LAKEWOOD — Jefferson County mom Amanda Stevens first became suspicious of the county’s newly-elected board of education majority when she heard they planned to do away with a school readiness evaluation program.
“I wanted a tool to collaborate with my child’s teacher,” she said, standing at the corner of Wadsworth and Alameda with more than 100 other students, parents, and teachers.
The group, a microcosm of a much larger countywide rally, waved signs reading “stand up for all kids,” “honk if you support recall,” and “we love Jeffco.”
The aim of those gathered along the 30-mile stretch of Wadsworth Boulevard, a major traffic conduit in the Denver suburb, is to raise awareness for their concerns regarding Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, who make up the new majority on the Jeffco school board.
Stevens has become a regular at school board meetings. She said she’s seen the board ignore the wishes of the public time and time again.
“First it was [the school readiness evaluation program], then it was full-day kindergarten, then it was more money for charter schools,” she said, continuing to list more controversial decisions.
Tension between the new board majority, which was elected by wide margins in November, and the public reached an all time high last month when thousands of students walked out of their classrooms in protest over a proposed curriculum review committee. Separately, teachers at four high schools staged sick-outs over a new compensation model.
Critics of the proposal, originally introduced by Williams, feared the committee would eventually lead to censoring an advanced U.S. history class.
On Thursday night, the board majority approved a sort of half-compromise on a 3-2 vote. Instead of creating a brand new committee, they amended current district policies that govern challenges to curriculum to include students and board-appointed community members to a panel to review materials. The committees will also now report directly to the board instead of the superintendent.
While that matter, which attracted international media, is mostly closed, it’s unlikely turmoil will ease.
The Wadsworth demonstration, organized by a loose network of parents, teachers, and the county’s educators union, was not in direct response to Thursday’s board meeting. Friday’s rally had previously been planned before the board took up the issue. A similar protest was organized last spring.
Supporters of the board majority have characterized the vocal community as a proxy for the teachers union. A new website, Jeffcotruth.org, launched this week with two videos critical of the union and student protests.
Asked when things might cool down in Jeffco, Stevens said, “your guess is as good as mine.”
Katya Mazon had never been heavily involved with the LGBTQ community, until two and a half years ago, when she attended her first Illinois Safe Schools Alliance meeting. One of her friends, who self-identified as “queer," invited her and said there would be food.
“They were looking for newer members and my friend told me about it,” said Mazon, who graduated from Walter Payton High School in June and plans to attend the University of Illinois-Chicago. “He was like, ‘You’ve always been really supportive of me and you should just come. And there’s pizza.’”
Mazon, a straight ally, will be honored at the Alliance’s annual brunch at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Chicago Cultural Center Yates Gallery (a one-person brunch ticket is $150) as Activist of the Year – it’s the first time a high school graduate has received the award – for her work with Chicago Public Schools and her leadership in the Alliance’s Youth Committee.
Fifty-six of more than 100 Chicago public high schools have registered Gay-Straight Alliances, but the Alliance’s program director David Fischer said there should be more. According to one national school climate survey, 98 percent of lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender/queer students in Illinois hear anti-LGBTQ comments in school. Across the country, only 22 percent of LGBTQ students report having a gay-straight alliance in their high school.
Studies estimate that between 4 and 10% of the general population is gay; in CPS, that translates to between 16,000 and 40,000 students.
“Schools are still struggling to not ‘out’ young people to other school personnel or their parents,” Fischer said. “Schools are not in a place where they’re truly working to accommodate transgender youth.”
Mazon has been working with CPS to set up guidelines to protect transgender and gender non-conforming students, because schools often don’t know guidelines when it comes to bathrooms, preferred gender pronouns, or recreational sports teams.
“The Alliance is youth-driven, so youth are really the decision makers,” Mazon said. “I love that because they’re the stakeholders, they’re the ones who are experiencing it, and so they’re the ones who should have a say in it.”
A lack of dialogue about diverse identities in school curricula is another challenge for LGBTQ youth. Mazon was never taught about gender identity at school, and many students can go through a decade of schooling without learning about significant historical or literary figures who identified as LGBTQ.
“That complete silence can have a serious negative impact,” Fischer said. “It’s very hard to perceive your own identity in any sort of positive light if it’s never shown to you.”
These issues are prevalent throughout Illinois, and across the nation, but young people in Chicago face unique difficulties, Fischer said, because “a lot of time and energy and effort and resources are put in a small percentage of schools” that address the issue.
“When we talk about equality, it’s not giving [students] the same things,” Mazon said. “It’s giving them the things to reach the same steps.”
According to research done by UIC College of Education, youth and their families want to have intergenerational conversations about sexuality and gender identity. Spaces for facilitated dialogue, where youth can ask authentic questions without feeling like they’re going to get in trouble, is not just for the people who identify as LGBTQ, said researcher Stacey Horn.
“Creating a safe environment is good for everyone in the schools,” she said. “It allows for a broader expression of identity for anybody.”
Democratic Senate candidates with ties to education continue to gather significant campaign contributions, and outside political committees now also are spending significantly in battleground races.
For example, consider Arvada Democrat Rachel Zenzinger, an appointed freshman who sits on the Senate Education Committee and who is seeking a full-four year term from a Jefferson County district evenly divided among Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.
Democrats are battling hard to maintain – or improve – their 18-17 majority in the Senate, and the heavy spending in certain races reflects that.
Zenzinger’s campaign committee has raised more than $193,000 according to a campaign finance report filed Monday, one of the largest amounts of any Democratic Senate candidate. She raised nearly $20,000 in just the last two weeks of September.
But Zenzinger also has been the indirect beneficiary of at least $71,000 in additional spending by what are called independent expenditure committees. Two of those committees, Citizens Alliance for Accountable Leadership and Colorado Voters Voice, have paid for television ads and digital media supporting her candidacy.
Independent committees also have spent money on behalf of several other Democratic Senate and House candidates. Election law allows independent expenditure committees to spend money for and against candidates, but those efforts aren’t supposed to be coordinated with candidates.
Citizens Alliance and Voters Voice are part of a network of committees affiliated with the Democratic Party, labor unions and progressive groups. Democrats and donors organized the system several elections ago and have successfully used it to support candidates.
Here’s an example of how it works:
Republicans use similar tactics with outside committees. A committee named the Senate Majority Fund, which backs GOP candidates, has raised $1.3 million and spent $470,377. It’s received $22,000 from K12 Management Inc., the for-profit education company, and $20,000 from Ed McVaney, a longtime school choice backer, among lots of other contributors. The Fund is what’s called a “527” committee, and such groups don’t necessarily have to specify which candidates they support or oppose.
Another 527, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, has raised $350,000 and spent $205,399, again without reporting which races it’s spending in.
Citizens Alliance is an “independent expenditure” committee and subject to somewhat different reporting rules.
The complexity and variation in campaign finance contribution and reporting laws is part of the reason for the variety of committees. There are limits on the size of contributions to candidate committees, and corporations can’t donate directly to candidates. Such limits don’t apply to independent expenditure and 527 committees, so they offer a way to support candidates without direct contributions to candidate themselves.
