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Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:14

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Principal stability; elementary school drain and teacher licenses

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:14

It looks like Earle Elementary School in Englewood--one of the schools designated to take in students from closed schools--is once again going to get a new principal. DNAinfo first reported that CPS officials said that Earle principal Demetrius Hobson was resigning and then reported that he said he hadn’t resigned. Hobson took over Earle in January after Ketesha Melendez was reassigned. As Catalyst reported in our fall issue of Catalyst in Depth, parents of the shuttered Goodlow, whose children were assigned to Earle, were having a difficult time adjusting to Earle.

And now Hobson has emerged on a list of eight principals CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked to reapply for their jobs, while opening those posts for other applicants. Except for Hobson, all the principals are at high schools: Julian, Tilden, Kelyvn Park, Chicago Vocational, Marshall, Hirsch and Corliss. CEO spokesman Joel Hood says the eight principals are not being targeted for disimissal but, rather, that Byrd-Bennett wants contract principals at the schools, in part for stability. “The other part of it is that she wants to make sure these schools are on the right track,” says Hood.

CPS has lots of interim principals. The most recent employee roster shows 68 interim principals, including almost all of those at the helm in AUSL-run schools.

At schools on probation, as all of these eight schools are, CPS administrators have the power not only to name but also to remove a contract principal. If administrators remove a contract principal, then the LSC loses the authority to select a new contract principal until the school is off of probation. Hood says district officials are keeping LSCs informed about what is going on. 

2. A striking map… WBEZ’s Linda Lutton offers up another interesting story on how the mix of schools in the city has changed. In early July, she reported that incoming freshman test scores reveal that few high schools have student bodies with a range of academic ability. This time, she looks at neighborhood elementary schools and finds that fewer students in their attendance boundaries go to them. This change is the result of the district opening up so many schools that enroll students from anywhere in the city, including charter and magnet schools. A decade ago, 74 percent of students attended their neighborhood school; now only 62 percent do. The map that accompanies the story paints a stark picture of what is happening to neighborhood schools. 

In some neighborhoods, the effect is much more dramatic. For the Spring 2013 issue of Catalyst in Depth, we looked at the same set of CPS data and found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. Of the 10 neighborhoods with the most children attending their neighborhood school, six are well-to-do neighborhoods on the North Side or Northwest Side. The other four are Latino neighborhoods--two on the Far Southeast Side and two on the Southwest Side of the city.

3. Licensed to teach… A Chicago Tribune investigation found that hundreds of classrooms are lead by teachers without the proper credentials. The teachers were qualified to teach, just not in the subjects that they were teaching. For example, in Barrington, a math teacher was teaching science and a young teacher was teaching economics, though she had no background in the subject.

It is not entirely clear that a teacher must be licensed in a subject in order to be good at teaching it, according to experts. Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute, argues in the article that teacher assignment is complex and that administrators should be allowed some flexibility. Studies have shown that knowledge of content area is important for improving achievement.

The Tribune investigation did not look at CPS teachers, though the article notes that federal data show that 900 of 23,000 are not fully licensed to teach any subject.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers quickly posted a rebuttal to the Tribune investigation. In it, IFT points out that the Tribune supports charter schools, at which only 75 percent of teachers have to be licensed. Also, the union notes that the Tribune doesn't mention Teach For America, which allows teachers to be in front of classrooms for two years without a license. 

4. Raising high school grad requirements…. alone won't increase achievement. A new study by ACT Inc. looks at the effect of a 2005 Illinois law that required students to take at least three years of math and two years of science.The study finds it didn't result in students doing better on the ACT in either math or science. But students did take more science classes, and college enrollment increased due to the math requirement.

The study did not include CPS. But a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found in 2010 that with the increased science requirements, more students took and passed science courses. However, 83 percent got a C or lower. Consortium researchers concluded that taking these classes might have hurt students ability to get into colleges.

5. Raising the bar earlier… The New York Times writes about the growing trend of holding back students who cannot read properly by third grade. In 2012, 14 states passed laws requiring that children pass reading tests to move on to fourth grade, and another two--Arizona and Colorado--offered summer school for struggling readers. One of the big criticisms of these laws is that third grade is too late to start remediating reading problems, according to the article.

These laws sound a lot like CPS’ policy that sets reading and math grade and standardized test thresholds for promotion in third, sixth and eighth grade. As you may recall, under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago was seen as a leader in “ending social promotion.” At one time, thousands of students in Chicago were forced to repeat a grade. But research showed that retained students were more likely to drop out. Also, sending a lot of students to summer school was expensive.

Over time, the promotion policy has been scaled back. In 2002, more than 30,000 CPS students were required to go to summer school and 11,000 were held back. This summer, only 10,000 students were required to go to summer school. And in recent years, less than 2 percent of students were retained in elementary school. 

 

 



 




Categories: Urban School News

Some districts shine, others falter in coupling of learning and online media

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 19:57

Five years ago, Noah Geisel made what seemed like a simple request of Denver Public School officials: could he have a set of iPods for his students to use in class?

“It was about putting a computer more powerful than those that got the first man landed on the moon in every kid’s hands,” Geisel said. “We knew then that we were at the tip of the iceberg in what we would eventually be doing, but at the time, using the coolest device in the land for digital Socratic Seminars, virtual field trips with GoogleEarth and finding celebrity tweets in Spanish felt like we were changing the world.”

And as far as the school district was concerned, he might have been.

“It was the first time the district had dealt with this,” said Geisel, who is now a teacher trainer at the professional development firm An Estuary. “At first I ran into a lot of hurdles and messages about what I could not do and would not be supported in doing.”

Geisel and school officials were eventually able to work out their questions and concerns, and now Denver teachers are able to access more support from the district to help them integrate new technology in the classroom.

That trajectory — from confusion around how to support technology in schools to integration into the daily workings of the district — is playing out around Colorado, but at vastly different speeds. And districts are taking a variety of approaches to balance two sometimes competing concerns: how do you meet students’ and teachers’ need for increased access to educational technology and online media while simultaneously protecting their privacy?

Some districts, like Denver, have been relatively proactive about establishing procedures and support for teachers who want to use online material and educational technology. Last school year, DPS introduced Google Apps for Education (GAFE), giving schools the option of using Google Docs, Gmail and Google Drive. In one year, 16,600 students logged into their accounts, said Kristen Savage, the district’s web communications senior manager.

With thousands of students and teachers using GAFE, the district has to take certain measures to ensure schools’ safety. Students’ Gmail accounts are filtered for inappropriate words and pictures, even if they are accessing them from outside of school.

By contrast, other districts have either avoided the issue or have created policies that are, at best, outdated or worse, possibly illegal.

