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Emanuel makes big promises for schools in second term

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 17:13

If elected to a second term, Mayor Rahm Emanuel promises that within three years the graduation rate will go up by 15 points to 85 percent, the number of preschool classrooms will triple to 300 and the senior year of high school will be redesigned to include internships and 6,000 students taking City College classes to earn college credit.

Emanuel also plans to bring back Freshman Connection, a program that was designed to help incoming ninth-graders acclimate to high school; and give principals at good schools freedom from some district mandates. Both these ideas were in place under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Emanuel, who spoke to an invitation-only group of educators, parents and others on Thursday, said he will be leaning on private funders to pay for Freshman Connection, the same approach he took to offer principals merit pay. When that $5 million runs out this year, the principal bonuses may end. 

After Emanuel’s speech, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that instead of merit pay, principals will get more independence. “This is what they want,” she said.

In Emanuel’s speech laying out his prospective second-term education agenda at the Chicago Cultural Center, he did not address any of the more controversial issues that have been part of his first-term agenda. Both of Emanuel’s chief rivals, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, have said they will continue the moratorium on closing schools and will put a halt on opening more charter schools.

Emanuel told the crowd, which included advocates from organizations such as Stand for Illinois, that closing schools was something he did not want to do, but that he needed to get students out of failing schools. Further, he said the debate should not be between charters and neighborhood schools, but rather between quality and lack of quality in any school. He did not say whether or how many charter schools he will open in the next term, nor did he say whether he will close more schools. He instead focused on his plans to continue investing in neighborhood high schools by making sure each student lives within three miles of a school with a specialty, such as International Baccalaureate curriculum; a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program; or career and technical education.

Fioretti noted that CPS recently put out a Request for Proposals for new schools. He said Emanuel does not understand that CPS already has enough choice.

"Everything is good"

As far as paying for his ambitious plan, Emanuel is expecting Springfield to come through with more money--though the state is in dire financial straits--and said he has a better argument for doing so than his predecessors, who had to convince lawmakers that a low-achieving school district needed more resources. Emanuel said he will be able to say that Chicago is going up on every measure, despite not being supported financially.

“We are not falling short anymore,” he said. In recent years, the graduation rate has increased to 69 percent, ACT scores rose and more than double the number of students came to kindergarten ready to learn, according to a random sample of kindergarteners given a readiness test.

When Emanuel was young his parents put his and his brothers’ report cards on the refrigerator, the mayor recalled. “We can post the city’s education report card on the civic refrigerator,” he said.

Not only does Emanuel think Springfield should provide schools more money given that Illinois has one of the worst track records for funding education, but he also rallied against the current pension funding system. Currently, Chicagoans pay for the Chicago teachers’ pension through the property tax and then pay for the pensions of all teachers in the state through the income tax. “The inequity must end,” he said.

Fioretti took issue with Emanuel’s numbers, saying the mayor was massaging the numbers and that they don’t ring true with people when he goes out to the community. Fioretti especially said that schools that took in students from closed schools remain in bad shape. Calls to Garcia’s campaign and Willie Wilson’s campaign were not immediately returned.

Categories: Urban School News

A new medium for early literacy tips: Texting

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 13:34

Amy Dusin sometimes takes advantage of the quiet time when she nurses her seven-month-old son Hunter to review the parenting tips she got via text message that week. They remind her to play peekaboo with her baby or describe facial expressions to him when they look in the mirror together.

Dusin, who works part time as a convenience store manager in Greeley, said the texts provide nice reminders about learning activities.

After one recent text, she thought to herself, “Oh man, I really haven’t been playing peekaboo with him, I have to step my game up.”

The weekly text messages come from Bright by Three—formerly Colorado Bright Beginnings– a Denver-based non-profit that provides language and literacy resources to parents of children ages 0-3. The BrightByText initiative, which launched November 10, is part of the organization’s effort to bring a new level of technological sophistication to its 20-year-old program. So far, 285 parents or caregivers have enrolled in BrightByText.

What’s in a name Change?

    Colorado Bright Beginnings changed its name to Bright by Three in November to avoid conflicts with an organization that holds a federal trademark on the Bright Beginnings name. Katharine Brenton, Bright by Three’s director of strategic initiatives, said that organization has been known to send cease and desist letters to other groups with the Bright Beginnings name. “It was just out of an abundance of caution,” she said.

“I think that we are the only ones in the state doing this,” said Katharine Brenton, director of strategic initiatives for Bright by Three. “I think it could be really big for us.”

While advice from a cell phone may not have the warm, fuzzy factor of a one-on-one conversation, there’s evidence it works. Studies of text-messaging interventions—with goals ranging from college matriculation to boosting early reading skills, suggest that the practice can help break down complex tasks into manageable bite-sized steps.

A study released in November found that a text messaging program with advice for parents on building early literacy skills increased the number of home literacy activities parents did with their children, upped parental involvement at school, and led to literacy gains among preschoolers.

“We were pleased that our program worked,” said Benjamin N. York, one of the study’s authors. “We’re a little bit surprised that it worked as well as it did.”

BrightByText 

  • What: A weekly text messaging program that provides tips to parents of young children.
  • Open to: Colorado parents and caregivers of children 0-3 years old
  • Sign up: Text “BRIGHT” to 444999

While that study focused on parents of four-year-olds, not parents of younger children as BrightByText does, York believes text messaging interventions are broadly applicable, and if developed carefully can impact families with children of all ages.

“Texting is really fertile ground to communicate with parents,” he said.

Dusin has already recommended the program to a friend who recently gave birth.

“I think it’s a good tool for parents who are interested in helping give their children the best kind of head start,” she said. “If you want it, you use it. If not, you just ignore the text.”

Updating the model

Throughout its two-decade existence, Bright by Three has relied on direct contact with parents, distributing kits containing books and learning games at annual doctor visits or through home visits by community volunteers. Last year, about 24,000 parents were served this way.

Examples of text messages sent to parents through the BrightByText program.

The intervention is relatively cheap—about $165 per child over three years—but also low-intensity. At most, parents receive about an hour’s worth of in-person advice each year for three years.

From now on, BrightByText will be a component of the traditional visit-based program as well as a stand-alone offering available to any interested parent. Bright by Three leaders hope to sign up 3,000 stand-alone subscribers in 2015. The weekly texts, which are tailored to the child’s age in months, will allow the organization to “up the dosage” of its positive parenting messages, said Brenton.

It helps that ninety percent of adult Americans own cell phones and 58 percent own smartphones, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center. The numbers remain surprisingly high for low-income families, with 84 percent of adults with household incomes under $30,000 owning cell phones.

For recipients, text messages are just plain convenient—available at all hours on a device many people keep within arm’s reach.

Dusin, who participates in Bright by Three’s traditional home visiting program as well as BrightByText, said, “I wouldn’t say that the visit is inconvenient, but I had to have someone come to my house and she was there for an hour….With the text, I can read it when I have time.”

She said some texts affirm things she’s already doing with Hunter, but others suggest activities she never thought about. One recent message encouraged parents to help children understand that storybook pictures represent real things.

She started using the concept while reading, “Where is Baby’s Belly Button?” a lift-the-flap book about parts of the body.

“I’ll compare the pictures that we’re reading about to him,” she said. “I’ll grab his feet and say, ‘These are your feet’…I know he doesn’t get it yet, but the more you do with him, the more you interact…the better it is down the road.”

Careful crafting

Firing off text message tips sounds fairly simple, but experts caution that such programs must be developed thoughtfully.

York, who’s planning further research on texting interventions, said his team put lots of time into developing and sequencing the content, and determining the thrice-weekly dosage.

“One of our concerns to be quite candid…is that organizations will just start texting parents in a more casual way not having gone through a process like we went through,” he said. “The devil is in the details.”

While text messaging programs for parents are not exactly common, one national program is Text4Baby, sponsored by the Johnson & Johnson company. The focus however is mostly on health topics, not early learning.

In the case of BrightByText, messages are based on the well-respected “LearningGames: The Abecedarian Curriculum,” which is also used for Bright by Three’s printed parent kits. In addition to one- or two-sentence tips about singing, playing or reading with children, each text includes links to “landing pages” that provide more information about each activity.

Bright by Three officials hope to offer Spanish-language texts sometime this spring, and eventually links to 100 videos modeling the activities and resources such as local library story times. All that development will be resource-intensive at first, but once everything’s in place it’ll cost almost nothing to run, said Brenton.

She said the organization’s robust in-house data system will help determine whether text message outreach is making a difference.

“Over the last couple years, we’ve made database to measure every single interaction and engagement we have with parents…a system capable of looking at what moves the needle.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

State Board votes 4-3 to give districts waiver option on testing

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 13:18

A divided State Board of Education has fired the first official shot in Colorado’s 2015 testing wars, but it remains to be seen if that action is a live round or a dud.

The board Thursday voted 4-3 to allow school districts to seek waivers from administering the first part of PARCC tests in language arts and math, scheduled to be given in March.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl told the board it doesn’t have the authority to do that, and Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said he wouldn’t grant such waivers unless told he could do so by the attorney general’s office.

“Should this motion pass it probably wouldn’t have legal effect,” Dyl told the board before the vote. “This is a part of the law you do not have the power to waive.”

Hammond told the board, “If you pass this motion I will not implement it until I get guidance from the attorney general’s office. … It could have widespread implications on schools.”

The motion was made by Steve Durham, a new Republican board member from Colorado Springs, and seconded by Deb Scheffel, a Republican member from Douglas County, Also voting for it were new Democratic member Valentina Flores from Denver and Republican Pam Mazanec from Douglas County.

“If the commissioner elects not to grant those [waivers] that’s up to him,” Durham said. “I believe a much fuller legal analysis is required, and I fully intend to meet with the attorney general.” Interviewed after the meeting, Durham said, “I hope someone makes a waiver request and moves it forward. … Should the commissioner decide he does not want to grant a waiver, then someone who applies for a waiver and is not granted one can litigate the question.”

