Relatively few people — district budget officers, Capitol budget analysts, public-interest lawyers and the stray reporter — are absorbed or sometimes passionate about school finance.
So you’d think K-12 funding is the last issue to inspire a protest song. Guess again.
The “negative factor,” a formula the legislature uses to reduce school support below what it otherwise would have been, has become a legislative flashpoint this year. (See this story for details.)
A sign of that passion is the song written by Mark DeVoti, a former superintendent and current staffer at the Colorado Association of School Boards. He performed his negative factor protest song Thursday at a CASB meeting, to loud support from the audience.
View and listen to the song below. DeVoti is introduced by CASB deputy executive director Jane Urschel. (Video courtesy of CASB.)
More security, stricter rules and new faces — these are among the changes teachers and students at Denver’s Manual High School have noticed since Don Roy, the school’s new principal, took the reins six weeks ago.
Roy, who came from Hill Middle School, has brought on new staff, including two new assistant principals, and has tried to reverse the school’s high tardiness rate and low attendance.
District officials fired the school’s previous leader, Brian Dale, several weeks into the spring semester, citing disgruntled parents and teacher turnover.
At a community meeting shortly after Roy’s hiring, parents complained of a lack of communication, spotty discipline and drug use.
At the meeting, Roy promised parents he would refocus on academics and establish clear guidelines for behavior.
“[The school] was a bit of a rec center,” said Roy. In an effort to get parents on board with his efforts, he has added more information to the school’s website for parents and started calls home about attendance and tardiness issues.
In the classroom, teachers now use a checks system for student tardies and have students walking in the door late sign in to a log. Consistently tardy students get a call home and lunch detention.
“I do think school-wide consistency is good,” said Ben Butler, who teaches language arts. He says the policy means more kids are on time and has provided opportunities for students to reach out about personal issues.
“I’ve had kids write [in the log] ‘can I talk to you about this?” said Butler, who said he already checked in regularly with his students. But the log is good way to catch red flags.
“Systems have been tightened up,” said Butler.
According to Roy, that’s part of his plan to gradually ratchet up practices and expectations, rather than make immediate, dramatic changes to the way the school runs.
“It’s been so hard on teachers and students–all of the transitions,” said Roy. “I didn’t want to come in making waves and chaos.”
In fact, he said, many policies were already in place — it was just a question of enforcing them.
Inside the school, the response has been mixed, with many students and teachers both happy to see the new rules and upset at the transition.
“I feel like it got stricter in a good way,” said Tonya, a freshman at Manual who was eating lunch in the stairwell and did not want to give her last name. “There’s been less drama and fewer fights between students.”
She said the the presence of extra security guards making sure student were on time has made a visible difference in the halls.
“Now that there’s more security, fewer kids are walking around with each other,” she said.
She said it has made a difference for her.
“I’m actually trying to do my work,” she said.
But she said some of her friends are pushing back against the changes.
“A lot of students are upset about how the principal was fired,” Tonya said. Students also complained that some of the rules felt too much like micromanaging.
And progress hasn’t been consistent throughout the school.
“There are some [classes] where it feels like it did before” the change of principal, said Dulce, another Manual freshman seated nearby. “[In those classes] it feels like it made a difference but it only lasts a few days.”
School leaders don’t expect a change to come overnight, but even Roy has been frustrated with the rate of change.
“I don’t feel a sense of urgency on the part of students on performance,” said Roy. But he hopes by “repeating the message,” students will accept the changes as the new norm.
Not all of the changes at Manual have been small adjustments. The school has already seen staff turnover, although some of that may be related to issues predating Roy’s tenure.
Two teachers left on Roy’s first day as principal, citing stress-related health concerns, and a paraprofessional departed as well. Roy has also brought back staff who had recently departed, including a math teacher. The math teacher’s wife, Lauren Sabo, who worked with special education students, was planning to leave – Roy and district officials convinced her to stay.
The biggest change was the departure of Rebecca Martinez, the school’s head instructional coach and director of experiential learning, whose position was cut. It’s the only position that’s been cut, although some teachers who left have not been replaced. The elimination of that job has raised questions for some about the future of the program.
“If you’re not going to do experiential learning, you don’t need a director of experiential learning,” said Vernon Jones, who became an assistant principal under Dale and a long-time vocal member of the school community. “That says a lot about your commitment.”
So far there has not been substantial outcry from parents or community members. But Jones believes that’s because many parents are still waiting to see how things play out and deciding how to respond.
“I think [the district] underestimates how big of a wave the leadership change [was],” said Jones, whose daughter and niece both attend Manual. “Do we want to engage in a battle that will distract from our kids?”
Roy says he understands the people who are worried about the school’s future.
“If I were a parent at this school, I would be fed up with the lack of consistency,” said Roy. But so far, he says he has received a lot of positive responses.
And even skeptics like Jones are hopeful.
“My disposition is everybody gets a chance,” said Jones. “I think he has the right kind of love for students. He has really been open to other voices.”
"Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy," says a report, "Does Class Size Matter?" by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University.
"All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes. The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future." The report is from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado.