Other Democratic Senate candidates who’ve been the beneficiaries of independent spending by Citizens Alliance include Andy Kerr in Jefferson County, Mike Merrifield in Colorado Springs and Judy Solano in Adams County.
Those three are have high-profile names in education. Kerr, a Jeffco teacher, is chair of the Senate Education Committee. Merrifield and Solano are retired teachers and former House members. Merrifield was chair of House Education, and Solano was known as one of the legislature’s harshest critics of standardized testing.How the candidates and committees are doing
Many candidate committees continued a fast pace of fundraising during the last two weeks of September. Senate candidates of both parties grew their war chests at a faster rate than House candidates.
There was virtually no new fundraising by the two committees battling over Amendment 68, the slots-for-schools constitutional amendment. Both those groups raised and committed their funds earlier in order to reserve TV ad spots.
The two sides have spent a total of about $32 million, about the same amount as the annual general fund spending of a 5,000-student school district.
Get the details in the chart below. Select a candidate or candidates to generate bar graphs at the top of the chart. Story continues after the chart.Education-focused committees less active
Things were relatively quiet for education-oriented political action and small donor committees during the latest reporting period.
Raising Colorado, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform, spent $10,243 on a mailing for Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and $12,594 on direct mail for Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge.
The Public Education Committee, the main campaign contribution arm of the CEA, also made some modest new contributions to Democratic candidates.
The DCTA Fund, affiliated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, made its first foray into the general election campaign with some small contributions to a few Democratic legislative and statewide candidates, and it also gave to the state Democratic Party.
Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or individual small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.
Latest Jeffco twist
The district's board majority claims compromise and OKs a new curriculum review process, but other board members remain skeptical. And it remains to be seen if the new process will be used to review AP U.S. history. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A new view
A “Schools of Opportunity” project designed by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder aims to recognize high schools for a broad range of efforts to help students succeed, rather than just test scores. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Jeffco Roundup
In a commentary, a student takes the Jeffco board to task for denigrating student protestors. ( Denver Post )
Aspen school officials are seeking more local control over school revenues after years of fluctuating state funding. ( Aspen Daily News )
Building a school
The Thompson school board has approved a creative financing plan to build a new school in a growing neighborhood. ( Reporter-Herald )
A column signed by Mayor Michael Hancock and education Secretary Arne Duncan urges passage of the tax measure for the Denver Preschool Program. ( Denver Post )
A study done for supporters of Amendment 68 claims the slots-for-schools plan would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy. ( Denver Post )
CSU President Tony Frank still wants an on-campus football stadium in Fort Collins. ( Coloradoan )
As if Chicago’s upcoming mayoral election didn’t already promise to feature education as a prominent campaign issue, a coalition of community and labor groups are now trying to get a measure for an elected school board on February’s ballot in each of the city’s 50 wards.
Part of their strategy, organizers say, is to make the question of whether Chicago should have an elected school board a sort of litmus test for incumbent aldermen and their challengers.
“We’re going to raise this with aldermen in upcoming elections – and hopefully in time for the November elections – and ask, ‘Do you support this?’” said Jitu Brown, education organizer of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and a longtime proponent of a change from an appointed board. “Will these people go against the mayor’s wishes and advocate for the children of Chicago, or will they go lockstep with the mayor while our children are the collateral damage of these policies?”
Brown says he expects some current aldermen and other candidates for city seats – including Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering a mayoral run – to support the referendum and even circulate some petitions, but he says that the effort is not coordinated with those campaigns.
“If someone wants to champion this issue, that’s what our elected officials should be doing,” Brown added.
Even if the referendum gets on the ballot and passes, state legislators would have to rewrite state law--and go against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who now has control of the system--to allow for an elected board.
The effort is being led by the coalition of community groups called Grassroots Educational Movement, or GEM, of which KOCO is a member. In addition, the United Working Families independent political organization--which formed over the summer with the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Action Now, and Grassroots Illinois Action--is also supporting the campaign.
“Never any debate”
Among the groups gathering signatures is the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, which will be leading volunteers to canvass in the 12th, 14th and 15th wards on the Southwest Side.
“This is a very popular issue in our community, and a lot of people support this,” says Patrick Brosnan, the group’s executive director. “There’s never any kind of debate going on at any of those board meetings, always just presentations and ‘everything is great.’ But things aren’t great. There’s a lot of problems […] Frankly, I don’t think an elected school board would be making most of the decisions this current board is making.”
Chicago’s school board has been made up of mayoral appointees since 1995, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley convinced the State Legislature to turn over control of the school district to City Hall. Chicago’s previous system for choosing school board members involved a messy nominating procedure in which community groups offered up names from which the mayor had to choose appointees.
To get the item on the ballot, the groups need to collect signatures from at least 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race in each ward; that means some wards with a higher voter turnout will require more signatures. Petitions are due to the city’s Board of Elections on Nov. 24, the same day they’re due for aldermanic and mayoral candidates.
This wouldn’t be the first time the issue goes to a referendum. In 2012, another coalition of community groups called Communities Organized for Democracy in Education (CODE) collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 327 of the city’s more than 2,000 precincts.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the non-binding referendum, with an average of nearly 87 percent of votes in favor in each precinct.
“It’s pretty clear that the sentiment is there,” says Rico Gutstein, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago who is part of Teachers For Justice, a member of CODE. “We were in 13 percent of precincts, in precincts that were entirely black, entirely white, entirely brown and entirely mixed […]. We were in the wealthiest and the poorest neighborhoods.”
Unlike the 2012 campaign, CODE is not actively taking part in this newest, ward-level effort to get a referendum on the ballot. (There are several ways to get a referendum item on the ballot, including at the precinct-, ward- and city-wide level.) Many of the groups who are part of CODE, however, are also members of GEM, which is behind the referendum. As a coalition, CODE is focusing on two other strategies for transforming the school board’s makeup, explains Roderick Wilson, who heads the Lugenia Burns Hope Center in Bronzeville and is a member of CODE.
“We’re seeing if we can file a state or federal lawsuit because this is voter suppression and taxation without representation,” Wilson said, adding that the group is currently fundraising for that possibility.
Separately, CODE has also been actively lobbying the State Legislature to push forward a bill to convert Chicago’s board into an elected body. The bill was introduced in the House in 2013 but has not advanced much since.
“This particular policy need to be changed in Springfield,” Wilson acknowledges. “What these referendums do is show more citywide support for an elected school board, which is definitely helpful in bringing the issue to move in our Legislature.”
GOLDEN — The Jefferson County Board of Education tonight amended established policies to reconfigure an existing curriculum review system and place it under the board’s purview.
Whether the reshaped committees, which make up the review process, will take up the issue of an advanced history course is to be determined.
The final makeup of the process — along with its assigned tasks — is a departure from the original draft that set off a firestorm in Jeffco, the state’s second largest school district, over the course of the past month.
Created by merging existing policies, the new review process will be made up of curriculum specialists, parents, students, teachers, and board-appointed community members.
