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Indian mascots bill passes first committee after emotional testimony

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 22:40

“We are not some people you can just make fun of,” Lakewood student Jerico Lefthandbull told the House Education Committee Monday afternoon, testifying in favor of a bill that would require schools to get state permission to use American Indian names or images as school mascots.

Many other witnesses made the same point – that American Indian mascots are damaging for Native American students — during a hearing that lasted more than three hours. But Lefhandbull, wearing his dance regalia from last weekend’s Denver March Powwow was the most succinct.

The committee passed House Bill 15-1165 on a 6-5 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans voting no.

The bill would create a subcommittee of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs that would have the power to rule on schools’ and colleges’ Indian names and mascots, including existing ones. If the subcommittee rejected a name, a school would have two years to find a new mascot or face fines of $25,000 a month.

According to bill cosponsor Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, some 38 Colorado schools have Indian names or mascots. A few, like Arapahoe High School in Centennial, have agreements with tribes that sanction use of the name. Other school names have generated controversy, like La Veta’s “Redskins.”

Jerico Lefthandbull

Monday’s hearing had a more youthful air than most legislature hearings. Large numbers of students were in the audience, and three panels of students from Denver’s East High School and a group called Mile High Unity testified in favor of the bill.

Much of the testimony focused the negative impact of mascots on American Indian students and their self-image.

“These mascots do not honor us but instead bring to mind negative thoughts,” said Elicia Goodsoldier of Firestone, who has studied the issue.

Melton picked up on the same theme, saying, “No one can tell me they’re honoring anybody when they say ‘redskin’ or ‘savage.’”

School board members from the Strasburg and Cheyenne Mountain districts opposed the bill, saying mascot decisions should be made at the local level and that changing names would be costly for hard-pressed school districts. Both districts use the nickname “Indian.”

Prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Melton got themselves temporarily crosswise with fellow Democrats with a slideshow they used to present the bill. The slides included caricatures of black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish “mascots” labeled with offensive names.

That deeply offended Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who said, “I have a hard time seeing the N-word up there.”

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, asked Salazar and Melton to stop showing the slides. Melton, Fields and Buckner are black.

The bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where its $200,000 price tag might be an issue, given that the 2015 session has little money to spend on new programs. The funding would be used for grants to school districts to help pay the costs of converting to a new mascot – things like repainting gym floors.

If the bill passes the House it may not get far in the Senate, where majority Republicans generally don’t like what they see as “politically correct” measures like HB 15-1165.

Get a more detailed summary of the bill here.

Committee kills educational savings accounts bill

After more than an hour of questions and testimony, the House Education committee voted 6-5 to kill House Bill 15-1196, a proposal that would have created state-funded savings accounts that parents could have used to pay for education at any school – kind of an electronic voucher system.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Lundeen, former chair of the State Board of Education and a tireless advocate for what he sees as educational innovation.

The Monument Republican said, “We need to move beyond a system of calendars and clocks set to the annual calendar of an agrarian society.” His proposed C-FLEX program “is not a voucher, it’s an educational savings account.”

The bill proposed to establish personal education savings accounts funded by the state and maintained by a third-party administrator that parents could use to buy educational services wherever they chose.

The program would have given preference to special-needs and gifted students but also would have been open to the first 5,000 other families that applied.

Witnesses representing the Colorado Association of Schools Board, Colorado Association of School Executives, and Colorado Education Association opposed the bill, saying it would syphon badly needed funding from public schools.

Jon Paul Burden, director of exceptional student services for the Windsor school district, said the program’s funding structure wouldn’t be sufficient to pay costs for special education students.

And Cindra Barnard, with the Douglas County group Taxpayers for Public Education, called the bill “just another privatization scheme.”

Democrats killed the bill on a party-line vote. The panel’s senior Republican, Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, said he voted for the bill to keep the discussion going, but he noted, “I’m not a big fan of a voucher system, coming from a small district.”

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What’s more important when rating schools?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 16:37

Denver Public Schools is evaluating its schools a little differently next year, due in part to a change in assessments.

Moving forward, the district is also changing its rating formula and there is a shift in what matters and how much.

Previously, Denver put a greater emphasis on a data point called growth. Growth measures how much a student learns year over year compared to their academic peers. That’s compared to status, which measures how close a student is to his or her grade level.

While DPS will still measure a school more by how much its students are learning, a greater portion of the rating system will depend on how many students are at grade level.

There are more detail’s in this story. But all of this brings us to our question of week:


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Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Here’s how Denver schools are going to be evaluated this year

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 14:46

There will be no such thing as a “blue” or “green” school in Denver next year.

That’s because Denver Public Schools plans to temporarily change the way it evaluates its schools due to changes in the state’s assessment system. But district officials say the changes don’t mean schools are getting a reprieve.  

DPS’s School Performance Framework, or SPF, guides some of the district’s most significant decisions about charter school contracts and interventions in district-run schools, the allocation of financial and staff resources, and more. It also influences employees’ compensation, management, and state accreditation ratings. And it’s one tool parents and teachers can use to compare schools.

Schools are rated, from highest to lowest, blue (for distinguished), green, yellow, orange, and red (accredited on probation).

But in 2015, schools will, for the first time since the framework was created, not receive a single overall rating. Instead, schools will receive ratings in each of several categories.

The district is also temporarily removing several measures — such as how many students move between achievement levels on the tests — that will be impossible to determine accurately because of differences between last year’s standardized tests and this year’s.

Close to 60 percent of the framework is tied to test scores and is therefore affected by the state’s transition from the former TCAP tests to the new CMAS, which includes the PARCC English and math exams.

But Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said “We will still be using the SPF to make decisions,” she said, about school closures, turnarounds, and charter school contracts next year.

The district is also planning to make a more permanent set of changes to the SPF, which would kick in for the 2016-17 school year, to reflect ongoing concerns about how accurately the SPF reflects schools’ quality. Starting in 2016, DPS is planning to increase the weight of overall student performance on state tests and reduce the weight of how much academic progress students make on those exams year-over-year.

Changes for 2015

In 2015, schools will get scores in each of the SPF’s categories instead of an overall ranking.

