Momentum is growing at the Capitol to launch a study of K-12 standardized testing, but lawmakers and interest groups first have to negotiate how that study would be completed.
The impetus for the study is House Bill 14-1202, which originally proposed allowing districts to opt out of certain aspects of state standardized tests. (Get details of the bill in this legislative staff summary.)
The bill was a non-starter in that form, even while educator and public testing anxiety has grown as new early literacy assessments have rolled out and as the 2015 launch of new statewide online tests nears.
Education reform advocates and state education officials fear that allowing districts to opt out would be disruptive for schools and the state’s systems for rating districts and schools and evaluating teachers. There’s also concern that allowing waivers could threaten federal NCLB requirements.
But some legislators believe testing anxieties can’t be ignored.
“This issue has been escalating and escalating and I think we’ve reached the tipping point,” Dillon Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, chair of the House Education Committee, told Chalkbeat Colorado Monday afternoon.
So sponsor Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, arrived at the committee’s hearing Monday afternoon with a “strike below” amendment in his pocket, language that replace the opt-out language with a proposed testing study. (“Strike below” is statehouse jargon for replacing all language below a bill’s title and boilerplate introduction with new provisions.)
The amendment actually didn’t get much discussion during the three-hour hearing. Hamner let the hearing run its normal course and took testimony from two dozen witnesses, most critical of the state’s current lineup of standardized tests.
“We feel like we’re getting to a point where we’re spending more time testing than instructing,” said Liz Fagen, superintendent of the Douglas County Schools. “One of our goals is to measure things that aren’t measured on standardized tests.” The idea for HB 14-1202 originated with the Dougco board and also is supported by the Mesa 51 district board in Grand Junction.Dougco Superintendent Liz Fagen
Asked what she thought of just doing a study, Fagen said, “Any movement is positive movement.”
“What we’re looking for is not an escape from accountability,” said Kevin Larsen, president of the Dougco board. “We want the freedom and flexibility to use assessments that matter for our kids.”
Several witnesses were members of a group named Speak for Cherry Creek, which includes parents and teachers from that district and elsewhere.
Paul Trollinger, chair of the math department at Cherry Creek High School, was highly critical of the coming PARCC multi-state tests, saying, “There has to be a better assessment model.” He said the current testing system has “taken the joy out of school for teachers as well as students.
After Elizabeth district Superintendent Doug Bissonette gave testimony critical of testing, Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, asked if he believed there should be no statewide tests.
“We have the view that we should take fewer of them,” said Bissonette.
Murray and several other Republican committee members raised concerns that tinkering with the testing system would undercut education reforms passed in recent years.
About the only witness who wasn’t critical of tests was Luke Ragland of Colorado Succeeds, the business-oriented education reform group.
He said House Bill 14-1202 as introduced “would fundamentally cripple every aspect of our state’s accountability measures.” He said the group doesn’t have a position on doing a study.
While agreeing that “there is room for improvement” in the testing system, he added, “It’s easy to get swept up in anti-testing fervor. … What gets measured gets done.”
The committee took a break after testimony ended, and then Hamner announced that consideration of amendments and a vote would be delayed until the committee’s scheduled Wednesday morning meeting.
“I think it’s really important we get this bill right,” she said. “I’m not sure we’re there yet, but I’m confident we will be by Wednesday.”
Scott’s proposed study amendment would require the State Board of Education to appoint a “working group” (primarily representing various education interest groups) to study proposed assessment timelines, costs, impact of tests on classroom instructions, feasibility of letting districts opt out, extension of testing timelines and the feasibility of allow parents to opt students out of testing.
Hamner said questions about task force membership, data sources, cost of the study and other issues need to be negotiated before the committee can vote on the amended bill.
The Department of Education already has hired WestEd, an education consultancy, to review district implementation of new tests this year and next, but that study won’t cover all the issues outlined in Scott’s proposal.
Monday’s hearing was more low-key than last Thursday’s Senate Education Committee session on Senate Bill 14-136, which lasted for more than six hours and took testimony from more than 40 witnesses. The committee ended up killing the bill, which would have set a one-year timeout for implementation of state content standards and new tests. (Get more details in this story.)
The Jeffco Public Schools’ Board of Education is expecting to have a permanent replacement for outgoing superintendent Superintendent Cindy Stevenson by May, board President Ken Witt told Chalkbeat Colorado as part of a wide-ranging interview.
The board is expected to outline its leadership transition plan to replace Stevenson at a special board meeting Tuesday evening.
Stevenson first announced her plans to retire after a new conservative slate of candidates swept the November election. She planned to stay through the remainder of the school year. But at a February board meeting, Stevenson announced that her last day would be Feb. 21 because her relationship with the new board majority impeded her work. The meeting, which was originally scheduled to discuss the budget, ended shortly after Stevenson announced her decision due to an unhappy crowd.
Since that meeting, tension has risen between the board’s majority, led by President Ken Witt, and certain portions of the community. Witt sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado for an interview last week to discuss his policy priorities for the state’s second largest school district — including what role performance pay might play in coming teachers contract negotiations — and, what, if any, steps need to be taken to repair a fractured education community.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and for length.)
I just want to start off by asking you, how do you view your role as president of the board?
The board is the governing body for education in JeffCo. And I’m one of five board members. As president of the board, of course we have to try to set the agenda and keeping it on track, and that we’re paying attention to all of the demands around the district. But while it’s a position of leadership, it’s a position of consensus as well.
Talk to me about your leadership mentality and your vision as a leader.
You know, I’m very focused on academic achievement, specifically setting goals. Our approach to education is to — as we’ve discussed many times in public — is to, number one, set specific goals that result in improved academic achievement in Jefferson County. We did that unanimously as a board and we’ve gone with some very specific, smart goals, such as let the development of a change from 80 percent to 85 percent reading proficiency in the third grade. That’s a very specific goal but it’s a very important one. Children learn to read up to the third grade; past the third grade, they read to learn. If they haven’t established proficiency in the third grade reading, then they begin to fall behind progressively throughout the rest of their education.
We’ve also set goals — and they are public, they’re on the site, so you can easily verify them and get the exact details. We set goals in fourth grade math, in reducing the remediation rates. But [we have] specific, measurable goals that all five board members signed up to and said, “yeah, these are the right things to do, and they’re achievable.” That’s part of “SMART,” right — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited. We’re going to focus on those goals, we’re going to ask the district what it takes to get there, and we’re going to empower the achievement of those goals.
And the way we do that — and my mental framework on how we get there — is number one, we focus on transparency and accountability. Making certain that we are honestly evaluating ourselves, that we are publishing and making certain that the public knows exactly where we are. That we are holding ourselves accountable for, you know, yes, we celebrate our successes but we also admit the areas where we need to work to bring our academic achievement further. So that’s the transparency and accountability part.
Local control. I want to make certain that we’re empowering teachers at the classroom level to be great teachers, giving them some flexibility in their instructional environment. Not thinking that one size fits all for every classroom in every school in every region across our district. Empowering local control at the principal level, giving them more budget flexibility, allowing them to get the right mix of teachers and counselors and get the personnel mix that empowers them to really achieve their goals, both their uniform improvement plan as well as their academic achievement goals. Giving them some power to get there. And of course focusing on local control at the district level as well. We’re not taking a statewide one-size-fits-all approach to education. I think that making certain that we are making good decisions for Jeffco and the expectations for education in Jefferson County.
And then the last thing that we will focus on is choice. Not every child needs the same environment, learns in the same way or even fits in the same social context. We need to make certain that we’ve empowered our parents to get their children into the public education alternatives that best fit each of their children. That means making certain that they have the ability to find a fit that lets their kids fully engage in education. Find that fit that allows them to realize the full benefit of public education and realize their full potential in public education.
What influences you — what is your zeitgeist for education policy? What books are you reading, what websites are you visiting, that inform your decisions.
