A group of preschool parents from Aurora Public Schools made a surprising request last spring.
They asked administrators to give their 3- and 4-year-olds homework.
More specifically, they asked for a year-round homework calendar detailing things they should be working on at home with their kids — not hours of pencil-and-paper work, but rather daily activities with an educational twist. They also asked the district’s Colorado Preschool Program Advisory Council to add a section on homework to the parent handbook.
These requests, which district officials have agreed to address, may sound unusual in an age when many parents and educators worry that inappropriate academic work is weaseling its way into kindergarten and preschool.
But they also bring up compelling questions about the definition and value of homework, and how those things should be articulated for both parents and teachers. They also raise the thorny issue of how homework resources will impact children whose parents don’t have the time or ability to work with them at home.
Nevertheless, for Aurora parents active in the recent campaign, homework represents a commonsense approach to helping their children succeed in a district and metro area studded with race- and income-based achievement gaps.
“We’re just looking for simple things,” said Diana Castro, whose 4-year-old daughter Miranda attends the Jamaica Child Development Center. “Most of us, which are minorities, don’t have access to printers and computers, so we don’t really know what to do to help them.”Getting started
The Aurora parents active in the preschool homework campaign came together through a nonprofit called RISE Colorado. The group, founded in 2012 by two Teach for America alumni and a third co-founder, aims to educate and empower low-income parents and parents of color.
More than 80 percent of Aurora students are minorities, about 70 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and more than one-third are English language learners. Districtwide, fewer than half of students scored proficient or advanced on state reading tests in 2014.
The preschool parents banded together last fall after RISE held education events at the district’s preschool centers detailing the “opportunity gaps” children would encounter during their educational careers.
As the parents talked together about their biggest concerns, homework quickly rose to the top of the list.
There was no consistency, they agreed. Some teachers didn’t send any assignments or activity suggestions home at all. Others did, but sporadically and they didn’t always tie in to what children were learning at school.
Parent Sipinga Fifita-Nau described getting homework “here and there” last year for her middle child Lisia, who will soon begin her second year at Laredo Child Development Center. Sometimes, the mother of three turned to Pinterest to come up with activities for Lisia.
“With 3- and 4-year-olds you’re educating them about the habit of doing homework,” she said, echoing a sentiment voiced by several parents.
RISE co-CEO Veronica Palmer said while the organization coached parents on how to raise concerns, navigate district bureaucracy and join decision-making bodies, it was parents who spearheaded the homework charge.
Castro, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico at age 15, said before getting involved in RISE, “I didn’t even think about talking to the principal about these things that I wanted to happen.”The impact of homework
For older students, the research on homework is mixed, without clear connections to increased achievement. For the youngest learners, there’s little data either way.
In part, it’s a terminology issue. That’s because what some people might call preschool homework — things like counting shapes around the house, thinking of words that start with “A,” or reading books together — others would call “nurturing,” “playing” or “spending quality time.”
Kyle Snow, director of the Center for Applied Research at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said “parent engagement” is the best way to think of homework at the preschool level.
“We know that engaging families in children’s learning, helps child development,” he said.
A 2013 report on parent engagement by the National Center for Children in Poverty demonstrated the positive effects of parent-led extracurricular activities. Things like playing alphabet games, telling stories, doing art projects, or visiting the library were associated with improved language, literacy, social, and learning skills in preschoolers. Similarly, parent-child activities like board games, counting, and comparing amounts of items, were associated with preschool math skills.
One potential drawback to these activities when they’re framed as homework is the assumption they makes about parents’ ability to comply. For example, notes or written materials sent home by teachers assume that parents can read proficiently, that they understand the language in which instructions are written, and that they have time to work with children after school.
District spokeswoman Patti Moon said homework calendar activities are meant to be easy and quick for parents to undertake.
Palmer acknowledged that some parents, perhaps some from the district’s large refugee community, may not be able to read the homework calendars, but said they are a resourceful group likely to seek help from friends, neighbors or teachers.
In addition, with some parents already doing enrichment activities on their own, she believes the daily calendars will better equip the parents who weren’t doing much at home.
“To me its closing the gap as opposed to widening it,” she said.
Regardless of what form homework takes, Snow said districts should have homework policies for students at every grade level, including preschool.
“If there’s no policy at all that’s the worst-case scenario for everyone involved,” he said.
While there are no current plans to establish a school board-approved homework policy in Aurora, Moon said by 2016-17, the preschool handbook will include “language about how individual sites support homework.”Homework in a cultural context
With Aurora students coming from more than 100 countries, it’s no surprise that some RISE parents come to the homework debate with different cultural perspectives.
Kumar and Shova Dahal, who immigrated here from Nepal several years ago and have a 4-year-old daughter at Laredo, talked about the “homework culture” in which they were raised.
“Since childhood we have been bombarded by homework, no matter how small you are,” said Kumar, who is a business development manager at an electronics company.
“That’s how we grew up and we come here, it’s a little bit of a shock,” said Shova.
The Dahals said in addition to homework that aligns with school lessons, they want parents to be held accountable for ensuring it gets done—perhaps by having teachers check off the work each day.
Snow said both parents and teachers should be accountable to each other, but how that looks will depend on continuing conversations in the district.
“Homework is a product of the relationship between the school and the family,” he said. “This all has to be driven by a dialogue about what the relationship should look like.”The response
School and district administrators say they are happy to work with parents on the homework issue and have them as members of the Colorado Preschool Program Advisory Committee.
Laredo’s principal, Cynthia Andrews, said that when parents asked to meet with her in the spring she wasn’t expecting homework to be their focus, but she’s glad they brought it up.
“I love that they came to me,” she said. “I knew it was important and knew … I wanted to start engaging parents more in those conversations.”
She quickly convened a homework committee of about 10 staff members and is working with parents to develop a “homework brochure” that will describe what form preschool homework will take and what research recommends.
“We wanted it to be the right kind of homework, the things that are developmentally appropriate for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.”
Andrews knows that some parents might not feel it’s rigorous enough.
“Even when we say this is our idea of homework, I’m not sure it will match their idea,” she said. “I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out.”
For now, the RISE parents are pleased with the results of their efforts. They say the summer homework calendar, published in both English and Spanish, and the eventual handbook language on homework represent a good start.
Perhaps even better was the reception they got from district staff—a bit hesitant at first, but ultimately receptive.
“They heard us. That’s the main thing,” said Shova Dahal. “They are really respectful of what we want for our kids.”
School districts in Colorado have known for several years that the new computer-based tests were coming.
Anxiety was high about network capacity, having adequate numbers of laptops and other devices, student keyboard skills, disruption of instruction and other concerns.
Two years ago, one district technology executive rated schools’ readiness for online testing at “C-minus“ (see story). But district leaders were feeling more confident on the eve of new tests last winter (see story).
When we asked the state’s 20 largest school districts about their opt-out rates, we also spent some time discussing how the PARCC exam went. Here’s a sampling of what testing coordinators from around the state had to say.
Technology readiness – With the first full set of online tests behind them, testing officials in large districts said things went reasonably well on the technology front.
Practice testing during the 2013-14 school year was a big help. “Overall I think they [the testing sessions] were pretty successful,” said Carmen Williams of the Thompson district, echoing what others said. “We worked the whole year to prepare.”
Student reaction – Most assessment directors said most students seemed to do fine with computers. “At the elementary level, students were fine with testing online. In fact, many of them were more engaged during the testing process,” said Mya Martin-Glenn of Aurora. “At middle and high schools, students seemed to be happy with the tests moving from pencil/paper to online.
But, echoing the comments of others, Martin-Glenn said, “Some students took issue with the amount and length of tests, especially in high schools.”
Classroom disruption – Opinions varied about how much testing disrupted learning and regular classroom activities. Some testing directors said it was less of a problem in elementary school but more of a challenge in high school, where schedules are more complicated.