URGED TO RUN: Chicago Teachers Union chief Karen Lewis went to Springfield on Wednesday to rally against possible pension cuts to city teachers but left town being urged to run against Mayor Rahm Emanuel—by her own and other union members. (Sun-Times)
EMPLOYEE DEBTORS: In 2011 Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a not-so-subtle message to city workers who owed City Hall for parking tickets, water bills and other fees and fines: Pay up or you could be suspended or fired. Those scofflaws now collectively owe more than they did when Emanuel focused on the issue and the worst offenders are Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Transit Authority employees. They make up nearly 6 of every 10 city workers but account for almost 80 percent of the debt. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
A NARROWER VOUCHER BILL: After rejecting a much broader schools measure, the Wisconsin Senate moved forward with a narrow bill that would apply existing state report cards for public schools to voucher institutions but not impose sanctions on schools receiving poor marks The Assembly plans to proceed with a broader bill that would sanction failing schools. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
COMMUNITY COLLEGES BENEFIT SOCIETY, STUDENTS: Community-college graduates receive nearly $5 in benefits for every dollar they spend on their education, while the return to taxpayers is almost six to one, according to new report. The report seeks to quantify what happens when community colleges provide employers with skilled workers, the economy with consumers, and graduates with jobs along with better health and well-being. (Chronicle of Higher Education)
Expected controversy over a proposed expansion of Colorado State University Global Campus was defused Thursday with what was reported to be a last-minute compromise.
As originally introduced, Senate Bill 14-114 would have allowed CSU Global to enroll students without previous college credits and award four-year bachelor’s degrees. Current law basically limits CSU Global to enrolling students who already have college credits and who want to complete bachelor’s degrees. The program also offers some master’s degrees through its all-online program.
The bill made the state’s community colleges nervous, as they feared such a change would cut into their enrollment of students who earn a year or two of credits before transferring to CSU Global or four-year institutions.
Under a compromise brokered by sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, CSU Global could expand to new students, but only with guardrails. Under an amendment approved by the Senate Education Committee, CSU Global four-year programs could only be offered to Colorado students aged 23 or older, would have to have moderately selective admissions criteria and would have to gain Colorado Commission on Higher Education approval for future programs. There also would be restrictions on programs that overlapped with community college offerings.
The amendment shifted the community colleges from opposed to “neutral” on the bill, system President Nancy McCallin told the committee.
Senate Ed passed the amended bill 6-1.
CSU Global specializes in business and professional programs and generally doesn’t offer degrees in the liberal arts or sciences.
Legislative backers of the proposed Student Success Act formally unveiled their spending-and-reform plan at an upbeat Capitol news conference Thursday, even as skeptics ratcheted up criticism of the proposal.
While legislators at the news conference promoted the bill as a balance between more funding and reform, people attending a school boards conference a few blocks away applauded a protest song that called on lawmakers to do more to reduce the state’s school funding shortfall.
The yet-to-be-introduced bill proposes spending more than $300 million — part to reduce the $1 billion funding shortfall, some to help districts pay for implementation of reforms already on the books, and part for a list of earmarked programs. (Chalkbeat Colorado first reported the details of the bill in this story.)
Around the Capitol, the bill commonly is called the “Son of 213,” a reference to Senate Bill 13-213, the comprehensive, $1 billion overhaul of the state’s school funding system that remains on the shelf because voters last year rejected the tax increase necessary to pay for it. (Sponsors of the new bill hate that nickname.)
More than a dozen House members from both parties flanked Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver as he called the proposal a first step toward improved school funding and a continuation of education reform efforts.
“While not everyone is in full agreement, people have been heard,” Ferrandino said. “We are absolutely committed to working with all stakeholders.”
The bill’s three prime sponsors amplified the do-what-we-can and all-are-being-consulted themes.
Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, touted the bill as a “balanced approach.” Hamner added, “We will continue to reach out to all groups.” Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee and Murray is the senior Republican member.
“We’ve heard the districts, but we also have an interest in moving Colorado forward,” Hamner said.
Senate prime sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, picked up the same themes, saying, “We’re not going to get all of the way” toward restoring K-12 funding, but added, “Let us begin the process of trying to make this reinvestment.” (While Johnston is widely regarded by lobbyists and many educators as the animating force behind the bill, its sponsors are promoting Hamner and Murray as the key drivers and stress the bipartisan support for the bill, at least in the House. Johnston was the only senator at the news conference.)Others raise concerns about bill
While supporters were touting the bill, others were significantly less enthusiastic.
As it happens, the Colorado Association of Schools board opened its annual legislative conference on the same day as the supporters’ news conference.
Those who attended a luncheon at the Brown Palace Hotel cheered a “protest” song written by Mark DeVoti, a superintendent who now works for CASB, that urged the legislature to devote more money to buying down the negative factor.
The negative factor is a formula used by the legislature to reduce school funding from what it otherwise would have been in order the balance the annual state budget. It’s estimated the negative factor has set school funding $1 billion below what it would have been otherwise.
The proposed Student Success bill would make only an $80 million dent in that $1 billion. School districts and superintendents are pushing to “buy down” the negative factor in 2014-15 by anywhere from $200 million to $275 million.
The chorus to DeVoti’s two-verse song goes:
Take that Negative Factor, make it go away!
Come on put that billion back
Do it with no string attached
Take that Negative Factor, make it go away
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration’s point person on education issues, was the featured speaker at the CASB luncheon. According to several people who attended the event, Garcia was peppered with lots of hard questions – and no softballs – about the negative factor and the Student Success bill. Attendees said Garcia held his own but that the session was tense.
Later in the day, CASB chief lobbyist Jane Urschel made an impassioned plea to members to lobby their legislators for reduction of the negative factor. “I cannot do this for you,” she said. “You have to talk to them. … I think they can do [reduce] $200 million in the negative factor and still do some other expenditures they want to do.”
In a reference to that fact that most CASB members come from small rural districts, Urschel said, “Get off your tractors” and come to Denver to lobby.
Two other influential mainline interest groups, the Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Executives, issued statements Thursday raising concerns about the Student Success Act.
“We appreciate that lawmakers allocated some money to help revive struggling districts, but the proposed $80 million is inadequate to schools and classrooms that lost more than $1 billion in just five years,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman in a prepared statement. “We also have great concern that the majority of the funding in the proposal comes with mandates on how to use, or is one-time money.”