It’s a long list, so I’m not going to call out websites. The bottom line is that we spend a whole lot of time reading educational materials from all sides, research, best practices, looking at what other districts are doing all over the nation, looking at models of success, considering models that have not been successful. Why? What are the issues there. So, we spend a lot of time.
You’re in the middle of a superintendent search. What kind of qualities are you going to be looking for in a superintendent?
You know, it’s, as you said, we are in the middle of a superintendent search. This process has been going on for some time now and we appreciate the understanding that we are at the point in the next week or so where we will finalize the selection of the firm that will help us find a national — we will do a national search for superintendent. The board has discussed some properties, such as independent thinker, creative leadership, the ability to build consensus, team-building — those are critical skills. Obviously strong educational understanding and knowledge. Strong leadership, strong team-building, strong development — the ability to develop an organization. I’d like to see some evidence of, “have you impacted education, turned education around? Can you show where you’ve significantly impacted educational outcomes?” Those are important characteristics. But it’s not all about what I want to see in a superintendent. We’ve asked for a community process, to hear from our community through the accountability committees at all of the schools, for instance. To search for what are the attributes of a superintendent, to let those ideas bubble to the top — let’s get a good road map of what makes a good leader in Jeffco.
And in the process –
Oh, I’m sorry, let me just finish that, because while we’re talking about it let’s talk about the process for a moment, right? We will finalize the search firm in the next month or so. I expect by the May timeframe we should have another superintendent in place. I can’t know that. But that is the goal. We’d like to be there by May.
That’s pretty fast.
We’ll drive towards that. This is a big school district. It’s my belief, it is my hope that we will attract a lot of interested talent.
When I hear that you might have someone in mind or in place by May, I’m led to believe that you might already have your eye on a few people.
So, your own Freudian slip, where you say that you’ve heard that I have someone in mind, which I did not say –
No no, I said, I’m led to believe…
And that is not the case.
OK. So for now, or between February 21st and May, are you going to have an interim superintendent or is the plan still to have all of the top deputies….
We’ll have to approve a transition plan as a board. And we’ll certainly focus on that in the next week or so. In the meantime, should Dr. Stevenson’s February 21 date come along and we don’t have a fleshed-out transition plan, those leadership team will directly report to the board until we have a leadership plan in place. Bear in mind though that we’ve had this superintendent search process in place for a while, this is not a new expectation for timeline. So if we’re able to keep it to a few weeks, I’m presently comfortable with having the leadership team report to the board for a few weeks. If it were to stretch out to months we would probably have to take a much harder look at that.
I think there might be some fears out there that there might be a micromanagement situation between you and those top deputies for those few weeks. Can you put some concerns to rest about that?
It’s unfounded. There’s some — I believe we have a great district, I think we have great leadership in this district, we have some very strong leaders, among our CXOs, CFOs, CAOs, CEAOs or AEO, I think we have strong leaders in this district and I think they’re doing a good job. This board will govern, but this board has no intention of trying to manage the district or its personnel.
Do you count Superintendent Stevenson in that?
Superintendent Stevenson has resigned. We’re moving forward.
But do you think she’s a quality superintendent?
You know, I respect Dr. Stevenson and as I said, when we came on board I very much looked forward to working with her. I have enjoyed working with her and now we’re going to move forward and we’re going to focus on the next superintendent.
You know, there’s this old adage that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. And I’m curious, what specific policies in Jeffco do you think are either broken or are in need of a tune-up that you hope to work on in the coming months?
We’ve been stuck at 80 percent reading proficiency in the third grade for a very long time in Jeffco. We have celebrated the increase in graduation rates, but our remediation rates have to change. We need to focus on improved academic achievement and that’s what we’re going to do.
Any specific policies that you think might help change those proficiency rates?
I’m not thinking about it in a policy context; I’m thinking of it in terms of a goal and let the district tell us what it takes to get there.
Overall, I think that Jeffco is often revered as one of the better school districts in this state. What do you think makes it, what policies, what curriculum do you think specifically lends itself to that stature?
Well, I think — I talked a little bit about transparency earlier. I think that it’s important to focus on transparency and make certain that we are honestly evaluating ourselves. Our graduation rate is 115th out of 178 districts. Are we doing a good job in some areas? Absolutely. We have some nationally renowned schools. And I’m very proud of our accomplishments. But we have significant opportunity for achievement. It’s not okay with me that our third grade reading proficiency has not moved. It’s not okay with me that graduation rates are 115th out of 178 districts. I believe we do have some work to do.
There are concerns out there in the community and we saw it Saturday at the board meeting. And I’m asking this question half-flippantly, but what kind of assurances can you give your opponents, your detractors, that you’re not just going to blow up the entire school district?
I think I’ve laid out a fairly rational plan in terms of academic goals, the structure around that and how to get there. And we’re going to continue to drive precisely towards what we said we were going to drive towards in the campaign and after the election. Our focus is tightly on improved academic achievement and that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on.
Let’s talk about a little bit about Brad Miller. Could you lay out the timetable for how the board came to hire Brad and why it’s important for you to have your own attorney.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing Brad Miller. The district informed us that their attorney had left, had posted his resignation, not timely but only a few days before his departure. I indicated that we would need to do something to bring in another attorney, notified the board that I intended to make the motion to hire another attorney and gave them a couple of alternatives that I would encourage them to consider, one of whom was known to most of the members of the board, one of whom was known to many members of the board, but neither of whom were strangers to the district. I made that motion and we pressed forward. If the board didn’t want to hire, that was fine, but if they did that was great. It was timely, it was needed and we moved forward. It is not unusual for a governing body to expect to have counsel on matters such as hiring a superintendent for a $1.1 billion district. Focusing on policy and governance in a district this size with new board members — of course it requires good counsel.
If you could do the process over again, would you do it the exact same way or would you –
If I could do the process over again, we would have been timely notified of the previous counsel’s departure so we could have dealt with it on a slower timetable.
Let’s talk a little bit about teacher contract negotiations. They’re starting in March, I believe; they’re going to be public. What are your intentions around that? What do you hope to get out of it for the district? What are the board’s intentions around the process?
I can’t speak for the board, I can only speak for myself, and I’m not going to discuss negotiations before they occur.
Talk to me a little bit about local control. Obviously we’re approaching a point in time for this state where maybe for the first time ever there is a serious matrix of laws from teacher effectiveness to school accountability, new standards that are all coming together at once. And I’m curious — we’ve seen what happened in Dougco with the bill to get out of state testing — what are some of your thoughts around that?
That’s a very broad question.
I guess I would call out of a couple of things. Obviously we do have a teacher effectiveness requirements that are new. We have indicated that we’re going to seek a 13-38 committee to look at those evaluations and that the board is going to make certain that we have people who want to be involved in that process involved in that process. And I’m anxious to see some good result from that.
We have, many of us on the board have made statements, both in the campaign as well as recently from the board that we are going to focus on a performance component to compensation and of course evaluation is a key component of that. And so I think it’s very important that we do the right things there.
I find it surprising and disappointing that the CEA has, after saying they condoned and encouraged Senate Bill 191, filed suit to block its implementation to force principals to take teachers that they don’t feel are appropriate for their schools.
We’re going to make certain that performance is a component of compensation. I am going to make certain that performance is a component of compensation, in my dialogue and in my influence on the board. What the board does will depend on what the board votes.
One last question about teacher contracts. It’s my understanding that the previous board, the one you were not a part of, promised or indicated that teachers should see raises by 2015. Do you have any indication that that may come to fruition?
I think compensation is an element of negotiations that I’m certainly not going to discuss prior to negotiations. But my position continues to be that there will be a performance component to compensation.
Talk to me about the role of charter schools in a district like Jefferson County and what you see their role being and how you might want to change any sort of policies regarding charter schools.