Final touches still need to be worked out. It’s also unclear whether the committee — or committees — will be formed at the board’s leisure or only after a direct challenge to particular curriculum is made.
The board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — called it a compromise. But board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper cried foul.
“What’s the rush?” Dahlkemper asked in one of the many sharp exchanges she had with board chair Witt. She asked Newkirk and Williams to table their proposals and allow the board to take the issue up again.
But Witt refused to entertain a delay.
“It’s my position that all of the objectives are met in [the new proposal],” Witt said, highlighting the new committee will consist of a more varied collection of constituents.
The board came close many times during their debate to a rare full compromise, thanks in part to Superintendent Dan McMinimiee. The board majority’s final resolution is largely based on McMinimee’s recommendation. At times, it appeared Fellman, normally in the minority, was close to approving changes to existing policies, as long as the committees remained in the purview of the superintendent and his team, not the board.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Board member Lesley Dahlkemper, center, answered questions Thursday night before the Jeffco board meeting.
“It’s important to think about our role — our role is to direct the superintendent,” she said. “We need to allow him to do his job.”
Witt said he wanted the committee to report to the board to ensure transparency.
McMinimee, who appeared perturbed at times during the debate, said a district committee could be open to the public.
Witt wasn’t convinced.
Originally proposed by board member Williams, the curriculum review committee would have sought to ensure an advanced U.S. history course promoted patriotism and condemned civil disorder.
Williams, echoing the concerns of fellow conservatives, believes the new Advanced Placement U.S. history framework, a guide for teachers across the nation, emphasizes the worst of the nation’s history and skips over characters like Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Architects of the framework, teachers, and other reports discredited Williams claims. Local television news station KDVR, for example, found references to all of the historical figures Williams believes are left out in each of the approved textbooks for the course.
But Williams’ request — coupled with ongoing conflicts between a vocal group of teachers and parent, and the board — ignited a dozen days of acrimony in the suburban county. Teachers called in sick or took personal days en masse, prompting the district to cancel classes at four high schools. And thousands of students, mostly high schoolers, left their classrooms to protest at busy intersections. They waived signs decrying censorship.
Organizations like the ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship issued statements condemning the proposal. And the College Board, the organization behind the framework and aligned test, which students may take for college credit, threatened to strip Jeffco of its ability to offer the class under the College Board banner.
Separately, the College Board released an update to its framework Wednesday. It reiterated local teachers and school districts, not the College Board, chooses what materials to use in class and, among other points, “the AP scoring rubrics award points based on the accurate use of historical evidence, not on whether a student takes one specific position on an issue.”
Back in Golden, community protests, which caught the national media’s eye, resurged today outside the district’s headquarters. Hundreds of students, parents, and teachers rallied for more than an hour before the board met.
“We want the curriculum review committee voted down,” Chatfield High School student Ashlyn Maher told a crowd of about 250 people before the meeting started. “We shouldn’t even be talking about this, because there are already two committees in place to take on any concerns about curriculum. Why the board majority believes they need their own select, special committee smacks of hidden agendas.”
A smaller crowd supportive of the proposed review committee gathered as well.
“I feel bad because the kids feel we’re against them,” said Regina Hilton, a Jefferson County mother. “And we’re not.”
As expected, the meeting was one of the most well-attended and politically charged in recent years. Several speakers who opposed the committee suggested the board majority resign. And when some speakers went over their time, audience members who opposed the speaker’s views chanted “time,” or “thank you” until they stopped speaking.
Hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and community members filed in and out of the board room to address the board. Their speeches — for or against the committee — were captured by cameras from both local and national media outlets.
Students, more polished and informed since their walkouts, reiterated their opposition to the review committee.
“It may not matter to you if we lose our AP designation, but it does to us,” said Eric Temple, an Evergreen High School student.
Turing to board member Williams, he said, “thank you for the lesson in civil disobedience.”
Others turned in an online petition signed by 40,000 Internet users urging the board to spike the proposal.
Others explained to the board the value of the advanced history class and urged them to kill the proposed committee.
“Learning about America’s past mistakes will not result in students bashing on their county, but rather to take a nuanced view on the world today,” said Jessica Yan, a Standley Lake student. “The students of Jeffco are standing up for themselves, and for their friends, family, teachers and most importantly, their education. So are you with us?”
The majority of adult speakers also opposed the committee.
“In only the last ten days I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from parents who are angry and fearful about this committee,” said Michele Patterson, president of the Jeffco PTA organization. “I guarantee you, these parents, who stand firmly behind our students, are not anyone’s ignorant pawns. If the voices of our teachers, if the cries of our students, mean nothing to you, 13,000 angry parents should get your attention. Or will you find a way to denigrate us as well?”
Another, Mary Parker, said the opposition to the proposed committee crossed generational and politically ideological lines.
“It’s time the board majority disenthrall itself with the idea that it’s only the teachers union that disagrees with its actions,” she said.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia School board member Julie Williams, left, answered questions Thursday night at the Jeffco school board meeting.
Speakers who appeared to support the curriculum review also addressed other hot button education issues, including the Common Core State Standards.
Donna Jack, who spoke in favor of the committee, said the board can’t rely on its districts’ committees alone.
“The board already has plenty of committees and experts at their fingertips,” Jack said. “[But] The point of the committee is to have citizens who are able to do the homework. The board certainly doesn’t have time to do the job.”
Another speaker supportive of the curriculum review committee rattled off a list of other community committees that reports to board. He highlighted one such committee that was established in a few years ago to help cut the budget.
“[But] we have no community advisory input one of the two most important elements to education,” said Ed Sutton. “[A committee] will greatly improve the effectiveness of the board.”
Jefferson County parent Kevin Thistle told the board he supported the board majority and was thankful he didn’t have their job.
Lakewood High School student Anna Tiberi, after the meeting, said she was disappointed in the outcome.
“I am purely confused at how these people on the board can even pretend that they are working toward our best interests,” she said. “I’m glad that i will be gone so that I can fight them without any negative repercussions on me or those I respect.”
A new “Schools of Opportunity” project designed by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder aims to recognize high schools for a broad range of efforts to help students succeed, rather than just test scores.
“This project is about rewarding schools for doing the right things, even if they do not enroll the nation’s top students,” said Kevin Welner, director of the policy center. “It’s also about highlighting the work of schools that are energetically closing the opportunity gap by engaging in research-based practices designed to make sure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed.”
Welner also said that most “best high school ” lists are dominated by schools in affluent areas or that have some form of selective admissions process. “Many excellent schools are overlooked because they are serving a different population,” he said.
The new project is being led by Welner and Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, N.Y, and a former New York State High School Principal of the Year.
“Current programs aimed at identifying the nation’s best high schools include many high-quality schools,” Burris said in a news release announcing the project. “But the approach they use tends to reward schools that are affluent and/or those that enroll a selective group of students. It is time we recognize schools that do outstanding work with a wider range of students.”