Voting no were chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction, and Democrats Angelika Schroeder of Boulder and Jane Goff of Arvada.

“If we pass this motion it will cause chaos in the state and in the districts,” Neal said. “This is a terrible motion. We need to defeat it and then we need to work to get this state out of PARCC.”

Neal also said, “I would get out of PARCC if I could. We don’t have that ability with the legislation that’s in place.”

The issue wasn’t on the board’s agenda and was brought up suddenly by Durham, a veteran lobbyist and former Republican legislator who recently was appointed to fill a board vacancy.

Durham said after the meeting that he tried to get the issue on the board’s agenda but wasn’t able to. Referring to his legislative skills, Durham said he tried to “shoehorn” the motion into an appropriate part of the meeting. The board was being briefed on school finance when Durham asked about the cost of testing and then brought up the motion.

The language arts and match PARCC tests are scheduled to be given in two parts, one in March and another at the end of the school year.

Durham argued that districts should be able to give only the end-of-year tests if they choose.

Department of Education staff told the board the two parts can’t be separated. “These are are not two tests. There are two components to the test,” said Department of Education testing chief Joyce Zurkowski, who hustled from her office to the boardroom after the discussion started.

Durham’s comment was “Somehow we walked ourselves … into a two-part test that we’re really not obligated to have.”

Testing is expected to be hot issue during the new legislative session, but many lawmakers are awaiting the report of the advisory Standards and Assessments Task Force, which is due by Jan. 31. (The divided group meets again Friday.)

Durham sounded dismissive of the group, saying, “I suspect the results are going to be tainted by the conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest of those serving.”

Durham said he’d been working on the motion for a few days and that it had been suggested to him by someone whom he wouldn’t identify.

Near the end of the meeting, Durham raised the issue of the Common Core State Standards, indicating he’d like Colorado to get out of them and saying, “One of the things I’d like to see from the commissioner is a series of recommendations that would end in this result.”

“To get out of Common Core does take legislative action,” Hammond said.

Other board members balked a bit at Durham’s suggestion, and everyone seemed to agree to take the issue up as a formal agenda item in February.

Last spring the board (with a slightly different membership) voted 4-3 for a resolution asking the legislature to withdraw Colorado from the PARCC testing group (see this story). Lawmakers took no action.

In November the board issued a unanimous letter suggesting that the amount of state testing be reduced (see story).

Reaction measured on board action

The board’s decision, first reported by Chalkbeat Colorado, spread quickly among lobbyists and lawmakers at the Capitol.

Senate Education Committee Chair Owen Hill said, “The people elect the State board and give it authority over the commissioner. I’m confident the commissioner will do everything in his legal power to do the wishes of his boss, the State Board.”

Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, said the board vote “obviously will shape this discussion” but that he remains committed to holding off on consideration of testing bills until after the task force makes its report. “We’re going to honor that process.”

Hill also said he’s invited Hammond to meet with Senate Education to discuss the issue of testing waivers.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, would only say, “I really hope the State Board understands its authority in making or not making policy.” Kerr is the senior Democrat on Senate Education Committee.

Jane Urschel, top lobbyist for the Colorado Association of School Boards, sat in on part of the board’s discussion. “This is not really a surprise, but will this action truncate the legislative process, where we will have public deliberation on this important and emotional issue?” she wondered.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Dougco parents, school board have an expensive war of words

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 09:58

#COLeg

The Colorado General Assembly opened for business yesterday. Here's a look at the education issues ahead. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A dozen education bills were introduced on the first day. One would roll back key elements of the state's teacher evaluation system. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

“Long story short, I think the whole concept is overwhelming the system,” said the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colo. Springs. ( Denver Post )

Meanwhile, the new Senate president pledged to the parents to keep students safe, although legislative solutions to school shootings like the one at Arapahoe High School remain to be seen. ( Denver Post )

A failure to communicate

The Douglas County School District and the parents it serves use a variety of costly communication tools to spread their respective opinions about the district's reform efforts. And those visions don't usually match. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Back to business

The Colorado State Board of Education elected new — bipartisan — leaders and backed a charter school that was rejected by two metro-area school districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Directions from Washington

The U.S. departments of Justice and Education yesterday set out to clarify school districts’ and states’ obligations to teach English learners. The new guidance means little for Denver Public Schools, which is already teaching English learners under a court order. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

For now

A charter school must meet a long list of conditions in order to keep its contract with Aurora Public Schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Switching things up

Jeffco officials are holding a series of meetings with parents to discuss school improvement efforts at some of their lower-performing schools. ( 9News, Denver Post )

Two cents

A Douglas County parent argues the suburban school district's teacher evaluation rubric is nonsensical. ( Denver Post )

Puebloans must have a sense of urgency to improve their failing schools, the city's paper of record opined. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Rahm's early childhood non-news and competing PARCC letters

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 08:58

Seven weeks ahead of Chicago’s mayoral election -- and about a week after his campaign started airing commercials touting his record on early childhood education -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference Tuesday to announce federal funding for the city’s Head Start programs. But it was hard to find the news: Yes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did send the city a check for the preschool program, but it has done that every year and for more than a decade the funding has been pretty stable. Also, the city knew it was getting the funding for weeks.

The difference this time, the mayor’s office says, is that Chicago is promised $600 million over five years and will no longer have to compete every year for it. The mayor’s office even provided a glowing letter from HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell addressed to Emanuel (which, it turns out, was sent at the mayor's request). But again, HHS is shifting to five year cycles for every grantee, except for the most troubled of operators.

Either way, the mayor said the funding would be a crucial step forward in his goal to provide “universal” preschool for 4-year-olds citywide -- though it’s questionable how universal the goal really is. “The role model [for early childcare] will no longer be expensive babysitting--it’ll be a strong foundation of public education across the city,” he said during the press conference, after playing Bingo with a group of toddlers.

As an added political bonus, Ounce of Prevention Fund president and incoming Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner spoke at the presser, at Emanuel’s invitation. Rauner said the pursuit of expanded early childhood education would rely on “innovative public-private relationships” and strong collaboration between Springfield and City Hall.

Not to be left out, a group of community organizations and unions will hold their own press conference today to set the record straight on the federal dollars and Emanuel’s record on early childhood education. They’ll point out that enrollment in school-based preschool has actually fallen over the past two years following changes in the application process and new requirements regarding income reporting.

2. New community college operator… Loyola University Chicago will establish a special two-year college program for the city’s poorest students, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. An effort to buoy the city’s meager college graduation rates, Arrupe College will accommodate 400 students on the university’s Water Tower campus, Loyola's President Rev. Michael Garanzini said in his September State of the University address. The plan is for students to commute to campus and take classes on a work-study basis, leading them to a diploma within two years without incurring student debt. Supporters hope the project will be a step toward Chicago Public Schools’ goal of a 60 percent college graduation rate by 2025.

Time will tell if Loyola, a private Jesuit school that boasts a 70 percent graduation rate, can create an option preferable to the City Colleges of Chicago, whose graduation rates range from 6 to 22 percent. About 15 percent of CPS grads enrolled in a City College campus in 2013.

3. The battle of the PARCC letters… Right before Christmas, a group of seven lawmakers, including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and State Senator Heather Steans, wrote to State Superintendent Christopher Koch to ask him to make a formal request to the U.S. Department of Education to delay the PARCC.

As you will remember, parent activists in Chicago and some superintendents have been waging a battle to get the state to put off the implementation of the PARCC, which is a new state assessment that is aligned with the Common Core standards. Some worry that the PARCC, which is shifting away from multiple choice and includes more complicated questions, is not ready to be rolled out and that too many school districts lack the technology to implement a computer-based test.

The lawmakers wrote they are concerned that the PARCC is too long, that it has not been sufficiently field tested and that it will interfere with AP and ACT exams in high schools.

But, in his weekly message dated January 6, Koch includes a letter from the Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle laying out the consequences if the state does not have every student take an assessment this year to comply with federal accountability laws. She says that the state could allow school districts to implement a variety of tests, but that they would each have to meet a high bar of showing that they meet the state’s standards and are comparable. Also, she warns that if the state fails to give an assessment to students it could face multiple consequences, including increased monitoring or a cease and desist order.

Note, Delisle does not mention the PARCC because federal law does not specify what test states must give to students. However, Illinois is committed to giving the PARCC because a state law requires that Illinois give a Common Core test by the 2014-2015 school year.

4. Testing the Congress… The hot debate over the PARCC in Illinois is similar to what is playing out in states across the country. Because of the push to lessen the number of standardized tests given to students, national education experts are expecting Congress to finally make some headway on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, according to Education Week. It is ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind, that requires states to test students every year from third grade on and also implements harsh punishments, like turnovers and closures, for schools not meeting benchmarks. However, it is unclear if Congress can create a bipartisan bill that will be acceptable to President Barack Obama.

Education Week also predicts that the next Congress, now controlled by Republicans, will try to pass a bill to increase access to charter schools and will try to rewrite the rewrite the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which governs the largest federal program for high schools.

On a related note, NPR says the biggest education story of 2015 will be continued scrutiny on testing and the implementation of the Common Core standards. Also, they predict the other big stories will be teacher evaluation and scrutiny on school police as part of the Ferguson fallout.

5. Superintendent pay-out…. The Chicago Tribune looks into how some suburban school districts have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to hire close to a half-dozen different superintendents since 2001. In one extreme case, the Bellwood School District 88 hired the same superintendent three times for the job, even after she’d successfully sued and gotten a $75,000 settlement.

Tribune reporter Angela Caputo, who makes her debut on the newspaper’s investigative team after leaving our sister publication, The Chicago Reporter, writes that the revolving door to the superintendent’s office “undermines a district's stability and pulls away resources from students. Or as one expert aptly sums up, "If the board is paying their salary and the new superintendent and maybe even a previous superintendent, that's a big hit. How many teachers could have been paid? How many school books could have been bought?"