So I don’t tend to focus on charter; I tend to focus on choice. We seated a choice committee and have it report to the board to specifically look at demand across the district for educational alternatives, for all educational alternatives. Neighborhood schools, programs within neighborhood schools such as [International Baccalaureate], special education, gifted and talented, [science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)], charter schools with core curriculum, classical curriculum, Montessori, whatever those alternatives are. Looking at what are the demands, what is the interest in our option, in our charter and in our neighborhood school types. I’d also like to have us look at schools of innovation, the innovation status in the state — Jeffco has not leveraged innovation status as far as many school districts have. I think we need to broaden the scope of our thinking in choice to make certain that parents are able to find the right fit for every student. And a charter is not the answer; it is a component, btu there are many answers.
I’ll tell you one thing I am focused on on a personal level is making certain that a child is worth the same educational resources regardless of which school they go to.
Private Catholic schools or Christian schools? Vouchers?
I’m elected to a public school board and I’m focused on public education.
You know, getting back to Saturday, we obviously heard chants for recalls, we heard teachers, parents say, there was no respect there. What do you say to those critics?
Well, having read the copy of the email that was sent to the teachers union personnel to attend that meeting and disrupt, I find it organized outcry to be not particularly informative.
While the population at that meeting on Saturday was not representative of all of Jeffco, however, I have talked to parents and principals who are not a part of the teachers union and they are, there are some concerns. What are you going to be doing — if you are going — to extend an olive branch to bring more people in to your circle of trust?
My circle of trust is pretty broad. We’re trying to include the community, we’re trying to include the public, I’m sitting here talking with you right now, Nic.
I appreciate that.
So I think the answer is I think we are going to make clear, as I have already laid out for you, exactly how we’re going to drive academic achievement improvements in Jeffco. That we’re going to focus on transparency and accountability, that we’re going to focus on local control, we’re going to focus on school choice to drive specific, measurable goals of academic achievement. That’s what we’re about, that’s what we’re focused on.
Let’s talk a little bit about the achievement gap and academic growth. One of the things that we do know about Jeffco is that there’s an achievement gap, we do know that there is a slower growth among [free and reduced-price lunch] students compared to predominantly white, middle- and upper-class students. And I’m curious — what kind of policies or changes do you want to see around that area of academic achievement?
I want to make certain that we are focusing on our academic achievement goals for all parts. And we do have some gaps that we’ve got to focus on and address. We have average ACT scores of 21.2 in Jefferson County but for our Hispanic community I think it’s 18. That’s not even quite at the bar for admission to [the University of Colorado] or [Colorado State University]. So we do have some work to do and I don’t pretend to have all the answers there but I will certainly pay attention and listen to those who do believe they have good plans to close those gaps and we will be focusing on it.
Talk to me a little bit about your relationship with Lesley [Dahlkemper] and Jill [Fellman, who are the two minority board members who have historically supported the policies of outgoing superintendent Stevenson].
It’s a board of five. Boards won’t always agree. However at the end of the day, we try to have dialogue, get the issues fully out. We have worked very hard with this board to increase transparency and to increase dialogue. Let me give you a specific example. The prior board had a consent agenda that required three members to pull anything off for discussion. How do you interpret the intent of such a policy or such an agenda? It keeps the minority from being able to discuss issues that they don’t agree with. The first action this board took when we were seated was to eliminate that locked-out consent agenda so that any board member could pull off an item from the consent agenda and discuss it.
One of the things we saw in Denver was that obviously they had a very contentious ideological split until recently. And one of the things that observers said over and over and over again was that that split, that pettiness of political infighting really prevented the district from moving forward. How are you going to ensure that does not happen in Jefffco as board president?
We have and we will continue to take the high road in addressing the issues, allowing discussion, making decisions and moving forward. I assure you that we will not be parties dredging up old issues repeatedly; we will not be trying to incite disagreements among the board. You used the word pettiness; one should be very careful in public governance not to be in that position and we will not be in that position.
One of the concerns that I’ve heard from various people in my [reporting] is that you and the majority are having private meetings outside of Lesley and Jill. Is that true?
It is simply the case that we have notified the board, typically in the prior meeting, to attend to ideas; we’ve tried to expose them days ahead of time. We’ve put out plans, and given time for consideration. We’ve gone about as far as we can, as is possible, in exposing thoughts and ideas as early as possible for consideration and we will continue to do so.
Can you give me an example?
Choice committee. I sent out a choice committee charter and I brought it up in the meeting and I said, no one has had a chance to consider this yet, I’m not going to ask for a vote at this meeting, but here it is, we’ll vote on it at the next meeting. The 13-38 committee, the teacher evaluation committee. I said, I’d like to change the way we seat this committee so that we have people actually want to be on it submitting applications to be a part of it and then the board will choose, but we’re not going to vote on that tonight. I’d like to vote on it at the next meeting so everyone can give it due consideration.
What is it that we haven’t covered that you want the folks of Jeffco to know?
I’ll just wrap up with where I started because this is the most important thing and that is, we are focused on the future. We have specific intent to improve academic achievement in Jefferson County. We’re going to do that by setting measurable goals and actually measuring ourselves against them and being transparent in that process. We’re going to focus on empowering achievement of academic improvements in this district by focusing on transparency and accountability, by focusing on choice programs and school choice, by focusing on local control at each level. And we are going to pay very careful attention to proper governance, we’re going to make certain that we don’t have or we don’t allow it to persist conflicts of interest or cronyism in the district but that we’re in fact running effectively and efficiently and we’re not beholden to different places.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned in the past three months since being sworn in that you didn’t know before you were elected regarding Jeffco?
Hm, that’s an interesting question. There are many things that we’ve learned and there will continue to be many things.
Give me one.
My previous position in life is continuous learning. You have to be learning every day, you have to be studying, you have to be paying attention to what is needed, and trying to find, what are the demands, what are the needs, what are the gaps, and constantly developing plans to close them. And you never get there. In Jeffco, there’s an incredibly diverse set of demands and there’s no way for me, on a school board, to know what a lot of those are. To understand the differences between the mountain communities and the plains communities. To understand the differences between areas that are focused on IB, STEM, special education, looking at the demands and functions of different schools. There’s a lot of complexity to education in a district of this size and I would never presume to say that I understand it all or thought I understood it all going in. I will continue to learn and I will continue to focus on finding the right answers.
I have to ask one more time, what kind of assurances can you give those community members who are terrified of you?
Assurances concerning what?
Everything from teachers contracts to opting out to privacy concerns — there’s a litany of concerns.
I guess it would be nice where the false information wasn’t driving people to be terrified of issues that are not real…The constant misinformation is disappointing and it’s causing a lot of fear and concern out there that shouldn’t be out there. I recently heard a statement that teachers are afraid we’re focused on reducing their compensation, and I heard this from multiple levels. And yet I’ve never heard a single board discussion about reducing the compensation for teachers. In fact, the things that I have heard from this board, myself included, are that we want the compensation to be designed to increase new teacher compensation and that we want to talk about how to increase teacher compensation for highly effective teachers. There’s no discussion of reducing compensation. Those fears are fomented unfortunately by people who have an agenda and the best thing we can all do, yourself included, Nic, is to be accurate in our reporting.
Well, I’m going to do my best. I appreciate your time.