CASE Executive Director Bruce Caughey also called for a larger cut in the negative factor.Negative factor reduction carries future implications
A key – but complicated – issue in the negative factor debate is the impact on future state budgets if a significant amount of money is devoted to buying down the negative factor. Because the state constitution requires annual increases in base school funding based on inflation and enrollment growth, increasing base funding through reduction of the negative factor would mean even larger mandatory school funding in future years. People like Ferrandino and Hickenlooper budget advisors resist too big a cut in the negative factor for that reason.
A safety valve for school support is a dedicated account called the State Education Fund, which can be used to supplement school support from the state’s main General Fund. Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed keeping a $700 million balance in the SEF at the end of 2014-15, thereby saving some money to spend on schools in future years. The spending proposed in the Student Success Act could leave as little as $200 million or as much as $400 million in the SEF.
Asked about that, Hickenlooper budget chief Henry Sobanet told Chalkbeat Colorado, “There are ideas in the legislature that total several hundred million dollars above our [budget] request. After the March forecast, we will work with the JBC and leadership on a budget package that predicted revenue can support.”
For now, the proposed spending in the Student Success bill is an educated guess and is expected to change after those state revenue forecasts are released at the end of Marcy.
“The March forecast will determine how much we can spend,” Ferrandino said.
Notably absent from the Student Success bill is any increased funding for full-day kindergarten and the Colorado Preschool Program, both favorites of education reformers. Depending on the March forecasts, Murray said additional funding for those programs could be included in the annual school finance bill, a separate piece of legislation. That would be “the icing on the cake,” she said.New bill proposes other uses for BEST revenue
The Student Success bill proposes spending all $40 million generated by new marijuana taxes for kindergarten facilities, charter school facilities and school technology upgrades.
A bill introduced Wednesday proposes different uses.
House Bill 14-1287 proposes that the money go to the state capital construction fund without earmarking, according to prime sponsor Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley. But the main thrust of the bill is to help school districts affected by disasters such as last year’s wildfires and floods.
In the event of an officially declared disaster, the bill would require the Department of Education to contact affected school districts to inventory damage. Affected districts could apply to the Capital Construction Assistance Board for emergency aid, and the normal local matching requirements of the Building Excellent Schools Today program would be waived. The board could use up to 10 percent of the fund for emergency grants.
Asked about potential conflict with student success bill, Young smiled and said, “I think we’re going to have an interesting debate.” (Young was part of the supporting cast of lawmakers at the Student Success news conference.)
HB 14-1287 originated with a special legislature committee convened after last year’s disaster and has bipartisan sponsorship.
The Jeffco Public Schools board of education is expected to hire executive search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., to help find its next superintendent, according to a media release.
Jeffco’s current chief, Cindy Stevenson, will retire from the district Friday.
The board heard presentations from both Ray and Associates and Proact Search Tuesday. During board discussion, Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based company, emerged the clear favorite of the board’s minority, Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper.
Board president Ken Witt shared he was inclined to hire Ray as well because of the firm’s “maturity” and 38-year experience.
Board members Julie Williams and John Newkirk raised concerns about Ray and Associate’s fee: $44,000. They said they were inclined to choose Proact Search, which would only charge the district $25,000.
Ray and Associates have placed superintendents in Colorado before, including Colorado Spring’s District 11, Pueblo City Schools, Adams 50 and Boulder Valley.
“All we do is find leaders for American schools,” the company’s president, Gary Ray, told the board.
But not all of their searches have gone smoothly. Critics and some board members in other districts have accused Ray and Associates of withholding information during searches. Jeffco’s board asked the firm to explain some of the controversial headlines during their formal presentation. Ray stood by his record and said the boards that contracted him do too.
A formal vote is expected at a Feb. 27 board meeting, the district communications office said in a statement.
Ray and Associates, according to a timeline provided to the board, will go straight to work Feb. 28. Witt said he wants a new superintendent in place by May.
Experts on school board governance and school leadership, who spoke with Chalkbeat Colorado earlier this week, suggested Jeffco may have a difficult time finding an innovative leader to boost student performance because of rising tension between the school board’s majority and portions of the community.Ray and Associates’ presentation
RayandAssocaites Jeffco (PDF)
As a dad, I worry if my kid is eating enough, getting outside enough, washing his hands after he uses the bathroom, and so on.
I worry about bigger things too — like if he is learning everything in school that he’ll need after he graduates and (hopefully) go out into the real world.
When I sit down to help him with his homework, I can see that he sufficiently uses formulas to solve math problems, but he can’t tell me what those formulas mean. He misses the bigger connections to the real-world application of those math problems.
I worry that, as he progresses from grade to grade, knowing just enough to get by won’t cut it. That when he goes to college, he won’t be adequately prepared for the high expectations he’ll have to meet there. As a parent, I need to know that my child is getting the skills he needs to thrive and one day compete for the jobs of tomorrow.
This year, Colorado is implementing a new, more rigorous set of expectations in schools across the state. The Colorado Academic Standards cover 10 essential areas – math; reading, writing and communicating; world languages; science; social studies; comprehensive health and physical education; and music, visual arts, theatre, and dance. These new, more comprehensive standards are raising the bar in education and are based on an accumulation of best practices in education developed by experts with input from educators and parents.
The Colorado Academic Standards offer a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our kids succeed. They will help our kids build a foundation in critical thinking and focus on the real-life application of those skills. Students will spend less time memorizing facts and more time understanding the why behind what they’re learning.
And they’ll spend more time on fewer subjects, really getting to the core of what they’re learning. For example, in English language arts, students will read more non-fiction texts, like foundational American literature, spend more time analyzing them, and then apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations.