The district’s executive director of assessment, research and evaluation, Grant Guyer, said that the district is not releasing an overall score because of the transition between assessments and the uncertainty about how to measure how much a student learns in a year will be calculated given that change.

This is what the old School Performance Framework looks like.

The district relies on the state to provide test scores, and it is not yet clear when the Colorado Department of Education will release data from this year’s assessments or how the state will calculate student growth.

The 2015 SPF also won’t include the “Catch-Up” figure, which tracks how many students improve their test scores, or a “Keep-Up” figure, which tracks how many students maintain proficient or advanced scores on the tests, because of difficulties comparing results on last year’s test to this year’s.

This is what next year’s SPF will look like.

Guyer said that despite the temporary changes and omissions, the district will still be able to make comparisons between schools. They’ll do that by seeing where schools stand relative to others that were similar to them in years past.

“If we see significant shifts in how schools compare, that would be one example where we’d still potentially intervene,” he said. “We also get plenty of data around attendance, enrollment, student and parent satisfaction.”

Other tweaks for 2015 include the addition of college remediation rates. The district is doing this to align its evaluation tool to its strategic goals and not as a result of shifting assessments. (Check out the proposed changes here.) 

The district plans to reintroduce an overall rating and the omitted numbers in 2016.

More permanent changes

DPS is also planning to make a slate of more permanent changes to the SPF starting in 2016, including re-establishing an overall ratings for schools.

Talk to us
We want to know what measurement is more important in determining the quality of a school. Answer our question of the week here.

The 2016 SPF will introduce conditions that schools must meet in order to earn one of the top two ratings, green or blue. For instance, a school might have to show that its students’ test scores are improving (“growth”) and also that they are, overall, strong (“status”) to earn one of the top two scores.  

“We want to be signaling to our staff and our community that a green or blue school is a high-quality school,” Guyer said. In the past, some schools with low overall test scores have been ranked green because of their growth.

District officials and education advocates in the city have been debating the SPF for more than a year. There is still not a clear consensus about the respective roles of academic proficiency and academic growth in determining a school’s quality.

“We want ensure we are not creating a system in which socioeconomic or racial factors are a predictor of SPF rating, while also ensuring that we’re not creating a false sense of promise that growth is enough if you never get to proficiency,” Whitehead-Bust said.

The 2016 School Performance Framework will give straight academic proficiency, or status, a stronger weight:

  • Elementary schools will shift from a ratio of 3 to 1, growth to status, to 3 to 2, growth to status.
  • Middle schools will most likely shift from 3 to 1 to 2 to 1 in 2016.
  • High schools will most likely remain at 2 to 1.

A survey of principals showed that they were mostly in favor of the change, Whitehead-Bust said.

A school touts its score in Denver Public Schools’ School Performance Framework.

The district is also considering adding an equity indicator as a way to identify achievement gaps within schools, but few details are public.

District officials said they plann to communicate the final changes to the SPF before the beginning of the 2015-16 school year so schools have time to understand and prepare for the changes.

At a meeting in February, board President Happy Haynes asked whether the district is attempting to use the SPF for too many decisions.

Boasberg said that while the multiple purposes are a “hard aspect” of the SPF, “I’m not sure I want to run from that. The alternative of having multiple different and conflicting systems I think would be even worse. I think it would cause more confusion and less transparency.”

Categories: Urban School News

Childhood poverty finally on the decline, according to KIDS COUNT report

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 13:15

The state’s child poverty rate declined for the first time in five years, falling from 18 percent to 17 percent, according to the latest KIDS COUNT report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The drop likely won’t have a big impact on schools and doesn’t bring Colorado to pre-recession child poverty levels, but represents a bright spot after years of depressing news.

“That was certainly an encouraging number for me,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The annual report, which this year is 172 pages and includes 11 new data topics, tracks the state’s progress on child health, education, and well-being. It’s part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national KIDS COUNT project.

New data

Among the report’s new topics this year are “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” which include poverty, domestic violence, or the death of a parent. A growing body of research indicates that such experiences are risk factors for health problems, difficulties in school, poor quality of life and premature death.

The topic has garnered increasing attention in recent years and is driving national conversations about how to mitigate the alarming long-term effects of childhood trauma.

New in Kids Count this year

The data below are among 11 new additions to the 2015 report:

  • Non-medical use of painkillers among teens (Page 50)
  • Mental health and mental health disparities by race/ethnicity and gender (Pages 52-53)
  • Adverse childhood experiences (Page 56)
  • Child care capacity by county (Page 63)
  • Homeless students by school district type (Page 74)
  • Suspensions and expulsions by race/ethnicity and district type (Pages 83-84)

According to KIDS COUNT, 20 percent of Colorado children under 18 have had two or more adverse childhood experiences. That figure grows to 31 percent for children living in poverty and drops to 9 percent for children from affluent families.

Top counties retain their rankings

As usual, KIDS COUNT illustrates vast differences in child well-being from county to county. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in the report’s annual ranking of child well-being in the state’s 25 most populous counties.

The top six counties — Douglas, Elbert, Broomfield, Boulder, Larimer and Jefferson counties — were exactly the same as last year. In some cases, they are close neighbors to low-ranking counties like Denver and Adams. The ranking is based on a variety of health, education, family, and economic indicators.

Overall child well-being rankings of Colorado’s 25 most populous counties.

Denver, which has always been in the bottom spot before this year, moved up to 24th by switching places with Montezuma County. Five other counties, including Summit, El Paso, Eagle, Garfield and Adams, improved their ranking by at least two spots.

Meanwhile, Teller, La Plata and Fremont all fell in the ranking by at least two spots. Mesa County experienced the biggest drop, falling five spots to 17th. (Logan County also fell two spots, but the report’s authors say the ranking should be considered cautiously because of a data anomaly.)

Education highlights

Other key findings related to education:

  • In 2012, Colorado spent an average of $2,715 less per pupil than the national average, a gap that’s grown every year since 2008.
  • Last year, 75,687 or 9 percent of Colorado’s public school students attended a school in the lowest two state accountability categories — Priority Improvement or Turnaround.
  • This year, 74 percent of the state’s kindergarteners attend full-day programs, up from 40 percent in 2007-08.
  • Wide achievement gaps (28-29 percentage points) continue to exist between Colorado’s low-income and higher-income students in math and reading proficiency. The 2014 reading gap narrowed by three percentage point since 2004 and the math gap widened by a percentage point during that time.
  • While boys have historically performed better than girls in math, that gap was virtually gone in 2014. Meanwhile, boys lag significantly behind girls in reading proficiency (10 percentage points lower) and writing (15 percentage points lower).
  • Last year, black students were more likely to be suspended or expelled than any other racial or ethnic group, experiencing nearly three times the suspensions and expulsions that white students did.