University of Illinois at Chicago faculty members are poised to strike Tuesday for the first time in campus history. The two-day walkout could cancel hundreds of classes at the Near West Side public institution. (Tribune)
BREAKING WITH TRADITIONS: A South Side Chicago high school is getting national press for breaking the mold of traditional schools. At Sarah E. Goode Stem Academy, students -- or, rather innovators as they're called -- attend for six years instead of four, ending up with a high school diploma and associate's degree.The school has only been open for 18 months, and emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math. (NBC5 Chicago)
SUPPORTING BLACK MALE ADOLESCENTS: The University of Chicago hosted a symposium, “Black Young Men in America: Rising above Social and Racial Prejudice, Trauma, and Educational Disparities,” Saturday that centered around research and developing strategies to support black male adolescents. Educators, social workers and youth service providers participated and panelists focused on to how communicate and build relationships with this population. They included Nia Abdullah and Elizabeth Kirby of CPS, Marshaun Bacon of Becoming a Man and Monico Whittington-Eskridge of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. (WBEZ)
SHOW OF SUPPORT: Protesters delivered petitions to Whole Foods’ Austin and Chicago offices Friday after an employee said she was fired after choosing to stay home with her special-needs child instead of going to work during cold weather on Jan. 28. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was among those supporting Rhiannon Broschat, 25, during a protest last week. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
IN THE STATE
TOPS IN FEDERAL FUNDING: Illinois was one of five states that got the most federal funding in the 2012 fiscal year (the year for which the most recent data is available). These numbers reflect funding levels for programs including career and technical education, programs for homeless children and youth, special education, and other projects. The total amount of federal money that Illinois received in FY 2012 was $3,580,835,000 according to the most recent state budget report. The governor's budget office recommends that federal funding for the current fiscal year should be approximately $3 billion, while the state covers about $6,241,114,000. (Reboot Illinois)
IN THE NATION
SUPERINTENDENT OF THE YEAR: Alberto Carvalho, the schools chief in the Miami-Dade district in Florida, was named superintendent of the year today in Nashville. The announcement came during the annual conference of the School Superintendents Association. Carvalho, has been Miami-Dade's schools chief since 2008, and also serves as principal of two schools in the district. The district was the winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education last year. (Education Week)
Are Colorado colleges and universities pumping out graduates with the right degrees to take the jobs that the state needs filled?
A recent report from the Department of Higher Education and two other state agencies provides some data on that question. The Skills for Jobs Act report has to be submitted annually to the legislature.
The law requiring the study was prompted by legislative concerns about the state’s future workforce needs and about whether college graduates can get good job.
Among the report’s conclusions:
The report was presented to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Friday. Read the full document here.
Staff shortages at the Department of Children and Family Services are causing some child care centers to wait months before their licenses can be renewed – causing problems for child care businesses and possibly putting children’s safety at risk.
In the fourth quarter of the 2013 fiscal year, just 53 percent of child care providers were able to renew their licenses on time, according to a report the department submitted to the Illinois General Assembly in September 2013.
Also, just 60 percent of providers received their annual monitoring visits on time (though in some cases this may be due to providers not responding to requests to set up the visits).
Karen Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the department, says there are currently 43 vacant licensing representative positions, plus 10 temporarily vacant positions due to staff on leave. Overall, at the time the report was issued, DCFS had just 125 licensing representatives statewide, compared to 155 in fiscal year 2010.
“We are looking at recruiting more staff. We are looking at whether we can be more efficient with technology,” Hawkins says. “It is budget season, so we are looking at ways to increase resources.”
She notes that the agency has long struggled with retaining its staff, who often move up the ladder into other state jobs.
But Sessy Nyman, Vice President of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at the child-care advocacy group Illinois Action for Children, says that the shortage of licensing representatives could be putting children in danger.
“What happens when a licensing process starts to falter is that some child care providers are eagerly waiting for their representative. [But] some of them are taking this as a free-for-all,” Nyman says. “[They’ll say to themselves] ‘I’m licensed for eight, but I’m going to take care of 12.’ The challenge is that you only find out about it after the fact, when it is, sometimes, too late. And that is what you desperately want to avoid.”
Altogether, the state is responsible for overseeing more than 8,500 home day cares and more than 3,000 child care centers. The report shows caseloads for licensing representatives have increased dramatically in recent years. In Northern Illinois and in Cook County, there are currently an average of 104 home day cares and child care centers per licensing representative, up from around 90 in fiscal year 2010. The National Association for Regulatory Administrators recommends significantly fewer – 50 child care centers or 100 homes per licensing worker.
Though child care programs are allowed to continue operating with expired licenses, they are not able to access food subsidies for low-income children from the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, which requires that licenses be current.
A report by ChildCare Aware of America ranked Illinois 21st in the nation for its oversight of child care centers. The state’s weak point: Infrequent visits by licensing representatives and other inspectors.
Finances pose barrier to hiring
One child care provider contacted by Catalyst Chicago, who did not want her name to be used, said she has been trying to get approval to open an additional child care room since December 2012.
Expanding would allow her to let in families off her waiting list and also allow her current students to attend for more days.
“The DCFS representative has not been able to come out,” she said. “I have to keep turning [parents] down. We only have 16 children right now; for me to open this classroom would be another 10 children.”
Hiring licensing representatives can be a challenge for the cash-strapped department, Nyman says, because hiring for child protection positions is seen as a more urgent priority.
But, she notes, the state recently contracted with a licensing researcher to use a tool that will allow licensing representatives to check for “red flags” instead of verifying that every program meets every licensing requirements.
Under the new system that could start as soon as this July, licensing representatives will get a “top 10 list” of things to check which will show that “if that provider does those things well, statistically speaking, they do everything else well” – allowing licensing representatives to spend more time on child care centers where young children could be in danger.
She believes the new system will allow licensing representatives to give child care programs more attention – a crucial step to improving quality.
“If you are building a quality (early childhood) system, but you have a faulty licensing system, it becomes very hard to succeed,” Nyman says.
A teacher and an education activist have been appointed to the 15-member State Council for Educator Effectiveness by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
They are Costilla County teacher Kimba Rael and MiDian Holmes of Denver, a parent and Stand for Children activist.
The council was a key group in implementation of Senate Bill 10-191, the educator effectiveness and evaluation law now being rolled out statewide. The council developed the detailed recommendations for the system’s rules and regulations and now is involved in monitoring the system’s implementation.
Rael and Holmes fill seats vacated by teacher Brenda Smith and parent Towanna Henderson. By law, the council’s membership has to include members representing various education interest groups and professional backgrounds.
Learn more about the council here.
The “Frudel,” a pastry with apple or cherry filling, is not the only food that has rankled a group of Denver Public Schools parents — but it may be the best example of what they say are an excess of sugary, processed foods served through the district’s expanding breakfast-in-the-classroom program.
The Frudels have 11 grams of sugar and are served warm inside blue plastic wrappers emblazoned with a smiling Pillsbury Dough Boy. Parents describe how some of the children in the Pre-K classroom jump up and down with excitement on Frudel day, gobbling up school breakfast even after parents take pains to serve a full breakfast at home. They say the food is placed within easy reach of the four-year-olds, so it’s almost inevitable that children take it even if they’ve already eaten or their parents want them to pass.
“I’ve been seeing the gooeyness and dessertiness of the things being served in my child’s classroom,” said Anne Davis, whose daughter attends the central Denver elementary school where about eight parents have raised concerns. (The parents didn’t want the name used for fear it would reflect negatively on the school.) “It’s the perfect kid junk food.”
In addition to worries about spiking blood sugar and subsequent behavior problems, parents are frustrated by their children’s untouched lunches and a sudden new interest in junk food.
And while the parents who have raised concerns are financially secure, they say the low-income children that breakfast-in-the classroom programs are designed to feed are not well-served either.
“Nutritionally it fails, and then as far as equaling out the playing field for kids. It’s putting them more at a disadvantage than helping them,” said Heather Ramirez, whose son is in a Pre-K class at the school. “It’s disadvantaging the disadvantaged.”
Currently, about 60 Denver schools, many with large majorities of low-income students, offer breakfast in the classroom, which is free to all students. Others will add the program next fall when Colorado’s new “Breakfast After the Bell” law takes effect. The law, signed last May, will require schools where 80 percent or more students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to offer breakfast after the official start of the school day. The 80 percent threshold will drop to 70 percent starting in the 2015-16 school year.
The recent complaints about breakfast in the classroom highlight the complicated logistics of the program, which requires everything from months-in-advance food bids to the daily delivery of thousands of meals to individual classrooms via trucks and insulated coolers.