Initially, high schools in Colorado and New York are being invited to participate in the project. State efforts will be evaluated by a team of educators and schools will recognized as “gold” or “silver.” The project hopes to expand to schools nationwide in 2015.
Participating schools will be reviewed on such practices as effective student and faculty support systems, community outreach, health and psychological support, judicious and fair discipline policies, little or no tracking, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring. (Learn more about the practices and how to apply on the project’s website.)
“The first step in changing the conversation on school quality requires us to acknowledge that achievement gaps are a predictable and inevitable consequence of opportunity-to-learn gaps, which arise in large part because of factors outside of the control of schools,” Burris said. “However, even as schools are affected by larger societal forces, schools and educators can make decisions that either widen or close opportunity gaps.”
Welner said, “When schools and communities focus resources and efforts on closing the opportunity gaps, they should be recognized, supported and applauded. They should also serve as models for those who wish to engage in true school improvement.”
Burris and Welner elaborated on the project in this column published on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.
In a first in at least a decade, this year Chicago Public Schools will not approve any new charter or contract schools to open in the coming fall.
Not having the process for approval play out over the winter months will certainly be seen as a political decision. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is running for re-election, has come under fire for opening charter schools after closing 50 neighborhood schools last year. CTU President Karen Lewis is considering a run for mayor.
However, CPS officials emphasize that some charter schools will still open next fall. An Intrinsic Charter school and an elementary school operated by a new group called Chicago Educational Partnership already were given conditional approval through the last process to open in Fall of 2015. In addition, as many as five charter schools—the Concept school in Chatham, two UNO schools, one Learn school and an Aspira High School--that were originally slated to open in Fall of 2014 have asked the district if they could delay the opening. It is unclear what their plans are now.
CPS has yet to post a request for proposals (RFP) this year—a document that usually comes out in the summer and outlines what types of schools and locations the district hopes to add to its portfolio. Spokesman Bill McCaffrey says the district plans to post an RFP in December, but that it will only ask for proposals for schools to be opened in the Fall of 2016.
McCaffrey says the delay is to allow potential charter and contract school operators time to go through the entire process, which includes being vetted by CPS and public hearings. “We want to ensure adequate time for the process,” he says.
Wendy Katten, director of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand, welcomed the announcement, but said she would like to know what officials are thinking.
“You never know if they just didn’t want any noise during the election year or if they are thinking about the number of seats and considering whether they need to open up more schools,” she said.
Rebeca Nieves-Huffman, Illinois State Director for Democrats for Education Reform, said that there is an urgent need for “high quality charter schools, particularly in underserved communities.” She welcomed the next review process as an opportunity to “create more charter options that would address overwhelming parent demand."
Also, it does not look like CPS will be doing much in the way of school actions this year. On Wednesday, as it must do by law, CPS posted it guidelines for school actions, which only featured criteria for co-locations and for changing the attendance boundaries of schools.
A controversial proposed curriculum review committee is still in play in Jefferson County, but the version the board will consider tonight has been stripped of many of the elements that ignited a firestorm in the district during the past two weeks.
Gone are references to patriotism and civic disorder. In their stead is much tamer language outlining only the formation and basic objectives of such a committee.
Board member John Newkirk’s proposal reads in part, “The District’s Chief Academic Officer shall serve as advisor to the committee. The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed to be objectionable.”
Under Newkirk’s proposal, each board member would be able to appoint two members to the committee. A majority and minority report would be presented to the board, if so ordered.
The new language is an attempt to move beyond the most contentious portions of the original proposal, which sparked more than a week’s worth of protests, and focus only on the mechanics of the committee.
“I’d like to see a focus — not on the turmoil — but academic achievement of our students,” board chairman Ken Witt said today in an interview that will air Friday night on Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind.
Regardless, tonight’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting is likely to be the most politically charged yet. And that’s saying a lot given this board’s short but controversial tenure.
Students, parents, and teachers are expected to rally at 4:30 p.m. outside the Jeffco Public Schools EdCenter, where the meeting will begin at 5:30. They’ll tell reporters at a press conference why they object to a curriculum review panel that will be discussed later in the evening.
The board will also hear recommendations from Superintendent Dan McMinimee, which brings which brings us to the first of five things Chalkbeat will be paying close attention to during the evening’s events.1. Will McMinimee lead and will the board follow?
Vocal parents and teachers, critical of the county’s board majority, have been equally skeptical of McMinimee, who spent more than a decade as a principal and administrator in nearby Douglas County. Those community members are concerned Jefferson County will adopt similar reforms to the ones Douglas County has undertaken, which many Jeffco parents and teachers find objectionable.
McMinimee told the community he would listen and lead the entire district not be a “yes” man.
His first test came earlier this month when the board discussed its teachers’ compensation plan. He argued that the board should accept an alternate version of the tentative agreement that the union had ratified but the board majority objected to. But the board majority steamrolled him and adopted a new program that deviates significantly from the status quo.
Tonight, McMinimee will outline his own proposal for the curriculum review committee to the board. He’ll suggest the board majority work within already existing policies, but expand those committees to include students and members of the community.
How hard will McMinimee push his proposal? And will the board listen and adopt it?
The answer to those questions could foreshadow the tenor of the rest of McMinimee’s three year contract with the district.2. How will the board define its governance style?
There’s no question that Colorado school boards clearly have the responsibility to approve and review curriculum. But to what degree should the board be involved with “making the sausage?” That’s a question that has long been debated here and across the country.
Most researchers will tell you boards of education should not be worried with the granular details of a school district’s bureaucracy — that’s the superintendent’s job. Given the district already has more than 20 policies to govern curriculum, It would appear the curriculum review committee proposal is a step in the micromanaging direction. But President Witt disagrees the board is governing through management. He believes the board needs as much information possible, and from a variety of sources to make informed decisions. He believes a new committee that reports to the board would be another conduit of information for the board to rely on.
He told Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind that he hopes whatever resolution the board comes to tonight will be as “inclusive as possible.”3. How will the students use their voice?
Last week, students took to the street to make their frustrations with the proposal known. In some instances, not all were as informed as they thought. Dozens of students met with McMinimee in small groups. And in some instances, entire schools met with the superintendent and board members.
Students vowed to bring their grievances to the school board in both letters, petitions, and speeches. How many students will make the effort to speak out and what will their message be?4. Will Julie Williams’ base show up?
Board member Julie Williams, who first introduced the curriculum review panel, won her seat by the widest margin last November, capturing 61 percent of the vote. But her base has hardly had a vocal presence at board meetings. That may change tonight. At least two email threads have circulated across the district and state encouraging her supporters — or, at least those who agree with her opinions regarding the history curriculum — to show up in force.5. Has the latest dustup up attracted new skeptics?
Despite the large audiences the Jeffco board meetings have attracted, it’s often the same faces filling the seats meeting after meeting. But William’s proposal seems to have reverberated through the district in ways previous board debates did not. Was it enough to get new faces to the Ed Center to pay attention to the board or will we hear from and see the same folks we always do?