Take Pueblo County School District 70, for instance. The southeastern Colorado school district of about 9,000 students’ current web policy allows students to create personal web pages, but also says that the district will not consider it an infringement on students’ right to freedom of speech if the student is required to remove any “material that fails to meet established educational objectives or that is in violation of a provision of the Student Acceptable Use Policy or student disciplinary code.”

Although the policy could ostensibly be used to protect students from harmful online content, it’s also “transparently illegal,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, who works on student freedom of expression issues.

Goldstein said districts are not obligated to allow students to create personal websites, so they cannot curtail their freedom of expression. Colorado state law, he said, protects students’ freedom of expression, unless the material is obscene, defamatory or creates clear and present danger. Despite all three of those stipulations being in the district’s Student Acceptable Use Policy, the district can’t control the content on students’ personal web pages, Goldstein said.

Tim Yates, Pueblo 70’s district of technology, said that its policy, which was adopted in 2002 and reviewed in 2009, is very outdated. But the issue hasn’t seemed very pressing: in Yates’ two decades at Pueblo 70, he said, he has never encountered an instance where a student wanted to create a personal or classroom webpage.

The onslaught of new technology can be intimidating for school districts who are concerned about protecting students’ privacy, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects students’ and parents’ right to access and correct educational records kept by institutions. But, since content created online is not protected by this federal mandate, LoMonte said there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the use of online media.

And some of those concerns are warranted, said Khaliah Barnes, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Student Privacy Project. For example, one online tool that teachers increasingly use to communicate with their students, Edmodo, made headlines last year after parents found out the company was not encrypting users’ connection after logging in, thus threatening users’ information security. The issue has since been fixed.

But for many teachers, those risks are often outweighed by the appeal that technology like Edmodo offers them for their classrooms.

“I need tech that makes my job easier,” said Nathan Grover, an AP biology teacher at Denver Youth High School. He started using Edmodo in order to connect with students in a digital language that they understand.

“For me, it was just adding another communication piece to the classroom and utilizing what they already know how to use for education,” he said. Grover now trains other teachers how to use Edmodo and other tools in their own classrooms.

And for some educators, district restrictions that are intended to protect students, like blocking social sites like YouTube, can actually interfere with instruction.

Mike Clem, principal of Denver Online High School, said that because schools have to get approval before they can use blocked sites — like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — students do most of their work from home, keeping students from coming into the school’s brick-and-mortar facility.

“We encourage students to use YouTube for instructional purposes and we ask our teachers to help students link to those sites,” Clem said. “If they’re blocked at the school level, they can’t access it, so there’s no reason for them to come in.”

Slow progress toward integrating online media with teaching and learning is to be expected. Geisel said such large districts inevitably take a long time to evolve.

“We can’t expect the necessary slow change to keep pace with tech innovation and I think that’s OK,” he said. “It’d be great to throw open the firewalls and give students the same open access to content that they are going to get outside of school so we can prepare them to handle that responsibility, but I don’t believe we’re there yet.”

Categories: Urban School News

Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 14:36

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

Categories: Urban School News

Absenteeism and truancy down, but not at welcoming schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 14:36

The spike in chronic truancy and absenteeism that CPS elementary schools experienced in the 2012-2013 school year was somewhat reversed last year, new preliminary data show. But welcoming schools that took in most of the children displaced by school closings on average saw a slight increase in chronic truancy and held steady when it came to chronic absences.

And despite the overall year-to-year improvements, chronic truancy remains higher in every grade,  compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. Chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, has barely budged when compared to those two years. (Click here to see the data on chronic truancy and chronic absenteeism.)

Community activists said they weren’t surprised that welcoming schools didn’t see the same kinds of improvements as other schools.

“What do you expect, it’s the distance and the new environment,” said Gloria Harris, a parent trainer at Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI). “Somebody comes along and says, ‘we have to take your children and put them here.’ Your kids are not going to feel safe until they get used to that environment.”

CPS officials did not dispute Catalyst’s analysis, but said that it was unfair to compare welcoming schools with other district-run schools because the welcoming schools have substantially different student bodies. Further, most new students came from schools with higher-than-average rates of truancy and absences.

(See an accompanying story on what CPS is doing to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism here.)

Chronic truancy is defined as missing nine or more days of school without a valid excuse; chronic absenteeism, meanwhile, means missing at least 18 school days with or without a valid excuse.

Catalyst’s findings come as a state-appointed task force last week issued a set of non-binding recommendations for how Chicago can fix its “epidemic” of empty desks in elementary schools. The task force, which was convened in response to a 2012 investigation into the issue, suggests a variety of solutions that range from improved data collection and the hiring of attendance coordinators at struggling schools, to a public awareness campaign and the creation of a permanent state-wide task force on truancy.

 “Chronic absenteeism and truancy have consequences of untold proportions,” according to the task force’s report. “Any student who is not in school is not learning. The kindergarten student who is not in school is acquiring a habit that will affect future school attendance.”

 CPS shared preliminary district-wide data from the 2013-14 school year at the final meeting, in July, of Task Force on Truancy in Chicago Public Schools. CPS has not responded to a Catalyst request for the corresponding school-level data, but a community organization that obtained it separately from the district provided a copy.

 Catalyst analyzed the date a variety of ways to see both what happened this past school year, and what could have caused the spike in truancy and absenteeism in 2012-2013:

At welcoming schools:

-- Those schools did not see the reductions in chronic truancy and absenteeism that were seen at other district-run schools last year.  In fact, from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year, chronic truancy increased at welcoming schools, from about 24.6 percent to 25.4 percent. At all other schools, chronic truancy fell from about 16.8 percent to 14.3 percent.

-- Chronic absenteeism barely changed from one year to the next, dropping slightly from 15.9 percent to 15.3 percent. Chronic absenteeism fell more at non-welcoming schools, from 14.6 percent to 11.6 percent.

At schools threated with closure:

-- The data from 2012-2013 shows that schools that operated under the threat of closure that year saw higher increases on average than other schools – regardless of whether they ultimately shut down. Schools on a list of nearly 130 schools that CPS considered closing saw chronic truancy rates jump from about 20 percent to nearly 29 percent that year. Meanwhile, schools that were never on that list to begin with saw a smaller increase from about 10 percent to 15 percent.

The data are in line with findings from a 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research Consortium on how the most precarious time for students of closed schools.

“Announcements about upcoming CPS school closings typically were made in January—about six months prior to the actual closings of schools and a few months before students took annual achievement tests,” according to the report. “These announcements often caused significant angst for students, parents, teachers, and other community members, and the disruption may have hindered student learning.”