The concerns also illustrate the push and pull between what kids will eat and what adults want them to eat.
Theresa Hafner, executive director of enterprise management for DPS, said parent opinions on food offerings are important. But, she said, “if the kids don’t eat it we’re not accomplishing our mission.”
A DPS staff member from the nutrition services department is set to meet with concerned parents in early March. For some of them, the problem with school breakfast is not purely nutritional. It’s about the message schools are sending to kids about what is good for them.
“Educationally speaking, it’s teaching some really bad food habits,” said Davis.
Several outside observers agree that the parents have valid concerns and are not alone in their frustration, but they also note that the DPS has been a leader in adopting scratch cooking in school cafeterias and making other healthy changes, particularly in the lunch program.
“DPS has a reputation for really being committed to improving their school meal program,” said Carol Muller, regional field manager for Colorado Action for Healthy Kids. “There is no quick answer to this. It is a long process.”A closer look at the food
Besides the Frudels, parents have questioned DPS breakfast foods like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, glazed French toast, apple juice, and pre-packaged apple slices that are sometimes mealy. Not only do breakfasts generally include too much sugar and too many preservatives, parents say they include too few protein items and non-processed fruits and vegetables.
In addition, they say sometimes items like cheese sticks or yogurt are listed on school menus but do not show up in the classroom. Hafner said published menu items should be present but are occasionally absent because the product was recalled, the vendor ran out or a district manager made a mistake.
While DPS breakfast foods and ensembles all adhere to federal rules governing school meals, those rules do not require protein products or limit sugar specifically. They do require milk, one to two grain products and a half cup of fruit product each day. They also set minimum and maximum calorie amounts, limit saturated fat and prohibit transfat.School breakfast resources
“It’s odd to me that there’s not a protein requirement for breakfast,” said Jeremy West, nutrition service director for Weld County District 6.
Cost is the main reason, said Anjali Budhiraja, public affairs specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services in the Mountain Plains region. When the new rules, which took effect last summer, were under consideration many food service directors commented that a protein requirement would make their breakfast programs too expensive.
Ann Pierce, a nutritionist who Ramirez knows, reviewed a week’s worth of school breakfasts based on a photographic log the concerned parents put together. The log included nutritional information for some items.
“It’s not terrible for what I’d expect from a public school, but it’s not great either,” said Pierce, who runs Pierce Whole Nutrition. Pierce said pastries, sugar cereals and juice are all worth eliminating from school breakfast menus, but she was happy to see fruit and sunflower seed butter on the menu sometimes.
“Sun butter is great. That’s a really good food to have in there,” she said.
The irony is that both parents and DPS food service staff agree that students don’t generally like the sun butter and often throw it out. Hafner said it is included because the prevalence of peanut allergies means peanut butter is off limits.
Menu additions that Pierce proposes include hard-boiled eggs, breakfast burritos with vegetables and beans, or even hummus and carrot sticks. Hafner said the district has served hard-boiled eggs as part of its after-school snack program and will consider doing so for breakfast. In addition, the district is currently testing a bean and cheese burrito, an egg and cheese pita and a “breakfast pizza.”What other districts offer
Food service directors around the state consistently say hot scratch-cooked items are a tall order when it comes to breakfast in the classroom. Not only do they take time to make, package and deliver, proper temperature control throughout the distribution process can be tricky.
West said his district, which has 17 schools with classroom breakfast, offers a scratch-made hot entrée once a week on Fridays. His team starts preparing the Friday item, either a breakfast burrito or an egg and cheese sandwich, on Wednesday.
“It just takes time to do that,” he said.
West said districts seeking to offer hot breakfasts more frequently almost have to use more processed items. Currently, Weld 6 serves cold items, including cereal, yogurt, cheese sticks and breakfast bars, Monday through Thursday.
In Denver, the cinnamon roll, which is sweetened with apple sauce, is the only scratch-made item served during the three-week breakfast menu cycle. Time constraints are part of it. The other part, Hafner explained, is that a student survey last year indicated that items like scratch-made muffins were unpopular. Only 22 percent of students rated them “good,” whereas Frudels earned 66 percent approval.
In the Boulder Valley School district, which has breakfast in the classroom at four schools, the one weekly hot item is a breakfast burrito made by EVOL, which uses no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or fillers. The rest of the week, the district serves items like bagels and cream cheese, muffins from Udi’s bakery, cheese sticks, yogurt, and cereals like multi-grain Chex.
“We’re not buying the Frudels, the Pop Tarty things,” said Ann Cooper, the district’s director of food services. “The cereals we use are very low sugar.”
Hafner said DPS doesn’t serve cereal with more than six grams of sugar. To compare, a serving of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran has 18 grams of sugar and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has three grams of sugar.
In Jefferson County, which offers classroom breakfast at eight schools this year, items served include mini pancakes, mini waffles, breakfast burritos, pigs in a blanket, banana or zucchini bread, fresh fruit cut up by kitchen staff, and unsweetened apple sauce. None of the entrée items are scratch cooked.
Linda Stoll, the district’s executive director of Food and Nutrition Services, said just because food comes prepackaged, doesn’t mean it’s bad for you.
“There are different perspectives on what is healthy out there,” she said.The next step
School food service directors, including Hafner, say parents can and should express their concerns to staff. Hafner noted that some of the problems cited by parents, including that breakfasts are placed on central tables or counters, don’t stem from food service dictates, but are simply classroom-level or school-level decisions.
As for issues directly related to the food service department, change probably won’t happen overnight.
“They may have a warehouse full of the stuff they’re serving now,” said Muller.
Bureaucratic procedures can also hinder rapid change. Stoll said she is already in the middle of the formal bid process for food purchases next year. That means by this spring, she will have many of next year’s meal items set. While re-bids are possible, she said it’s a time-consuming process.
“Parents sometimes think the food service director hasn’t listened, but that’s not true,” she said. “You can’t turn the Titanic on a dime.”
Hafner and others also say it’s imperative to strike a balance between healthy foods and foods kids like.
“You can’t get so healthy, they’re not going to eat something,” said West, who has led his district through a transition to mostly scratch cooking in the last few years.
He knows from personal experience that it takes time for kids to accept homemade foods when they’re familiar with processed food at school, and perhaps at home. He said when Weld District 6 quit using dehydrated potato flakes and began mashing red potatoes with the skin on, students were not happy.
“They were like, ‘What’s in that?’” he said. “For the first year, my elementary students just kind of looked at them on the plate.”
Now they love them, he said. It may be an argument for patience and baby steps as breakfast in the classroom evolves. And for concerned parents, that may be a palatable solution.
“They need to tweak the food,” said Ramirez. “I don’t think they need…to get rid of it.”
This year's student testing season across the country is filled with tumult. Educators are questioning the purpose of testing, lawmakers in several states are pushing back against federal regulations and a standoff between California and the Obama administration looms. California is defying No Child Left Behind requirements to give annual tests in math and reading to every student in grades 3-8. (Washington Post)
LSC TRAINING: The Chicago Teachers Union and the Grassroots Education Movement are hosting a forum Saturday Feb. 15 at Westinghouse High School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd., to train candidates for Local School Councils.
CHESS REFORM: Ted Oppenheimer, the president of the Oppenheimer Family Foundation and a major contributor to CPS, has joined those calling for a new chess program in the city's schools. Oppenheimer offered to help set up a new nonprofit that would work in a partnership with CPS to spearhead a new program.
IN THE NATION
SNOW DAZE: Schools across the country are running out of the planned snow days they'd put in place to deal with bad weather. As winter's blast of frigid temperatures and snowy conditions drags on, some school districts have kids at home completing assignments online while others are figuring out ways to deal with lost school days. (NPR)
COLD DAYS, EMPTY STOMACHS: When cold snaps and blizzards shutter schools, kids miss more than their daily lessons. Some miss out on the day's nutritious meal as well. This recently became apparent to school administrators in rural Iowa, where extreme cold delayed openings two days in a row at Laurens-Marathon Community School, where 59 percent of students who eat school lunch qualify for free or reduced-price meals. On the first day, some students arrived on empty stomachs because parents thought breakfast would still be served that day. (NPR)
SNOW DAYS MAKE UP: The State Board of Education is encouraging Michigan public school districts that exceed six snow days to replace lost time with full days of instruction.