For its part, Chicago is on its fifth chief executive officer since 2001, but now CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been at the helm for more than two years.

 

 



Categories: Urban School News

New bill would roll back key element of evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 21:56

One of the first education bills introduced in the 2015 legislative session would eliminate a major part of the state’s educator evaluation system. It’s expected to spark some lively debate, even if its chances of passage are unlikely.

A few of the dozen other education bills introduced Wednesday, the session’s opening day, also fit into the category of “statement” bills – measures intended to make a point and spark debate, even if they have little chance of passage.

Among those are two proposals to provide state funding for full-day kindergarten, one to divert state surpluses to education and another to provide tax credits to taxpayers who pay private school tuition

The evaluation measure, Senate Bill 15-003 would eliminate student academic growth measures from the state’s principal and teacher evaluation system.

The bill was introduced by new Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, and he’s the only sponsor for now. (That’s usually not a good sign for a bill’s chances.) He previously served in the House, was chair of the House Education Committee and a regular critic of various education reform measures. Merrifield had indicated previously that he likely would introduce such a bill.

Senate Bill 10-191, passed five years ago, created a new evaluation system that required principals and teachers be evaluated 50 percent on “professional practice” and 50 percent on student academic growth as measured by a variety of tests and evaluations, not just growth as measured by scores on state assessments.

While Merrifield’s bill is a long shot, the use of growth data in evaluations is expected to be a larger discussion during the 2015 session. In 2014 lawmakers gave districts flexibility in use of growth data during the current school year (see this story for background), and there may be efforts to extend that flexibility or otherwise tweak the current evaluation system.

Here’s a look at the other bills introduced Wednesday:

House Bill 15-1001 – Proposes creation of a program in the Department of Human Services that would distribute grants to non-profits and colleges to be used for scholarships for students seeking credentials in early childhood education. No price tag yet. Prime sponsors: Democratic Reps. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Alec Garnett of Denver; Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.

House Bill 15-1003 – Requires the state Department of Transportation to award at least $3 million in grants to the Safe Routes to Schools program in 2015-16. The program helps schools protect the safety of students while going between school and home. Prime sponsors: Democratic Reps. Max Tyler of Lakewood and Diane Mitch Bush of Steamboat Springs; Sen. Todd.

House Bill 15-1020 – Would provide state funding to all school districts for full-day kindergarten. No price tag yet, but this will be expensive. Prime sponsor: Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Wilson has made a crusade of this issue, and this bill will be part of a larger debate about kindergarten and preschool funding, although it’s not likely to pass in its original form.

House Bill 15-1024 – Proposes increases funding for an additional 3,000 students in the Colorado Preschool Program on top of the current 20,160. This idea also becomes part of the debate over increased funding for both preschool for at-risk students and full-day kindergarten. Prime sponsors: Pettersen; Democratic Sens. John Kefalas of Fort Collins and Todd.

House Bill 15-1027 – Makes American Indian students from tribes with “historic ties” to Colorado eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges and universities. This idea has been proposed, but defeated, in previous sessions. Prime sponsors: Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton; Sen. Lucia Guzman. D-Denver.

House Bill 15-1037 – Prohibits state colleges from discriminating against student groups that require their leaders to adhere to certain religious beliefs. This idea involves conservative religious clubs that oppose homosexuality and is a favorite Republican cause. Prime sponsors: Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson; Sen. Tim Neville, R-Lakewood.

House Bill 15-1063 – Changes for ages for compulsory school attendance from 6 and 17 to 7 and 16. Prime sponsor: freshman Rep. Kim Ransome, R-Douglas County.

House Bill 15-1058 – Requires that any annual surpluses in the state’s main account, the general fund, be diverted to education, with 70 percent to K-12 and 30 percent to higher education. Prime sponsors: Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan; Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Senate Bill 15-032 – Repeals current laws requiring permits for concealed carry of firearms but retains the ban on carrying concealed weapons on school grounds. Prime sponsor: Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins.

Senate Bill 15-033 – Would submits to voters a proposal to retain revenues above the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap and devote the money to funding full-day kindergarten. (Any attempts to divert taxpayer refunds under TABOR are likely non-starters this session.) Prime sponsor: Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood.

Senate Bill 15-045 – Creates a private school tuition tax credit under which taxpayers could claim credits for such tuition or for funding private school scholarships. This is a perennial proposal for conservative GOP members and has little chance of ultimate passage, given continued Democratic control of the House. Prime sponsor: Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Bethoud.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board picks new leaders, backs charter in appeals cases

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 20:04

The State Board of Education Wednesday picked new, bipartisan leadership and then dove into two contentious charter school appeals, siding with the charter in both cases.

Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who’s been vice chair of the seven-member board, was unanimously selected as chair. Neal, a retired social studies teacher and school board member, was elected to a second, six-year term in November.

Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder was elected the new vice chair on a 4-3 vote secret-ballot vote. She came out ahead of Republican Steve Durham of Colorado Springs, who was appointed to the board after GOP chair Paul Lundeen of Monument was elected to the state House and had to resign from the board. Durham is a veteran lobbyist and former legislator.

The board has a 4-3 Republican majority. Member differences, when they crop up, tend to be more philosophical than strictly partisan. Neal has periodically been a swing vote on some major issues.

Much of the board’s day was consumed with two appeals filed by TriCity Academy against the Sheridan and Englewood school boards.

The yet-to-open school last year applied for charters from both districts but was rejected by both boards. In such cases state law allows schools to appeal to the State Board, which has the option of either upholding a district’s decision or of sending the issue back to the local board for further negotiations with an applicant.

The SBE sent the applications back to the boards for further talks. The vote was 4-3 in the Sheridan case and 5-2 on the Englewood appeal. A board subcommittee will draft specific issues for the boards to address.

The applications have been contentious in both districts, particularly over the questions of whether the proposed school has any significant community support in either district, the completeness of TriCity’s applications, the rigor of its academic plan, the soundness of its finances, the appropriateness of its Core Knowledge curriculum for at-risk students and its relationship with Delta Schools Inc., the charter “incubator” that has been advising TriCity. Delta also was a party in the appeals.

The school’s goal – as indicated by its name – is to serve students in three neighboring Arapahoe County towns, Englewood, Littleton and Sheridan. Each town has a separate school district, a complicating factor when a charter school is involved. TriCity also applied to Littleton for a charter last year but later withdrew the application. The school plans to use the Core Knowledge curriculum with a blended learning emphasis and initially serve grades K-5, later expanding to grade 8. It doesn’t yet have a principal, staff or building.

While the State Board’s decision was a victory for the school, TriCity faces a long and uncertain road before the school can open. Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl, who advises the board on legal issues, outlined the possible scenarios:

  • Both boards could deny TriCity’s application a second time, likely bringing the issue back to the State Board.
  • One district could accept the other application while the second rejects it, presumably leading TriCity to affiliate with the accepting district.
  • Both districts could approve the application, “At which point in time the charter school would have to choose between the two,” Dyl said.

TriCity lawyer Dustin Sparks told Chalkbeat Colorado that the school ultimately would have to choose one district as its authorizer. He said the school made multiple applications so that it would have approval from both districts in case the school building is located in one district but authorized by the other district. (There are existing cases of charters be located in one district but authorized by another.)

Englewood Supterintendent Brian Ewart makes his case to the State Board.

Charter school appeals are a highly prescribed, formalized process involving lawyers, reams of paperwork and strict time limits on each sides’ presentations. The appeals were considered separately, one in the morning and one after lunch.

That format lends itself to “he said/she said” exchanges between the parties as they try to make their cases and field board member questions.

For instance, Sparks said experts Sheridan hired to review the application had “minuscule” expertise about charters, while district Superintendent Michael Clough later said, “There were so many problems with this application. … It became pretty apparent early on that the application was not written for or with Sheridan in mind.”

Sparks also criticized Englewood’s review process and made a point of noting the district never has granted a charter application. Superintendent Brian Ewert responded, “The board of education carefully evaluated the application using a fair and objective process.” He called TriCity’s application “inadequate” and financially shaky.”

District representatives also said they weren’t given enough information about the school’s relationship with Delta, a new company. Denise Mund, a former CDE staffer who know works for Delta, said the company so far has contributed its services to the school.

Ewert pointed out that the application said Delta would be paid $135,000 in the school’s first year and $400,000 after five years.

The board’s four Republicans – Neal, Durham, Pam Mazanec and Deb Scheffel – supported TriCity in the Sheridan appeal while Democrats Schroeder, Jane Goff and Valentina Flores (new to the board) – sided with the district.

Schroeder changed her vote on the Englewood appeal because that district is the most likely location for the school building. But she wasn’t optimistic about the school’s prospects.

“I’m not confident that you’re ready. … It was a poor application. I’m not sure they [the districts] won’t come back and say you’re not ready for prime time. Good luck.”

With new leaders and two new members, the board meeting didn’t run as smoothly as normal, including a spilled cup of water on the board table. “It was my beginning day, and I was a bit shaky,” Neal said at meeting’s end.

Categories: Urban School News

First federal guidance on English learners in quarter century highlights access, communications

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 16:26

Three out of four schools now educate students who have a native language that is not English. More than 9 percent of all public school students across the country—and 14 percent of students in Colorado—are English language learners.

But even as the population of non-native English speakers in public schools booms, districts and states have sometimes struggled to ensure that those students have the same access to school programs as their peers whose native language is English.

A new set of guidelines, released by the federal Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights today, sets out to clarify districts’ and states’ obligations to English learners. (The guidelines have also been translated into ten languages.)

“The data we have reflects the increasing diversity of our schools, including the increasing diversity of English learners,” said Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for the education department’s Office for Civil rights. “We know those opportunity gaps [between English learners and their peers] are real.”

She said the new guidelines would help “avoid the need for ongoing enforcement and make sure state and district school leaders are able to satisfy their obligations,” she said.