New blood might mean trouble for the board majority. It could provide an opportunity for their critics to gain momentum and share their concerns with a whole new audience. By contrast, if only the same pockets of vocal skeptics show up, it could indicate their concerns don’t resonate throughout the county.
So far, the reaction to the announcement on Wednesday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials want to convert Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment school has not been entirely positive. Ray Salazar, an English teacher at Hancock and a columnist for ChicagoNow, was quick to post a blog questioning the decision to convert an old school, built in 1936, and into a selective school when more affluent areas of town are getting brand new annexes and buildings. He says that the $10 million investment that CPS plans will not completely fix Hancock’s faulty heat, inefficient air conditioning, outdated auditorium, and a long list of other problems.
“How do political and district leaders expect Southwest Side families and educators to accept this is a reasonable solution when other selective enrollment high schools get $115 million buildings and $17 million expansions?” Of course, he’s referring to the new Jones College Prep in the South Loop and the plans to build an annex to Payton College Prep on the Near North SIde, where the mayor also wants to build a new selective enrollment school.
Salazar is not the only one critical of the move. After using a $5.7 million federal grant to partner with the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago, Hancock is now a good Level 2 neighborhood school, says Sarah Duncan, co-director for the Network. In Catalyst’s story on the announcement, she wonders why CPS would dismantle the high school and the work that has been done there.
Another outstanding question is how neighborhood high schools will absorb the students who do not win one of the spots at Hancock. According to 2013-2014 data, most of the other high schools in the area--two UNO charter schools, Curie, Solorio, Kennedy and Kelly--are at more than 100 percent capacity and edging toward being overcrowded. The closest high school is Gage Park, but it is significantly lower-achieving compared to Hancock.
A public hearing has yet to be held and the board has yet to approve the move, but the district is already allowing students to apply for the school.
Free college ride… CPS students with above a 3.0 GPA will not have to pay to attend Chicago’s city colleges, announced Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Sun-Times reports. Full-time tuition, school fees and books cost about $4,400. The scholarship being offered by the city will fill the gap after federal aid and Emanuel estimates that it will cost about $2 million a year. The Sun Times describes this as another “pre-election bone to black voters who helped put Emanuel in office but abandoned him in droves after he closed 50 public schools, most of them in impoverished neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.”
City Colleges have traditionally attracted the highest percentage of CPS graduates who enroll in college, although one study found that many graduates could get into better schools than the ones they landed in; plus, students are more likely to finish college at four-year institutions. More than 100,000 students took classes at City Colleges of Chicago in 2013, according to the Illinois Community College Board. But only about 10,000 received associates degrees or certificates. The City Colleges has launched a “reinvention” process to try to improve degree-completion and transfer to four year university rates.
A noble move… The Pritzker Foundation announced that it will award scholarships to undocumented immigrants who graduate from one of the Noble Street Charter School campuses. The $3 million that the Pritzkers are making available is intended to fill in the gap for the students who do not qualify for state or federal grants because of their status.
Seven of Noble Streets 13 campuses serve predominantly Latino populations.
It is unclear exactly how many undocumented immigrants graduate from CPS each year. The Urban Institute estimated that in 2010-2011, about 16,000 16-and-17-year-old non-citizens were living in the Chicagoland region. Some are in the United States legally, but those who are not often struggle to stay interested in school knowing that college will be difficult, if not impossible, to pay for.
However, some opportunities have opened up in recent years for undocumented immigrants. The federal Dream Act, initiated President Barack Obama in 2012, allows some to get federally-backed student loans, as well as temporary legal status and some benefits like health care. In 2011, a law created the Illinois Dream Fund, which provides scholarships for undocumented immigrants. On November 1, the fund will begin taking applications for scholarships. Also, Illinois is one of only a dozen states that offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
Backing off layoffs… Though it does not seem like this will solve some of the larger issues, Aramark said it will only lay off 290 custodians, not the 468 they had previously announced, according to WBEZ and the Sun-Times. In March, Aramark took over the management of custodians, promising to bring new technology to campuses and to take the onus off principals to monitor the work (though building engineers supervised custodians). The company promised that they could get building cleaner and save the district nearly $20 million a year.
But principals complained that schools were not being cleaned, and that Aramark was shuffling around custodians, hiring unfamiliar people and laying off workers who have been in schools for years.
Just as these complaints were reaching a fever pitch, CPS confirmed that Aramark was planning to reduce staffing. SEIU-Local 1 President Tom Balanoff tells WBEZ that he thinks Aramark can accomplish their task with the workers they are keeping on and the 2,000 others that are in place. But to make the principals happy, Aramark will also likely need to find some way to give principals control of the custodians. After all, when a classroom is dirty or a school gets bed bugs, it is the principal who hears about it.
Guidelines for equality… Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Wednesday new federal guidelines for reducing racial disparities in education, reports the New York Times. Among the issues the guidelines tackle are access to high-level classes such as calculus and Advanced Placement courses, as well as whether students go to facilities with air conditioning and computers. These guidelines follow discipline recommendations by the Department of Education, stating that schools should only call police as a last resort and work to reduce suspensions and expulsions.
These guidelines and recommendations are being called a “refreshing change” by civil rights advocates.
In CPS, disparities persist, according to the latest collection of data. Though CPS’ student population is about 12 percent white and Asian, they make up nearly 30 percent of students in programs for gifted and talented students. And while access to Algebra 1 in 7th and 8th grade is relatively equal, pass rates of black students pale in comparison to white, Asian and Latino students.
Denver Public Schools has seen more and more students enroll each year. This count day promises to be no different. But that boom isn't hitting all schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Columbine High School, site of the infamous shooting, has its first new principal since the event. But students and staff have embraced the school's new leader. ( Denver Post )
Out and proud
Many LGBT students struggle to simply show up to school but at an LGBT conference for students, the focus was on how they could become leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Jeffco Roundup
Eight local and national organizations sent a letter to the board urging them to back off on the planned review of the AP history curriculum. ( Denver Post )
Business owners say the ongoing protests and high profile conflict is negatively impacting the local economy. ( Denver Business Journal )
The protests, which come just a month before the election, are roiling Colorado's divided politics. ( Coloradoan )
But the conservative backlash against the changes is rooted in misunderstanding, one of the curriculum's designers says. ( CPR )
What would actually change under the new curriculum? Take a look at the new test questions and the old ones, too. ( AP via Gazette )
Still confused as to why, exactly, all the drama broke out? Here's an explainer. ( AP via Gazette )
St. Vrain schools are stepping up their disinfection efforts after more than 20 students fell ill, potentially of enterovirus. Neighboring Boulder schools have had at least two cases. ( Daily Camera )
A Cherry Creek school was placed on "secured perimeter" yesterday due to a police chase of a suspect. ( Denver Post )
Not just a school cop
At a struggling Lakewood middle school, a new principal has taken the reins, with a different kind of background than most. ( Denver Post )
Not a teacher's paradise
A recent survey that ranked Colorado as one of the worst states for teachers came as no surprise to Pueblo union leaders. ( Chieftain )
By the numbers
Westword looks at where Denver's lowest performing schools are. ( Westword )
Gotta move to learn
Schools across the state are hoping to take a theory -- kids learn better when they move -- and put it in to action in their classrooms. ( CBS4 )
In Colorado Springs, students participated in a walk-a-thon to get moving, raise money and draw people's attention to obesity awareness. ( Gazette )
Cents for science
A Colorado Springs-area school district got a Department of Defense grant to build up STEM instruction. ( Gazette )
It's a family business
Meet one Colorado family who lives and breathes education. ( La Voz )
Alone in school
More and more unaccompanied minors are arriving in New Orleans schools. ( nprEd via KUNC )
Natasha Fircher’s Gay-Straight Alliance helped her come out to her parents.