The wide range of hopes and fears about academic standards and coming online tests were more than fully aired Thursday for the Senate Education Committee, which concluded its 6 1/2-hour meeting by voting 4-3 to kill Senate Bill 14-136.
The measure, drafted by concerned parents and sponsored by Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, would have delayed by a year implementation of new online state tests, created a task force to review the Colorado Academic Standards (including the Common Core) and required the Department of Education to study the costs of implementing the standards and tests.
The hearing capped two days of events and lobbying at the Capitol that focused attention on issues that previously haven’t been as high profile in Colorado as in other states.
Defeat of the bill was expected, given that key Democratic legislators, state education officials and both mainline and reform advocacy groups generally have been supportive of Colorado’s program of new standards, tests and other education changes, which was launched in 2008 and still is being implemented.
The discussion, as chair Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, noted, was “very respectful.” That tone continued as members made their final comments before voting. All four Democrats voted to kill the bill.
“I heard a lot of things today that give me lots of things to think about,” said Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston, perhaps the legislature’s leading proponent of the standard education reform agenda. “I don’t think the answer is to pause on this.”
Aurora Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd, a bit choked up, said she sympathized with concerns about over-testing but that “it’s a difficult thing” to put Colorado’s system on hold. “There will be discussions that will continue.”
The hearing, with long lists of witnesses organized by both sides (more than 40 total), spotlighted the variety of fears and criticisms that have been sparked by the Common Core standards and by the prospect of new online tests aligned to those standards. Some witnesses were emotional, and one broke into tears while speaking to the committee.Bill supporters raise many fears
Marble previewed the arguments of bill supporters, saying, “This bill was not written by me, this bill was written by moms very concerned about the Common Core standards and the implementation of testing.”
Later in the hearing, Marble said that what she hears from parents is that “It’s the camel’s nose under the tent. … This is the first brick in the foundation to help the fed government take over our schools.”
Witnesses testifying for the bill raised worries about everything from too much testing, perceived loss of local control, one-size-fits-all instruction, lack of parent voice in the process, obscene textbooks and made multiple references to the supposedly sinister designs of Bill Gates.
“I’m a mother and a nurse and I’m really angry,” said Anita Stapleton of Pueblo in opening her remarks. Stapleton has been very active in the anti-Common Core movement.
“I truly speak for hundreds of educators and parents who are desperately trying to have their voices heard,’’ said Lis Richards, principal at Monument Charter Academy. “We will not align to those standards. … We’re not going to dip our colors for the Common Core Standards.”
Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins parent active in drafting the bill, said testing “is taking away so much classroom time.”
And Sunny Flynn, a Jefferson County parent, complained about “big business, big government and big data” and added, “It is time for Colorado to decide if the move to centralized education is good for our state.”
Stephanie Pico, who said she works as a computer technician in the Cherry Creek schools, said she feels schools and students in that district aren’t ready for online tests, saying, “It would be wise to press the pause button.”Bill opponents try to stress the positive
Platte Canyon physical education teacher Elizabeth Miner said the Colorado Academic tandards “reflect real world skills and knowledge [and] were created by the best and brightest teachers.” Miner is 2014 Colorado Teacher of Year.
MiDian Holmes, with Stand for Children Colorado, said, “These standards are the next step in bringing quality education” to all students, including minorities.
Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said, “Our teachers and students are drowning in testing” but said the teachers union still opposes SB 14-136. “We believe these standards are an issue of equity.” Dallman also complained about “the lack of resources in our eductin system right now.”
Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said passing the bill “would halt the progress being made on our robust education system in Colorado. … Every year many kids in our system are falling behind. Students keep waiting for adults to become more comfortable with well-vetted change.”
The debate is expected to continue in a new forum on Monday, when the House Education Committee is scheduled to hear House Bill 14-1202, which would allow individual districts to opt out of state tests.
Roll call: Voting for the bill were Republican Sens. Marble, Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Mark Scheffel of Parker. Voting against were Democrats Johnston, Kerr, Todd and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. The votes reversed on the motion to postpone the bill indefinitely.
A southwest-Denver suburban school district has asked the Colorado State Board of Education to raise its accreditation rating, which would effectively take the district off the state’s “accountability clock.”
Superintendent Michael Clough officially sent the district’s position to the Colorado Department of Education today, after receiving the blessing from the district’s board of education Tuesday. Department staff will issue its position later this month. The two parties will meet with the state board March 11, Clough said.
Clough has flirted with the idea to appeal since last fall when Sheridan Schools was once again ranked among the lowest-performing districts in the state. Clough and other Sheridan officials believe the turnaround efforts of the last four years have been enough to stave off the loss of accreditation and a drastic intervention from the state.
He said after several conversations with his board and district partners, he was strongly encouraged to seek the appeal.
“I don’t believe we have anything to lose,” Clough said. “I’m always looking forward to talk about the good things that are happening in our Sheridan district. I can’t see the downside — other than the time it takes to be prepared.”
Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.
No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. But Sheridan Schools is one of 11 districts entering either year four or five of the accountability timeline.
Sheridan’s appeal is only the second of its kind. Mapleton Public Schools unsuccessfully pleaded with the state board to raise its accreditation rating last year.
In his appeal, Clough will make the case to the board that his district is preparing students for career and college at a higher rate than the state’s average. But given his district’s demographics — 80 percent of student qualify for free or reduced lunch and nearly 40 percent are English language learners — it takes more time and the methods used by Sheridan may not neatly match a limited the definition of “graduation.”
“At the end of the day, the formula doesn’t work for us,” Clough said. “And that’s why we’re asking for a consideration.”
Sheridan Schools offers three levels of diplomas: vocational, standard and advanced. Students who seek an advanced “21st Century Diploma” are those who have already met enough credits to graduate like other Colorado high school students but are still enrolled — taking college classes.
Those students may stay enrolled as Sheridan High School students up until the age of 21.
Clough believes those students, at the least, should be counted toward his districts graduation rate, even though they are still enrolled.
“Why do you have to use the word graduation?” Clough said. “We’re asking the board to look at it a little bit differently. We could have clicked the graduated box, but that would have ended our students’ educational opportunities.”
The state calculates a district’s graduation rate by numbers provided by the district, a spokeswoman for the department said. The decision of who has graduated from a Colorado high school — and therefore no longer qualified for free-public education — is left to the district.
Further, the state uses a district’s best graduation, up to seven years, from the previous school year. Sheridan clocked a 71 percent graduation rate at the seven-year mark. The state’s expectation is an 80 percent graduation rate.
Clough said Sheridan’s graduation rate has been historically low because it offered the high-school alternative program SOAR for its neediest students. That program has since become its own school and is evaluated separately from the district’s overall performance.
The state board previously invited districts furthest along on the clock to discuss their efforts at meetings scheduled for March, April and May.
Sheridan’s turn with the state board is scheduled for May 5. Clough, confident in his appeal, believes he won’t need to keep that appointment.Sheridan School’s Appeal Position Letter
Sherdian 2014Appeal Position (PDF)
Local control and privacy concerns came head to head during the State Board of Education’s discussion of student data collection and security Thursday.
Board members praised the Colorado Department of Education (CDE)’s data policies but also raised concerns over the level of oversight at the district-level.
“I’m confident about the state level,” said board president Paul Lundeen. But district breaches, he said, were worrying.
But officials said their ability to change district practice was limited by district autonomy.
“Despite what some people think, we’re still a very local control state,” said Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond. He raised the possibility of legislation that would mandate districts to abide by stricter data use and public reporting policies, like one recently adopted in Oklahoma.