“We’re really pleased,” said Pat Chapman, the director of the Colorado Department of Education’s Federal Programs. “It’s really helpful for us…We’ve had a toolkit in Colorado for a number of years that includes pretty much the information that they’re recommending. We will review these materials and incorporate some of the pieces of what U.S. DOE has released.”

States and school districts are required to provide English learners equal access to high-quality education under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act. But the DOJ had never issued clear guidance on the issue, and the Education Department had not done so in 24 years.

The federal education department’s Office for Civil Rights have received some 475 complaints about English learners’ access to high-quality education in the last five years. And the federal justice department has agreements with more than 20 districts and states governing how they work with their learners.

For instance, one school district in Ohio had not advertised a program for English learners in Spanish, the most common language spoken by English learners and their parents in the area.

Many of the complaints centered around whether English learners with disabilities were being properly identified and receiving the services to which they are legally entitled, Lhamon said.

Both districts with rapidly growing populations of English learners and districts with long-established programs for students learning English were the subject of complaints.

The guidelines include information about how districts should identify and assess English learners and about what kinds of language assistance those students need. It details how states and districts should avoid unnecessary segregation of English learners; ensure that all students have access to school programs and activities; remove students from programs for English learners when appropriate; ensure that English learners with special needs are identified and receive services; and provide information about programs to parents whose English proficiency is limited.

The Department of Education also released a tool kit with information about identifying English learners. Lhamon said this the first of several resource guides for working with English learners the department will release.

In Denver, the guidelines won’t prompt much change: The district’s services for English learners are already overseen by the Department of Justice and guided by a binding legal settlement, which department officials said was entirely in accordance with the new guidelines.

Still, schools superintendent Tom Boasberg said in a press release that the guidance clarifies and synthesizes federal requirements. “More than 40 percent of our students in Denver Public Schools are English language learners, and our community’s future depends in large measure on our success in providing them with the education they deserve.”

Lhamon said that the department did not plan to release recommendations about which curriculum districts should use to work with their English learners. “It’s important for districts to be able to select the programs they want,” she said.

Denver school officials said late last year that they were struggling to find curricular materials that were appropriate for English learners and aligned to the Common Core.

The guideline against segregating learners also does not contradict DPS’s practice of offering some classes for students that are conducted entirely in Spanish for native Spanish speakers, Lhamon said. “It can be appropriate for English learners to receive some separate instruction during school day. But districts need to carry it out in the least segregated manner.”

Categories: Urban School News

Testing, K-12 funding the top education issues for 2015 session

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 12:12

The 2015 session of the Colorado General Assembly was gaveled to order Wednesday morning with the usual bipartisan bonhomie and a long agenda of tough issues, including school finance and testing.

“We’ve got bills coming in by the stacks,” new Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, told reporters during a pre-session briefing.

Everybody in the legislature seems to agree the burden of standardized testing should be lightened, but how to do that is an open question. And there will be renewed pressure this year to shrink the state’s K-12 funding shortfall, an effort that may conflict with other budgetary priorities.

Those debates will play out in a reconfigured legislature. Last November’s elections brought more than 20 new lawmakers to the Capitol, and the vote count ended with Republicans in control of the state Senate and a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. In the past split control often has meant compromise and meeting in the middle – and defeat of ideological bills from both ends of the political spectrum.

An expanded legislative preview was provided earlier this week to subscribers to Chalkbeat’s new Capitol membership service. Sign up here if you’d like to receive exclusive extra coverage during the session.

Most important for education, the leadership and membership of the Senate and House education committees are significantly changed for 2015. Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs will chair the Senate panel. Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, takes over as House Education chair, vacated when Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon moved to the Joint Budget Committee.

Most Capitol observers expect Senate Education will have the higher profile, given a range of personalities and views among its nine members and the fact that seven of them have prior committee experience. House Education is seen as less seasoned, with six of 11 members having prior experience on the panel.

Will 2015 be a session of second thoughts?

Starting with the 2008 session, Colorado lawmakers have passed a series of important education laws that required new academic standards, the expanded testing system, an updated method for rating districts and schools, a more rigorous way of evaluating principals and teachers and improved systems for determining school readiness and reading skills in young students.

The steep challenges of making those laws work in classrooms have become apparent in the last two years as implementation began, sparking some pushback from educators, who’ve also been joined by parents and students in criticism of testing.

And lawmakers from both parties talk increasingly about local control and giving districts and schools more flexibility.

Such talk makes education reform advocates a bit nervous. “The big concerns are going to be around all the initiatives that have taken place and to make sure we don’t step back,” said Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Here’s a look at the top education issues are shaping up 2015, based on interviews with a wide range of legislators, education advocates and lobbyists.

Testing in the cross hairs

Capitol observers agree assessment will be the top education issue, and there’s wide agreement state-required testing will be cut back.

“No legislator will argue we don’t have enough testing,” notes Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, the ranking Democrat on Senate Education.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs / File photo

“My commitment is to reduce the burden of testing this year,” Hill says, and he others agree the ultimate solution will have to be a bipartisan one. Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, predicts “a gradual, phased rollback” of testing.

Parent and educator anxiety about testing has spiked in the last year as assessment was expanded in high school and as the online, multi-state PARCC tests, based on the Common Core State Standards, approached. (They will be given statewide next spring.)

Lots of testing ideas are in the air – reduction of high school testing, setting a ceiling on annual hours of testing, allowing students and parents to opt out of tests, giving districts more flexibility in how they meet state assessment requirements, use of “sampling” tests instead of every-year exams, pilot programs to determine if local tests can meet state requirements and more.

A lot of talk has focused on cutting back to the so-called federal minimum requirements for 3rd-to-8th-grade language arts and math tests (plus once in high school), as well as periodic science tests. There’s also concern about rising levels of local testing, something lawmakers may not be able to do much about.

All of those ideas and more are expected to be floated, but most efforts by individual lawmakers, especially more simplistic ideas, probably won’t succeed.

Lawmakers are awaiting recommendations from the Standards and Assessments Task Force, created by the 2014 legislature to study this issue. The panel has to report to the legislature by Jan. 31.

“I’ve asked a lot of people to hold off on these discussions on testing until we get the 1202 commission reports,” Hill says. “That leaves us a good three months to deal with this.”

The task force has been struggling to reach agreement, which may prefigure legislative debates. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on the most recent task force debates.) The group returns to work with a meeting on Friday.

Lawmakers face big hurdles as they consider cutting back on testing. The first is creating a slimmed-down system that still generates enough data to allow state accountability and educator evaluation systems to function. The second is avoiding possible loss of federal education funds, the penalty for having a testing system that doesn’t meet those federal minimums. (See this story for details on federal requirements.)

Learn more about the testing debate over the last year in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.

Data privacy worries related to testing debate

Parent concern about the security of electronic student data has risen hand in hand with increased anxiety about testing.

The 2014 legislature passed a law setting requirements for the Department of Education – largely codifying measures CDE already was using – but didn’t impose any requirements on districts.

“There’s a very significant concern out there,” says Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who expects to carry a data privacy bill. He’s been working with school district representatives and parent groups on a bill that Holbert says would focus on requirements for vendors that provide data services to districts. Other members may have their own bills in the works.

The funding fight gets more complicated

The 2014 session was marked by a prolonged battle over how much to reduce the $1 billion shortfall in K-12 support. Lawmakers ended up trimming the negative factor by $110 million in the current 2014-15 fiscal year and freezing it for 2015-16 budget. (See this article for details on last session’s finance debate.)

Gov. John Hickenlooper started the school-finance bidding in November, when he suggested a $200 million reduction in the negative factor – but only for one year. That’s because of concerns that permanent reductions combined with constitutional requirements for annual K-12 increases based on enrollment and inflation will put too much pressure on the state budget in future years, squeezing out other programs as education funding has to grow.

A group of superintendents raised the ante later in November by proposing $70 million on top of the governor’s plan, $50 million for schools with high at-risk populations and $20 million for rural districts.

Both plans have gotten a cool reception by some members of the Joint Budget Committee who are concerned that the state can’t afford such increases.

This year’s budget discussions likely will be complicated by non-education issues.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver / File photo

“You’ll now see the conversation getting broader,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

The main reason for that is TABOR, which sets ceilings on the amounts of revenue the legislature can spend each year and requires the excess be refunded to taxpayers. State revenues now are growing fast enough that executive branch economists project that a $196.8 million refund will be required from surplus revenues in the current budget, plus $186.5 million in 2015-16 and $269.2 million in 2016-17.

Education advocates and some other interests – primarily transportation – would like to see the TABOR surpluses retained for state spending. The only way that can happen is for the legislature to propose a ballot measure seeking voter approval. Based on what leaders of both parties are saying now, it’s unlikely lawmakers will pass such a measure.

Other school finance issues are expected to be on the table this session, including:

Preschool vs. kindergarten – Recent funding increases for early childhood have gone mostly to kindergarten, and some preschool advocates want to restore more balance. Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, has vowed to again push his plan for state funding of full-day kindergarten.

Charter school facilities – Charter school advocates have worked for several sessions to win more funding for facility costs. That effort is expected to continue this session.

Funding equity – A massive school finance overhaul pushed by Johnston in 2013 attempted to shift more money to districts with high percentages of at-risk students, but the plan was shelved after voters rejected the tax increase needed to pay for it. Since then various groups have discussed other ways to move toward greater funding equity. No proposals have firmed up, but there may be moves this session to tinker with the current state funding formula.

Future funding – House Republicans are expected to propose a plan that would funnel future state budget surpluses to education, and Hamner is consideration of a study panel to review education funding.

Plenty of other education bills waiting in wings

“Education will be a keystone issue as it is in almost every session,” Hullinghorst said.

Here’s a look at possibilities.

Accountability clock – With some low-performing districts and schools entering the fifth year of the accountability clock and possibly facing state-ordered changes, there’s talk of tinkering with the state’s accountability system.