The same student organization at Rangeview High School in Aurora stopped Odessey Granger from hurting herself.
And if it wasn’t for the safe place the GSA provides Torrell Jackson, the leader of the organization, he believes he’d fall into self-destructive patterns, get in trouble, and break the law.
“The GSA teaches you, you can turn to other people,” Jackson told Chalkbeat Colorado last week during One Colorado’s fourth annual GSA Leadership Summit.
The daylong workshop at the Auraria Campus, hosted by the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization, aimed to build relationships among the state’s various gay-straight alliances. More than 150 middle school, high school, and college students gathered to learn, share ideas, and brainstorm how to improve their own school-based organizations.
In particular, this year organizers hope students left with the skills necessary to organize and campaign to run for a student leadership position.
For LGBT students, showing up to school, let alone running for an elected office, can be a difficult task with additional roadblocks. Advocates believe, and students profess, GSAs help students overcome those social and emotional obstacles to perform better in school. Now, One Colorado hopes the organizations can develop good students and active leaders.
“I was very nervous,” said Drew Turley, the Community College of Denver’s student body president, referring to his own campaign during a lunch work session. “I had conversations with members of all the different communities on campus — all I ever got was encouragement.”
Commerece City Democrat State Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, the youngest state senator and one of eight openly LGBT lawmakers in the General Assembly, told participants he and his family still get “funny looks” from constituents.
“We’re different than straight folks,” he said. “That’s OK. You shouldn’t be terrified to ask for support.”
As part of the summit, One Colorado is offering small grants to students who want to run for an elected office.
“We hope the summit allows students to have the platform to develop into the people they want to become and to be able to contribute to their community,” said Lauren Cikara, One Colorado’s safe schools manager.
In her role, Cikara coordinates services for more than 100 GSAs across the state. She also carefully monitors school districts and their anti-bullying policies.Lauren Cikara on why GSAs are important
Colorado’s General Assembly in 2011 passed one of the most progressive anti-school bullying laws in the nation.
The new law, Cikara said, provides teachers and school administrators the ability to stop bullying and hopefully turn the situation into a teachable moment.
Coupled with the state’s existing nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender presentation, Colorado is often considered on the forefront of such policies.
“It all goes hand in hand,” Cikara said.
But as of the end of the 2013-14 school year, only 64 percent of school districts have updated their own guidelines to become compliant with state law.
While rural Colorado schools make up the lion’s share of districts that have not updated their polices, several school districts along the front range still lag behind, Cikara said.
Denver Public Schools, for instance, only updated their policies last school year. Separately, the Denver school system has expanded its GSA network from eight in 2011 to 40 this school year. According to Paula Keenan, who leads the district’s LGBT task force, 22,000 Denver students have access to a GSA.
“For the first time we have momentum in the middle schools,” Keenan said during a discussion of making schools more inclusive.
Students who participated in the same discussion encouraged teachers to make their curriculum and lessons more inclusive.
“Teachers’ lessons are more heteronormative than you think,” a student said. “All queer kids see during school is examples of straight couples. It would be so awesome if some examples on homework included same-sex couples. Teachers just don’t understand how LGBT students feel.”Torrell Jackson on what his GSA is doing this school year
CPS wants to turn Hancock High School in McKinley Park into a selective enrollment and career and technical education (CTE) school, saying that families, elected officials and community leaders in the area want more selective admissions seats.
The decision, which still must go through public hearings, prompted criticism from one of the leaders of a well-regarded University of Chicago initiative that works with neighborhood high schools to improve academics and increase college-going.
“You can understand trying to shake up a school that is not performing, but shaking up something that is working really well, it looks like you’re trying to undo it or reduce its effect,” says Sarah Duncan, co-director of the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. “The conspiracy theorists might say they’re undermining high-achieving neighborhood schools on purpose. It kind of looks like that.”
The Network for College Success has worked with Hancock since 2008. As it does with other schools in the city, the staff helps with Hancock’s organizational development and making improvements that are based on research and data. It also partnered with the school in its $5.7 million, three-year federal School Improvement Grant, which ended this past school year. The SIG program is a reform effort aimed at improving the worst schools in the country, without firing an entire staff, as in a turnaround.
Last year, Hancock was rated a Level 2 school. Its freshman on-track rate, a measure of whether freshmen are earning enough credits to graduate on time, was 91.2 percent, up nearly 10 percentage points from the previous year. Research by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research has shown that the on-track metric is a strong predictor of high school graduation.
“Hancock is a neighborhood school that while serving its neighborhood kids, has solved its dropout problem, its on-track rate is in the 90s, it’s really raising the bar on instruction and getting kids into better colleges,” Duncan says. “Why would we take half of that opportunity for successful neighborhood schools away from that community? Honestly, it is a model of a neighborhood school.”
Money for capital improvements
The new programs at Hancock will also entail $10 million in capital improvements, which CPS says the state will finance.
The district plans to phase in the selective enrollment slots one grade at a time starting next fall, with a freshmen class of 105 students. An equal number of slots will be available for the CTE program, focused on pre-law or engineering, and students from a wider area will get a preference for those seats. Still, students must apply for admission into both citywide programs.
“We are enthusiastic about the potential of a revitalized Hancock High School and look forward to establishing a new high-quality option in the far southwest side of Chicago,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement.
CPS projects the school will serve about 840 students after four years, which is less than its current enrollment level of 920 students. Neighborhood students who don’t make it into either the selective-enrollment or CTE programs would get diverted into one of the area neighborhood high schools, whose attendance boundaries will be redrawn.
The two closest neighborhood high schools are Curie and Hubbard, both of which are also Level 2.
Even though the transformation has not yet been approved, CPS says it will start taking applications for seats in Hancock’s proposed selective enrollment and CTE programs today. The application process for all selective enrollment schools will close on Dec. 12.
Schools around the state are keeping a close eye on attendance today as they prepare to submit the exact number of students they have to the state. For many Denver schools, that number is higher than it was a month ago, when school started.
Oct. 1 is count day, when the number of students in classroom seats on that day determines how much funding schools and districts will receive. In Denver, that count will likely show a continuation of an upward trend that started several years ago, with more and more students enrolled in Denver Public Schools. Last year, that trend resulted in Denver Public Schools beating out Jeffco Public Schools for the title of state’s largest school district.