The new standards are also leveling the playing field. Parents who have had to change their child’s schools mid-year know there’s a risk that their child’s new class might not be in the same place academically as his or her previous class. This lack of consistency from school to school has given our kids an uneven chance at success. Colorado Academic Standards are setting high expectations for what all kids must know, no matter their zip code or circumstances.
Under the Colorado Academic standards, teachers have a clearer understanding of the benchmarks each student must meet at each grade level. By spending more time on core subjects, teachers can more easily individualize those benchmarks based on how their students are performing. This piece of the puzzle is crucial, which is why teachers are getting a lot of support in how to create the best lesson plans and guide their students toward meeting the expectations.
By raising our expectations for what our kids need to know, we’re improving their education and their chance at success after they graduate. Colorado Academic Standards are giving parents like me confidence that their kids are gaining the skills and knowledge they’ll need to get to the next grade and to compete for the jobs of tomorrow.
The Jeffco Public Schools’ search for a new superintendent may be in jeopardy even before the hunt for a new leader begins in earnest, education policy and leadership researchers told Chalkbeat Colorado.
And even the best thought-out transition plan between outgoing Superintendent Cindy Stevenson and whomever the board selects to take her place is likely to yield turnover at the district’s headquarters and schools, researchers said. A massive brain-drain could prevent the state’s second largest district from increasing its student achievement, as the board is seeking to do.
Increased media attention, rampant rumors and widespread distrust among the district’s community of parents, teachers, administrators and the board may make it difficult to attract a credible superintendent candidate, said Christine Campbell, policy director for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or CRPE.
“Smart, hard working, outcome-driven people are not that interested in working in a system with a board that might be hard to understand or is akin to micromanaging,” she said.
The Jeffco board Tuesday night publicly interviewed two executive search firms it’s considering to aide in a nationwide search to replace Stevenson, who served as Jeffco’s chief for more than a decade.
The board is expected to ink a contract with either Ray and Associates or Proact Search next week.
Stevenson’s last day is Friday. She’s leaving the district sooner than expected after her relationship with the board’s new majority deteriorated. Stevenson had planned on retiring at the end of the school year. She made that announcement after the board’s new conservative majority was elected in November.
Board President Ken Witt said he expects to have a new superintendent selected — and hopefully in place — by the end of May. Several board members raised concerns with the firms about the timeline. But both companies agreed it was possible.
Campbell contends if Jeffco’s board and the segments of community that feel disenfranchised aren’t able to publicly repair its relationship — and quickly — the district is likely to end up with a “manager” rather than an ambitious risk taker, which she believes Jeffco will need to fulfill the achievement goals the board has outlined.
Jeffco already outpaces the state’s averages in most academic achievement measures. But the district’s aggregate proficiency scores and growth rates have been flat for years.
“Right now,” she said, “[the board] is starting in a bad place.”
Even after a superintendent is hired, academic achievement might continue to stagnate — or drop — before improving, said Seattle Pacific University professor Tom Alsbury.
Alsbury has studied the relationship between board and superintendent turnover and academic achievement for more than a decade. His research, drawn from five decades of school board activity around the United States, suggests that when boards of education shift dramatically and when a superintendent transition takes place, it causes a ripple effect in personnel and policies that slow outcomes.
“Boards do matter,” Alsbury said.
Any new superintendent for Jeffco, Alsbury said, will likely be hired with a presumed mandate from the board.
“What we see, even now, before the new superintendent is hired, is concern at the central admin and the principal level,” Alsbury said. “These people are evaluated by the superintendent. They have no tenure protections. What we see happening is a significant number of highly effective people start to look for jobs else where, particularly where there are more stable districts.”
When principals leave, teachers follow, Alsbury said.
“We also see, when principals start to turn over, then we see teachers turn over,” he said. “They polish off the resume, and put it out there. And when they inevitably get job offers — especially the good ones — they say, ‘I’m going to take this chance.’”Jeffco is the next …
Take a ride in an elevator at Jeffco’s headquarters during a board meeting and you’re likely to hear: “Jeffco is the new Dougco.”
In 2009, Dougco, short for Douglas County School District, saw its own conservative sweep of seats on its school board. That board ended its relationship with the teachers union, established a merit-pay system for educators and approved the state’s first voucher program, which is currently being debated in court.
Jeffco board observers charge that “the new majority is following the Dougco playbook.”
Controversy around Douglas County’s board has also sparked concerns that teachers and school leaders will abandon the district en masse. But district officials there argue that the teacher turnover rate is decreasing and is not large enough to warrant real concern.
In some ways, the apparent ideological divide on Jeffco’s board might bear even greater resemblance to the immediate past board of Denver Public Schools.
Prior to the November election, the DPS board was staunchly divided, 4-3, on issues such as support for charter schools, pay-for-performance, data driven accountability and closing low-performing schools. DPS observers regularly chastised the board for what they characterized as petty squabbles that yielded no improved academic outcomes for students. Several went so far as to assert Denver’s potential growth had been stalled out of fear of political retribution.
In a report, released earlier this month, by the Donnell-Kay Foundation found only one in every six students in DPS attended a quality school in 2013. One reason why, the report’s author said, was because of its governing board.
“DPS has to have been, over the last five years, overly political because of the divisiveness on the school board,” Alex Ooms said. “You often make choices, in a climate of difficult politics, you would not make otherwise.”
Boards across the nation face similar struggles, said David Bloomfield, a professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
“Organizations founder when there is instability,” Bloomfield said. “Like any corporation, where there is infighting and distraction among leadership, the organization loses direction.”
Jeffco board members and union leaders insist their teachers and administrators are professionals and classrooms won’t suffer. Everyone from the top down is focused on one thing: student performance.