“Testing schedules did impact schools, but not as much as we thought,” said Brighton’s Peggy Robertson. “We were able to finish instruction and have normal activities.”
But Eric Mason, assessment coordinator for District 11 in Colorado Springs, said, “The biggest issue our schools faced was the amount of time we had to shut down our computer rooms for testing. We felt like we couldn’t mess with the computers.”
Tech support – Opinions varied on the support provided by Pearson, the testing company that ran the PARCC tests. “The customer service was horrible,” said Jeni Gotto from Adams 50. Other testing directors were less critical, but several agreed that they often had to go to the second level tech support go get the help they needed.
The biggest complaint – “The biggest challenge for us was having different testing windows,” said Cherry Creek’s Norm Alerta. Student data had to be checked and reloaded before every set of tests, he said, “a very difficult logistical task.”
So, collapsing the testing windows is “huge” said Creek assessment coordinator Linda Elliott.
“That should make it much better next year,” said Janeen Demi-Smith of District 11.
The brushfire of testing refusal sparked by some high school seniors last fall spread during the state’s main testing season this spring, a Chalkbeat Colorado survey of the state’s largest school districts has found.
There were relatively high opt-out rates in more districts than was the case last fall, with only five of the state’s largest districts testing enough students to avoid scrutiny from federal education authorities. In almost every district test refusal appears to have been concentrated in high school, particularly in 11th grade.
Only the Adams 50, Aurora, Greeley, Mesa 51 and Pueblo 60 districts appeared to have participation rates at or above 95 percent.
Chalkbeat contacted the state’s 20 largest districts to ask about opt-out rates. Some districts provided summary information while others gave more detail. Denver and Jefferson County, the state’s largest districts, declined to provided summary information while they were still compiling their data.
We also asked other questions about how testing season went. See this story for information about those issues.
Detailed, standardized statistics about opt-out rates will be calculated by the CDE and reported this fall – probably at the same time as scores — after districts submit their full data to CDE at the end of July. CDE officials didn’t want to comment on spring opt outs until that final official data is compiled.Will testing changes make a difference?
The PARCC language arts and math tests were given in two sections, one in March and the second at the end of the school year. Many districts reported that opt-out rates were higher for the second set of tests.
High school assessments and the testing schedule both will change in 2016. Juniors won’t be tested in language arts and math, and there will be only a single testing “window” in April.
“I don’t claim to be a prophet, but, yeah, I expected high opt-out percentages,” said Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker, who was heavily involved in legislative testing and opt-out debates. He also suggested high school refusal rates were significantly driven by students. “The awareness and them advocating to each other is more important.”
“Folks have been wondering where those big districts would fall. It’ll be an interesting convers what we do about those big districts with a high rate” of opt outs, said Bill Jaeger, a vice president with the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Jaeger served on the state task force that studied testing before the 2015 legislative session and has followed the issue closely.
As for the variation among districts, Jaeger said, “It’s an interesting finding to me, and there’s a whole host of explanations that I don’t think anyone’s explored.”
Noting testing changes made by both the legislature and the PARCC, Jaeger said, “It will be interesting to see if there is a restoration of confidence in the assessments.”
One testing critic, St. Vrain Superintendent Bob Haddad, doesn’t think that will happen.
“I don’t think it will make a difference,” Haddad said of testing reductions. “I don’t think you’re going to get parents and students back at the table … because there’s no trust” in the state testing system. “CMAS was summarily rejected by our students and parents.”
CMAS, or the Colorado Measure of Academic Standards, is the official name of the state’s testing system, which includes the PARCC tests.
Holbert also thinks testing changes won’t necessarily dampen opt-out rates. “I expect it to continue. … There is an increasing frustration with assessments that don’t drive to letter grades.”A big change from 2014
Statewide participation was more than 99 percent on the last set of paper-and-pencil TCAP tests given in the spring of 2014.
That started to change, when high school seniors had to take statewide tests for the first time. The Colorado Department of Education reports only 81.8 percent of seniors took the science tests and that 81.7 took social studies.
Testing reduction and opting out were hot topics during the 2015 legislative session. An assessment bill was passed – among other changes seniors won’t be tested this fall – but a measure to codify parent opt-out rates died in a House committee. (If it had passed it likely faced a veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper.)
Test participation rates are important because the U.S. Department of Education requires 95 percent test participation. In Colorado schools and districts can have their accreditation ratings downgraded if they fail to meet that benchmark on two or more tests.
Supporters of high test participation argue that it’s vital to ensure the state has a full, annual picture of student and school achievement, especially by minority and poor children.
But the potential consequences for districts that fell below 95 percent are unclear, according to CDE. For one thing, the testing reform law passed last spring creates a one-year time out in the accountability system. And legislation currently pending in Congress – if passed – could give state more flexibility in using test results for accountability.What the districts reported
Here are the highlights of what the 20 largest districts reported to Chalkbeat:
Academy (24,578 students) – The district had an overall opt-out rate of 23 percent, said public information officer Nanette Anderson. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 10.3 percent science, 11.4 percent social studies)
Adams 12-Five Star (38,701 students) – The percentage of students who opted out of the first set of language arts and math tests was less than 1 percent in grades 3-10 but rose to more than 4 percent for high school juniors, according to information provided by the district. Opt-out rates rose for the end-of-year tests in all grades but were 9.5 percent for language arts and 10 percent for math in the 11th grade. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 8.2 percent science, 7.2 percent social studies)
Adams 50 (10,161 students) – The Westminster-based district had a .17 percent opt-out rate for the two windows said Jeni Gotto, executive director of teaching and learning. More students opted out for end-of-year tests. “Kids didn’t understand why they were taking tests twice,” Gotto said. She attributed the high participation rate to effective work by principals in explaining the value of testing. “Because we are a priority improvement district, we value the data. I’m not sure every district sent that message out.” (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 8.2 percent science, 7.2 percent social studies)
Aurora (47,729 students) – For the March window the district’s opt out rate was just under 3 percent, and in May the refusal rate was 3 percent, said Mya Martin-Glenn, director of assessment and research. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 6.1 percent science, 5.9 percent social studies)
Boulder Valley (30,908 students) – The district was a hotbed of opting out by high seniors in the fall, and that pattern continued in the spring. “At the high school level, 35 percent of students ultimately took PARCC English language arts. The corresponding figures for elementary and middle school students were 92 percent and 82 percent, respectively. Math figures are nearly identical,” said Jonathan Dings, executive director of student assessment and program evaluation. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 78.2 percent science, 77.6 percent social studies)
Brighton 27J (17,103 students) – “Overall it was about 10 percent of our students who opted out. Most of it was high school … mainly 11th grade,” said Peggy Robertson, director of assessment and federal grants. The elementary opt-out rate was 2 percent, she noted. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: percent 4.8 science, percent 5.3 social studies)
Cherry Creek (54,499 students) – The opt-out rate was about 16 percent for the first window and roughly 23 percent for the end-of-year tests, said Norm Alerta, director of assessment and evaluation. “We’re seeing most of it in high school,” he noted, saying the rate was “50 percent or more” in high schools, 17-20 percent in middle schools and less than 10 percent at the elementary level. The district also noticed variation among high schools. Cherry Creek the highest, but Overland had a rate of about 10 percent. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: percent 34.7 science, 36.7 percent social studies)
Colorado Springs District 11 (28,332) – The district had an overall opt-out rate of 10-11 percent, with rates of 1-2 percent in elementary schools, 4 percent at middle schools and 31 percent in high schools, said Janeen Demi-Smith, executive director of educational data and support services. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 5 percent science, 4.7 percent social studies)
Denver Public Schools (88,839 students) – “DPS is continuing to review our CMAS data and validating our numbers to ensure all data reflects the guidance from CDE,” said Jennifer Mills, a DPS senior program manager. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 13.6 percent science, 12.1 percent social studies)
Douglas County (66,702 students) – About 16-17 percent of students opted out district-wide, with fewer than 5 percent at elementary schools but rising to about 30 percent in high schools, said Matt Reynolds, chief assessment and system performance officer. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 47.8 percent science, 50.9 percent social studies)
Falcon 49 (19,552 students) – Some 11.3 percent of district students opted out, according to communications director Matt Meister. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 9.4 percent science, 8.7 percent social studies)
Greeley (21,183 students) – The district reported 134 parent refusals out of 14,346 students tested, for an opt-out rate of less than 1 percent, according to Sophia Masewicz, director of assessment and special programs. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 3.1 percent science, 3 percent social studies)
Harrison (11,441 students) – District schools had an overall opt-out rate of about 1 percent, but the rate was more than 35 percent for Harrison charter schools, reported Margaret Ruckstuhl, research, data and accountability officer. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 21.9 percent science, 22.7 percent social studies)
Jefferson County (86,547 students) – Robert Good, director of instructional assessment, said he couldn’t provide opt-out statistics until the district finishes its data cleanup process at the end of this month. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 8.5 percent science, 7.8 percent social studies)
Littleton (15,691 students) – District participation rates followed the pattern seen in many other large districts, according to information provided by Diane Leiker, director of communications. Third grade language arts and math test participation was 99 percent during both testing sessions. There were similar high rates in grades 4 and 5, but participation slipped in higher grades, and on the end-of-year section. The district reported 69 percent of 10th graders and 53 percent of 11th graders took the March tests. But those rates dropped to 39 percent and 29 percent in May. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 41.8 science, 42.7 percent social studies)
(This chart provided by the Littleton schools shows participation by grade and test and shows a pattern reported by many other districts. Key to abbreviations: PBA – Performance-based assessments given in March, SS – Social studies, EOY – End of year.)