But it’s already clear that the enrollment increase isn’t uniform across the city. Some schools have seen a steady stream of students arriving, even after school started. For others, the numbers of students district officials projected would enroll failed to materialize.
District estimates suggest that over 2,000 more students have enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in Denver than official state counts last year. Preschool enrollment, a focus for the district, is still too in flux to estimate but last year, it helped boost Denver’s numbers above Jeffco’s.
But one pattern that has also emerged — and promises to create challenges for schools — is a large number of students enrolling after the start of the year. The number of students who enrolled after the first day of school district-wide almost doubled this year, from 750 to 1406.
Large numbers of students arriving after the start of school creates a tangle for teachers and schools, as they try and retrieve records and place students where they’ll learn best. Districts like Denver have tried to streamline their systems to make new student arrivals a faster and less disruptive process, but experts say it’s still a challenge both for students and schools to manage. It can take weeks for a student’s records to arrive and teachers often have to figure out a student’s abilities or academic history with little prior knowledge.
And some Denver school have seen a veritable flood of students. At George Washington High School, 37 new students enrolled between the first day of school and Sept. 11. Also high on the list was Place Bridge Academy, with 32 new students, and Eagleton Elementary, with 28 new students.
Explore our database of how many new students arrived after the start of the year at Denver schools in the past two years.
But some schools are facing a different challenge entirely — not enough students. At Manual High School, where an impending but undefined overhaul has thrown the school’s future into question, enrollment fell substantially below the district’s projections.
Just 279 students have enrolled in the school this year. That’s down over thirty percent from last year and is over 140 students fewer that district officials predicted. That drop led to a loss of roughly $262,000 in funding for the school, even after the district provided additional support to the struggling school. That means school leaders have had to cut four teaching position and a staff position.
Across the district, 31 teachers will lose their positions due to reductions in staff, based on enrollment. The district did not provide additional details on where those cuts took place.
Teachers, have you noticed lots of new faces in your classroom? What are the challenges of getting them incorporated in the flow of the classroom? Any tips for other teachers? Tell us at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChalkbeatCO. We’ll follow up with teachers’ responses and more on the challenges of getting new students up to speed.
Jefferson County's poor and Latino students have more to lose if their school board goes ahead and makes changes to the district's Advanced Placement U.S. history course. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A Jefferson County teacher, in her own words, explains why some of her colleagues have chosen to participate in a sick-out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Meet the Colorado professor who helped redesign the AP U.S. history course. ( CPR )
What's the difference between the old Advanced Placement U.S. history course and the new one? Here's your explainer. ( Hechinger Report )
The dustup in Jefferson County may have an outsized affect on statewide politics this November. ( US News )
One, two, three
Today is Count Day, one of the most important day's in the state's public education system. Schools will report their attendance numbers today to secure funding. ( Gazette )
dollars and sense
Speaking of funding, plaintiffs in Colorado’s latest school finance lawsuit have fired back at the state's Attorney General, arguing that his motion to dismiss their lawsuit is wrong. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent Bob Beauprez squared off on a number of issues at The Denver Post debate — including school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A new report by the Brookings Institute sheds light on a growing opportunity gap. Wealthier families are spending more than ever on their children's educations while their lower-income counterparts are barely treading water. ( AP via Yahoo )
To the core
Eaton Superintendent defended his school district's rollout of the new state standards at a town hall meeting Monday filled with skeptics of the Common Core State Standards. ( Greeley Tribune )
A Fort Collins Elementary school is among the best in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Education. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )
A new study found that kids who spent a week at outdoor camp were able to see emotion in other people's faces. Here's why. ( NPR )
Atlanta testing scandal
When public school employees cheat on standardize tests, students may miss out on services that could help them make actual academic gains. ( The Atlantic )
Gov. John Hickenlooper and his Republican opponent Congressman Bob Beauprez agreed at a debate Tuesday night that Colorado needed to see more money from Washington to fund the state’s public schools.
But Hickenlooper cautioned: Looking to Washington for money is a fool’s errand. Complicated formulas and logistics, not the demands of a governor, dictate how much money states receive see returned from the federal government, the governor said.
Colorado sees about 84 cents of every dollar it sends to Washington return, Beauprez said at The Denver Post debate.
“I want to get the money, Joey, that we sent to Washington in the first place,” Beauprez said, speaking directly to one of the moderators, when the debate turned to funding Colorado’s public schools. “We’re not talking about small change here. If Colorado could just move up to the middle of the pack among the 50 states, instead of being ranked 50th, check the Census data, 50th right now, we’ve fallen from 42 to 50th. We’re talking about tens of millions, hundreds of millions, every single year, that are being left on the table.”
According to polls, Hickenlooper and Beauprez are locked in a statistical tie as Coloradans soon head to the polls.
The governor, who last year supported a constitutional amendment that would have raised $1 billion for K-12 schools, said the voters were clear when they soundly defeated it.
“[T]hey want to see smaller, local based funding for their schools,” Hickenlooper said. “They want to make sure they control what can happen in their schools — how much is going to go to teachers, how much is goes to the building”
The governor praised a school transparency bill that was resurrected out of the Amendment 66 loss.
In his rebuttal, Beauprez pledged to expedite student achievement, especially third grade reading levels.
“We’re going to bring opportunity to every child that has a chance to learn how to read,” Beauprez said.
EDGEWATER — Students at Jefferson High School want their school board to know they’re just like their peers: They want their advanced U.S. history curriculum left alone.
“We want [the school board] to know every Jeffco student feels this way,” said Angelica Dole, a sophomore and the lead organizer of the Jefferson High’s Monday protest.
But for the upperclassmen at Jefferson High School — who are mostly Latino and poor — the debate over the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. history program may have higher stakes than for their more affluent peers around the county.
Nearly 90 percent of the 552 students at Jefferson High qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices, a proxy of poverty. In contrast, only about a third of the entire district are low-income. For students all over the district, success in AP classes means a easier path to college. But for the district’s low-income students, that path is often much more challenging and students at Jefferson High School fear that changes to the AP U.S. history curriculum could throw up one more obstacle.
“The school board is not putting themselves in our shoes,” Dole said. “We’re trying to learn and get smarter. We’re trying to get to college.”
Students who successfully pass an Advanced Placement test, like the one offered with U.S. history, may earn college credit, effectively giving students a head start and saving tuition money.
But now, students fear that opportunity might be in jeopardy after school board member Julie Williams proposed a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. history course. William’s proposal ignited a dozen days of acrimony across the county. Jefferson’s own small but rowdy outcry capped a list of 17 neighborhood high schools that rallied in the streets across the county.
The protests were bookended by teachers missing class en masse due to their own criticism of a new compensation plan at four high schools, including Jefferson High.
Students’ fear that their AP credit might be at stake were stoked Friday when the College Board, the company behind the Advanced Placement courses and SAT, said they would forbid Jeffco Public Schools from offering the U.S. history course under their banner if significant changes were made to the curriculum. While the course is one of the most popular advanced electives in the county, for Jefferson High School students, it’s also the rare opportunity to get ahead.