Creative financing – Johnston will introduce a bill promoting what’s called “pay for success” or social impact financing, through which private investors can support, say, an early childhood program and be paid back later through savings in, for instance, special education costs. A 2014 bill on this issue was unsuccessful, but Johnston is more confident this year. (See this post about a December event that Chalkbeat sponsored on the concept.)

Educator evaluation – Lawmakers last year made an important but temporary tweak in the state’s new evaluation system, giving districts flexibility in the weighting of student academic growth when evaluating teachers. (See this story for details on how districts are using that.) There’s talk of trying to extend that flexibility for another year, or of making bigger changes in how growth is used in evaluation, but not specific bills have surfaced.

Online schools – The 2014 legislature created a task force to study issues relating to online schools that enroll students who live in multiple districts. The primary focus was creating suggested rules for CDE to certify districts that authorize such schools. (Currently the state certifies the schools, not the districts, a system that critics believe makes some authorizing districts lax in their oversight.) The task force completed its report at the end of the year, and Kerr said he expects to carry legislation – but he’s not saying yet what it will include.

Rural districts – Wilson says he’s going to make another run at freeing rural districts from some state mandates but hasn’t said yet what that will include. There’s been some talk among rural superintendents about giving small schools some of the flexibility enjoyed by charters. And expect a bill to give boards of cooperative educational services more authority and funding to perform additional administrative functions for districts.

Struggling schools – Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, says he’s planning to try again with his plan to create a pilot program that would provide bonuses to highly effective teachers who agree to work in struggling schools.

Truancy – The bipartisan team of Holbert and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, is working on a bill to end the use of jail for habitually truant students.

Other education bills being mentioned involve administration of medical marijuana products in schools, changing how schools report incidents and threats, tinkering with the breakfast after the bell program, creation of a tax deduction for teachers who buy materials for their classrooms and a bill that would require schools to obtain permission from a panel of Native Americans for use of Indian mascots.

And expect to see a wide variety of proposals, primarily from Republicans, on such issues as withdrawing from the Common Core standards and PARCC tests, school vouchers and tax credits and changes to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association. Observers expect some of those may pass the Senate only to die in the House.

College costs on lawmakers’ radar

Several lawmakers say they’re working on college affordability bills, including financial incentives for students who stay in college, scholarships for the top three graduates from every Colorado high school, student loan forgiveness, caps on some student loan interest rates and better consumer disclosure on loans.

Otherwise, college and university leaders are hoping that the 2015 session is less eventful than 2014, when lawmakers passed a major overhaul of the higher education finance formula, including performance funding.

Refresh your memory on the details of what the 2014 session did on education in this story

The higher education system has agreed on the details of that formula (see story here). Legislative attempts to tinker with the details could upset the carefully crafted compromise, but key leaders are promising to not allow changes in the formula.

One possible sticking point is $15 million in extra funding that Hickenlooper has requested by used as transition support for campuses that would gain the least from the new formula. Some JBC members have raised questions about that.

The budget committee also seems skeptical about the governor’s request to funnel $30 million into a pet project, the new Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, and to not make the usual increase in funding the state’s existing financial aid fund.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora gives cashless charter one-year extension with conditions

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 11:55

AURORA — A charter school that had just enough money in the bank to operate through March has been given a reprieve by the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education.

The seven-member board voted unanimously Tuesday evening to give AXL Academy a one-year charter extension, but with several conditions around enrollment, staffing, finances, and academic performance.

District officials assured the board that if the school fails to meet those benchmarks, the board would have the authority to halt the school from reopening in the fall.

The school’s $632,000 shortfall was attributed to lower-than-expected enrollment. The charter had budgeted and hired for 100 more students than had enrolled by early October, when the state sets funding for schools.

As part of the agreement, APS will defer payments AXL owes the district and the school will end the year with a small deficit. School and district officials are banking on more funding from the state next year to make up the end-of-year debt. While the governor’s original budget calls for increases to the state’s per-pupil funding and one-time money for schools, recent projections have made that money less certain.

Among the conditions the school must meet in order for the to reopen in the fall:

  • Re-enroll 85 percent of its students by Feb. 15
  • Secure $150,000 in donations from local foundations by Feb. 15
  • Renegotiate its lease by April 1
  • Hire 90 percent of its staff by June 1
  • Maintain its academic rating given by the state

“We are extremely grateful for the support of the Aurora Public School District and its Board of Directors in granting us this extension,” said Brent Reckman,  co-principal at AXL. “We’re excited to engage in a new process of strategic planning to improve our practices, and we look forward to continuing our work of providing high quality instruction that our families and scholars expect and deserve.”

Board observers and charter school supporters have celebrated APS’s staff and board for working through the budget crisis with AXL. In years past, the suburban school district has been viewed as less friendly to charter schools.

APS memo outlining AXL conditions DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1391496-axl-charter-memo-aps.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1391496-axl-charter-memo-aps' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Bill would require vetting of American Indian mascots

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 10:16

Mascots

A bill would require a panel of American Indians to approve the use of American Indian-themed school mascots. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Minority Report

A report finds that just 10 percent of Colorado teachers are minorities while 43 percent of students belong to minority groups. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Test It To The Limit

CPR explores whether Colorado students are taking too many tests and what the legislature's likely to do about it. ( Colorado Public Radio )

turnaround

Five leaders from turnaround schools across Colorado share stories about their schools and what they need most. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Rural Colorado

The Colorado Department of Higher Education plans to help rural districts looking for teachers. ( 9 News )

Test Not

What could schools use instead of standardized tests? ( KUNC )

It's All The Same

A former professor argues that differentiation as it's currently envisioned doesn't work. ( Education Week )

ESEA

Republican lawmakers are aiming to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—long overdue—in this congressional session. ( Education Week )

Fluffy Furball

Teachers can get grants to support classroom pets. ( The Gazette )

Bring It On Home

A Colorado College student is aiming to bring more reliable energy to Ghana, his homeland. ( The Gazette )

Lockdown

Two schools in Colorado Springs were placed on lockdown yesterday. ( The Gazette )

Around the network

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to lift a ban on cell phones in schools ( Chalkbeat New York )

Smells

A consultant is exploring why a Boulder Valley middle school smells like sewer gas. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Report finds mismatch of minority students, teachers

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 16:21

Only 10 percent of Colorado teachers are minorities, while 43 percent of state students belong to minority groups, a new report has found.

“A major challenge in the U.S. education system, including Colorado’s education system, is the mismatch between the racial and ethnic diversity of the nation’s overall student population and that of the teacher workforce,” according to a new report titled “Keeping Up with the Kids: Increasing Minority Teacher Representation in Colorado.”

The study was commissioned by a 2014 law (House Bill 14-1175) sponsored by Democratic Reps. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Dan Pabon of Denver. Fields nicknamed the bill “Aliyah’s Law” after Cherry Creek middle school student Aliyah Cook, who told a House committee last February that she was looking for “a role model I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be just like you.’”

Colorado’s percentage of minority teachers lags behind the nation. The report found that 18.1 percent of U.S. teachers were minorities in 2011-12 school year, compared to 48 percent of students.

And while the state’s teacher workforce grew 17 percent from 1999 to 2013, the percentage of minority teachers has remained stuck at 10 percent.

“The number of white, Hispanic, and Asian teachers has trended up over the past 15 years and remained fairly constant in share of workforce at about 90 percent, 7 percent, and 1 percent, respectively. The number of Black and Native American teachers has remained steady at approximately 700 (about 1 percent of total) and 250 (less than 1 percent of total), respectively. Over this period the share of black and Native American teachers in the Colorado workforce has declined.”

The study recommends that “the legislature create and authorize a multi-million dollar per year” grant program to help districts, teacher preparation programs and non-profits increase the recruitment of minority teacher candidates and retention of working teachers.

“There is room to improve Colorado’s current recruitment strategies,” the report said, adding, “There is no single, statewide solution to the challenge of recruiting and retaining minority teachers. Instead, there are multiple possible solutions, tailored to fit the assets and needs of different communities and different parts of the state. The role of the state is to help communities organize and build capacity to recruit and retain minority teachers, and to evaluate recruitment and retention efforts to learn from successes and challenges.”

Many education researchers and advocates believe a more diverse teacher work force would help improve the achievement of minority students, whose performance typically lags that of white students.

“Colorado district administrators and teacher educators who were interviewed for this analysis shared a belief that increasing teacher diversity enhances students’ relationships to and connections with teachers, which in turn is part of narrowing the achievement gap,” the report said.

Barriers to recruiting and retaining minority teachers include negative perceptions of teaching profession among minorities, low salaries, barriers for minority students in attending and completing college, college costs licensing tests, issues of cultural competence and the challenges of relocation, the report found.

There are signs of improvement in the statistics, the report found, noting that 12 percent of new hires are minorities, that 14 percent of students in college and university teacher prep programs are minorities and that 21 percent of new bachelor’s degree graduates are minorities. “Thus, there is an expanding possible pool of new minorities that could be entering the classroom.”

The study drew three overall conclusions about the issue:

  • There’s a widely held desire to improve minority teacher recruitment and capacity but limited capacity within schools and preparation programs to address the issue.
  • Recruitment and retention efforts need to be tailored to meet the needs of individual districts and communities.
  • Improved relationships among educators and between educational institutions and minority communities are key.

Possible strategies for retention higher salaries and incentives, effective principals and school leadership; comprehensive mentoring and induction, networks of teacher collaboration and support, increased classroom autonomy, and improved facilities.

The report was done for the state by the research firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, the go-to company for much Colorado education research. In 2014 the firm also do research for the Standards and Assessments Task Force (see story), and Augenblick vice president facilitated the work of the Online Task Force. Both study groups were created by the 2014 legislature. HB 14-1175 appropriated $50,000 for the minority teachers study.