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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Reforms at North High sticking, working

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 09:28

Do the School shuffle

The Jefferson County school board approved moving a school that serves students with severe emotional needs to a larger and newer campus. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

moving on up

Reform efforts at North High appear to be taking hold and working. ( Denver Post )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers told us last week that they the think parents should have to opt out their children of a health survey, not give explicit permission. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

A pair of well-known Colorado superintendents are headed to new jobs in other districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Schools across the country are struggling to find substitute teachers. ( AP via KOAA )

safe schools

An Aurora lawmaker says her bill is aimed to prevent students from being arrested or charged with assault for misbehavior that can be handled by a school administrator. ( Aurora Sentinel )

technology in schools

A program in Broomfield connects students interested in performing real-world programs in collaboration with local business and organizations. Saturday, some students programmed two humanoid-like robots called Nao to perform at Flatiron Crossing mall. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, a group of Colorado students from Niwot, Silver Creek, Longmont, Frederick and Lyons high schools have advanced to compete in a national robotics competition in April. ( Longmont Times-Call )


Boulder's Friends' School submitted a video about volunteering to the White House. And President Obama watched it Friday. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: The real story behind the Common Core standards isn’t its upcoming collapse

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 18:38
  • As 29 states and Washington, D.C., start to administer new Common Core-aligned tests, the big story portrayed by the media seems to be the growing grassroots movement against the tests and imminent collapse of the standards. But reality isn’t as cut and dry. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • One middle school teacher asked her students what they expect from their teachers. The response: Students want to be treated with the expectation that they will succeed, not fail. (Center for Teaching Quality)
  • After a New York City elementary school abolished traditional homework for its students last week, the debate over giving take-home assignments to younger children was pushed back into the spotlight. (New York Magazine)
  • Education doesn’t have to be an environment that hinders curiosity among children. Rather than testing and discipline, adults can spark creativity by influencing students to question and explore. (Salon)
  • A small network of nine hedge fund billionaires are on the cusp of remaking New York public schools. (The Nation)
  • After Chicago schools moved away from punishing student misconduct with strict disciplinary action, suspensions in middle schools and high schools dropped across the board — except for the city’s black students. (DNAinfo)
  • A day in the life of an eighth-grade student attending one of New Jersey’s best-performing charter schools. (Politico Magazine)
Categories: Urban School News

Two superintendents moving up

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 17:44

A pair of well-known Colorado superintendents are headed to new jobs in other districts.

The Littleton school board this week named Brian Ewert as the final candidate to be the district’s new superintendent. Ewert has been superintendent in the neighboring Englewood district.

Center district Superintendent George Welsh has been offered the superintendent’s job in the Cañon City schools.

Ewert came to Englewood in 2010 following a time when the district had gone through eight superintendents in 10 years. He launched a common instructional model, lengthened the school day and expanded student access to technology, among other initiatives. The 2,866-student Englewood district is rated at the improvement level in the state rating system, having moved up from turnaround status in 2010. Ewert is the current state superintendent of the year.

Littleton, with 15,691 students, is one of the state’s highest-performing districts, having been classified at the distinction level for the last five years. Once a contract if finalized, Ewert will succeed Superintendent Scott Murphy, a long-time Colorado school administrator who announced his retirement earlier.

For the last year Littleton has been at odds with the parents of Claire Davis, a student who was killed in a shooting at Arapahoe High School in December 2013. The family feels the district has not been forthcoming in in providing information about the incident.

The state superintendent of the year in 2014, Welsh is a former president of the Colorado Association of School Exeutives and was active on the plaintiffs’ side in the Lobato v. State school funding case.

Welsh is moving from the 649-student Center district to a system of 3,603 students in Cañon City. Center is at the accredited level in the state rating system, having moved up from priority improvement in 2010. Center’s improvement efforts were detailed in this 2012 Chalkbeat story. Cañon City is accredited with improvement.

District voters this week recalled two Center school board members who were critics of Welsh and retained a third member allied with the superintendent.

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Keep student health survey as is

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 16:35

On Monday we asked our readers: Do you think Colorado parents should have to give advance written permission for their children to participate in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey?

The results are in, and Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly said no.

In our — very — unscientific poll, nearly 63 percent of readers said the current system is fine and that parents should have to opt out of the survey.

Bob Eber left this comment on our website: “There is no personal information such as name, etc. on it. It is totally anonymous. I see nothing wrong if the kids want to do it. I just wish they would be honest in their answers, because I don’t think they are most of the time.”

Meanwhile, 37 percent said parents should have to give explicit permission.

“Parents should always need to give their permission where a minor is concerned,” wrote Lisa Sanborn. “If this survey has changed then all the more reason not to keep us out of the loop. Information gathering is becoming too invasive and more excessive every year.”

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

A new home for school that serves Jeffco students with severe emotional needs

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 12:51

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Lurleen McCormick’s science classroom at the Sobesky Academy doesn’t have a fully functioning sink.

McCormick and her students have devised a makeshift solution that involves a sink with buckets and a hose they’ve rigged to the faucet. They lug buckets of water back and forth between the classroom and the janitor’s closet.

“We’re limited in how many experiments we can do in this classroom,” McCormick said. Sobesky Academy’s current building was constructed in the 1940s.

But by the end of the calendar year, McCormick and the rest of the Sobesky Academy, which serves students who live with severe emotional needs, will be moving across the county to a new more-up-to-date campus that currently houses Stevens Elementary School.

The move was confirmed by the Jefferson County school board, which unanimously approved a shuffle of schools and programs on Thursday. The vote means the district will move ahead with a bundle of changes in the hopes of boosting student achievement, especially at schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students. 

But McCormick almost didn’t get her new science classroom.

