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Colorado Supreme Court to hear Dougco voucher case arguments in December

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 19:05

The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments on the Douglas County School District’s voucher program next month.

Arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court, three years in the making, will be at 1:30 p.m., Dec. 10, the Lone Tree Voice reported.

The voucher plan, which has been on hold since 2011 pending litigation, would allow Douglas County students to use public tax dollars to enroll in private — and often religious — schools.

Plaintiffs, who oppose the voucher program, believe the tuition credits would siphon away much-needed revenue from public schools and subsidize religious institutions. In effect, the program is unconstitutional, lawyers argued in a brief filed late last spring with the Colorado Supreme Court.

The suburban school district, in a pair of briefs, fired back that the voucher program provides parents with their constitutionally-protect control over their student’s education. Further, lawyers argued, Colorado’s “deep constitutional roots of local control” allows Douglas County to use tax dollars any way the board of education there sees fit.

Categories: Urban School News

Missing shots means missing school in some districts

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 18:10

Starting today, students without up-to-date immunization records aren’t allowed to attend school in some Colorado districts.

Weld County District 6 officials expected the deadline, which is always the first Monday in November, to affect less than 50 of the district’s 21,000 students. In the Poudre School District, where the deadline is usually Nov. 1, about 400 students lacked up-to-date records as of Friday, but a spokeswoman said many likely remedied that over the weekend. Most of the affected students were sixth-graders lacking their Tdap booster shot, which protects again tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Such “exclusion dates” are not only perfectly legal, immunization advocates say they can be an effective way to get parents to comply with state law and prevent outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough and chicken pox.

In Colorado, which has among the lowest immunization rates in the country, students must have proof they’ve received certain vaccinations to attend school. In lieu of that, their parents may sign a form exempting their children from shots for medical or religious reasons, or because of “personal belief.”

The practice of “exclusion” comes into play when immunization paperwork, whether it’s a child’s up-to-date shot record or a signed exemption form, is missing. While districts like Weld 6 and Poudre typically use exclusion dates as a last-line-of-defense measure, the strategy raises questions about the impact of lost instructional time, often for the students who can least afford it.

“We always have concerns about instructional time,” said Theresa Myers, the district’s director of communications.

Still, she said the district makes a concerted effort to give parents advance notice about the exclusion date, through letters and follow-up phone calls. It also hosts immunization clinics and offers information about community resources for immunization.

FAQ on HB 14-1288

  • A new set of frequently asked questions, posted today by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, provides information about a new state immunization law.

“We give them ample chance and opportunities to get the vaccination records in,” she said.

Danielle Clark, Poudre’s director of communications, said it’s unclear how many students are absent today because of the exclusion deadline since they are lumped in with all absent students. Also unknown is the length of time excluded students stay out of school because of missing immunization paperwork.

The state, which now requires schools to disclose immunization and exemption rates upon request, doesn’t mandate exclusion dates, or track the number of schools or districts that use them. But immunization advocates say exclusion letters—often a version of a state form letter—are fairly common and often get quick results from families.

“Sometimes that’s the best way to get parents’ attention,” said Kathleen Patrick, assistant director of health and wellness at the Colorado Department of Education.

Who gets excluded?

In the K-12 system, kindergarteners and sixth-graders are most likely to miss school because of exclusion dates since certain vaccinations are required by age five and around age 11. In districts offering preschool, the deadlines may affect younger children, who not only need a raft of required shots but typically have greater vulnerability to vaccine-preventable disease.

Schools can actually bar kids who don’t have their shots-or a medical, religious or personal belief exemption-much earlier than November. That’s because State Board of Health rules allow exclusion once parents are given 14 days to get their children vaccinated or prove that the process is underway.

Theoretically, if parents are notified on the first day of school, unvaccinated students could be barred starting the third week—say late August or early September. In practice, that doesn’t happen.

“At the beginning of school it’s a little bit busy,” said Patrick. ”So sometimes immunizations might take a little bit of a back burner.”

Even after things settle down, there’s the October 1 count day to think about. With school funding dependent on how many students show up that day, implementing exclusion dates then doesn’t make sense.

But after count day—and usually a series of reminders from school nurses and even principals—exclusion dates are fair game. Some administrators don’t use them because they want kids in seats, but others believe the threat of communicable disease is a greater concern, said Patrick.

Some districts use a form letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to let parents know their children are missing required shots. The letter warns that children can be excluded if the records aren’t submitted and allows school staff to fill in an exclusion date.

“Sending home an exclusion letter is definitely a tool in the tool kit,” said Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition. “That child that’s out of compliance could bring disease that impacts the whole classroom, the whole school.”

The Boulder Valley School District uses the state letter, said Susan Rowley, the district’s director of health services.

“Non-compliance is truly very low,” she said. “I don’t know that there have been specific kids excluded except in pre-K.”

New legislation

A new Colorado law intended to make schools’ immunization rates more transparent may bolster efforts to ensure students are up to date on their shots. House Bill 14-1288, which took effect July 1, requires schools to disclose immunization rates and exemptions upon request.

Patrick said the state is in the process of offering guidance to school districts about how to calculate immunization and exemption rates. In general, that information should be ready for release by second semester, she said.

“It’s a soft implementation, but definitely in the coming months and for next school year….there’s going to be a lot more support and messaging around telling parents, ‘Did you know you can ask your school what their rates are?’” said Wasserman. “It’s a great tool for parents and parents are thrilled about it.”