But, amid conversations about issues that do impact student achievement such as the budget, teacher contract negotiations and a search for a new leader, a member of the board’s majority, Julie Williams has asked for a review of the district’s communication policies.
Williams’ request comes after a public exchange on the social media website Twitter between two members of the Jeffco PTA Michele Patterson and Shawna Fritzler. Their tweets reference Williams, Witt, the Jeffco PTA, and guns. The conversation does not include a specific threat against any member of the board, but it was enough to rattle Williams.
“We already have enough to worry about with the cyber bullying going on among our students,” Williams said in a statement. “This type of behavior is immature and is not the type of example we want to be for our children. This should be handled in the proper administrative manner as soon as possible.”
While both Patterson and Fritzler are members of the PTA, the conversation was exchanged from their personal accounts — not authorized Jeffco accounts.
“Very often small issues become causes for irreparable fracture,” Bloomfield said.Big picture: Empower the district
The school boards that are most effective at boosting student achievement, according to research done by CRPE, are governing bodies that focus on just a few things. They hire an executive to build a team to handle the rest.
The more hands-on a board is, the lesser the results, CRPE’s Campbell said.
“A board should really be very focused on a few responsibilities that might make them more effective,” she said. “Hiring-firing the superintendent, be accountable for school performance, focus on strategies and outcomes, reduce distractions. At the end of the day, looking across all types of governance models, what mattered most was the scope of the work.”
There are specific policies and practices the board can direct Jeffco to adopt or improve to smooth things over and keep its best teachers and administrators, CRPE’s Campbell said.
In interviews and public statements, Witt has hinted he’s interested in exploring some of these exact policies, especially innovation schools.
However, in the three months since he’s been sworn in, Witt also has been repeatedly accused of micromanaging the district and overstepping his authority
Stevenson said she’s leaving in part because she felt she was unable to manage the district. And Tuesday, Witt wanted to personally release a letter to district staff reassuring stability and next steps. While his intentions may have been noble, members of the board’s minority cautioned him: direct communication with Jeffco staff isn’t the role of a board president.
Witt tabled the letter to review board policies.
Another piece of advice for the any new board, said Brooklyn College’s Bloomfield: go slow.
“I think the best change is always incremental,” he said.Recalls tend to be fruitless
Experts Chalkbeat Colorado spoke with also had a few suggestions for members of the community who might find themselves opposed to the board’s new majority.
First: don’t attempt a recall. They rarely work, Alsbury said. Usually successful recalls only follow egregious abuses of power, like embezzlement. Stay active and wait for the next election cycle.
Second: be vigilant, but not forceful. Any large organized demonstration — especially by the teachers union — could backfire, Campbell suggested.
“It can be very distressing to live in a place where [a lot of change] is happening, whether you’re a teacher, a parent or just someone reading the paper,” she said. “Fight for what you really value” but appearing to resist change may not help the cause.
Third: don’t turn a rowboat into the Titanic, Bloomfield said.
He pointed to the co-location debate in New York Public Schools. The policy impacts only about 4 percent of the entire student body, Bloomfield said. But those who oppose the policy make it out to be a bigger inconvenience.
“That’s the kind of sensation that can ruin [a district],” he said.
Support for Common Core State Standards is starting to waver among some teachers' unions—the result flawed implementation in states, concerns about the fast timeline for new testing tied to the standards, and, in at least one instance, fallout from internal state-union politics. (Education Week)
Architects at JGMA won a second-place Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design for their work on the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy (IHSCA), a charter high school with a health sciences and college preparatory focus that aims to train the next generation of nurses, doctors, and scientists. JGMA repurposed an abandoned, three-story, 77,000-square-foot industrial building into a state-of-the-art facility that is now a focal point for community health issues in Pilsen. The award will be presented Thursday at the 20th Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards ceremony. (Press release)
IN THE STATE
SAFETY PLANS: State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) is sponsoring legislation to require all non-public schools to annually meet with local police and fire departments to update their safety plans. (Press release)
TEAM SUSPENSION: The Illinois High School Association on Wednesday suspended the top-ranked Homewood-Flossmoor girls basketball team and its highly regarded coach for rules violations hours before the team was to take the floor to begin its playoff march. The sanctions accuse coach Anthony Smith of improperly recruiting star players from other school districts in his first season at H-F. That prompted the school district to conduct an internal investigation that led it to acknowledge it had violated rules, though none for improper recruiting. (Tribune)
CURRICULUM CHANGE: In order for students to meet Common Core standards in math, a geometry class using high school curriculum will be taught at Arlington Heights School District 25 middle schools starting in the fall, officials said. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
IN SEARCH OF A BETTER EDUCATION: Many parents in Washington, D.C., pull their children from the public school system after the fifth grade in search of a better education, leading to something of a brain drain in the district. Some students end up in the district's public charter schools, private schools or schools in the suburbs. The attrition embodies a looming challenge for the District’s school system and its next mayor: How can officials overhaul the city’s long-struggling middle schools to stop the exodus? It’s a test that comes as the first cohort of children to grow up with high-profile D.C. education reforms, including universal pre-kindergarten and mayoral control of the schools, reaches the end of elementary school and a decision about what comes next. (The Washington Post)
DATA LINKING: Only one state—Pennsylvania—currently links its K-12 data system and data from all of five key early-childhood education, health, and social services programs, although 30 states now link some of that information with their K-12 systems, a new report says. (Education Week)
A bill that would give families a sales tax break on some school-related purchases got 11-1 support Wednesday from the House Finance Committee, but only after it was significantly watered down.
The proposal, House Bill 14-1094, is this year’s version of an idea that’s been floated in the legislature more than once but never drawn enough support to make it into the law books.