At a board meeting earlier this year, board member John Newkirk proposed a different set of changes for schools in Wheat Ridge and Golden that would have left Sobesky in its current building.

The proposed changes involved the high-performing Manning School, where every student who attends has to choose to go there, Maple Grove Elementary and Everitt Middle schools.

The proposal to move those schools was first suggested by a few members of an organization called the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance, which advocates for schools in Wheat Ridge.

Jeffco Public Schools officials vetted that proposal while developing a plan for the Jefferson neighborhood that included dissolving the Wheat Ridge 5-8 school. They determined the alliance’s plan was not feasible and told board members that.

Newkirk and board President Ken Witt still asked for community feedback.

And they got it: Parents, teachers, and students packed three community meetings earlier this week and said they weren’t interested in a move.

Newkirk told an audience at Manning on Wednesday evening that’d he’d withdraw his motion.

On Thursday night, he did. He maintained that he only put forth the motion in order to get feedback on the alliance’s proposal. He asked the parents and teachers of Manning, Maple Grove, and Everitt to move forward “with malice toward none.”

The surprise motion by Newkirk nevertheless brought to a boil what had been a simmering tension between the board’s conservative majority and a vocal group of parents and teachers. They saw the surprise proposal as another example of the school board not listening to the public and district employees.

“It’s a sinking ship,” said Jill McGranahan, referring to the divided school board. McGranahan is an Everitt Middle School parent. “And we’re being pulled down with you.”

Ultimately, with the alternative proposal off the table, Sobesky Academy will move to the current Stevens Elementary campus and  Stevens will move to the empty Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus.

That means not just a new science room for McCormick, but a library, more quiet space for students to move to when class becomes too much for them to handle, and a playground that has more than just a small basketball court and four swings on a patch of grass.

“It will be a boost for our students. It will make them feel appreciated. It will show them that they matter,” McCormick said.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado Springs district had hack attack during testing

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:43

Aurora Central pride

Students at Aurora Central High think state officials may have it wrong about the quality of their school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News, Denver Post )

Opening bid

The first draft of a 2016-17 school funding bill has some interesting proposals and a long way to go. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Test hack?

Colorado Springs District 11 reported that a barrage of outside traffic trying to access the district's network forced postponement of testing one day earlier this month. ( Gazette )

No tests for us

Nearly a quarter of the students in the 120-student Peetz school district have opted out of PARCC tests. ( Sterling Journal-Advocate )

Sober prom

Dolores High School students will have to pass Breathalyzer tests to attend prom next month. ( Dolores Star )

Take it to court

The teachers union has sued the Greeley school district, claiming administrators wrongly shifted some employees to a different pay scale. ( Greeley Tribune )


Four educators have made the cut to be considered for superintendent of the Telluride schools. ( Vail Daily )

Calendar shift

The Cherry Creek schools will shift to a school year that starts earlier, partly in response to parent and student requests. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Unique STEM lesson

Ping pong polls provided an illuminating science lesson for students at a Colorado Springs middle school. ( Gazette )

Editorial view

Criticisms of the Pearson testing company for trying to prevent cheating are overblown. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

First draft of 2015-16 school funding bill starts circulating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 20:51

A draft proposal of a school funding bill floated this week would provide a modest boost to base district revenues and also suggests increased funding for at-risk students and some charter schools.

But the bill likely won’t satisfy district leaders, leading to plenty of dickering and debate before a final plan emerges.

Like most big education and budget issues, the school funding bill is running late. In contrast, the 2014-15 K-12 budget bill was introduced Feb. 28, 2014.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, will be the Senate sponsor for the school finance bill. Here are the highlights of the draft he circulated this week, based on the document and an explanation by Hill.

  • District funding would be increased by $100 million, but that would be one-time money and not built into permanent base funding for schools.
  • The “negative factor,” the state’s school funding shortfall, would remain at about $880 million.
  • An additional $38 million would be provided to districts, allocated according to the numbers of at-risk students they have.
  • $12 million in additional funding would go schools supervised by the state Charter School Institute.
  • Starting in 2016-17, an additional amount of state income tax revenue would be funneled to the State Education Fund, on top of a diversion already required by the constitution.
  • A current distribution of $20 million to all charter schools for facilities costs would be increased by $540,000 and would automatically escalate in future years.
  • A much-disliked financial transparency mandate on school districts would be eased and districts required only to supply data to the Department of Education for inclusion on a state website. (Get background here on this contentious issue.)

Colorado’s complicated school funding system requires two bills to pay for schools every year. Base school funding, including constitutionally required inflation and enrollment increases, is contained in the annual state budget bill. (By the way, the Joint Budget Committee is struggling to make its Monday deadline to introduce that bill in the Senate.) The second measure, which which Owen is sponsoring, is called the school finance act is needed for additional school spending.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $200 million one-time boost in school funding next year, on top of what’s required to cover enrollment growth and inflation. The state’s school superintendents want $70 million in addition to that amount, $50 million for at-risk students and $20 million for small rural districts.

State and local operating funding for schools in the current 2014-15 school year is about $5.9 billion.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora Central High students: we’re not a failing school

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 17:55

AURORA — While dozens of parents and school officials gathered in the media center down the hall to discuss the future of the academically struggling school, a handful of junior-class girls at Aurora Central High used their lunch to promote the upcoming prom.

They were putting the finishing touches on the school’s main spirit window, which tells students what time of year it is. St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun were out, prom was in.

This year’s theme: the roaring ’20s.

As they admired their window work, three students took time to share their thoughts on the school’s designation as a failing school. They explain why they think state officials may have it wrong about Aurora Central.

Numbers tell a grim story at Aurora Central. According to state exams, only three out of 10 ninth grade students can read at grade level. And only 13 percent of ninth graders there are proficient or advanced in math. The school’s on time graduation rate is 46 percent.

But the school is getting better, they said. They have options like attending Pickens Technical College, a trade program, or classes at the Community College of Aurora. Everyone is really nice at Central. It’s like a very large and diverse family. The state should visit the school and look beyond the test scores that determine its failing status, they said.