That idea received a warm reception from other boardmembers.
“My sense is there’s so much slippage we would benefit from a law like Oklahoma,” said member Debora Scheffel.
Scheffel also sparked a more tense debate over data reporting to the federal government.
Scheffel said she had heard from parents concerned that a 2008 loosening of federal reporting restrictions and the coming PARCC tests would open the door for more access of student level data by the federal government.
“CDE provides no student-level data to the federal government,” asserted Dan Domagala, the department’s chief information officer.
When Scheffel pressed, member Elaine Gantz Berman jumped in.
“You are speaking like you know the facts,” Berman said. “We need the facts.”
But Scheffel continued to press department officials, raising concerns about the safety of data used to do internal analyses, which are often conducted by third part vendors.
“[Vendors] don’t have the right to use data for other purposes” once they have completed their research, clarified Kady Lanoha, who is a senior policy associate for CDE.
Besides, added officials, that data does not have student names attached.
“No one’s going to show up at your door looking for Suzy,” said member Angelika Schroeder, who expressed irritation at privacy concerns related to PARCC.
But student names and parental control over student data remained a concern for Scheffels.
“If a parent wanted to know what was stored in a database, how they go about that?” she asked. “If they wanted to expunge [the record], how would they go about that?”
Officials said much of that was in the hands of districts, as the state did not log parental data and would be unable to make the connection between parent and student.
But Domagala suggested they could clarify the process for parents, adding it to their district guidelines web page and to their parent resources page.
Lundeen also urged state officials to think “down the road and around the corner” about privacy issues. He and other board members raised concerns about teachers’ use of apps and personal devices to support instruction and assess students.
He said the problem would come from “entrepreneurial educators,” who he praised.
“When people are trying to do the right thing, how do we protect them?” said Lundeen.
Lundeen urged department officials to provide clearer guidance to districts and teachers.
“Downloading apps for the benefit of your students may have benefits,” he said. But the guidelines should “at least make them stop and think.”
The board of directors of the state’s largest teachers union is advocating for an extension of the “hold harmless” period before student performance associated with new standardized assessments are tied to a teacher’s evaluations, Chalkbeat Colorado has learned.
Citing concerns on how teachers and students will adapt to new standards and computerized tests being implemented through the spring of 2015, the Colorado Education Association is “raising the issue with lawmakers and calling attention to the problem,” CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel said.
The problem, as the union sees it, is that teachers will be evaluated, in large part, by student performance on the state’s standardized tests that have not been proven in the field to effectively measure student growth, the state’s most coveted data point.
The teacher evaluations, created by the 2010 Senate Bill 191, are being rolled out this year across Colorado. But personnel decisions won’t be made based on the evaluations until the 2014-15 school year, when teachers who fail to meet a proficiency rating for two consecutive years may lose their jobs.
Students will begin taking new electronic tests this spring to measure their growth and proficiency to science and social studies standards. Next school year, students will take similar tests in reading, writing and math.
Neither draft legislation nor a possible bill sponsor has been identified yet, said CEA spokesman Mike Wetzel.
Last month the union announced a lawsuit seeking a portion of the law that created the state’s teacher evaluation framework be thrown out. The union is also backing a proposed bill, sponsored by Democrat Nancy Todd, that would prohibit districts from putting teachers on unpaid leave if they can’t be placed in schools, but it wouldn’t repeal the full mutual consent portion of state law.
The union maintains it supports teacher evaluations, the new standards and assessments, but critics have called their recent actions obstructionist.
“We hope that the implementation of the evaluation system, Colorado Academic Standards and new statewide assessments will lead to better outcomes for students,” writes CEA president Kerrie Dallman in a yet, unpublished newsletter to union members. “Teachers know that good implementation takes quality training, sufficient technology and resources, and time for teachers to collaborate. Our schools lack all these requirements.”
Dallman goes on to say:
“Simply put, we are asking the state to validate the new assessments and provide teachers and districts more time and training before high-stakes decisions are made about a teacher’s evaluation and career. I want to be clear. CEA is not advocating that we abandon the new assessments. We welcome the opportunity to teach our students in a fully aligned system from standards through assessments.”
To date, 769 candidates have turned in the required paperwork for Chicago Public Schools' upcoming Local School Council elections, according to CPS spokeswoman Jamila Johnson. (DNA Info)
CHARTER GROWTH: In the 2013-2014 school year, 600 new public charter schools opened their doors and an estimated 288,000 additional students are attending public charter schools, according to a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Over the past 10 years, charter school enrollment has risen by 225 percent and the number of new schools has risen by 118 percent. In Illinois, 14 new charter schools opened during that time, enrolling 9,000 students.
IN THE NATION
LUNCHROOM DEBTS: A Salt Lake City cafeteria worker's decision to take school lunches away from students with unpaid lunch bills has prompted a call for federal guidance on how to handle students' debts. (Education Week)
TWEAKING TEACHER EVALUATIONS: After criticism from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Board of Regents set aside a proposal to let teachers contest poor assessments by citing difficulties related to the new Common Core standards. (The New York Times)
WHITE STUDENTS GET BETTER TEACHERS IN L.A.: Black and Latino students are more likely to get ineffective teachers in Los Angeles schools than white and Asian students, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher. The findings were released lastweek during a trial challenging the way California handles the dismissal, lay off and tenure process for teachers. (Los Angeles Times)
Supporters and opponents to a bill that would delay the full implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards lobbed their opening pitches to lawmakers, the State Board of Education and the media Wednesday, the day before the Senate Education Committee may decide the fate of the measure.
Supporters of the bill, which would also delay the rollout of standardized tests aligned to the standards and create a committee to review the standards and their implementation, raised concerns about the standards’ lack of rigor and transparency in how the standards were developed. Several individuals also predicted a botched testing apparatus and student data being sold and manipulated to serve private-business interests. The other predominant theme was local control.
“Ultimately, it is our belief that content standards at a national level will drive conformity, instead of innovation, and mediocrity instead of excellence,” said Wes Jolly, the director of academic services at the the Classical Academy, a public charter school in Colorado Springs. “We, as a state, can do better. Common Core’s implementation and assessment strategy ultimately will prove detrimental to the goals we should be pursuing as a state.”
Opponents of the bill argued that Colorado has gone too far in implementing the standards to turn back now. Student outcomes are already improving, they said.
“The new standards provide students, teachers and parents a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn at every grade level — this serves as a road map for a quality education,” said Shelby Edwards, a senior education fellow at the Colorado Children’s Campaign . “We know, however, there is more to be done. We support the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards and we ask for your continued support as well. Colorado has been developing these higher standards since 2008. And every school across the state has implemented these standards this school year. It is not time to turn around — it is time to continue our efforts of improving education in Colorado.”PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaState Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, explains her rational for sponsoring a bill that would delay the implementation of new standards in Colorado at an 11:30 a.m. press conference. To her right are Director of Academic Services at the Classical Academy Wes Jolly and Monument Academy Principal Lis Richards.
The new standards, developed in Colorado but fused with the controversial Common Core State Standards, were approved by the State Board of Education in 2011. School districts must have either adopted the standards or created their own that meet or exceed the state’s.
The controversy surrounding Common Core has risen to a fever pitch across much of the nation. Since the Common Core’s inception, 45 states have adopted the standards for math and English language arts. But during the last few months, dozens have since either delayed the implementation and several have dropped out of the state consortia developing the accompanying tests.
Since August, a small but consistent group has voiced their frustration with Colorado’s participation with both the standards and the tests, but Wednesday’s gathering was the largest yet. Public comment at the state board’s monthly meetings are usually a pro forma affair, but the back-and-forth on the standards ran for more than two hours.
Most in attendance spoke out against the standards, requesting just a little more time to study issue. Several who want to see the bill passed agreed standards and assessments are needed, but believe the Common Core standards, which were developed by Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and heavily encouraged by the Obama administration, are a one-sizes-does-not-fit-all approach.