At schools with increases in suspensions:

While the district hasn’t completely pinpointed what triggered the increase in chronic truancy and absenteeism in the 2012-2013 school year, officials say a parallel increase in suspensions and expulsions could be partly to blame, since they take students out of school.

The data Catalyst analyzed shows that most of the 25 elementary schools with the biggest increases in out-of-school suspensions in the 2012-2013 school year also posted increases in chronic absenteeism and chronic truancy.

“The discipline issues were also getting worse at the elementary level in tandem with the [chronic truancy and absenteeism],” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief officer of college and career success, who also oversees truancy and absenteeism issues, in a recent phone interview.

 CPS has not yet released complete discipline data from this past school year. Charter schools are not included in this analysis because the suspension data is incomplete.

At all schools:

Elementary schools with predominantly black and poor student populations continue to have the highest chronic truancy and absenteeism rates. On average, 23 percent of students were considered chronically truant at schools where most of the student body is black. Meanwhile, the overall average for all elementary schools was about 15 percent.

Schools where at least 90 percent of students qualified for free or reduced price lunch reported an average chronic truancy rate of nearly 19 percent. At schools with fewer than two-thirds of low-income students, only 6 percent were considered chronically truant.

The findings are in line with previous research by another Consortium study on chronic absences in preschool. The 2013 report found that African-American students were almost twice as likely to miss class as other students. The report cited children’s health as the biggest factor, followed by logistical obstacles such as limited transportation or a sick relative.

A better picture overall

Overall, the district did post improvements in chronic truancy and absenteeism at every grade level last year, when compared with the previous year.

“CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett really announced [improving attendance] as a key priority for the district going into this past school year,” Dhupelia said. “And it’s not just saying it’s a priority. There were some intentional strategies that that were piloted this past year, a few things we really made traction on."

District officials credited the improvements to a new emphasis on attendance and a series of strategies piloted in this past 2013-14 school year, including targeted funds for struggling schools, the production of monthly data reports tailored to individual schools, and an emphasis on restorative justice programs as an alternative to suspensions or expulsions.

CPS first shared details on some of the district’s pilot strategies during the truancy task force’s June meeting. The CPS draft strategic plan shared that day generated some skepticism among several task force members. (See a copy of the district's draft plan.)

 “I truly believe this plan was created only in relation to the task force,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher for the Chicago Teachers Union who sits on the task force. “They want to look like they’re proactive, ahead of the game. They came up with this plan to kind of stave off any kind of mandated policies from the state level.”

Dhupelia, who also sits on the task force, said she and the district took the group’s work very seriously, and implemented some of the research and ideas that were generated during the monthly meetings into the district’s own strategic plan.

“It wasn’t something we popped up at the last minute and said, ‘Hey, we’re done,’” she said. “This is a continuously improving effort. We certainly have a long way to go. I know we can get better. But it would not have made sense to wait; our kids cannot wait.”

Categories: Urban School News

How CPS is trying to improve attendance

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 14:35

Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.

Categories: Urban School News

How CPS is trying to improve attendance

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 14:35

Like many recent CPS strategies, data plays a big part in the district’s draft plan to reduce chronic absenteeism and absences. School administrators now receive monthly data reports that allow them to flag students who are off track early.

The district also wants to develop better data-sharing partnerships with the Archdiocese of Chicago, suburban districts and the Illinois State Board of Education to determine when CPS students transfer out.

“We don’t want to lose any children, right? When a student transfers out but we have no verification, we will spend resources trying to track them down,” said Aarti Dhupelia, CPS’s chief of college and career success, whose office also oversees attendance issues. “If they’ve already transferred, we obviously don’t need to spend those resources.”

(See accompanying story on how chronic truancy and absenteeism have changed at CPS elementary schools in recent years.)

Community organizers and advocates that work with schools, including members of the Truancy in Chicago Schools Task Force, have asked whether they too can access up-to-date information on chronic absences and truancy, in order to better target their own resources. Dhupelia said the district is looking into the possibility of sharing some data with outside groups, but has limitations because of laws protecting student privacy.

The task force recently issued its own set of broad recommendations to CPS. Those recommendations are non-binding. 

Last year the district also targeted about $3 million in funding at about 180 schools with the worst attendance problems, Dhupelia said. (Catalyst asked for a list of schools that received this targeted funding of about $16,000 per school.) Dhupelia said about the same amount of funding is budgeted to support schools with high truancy and absenteeism rates next year.

The money was used to develop tailored plans for each school. Some schools, for example, used the funds for training on restorative discipline practices or social-emotional supports for students.

“You have to look at the unique needs of each school,” Dhupelia said. “That’s why plans are tailored to each school […] There’s no cookie cutter requirement to do X, Y or Z.”

The CPS draft strategic plan for improving attendance notes how specific schools targeted the problem. At Armour Elementary, for example, missing students were “tracked in a Google spreadsheet by adults who followed up, documented their efforts and followed up again.” Parents of children with excessive absences were put on notice, and those with strong attendance received free tickets to a White Sox game. More difficult cases were referred to a case worker.

One strategy the district is also considering came from the task force’s review of best practices around the country. Officials in New York City started a city-wide marketing campaign to build awareness of the need for attendance improvement, even using “celebrity wakeup calls” to encourage good attendance.

“It’s something we’re still looking into,” Dhupelia said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Falcon 49 works to manage growth

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/06/2014 - 09:58

Seeking better service

The Aurora schools have reorganized the district's support service, linking schools in "communities" that serve various grades. The goal is to boost achievement and make life easier for principals and teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Encouraging wellness

Widefield School District 3 is the latest district to add a free employee health clinic as a way to promote wellness and lower health care costs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Share your experience

As teachers face increasing pressures (new standards, assessments, and evaluations), Chalkbeat wants to know if your school supply buying habits are changing because of these efforts to better student achievement. Please take a few moments to click the link and fill out our survey. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Starting a new year

The Falcon 49 district in El Paso County is coping with the area's growth as the school year starts and plans to ask voters to approve new construction spending. ( Gazette )

Reporting loophole

The fatal shooting at Arapahoe High School last December was apparently not included in the state's annual school violence report, likely due to a loophole in Colorado's law that only requires incidents in which a student is disciplined be disclosed to the public. ( The Denver Channel )

Young Learners

The small Norwood School District on the Western Slope has moved to full-day kindergarten, something the state doesn't require. ( Norwood Post )

Literacy boost

About 120 students at three Boulder public housing sites are getting an extra dose of literacy instruction through the Summer Shuffle program. ( Daily Camera )

iPads vs. Chromebooks

For an entire school year Hillsborough, New Jersey, educators undertook an experiment, asking: Is the iPad really the best device for interactive learning? ( Hechinger Report )

A better brain

Children learn their most important lessons on the playground, not in the classroom, researchers say. ( NPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat wants to know: Teachers, how much are you spending on your classroom?