Mesa 51 (21,742 students) – “Generally we had a 95 percent participation rate,” said communication director Dan Dougherty, who also noted that two of five school board members opted their children out of testing. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 18.6 percent science, 17 percent social studies)
Poudre (29,053 students) – “We had in the upper 90s [percentage points] for elementary school participation in PARCC, mid-90s for middle schools and 80s for high schools,” said Danielle Clark, executive director of communications. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 25.9 percent science, 27.4 percent social studies)
Pueblo 60 (17,960) – “Of the 10,800 students who were eligible to participate in the state assessment program, less than 1 percent of the parents refused the performance-based assessment portion [given in March] while about 3 percent of parents refused the end of year assessment portion,” said Amy Weingardner, assessment data specialist. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 14.8 percent science, 15 percent social studies)
St. Vrain (31,076 students) – “We had a considerable amount of parents decide not to have their children take the tests,” said Superintendent Don Haddad. He didn’t have specific numbers, but noted opting out was “Not very prevalent at the elementary schools. We had some at the middle schools, and we had a considerable amount at the high schools.” (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 21.7 percent science, 8.1 percent social studies)
Thompson (15,691 students) – Opt-out rates were below 5 percent in grades 3-5 but started rising in middle school, reported assessment director Carmen Williams. Opting out spiked among high school juniors, with 46.6 percent boycotting the March language arts tests and 57.1 percent skipping those tests in May. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 33.4 33.8 percent science, 33.8 percent social studies)
Charter School Institute (14,048 students) – Officials of this state agency, which oversees schools that enroll 14,048 students, said they didn’t have opt-out information. (Non-participation on fall 12th grade tests: 17 percent science, 17.5 percent social studies)
The state’s 20 largest districts plus CSI, enroll 685,978 students, about 77 percent of the 889,006 pupils in the state.
The state’s CMAS tests aren’t given in all grades. K-2 and 12th grade students weren’t testing this spring. So the number of students tested in a district is smaller than total enrollment. Fall non-participation rates listed above include both parent refusals and small numbers of students who didn’t take tests for other reasons.
A new partnership between Jeffco Public Schools and 26 other districts nationwide could lead to more rigid security measures for student data.
For the next six months 27 school districts, working with The Consortium for School Networking, will work toward establishing a nationwide set of standards around student privacy. The end result will be known as the Trusted Learning Environment Seal that public schools can adopt to assure the community that their student’s data is protected.
The consortium is a professional association for district technology leaders.
“Our families and staff need to be able to trust the institutions, including ours, that have access to their data,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “In the context of student and staff information, it is especially important to ensure the protection of personally identifiable information.”
Student’s personal data being shared with agencies outside the districts, for profit, has been a concern of parents and advocacy groups. Earlier this year, a bill that would have regulated more tightly how student data can be shared was killed at the General Assembly.
Jeffco’s participation in the consortium is a reaction to the public outcry prompted from a previous endeavor.
Student’s personal data being shared with agencies outside the districts, for profit, has been a concern of parents and advocacy groups. Earlier this year a bill that would have regulated more tightly how student data can be shared was killed.
Jeffco’s participation in the consortium is in part a reaction to the public outcry prompted from a previous endeavor.
In 2013, the suburban school district was a member of the student data pilot program known as InBloom, which was backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
InBloom was a cloud-based service that tracked a variety of student data, kept them on a central dashboard, and could be accessed by teachers. Some critics of the program said it was too invasive. The district, facing public outcry, eventually opted out of the program. And InBloom was shuttered quickly thereafter nationwide.
Jeremy Felker, director of instructional data reporting, said Jeffco was asked to participate in the consortium because of data security measures the district developed after leaving the InBloom program. The TLE Seal is not a cloud option for districts to securely store their data, but rather, a stamp of approval for taking precautions to protect student data.
Currently, Jeffco officials spend up to four weeks screening any software, free or paid for, for language that allows teachers and officials to share student information. The district has created a list of approved programs and cloud services.
“The TLE Seal is one more step in our process to ensure that Jeffco Public Schools is implementing best practices for protecting student and staff data,” said McMinimee.
At the end of the six months schools will be able to implement the TLE Seal to ensure the protection of their students’ data.
[Disclosure: Chalkbeat is a grantee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.]
(Re)Call Me Maybe
As of Saturday, the recall group Jeffco United for Action said they had more than 25,000 signatures for each of the three recall petitions, which makes the recall election closer to a reality. ( Arvada Press, 9news )
No discrimination found
Twin Peaks Charter Academy didn't discriminate by blocking the graduation speech of a valedictorian who wanted to disclose his sexual orientation in the speech, said an outside attorney hired by the school to investigate the decision. ( 9news via AP )
State board shakeup
The Colorado State Board of Education sits at a crossroads. A Republican vacancy committee on Aug. 8 will select from among nine candidates to replace Neal as representative of the 3rd District — potentially shaking up the board dynamic again — and the next few months will be consumed with finding a new commissioner, a key board responsibility. ( Denver Post )
With an eye toward selling the plan to members, Greeley Education Association representatives on Friday were unable to accept a “large, systemic change” that came with a new Greeley-Evans School District 6 collective bargaining agreement proposal. ( Greeley Tribune )
Lights, camera, arts
Students are learning more about art through a free Summer Film Camp put on the Community College of Aurora, Colorado Film School, and a group called Downtown Aurora Visual Arts or DAVA. ( 9news )
An 18-year old Centennial entrepreneur who started her own business when she was 14 years old is the winner of a $15,000 Young Entrepreneur Foundation college scholarship from the National Federation of Independent Business. ( 9news )
A Boulder High student will play the national anthem at Special Olympics World Games. ( Daily Camera )
A Colorado Springs swimming school is bringing mermaid dreams to life with summer classes. ( The Gazette )
Myduyen Thimy Nguyen, a senior at Eaglecrest High School in Centennial, doesn’t want to be a nail technician when she grows up. But those are highest aspirations her family has for her.