DV.load('http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1390956-keeping-up-with-the-kids-12-18.js', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1390956-keeping-up-with-the-kids-12-18' });
Categories: Urban School News

Voices from turnaround: What five schools are doing to boost student achievement

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 15:42

The state of Colorado labels more than 100 schools with the same term: failing.

But no two turnaround schools, as they’re sometimes called, are failing for the exact same reason. And it’s unlikely that the solution the schools need is the same.

That’s probably because the schools and the communities they serve are just as unique. Some schools are urban, some are rural. Some serve large populations of English language learners. Others serve second, third, and fourth generation Coloradans.

Last month, nine schools from five school districts that are participating in the state’s voluntary Turnaround Network gathered at a Colorado Springs hotel for a lesson on teacher feedback. In its first year, the network is run by the Colorado Department of Education and provides mentoring and independent analysis for its partnered schools.

At the seminar, Chalkbeat asked school leaders about their most important work to improve student learning. Listen to the clips below and then explore the turnaround network school profiles on the map below. Clips are color coded to match their schools on the map.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: School funding fights go to court

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 09:56

Q&A with “School Psychologist of the Year”

Andrea Clyne talks about changes in the field, the importance of universal mental health screenings and how Louisville Middle School staff make sure every student feels a sense of belonging at school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

What education issue shouldn't be overlooked by Colorado lawmakers? Let us know what you think. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Springs scholarships

After a two-year break to reorganize, educational empowerment nonprofit Parents Challenge is running at full speed - planning two January events for parents and educators and taking applications for programs that offer scholarships and grants. ( Gazette )

School funding in court

Lawsuits like one in Kansas have become a popular tactic to try to win more money for public schools. Thirteen states, from Texas to Pennsylvania, are facing active school finance litigation. ( Marketplace )

In a ruling more than 100 pages long, a Kansas district court stood by its 2013 ruling that school funding is unconstitutionally low, but declined to order the state to inject a specific amount of money. ( Topeka Capital-Journal )

Teacher evaluations

In the second year of what was intended to be a tough new system of evaluating Indiana educators, the results were the same: hardly any were rated ineffective and nearly all were certified as doing their jobs effectively. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Home schooling

Unlike so much of education in this country, teaching at home is broadly unregulated. Along with steady growth in home schooling has come a spirited debate and lobbying war over how much oversight such education requires. ( NY Times )

Broadband access

A series of broad policy changes to the federal E-rate program will bring billions of dollars in increased funding and a greater focus on high-speed wireless technologies to schools and libraries. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What education issue shouldn’t be overlooked by Colorado lawmakers?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 14:48

The Colorado General Assembly will begin a new session Wednesday. Funding and testing are likely going to be the sessions hot-button and most-watched education issues. Some lawmakers also plan on taking a close look at how schools report violence to the state and parents. We’ll have a preview of the session later this week.

But this week’s question of week wonders: what other, maybe more under-the-radar, education issues should the Colorado General Assembly take on? And what should they do about it? 

If you’re interested in receiving breaking news alerts and exclusive analysis of education issues in the session — and receive our most in-depth preview of the session later this week — make sure to sign up for our new Capitol membership. Find out more details here.

Each Monday, 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

“School Psychologist of the Year” on the changing role of mental health services

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 13:53

Dr. Andrea Clyne, a school psychologist at Louisville Middle School, was recently selected as the 2014 School Psychologist of the Year by the Colorado Society of School Psychologists. Here’s what she had to say about how she got into the field, how it’s changed and the importance of making sure students feel connected to school.

Why did you become a school psychologist?

I was in my undergrad program at the University of Colorado-Boulder and I was taking a summer seminar course for seniors and a lot of different types of psychologists came in and spoke to our class about careers. When I heard about school psychology I got really excited because I’d never heard of it before.

I’ve always loved children. I found out I could start working with a Master’s degree and I came from some more humble beginnings so the idea of making some money before getting a Ph.D. appealed to me.

In 1989-90, that was the school year that I did my internship while I was in grad school, and I actually interned in Boulder Valley with several different school psychologists… I was actually at this school one day a week for a school year.

At the time, school psychology traditionally involved really more itinerant services. Through the years, I’ve worked at several different schools, but this has always been my common school… I’m here four days a week and I have a private practice in Boulder one day a week.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day involves a lot of consultation with kids and with the adults. I work a lot with the counselors and our administrators around system-level things… I consult with them about mental health concerns that students have, talk with them about parents who are needing support.

I work with students individually, with different social concerns… if they’re really struggling in different classes, doing some problem-solving. [With the counselors] we give social-emotional lessons to the entire school in small group assemblies. We do that eight times a year.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that school psychologists face today?

We come from very rigorous training programs so we’re prepared as school psychologists, and probably the biggest struggle is just the sheer number of students needing our consultation and our support, and families.

I would love … to be here full time. I would love to also have a social worker here full time because there’s plenty of work for everyone to support students trying to succeed academically and socially. That’s nothing new and that’s not a real easy thing to solve.

In terms of the profession, we really have a huge problem, especially in the western states, with shortages of school psychologists.

You’ve been a school psychologist for 24 years, how has your work evolved over that time?

My role took a big turn half way through my career, about 10 years ago, the role of school psychology broadened nationally. This happened as a result of some different legislative changes…IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] was reauthorized…One of the changes…had to do with the identification of learning disabilities and RTI [Response to Intervention] became part of that decision-making paradigm…That really pushed forward more of a consultative role.

We began…performing less and less formalized cognitive testing because that was not part of the new criteria for qualifying for a learning disability…Also, what became a big educational trend at that time was Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports [PBIS]. In 2006,…we launched a PBIS program here. RTI and PBIS together came about right around the same time and that helped me as a school psychologist evolve into a consultative role.

On the flip side, how have the problems that students face changed during your tenure?

Truly, I don’t see the children changing that much over that 20 year period of time…Some of the issues remain exactly the same. Everybody wants to be liked, everyone wants to fit in, no one wants to look different in a bad way. Everybody wants to be understood and to be successful in school.

We seem to have more parent involvement now, over the last 10-15 years, and I think it’s really good for kids.

One change is that…students are way more tech-savvy than they used to be. That has produced a crisis at times regarding cyberbullying…That’s why at our school we do a lot of education with all the students about being careful what you send, being careful with your decisions when electronics are available to you. We touch on cyber etiquette and responsible use of electronics at least six times a year in our assemblies with students.

Do you think universal mental health screenings should be a standard tool for schools?

I do… and there is a new paradigm that we’re working on right now…It’s MTSS and that stands for Multi-Tiered System of Support. What it does is bring together the idea of Response to intervention and Positive Behavior Support together, with the further idea that we provide enough layers of support in a school to try to meet everyone’s needs.

If we don’t know who is struggling emotionally, it’s difficult to be able to do that. So, some sort of screening for mental health concerns is a major part of the MTSS model…I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but we’re working on that as a district. It’s going to be a multi-year project.  

The recommendation letter from your principal states that you said believe the most important behavior information isn’t discipline data but whether students felt attached to the school? How did you come to that conclusion?

I’d like to give [my principal Ginny Vidulich] credit for this. For years and years, our leadership team has talked about the relationships between teachers and staff and students. The data shows that students who are more involved at school and who have positive relationships with their teachers have better outcomes behaviorally and academically.

A few years ago, she devised a method for measuring the level of involvement of every single one of our students–600-plus students…She made this tremendous spreadsheet…We have gone one by one to make sure that we have students who are connected to school or connected to a teacher.

We might find a student who maybe is not much of a joiner of clubs and sports, but we know they have a very strong relationship with several of their teachers and they have conversations with them about things other than just school.

How do you and your colleagues identify students who don’t feel a sense of belonging at school?

We have an activity that our school did last week….It’s called a DOT activity, “Developing Our Ties”…Teachers identify students where they might not have connections with any teachers. Then we work on matching teachers with students that they would like to mentor and form connections with.

It’s usually teachers who already have the student in one of their classes. So it becomes a more natural way to show more interest, get to know them more, ask them more about what they’re involved in at home, what different hobbies they might have. They might show interest and go to a football game on a weekend, things like that.

We’ve just found that it works. It helps our students feel like there are people at school who care about them and that’s a huge protective factor right there.

Middle school is a notoriously tough time in terms of peer relationships, how do you help students navigate problems like cliques, mean girls, peer pressure and bullies?

Now…I’m able to work at different layers and tiers of the system whereas before it was at the top tier with the student with the most disabilities or struggles. We teach some of these social-emotional learnings in assemblies to the whole school and we have no more than about 60 students at a time…We talk about friendship skills. We talk about conflict resolution.

The second level of support is the counselors or I will work with pockets of students who need a little more practice with it…so we might even meet with a group of students together and do some very short-term counseling intervention.

Individual students who are really struggling, probably the biggest intervention that makes the most change for them is for them to find a friend or two. That goes so far in terms of supporting their mental health…So we really work hard on helping students to find friends, and to at least start with friendly acquaintances….Then we also sometimes work with positive peer mentors to help support that process.

By eighth-grade, almost without fail… students sort of find their people…Now that doesn’t solve every mental health problem, but in terms of the fitting in aspect, that helps quite a bit.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Catching up on the news

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 10:00

CPS leaders are open to handing over the education of the district’s most troubled, vulnerable students to private entities, putting out a Request for Proposals last week that asked for vendors to apply to serve students considered at risk of dropping out who are as young as 6th grade.

“We have been struggling with this population and we are looking for experienced providers to help us,” said Jack Esley, chief of the Office of Incubation and Innovation, in a press call last week.

That the district is looking to open what are essentially alternative schools for middle-grades students is likely to raise some eyebrows. Esley says district leaders have no idea if there is a private company that has been successful with this age group. “That is what the RFP is for,” he said.

But as many as 9,000 middle grades students are in such academic trouble that CPS officials think they need early dropout prevention. About 900 of them—and this might be first time CPS has identified middle school dropouts--are labeled “transfer within district” or “unable to locate” and they never reenroll. The rest are basically failing with less than a 1.0 GPA and attendance of less than 80 percent.