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 15:40

As a student, I spent all summer looking forward to one thing: back to school shopping. One fall, I bought so many new classroom supplies, I had two backpacks. Yes, I was a nerd. Yes, I am still a nerd.

For me, buying new supplies was a luxury. For many teachers it may be a burden.

According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, the average teacher in 2013 spent nearly $500 of their own money to outfit their classroom and equip their students with the needed paper, crayons, and glue sticks. In total, more than $1 billion was collectively spent by teachers the year before.

As teachers face increasing pressures (new standards, assessments, and evaluations), Chalkbeat wants to know if your buying habits are changing because of these efforts to better student achievement.

Please take a few moments to fill out the survey below. While your answers will be aggregated to inform a story later this month, your personal information will remain confidential unless explicit permission is granted in a follow-up interview.

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Categories: Urban School News

A bureaucratic shuffle in Aurora to help schools get the support they need

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 15:13

AURORA — As a principal at Vaughn Elementary School, Jocelyn Stephens sometimes found herself relying more on her personal connections to access support from her school district’s central office rather than the clunky and dawdling bureaucracy of Aurora Public Schools.

“The system was not responsive,” she said. “Support didn’t always happen through formal channels. I had to be creative.”

As a principal it could be time consuming to find help from any number of departments that makes up a school district: English language acquisition, special education, student engagement, technology and so on.

So when Stephens heard the suburban school district’s new chief academic officer, John Youngquist, was shuffling the district’s bureaucracy with the hope of providing better support  school leaders and teachers, Stephens jumped at the opportunity to be on the front lines of the “groundbreaking” movement.

Today, the first day of school for most of Aurora Public Schools’ 35,000 students, Stephens is taking charge of supervising, or as district officials like to say serving, 10 schools. She, along with four other Aurora administrators — who will each supervise their own networks of schools — will be the go-to people for teachers and principals as problems in the classroom arise.

The decision to restructure the district’s support services has been months in the making. The impetus came from an informal listening tour hosted by APS’s newest academic executive, Youngquist, and research from the University of Washington.

“The conversations were about relationships and how schools accessed support,” he said.

Previously, most schools operated in silos, Youngquist said. And professional development was cookie-cutter and usually targeted to grade levels.

“At meetings, it would be, ‘elementary school principals over there, middle schools over there, and high school principals over there,’” said Iowa Elementary School leader Luann Tallman.

John Youngquist

Too often, Tallman said, principals can get caught up focusing only on their students’ present and not their future. They can forget students age through a system of schools. The new approach is reminding Tallman she’s not just accountable to her students through fifth grade, but to their entire educational career. And she’s accountable to the teachers and principals who she will hand her students off too.

It’s for that reason these new networks, known as “P-20 Learning Communities,” will include schools that serve all grade levels in nearby neighborhoods.

“P-20″ is common education parlance for a coordinated system that extends from preschool through higher education. Aurora Public Schools, under former Superintendent John Barry, was an early adopter of the contemporary effort that links a student’s primary and secondary education to career-driven skills. The district’s signature initiatives, including the Vista PEAK P-20 campus and its “pathways” programs, have garnered praise from the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Youngquist’s new effort, a double-down of sorts, come at a crucial time for Aurora Public Schools. The district is the largest on the state’s accountability watch list. It has two years to improve student performances on Colorado’s standardized assessments and boost its graduation rate or face state sanctions.

In her role as director, Stephens will work to boost student achievement as some of APS’ lowest performing schools. Four of her 10 schools are considered chronically low-performing.

“That level of data tells me we’re not responsive to the students’ needs,” she said. “[We're going to ask] what do we need to learn about those students that we might not know from the data. We’re going to change the type of questions we ask. We’re going to be very root-caused focused.”

The targeted support approach to schools that APS hopes to roll out, Stephens said, is no different that what a teacher is expected to do in the classroom.

“Gone are the days of the one-size fits all approach,” Stephens said.

And the change, Tallman said, is creating a new team spirit and sense of a accountability among schools and one, she hopes, will last.

If the initiative does last, it would beat the odds, said Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a P-20 education researcher for the Education Commission of the States.

First of all, most P-20 efforts have been coordinated by states, not local school districts, Dounay Zinth said. And those efforts have focused more on the links between high school and college and the transmission of student data. Second, most of the P-20 efforts have puttered out.

For Aurora to be successful, Dounay Zinth said, they’ll need to make sure their effort is “more than just window dressing.”

It will be imperative, Dounay Zinth said, for the learning community directors and their teams to have the autonomy to make decisions, and those teams will need to have representatives from both the district’s early childhood services and post-secondary readiness team.

Youngquist acknowledged Dounay Zinth’s advice.

“The teams should be and will be immediately responding to requests of their communities of teachers and principals,” Younquist said, he hopes within 24 hours.

And the district is working to ensure the new support squads are equipped and empowered to make the decisions they deem necessary. Further, each team will have a representative from the district’s post-secondary readiness team and the district has hired, for the first time, an early childhood learning director. Once the new director is in place, a team will be assembled to work with the P-20 Learning Communities, as well.

“They’ll go where they need to go,” he said.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Jocelyn Stephens, right, listens during a meeting of P-20 Learning Community directors July 31. In her new role, Stephens will coordinate a support team for 10 schools in the suburban school district.
Categories: Urban School News

Another district adds free health clinic for employees

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 14:53

Widefield School District 3 is among a growing number of Colorado districts that are adding free employee health clinics with the goal of lowering health care costs and promoting wellness.

The 9,300-student district southeast of Colorado Springs opened its employee clinic inside a multi-use district building on July 9, with an open house scheduled for August 12. The clinic, open Monday through Friday, will provide free acute care, screenings, wellness coaching and prescriptions for around 700 employees covered by the district’s health plan, as well as their families.

The goal is to help employees suffering from basic illness like sinus infections or allergies get treated quickly and conveniently, said Samantha Briggs, Widefield’s director of communication. In addition, the clinic will provide school physicals to children of covered employees and wellness coaching on topics like weight loss and stress management.

“This in no way replaces anyone’s primary doctor,” she said.

Several Colorado districts have added employee health clinics in the last couple years, including the Mesa County Valley 51 and Steamboat Springs districts in 2012, and Poudre School District in 2013.

Briggs said the new clinic was first envisioned 10 years ago and has been in the works for the last four to five. The district’s partners include its health insurance company, CEBT, and Marathon Health, the Vermont-based company that will staff the clinic.