“Everybody expects [me] to go to community college and get a nails license,” said Nguyen, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam 10 years ago. “I don’t want to do nails the rest of my life. I’ve worked so hard these four years, why not go to a university I want to go to? Why settle for a community [college]?”
It was these higher aspirations that led Nguyen to join AVID, a program aimed at preparing students who might not otherwise make it to college to succeed there. Nguyen was one of a dozen student leaders who attended the AVID Summer Institute held for the first time in Denver, where seven schools will offer the program this fall.
The conference drew more than 3,500 educators, including 70 from Denver Public Schools, to the area to learn about how to implement AVID at their schools. This coming academic year, Denver is expanding AVID to two additional schools: Manual High School and West Leadership Academy.
The program may come in handy for struggling students at DPS. The most recent ACT data shows that, on average, DPS students didn’t meet any of the minimum ACT subject scores that indicate they are college ready. The scores predict a student’s chance of passing first-year college courses in the corresponding subjects.
The program hinges on the idea that students who are more likely not to attend or complete college — including students of color, first-generation college students, and poor students — can succeed if they have the right skills. AVID teachers explicitly focus on those skills, such as note-taking, time management, and seeking out mentors, while students are in high school.
Gaining those skills can come at a cost. Students who participate in AVID for four years often must pass up chances to take other electives, such as art or music, although some districts incorporate the skills training into regular classes.
Nguyen and other local students say the program is worth it.
“[AVID changed] how I see certain things,” said Thomas Jefferson High School senior Adoneyase Mehari. “It’s a family feeling. I wouldn’t have that if I wasn’t in AVID.”
The program’s own data do suggest that the efforts pay off: According to AVID’s most recent survey data, students who participated in AVID aimed for four-year colleges instead of community colleges, got in once they applied, and stayed enrolled more often than similar students who did not participate in AVID.
Jaylene McDowell, who will be a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School this fall, said her two years in AVID so far had made a big difference for her.
“I joined AVID in seventh grade because I wasn’t doing well but my teacher saw potential. … I raised my GPA pretty dramatically,” McDowell said. “I wasn’t doing my work, I didn’t have good time management.”
McDowell said she learned how to stay organized through AVID. In addition, she also spoke highly of her AVID teacher, who took time out of her own spring break to sign McDowell up for the summer institute.
“You have to have a good teacher or [the AVID class] is not good and my AVID teacher was pretty amazing,” she said. “She took time out of her spring break to sign me up for this summer institute and she didn’t have to. It means a lot to me that she would take time out of her day and her vacation for me.”
It’s experiences like this that keep students engaged, said Marta Mansbacher, a rising junior at Englewood High School.
“The family-like environment is one of the reasons we like class so much,” Mansbacher said. “You know your teacher is dedicated and passionate and you’re going into a safe and trustworthy environment.”
When hundreds of incoming freshman arrive for their first day at Aurora Central High School in August, they’ll be greeted by a familiar face: their former middle school principal.
And that’s exactly the way Gerardo De La Garza wants it.
De La Garza, who was principal for nine years at North Middle School in Aurora, is the new principal at Aurora Central.
One of the reasons De La Garza accepted the position, arguably one of the most difficult in Colorado’s education community, was the chance to improve the school for his students.
As part of a school improvement plan, which has received a tentative OK from the State Board of Education, Aurora Public Schools will begin a process to free Aurora Central, and several other schools, from district and state bureaucratic red tape. By creating an Innovation Zone, as its known under state law, the district hopes to create an opportunity for schools like Aurora Central to meet the unique needs of their students.Gerardo De La Garza
It will be up to De La Garza, began his career in Denver Public Schools, to lead the school’s community of students, teachers, and parents, through this transitional period and — ideally — boost student learning at the same time.
And that excites De La Garza.
“I know we can come up with a plan to turn this thing around,” he said.
Chalkbeat spoke with De La Garza on Wednesday, his fourth day on the job. The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
How did you come to get this position, which is arguably the most difficult job in Colorado’s public education community right now?
When I heard about the innovation zone plan I had a conversation with my director and said, “When this thing gets going I would like to be a part of it…”
I end up sending most of my middle school kids here. So, I have a vested interest in what was going on.
At the end of the school year, my director asked me if I was serious. I talked it over with my family, my team at North, and other colleagues and decided it was the right decision.
So why do you want to be at Aurora Central?
These are my kids. And I think that it’s really powerful for our students to be able to see a face and see somebody that they know who cares about them and is going to do everything that he can to make sure that this place is a safe environment to learn and somebody there that is going to listen and go to bat for them.
I want to help this community to make this one of the best high schools in Aurora. I think it can be done. We have some great kids that come out of North.
How would you define your leadership style? What does that mean to you? How do you work? What can teachers and students expect from you?
What they can expect from me is somebody that’s going to come in and do a lot of listening and a lot of learning, and then lead.
I want to know what’s working so we can continue those practices and refine them and make them even better. I want to know what are the practices that aren’t working. If they’re not working, let’s stop doing them or fix them. We need to get the right people into the right places to do the job.
I am going to come in here and be collaborative: I want to work with you and we’re going to get the right people into the right places to get this thing turned around.
More philosophically, what do you think the role of a principal is, especially a turnaround school?
A turnaround principal needs to find out what are the best practices out there that have demonstrated that they work. Let’s see if those are some practices that we can bring here, to Aurora Central. I’m not saying that it needs to be a carbon copy. Let’s see if we can bring that here to Central, adjust it to the needs of our community and make sure that it’s the right way to do things here and then monitor it as well.
My job as a leader is to make sure that we are putting those things into place with fidelity. To make sure that the data we’re collecting is real data, to tell us if it’s working right.
What specific skill sets do you have that you believe makes you a good fit for Aurora Central? What’s in your resume that makes you the ideal person to lead central through Central?
I’ve been in this community for nine years so I understand the needs of this community, the needs of these students [and] of these families. That is a unique skill set. It takes a leader to be able to build the capacity of those folks and provide the support and resources those people need in order to be the best they can be to meet the needs of the students. I’ve been successful at doing it in all that locations that I’ve been at.
At North, student achievement data rose each year for your first seven years and then dipped in your eighth. There was a significant dip, 3 or 4 points in each subject area. And in some instances some students lost as much ground as they gained the year before. What do you think happened there? And how did you correct it?
When I got to North, my number one priority was building the capacity of teachers through professional development. And we worked very hard at that. And as a result we saw student achievement going up because teachers became better at their craft.
A lot of these quality teachers left North to take on leadership positions through out the district. What ended up happening is we hired a lot of new people, [and] unfortunately, their heart wasn’t in it. They weren’t ready to work with this kind of demographic and we quickly had to make an adjustment there.
So, the next year, we did an about-face with our selection process and asked different questions. We wanted to get to the heart of why those candidates wanted to be at North, why they wanted to work with middle school students. There’s going to be less turnover at North this year and I expect scores will go back up.
What do you need from Aurora Public Schools officials to be successful?
I don’t really know exactly what those supports will be right now or what they will look like. But I need to make sure that they will be there to support me when I reach out to them. With our system and our model in place I have no doubt that they’ll be there to support me.
What is going to be different on day one at Central compared to the last day of school last year?
One of the things that will change — and it will be a visible change — is administrator presence. My number one priority coming in here is school culture and making sure that kids understand and know who their principal is, who their assistant principals are, who their deans are … getting these kids into their classrooms where the learning needs to happen but doing that in a warm, demanding way. There will be a dramatic change as far as visibility of administrators.
You are one person. There are more than 2,000 students here. So, what systems do you need to put in place to ensure that every student is appropriately challenged to either catch up, stay up, or move up?
My expectation is that myself and my administrative team are in every classroom on a weekly basis meeting with that teacher, giving them feedback on their instruction within 24 hours. We will monitor ourselves and hold ourselves accountable to do that.
