change the focus of OSRI to “a department that supports schools in need with research-based strategies for student achievement, rather than experimentation.”
Specifically, he said he’d like to see OSRI emphasize “supporting teachers rather than trying to get rid of teachers.”
“We could try to use that office to incubate and scale up schools that have worked, either charters or district-run schools, and implement them in our current schools,” Jimenez said. “I just don’t see us doing that. It’s more like a business incubator.”
Another self-described neighborhood schools advocate, Michael Kiley, who is running for the at-large seat now held by board President Mary Seawell, said the district should focus more on developing and creating its own schools – rather than asking outsiders to come in and do it via the Call for New Quality Schools process. He said he would like to see a strong feeder pattern in every district neighborhood.
“For all practical purposes, the district does not open traditional schools,” Kiley said. “They wait for someone to turn in a 60-page application…It seems to me DPS should be fully equipped to open and operate schools.”
Roger Kilgore, co-chair of the District School Improvement Accountability Council (SIAC) who is running against Landri Taylor in far northeast Denver, said his bigger problem is with the district administrators who are supposed to be overseeing the district schools.
“They are neglecting schools until things get so bad then they come in and say it’s time to turn around and take the school by surprise,” Kilgore said, adding that the school community is rarely given a chance to rectify problems.Less weight given to test results
Another common theme that emerges from the folks in the board minority camp is the intense focus on testing and data crunching in DPS.
Merida said she believes in the need for “some sort of diagnostic.” She said she knows the district is required by state law to administer the TCAP, but she said she also supports parents who opt out of the tests.
“Teachers want to know how kids are progressing,” Merida said. “Parents want to know how kids are progressing.”
Yet there is an “excessive amount of testing in DPS schools,” said Merida. And she said she opposes the high stakes attached to the tests, such as their weight in the School Performance Framework (SPF), which is used to — among other things — determine whether schools are closed or face turnaround.
“We’re assuming these tests are good,” Merida said, citing the much-maligned “talking pineapple” story on standardized tests a year ago. “This assumes the integrity of tests is there. We don’t know that.”
Merida said multiple measures should be used to gauge a school or student’s performance.
“We should de-escalate the importance of the main standardized test and we should put it on equal weight with other diagnostic tests, including English proficiency exams,” she said.
Schoales guesses that Denver’s version of the SPF “would disappear” and that the board would end up relying on the more general state version of the SPF if the board minority had the power. He said he could see a day where school choice guides once again only included pretty pictures and descriptions of schools – and no hard data.
In some respects, he may be right. Kaplan said that if it were up to her, she said she would scrap the SPF and start over. Having said that, even members of the board majority have described the SPF as a work in progress and acknowledged it’s an imperfect measure of school performance.
“I think growth is important, but I don’t think growth…should be the ultimate goal,” Kaplan said, noting that she would like to keep the spotlight on proficiency.
The SPF in Denver shows how students are doing on standardized tests compared to similar cohorts and whether they’re improving in terms of academic performance. The point of emphasizing growth is to recognize that students coming in with deficiencies, such as poverty, will not be unfairly compared to peers who come from more privileged backgrounds.
“I think this model is masking some of the reality,” Kaplan said.
Jimenez said he doesn’t believe the SPF is being used correctly.
“It’s used very punitively,” Jimenez said. “It was supposed to be more of a benchmark evaluation for a school, for a district, to determine who needed support, who’s doing well, what to replicate.”
He said the formula used now represents a “good start” but that it needs a lot more work.
“The parent engagement pieces are still not very clear,” Jimenez said. “It doesn’t account for ELLs before third grade. There are too many needs and too many shortcoming to utilize it the way we use it now.”
He also said the SPF should measure student attrition. Kiley also said he believes the SPF needs to be revisited.
Members of the board minority are often described as being in the pocket of the teachers union, Jimenez said. But, in fact, he said he and his colleagues simply want more support for veteran teachers in the district and for the district to have a bigger role in cultivating new crops of locally grown and diverse teachers.
“If we do believe a highly qualified teacher is the most important part of a kid’s day, we need to re-examine college education courses,” Kaplan said. “It’s easier to teach a new dog new tricks rather than an old dog new tricks.”