Categories: Urban School News

New principals group to weigh in on policy

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 11:07

Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.

 

 

Categories: Urban School News

New principals group to weigh in on policy

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 11:07

Led by the two principals who wrote editorials critical of CPS administration, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has formed a new committee aimed at advocating for policy and amplifying principal voice.

The committee is calling itself Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education or AAPPLE. 

The committee plans to hold monthly forums, issue white papers and keep members better informed about what the CPAA is working on. It also has a discussion board on its website.

Topics for the first four forums are: Defining a successful school system; high quality teacher training and professional development; economics, poverty, segregation and education systems, and the role of schools and government in addressing the effects of poverty on school systems; and how do we build sustainable cities?

The first forum will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Michael Beyer, principal of Morrill Elementary, said the forums are intended to help change the conversation and get at some core questions about the future of the CPS and the city. Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere says he thinks it is important that the new committee broadens the conversation.

“On the surface, some of the forum topics don’t have anything to do with school, but they have everything to do with school,” LaRaviere says.

The moderators will include Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust, and academics Charles Payne of the University of Chicago and David Stovall of University of Illinois – Chicago.  Mazany served for about a year and a half as interim chief executive officer of CPS, bridging the Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations, and Payne was his chief education officer.

Beyer says the forum panels will include charter-school advocates, and the panel for the forum on sustainable cities will include mayoral candidates. “We want to have a professional debate on solutions,” he says.

LaRaviere has been outspoken in his opposition to Emanuel, and it would run contrary to standard political practice for an incumbent mayor to participate in a panel with opponents, particularly if it includes Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, a frequent, harsh critic who is weighing a run.

LaRaviere and Beyer say they want the committee to be non-political and that inviting mayoral candidates is meant to influence them rather than give them a platform.

“Our contributions to policy discussions will come from the experiences of CPS principals and assistant principals as they provide feedback on the very real effects of district and state policies,” LaRaviere says.  “Our contributions will also derive from an already large body of research on what has been proven to work for great school systems.”

While principals tend to be extremely busy, Beyer says organizers are hopeful that they will see the value of carving out a few hours a month to attend the forums, which will be open to the public.

The committee’s leaders are also working on white papers that outline some of the issues they are concerned about. The first one will be on implementation of the new physical education policy, which requires daily PE, and the second one will be on student-based budgeting.

Beyer says the group is hopeful that CPS leaders will take heed of the positions advocated in the white papers and eventually see the value in gauging the committee’s opinion before moving forward on policy. He notes that currently the CPAA is often informed about decisions a week before they are announced and has little chance of changing them.

Working with CPAA

LaRaviere and Beyer say they and a group of about eight other principals considered forming a new entity, but met with CPAA president Clarice Berry and decided that it would be best to work with the existing organization. “We saw no reason not to work with CPAA,” LaRaviere says.

LaRaviere wrote an editorial in May, criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS leaders for not listening to teachers and principals and for forbidding them from talking to the press about what is going on in their schools.Then, in Catalyst, Beyer laid out the type of organization principals need to represent them.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood did not want to comment specifically on the creation of the new committee, but says CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has a principals’ advisory committee and listens intently to what those principals have to say. “We greatly value working with principals,” he says.

But LaRaviere says he does not think the advisory committee, chosen by Byrd-Bennett, can fully represent principals. He says the advisory committee’s function is to offer thoughts on subjects that Byrd-Bennett wants feedback on, not necessarily to look at issues that affect schooling or advocate for policies principals are concerned about.

Beyer also says CPS’ principal advisory committee is problematic as the only voice delivering the principal point of view to CPS. For one, no one knows who is on it, he says, so if a principal wants to communicate a concern, he or she doesn’t know whom to reach out to. Also, he says, those on it might be afraid to say what they really think.  

Berry, the CPAA president, says she has struggled to get principals to speak out on issues and welcomes the new committee. “First and foremost, the issue is fear. Principals are paralyzed,” she says.

Berry says she thinks the move to student-based budgeting sent principals “over the cliff.” “You have all these unfunded mandates and a mountain of accountability. It was like a volcano.”

 “Their colleagues see them as beacons,” Berry says. “They have confidence in them.”

LaRaviere says the feedback he has gotten from CPS principals is that they are hungry for such an entity. “I am hopeful,” he says.

 

 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Most Colorado Springs schools cited for health violations

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/05/2014 - 09:28

Election update

Backers of an initiative that would require school districts labor negotiations to be hashed out in public have gotten enough signatures to get on the ballot this fall. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

In other fights around the state, candidates and committees are building up their coffers as election season ramps up. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Not over yet

A fight over who actually won last year's Adams 12 school board race will go to the state Supreme Court. ( Westword )

Learning from lambs

In a program designed to get online high school students to build in-person relationships, two students raised and trained lambs for the state fair. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Are you sure you want to eat that?

Over half of Colorado Springs' schools have been cited for health code violations in the past two years, with some receiving as many as six. ( Gazette )

Teacher talk

Chalkbeat sat down with Elizabeth Green, co-founder and author of Building a Better Teacher, to talk about what we can learn from Japan and what makes teachers great. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Quiet time

Special education students at a Pueblo school will soon have a new place to go cool down and refocus for school work. ( Chieftain )

Science in summer

Pueblo high school students got a glimpse into what being a chemist is all about in a summer program run by the American Chemical Society. ( Chieftain )

First month on the job

A new rural superintendent faces the challenge of learning to run a school district, with some extra challenges thrown in. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Contributions flowing in education-related races

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 21:36

With the November election only three months away, candidates and campaign committees are building their war chests in races with implications for education.

In battleground Jefferson County, two Democratic senators with seats on the Senate Education Committee each have raised more than $100,000 in the fights to hold their seats.

And both sides in the fight over Amendment 68, which would expand casino gambling and give a cut of revenues to school districts, already have raised a total of more than $13 million. Only about $11 million was spent in last year’s campaign for defeated Amendment 66, which would have raised income taxes by about $1 billion to support schools.

Campaign committees had to report their most recent and cumulative fundraising by last Friday. The next deadline is Sept. 2, after which reports have to be made every two weeks until the Nov. 4 election.

Key Senate races

In four pivotal Senate races, Democrats so far have outraised Republicans $356,586 to $158,323.

Andy Kerr, the Lakewood Democrat was chairs the Senate Education Committee, has raised $114,193 in his District 22 battle with conservative businessman Tony Sanchez, who was the victor in a tough Republican primary.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, who was appointed last December to replace Democrat Evie Hudak, has received contributions totaling $102,172, compared to $67,659 for Republican Laura Woods, a gun-rights activist who also prevailed in the District 19 GOP primary. Zenzinger also sits on Senate Education.