Board chairman Ken Witt told Chalkbeat Colorado last week he is not in favor of scrapping the AP U.S. history course. But, the leader of the conservative board majority doesn’t appear to be backing down from the idea that a panel of community members should be established to review the course’s materials — and other subjects.
“I do want you to understand that I am not advocating to eliminate AP U.S. history,” Witt said in an email. “I do believe that there is enough concern expressed from many sources to warrant careful review, rather than naive assumption.”
Conservatives, like Williams, believe the AP U.S. history course, which was redesigned last year to put more emphasis on historical themes and critical thinking than fact, is revisionist and portrays the nation’s history in a negative light. The architects of the new framework and teachers disagree.
And students said their opportunities should not be limited because of political infighting.
“It’s not their education they’re taking away,” said Elissa Jaramillo, a junior at Edgewater High. “It’s ours.”
Because most of the students at Jefferson High are Latino, they are already less likely to take an Advanced Placement course and test than their peers. According to state data, Jeffco’s Latino students accounted for only 10 percent of the 1,169 student who enrolled in the AP U.S. history course during the 2012-13 school year. By comparison, 25 percent of the district’s entire student population is Latino.
Further, it appears Latino students either have fewer options for AP classes or, at the least, not taking advantage of some course offerings. Only four AP courses during the 2012-13 school year had more than 100 Latino students enrolled: English, literature, U.S. history, and world history. In classes like AP physics, government and politics, and micro-economics, fewer than a dozen Latino students were enrolled.
In total, Latino students enrolled 1,163 times in AP courses across Jefferson County during the 2012-13 school year. (The state’s data does not indicate whether students were enrolled in more than one AP class at a time.) That’s slightly more than the 1,049 white Jeffco students who were enrolled in AP English and Composition alone.
“Studies have shown that students who take AP courses are less likely to need remediation and more likely to graduate from college,” said Lesley Dahlkemper, vice president of communications for the Colorado Education Initiative. “Unfortunately, many students either are not offered this opportunity or do not take advantage of it. If we hope to close the achievement gap, expanding access to and success in AP must be part of the solution.”
Dahlkemper is also a member of the Jeffco school board. She and fellow board member Jill Fellman, who together generally make up a dissenting minority, raised concerns about Williams’ proposal at a Sept. 18 meeting.
There are some signs that more Latino students are participating in Advanced Placement classes. According to Jeffco officials, the number of students at Jefferson High enrolled in AP English language and AP English literature doubled during the last year. The increase is due in part to a $10,000 grant from the Colorado Education Initiative that goes toward fees, classroom equipment and supplies, and study sessions for AP math, science and English courses.
According to the nonprofit, Colorado schools that received similar grants have seen a 106 percent increase in the number of passing scores by African American and Latino students on AP math, science, and English exams.
The out-of-pocket cost for just one AP course can be more than $100, which could be a determinant to some students.
“It’s a paradigm shift for our kids to be more successful because it’s opening doors and removing obstacles that would have stopped them in the past,” said Molly Harrington, a former Jefferson High counselor, after the grant was announced.
Jefferson is also offering more AP courses this year, students said as they marched toward Wadsworth on Friday.
“We have to work harder,” said Hannah Pape, a junior.
The Jefferson County Board of Education is expected to pick up the curriculum review discussion Thursday. And students from Jefferson High have a message they hope the board hears.
“We’re not one of the richer schools,” Jaramillo said. “We get looked down upon. But we want to learn and get out of here. I want to be somebody in life.”
Plaintiffs in Colorado’s latest school finance lawsuit have fired back at Attorney General John Suthers, arguing that his motion to dismiss their lawsuit is wrong and that the state’s “efforts to avoid judicial inquiry into their devastating interpretation of Amendment 23 should be rejected.”
A group of parents, school districts and advocacy groups filed suit in late June, arguing that the “negative factor” used by the legislature to set the amount of annual K-12 funding is a violation of Amendment 23, the constitutional provision that requires annual increases in school funding. (See story on lawsuit.)
In a brief filed in August, Attorney General John Suthers asked that the suit be dismissed, arguing that A23 clearly applies only to “base” K-12 funding, not to the additional funds districts receive to compensate for their size, number of at-risk students and other factors.
The funding shortfall created by the negative factor, used since 2010, is just under $1 billion. Suthers also argued that the plaintiffs don’t have proper legal standing to file the suit. (See story on the state’s motion.)
The plaintiffs’ answer, filed Monday in Denver District Court, argues that use of the negative factor “cuts statewide base per pupil funding” by any definition of that term and that “Defendants’ interpretation of Amendment 23 contradicts both the text of the amendment and the overwhelming evidence of voter intent. Plaintiffs have alleged and will show that Amendment 23’s requirement of annual increases in ‘statewide base per pupil funding’ was intended to prevent the legislature from doing exactly what it has done via the negative factor: slashing per pupil funding across the state.”
The state’s motion to dismiss and the plaintiffs’ answer are standard opening gambits in lawsuits of this kind. Even if a district judge grants the state’s motion, that won’t be the end of the suit as the plaintiffs would appeal that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
The suit, Dwyer v. State, asks that the negative factor section be stricken from the state’s school funding law and that the legislature be barred from reinstating the factor in another form. The suit does not ask that lost funding be restored.
After so many teachers called in sick or took a personal day that classes at four Jefferson County high schools had to be canceled, observers are split on whether those teachers are heroes or harming children.
Some parents have told Chalkbeat they support the teachers, even if it means their students have to stay home for a day.
Critics, including The Denver Post’s editorial board, say the teachers’ “antics” are “indefensible both ethically and professionally.”
Many of those critics point out the district’s new teacher compensation package — which links compensation to raises and bonuses to evaluations and has been the focal point of the teacher sick-outs —provides most teachers with raises.
But Tammie Peters, a Golden High School teacher, says it’s about more than money. In a statement she emailed to Chalkbeat, Peters — who did not actively participate in the sick-out due to a prior commitment — explains why 81 percent of teachers at her school might have chosen to participate:
I stand with my fellow teachers who are “sick” of the board majority’s actions.
While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want.
The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters, the taxpayers, the teachers, the parents and the students of Jefferson County.
Some of you may have heard that teachers received a pay raise, so you might wonder why we are so upset.
It’s not about the money — it’s about the disrespect.
The board majority has refused to work with teachers to develop a fair and equitable pay system.
The board majority blames teachers for the student unrest, as though teenagers can be intellectually herded like sheep, and they have shown great disrespect for the voices of our advanced placement students who are concerned about their educations.
The board majority has continually wasted money of the taxpayers and rejected the input of Jeffco citizens in the budgeting process.
The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters of Jeffco who approved a recent mill levy override under certain conditions — the board majority has decided not to honor the promises made.
It’s not about the money.
Many of those Golden teachers today are taking a day without pay to make a point. It’s not about money — teachers willingly took pay decreases and pay freezes for the past five years to help Jeffco weather the rough economy.
Our frustration is with the way the Board has implemented policies without any sort of collaboration, all the while treating teachers and their professional association as some sort of enemy.