“All we ask for is more time,” said Cheri Kiesecker, a Fort Collins mother who helped author the legislation being heard tomorrow.
But time is something the state may not have. The standards and how well students demonstrate mastery of them on state standardized tests are a linchpin to many of the education reform policies the state has implemented throughout the last five years including district and school accountability frameworks and teacher effectiveness evaluations.
Nearly a dozen school districts are nearing the end of the so-called “accountability clock.” If student performance on standardized tests don’t improve their accreditation will be yanked. And beginning next school year, teachers will be evaluated, in part, by those same student outcomes.
The bill’s sponsor, Fort Collins Republican Vicki Marble, said putting too much emphasis on standardized tests is one of many reasons why she’s sponsoring the bill.
“We’re changing the definition of education to assessment,” she said during a press conference held before the state board meeting.
The State Board of Education has taken a “monitor” position on the bill, meaning it neither supports or opposes the bill.
But the board’s president, Paul Lundeen a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he personally supports the bill and has raised concerns about Common Core before.PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaHalfway through Wednesday it appeared much of the crowd that was promised to show support for a bill that would delay the implementation of Colorado’s new standards would fail to materialize. But by time public comment was received by the State Board of Education, the crowd showed and spilled out into the hallway.
“I’ve never been a fan of the Common Core,” Lundeen said. “I think we’re creating a linkage between Common Core and assessments that will ultimately drive what curriculum looks like and I’m very concerned what that looks like for the students of Colorado.”
Board member Jane Goff, a Democrat from Arvada, had mixed feelings after the meeting ended.
“I don’t know if [another year] would be any more telling as far as the standards,” she said.
But Goff was open to a larger discussion on assessments as whole.
“We feel it, the pressure [of assessments],” she said.
Goff, who was a teacher for more than 25 years, said the current debate reminds her of the one in 1993, when Colorado first implemented statewide standards.
“Change is hard,” she said.
Today’s debate is more complex, she said, adding that “this is a complex world.”
The public comment portion of the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting ended a day of mostly poor turnout from both supporters and opponents of the bill on a high note for supporters who hope to pack the Old Supreme Court Chambers at the Capitol tomorrow for the hearing.
Organizers behind the bill, earlier in the day, were disappointed the “bus loads” of supporters didn’t show up for a morning rally, which was eventually pushed to the afternoon. Mostly parents, lacking political prowess, they cited other obligations and a lack of organization.
But a well-orchestrated panel featuring Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and other supporters of Colorado’s standards fared about the same. Only eight lawmakers showed up at 7:30 a.m. to that event.
— Todd Engdahl contributed to this report.
An articulate seventh grader helped to convince the House Education Committee Wednesday to pass a bill that would require the state Department of Education to study the shortage of minority teachers and develop ways to recruit, develop and retain more of them.
“There is a high sense of urgency” about the issue, said sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, noting that about 12 percent of Colorado teachers are minorities while 44 percent of students are.
Fields marshaled a long list of educators, parents and others to testify about the importance of diversity among teachers and the value of students having teachers they can identify with. Even Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg was in the room to testify, although he had to leave before speaking because the committee was running late.
But the star witness was Aliyah Cook, who attends Falcon Creek Middle School in the Cherry Creek district.
Reading clearly from a statement, Cook related how, as a third grader, she written to her principal asking why her school had no black teachers.
She said she was looking for “a role model I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be just like you.’”
She said her middle school has no black teachers, although the principal is Hispanic and the assistant principal is black. “Sometimes I feel a little discouraged,” she said. “I have not written a letter to my new principal, but I plan to.”
Committee members and the audience applauded loudly after Cook finished.
The committee voted 10-3 to pass House Bill 14-1175 on to the House Appropriations Committee. It has a $50,000 price tag, and CDE would have to finish the study by the end of this year and report back to the legislature in January 2015.Senate Bill 13-213 remains alive but in the freezer
The committee warmed up for the minority teachers bill with a somewhat esoteric discussion of whether to effectively repeal Senate Bill 13-213, a law that actually isn’t in effect.
That law, passed during last year’s legislative session, is the massive overhaul of Colorado’s school finance system. The catch was that it needed approval of a $1 billion tax increase – which voters rejected last November – to go into effect.
But the law contains a clause that will switch it on if voters approve a revenue increase as late as 2017.
Rep. Chris Holbert’s House Bill 14-1120 would have shortened that timeline and given SB 13-213 backers only one more shot – this year – to persuade voters to provide more K-12 revenue.
Holbert basically argued that it’s time put SB 13-213 in the past and get on with discussion of other education reforms funded in other ways. (Some of the education bills under discussion this year would cherry-pick individual pieces of the law. See this story for details.)
He got some surprising support from witnesses representing the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives.
But Chris Watney of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and Wade Buchanan of the Bell Policy Center, both major backers of Amendment 66, urged that SB 13-213 be kept on its 2017 clock, if only as a reminder of the importance of improved school funding.
Committee Democrats, as expected, agreed with them and killed Holbert’s bill on a 7-6 party-line vote.Higher ed tuition bill gets more guardrails
The Senate Education Committee Wednesday voted 6-1 to advance Senate Bill 14-001, the measure that would provide $100 million in additional funding for the state’s higher education system and cap tuition increases at no more than 6 percent for the next two years.
The bill’s been in the shop while senators worked on amendments to draw Republican support to what’s been an all-Democratic effort.
The initial version of the bill would have allowed colleges to apply to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education if they felt they needed tuition hikes of more than 6 percent. (That was a carryover from an existing law, which originally had a 9 percent cap.)
Amendments proposed by Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, made the 6 percent a “hard” cap – no appeals – and also tweaked distribution of the additional funding to colleges. Democrats agreed to the changes. Renfroe said he probably won’t sign on to the bill as a cosponsor but will vote for SB 14-001 on the floor.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information.
Updated Feb. 13 - The House gave final approval to the bill on a 34-31 vote Thursday.
A spirited Republican attack on Wednesday failed to stop preliminary floor approval of a bill that would require school boards to fully record their closed-door meetings, including conversations with attorneys about legal matters.
While supporters of the bill, House Bill 14-1110, have been circumspect about its origins, it’s widely assumed that it was at least partly inspired by the Douglas County school board’s extensive use of executive sessions.
Current law allows school boards to stop recording executive sessions when legal issues are discussed with lawyers. In addition to requiring continuous recording, HB 14-1110 would require boards to maintain a log of topics discussed during closed meetings, including the approximate amount of time spent on each issue.
The idea behind the bill is that individuals or groups who suspect a board is abusing the use of executive sessions could ask a judge to review recordings to determine if that had happened. In general, state law limits executive sessions to discussion of personnel matters, real estate deals and protected discussions between a board and its lawyer.
Republicans took several lines of attack. They criticized the bill as an assault on attorney-client privilege (a view shared by the Colorado Association of School Boards), tried to amend the bill to bar discussion of contract negotiations in executive session and suggested the requirement should apply to all levels of local government.
Those proposed amendments have been rebuffed by majority Democrats.
Wednesday’s debate stretched about 90 minutes, with nearly an hour of that consumed by Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Bob Gardner, a lawyer famous at the Capitol for long speeches.
Gardner alluded to the Douglas County situation, saying the bill “is about a fight between and education association and an education reform movement. That’s what it’s really about.”
Urging adoption of an amendment that would have opened collective bargaining discussions, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, asked, “Will you stand with parents, students and teachers or will you stand with big labor and collective bargainers?”
Democrats, of course, were having none of it. They defeated McNulty’s amendment and passed the bill on a voice vote. A final, roll-call vote has to be taken, perhaps as early as Thursday, before the bill goes to the Senate. It’s sponsored by Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, D- Westminster.
For more background, see this story about House Education Committee debate on the bill.