In Colorado Springs, former House Education Committee chair Mike Merrifield is trying to retake the District 11 seat for the Democrats. GOP Sen. Bernie Herpin won the seat last year in a recall election related to gun rights. The outspoken Merrifield, a former teacher, was generally critical of education reform efforts. He’s raised $80,381 to Herpin’s $40,277.

Former Democratic Rep. Judy Solano, a strong critic of standardized testing, is seeking to return to the Capitol as senator from District 24 in Adams County. She’s raised $62,840 compared to $4,859 for GOP candidate Beth Martinez Humenik. The seat is being vacated by term-limited Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton.

Democrats have only an 18-17 majority in the Senate, and these four races, along with a few others that don’t have education ties, are considered crucial for the future balance of power in that chamber.

House races to watch

Five Democratic members of the House Education Committee also are significantly outraising their Republican challengers.

Rep. Millie Hamner of Dillon has raised $43,240 compared for $13,519 for Debra Irvine, her GOP opponent in District 61. Hamner is chair of House Education and was a central figure in 2014’s school finance debates. She defeated Irvine two years ago.

First-term Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood has raised $73,525 in her District 28 contest with lawyer Stacia Kuhn, who’s gathered $7,914 in contrubtions.

In Greeley, Rep. Dave Young has received contributions of $69,070 in his race with GOP businessman Isaia Aricayos, who’s raised $27,154.

Rep. John Buckner of Aurora has raised $37,113 in his District 40 race with Republican Aurora school board member JulieMarie Shepherd, who’s gathered a $5,786 campaign fund.

Also in Aurora, Rep. Rhonda Fields has contributions of $22,351, while District 42 GOP hopeful Mike Donald has raised only $845.

The Public Education Committee, a small-donor committee connected to the Colorado Education Association, reports having raised $230,000 in the current election cycle and having spent $137,850.

It’s given Kerr $4,900, and $4,500 contributions have gone to Buckner, Merrifield, Pettersen, Solano and Young. Fields and Hamner received smaller amounts. The committee also has made contributions to other Democratic legislative and statewide candidates and to campaign committees affiliated with the Democratic Party.

Big money anted in casino contest

The opposing sides in the Amendment 68 contest have raised a total of $13.2 million, with opponents in the lead at $9.1 million through June. (The group Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos reported no new contributions in July.) The campaign is being bankrolled by companies that own existing casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.

The $4.1 million raised by the committee Coloradans for Better Schools has been given almost entirely by Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns Arapahoe Park racetrack. A full casino would be built there if A68 passes.

Modest fundraising in SBE contests

Democrats also are raising the largest amounts of money in two contested races for the State Board of Education.

In suburban District 7, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff has raised $11,990 compared to $1,870 for Republican Laura Boggs, a former Jeffco school board member.

In District 3, which stretches from northwestern Colorado to Pueblo, GOP incumbent Marcia Neal has raised $6,050, all but $1,808 of which she spent on a primary race. Democrat Henry Roman, former superintendent of the Pueblo 60 district, has raised $10,754 and has $9,486 still in the bank.

In Denver-based District 1, Democrat Val Flores has raised $17,931 and spent virtually all of it in a primary. She doesn’t have a Republican opponent.

Taggart Hansen, Flores’ primary opponent, raised $36,448 in his losing effort. Two independent expenditure committees, which act independently of a candidate’s committee, also raised significant funds. The BSSC Committee, which is affiliated with Stand for Children, spent $49,291 in support of Hansen. Raising Colorado, a group connected to Democrats for Education Reform, spent $47,062. So, Hansen and the two groups raised more than $130,000, seven times the amount raised by Flores for a low-turnout race that she won with 59 percent of the vote.

This story was updated on Aug. 5 to correct information about Judy Solano’s district and JulieMarie Shepherd’s current position.

Categories: Urban School News

Backers of public negotiations initiative turn in signatures

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 18:40

Supporters of a ballot measure that would require school district labor negotiations to be held in public have turned in 127,328 signatures to get the proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.

What’s currently called Initiative 124 would change state law on executive sessions to require that contract negotiations between school boards – and district administrators representing boards – and labor unions be open to the public.

The proposal is being pushed by Jon Caldara and Mike Krause of the right-leaning Independence Institute. But open negotiations long have been a goal of some Republican officeholders and conservative school board members, and the idea is strongly opposed by unions like the Colorado Education Association.

The committee supporting the proposal, Sunshine on Government, had raised no money as of the most recent reporting deadline, which was last Friday. The opposition group Local Choices, Local Schools has raised $10,100, $10,000 of that from CEA.

The majority of Colorado’s 178 school districts don’t have collective bargaining agreements with teachers or other employee groups. But union contracts are common in the largest urban and suburban districts that enroll the majority of the state’s children.

Initiative 124 needs 86,105 valid signatures of registered voters to be placed on the ballot. The Department of State has 30 days to review the group’s petitions and determine if that requirement has been met.

If certified for the ballot would be second education-related issue on the ballot. A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow opening a casino in Arapahoe County, with some revenues earmarked for school districts, already has been certified as Amendment 68 (details here).

Read full text of open-meetings proposal here.

Categories: Urban School News

At the county fair, a shot at learning for online high schoolers

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 18:05

The sight of two high school students in worn-in blue jeans, huge belt buckles and dusty boots, posing for photos alongside the lambs they’ve raised, isn’t unusual at the Adams County Fair.

But it’s not how they usually dress. Destiny Gonzalez and Zaria Schaffer are city kids, and they were wearing borrowed boots and belt buckles.

The two are rising juniors and seniors at Denver Online High School, and the four months they’ve spent raising their lambs, Bonnie and Leroy, are part of an effort to give students an unusual opportunity not typically offered at traditional schools, as well as to build bonds between students and staff.

“You’ve got to look the part,” said Kaci Sintek, the school’s marketing and communications specialist. Sintek, who raised livestock and did shows herself, loaned the girls her boots and belt buckles. She helped the girls raise and train the two lambs as part of the school’s 4-H Lamb Project.

“We didn’t know what it would be like,” Sintek said. “We learned together.”

Finding ways for students to get face time with other kids and teachers is a major concern in online education. Denver Online High School confronts that issue head-on by offering independent studies like the one Gonzalez and Schaffer did through a partnership with the Urban Farm at Stapleton.

Sintek said the school’s principal, Mike Clem, encourages students and staff to work their passions into learning and teaching. A grant Sintek applied for covered all costs — including feeding, watering and housing Bonnie and Leroy.

Gonzalez is not new to farm life. Her uncle owned a ranch where she helped him with chickens and horses. None of that, however, prepared her for the task of building the lambs’ pen and training the newborns.