Listen to the student’s in their own words below:

Beatriz Avelar

Bry’Ona Johns

Angelica Ramirez

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong spelling of Pickens Technical College. We regret the error.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pearson monitors social media for PARCC cheating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 08:51

Innovate Aurora

Superintendent Rico Munn wants to free several of the city’s academically struggling schools from district and state red tape as well as the district’s collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union in an effort to improve student achievement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

opt-out, shmopt-out

One of the nation’s most prominent opt-out leaders said she opposes a bill introduced in the Colorado General Assembly this week that would legitimize her movement because she fears it could foil her larger goal: to end what she calls the “privatization of public education.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

tweeting is cheating?

Although officials say social media monitoring by Pearson Education is contractually required and needed to ensure fair play, the practice has only deepened suspicions among parents and activists concerned about how companies handle student data. ( Denver Post )

shot full of holes

Many schools don't document either a child's immunization or the exemption. Nor do they bar anyone from school. As a result, officials don't know if Colorado has the worst vaccination rates in the country or just the worst records. ( Denver Post )

Opt me out

Significant numbers of Colorado Springs-area charter school parents are opting their kids out of PARCC tests. ( Fox21 )

Funding flaw

California's new school funding formula provides less money to educate low-income kids in wealthier schools than in poorer schools, a new study shows. ( EdSource )


When parents around Denver were finding out what schools their children got into for next year, Fran Sterling was finding out that her daughter's school choice application was never processed. ( 9News )

The return of tiny tim

A trip to Hawaii five years ago inspired a Jeffco Montessori teacher to start a ukulele band for fourth-, fifth, and sixth-graders. ( Denver Post YourHub )

Two cents

Four former teachers of the year discuss how and why to reduce Colorado's reliance on high-stakes tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora chief pitches broad reform plan to save Central high from state sanctions

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 16:38

AURORA — Superintendent Rico Munn wants to free several of the city’s academically struggling schools from district and state red tape as well as the district’s collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union in an effort to improve student achievement, he told the school board last night.

The proposal to create three “innovation zones” comes as the district is beginning preliminary conversations with the Colorado Department of Education about the future of the struggling Aurora Central High School.

Based mostly on test scores and graduation rates, Aurora Central has been rated by the state as a chronically underperforming school for five years. If there isn’t drastic improvement by the end of the school year, Aurora Central will likely face state sanctions.

That is unless the Aurora school board and district act first, Munn said.

“I want you to be able to exert as much influence as possible,” he said.

Innovation zones are clusters of school that are given innovation status under a 2008 state law. Similar to charter schools, those schools are granted waivers from school district and state policies and regulations and usually any collective bargaining agreement the district has with its teacher and classified unions. Waivers usually lead to different school programs, calendars, and one-year contracts with teachers.

School leaders at innovation schools also usually have greater flexibility with their budget and professional development for staff. But unlike a charter school, which answers to an independent board, an innovation school remains under the control of the school district and its board.

Architects of the innovation law believe greater flexibility at the school level will allow educators to respond more quickly to the changing needs of students.

Community meetings planned
APS officials will meet with parents at three times to discuss the future of Aurora Central High School: 10 a.m., Thursday, March 19; 6 p.m., Thursday, April 2; 10 a.m., Saturday, April 4. All meetings will be held at the Aurora Central media center.

A majority of the teaching staff, parent advisory committee, and school board would have to sign off on an application in order for a school to receive innovation status. The State Board of Education must also OK the proposal.

The first innovation zone would include Aurora Central and some mix of Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, Boston K-8, Crawford and Sable elementary schools. Like Aurora Central, those schools serve mostly poor students, a large population of refugees, and English language learners.

If approved by the board, Aurora Public Schools would spend the next year developing a plan for how they want to change the schools for the 2016-17 school year. APS would then repeat the process in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school year.

Munn told the school board creating innovation zones would allow the district and its community to pursue a number different models and policies to improve its schools for students. But if the board fails to act now, the state could dictate a more limited solution like closing the school or turning it over to a private management company.

The proposal could be considered Munn’s boldest move yet since he was named superintendent in 2013 and it was met with skepticism and tepid support from the board.

“This scares me the least,” board member Mary Lewis said at the end of the conversation.

Other board members were equally lukewarm to the proposal. Several asked for more details and evidence that innovation status would lead to better schools.

“It’s important to me that [innovation status] looks different,” Lewis said. “If its just the same thing with a different acronym that would concern me.”

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn

APS already has a mechanism to allow schools more autonomy. Schools granted flexibility are called pilot schools.

A committee of teachers at Aurora Central did put together a proposal for pilot status last fall. But that proposal has been tabled in part because Aurora Central has 2,200 students. According to the district’s contract with its teachers union, which created the pilot school status, pilot schools can’t have more than 600 students.

Munn said it is important for the school district to seek innovation status for two reasons. First, the state recognizes the status as a possible solution for schools like Aurora Central that run out the state’s accountability timeline. Second, moving toward the state’s model would enhance the district’s model because of resources the state could provide like grant money and research.

Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared to be the most concerned that the district wasn’t doing enough to improve its schools.

Besides Aurora Central, APS has 17 other schools on the state’s accountability watch list and its graduation rate is the lowest among the state’s largest school districts.

Jorgensen suggested, as he has done multiple times, that the district begin soliciting charter school proposals. But district officials told the board Tuesday charter schools weren’t a viable option because the district has no buildings to offer. Further, it’s unlikely a charter school would agree to take over a large high school like Aurora Central, Munn said.

Jorgensen also said he’d be in favor of earmarking funds for additional staff members to research different school improvement efforts on an ongoing basis.

Freeing a school from district bureaucracy as a school improvement strategy has provided mixed results, Munn acknowledged. He said he thought of innovation status as more of a mechanism than a school model or design. The real work would be in how the schools are restructured once free from some district policies.

A series of reports from education advocacy organization A+ Denver examined those mixed results elsewhere. The most recent in 2013 found innovation schools in Denver weren’t outperforming similar campuses without innovation status. But students in schools with more autonomy were catching up at a faster rate.

“Innovation status can be a useful tool when thoughtful,” said Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Denver. “To do it well, schools really need to understand what it is they plan to do.”

When Denver first launched its innovation schools, it did so haphazardly with unproven leaders who didn’t know how to operate outside the district’s bureaucracy, Schoales said. But the district is learning from those mistakes.