As an administrator, how do you know student learning is going on?
I want to hear discourse. Student-to-student, where they’re sharing their thinking with each other to solve problems. And the teacher is facilitating the learning. I want to see students doing the work, not the teachers.
There’s an ongoing debate in public education of whether adults can improve schools that serve predominantly poor students. Some believe schools can, regardless of poverty. Others believe schools can’t be tasked with boosting achievement without taking on poverty first. What do you subscribe to?
If you have the right people that are willing to do the right job and believe in these kids then it can be done.
Chalkbeat intern Doug Hrdlicka contributed.
The Thompson Education Association believes that no matter what contract had gone before its district's school board, it would have failed. ( Reporter-Herald )
Teachers from around the state and country learned techniques to help close the opportunity gap at a national conference in Denver. ( 9News )
Blended learning at the library
More libraries — including one in Mesa County — are loading games onto their computers to help students learn problem-solving skills. ( Grand Junction Sentinel )
No Waiver Left Behind
Tennessee will move to a less punishing school accountability system under a federal waiver that grants the state continued flexibility under certain provisions of federal policy. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )
Ten national education groups on Wednesday urged Congress to move quickly to finalize revisions to No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main federal education law. ( Washington Post )
Choice and competition aren't winning strategies for Douglas County schools, suggests the district's teachers union president. ( Denver Post )
When children say they're miserable at summer camp and want to come home, should parents indulge? A mother recounts how she resisted the urge. ( New York Times )
(Re)Call Me Maybe
Organizers are making their final push to collect enough signatures to force a recall election of three conservative school board members they believe are taking their schools down the wrong path. But tug-of-war isn't just about local classrooms. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
taking to the streets
A tale of two districts
Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek School District will face new challenges, such as budgets issues and ongiong renovations, in the coming school year. ( Aurora Sentinel )
(Not) Summertime sadness
For the past few years, Roaring Fork School District’s Middle School Summer School has rejected idea that summer school should be some sort of punishment ( Post Indepedent )
A one-year grant provided by Kaiser Permanente has kindled hopes that the opportunities created, including fitness classes, will spark a change in schools and classrooms around the Douglas County School District. ( Denver Post )
About 45 incoming Centaurus High freshmen are getting a jump on high school through a monthlong summer program. ( Daily Camera )
Stuff the bus
Another long-time and large-scale local school supply drive kicked off this week. Christmas Unlimited's "Stuff the Bus Operation Back to School Supply Drive" will collect supplies until Aug. 7 ( The Gazette )
Higher ed reforms
Emboldened by recent successes on a bill on secondary and elementary education, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is tackling challenges facing higher education. The negotiations could inspire changes at Fort Lewis College. ( Durango Herald )
English teachers from Brazil are taking part in a professional development course at Aims Community College as part of a month-long exchange program put together by a group of Greeley residents. ( Greeley Tribune )
Aurora Public Schools’ new Mosley School is working on "building a connection" with the community campus. The campus also includes William Smith High School, Pickens Technical College and several other APS facilities. ( Aurora Sentinel )
Colorado State University officials denied purchasing fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood amid reports that it did so - either directly or indirectly - in January 2013. ( The Gazette )
Colorado State University has been named the most sustainable university in the county. ( 9news )
A lawsuit filed by the state of Colorado against CollegeAmerica, alleging deceptive trade practices that harmed students, has been dismissed. ( Denver Post )
Battle lines are being drawn sharply this week in Jefferson County as organizers make their final push to collect enough signatures to force a recall election of three conservative school board members they believe are taking their schools down the wrong path.
And that closing drive comes as supporters of those school board members — Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — are preparing for their first public counterattack.
On Wednesday, volunteers for Jeffco United for Action lined a 19-mile stretch of the busy Wadsworth Boulevard that runs north and south in suburban Denver to collect signatures for the recall petition from county residents on their way home from work.
While they have until early September to collect 15,000 signatures per school board member, organizers are working on a self-imposed deadline of July 31 to better their odds of being on the general November ballot. That would put all five school board seats up for grabs and potentially save the school district thousands of dollars.
And on Saturday, supporters of the board majority, organized by the Colorado arm of the conservative grassroots organization Americans For Prosperity, will knock on doors to share what they believe are the board’s successes in improving Jeffco Public Schools.
The next few days in Jefferson County, which is home to the state’s second largest school district, will be emblematic of what Coloradans can expect throughout the fall if the recall effort is successfully put on the ballot: A nonstop campaign about what the future of public education — in Jeffco and around the nation — should look like.
And that battle will feature a large cast of special interest groups and potentially huge sums of money from local and national donors who are waiting to see whether the recall becomes a reality.
“I can imagine the magnitude of this attracting all sorts of people wanting to pour money in from both sides,” said Ben DeGrow, a education policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Denver that supports the board majority.What’s at stake
Organizers behind the recall effort believe the conservative school board majority has wasted taxpayer dollars, disrespected the community and teachers, and has violated the state’s open meeting laws.
Supporters of the board majority believe those claims are not only wrong, but the opposite of what the board has actually done: Balanced a billion-dollar budget without taking out a loan to build a new school, given teachers raises, and made the operations of the school district and board more transparent.
Critics of the board majority believe the majority’s endgame is to terminate the district’s agreement with the Jefferson County Education Association and continue to advance a reform agenda that includes more policies influenced by free-market principles.
The majority’s supporters counter that the teachers union is making a power grab to “regain control” it lost in 2013 when the conservative board majority was elected by wide margins.
It’s also possible that the recall could come down to none of those issues.
Instead, the average Jeffco voter is likely to make a decision on the recall effort based on a number of very public controversies that happened after the board considered a proposal to review an advanced history class that spurred weeks worth of student protests, a board member linked to an anti-gay hate group on her Facebook wall, and school administrators refused to let Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper sign an education bill at a Jeffco school, which many considered a political snub.
The deciding factor in the potential recall might turn on those controversies rather than the deeper policy disagreements because the general public probably likes some policy ideas from both sides, said Kris Amundsen, executive director for the National Association of State Boards of Education.
“I think the public likes both sides of the agenda,” she said. “I don’t think the public is as polarized as those inside the debate. It will be very difficult to draw a conclusion on the future of public education.”
But while the election itself might not be driven by the district’s big policy questions, those questions are what could make the election appealing to outside interest groups hoping to secure a win for their ideology.
The hottest policy debates in Jefferson County — the outcomes of which will be largely shaped by the victors of the recall fight — are familiar in many school districts around the country.
Should teacher pay be linked to the number of years in the classroom or student performance on standardized exams?
How should school districts expand education options for students while preserving and improving traditional neighborhood schools?
And how can a behemoth government bureaucracy built during the industrial revolution adapt in the 21st century to improve working conditions for teachers and learning by students?Classroom tug-of-war
It’s unclear what changes, if any, the political turmoil will prompt in Jefferson County classrooms.
Jeff Henig, a professor of political science and education at the Teachers College at Columbia University said he believes student learning will neither see immediate dramatic increases nor decreases as the political soap opera in Jeffco schools unfolds.
“A lot of these big ideological education battles don’t bubble down to the kids at all,” Hening said. “It’s mostly fodder for interest groups. Who gets control doesn’t necessarily lead to dramatic change at what happens in the classroom.”
In the two years the Jeffco board majority has been in place, the votes that came closest to changing how students learn were the non-controversial approval of a new math curriculum and the reorganization of two clusters of neighborhood schools.
Both measures passed with support from both the board’s majority and minority members.
“You can’t change classroom instruction that quickly,” said Amundsen, the national school board executive. “It takes thoughtful effort. When you try sudden and wrenching change, I can almost guarantee it will not be successful.”
If anything, expert observers suggest that the back and forth will lead to high staff turnover, which critics of the school board majority already say is happening. Jeffco’s teacher turnover rate had a 5 point increase last year, according to state data.