“Training was the hardest,” Gonzalez said as she petted Bonnie. “At first all they did was kick us and run away.”

The girls meticulously recorded the animals’ eating habits and weight, as well as trained them to walk in showings. They had two presentations in showmanship — where Schaffer and Gonzalez showed off their handling of the lambs. Schaffer showed off Leroy’s skillful bracing, a technique used to show off their muscles.

Bonnie, and Leroy started at just 65lbs and 78lbs. By the time they were auctioned off at the fair, they weighed 105lbs and 122lbs and sold for a combined $1,500, which will be split between the girls to pay for college.

After a summer full of farm work and training, the girls said they would do it all over again. Sintek said she hopes the program can expand to include more kids next year.

“It was rewarding to watch the girls,” Sintek said. “Work ethic and self-confidence grew immensely in these students.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat CEO and author Elizabeth Green on teaching, the Common Core, and more

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 14:44

What makes a great teacher — and how do you make a teacher great?

Those twin questions would seem to get to the heart of improving the nation’s schools and yet, as Chalkbeat CEO Elizabeth Green found as a schools reporter, they rarely are raised in today’s big education debates.

That paradox drove Elizabeth on a six-year reporting quest (while she was also busy co-founding Chalkbeat) that took her from lab schools in Michigan to math classrooms in Japan to the elementary school where she was once taught. The result is her new book, “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone),” which comes out today.

Chalkbeat recently sat down with Elizabeth to ask how the stories she tells in her book connect to ones we cover and what, exactly, made her fifth-grade teacher so great.

Continue the conversation by joining the Chalkbeat Book Club on Facebook, where we’ll be discussing “Building a Better Teacher” for the next month.

Your book makes clear that the new Common Core standards — an ambitious reform enacted with minimal support for teachers — continue a long tradition of similar education overhauls. Is there any reason to think the outcome this time will be different?

One thing I learned in reporting that I found really fascinating were the ideas of David Cohen, the education historian. He essentially studies attempts to change teaching, and that is the equivalent of studying failed attempts to change teaching in this country, unfortunately.

He also started to compare this country to other countries. He found that countries that successfully changed teaching had this one important ingredient in common, which was coherence. In the US, there are 17 different layers, if not more, of people telling teachers what to do and what supports to help teachers do them. It’s no surprise teachers feel confused often and even under assault because they are being asked to do so many different things, none of which are the same.

David Cohen calls this a blizzard, and the response that’s most rational to this blizzard of incoherence, as one educator in my book, Lovely Billups, says, is the motto, “This too shall pass.” The question about the Common Core is: Shall this too pass?

You write about visiting primary schools in Japan. What were the main differences from American schools that you saw?

I think there are two key things that are different: One is that there’s a totally different organization of work for the teachers. Whereas American teachers spend 1,000-plus hours per year teaching, Japanese teachers only spend 600 hours per year teaching. The other 400 hours they can spend learning from each other.

The other difference is that they have that coherent system of one common set of things that they’re all doing. They have common standards, so they can have a common curriculum, common assessments, so they have the tools they need to do something exciting.

There is growing consensus that traditional education schools have not done a great job preparing teachers. Have you seen any promising developments in the way teachers are trained?

One thing I found fascinating in my reporting was that we do have a tradition in this country of teacher education that is focused on teaching as a craft. And that is the history of “normal schools,” where teachers would learn from master teachers. They would go to class in a lecture, then the next minute they would be sitting watching a lesson in progress.

I think where we went wrong was when the university system took over teacher training from normal schools. Some of the early pioneers of education as a field of study had absolutely no interest in teaching.

What I think is promising is that there is a growing group of teacher educators at the university level and at institutions that are disconnected from higher education that are trying to resuscitate that normal-school tradition, sometimes in very parallel ways.

Most of the teachers we cover get evaluated in one way or another. Can teacher-accountability systems actually help teachers improve?

One of the inspirations of this huge focus on teacher evaluation is a set of assumptions we make about why high-performing charter schools have succeeded. We look at [the national charter-school network] KIPP and their test-score results and we assume that the kids are succeeding because the teachers operate outside of a traditional labor structure: There’s no labor union, so KIPP can hire or fire whomever they please.

But they spend proportionately less money, resources, and time, on evaluation than states currently do. They focus a lot more on giving teachers the time to learn, mentors to help them learn, materials from which they can learn, and good curriculums they can use.

We know teachers work in all kinds of schools, including ones where many students are far behind academically. Does good teaching look the same regardless of the school or students?

I think a surprisingly debated question, even among people who have dedicated their careers to working with high-poverty communities, is: Sure, you might be able to have this incredible dialogue about math or literature or science or history in your nice suburban school where you don’t face the challenges we face, but we can’t do that here, that’s not possible.

That is a debate that’s going on right now about what kind of learning level really is possible in each type of environment. Is there a need for more order and less student voice in some environments?

Personally, I don’t want to think it’s not possible for all kids, and I’ve definitely seen it happen for all kids, but I think it is a debate that’s going on.

You’ve covered education for several years now, but you’ve never been a teacher. What qualifies you to write about teaching?

I thought a lot about whether I had the right to write about teaching, given that I’ve never taught myself. I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who’s a teacher that’s probably lasted seven years. Her argument to me was always that somebody’s job needs to be to record what’s happening [inside schools], since teachers don’t have time to do that, and make sense of the big picture.

That’s why I ultimately decided I have the right to do this and all of us at Chalkbeat do. We come from a place of respect for this work, we know what we don’t know, and we’re here to learn.

Your book makes the point that good teachers are not born, they’re made. Considering that, what is one thing your favorite teacher did that other educators could benefit from learning?

I went back and I interviewed a lot of my own teachers for this book. One of them I spent extra time with was Lesley Wagner, my fifth-grade math teacher. She is remembered among my friends from elementary school as one of the greatest, best teachers we ever had.

She uses her Smart Board in the most brilliant way I’ve ever seen. Her smart board is like a Japanese blackboard, but better. The point of the blackboard in Japanese classrooms is that we should be able to have a trajectory for each lesson of the ideas that we’ve gone through, so students can look at not only at the specific thing we’re talking about right now, but they can connect back to where we came from that day.