The district also wants to explore creating some new third-party programs for the 2,000-some students forced to enter high school without graduating from eighth grade. Ever since the district established a strict promotion policy in the late 1990s, it has been confronted with the problem of students who didn’t meet the criteria to graduate eighth grade but are over 15 and therefore must leave elementary school.

At first, CPS had small schools for these students, then a special program within high schools. Both had mixed results. For the past few years, there has been no program and the students were just sent to high school.

Esley said district officials had a lot of discussion about lessons they can learn from failed attempts at serving these students.

2. Expanding private operators… CPS also is asking for proposals for new charter/contract schools, Dyett High School and for current providers to expand. This year, the general new school RFP is for schools to fill what CPS calls “under represented programmatic designs.” These are identified as dual language, arts integration, humanities focused and something called Next Generation models, which incorporate “personalized, blended learning.”

CPS also would like more schools to serve the 27,000 students who are either short of credits needed to graduate on time--what are called young and far or old and far--or have dropped out, but only need a few credits to get a diploma. Under CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, there has been a major expansion of these schools, but CPS still only has 11,584 seats for available. These schools could either be charter schools, contract schools or run as Alternative Opportunities Programs.

Existing charter and contract schools only have to submit business plans and not full proposals.As has happened in the past, Neighborhood Advisory Councils will be formed to recommend new schools, though board members have final say and have in the past ignored the direction of community councils.

Public hearings will be held in August and the board will vote on recommended proposals at their October 2015 meeting. Approved new schools will open in the Fall of 2016. CPS leaders had already announced that no new schools would be approved this year for Fall 2015.

3. Pricey school for rich kids?… Disputed cost overruns with a politically connected contractor could drive the final price tag for  Jones College Prep to $127 million -- that is, $13 million more than expected. The Sun-Times reports that the city is bracing for a court fight with Walsh Construction, which submitted the extra bills related to the steel structure and accelerated construction over the summer. The Public Building Commission of Chicago rejected the claims and set aside money for legal fees in preparation for a possible lawsuit.

Jones College Prep -- a selective enrollment school in the South Loop -- is already the most expensive public high school ever built in the city, the Sun-Times notes. Construction for the new school was financed with the always-controversial tax-increment financing.

Also, last week, cpsobsessed.org published data showing that 44 percent of the students admitted to Jones this year were from the highest income of the four tiers that make up the framework of the selective admissions process. Students from the highest income tier can claim more seats by claiming a large number of the 30 percent awarded solely through rank order of test scores (which remain strongly tied to income).

The selective enrollment high schools on the South and West sides of the city--Brooks, King, Westinghouse and Lindblom--tend to have a disproportionate number of students from the second to the highest income tier or tier 3.

4. Quazzo investigation… Right before Christmas, the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigation that showed that in the mere year and a half since Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the School Board, companies in which she is a major investor have tripled their business with CPS, raking in an additional $2.9 million. Some of the companies, the Sun-Times notes, are selling programs to schools for just $1 under the $25,000 threshold that would require board approval. Soon after the revelation, the Sun Times called for her resignation and the inspector general has opened an investigation.

Quazzo is big investor in what are called EdTech firms, which provide individual schools with ACT prep or online instruction in reading writing or math. The EdTech industry is reportedly exploding.

While it is not clear whether Quazzo has done anything wrong (and she insists she hasn’t), Morrill Principal Michael Beyer writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that it is the type of company she promotes that is problematic. “I have yet to find independent scientific research proving any software is equal to or better than other non-digital teaching strategies,” writes Beyer. What’s more, many of these companies promise “personalized learning” with one even telling a group of educators that the software is “Montessori on steriods.” “I thought at the time, `Why not just do Montessori? Why do we need steroids?’” Beyer writes.

5. Recouping money… Not letting up on its earlier investigation into CPS’s risky bond deals, the Chicago Tribune reported on other bodies that have succeeded in “clawing back losses, with banks repaying millions of dollars to governments that issued the same kind of problematic auction-rate debt Chicago’s school system did.” The story notes that many governments’ claims are still in progress, including cities ranging from Houston and Reno, Nev., to a Florida school district. "If we had not pursued it, we would have never gotten anything," RoseMarie Reno, the outgoing treasurer of a California hospital district, told the Tribune. That hospital district secured a $4.5 million settlement to help cover its losses on auction-rate securities last year.

CPS told the Tribune it’s reviewing the litigation in other parts of the country “to determine if other options are available,” while noting that it had previously reviewed the transaction “and determined there is no avenue for arbitration.”

In another story, the Trib also wrote about a new federally mandated test for advisors who guide government borrowers -- and whether it’ll actually be enough to tests advisors’ ability to evaluate “the burdensome derivative deals that helped Congress to set the standards in the first place.”

 

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Looking back and forward at education changes in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 09:59

Looking back, forward

Students took to the streets, testing backlash grew and Denver took on equity in 2014. Here's a look back at those stories and more. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

As Colorado's standardized exams move nearly entirely online, the issue of testing isn't going anywhere in 2015. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco Public Schools, under new leadership, saw massive change in 2014. ( Arvada Press )

"They're doing it this way because we're not giving them a voice in other ways. We need to question why we're not giving youth power in some other realms." — Hava Gordon, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Denver on the four months of student protests in the metro area. ( Denver Post )

Some Colorado lawmakers plan to review how schools report violent crimes to the state and parents during the next legislative session. ( Denver Post )

A Grand Junction school sending home a 9-year-old girl after she had shaved her head in support of an 11-year-old friend who was facing chemotherapy treatments to fight cancer made Westword's "Strange but true" in education year-in-review list. ( Westword )

Human Resources

To improve its principal pipeline, Denver Public Schools is now running or partnered with a number of programs that train, certify, and support assistant principals, principals, and even the instructional superintendents who supervise school leaders. ( Chalkbeat )

Two Erie Middle School students were recognized for winning the Samsung Mobile App Challenge for an app that aims to improve brain function and soothe students with disabilities. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Devil in the details

Cities and states — including Denver — are still in the midst of figuring out how to make preschool more accessible to four-year-olds, right now. When it’s used, the term “universal” is often aspirational. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Living and learning transgender

While Colorado now recognizes same-sex marriages, for transgender Coloradans, including students, acceptance may still seem far away. ( Daily Camera )

Rural context

Roaring Fork School District officials hope an affordable housing plan will drive down teacher turnover. ( Post Independent )

Meanwhile, The Colorado Department of Higher Education has outlined five initiatives aimed at helping more rural students graduate ready for college by helping prepare more educators. ( Denver Post )

dollars and sense

A plan to funnel a chunk of the town's oil and gas revenue into Windsor-Severance schools ran into opposition last week. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

College prep

College application numbers are on the rise both in Boulder and nationally. High school counselors attribute the increased number of applicants to the ease of using the Common Application, more encouragement for low-income students to apply to more places and, especially for top students, simple fear of not getting into the most wanted and selective schools. ( Daily Camera )

Home-school hybrid

Boulder Explore, a part-time program for the Boulder Valley School District's home-schooled students that's in its third year, is now lead by teachers and looking for a more specific mission. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

Colorado lawmakers should establish tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations that provide tuition help to students seeking a private education. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Inspector Gen'l. report: Major financial fraud, abuse of selective admissions

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 06:00

Over the past five years, a CPS employee who worked at two struggling high schools milked them of almost $900,000 in a large, multi-faceted purchasing and reimbursement scam, according to today’s release of the Inspector General’s annual report.

Also, the inspector general report details incidents in which parents falsified their addresses to make it easier for their children to get into selective high schools; and cases in which two high schools mis-categorized dropouts to improve their graduation rates.

The employee accused of the fraud scheme resigned from CPS under investigation and is designated as "Do Not Hire." The inspector general’s office has been working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, but no arrests have been made yet.

The report does not name the schools involved, but sources have identified them to Catalyst as Gage Park and Michele Clark.

While this is one of the largest, if not the largest single scheme in the district's recent history, just two years ago, Lakeview High School’s technology coordinator was found dead after being accused carrying out a similiar scheme. In both cases, the employees worked with associates to funnel money to companies for goods and services that the schools never received, and the scheme was carried for years without being noticed.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says that CPS “continues to evaluate its procurement processes to increase safeguards and adopt best practices to prevent these occurrences.”

But for several years, the inspector general’s office has been encouraging CPS to provide more resources the internal audit and the inspector general’s office, noting that CPS contracts are lucrative and thousands of people in schools have the authority to request and approve payments to vendors.

This case was flagged during a financial audit, which led to the Inspector General’s report.

In the report, IG Nicholas Schuler notes that his office was able to investigate only 20 percent of the complaints received. The office is limited because it is often investigating big, complex issues and has a small staff of only 13 investigators, plus Schuler and his deputy, to scrutinize the $6 billion school district with 41,000-some employees.

By contrast, Houston Independent has 20 professionals to investigate a school district that is half the size of CPS. In 2011, the IG report noted that Chicago has one inspector for every 2,300 employees, while Cook County has one inspector for every 1,100 employees and the city's municipal government has an inspector for every 455 workers.

“The inability to investigate more complaints creates a substantial risk that instances of fraud and employee misconduct go undetected,” he writes.

In an interview, Schuler added: “We are undersized and understaffed compared to other IGs in the area.”

Fraud at two high schools

Employee records show that the administrator who orchestrated the fraud in question worked at Gage Park High from at least 2009 to 2012. In 2012, he made $104,000. In the 2013 employee roster, he shows up as a 0.5 (half-time) position at both Clark and Gage Park, with an annual salary of $109,168.

Gage Park High School has seen its enrollment drop by more than 70 percent in the past five years. This summer, when teachers got wind of the investigation, they were outraged.