“An unsettled political environment can impact kids based on teacher mobility,” Henig said. “It’s worth remembering that the old style of local school boards often were stagnant places. And some of the turmoil, stirring the pot, maybe for the good. But there is reasonably convincing evidence and anecdotal reports from teachers, especially when they’re in these high profile places that they’re finding the job more stressful and they’re opting out.”
Supporters of the board majority point out that Jeffco’s rising teacher turnover rate mirrors state and national trends.
Further, supporters believe the majority’s reforms, like linking teacher pay to performance, are critical to improving classrooms.
“These are reforms that benefit students, and we will work to keep them in place regardless of who is on the board now or ten years from now,” said Michael Fields, the state director for Americans For Prosperity-Colorado. “What we are engaging in is a long term policy battle across the state.”A new national spotlight on local school boards
School board elections are usually sleepy affairs with miniscule budgets that don’t attract much of the electorate.
In fact, of the 178,000-some Jefferson County residents who went to the ballot box in 2013, only about 136,000 bothered to select a school board member in each of the three races. That’s compared to the more than 400,000 registered voters in the county.
But as federal and state governments become more polarized and gridlocked, local municipal and school board races are increasingly attractive to large national donors looking to make political points, Henig said.
“Most of the nation’s 15,000 school districts are pretty much untouched by the national money and attention,” he said. “But it’s happening a bit. And increasingly.”
Look no further than wealthy Douglas County, south of Jefferson, where Americans For Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent $350,000 in the 2013 election to maintain a conservative school board majority that instituted a market-based pay system for teachers and a voucher program that was recently struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court.
“In traditional local school board elections, issues are about ‘what are we going to do with the high school football stadium,’ or candidates position themselves because they’re a successful businessman,” Henig said. “But what we think we see is a growing recognition by national level education reformers that they need to fight battles at the local level. The need to establish proof points for their broader reforms.”
Jefferson County, which spreads nearly 800 square miles west of Denver, is urban, suburban, and rural. And it is known for being the political bellwether of Colorado.
Similarly, the school district operates schools that serves an increasingly diverse population. Schools on the border with Denver to the east are made up of mostly Latino students who come from low-income homes. Other schools in the southern suburbs serve mostly white students from homes with six-figure incomes. And still others serve students in small mountain communities like Conifer.
Those kinds of qualities make Jeffco schools attractive to outside groups trying to make a statement about what works in public education.
“Jeffco could be a framework to improve student achievement,” said the Independence Institute’s DeGrow. “It’s a suburban school district that has a really good cross-section of high performing schools, low performing schools, and a lot in between.”
Alan Franklin, political director from Progress Now, a nonprofit progressive advocacy organization said his side of the political spectrum, which has been mostly focused on state-level races, now recognizes the outsized role a school board can have on a community and larger political debates.
“School boards have a way of influencing students and communities,” Franklin said. “We’d be fools to ignore this battle. Our schools supply the future electorate. The right wing recognized this well before the progressives.”
Henig said a biproduct of the turmoil in Jefferson County is that more residents are paying attention to school issues and that could potentially reverse the trend of low turnout in school board elections.
“There was a sentiment 100 years ago that politics was corrupting education and what we needed was elections where people who knew the most and cared the most would actually vote,” he said. “The sleepiness was by design.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education approved a review of an advanced history class and refused to allow the Colorado governor to sign a bill into law at a local high school. The board did consider a review of the history class but later dropped the issue. And district administrators, not the school board, rejected the governor’s request.
This article has also been updated to reflect the correct amount spent by Americans For Prosperity in the Douglas County school board election in 2013. It was $350,000, not $35,000.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported how many Jefferson County voters voted in 2013. It was about 178,000, not 413,000.
Differing views of the legislature’s powers over labor and contracts law were at the center of oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit that challenges one part of Colorado’s landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
(Re)Call Me Maybe
Organizers behind a school board recall effort in Jefferson County say they are days away from collecting enough signatures to head to the ballot box. ( Colorado Statesman )
As the race for seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education begins, the candidates’ activity on social media — or lack thereof — can provide voters an insight into each candidate’s campaign and a preview of the debates in the coming months. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Colorado moved up in national rankings on child well-being, according to a report released Tuesday. ( Denver Post )
College and career
More Colorado students are taking advantage of the evolving role of community colleges. ( 9News )
The results are in
More students — including those from low-income households — in the Littleton Public School District did better on science and social studies state tests. ( Centennial Citzen )
The Sylvan Dale Ranch in Loveland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its huge acreage this year with a new twist — an emphasis on teaching. ( Greeley Tribune )
back to school
There are plenty of ways from individuals in the Pikes Peak region to help struggling families with back to school needs. ( Gazette )
early childhood education
Kindergartners who share, cooperate and are helpful are more likely to have a college degree and a job 20 years later than children who lack those social skills, according to a new study. ( AP via Durango Herald )
A 140-character tweet can be worth a thousand words when it comes to learning about candidates in a school board race.
And so far this campaign season, there are two competing narratives across social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
As the race for seats on the Denver Public Schools Board of Education begins, the candidates’ activity on social media — or lack thereof — can provide voters an insight into each candidate’s campaign and a preview of the debates in the coming months.
Southeast Denver incumbent Anne Rowe and northwest candidate Lisa Flores are using social media sparingly and keeping positive. Both Rowe and Flores have said they believe DPS is on the right track with a number of educational reform policies that include more school choices for families, an emphasis on teacher evaluations, and using results from standardized assessments to make decisions about how schools operate.
Meanwhile, southeast candidate Kristi Butkovich and northwest candidate Michael Kiley actively use social media and are often critical of those same DPS policies. They also believe that DPS officials often operate in a vacuum and shut out public input when making decisions.
There should be a thoughtful strategy behind how a candidate uses social media, said independent political analyst Eric Sondermann.Meet the candidates
When it comes to candidates like Butkovich and Kiley, the abundance of opinionated posts is a way to connect with like-minded people, Sondermann said.
“There’s an element of social media which often becomes a ‘bitch session,’ for lack of a more artful phrase,” Sondermann said. “For some who are less than enamored with the current direction of DPS…they turn to social media to find like-minded people.”
And on the other end, candidates such as Rowe and Flores who are less vocal on social media do so to “avoid getting dragged down into the muck,” Sondermann said.
Sondermann added some candidates with less experience may also be using social media for no other reasons than it’s the thing to do.
“Any campaign has to have a social media presence. To not have a social media presence is not an option,” Sondermann said. “I think candidates, particularly in these district races where it’s much more personal, much smaller geography, social media becomes all the more important.”
Candidate Flores has a Facebook page and Twitter for her campaign. Her personal Twitter has been inactive since 2011, with the exception of two tweets about her candidacy.
She said she was less active on social media prior to July due to a busy schedule but is now using Facebook more frequently, which is evident in a slight increase in posts during the past two weeks. She frequently uses her page to spotlight nonprofit organizations and share photos from the campaign trail.
“I’m a nonprofit girl at heart,” she said. “That’s where I spent my 20s and 30s…for me, there was a real value alignment in choosing to highlight a nonprofit of the week that has a strong presence in supporting DPS students.”
Flores said that is a deliberate decision not to use her social media pages to discuss hot topics such as charter schools or enrollment zones.
“I have a different message and a different style of leadership and a different path that I’m running,” Flores said. “I think every candidate needs to run the race that’s in line with their own values and their own sense of integrity and that’s what I’m working to do.”
In stark contrast, Flores’ opponent Kiley uses social media avidly and is much more vocal on education’s most controversial topics on both his personal and campaign Facebook pages.
But Kiley said he doesn’t feel his posts are bold.
“People don’t tell me ‘this is a bold stand you’re taking,’” Kiley said. “They just want to know more about the issues [I post].”
But his posts draw an audience, Kiley acknowledged.