Ms. Wagner does that with her Smart Board, basically a screen per day. But because it’s a Smart Board, she also has access to every other day, so if somebody references another day in the past, she just uses her Smart Board to go backwards in time and see what they were doing that day. I’m sure other teachers use it for that reason too, but I was just blown away.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Readers: What is one thing your favorite teacher did that other educators could benefit from learning? Share in a comment or tweet with #BABT.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some Colorado students head back to school this week

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 09:41

New Arrivals

A new child care center and preschool is just one of many new offerings pregnant and parenting Aurora Public Schools students may take advantage of this school year. The aim of the new programs are to keep teens that need those services in school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Back to cool

Today is the first day Colorado students begin the track back to school. Here's a roundup of start dates for metro-area school districts. (Although some individual schools may vary.) ( 9News )

Home visits before the school year starts appears to be easing the first day of school for Denver teachers, parents, and students. ( Denver Post )

Some Colorado teachers are getting relief this school year as they stock up on needed supplies for their classroom. ( 9News )

The Poudre School District will pilot an early-release program this year for some of its students. The Fort Collins school district is sending those students home two hours early to keep them out of over-heated classrooms. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

In an effort to boost student outcomes, Aurora Public Schools is decentralizing its teacher coaches this school year. ( Aurora Sentinel )

One thing that likely won't be taught this school year to Colorado students is cursive handwriting. CPR attempts to answer whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. ( CPR )

summer reading

About 120 Boulder students are participating in a summer literacy program aimed to prevent any summer learning loss. Nearly 100 percent of 40 students who participated in last year's pilot program returned to school at the same reading level. ( Daily Camera )

The library is closed. Or is it?

The Cripple Creek City Council will likely have to settle an ongoing conflict between the mountain town's library and school district. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

A little math never hurt nobody

A teaching resource organization hopes to change Jefferson County students' attitudes toward math this week. ( Arvada Press )

Suburgatory

The Douglas County school board will not be asking voters for additional tax dollars to fix its aging schools. The board, which voted unanimously to skip the election, claims Dougco residents don't need to pay more for their schools but that the state needs to fix its funding formula. Critics believe other motives are at play. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Fewer Dougco teachers belong to the county's union this year. The answer to why depends on who you ask. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Human Resources

Meet one of Teach For America-Colorado's new deputy directors. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

Anatomy of a lesson

While some adults are playing hot potato with the Common Core State Standards, teachers in most states are still responsible for using them in the classroom. Here's a look at how a few are doing that. ( NPRed via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Absenteeism task force, principal eligibility and "lost" children

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/04/2014 - 09:21

The Chicago Tribune calls the reforms recommended by a state task force on absenteeism sweeping. The task force was created after a Tribune investigation found that about 13 percent of Chicago’s elementary school students miss more than a month of school or vanish without anyone in CPS knowing where they went. The recommendations include the return of truancy officers, changing the way districts report absenteeism and sharing real time information on absent students with other entities, like the Chicago Housing Authority.

But then, in the ninth paragraph, the story points out that since the series was published in November 2012 -- and based on data from the 2010-2011 school year -- chronic absenteeism has gotten worse in the elementary grades. As Catalyst reported in May, in every grade level during the 2012-2013 school year there was a substantial increase--an average of 5 percent. The Tribune notes that this past school year, the rates have gone down a bit, but are still higher than 2010-2011.

CPS officials say they do not know what caused the increase, according to the Tribune. One thing that was different in 2012-2013 was that school officials were threatening to close more than 100 schools, which caused some instability.  Ultimately, they closed 50.

2. Policy or political…. Despite failing the CPS’ principal eligibility test twice, Ald. Pat O’Connor’s sister Catherine Sugrue will serve as Gray’s interim principal, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many saw this coming when the agenda for the Board of Education included an item that gave CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett leverage to override the principal eligibility process. One change is that interim principals don’t have to meet the eligibility requirements, whereas before they did. Also, the CEO can now determine how long a candidate is excluded from consideration after failing twice; whereas the old policy called from them to be excluded for three years. 

CPS officials say the policy change was not pushed specifically for Surgue and that her brother, the alderman, did not intervene on her behalf. In fact, CPS officials say that Sugrue is the second principal appointed under the policy change, but the Tribune article does not name the second principal.

But the fact that leaders are willing to put more flexibility into the principal eligibility process is surprising. Making it harder to become a principal was one of the key provisions of the district’s “comprehensive, multi-tiered Principal Quality Strategy,” unveiled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett in February 2013. The new process includes a “Day in the Life” simulation and criteria for assessing how well candidates interact with parents and communities.

However, having a stringent principal eligibility process erodes the power of Local School Councils to choose whomever they want. In the case of Gray, the LSC chose Sugrue. While not being specific, district officials told DNAinfo that Sugrue did not make it past the first stage of the process, which entails being interviewed by a two-person panel of experts.

3. Lost and found… Barbara Byrd-Bennett penned an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times patting herself and her administration on the back for locating the 847 students “identified by our critics as `lost.’”  Byrd-Bennett says that CPS found these students had transferred to the suburbs, out of state or to private schools. She writes that the location of these students was confirmed by ISBE, though ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus told Catalyst that she doesn’t know who at ISBE confirmed the information.

CTU President Karen Lewis raised the issue of "lost children" at the March board meeting, referencing the fact that CPS’ own information identified these students as “inactive.” At the time, CPS spokesman Joel Hood told Catalyst that CPS was working with ISBE to locate the students and that the information would be provided as soon as it was available. But rather than provide the data to Catalyst, CPS officials decided it would be better to write an editorial. Catalyst is still waiting for more detailed information, not only about where students went, but where the information came from.

4. Immigrant children and school districts... Children who have fled the violence in Central America are enrolling in Illinois public schools. Officials in Waukegan say 77 children from Honduras have enrolled as of the last week of July for the 2014-15 school year, bringing the total from the last two years to nearly 100, according to the Lake County News-Sun.

District officials here in Chicago can also expect to receive more of these students as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently agreed to provide shelter to 1,000 children fleeing the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

School districts from Miami to Houston are preparing for an influx of students, who frequently require special -- and expensive -- resources such as English language and mental health services. Obama administration officials recently reminded districts of a decades-old Supreme Court ruling that ensures all children the right to enroll in school, regardless of their immigration status.

5. As Chicago opens its doors… to children fleeing violence, the  city also is struggling to protect its own children from it. A Fenger Academy High School graduate featured on CNN’s“Chicagoland” was shot and wounded over the weekend. Lee McCollum Jr. was highligted as a young man who turned his life around. The 20-year-old was shot twice in the leg as he headed into work at a Wendy’s at 7:30 a.m. Saturday from his grandfather’s home in Roseland. He had graduated last year and was working to save money for college, family members said.

Fenger’s principal, Liz Dozier, who was also featured prominently in the CNN series, told the Tribune she’s kept in touch with McCollum since graduation, and hopes he enrolls in college this fall. "We are still trying to get him off to school … It's just better to get him out of the city," she said. "We're working on it for him."

 



Categories: Urban School News

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