“This is a bill for Colorado consumers and Colorado families,” said sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver. As amended, the bill would exempt some school-related purchases from the state’s 2.9 percent sales tax for three days during the first weekend of next August.
The holiday would apply to school supplies up to $50 in price and to clothing costing up to $75. At the request of Pabon, the committee removed a section that would have applied the holiday to sports equipment and also eliminated the original five-year term of the bill.
The hearing rehashed familiar arguments.
The retail industry loves the idea. “This will the next Black Friday,” predicted Chris Howes of the Colorado Retail Council. He also suggested that any loss in sales tax revenue on school supplies would be more than made up from taxes on other purchases made during the holiday weekend as shoppers flocked to stores.
But George Awuor of the Bell Policy Center and Ali Michelson of the Colorado Fiscal Institute warned that such gains might be an illusion because consumers merely would spend money during the tax holiday instead of during other times of the year.
Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill could cost the state $3.1 million in revenue, but they didn’t consider the possibility of offsetting revenue gains.
Eighteen other states have similar sales tax holidays.
Afternoons at Crestone Charter School are a freeform business, with students wandering the halls, often shoeless but rarely purposeless.
In the middle school wing, students end the day by wiping tables and washing dishes.
“This is the triumph of my teaching,” said their teacher, Jeff “Daya” Sheide as he watched them clean.
A classroom volunteer with a guitar wraps up his day, saying today was spent “subtly helping [students] understand they are the hope for the great challenges to come.” When asked what future he means, he drops a reference to “heaven on earth” and heads out the door.
The K-12 school’s 92 students come from Crestone, a small town best known for the abundance of religious organization that call the town home. The charter comprises nearly half of Moffat Consolidated 2 School district, a small rural district in the San Luis Valley.
The school, which was one of the first charters in the state, has been a testing ground for statewide charter school debates, including school autonomy and funding issues.
Proponents of the school say it is a model for school choice in rural districts, but its critics — who once included the district’s school board — accused the school of funneling money away from the district school.
Rural charter schools exist around the state, although they are not common. The schools often open as a strategy to serve students in isolated communities, far from district facilities.
But in Crestone, cultural divides, rather than geographic challenges, motivated the school’s opening.
“We have two very different communities,” said Kirk Banghart, the district’s superintendent. “One I term the valley floor, which is [primarily] ranching.” The other, he said, is Crestone and a nearby subdivision called Baca Grande. Together they make up nearly two-thirds of the district’s population.
Crestone, which is a former mining community, is now a religious center, housing spiritual communities ranging from Carmelite monks to several Buddhist sects. The religious organizations came here beginning in the late 1970s after a wealthy philanthropist, Hanna Strong, donated land for the use of any religious organization that wished to have some.
To date, 22 groups have responded to her call.
“A lot of the reason people come here is for practice,” said Michael Hayes, who heads the charter school.
That group of religious migrants saw a need for different kind of education, Hayes said.
Spiritual practice is incorporated into the school’s day-to-day operations, although Hayes is quick to note that no practice is required and any spirituality is non-denominational.
Students may start the day with meditation or Reiki, a Japanese stress reduction practice. It’s part of the school’s unusual education model, which combines traditional academic instruction with experiential learning and non-traditional practices that reflect the community’s spiritual values.
“In general, we focus on more traditional academics in the morning,” said Hayes. Afternoons are reserved for the school’s less traditional activities, such as bringing in a storyteller for language arts instruction.
By contrast, the district’s traditional school, 13 miles down the road, serves grades P-12 but follows a more familiar educational program. Most of the district’s special needs students and English language learners attend the district-run school. The two schools perform similarly on state rankings.
The co-existence of the two schools give parents options, even in the smallest of rural districts, said Hayes.
“What it really is about is choice,” said Hayes.
The choice Hayes touts was hard-fought. The school board tried to block the school’s opening in 1996, just three years after the state opened the door to charters. The board tried to revoke the school’s charter twice, claiming the charter was draining funding from the district school.
“The school board actively tried to shut down the school,” said Hayes.
Both organizations appeared repeatedly before state policymakers to hash out their disputes. The school appealed successfully to the state board each time.
The fights brought out divisions in the small community between the Crestone community and the more traditional ranching families of Moffat. In a recent profile of the school by the Idaho Charter Schools Network, one Crestone supporter remembers finding her tires slashed after board meetings.
But over time, relations between the school and district warmed. Recent collaborations on funding and accountability signal how far things have come.
The community’s biggest success came in 2009, when taxpayers passed a district-wide bond measure that provided the matching funds required for Crestone Charter to receive a state grant for a new building.
According to state analysts, it was a move that was not only ground-breaking for collaboration within the Moffat school district but for district-charter school collaboration statewide.
“It’s a very unique situation,” said Kevin Huber, a regional manager for the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program that provided the funding. “I can only think of one other project that used bond money [for charter schools].”
Most matching funds for charter school projects come from private fundraising or the school’s cash reserves. In Crestone’s case, all of the matching funds came from district taxpayers.
Since that bond measure passed, taxpayers have passed a second to overhaul the district school and a mill levy to provide additional funding for both schools.
“We’re too small to be divisive,” said Banghart, who joined the district in 2010. “Part of my goal has been to heal the wounds of that separation.”
According to Hayes, Banghart’s efforts are sincere.
“Kirk is really good at not saying us and them,” said Hayes. But tensions still linger at the edges. “Our teachers, they don’t mix so much. The kids do, somewhat.”
The charter and district have decided to pool resources to deal with state mandates — they share a single district-wide accountability committee, for example, and meet on a regular basis to strategize for the district as a whole.