For Jimenez, the district needs to do even more to get teachers trained to teach students learning English.
“We need legislation around teacher certification for English language learners,” Jimenez said. “As a board and an administration we haven’t been diligent enough to push a legislative agenda. Universities and colleges can’t do it on their own.”
Jimenez also said he does not believe the district provides adequate resources to teachers to do their jobs. He said class sizes are too big, that teachers don’t have enough planning time and they are not paid enough.
He views the rollout of LEAP, Denver’s teacher evaluation program that was created in part to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law, as more of stick vs. a carrot approach. Meanwhile, he described Denver’s ProComp merit-pay system as a “worthy experiment” but one that did not achieve desired results.
“We are putting the onus of all accountability on the teachers in public schools, but not providing the supports and incentives we need to,” Jimenez said. “People confuse that with being pro-union or voting with the union.”
“I see us as working to destroy the career of teaching and learning.”
Jimenez said he also believes that DPS should do more to entice its top school leaders to stay in their jobs rather than move into higher-level posts. He cited several school leaders, such as Kristin Waters at Bruce Randolph, Antwan Wilson at Montbello, and Antonio Esquibel at Lincoln as examples. Waters spent some time in district administration before becoming principal of South High School; Esquibel is now the executive director of West Denver Focus Schools; and Wilson is an assistant superintendent.
Members or backers of the vocal group of three also tend to be critical of what they view as a business-like approach to public education in Denver.
The “corporate reformers,” as Merida is fond of calling a host of ed reform groups and like-minded school leaders, push for standardization, merit-based pay for teachers, performance measurements and accountability.
“Those are really good concepts for the business environment, for the free market environment,” she said.
But Merida said she doesn’t believe these approaches work in schools.
“Kids are not uniform-size commodities … and they have different challenges and different gifts,” Merida said. “I hold a more artisanal kind of approach — work in small batches, with highly qualified technicians.”
To use business terminology, Merida said she supports a “total quality management” approach in which a company’s leaders are in regular in contact with “the guy on the assembly line,” which is where “a lot of solutions can be found.”
Kiley compares the creation of two DPS schools near each other – if not sharing the same campus – to two gas stations across the street from one another.
“If there are two gas stations across the street and one closes, that’s the free market,” Kiley said. “If you have two schools across the street, one succeeds and one fails. Then you’ve taken two or three years’ worth of kids down with that.”
Kilgore concurs with the over-arching idea of winners and losers.
There’s no question that members of the board minority would head in a different direction should they gain power in November, and the current dynamic on the board could also change.
Merida, who represents southwest Denver, cited class as another issue that may cause certain board members to take different positions on things like traditional neighborhood schools. She and Jimenez come from solid blue-collar roots, she said. Kaplan’s parents were teachers; and she is also sympathetic to those from a low-income background, Merida said. Merida described members of the board majority — and the superintendent — as “people for whom the free market system has really worked well.”
“I’m a blue collar girl, and subject to vagaries of the free market,” Merida said. “The trickle down in my world doesn’t work.”
At the same time, Merida recently said the notion of a “4-3 board” is an “outmoded construct.” She cited recent collaboration on revising the modified consent decree, which dictates how the district will handle education for English language learners, and board support for the refinancing of $537 million in bonds.
Rowe agreed that the way the board came together to address needed changes to the modified consent decree should be a model for the board going forward.
“Everyone participated in the work,” Rowe said. “We had productive conversations… There wasn’t this, ‘I’m starting here; and you’re starting here.’”
So, could the 4-3 era on the Denver school board be over?
Seawell, board president, said she too hopes the collaborative tone on the board can continue – but she’s realistic about the role an upcoming election could play.
“If we can keep coming back to our strongest area of agreement – that the district needs to be serving all students and succeeding with low-income kids – we’re fine. We’re in 100 percent agreement on that.”
Jimenez said one vote will be the test — the superintendent’s annual evaluation. Last year, the board minority produced its own detailed report that was far less flattering than the one put forth by the board majority.
“I hope things are shifting on the board,” Jimenez said. “But issues around the Call for Quality Schools, the elite charter schools, Tom Boasberg, colocation… I don’t see a shift on any of those areas.”
“The real proof in the pudding will be when it’s time to evaluate the superintendent.”