“It’s about the right leadership, culture, and school design,” Schoales said. “I hope Aurora will be very, very, thoughtful about what they want to do.”

Munn’s innovation proposal to school board DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1688440-aurorainnovationzoneproposal' });
Categories: Urban School News

Here’s how we can measure student growth outside of standardized testing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 14:09

Our legislature is currently considering bills to reduce standardized testing in Colorado public schools. Meanwhile, Congress is undertaking its most serious effort to rewrite the law known as No Child Left Behind, and could potentially reduce testing requirements for states.

These serious conversations taking place inside our government have their origins in the people’s concerns. Educators, parents, and students are voicing frustration that testing is excessive and takes away too much time and resources from classroom instruction.

It’s clearly time to reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests and allow educators to focus on what is most important: Instilling a love of learning in Colorado kids.

As a group of Colorado Teachers of the Year, we have dedicated our hearts and souls to our students. We are keenly aware of how and what they have learned, as well as the time it takes to facilitate high levels of student achievement. However, attempting to quantify and accurately measure what our students know and understand is complicated.

Tests that only measure the information students retain (e. g., multiple choice questions) are too limited. We need to determine beyond standardized tests what skills students have acquired and mastered.

Today’s technical, knowledge-based economy requires teachers who can prepare their students to master higher-order thinking skills and determine relationships among seemingly diverse concepts. Teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and moral character are increasingly important to businesses looking for employees. These skills and traits are not measured by typical standardized tests.

Teachers know their students learn in a non-linear, complex, individualized process that can’t be measured in fragmented, short-term formats. Single-letter grades and stand-alone test scores are aimed at quantitatively sorting and ranking students at isolated points in time.

Most people recognize that a single point-in-time test score does not define student achievement. College admissions officers as well as employers are more interested in a unified evaluation of ongoing academic potential or workforce readiness.

Teachers rely on timely, relevant data to drive their instruction. The value of information gained from testing declines exponentially over time. Today’s standardized tests don’t provide data until the following school year. As a result, the test results lose their effectiveness in helping teachers identify and revisit content with a student when remediation is needed.

Colorado’s statewide CMAS testing system requires significant blocks of time from March through May, with feedback that can’t be used in a timely way. For example, teachers know high school students now lose more than 15 percent of a semester’s instructional time preparing for and taking the PARCC and ACT tests. They’re taking AP tests for college credit during the same time period.

The time delays in getting feedback from state-wide testing makes them irrelevant to students who have already moved on to the next instructional level, college or the workforce.

Accountability is important as long as it supports sound teaching practices. We believe the “Measures of Student Learning” as prescribed by SB-191 must incorporate more qualitative evaluations of student learning that support long-term instructional goals, as well as provide quantitative data.

These tools are available. Teachers are now using more relevant vehicles – peer-group research projects, student work portfolios, oral and written communications, and students as instructors – that better demonstrate learning and achievement than do standardized tests.

Individualized classroom assessment should take priority in the system. These are tests developed by teachers that require students to apply acquired knowledge and skills to real world tasks, and provide students with real-time guidance and immediate feedback from peers, teachers, and outside experts.

Teachers know how to prepare their students for testing at any level, but understand that statewide standardized-test preparation takes away valuable classroom time.

When is too much testing detrimental to learning? Clearly, students, teachers, administrators, legislators and parents must come together to determine appropriate levels of standardized testing that support our students’ learning.

Excessive testing does not support students; instead, it seems only to serve those who seek validation to make reactionary decisions for the smallest of education gains. This approach seems certain to fail the vast majority of Colorado students in the long run.

We owe our students a deeper, more well-rounded education, supported by relevant and timely assessments, which will better develop the skills and traits they’ll need for future success.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of commentary pieces on a variety of perspectives from the testing debate. Check back next week for more. You can read an earlier piece here

Categories: Urban School News

Opt-out leader opposes bill that would legitimize parent refusal of state tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 11:08

One of the nation’s most prominent opt-out leaders said she opposes a bill introduced in the Colorado General Assembly yesterday that would legitimize her movement because she fears it could foil her larger goal: to end what she calls the “privatization of public education.”

If passed, the bill would signal a significant victory for activists fighting back against a series of reform efforts the state has implemented since 2010, all centered on the Common Core State Standards and their aligned exams.

But that isn’t how Peggy Robertson, a founding member of the nonprofit organization United Opt Out, views it. She said legitimizing opt out could stop the conversation about how much money is being spent on tests rather than other education initiatives she and her colleagues say would improve educational outcomes for students in the poorest school districts.

“I think people have good intentions around this, but if they make opt out legal, it takes away the power of our social movement,” said Robertson, who is also an instructional coach for Aurora Public Schools. And that could stop the growing chorus against testing, she said.

“This is not an anti-testing movement,” Robertson said. “This is a movement to return real learning to the classroom. All the thing we need — nurses, librarians, books, food — we don’t have, because all the money is being funneled to test prep and the test.”

The bill would require school districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

PHOTO: Courtesy Peggy RobertsonOpt out leader Peggy Robertson

And while the State Board of Education has already directed the Colorado Department of Education to hold districts and schools harmless if they fail to meet the required 95 percent test participation rate, Senate Bill 15-223 would codify those protections in state law, adding an extra level of security for educators.

The bill has broad bipartisan support and the blessing of the state’s largest teachers union, which will lobby for it.

“Certainly, the [state union] has, in the past, lobbied for a parent opt-out bill that does not penalize students, teachers, schools and districts,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of Colorado Education Association. “We’re hopeful with the increased opt outs this year that the legislature will finally act.”

The right to opt out of standardized tests is not addressed anywhere in state statutes. State education officials have long asserted that opting out is not legal.

But some parents and student say they believe they have a constitutional right to do so. State and federal law, as well as agreements between the Colorado and U.S. education departments, require schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on annual standardized tests.

If school districts do not achieve those rates it could mean a lowered accreditation rating or trigger redirection of federal funds from high opt-out schools without input from the local school district.

Previously, no school or district had come close to that 95 percent threshold. Given that, some education officials and observers have long dismissed the opt-out movement as nothing more than a band of misinformed and paranoid suburban moms.

Until now.