National charter advocates and rural education experts have spotlighted schools like Crestone’s as a way to provide choices in areas where parents don’t have a wide range of nearby educational options.
It’s a position Hayes supports. “We really believe this educational model fits a lot of students and fits this community,” he said.
He believes that the district could serve as a model for others, although rural charters face an uphill battle.
“The reason this stands here is due to the efforts of under ten people,” Hayes said. “It’s not somebody out there doing this. It [could be] you.”
The U.S. Department of Education is developing a 50-state strategy designed to put some teeth into a key part of the No Child Left Behind Act that has been largely ignored for the past 12 years: the inequitable distribution of the nation's best teachers.
Central to the federal strategy will be a mix of enforcement and bureaucratic levers to prod states into making sure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective and unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers. (Education Week)
PERSONAL STUDENT DATA: According to the first survey of how schools gather and use student data, there are no restrictions limiting private vendors use of that information, and most parents have no clue that schools let private companies store personal information about their children. (NPR)
STATS ABOUT SUPERINTENDENT SALARIES: Base median salaries for the nation's K-12 superintendents rose modestly this school year—1-2 percent—from 2012-13, and in most cases, salaries for female schools' chiefs were slightly higher than their male peers, according to a new survey. Among other top-level findings in the survey:
• Nearly half of responding superintendents said that economic conditions were "stable" in their districts, but 40 percent said that financial conditions were "declining";
• Nonwhite superintendents were more likely to report that they are managing school districts in a declining economic condition;
• More than 40 percent of respondents said that student outcomes and performance data are part of their annual evaluations; and
• More than 10 percent of respondents said they have been rehired as schools chiefs after retiring, a sign, the survey said, of an "aging superintendent population and potentially narrowing pool of individuals interested in entering the superintendency." (Education Week)
The Colorado Education Association Tuesday kicked off a campaign intended to build public support for reducing “educational mandates, testing time and bureaucratic red tape in Colorado’s public schools.”
The effort, titled “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students,” is intended to “start a community conversation” about testing and other state education mandates, said CEA President Kerrie Dallman.
The teachers union appears to have no specific policy or legislative goals at this point, but its criticism of testing joins a rising chorus of complaints about testing from all quarters, including conservative school boards like that in Douglas County, suburban moms and many educators. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details of the most recent legislative hearing on testing.)
“This is a campaign to say no to more mandates,” Dallman said to an audience of about 50 at the Denver Press Club. A long list of speakers, several of whom went on at length, included Eagle County Superintendent Jason Glass, Democratic Rep. Dave Young of Greeley, teachers, administrators, high school students from Wheat Ridge and even a representative of the Colorado Professional Firefighters.
The CEA Tuesday also released results of a voluntary survey it conducted of 1,200 Colorado teachers. Of those who responded, 90 percent said testing gets in the way of classroom instruction and that teachers are spending 30 percent of their time preparing students for and administering tests.
The CEA has launched a Facebook page to advance its effort. Check it out here.
A draft version of the proposed Student Success Act — known as the Son of SB 213 around the Capitol because it is an attempt to salvage parts of last year’s failed school finance overhaul — would cost $303 million and target new education funding to early literacy, English language learners and charter school facilities.
The proposal also would contribute modestly to buying down the current $1 billion shortfall in school funding and give school districts extra funding to implement programs such as new content standards, new tests and the new teacher evaluation system.
Discussion about reviving parts of last year’s Senate Bill 13-213, the comprehensive school funding overhaul, have been underway since last November, after voters rejected Amendment 66, the $1 billion tax increase needed to pay for that bill and trigger the new system.
Three legislators have been working on the son-of bill, Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon and Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. Hamner is chair of the House Education Committee, and Murray is the senior Republican on that panel. Johnston, of course, was the author of SB 13-213 and the driving force behind Senate Bill 10-191, the landmark educator evaluation law.
Johnston is trying to take a lower profile on this year’s bill, which is expected to start in the House whenever it’s introduced.
The draft bill follows the “something for everyone” strategy of SB 13-213, which was designed to appeal to the full spectrum of education interest groups. Previous conceptions of the bill included additional program funding for full-day kindergarten, which is absent from the draft bill. However, the proposal does include significant funding for kindergarten facilities.Do your homework
The bill also proposes an $80 million buy-down of the “negative factor,” the formula the legislature has used in recent years to reduce K-12 funding from what it otherwise would have been.
The bill proposes $148 million in “recurring costs,” meaning they would have to be continued in future years, and $115 million in one-time spending.
With the exception of the lack of kindergarten operation funding, the bill contains few surprises, based on what Johnston had been suggesting earlier.
Given that, the draft bill doesn’t ease the concerns of many education interest groups, which are pushing hard this year for a significant reduction of the $1 billion education funding deficit – perhaps by as much as $275 million – and which are resisting the kind of earmarked spending proposed in the draft bill.
“There’s going to be a lot of pushback,” said one education lobbyist.
A key question about the draft bill is whether Johnston can reassemble the Democratic-Republican coalition that enabled him to pass SB 10-191. Johnston lost Republican support for SB 13-213 because it required a tax increase, but he hopes to gain GOP backing for this year’s bill. In addition to Murray’s support, Johnston hopes to attract backing from Republicans who have introduced separate bills on ELL funding, district financial transparency and changing the way the state counts enrollment.
Here are the details on what the student success bill proposes:
While some sources believe the bill could be introduced as early as next week, final decisions on school funding probably won’t be made until late March at the earliest, after quarterly revenue forecasts are issued by legislative and executive branch economists.
In the meantime, Johnston’s staff has circulated the draft bill to a wide variety of education interest groups, seeking their comments. Copies of the bill were distributed starting Monday evening. Lobbyists and school finance analysts are going over the 106-page bill with magnifying glasses, looking for the obscure details that Johnston’s bills are known for.