“I have a pretty steady upwards trend in people liking [the campaign’s Facebook page] and I suspect its because they like what I post,” Kiley said. “We don’t have a relentless campaign to get people to like us, we don’t do contests or anything like that. It’s organic and I can only assume it’s because people like the information I’m sharing.”
So far, Flores and Kiley are the only candidates running for the open board seat in northwest Denver. Butkovich is running against incumbent Rowe for the southeast Denver seat. The southeast candidates were unable to be reached for comments on their social media usage.
Here’s a snapshot of the candidates on social media.[View the story “DPS candidates on social media” on Storify]
Differing views of the legislature’s powers over labor and contracts law were at the center of oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit that challenges one part of Colorado’s landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law.
“The Colorado legislature has plenary power to modify these teacher employment rights,” lawyer Eric Hall, representing the Denver Public Schools, argued to a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals.
But Philip Hostak, a National Education Association lawyer from Washington, D.C., countered, “plainly there are” limits on legislative power to change contract law.
The two were pitching their arguments in the case of Masters v. DPS, filed in January 2014 by five former teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. The suit claimed district officials misused the mutual-consent provision of the evaluation law, violating both contract and due process sections of the Colorado Constitution.
One part of the evaluation law, known as Senate Bill 10-191, requires mutual consent of a teacher and principal for assignment of a teacher to a school. Before the law was passed, non-probationary teachers would be assigned to a school solely by decision of district administration.
Under SB 10-191, teachers who aren’t placed go on a district waiting list and ultimately lost employment rights if not placed within a certain period of time.Documents
Denver District Judge Michael Martinez dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims – and the case – in June 2014, prompting the union to take the case to the Court of Appeals last December.
On legislative power, while Hall stressed the General Assembly’s powers, Hostak argued there are limits on the legislature’s power to impair contracts.
The two also offered different interpretations of a 1991 bill that changed teacher employment law and removed the word “tenure” from those laws. Removal of the word was unimportant, Hostak argued, rhetorically asking the law changed a non-probationary teacher’s property right. “The answer to that is a resounding no.”
But Hall argued the 1991 law “got rid of any idea of tenure.”
The lawyers also had different views on the effect of SB 10-191’s mutual consent provision. Hall argued that “displacement and dismissal are two different things.” Given the legislature’s constitutional duty to supervise schools, changing mutual consent “is entirely consistent with the legislature’s power.”
But, Hostak maintained, “the end result is the same” and teachers are deprived of due process rights.
The DCTA is asking the appeals panel to send the case back to district court for trial. Whatever the panel rules, that decision likely will be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The CEA fought hard against the new evaluation law during the 2010 legislative session, but the mutual consent provision is the only part of the law being challenged in court. The law’s major provisions – requiring annual evaluations, basing half of annual evaluations in students’ academic growth and loss of non-probationary status for teachers rated partially effective or ineffective for two consecutive years – are being implemented in all state school districts.
Tuesday’s hearing marks the second DCTA-DPS conflict in the Court of Appeals this summer. In June a different three-judge panel ruled that the district violated the 2008 Innovation Schools Act by not getting staff consent for creation of some innovation schools in 2011 and 2012 (see story).
Mancos and Buffalo, small districts in different parts of the state, had the highest rates of students opting out of standardized tests in the state. More about how it happened and why. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
What to Know
The federal government created a new list of questions parents should be asking their schools. ( Aurora Sentinel )
A trade school in Colorado Springs is getting some extra support from the VISTA program. ( Gazette )
Tillie Elvrum of Colorado Springs is the new president of Publicschools.org. ( Gazette )
High schoolers took a tour of Olde Town Arvada as part of a program aimed at fostering entrepreneurship. ( Arvada Press )
Advanced Placement 2.0
AP teachers focus on inclusion at a training. ( Arvada Press )
Red Rocks Community College has a new expansion in Arvada. ( Arvada Press )
The Butterfly Pavilion has a new exhibit focusing on invertebrates. ( Westminster Window )
Bandwidth infrastructure provider Zayo has signed an agreement with Colorado's Eagle-Net Alliance to handle network oversight and support for the intergovernmental entity that provides broadband to schools and other community institutions. ( Telecompaper )
The Colorado Area Health Education Center prepares medical students to live and work in rural communities. ( High Plains Journal )
If you want to know where opposition to standardized testing may run deepest, look to Mancos and Buffalo, two rural Colorado districts 472 miles apart on opposite sides of the Continental Divide.
The two districts appear to have had the highest opt-out rates on elementary and middle school science and social studies tests given last spring.
“I think it just kind of rose up organically from everybody in the community,” said Mancos Superintendent Brian Hanson.
Testing opposition arose early in the 455-student district – none of the district’s seniors took their science and social studies tests last fall.
“It started with us at that point,” Hanson said, and continued into the spring. “In a small town it doesn’t take very long for that kind of thing to happen.”
Hanson added, “In small communities people place a value in a lot of things, not just test scores. I think there’s more to a kid than that test score. Our community agrees with that.”
Here are Mancos’ opt-out rates: 61.3 percent on 4th grade social studies, 87.2 percent in seventh grade, 60 percent in 5th grade science, 95.8 percent in 8th grade.
Anti-testing sentiment developed somewhat differently in Buffalo, according to Superintendent Rob Sanders. (The 315-student district often is called Merino, after the northeastern plains town where its schools are located. The dual names are the legacy of a long-ago consolidation.)
All of Buffalo’s seniors took social studies and science tests last fall. Sanders said students questioned the value of the tests but were told by the principal that they needed to take them. “We have extremely compliant kids and parents,” Sanders said.
But attitudes started to change in the spring, after word spread of the State Board of Education’s February approval of a resolution exempting districts from any accreditation penalties for low test participation rates. (Social studies and science tests were given in April.)
“We have a firm belief that we are accountable every single day. We believe we can reach our goals with some other type of standardized test,” Sander said.
Here are Buffalo’s opt-out rates: 91.3 percent on 4th grade social studies, 100 percent on 7th grade, 60 percent on 5th grade science, 95.8 percent on 8th grade.
The two districts share rural locations and the same state rating – Accredited, the second-highest level in the state’s five-step system. Nearly 58 percent of Mancos students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and about 31 percent are minority. Buffalo has 25 percent free and reduced-price lunch enrollment and is about 12 percent minority.Looking for a better system
Both Mancos and Buffalo are participating in a group of districts called the Rural Innovation Alliance, which is in the early stages of developing what’s called the Student Centered Accountability Project.
The goal is to develop a testing and accountability system that relies on a broader set of factors and data than the current state system, which is heavily reliant on results of statewide tests. (Get more information on the project in these slides.)
The State Board has given the project a preliminary endorsement, and proponents hope the initiative will qualify as a pilot project under the testing law passed by the legislature earlier this year.
“The districts that are involved in this project are very excited about it,” Hanson said. “We think we’re on to something.”How the “waiver” districts did More testing coverage
One concrete sign of testing dissatisfaction earlier this year was the fact that 27 districts applied to the Department of Education or enquired about waivers from the first part of the PARCC language arts and math tests, which were given in March.
The waiver applications were solicited by the State Board in January. That proved to be an empty gesture because the attorney general ruled that granting waivers was illegal. But as a symbolic gesture the board kept the issue on its agenda for months and didn’t finally deny the waiver applications until May.
Districts’ interest in waiving out of PARCC tests didn’t appear to extend to parent refusals on the science and social studies tests. Only six of the 27 districts had opt-out rates higher than the state averages. In addition to Buffalo, Byers, Elizabeth, Julesburg and Wiley (northwest of Lamar) had significantly higher opt-out rates. Douglas County’s opt-out rates were modestly higher than the state’s.
(Data wasn’t available for some districts, or on some tests for other districts, because the number of students eligible to take the tests was below 16. In that case no testing results are publicly reported for privacy reasons.)