The opt-out movement, in Colorado and across the nation, has grown from social media chatter to conservative media fodder to mentions in The New York Times. While it’s not possible to draw a direct line from the first opt-out family to today’s testing debate, it’s equally impossible to ignore the movement any longer.

“I think that when parents and students are strongly — and very publicly — voicing displeasure, it has very great potential to influence policymakers,” said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. “Much more so than researchers who voice displeasure. Or for that matter, than educators who voice displeasure. There’s something about the voices of parents and students that’s very authentic.”

In the largest anti-testing demonstration in Colorado, thousands of senior high school students last fall left their classrooms when they were asked to take another round of standardized tests in social studies and science. Those students, mostly in white, middle-class suburbs, said the tests were meaningless and added to the already bloated testing regimen.

“We knew this would happen,” opt-out leader Robertson said, reflecting on the year that saw her movement make headlines like never before. “The key was being ready for it. Here in Colorado, we had a nice head start with the CMAS senior tests [protest]. That gave us an extra edge that other states didn’t have.”

Robertson said her organization has grown from seven people in a handful of states to hundreds across the nation. In Florida alone, she said, there are 25 groups organizing parents who oppose standardized tests and the Common Core State Standards.

Philip E. Bernhardt, the department chair for secondary education, K-12,  and educational technology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the growing debate around testing is forcing education reform activists and lawmakers to question who is gaining more from the testing system: students or test-makers.

“People are raising questions: are these tests based on research or because there is a tremendous profit to be made?” he said. “I certainly believe it’s the latter. The opt-out movement is definitely making people ask hard questions.”

John Buckner, D-Aurora, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he said the opt-out community has made its concerns known and that the debate is settled: The standardized testing burden in Colorado will be lightened.

“Once we have made the appropriate adjustments to the tests, I’m guessing the opt-out movement will conclude that its work is done, and it will fade away,” Buckner said in a statement to Chalkbeat.

Don’t count on it, Roberston said.

“We have to be really careful about not being appeased,”she said. “It would be easy to have a little bit less testing, but I’m not willing to accept a little.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Littleton school board to get advice on Davis lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 09:32

#COLeg Report

Developments Tuesday afternoon provided fresh twists to the Colorado legislature’s complicated testing debate, including introduction of a bill that would formalize the right of parents to opt out of tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One of those developments was a coalition of some strange political bedfellows that appears to be united around an alternative to a bipartisan bill aimed at scaling back required testing and assessments. ( KDVR )

Attempting to rally support for that bipartisan bill, Gov. John Hickenlooper threw some weight behind the measure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The Parents Bill of Rights Bill met its expected end in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But a carefully crafted compromise bill on privacy and security of student data got preliminary Senate approval Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arapahoe High School shooting

Littleton Public Schools' Board of Education will get legal advice behind closed doors this week to review a proposal from the family of Claire Davis and discuss it in open session at a later date, Superintendent Scott Murphy announced Tuesday. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Revisiting desegreagation in Denver

A former Denver Public Schools board member said Tuesday the decision to remove the city's busing order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time. But almost 20 years later many Denver students attend schools with high levels of racial isolation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interuptted

While some members of the Jefferson County school board see a proposed school shuffle as an opportunity to expand successful programs, parents and administrators are worried it will muddy the close relationship a neighborhood has with the two schools. ( Denver Post )

Pay Day

The St. Vrain Valley School District is considering a new teacher salary schedule that would increase the base salary, give more raises as teachers increase their education and reward educators for sticking with the district. ( Daily Camera )

Better teaching

The NPR Ed Team asked folks at the SXSW education conference to share some thoughts on their favorite teachers and how to improve the profession. ( NPR via KUNC )

Two cents

The new PARCC tests will not be perfect the first year, but they will get better every year, writes a Colorado educator who helped build the exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Mass testing seeks to fill the void created by class sizes that overwhelm teachers but they can never replace having a teacher who knows you, cares about you as a person and wants you to be a critical thinking, well-educated citizen of the world, opines a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

New twists complicate testing debate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 23:30

Developments Tuesday afternoon provided fresh twists to the Colorado legislature’s complicated testing debate, including introduction of a bill that would formalize the right of parents to opt out of tests.

The new measure also would bar the state from penalizing school districts for low student participation.

Also Tuesday, the Colorado Education Association issued a statement critical of Sen. Owen Hill’s Senate Bill 15-215. Union President Kerrie Dallman said the bill “takes a few, tentative steps toward easing the testing burden for some students, but it’s largely a bill of cosmetic changes. Most parents across the state will be left asking, ‘How does this help my child?’”

Those developments came just hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper publicly endorsed Hill’s bill, a move seen as an effort to shore up faltering support for the bill. (See this story for details on the governor’s news conference.)

Still unanswered Tuesday evening was the question of whether the bill will be heard as scheduled by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Education lobbyists who’ve been following the bill don’t believe Hill, chairman of Senate Education, has the votes on his own committee to pass it.

But Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, told Chalkbeat Colorado Tuesday afternoon that he was considering delaying the bill because Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, might not be able to attend the hearing. Johnston’s father died earlier this week.

Hill wasn’t available for comment late Tuesday evening. But another committee member said the bill would be laid over for consideration at a later date.

(Get more information on the bill in this story.)

Reportedly waiting in the wings if SB 15-215 falters is a proposal – not yet introduced – by Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. A recent bill draft reviewed by Chalkbeat Colorado includes provisions that would ban testing beyond federal minimum requirements, allow districts to ask state approval for giving local tests in place of state assessments, give districts flexibility on when to administer science and social studies tests, and provide schools significantly greater flexibility in assessing school readiness and early literacy of young students.

The draft bill also would require the Department of Education to ask the federal government for permission to use the ACT test as the sole high school test.

Also, the bill would change the use of student academic growth measures in evaluation of teachers. Current law (which is on hold for this school year only) requires that growth measures account for 50 percent of evaluations.

As drafted, the draft bill would allow districts to choose what percentage they want to use for growth, but the level couldn’t exceed 20 percent. Growth calculated from student scores on multiple years of state tests is one of the measures used to calculate growth of a teacher’s students. Local growth measures also are used in many districts.

That provision is attractive to the state teachers union, but tinkering with the teacher evaluation system is anathema to the education reform and business groups whose representatives flanked Hickenlooper at the morning news conference.