“You really need to get into the weeds on this one,” said one school finance expert.
Colorado teachers claim they’re spending too much of their time prepping and administering state mandated tests, a survey conducted by the state’s largest union found. Those same teachers believe their time with students could be better used on instruction.
The results, released this morning, add another voice to the growing statewide cacophony on standardized tests.
Debates about how many state mandated assessments are required, whether those tests are valid and whether those tests should be play a role in a teachers evaluation and district’s performance have been growing in number and volume since the fall.
So far, the Democratically controlled Colorado General Assembly has been hesitant to act on those concerns. Last week, the Senate Education Committee killed a bill that would have postponed the implementation of state assessments aligned to the standards. On Monday, the House Education Committee postponed action on a bill that would allow districts to opt out of those tests. That committee is expected to pick up the bill Wednesday morning.
“It’s important to note that teachers are not ‘anti-testing’ — but testing is only one piece of a balanced approach to improve student outcomes,” Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman said in a statement accompanying the union’s survey results. “We need classroom time to teach critical skills, meaningful tests aligned to the curriculum we’re teaching, and fair, valid evaluations on how we’re performing so we have quality teachers in the classroom.”
Dallman’s statement maybe considered an opening act to a rally CEA is hosting Tuesday evening. The union is billing that event as the kick-off of a new campaign called “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students.” The aim of the campaign is to garner support to reduce “educational mandates, testing time and bureaucratic red tape in Colorado’s public schools.”
CEA officials have publicly stressed their support for standardized tests and teacher accountability. But the most adamant supporters of Colorado’s education reform policies believe the union is attempting to undermine those systems of accountability.
Among the survey’s other findings:
The online survey was conducted last week, and polled roughly 1,200 elementary, middle and high school teachers.
After a bitter strike in fall 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached agreement on a three-year contract, with an optional fourth year under the same terms “by mutual agreement.”
In a recent interview with Catalyst Chicago, CTU President Karen Lewis laughed when asked whether the union plans to terminate the contract in June 2015 rather than renewing it for another year. She indicated that she is pretty sure that teachers would not want to extend the contract.
Negotiations typically start long before a contract ends. Tensions are already heating up between the city and its public sector unions, including the CTU, because of the current pension funding crisis and the city's push for financial concessions from union workers to help close the pension deficit.
Later, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey clarified that the union considers the language about renewing the agreement to be basically meaningless. He says it was added because CPS wanted a four-year contract and the union did not.
“If both sides wanted to do an extra year, we could. If both sides wanted to do an extra four years, we could,” Sharkey said. “But there’s a name for that, and it’s called bargaining a new contract. I think it’s extremely unlikely that our members are going to say, let’s just give us another year.”
He says the key issues on teachers’ minds include challenges with the new teacher evaluation system, the lack of resources for the longer school day, and a lack of substitute teachers to cover classes, which has led to some teachers missing their preparation time.
Bateman Elementary delegate Adam Geisler says he, too, expects the contract to end in June 2015.
“If I were to hazard a guess, I would say most teachers would prefer a stronger contract this time around, and so we probably will not go for the extension,” Geisler says, adding that class sizes, evaluations and job security are weighing on teachers’ minds.
“The shift to student-based budgeting this year has had a pretty extreme effect on how much leeway principals have in their budgets,” Geisler says. “Expensive teachers are feeling like they are not very secure, and they would like to see more protections in the contract.”
He adds: “It’s no secret CTU and the mayoral administration do not see eye-to-eye. CTU has certainly strategized around building its political influence, including the adoption of a resolution to begin an independent political organization, so I think that does factor in.”
Jay Rau, a delegate at Juarez High School, says he expects the same tensions could lead to another strike in fall 2015. And, he adds, the coming governor’s race will have an effect as well. If Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is elected, teachers will likely not vote to re-open the contract given Rauner’s anti-union stance. But if Gov. Pat Quinn is re-elected, unions may feel more emboldened and take the risk of re-opening.
A new study released by the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday said that using the same pension overhaul that passed last year on city pension funds would slash the pensions of city public workers, harm retirees and negatively impact the city’s economy. The CTU said the proposed cuts to Chicago retirees would amount to about $270 million slashed from retirement income over five years and hurt black, middle-class city workers the most. (Sun-Times)
FROM BANKER TO MATH TEACHER: Vernell Slaughter realizes he is a rare commodity within Chicago Public Schools: a black male who teaches math. Only 5.7 percent of CPS' 22,283 teachers are black men, and fewer teach math, CPS officials said. But the former banker went back to school and earned a master's degree in education from Dominican University before stepping into the classroom. "Working with children is something I have always thought about but did not develop an interest in until after college," he says. (DNA Info)
GETTING CONTROL OF FINANCES: Hinsdale Township High School District 86 is coming up short in some aspects of how it handles financial and business controls, according to an independent study. The report states that hiring a chief financial controller, director of financial controls, and coordinator of purchasing will alleviate the potential for financial malfeasance. (Tribune)
IN THE NATION
TEST CASES: A new study shows that high school performance, not standardized test scores, is a better predictor of how students do in college. "Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions," examined data from nearly three dozen "test-optional" U.S. schools, ranging from small liberal arts schools to large public universities, over several years. It found that there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test "submitters" and "non-submitters." Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for "non-submitters" were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores. (NPR)
TEACHER-EVALUATION DELAY: North Carolina is the first Race to the Top state to be allowed an extra year to tie teacher evaluations to personnel decisions—a measure of flexibility the U.S. Department of Education has offered to all waiver states but was reluctant to grant to winners of the Obama administration's signature education-improvement contest. (Education Week)