Mancos didn’t request a waiver.
There's an AP for that
At the AP for All Summer Institute, equity in and accessibility to Advanced Placement courses was emphasized. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
In the third installment, Chalkbeat speaks to Denver Public Schools Board candidate Lisa Flores, who says Northwest Denver Schools are "aflame." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
First in line
a Chalkbeat analysis shows that about one-fifth of the individuals who gave to recall effort listed Jeffco Public Schools as their employer. See who was the first to give to the recall effort in the database. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The relocation of Liberty School has raised concerns from community members due to the heavy traffic on three narrow roads near the school's new proposed site. ( Durango Herald )
Staff at two Loveland elementary schools spent two weeks immersed in the Spanish language and culture in Guatemala to prepare for the first year Thompson School District will offer a dual immersion program. ( Reporter Herald )
The Better Business Bureau Foundation is starting a program, the LIFT Business Ethics Certification Program, to teach midde and high school students about ethics ( 9news )
Results of the first of several planned staff health symptom surveys at Boulder's Casey Middle School show few health concerns stemming from air quality within the building ( Daily Camera )
Mayor Hancock and education
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the formation of the Child Safety Net Impact Team Friday. This team will look for opportunities to build communication and make stronger partnerships with different organizations in the community, such as libraries and schools, to help keep kids safe. ( 9news )
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will throw his support Monday behind a ballot measure proposing a sales tax to help students with college costs. ( Denver Post )
On the brain
University of Colorado Boulder researchers are part of a team that has developed a tiny wireless device to be implanted in the brain that can deliver drugs to specific neural circuits when signaled by remote control. ( Denver Post )
Just how Denver Public Schools should serve schools and students in northwest Denver has been a flashpoint for public debate this year. The district recently created a new enrollment zone that changes students’ assignments for middle schools and approved a series of temporary school placements — but only after a debate that raised questions about everything from the role of charter schools, diversity in schools, and the district’s community engagement processes.
The region’s current school board representative, Arturo Jimenez, has also been the only board member to regularly vote against DPS administration proposals. Now, Jimenez’s seat is up for grabs.
Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and former policy analyst for then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, and Michael Kiley, a parent activist and project manager at workforce management software company Kronos have both declared that they are running for the seat. Flores was recently endorsed by the other six members of Denver’s board.
Both candidates say they are focused on creating quality schools, but they differ on the details.
In the third in a series of interviews with the candidates for Denver board, Chalkbeat spoke with Flores about special education, about why she thinks northwest Denver needs to move on from the district-charter debate, and on how she’ll advocate for District 5 schools that are less-often in the public eye. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat shared interviews with District 1 candidates Anne Rowe and Kristi Butkovich and with district 5 candidate Kiley.Lisa Flores, a candidate for DPS District 5 board seat.
Flores says that students with special education need more attention from Denver Public Schools.
Chalkbeat: Are there any issues where you’d push against current district policies?
Flores: The issue I have been learning so much about since I’ve been campaigning is the concerns of parents with children with special needs. Our district has not served these children well. It is incredibly difficult for these families to navigate the education system, and in the year 2015 it shouldn’t be that hard.
Whether the issue is working with special needs issues or other issues facing the district, my leadership style is one that calls on people to be collaborative, creative, and resourceful. I believe in bringing key stakeholders to think through solutions for our children.
Chalkbeat: How do you respond to people who say that you would likely side with the current majority on the board in DPS on many issues, creating a uncritical board?
Flores: What I would say is that the current representative, Arturo Jimenez, did not have a reputation for working well with the other six board members and as a consequence was very isolated in how he chose to represent this community. I think you can get much further on advocating for the community when you have the support and willing collaboration of the other six board members.
Flores says that northwest Denver has been polarized about the role of charter schools for too long, and that the public conversation has focused on a small subset of District 5’s schools.
Chalkbeat: Why did you decide to run for school board?
Flores: I am a DPS grad. I am helping to raise my nephew who will be a third grader at Brown elementary and I am a big part of my cousin’s life who has six children, so I feel deeply invested in DPS and the quality of education it’s able to provide students.
I also have an additional motivation. I have sometimes, as a constituent, felt left out of the conversation. I’ve felt that when you’re representing a community, you have to be open to representing a variety of perspectives and the community as whole.
For a lot of years, the conversation’s centered on the Skinner-North feeder pattern. But they’re two of over 50 schools in District 5. And it feels like it’s time for the full spectrum of the district to be represented. I’m conscious of saying North and West Denver, which includes a broader spectrum of neighborhoods. That’s who I want to represent.
I also feel like our community has been so divided, so polarized. It’s like we’ve been stuck in this debate of traditional district schools versus charter schools, and I think it’s gotten in the way of us being more resourceful in how we serve students in Denver.
Enough of this camp or that camp, enough of being for or against this type of school…let’s get back to really thinking about focussing on what’s best for kids. Regardless of governance model, we need more high-quality schools.
Chalkbeat: Your previous employer was the Gates Family Foundation, which also supports some education initiatives in Denver. Do you feel there’s a conflict of interest?
Flores: Well, for one, I left my job at the end of June, so there is no conflict of interest. What I’d say instead is that through that job, I gained intimate knowledge with a variety of nonprofits that support DPS students and I’ve had the opportunity to travel the state and to see first-hand different schools and districts. It’s been a big eye-opener.
Flores says that she is concerned about school leadership preparation and support, special education, and failing schools in District 5.
Chalkbeat: What do you see as the biggest issues facing DPS? What do you see as the biggest issues facing District 5?
Flores: The first is quality school leadership. We need to do a better job of recruiting, training and supporting and then retaining quality school leaders. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a community advisory group for hiring a principal at West. After two full days of interviews, I saw some candidates that I felt would be good for an assistant principal position, but they weren’t ready yet. My instinct was, let’s work with them, help them grow into a principal leadership role.
I had a chance to talk to some new school leaders who were smart, sharp individuals, passionate about the schools they serve, and in need of additional support. This year I’m looking at North and West [high schools], and they’re both getting brand-new principals this year. You see too much turnover in quality school leaders. We need to do a better job of supporting and retaining them in their jobs.
Chalkbeat: What else?
Flores: We have too many schools in District 5 that are failing our children. Whether it’s at a traditional district school or a charter school, we need to have a higher level of accountability and a better plan for intervening and supporting our student.
Schools are rated and given colors that parallel fire danger warnings, and it’s just the same — you want green and blue, you don’t want to be yellow, orange, or red. District 5 is aflame, and we need to do a better job of having a plan of triage.
The other thing is the challenges of kids with special needs. It just seems that in the year 2015, it should not be as hard as it is to navigate that system for more families and their students.
Some people feel like, well, that’s not my kid. But they’re integrated into the same classrooms, and when special needs students are receiving proper support, both the children with special needs and the other kids in the class benefit and win.
Chalkbeat: This year, plans for school placement and boundary lines in northwest were very contentious. Do you have any thoughts on how that went?
Flores: I have a lot of experience leading collaborative efforts and bringing people together to work on challenging issues to really find solutions and a path forward.
Skinner Middle School has made tremendous progress over the last seven years, and yet there is still much work to be done. There are large achievement gaps at Skinner, and too many parents are still opting out because they’re not finding the quality of education that’s right for their families.
Chalkbeat: What other issues are on your radar?
Flores: As far as DPS-wide issues, one thing my opponent’s bringing up is the women and minority-owned Business policy. What I’d say is, that’s a policy that’s set by the school board. I served on the board of the Denver Housing Authority, and that was an issue that board moved aggressively on. We reviewed on a monthly basis and set into place some pathways to support smaller businesses. So I have experience in addressing that in a large quasi-governmental entity.
But the larger piece is about doing the right thing and working so that we’re no longer divided and doing a better job of collaborating.