“We are sinking and nobody cares,” Susan Steinmiller, a 23-year veteran teacher and a representative on the local school council, said this summer. “We have no newspaper, no library, no band, why would anyone want to be here?... I am just really upset because we really need the money.”

In September, however, Gage Park’s principal abruptly retired and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett hand-picked the principal’s replacement. Byrd- Bennett has said she is personally invested in the revitalization of the school.

According to the IG’s report, the principals of the two high schools did not seem aware of the scheme. But they did put a lot of trust in this one particular employee and one of them gave him their password to the district's IT system, which helped facilitate the fraud.
Still, questions remain about how so much money could be paid for such an extended period of time without coming to attention of school or district leadership.

The employee used a variety of methods to siphon money to himself. But the majority of the scheme was carried out by engineering payment to a number of companies for more than $700,000 in goods and services that were never delivered to the schools. The Inspector General’s report confirms that the CPS employee in question received at least $100,000 in kickbacks from one of the deals and indicates that the office suspects he received much more.

“In addition to the large cut that Business Owner 4 was keeping, the OIG could not eliminate the possibility that Business Owner 3 or Business Owner 4 kicked back portions of the $581,947 to Employee A, who made over $122,000 in cash deposits—usually round amounts—during this scheme,” according to the inspector general report.

The employee also steered false reimbursements to three of his CPS colleagues and, in at least one case, had the bulk of money given back to him in cash.

The employee also participated in "stringing," meaning that purchases were distributed to several companies in order to avoid the non-competitive purchasing limits of $10,000.

Beyond the Gage Park case, several incidents of stringing were identified in the Inspector General report and it has been a consistent problem noted in previous reports. At another high school, the school operations manager strung together purchases for office supplies among four businesses and got kickbacks from the companies. The employee was laid off and is designated as Do Not hire.

In two other situations, companies tried to promote "stringing" to schools by getting multiple vendor numbers and advertising the fact that they have them to schools.

Schuler says CPS needs to do a better job of informing operations managers and clerks about stringing and the fact that it is illegal. Also, he acknowledges that some stringing may be done to avoid paperwork or to speed up purchasing.

The report also points to several individual incidents of fraud or ethics violations. One of them, in which two teachers also work as police officers, is not a violation. The IG is recommending that CPS look into making it one.

Dropouts, selective admissions

The inspector also honed in on two high schools, linked by a common administrator, that wrongly labeled a few hundred students as transfers to GED programs or verified transfers, but without confirming them. The report concludes that these students should have been labeled as dropouts or “unable to locate.”

It is unclear whether correctly labeling these students, which as far as the IG knows never happened, would have lowered CPS’ graduation rate—which, at 69 percent, is regularly touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a major accomplishment. Also, many more schools may be miscoding students, as the IG only focused on the two high schools where there were complaints.

None of the three school administrators in this case have been disciplined as recommended by the Inspector General, and one of them has been promoted.

Meanwhile, parents, including some who are CPS employees, got themselves into trouble this past year for falsifying their addresses in order to give their children an edge in getting into selective enrollment high schools--confirming suspicions  that parents would try to game the admissions system that now relies on neighborhood and family socioeconomic characteristics rather than primarily on race, as under the former desegregation decree.

According to CPS, last year, 16,000 students applied for 3,200 selective enrollment seats.

Schuler says his office has looked into individual cases of abuses in the past, but wanted to take a hard look at it this year.

“Everyone in the city is trying to get these seats,” he says. “They are highly sought after and we want to make sure the process is fair and honest.”

McCaffrey says that parents should be aware that district leaders are taking misrepresentation seriously and working to try to prevent it. “This may include future audits of students in selective enrollment schools,” he says.

Schuler's office found12 cases in which parents provided false addresses that would put them in a better position to land a seat; and, in half of those cases, the parents worked for CPS. Schuler says that this is by no means the full scope of the problem, but that his office looked for particular “red flags” and this was the result of that review. In addition, he says the fact that CPS employees tried to cheat the system is particularly egregious.

In two of the cases, the students would have gotten into the selective enrollment high school even if their parents had used their true address. Those students were allowed to continue attending the school and the parents weren’t subjected to any discipline.

However, eight students were dis-enrolled, one student withdrew on their own and another one was allowed to stay because she was going into her senior year. Four of the employees were either fired or resigned.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Catching up on the news

Catalyst Chicago - Sun, 01/04/2015 - 21:43

CPS leaders are open to handing over the education of the district’s most troubled, vulnerable students to private entities, putting out a Request for Proposals last week that asked for vendors to apply to serve students considered at risk of dropping out who are as young as 6th grade.

“We have been struggling with this population and we are looking for experienced providers to help us,” said Jack Esley, chief of the Office of Incubation and Innovation, in a press call last week.

That the district is looking to open what are essentially alternative schools for middle-grades students is likely to raise some eyebrows. Esley says district leaders have no idea if there is a private company that has been successful with this age group. “That is what the RFP is for,” he said.

But as many as 9,000 middle grades students are in such academic trouble that CPS officials think they need early dropout prevention. About 900 of them—and this might be first time CPS has identified middle school dropouts--are labeled “transfer within district” or “unable to locate” and they never reenroll. The rest are basically failing with less than a 1.0 GPA and attendance of less than 80 percent.

The district also wants to explore creating some new third-party programs for the 2,000-some students forced to enter high school without graduating from eighth grade. Ever since the district established a strict promotion policy in the late 1990s, it has been confronted with the problem of students who didn’t meet the criteria to graduate eighth grade but are over 15 and therefore must leave elementary school.

At first, CPS had small schools for these students, then a special program within high schools. Both had mixed results. For the past few years, there has been no program and the students were just sent to high school.

Esley said district officials had a lot of discussion about lessons they can learn from failed attempts at serving these students.

2. Expanding private operators… CPS also is asking for proposals for new charter/contract schools, Dyett High School and for current providers to expand. This year, the general new school RFP is for schools to fill what CPS calls “under represented programmatic designs.” These are identified as dual language, arts integration, humanities focused and something called Next Generation models, which incorporate “personalized, blended learning.”

CPS also would like more schools to serve the 27,000 students who are either short of credits needed to graduate on time--what are called young and far or old and far--or have dropped out, but only need a few credits to get a diploma. Under CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, there has been a major expansion of these schools, but CPS still only has 11,584 seats for available. These schools could either be charter schools, contract schools or run as Alternative Opportunities Programs.

Existing charter and contract schools only have to submit business plans and not full proposals.As has happened in the past, Neighborhood Advisory Councils will be formed to recommend new schools, though board members have final say and have in the past ignored the direction of community councils.

Public hearings will be held in August and the board will vote on recommended proposals at their October 2015 meeting. Approved new schools will open in the Fall of 2016. CPS leaders had already announced that no new schools would be approved this year for Fall 2015.

3. Pricey school for rich kids?… Disputed cost overruns with a politically connected contractor could drive the final price tag for  Jones College Prep to $127 million -- that is, $13 million more than expected. The Sun-Times reports that the city is bracing for a court fight with Walsh Construction, which submitted the extra bills related to the steel structure and accelerated construction over the summer. The Public Building Commission of Chicago rejected the claims and set aside money for legal fees in preparation for a possible lawsuit.

Jones College Prep -- a selective enrollment school in the South Loop -- is already the most expensive public high school ever built in the city, the Sun-Times notes. Construction for the new school was financed with the always-controversial tax-increment financing.

Also, last week, cpsobsessed.org published data showing that 44 percent of the students admitted to Jones this year were from the highest income of the four tiers that make up the framework of the selective admissions process.

Students from the highest income tier can claim more seats by claiming a large number of the 30 percent awarded solely through rank order of test scores (which remain strongly tied to income).

The selective enrollment high schools on the South and West sides of the city--Brooks, King, Westinghouse and Lindblom--tend to have a disproportionate number of students from the second to the highest income tier or tier 3.

3. Quazzo investigation… Right before Christmas, the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigation that showed that in the mere year and a half since Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the School Board, companies in which she is a major investor have tripled their business with CPS, raking in an additional $2.9 million. Some of the companies, the Sun-Times notes, are selling programs to schools for just $1 under the $25,000 threshold that would require board approval. Soon after the revelation, the Sun Times called for her resignation and the inspector general has opened an investigation.

Quazzo is big investor in what are called EdTech firms, which provide individual schools with ACT prep or online instruction in reading writing or math. The EdTech industry is reportedly exploding.

While it is not clear whether Quazzo has done anything wrong (and she insists she hasn’t), Morrill Principal Michael Beyer writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that it is the type of company she promotes that is problematic. “I have yet to find independent scientific research proving any software is equal to or better than other non-digital teaching strategies,” writes Beyer. What’s more, many of these companies promise “personalized learning” with one even telling a group of educators that the software is “Montessori on steriods.” “I thought at the time, `Why not just do Montessori? Why do we need steroids?’” Beyer writes.

5. Recouping money… Not letting up on its earlier investigation into CPS’s risky bond deals, the Chicago Tribune reported on other bodies that have succeeded in “clawing back losses, with banks repaying millions of dollars to governments that issued the same kind of problematic auction-rate debt Chicago’s school system did.” The story notes that many governments’ claims are still in progress, including cities ranging from Houston and Reno, Nev., to a Florida school district. "If we had not pursued it, we would have never gotten anything," RoseMarie Reno, the outgoing treasurer of a California hospital district, told the Tribune. That hospital district secured a $4.5 million settlement to help cover its losses on auction-rate securities last year.

CPS told the Tribune it’s reviewing the litigation in other parts of the country “to determine if other options are available,” while noting that it had previously reviewed the transaction “and determined there is no avenue for arbitration.”

In another story, the Trib also wrote about a new federally mandated test for advisors who guide government borrowers -- and whether it’ll actually be enough to tests advisors’ ability to evaluate “the burdensome derivative deals that helped Congress to set the standards in the first place.”

 

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

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