Six other testing bills were introduced previously, but none of them are considered likely to pass. See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for details.

Opt-out bill has wide support

The opt-out proposal, Senate Bill 15-223, has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. (Read the bill here.)

The Senate sponsors are Holbert and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. Carrying it in the House are Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, and Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, two legislators who haven’t been heavily involved in education issues.

The bill would require districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

The bill’s summary also says, “The Department of Education and the local education provider cannot penalize the student, the student’s teacher and principal, or the public school that the student attends, and the department cannot penalize the local education provider that enrolls the student, if the parent excuses the student from taking the standardized assessment.”

Current state and federal policy requires that at least 95 percent of students participate in state testing. The federal government requires states to impose a penalty on districts that drop below that level. The penalty Colorado has chosen is a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

While the bill doesn’t specifically reference the accreditation penalty, its no-penalties provisions presumably would prohibit that.

The new bill is in line with recent action by the State Board of Education, which voted in February to absolve districts of any penalties that might be triggered by parents opting their children out of tests this year. (See this story for details.)

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Parent rights bill meets its expected fate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 22:15

As expected, the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to kill a bill that would have created a sweeping “parent’s bill of rights” affecting how parents relate to schools, courts, health care agencies, and medical professionals.

The party-line vote on Senate Bill 15-077, with Democrats in the majority, came after nearly four hours of often-emotional testimony. The witness list was dominated by parents airing grievances about run-ins with judges, guardians, social workers, doctors, teachers, and principals.

Vaccination laws also came under fire from some witnesses supporting the bill. Two witnesses claimed that half of American boys will be autistic in the future because of vaccinations. And one witness maintained that flu shots cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Opponents of the bill, representing victim rights organizations, medical groups, the Colorado Bar Association, teachers, and school districts, said the bill was unnecessary because existing laws protect parents and because it would have weakened protections for children who are victims of abuse and sexual exploitation by family members.

Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, proposed a successful amendment intended to ease concerns about protection of abused children and about vaccinations. But committee Democrats killed the bill anyway.

The bill also proposed criminal penalties for teachers, health workers, and others who violated its terms.

The measure was sponsored by the father-son team of Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. Both are Republicans and strong social conservatives. (Read the bill here.)

Committee Democrats were uniformly polite and attentive to the witnesses who testified during the long hearing. “Some things were quite eye-opening to me,” said Rep. Joan Ginal, D-Fort Collins.

But House Democratic staff members were more direct in the news release issued after the bill was killed. “Another GOP Tinfoil-hat Bill Bites the Dust” was the headline on the email.

Truancy bill advances, but questions linger

The Senate Finance Committee passed a truancy bill on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, but the measure’s future remains unclear.

As passed by the Senate Education Committee last week, Senate Bill 15-184 aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administrative judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.

There’s concern by some senators that passage of the bill in its current form could cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties.

A more immediate concern is the bill’s fiscal impact. It would generate an estimated $389,881 in revenue from fees school districts would pay to have truancy cases referred to the administrative judges. But that income would count against the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue cap that requires refunds to taxpayers once revenues reach a certain level.

The bill goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will consider that issue before deciding whether to send the measure to the Senate floor.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the finance committee Tuesday he has an amendment that would avoid the fiscal issue, but he didn’t offer the change because the amendment language isn’t final.

Kerr’s plan would keep truancy cases in juvenile courts, but it would ban youth correctional facilities from imprisoning students found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring district requests to return to school.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has said his main goal with the bill is to keep truant students out of juvenile detention.

Categories: Urban School News

Former board member: Racial isolation persists in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 19:40

In 1995, Laura Lefkowits, then a Denver Public School board member, was in the district’s office when a staff attorney came with some news: The district was no longer bound by a 22-year-old federal court order to desegregate its schools.

“It’s over,” Lefkowits remembers the attorney saying.

In a lecture at the History Colorado museum in Downtown Denver Tuesday, Lefkowits begged to differ.

“It’s not over,” she told a crowd.

Lefkowits, who has been studying desegregation efforts in the city for two years, traced the evolution of the district and city’s approach and attitude toward desegregation over time in an hourlong talk called “Segregation in Denver Public Schools: The 1960s and Today.”

Keyes v. School District no. 1, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the district to integrate its schools, led to the first federal desegregation order outside the southern states. From 1973 until 1996, Denver students were bused across the city in an effort to create racial balance of black, Latino, and white students in the schools. (A consent decree that stemmed from this case still governs how Denver works with its English language learners.)

Its impact was profound. More than 30,000 students left the district in the wake of busing, and though enrollment in DPS has been surging in recent years, it has still not returned to its 1969 level. The district’s demographics have also almost flipped: While white students were a majority in the late 1960s, Hispanic students make up more than half of the student population now.

Lekowits said the decision to remove the order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time.

But almost 20 years after that court order was lifted, Lefkowits said, many Denver students attend schools with  high levels of racial isolation, and schools that have high concentrations of students of color and low-income students are more likely to be lower-performing — the very issue the initial cases aimed to address.

At one point, DPS was required ensure that each school’s racial mix was within 15 percent of the district’s overall demographic profile. Lefkowits found that in 2014-15, just 15 percent of the district’s 186 schools meet that goal for Hispanic students, while 20 percent of the district’s schools are more than 90 percent Hispanic.

Most schools that earn low ratings by the district have higher concentrations of students of color and students who live in poverty.

Lefkowits praised the current board for specifically including improving the academic performance of students of color and closing the “opportunity gap” between white students and their peers” in the most recent version of the Denver Plan, the district’s strategic roadmap.

Lefkowits’s talk covered much more of the political and cultural context surrounding the issue, including changing public attitudes toward integration efforts, the advent of school choice systems (which, she said, had been dismissed by a federal judge as a way to ensure integration in schools), and funding issues.

At the end of the event, a History Colorado researcher took an informal poll of the audience to determine how many had been directly affected by busing, either as parents, decisionmakers, or children. Close to a third of the mostly elderly crowd raised their hands.

Lefkowits told Chalkbeat last year that she believed the attendance zones created during her tenure on the district’s board concentrated low-income students in Manual High School, leading to a series of challenges for the school.

Categories: Urban School News

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