Some advocates believe the new law could serve as a consumer-driven lever to push up immunization rates. While many states have rates in the 90-95 percent range for three common kindergarten vaccinations, Colorado and Arkansas bring up the rear with rates in the low to mid-80s. These rates—below the threshold for herd immunity–are a concern for public health experts, particularly because of outbreaks of whooping cough in recent years. The highly contagious disease, also known as pertussis, can be deadly for babies and young children.

Along with disclosure of immunization rates, the new law directs the state to create an online education module on immunization. State officials say that module, which must be approved by the State Board of Health next spring, should be ready in mid-2015.

Categories: Urban School News

Hick proposes big K-12 spending increase – for a year

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 18:06

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a $380 million increase in state K-12 spending in 2015-16, but about half of that would be one-time money that the legislature wouldn’t be required to continue providing in future years.

Higher education would receive a 14.1 percent increase under the proposed 2015-16 state budget released by the governor’s office Monday afternoon.

The fate of the K-12 proposal is difficult to predict – regardless of whether Hickenlooper keeps his job in Tuesday’s election.

State law requires the governor to submit a proposed budget to the legislature by Nov. 1 (or the next business day) regardless of whether the chief executive is in the middle of a term, about to leave office or in danger of losing his office.

The deadline is needed so that the legislative Joint Budget Committee and its staff have enough time to analyze the governor’s proposal and start making their own budget plans before the full legislature convenes next Jan. 7. The committee starts that work on Nov. 12 with an in-person briefing on the governor’s budget.

The governor’s K-12 plan In the weeds

Hickenlooper is proposing 2015-16 Total Program Funding of $6.4 billion, up from the current $5.9 billion. Total program is the combination of state funds and local property tax revenues used to support basic district operations.

The plan would raise the current statewide average per-pupil funding of $7,020 to $7,496 in the upcoming budget year, an increase of $475 a student.

However, only $233 of that increase would be generated by the annual inflation and enrollment increases required by the state constitution. The other $242 per student would be paid for with a one-time appropriation of $200 million from the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement state school support.

That money would go to districts on a per-pupil basis but wouldn’t go into the constitutionally required base that is used when school funding is calculated every year.

So the Hickenlooper plan wouldn’t make a significant permanent reduction in the negative factor, the formula the legislature uses to fit annual state school spending into the overall budget. The current size of the negative factor is estimated at about $900 million below what school funding otherwise would be.

Reduction of the negative factor was a major fight during the 2014 legislative session. Hickenlooper’s initial plan for the 2014-15 budget year, released a year ago, didn’t propose any reductions in the negative factor. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for full background on the issue and on what the 2014 legislature did.)

What they’re saying

Reaction to Hickenlooper’s budget was cautiously optimistic.

“I think it’s very positive that Colorado revenues are up and really encouraging that the governor would increase the percent of K-12 funding,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

But Urschel added, “One of the things I know our members have as a priority is continued restoration of dollars on a permanent basis.”

The plan is “a step in the right direction,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. “It’s always the case that the governor’s budget is a starting point. … We’re starting at a better place with the budget than we were a year ago.”

Caughey also said that he likes the fact that the $200 million could be spent as districts choose, and that it’s not earmarked for specific programs.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said the additional $200 million “will make a difference for students and school districts still recovering from past budget cuts.”

But, she added, “There is much more still to be done to repair the damage caused by the budget cuts of the Great Recession.”

Higher education plan a placeholder

The governor’s plan for state colleges and universities proposes a 14.1 percent increase, or about $107 million. Some $30 million of that would go to the new College Opportunity Scholarship program and $75.6 million to institutions.

The budget plan doesn’t divvy up the money among campuses. The Department of Higher Education is in the middle of developing the details of the new funding formula required by a 2014 law, and that will determine which colleges get how much funding. (Get more details on that in this story and on the DHE website.)

Where the budget goes from here

Even if Hickenlooper is re-elected, his budget plan likely will be changed by the 2015 legislature, which holds the primary budget power in Colorado.

Last session lawmakers made considerable changes in his K-12 funding plans, although they largely accepted the governor’s proposal for higher education.

If Republican candidates Bob Beauprez wins on Tuesday, he’ll have the opportunity to make changes in Hickenlooper’s plan.

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who chose not to run for re-election in 2010, submitted a budget on that Nov. 1. Hickenlooper didn’t propose a revised budget until Feb. 15, 2011, well into that year’s legislative session.

The makeup of the JBC also is awaiting the results of the election. The panel currently has four Democrats and two Republicans because Democrats control both houses. A Republican Senate takeover – the party needs to gain only one seat – would shift the budget committee to 3-3.

Regardless of the membership, the committee has 25 days of budget briefings and hearings with departments scheduled through early January. The briefing for the Department of Education and K-12 funding will be Dec. 10, with the hearing on Dec. 18. The briefing for DHE will be Dec. 4, with hearings 15-17. During briefings JBC staff analysts present details and options to the committee. At hearings department executives answer committee questions.

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat wants to know: How are education issues influencing your vote?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 17:32

Today we’re launching a new feature on our site: “Chalkbeat wants to know.” Every Monday, we’ll ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we’ll round up the responses. 

This week’s question: What role — if any — have public education issues played in your vote this election?

Tomorrow, the votes will be tallied in the midterm election, and we’ll know if the state governor’s mansion, Senate seat, legislature and State Board of Education will switch partisan hands. We’ll also find out whether voters said yes to a wide variety of ballot measures, including a proposal to allow casino gambling, which could mean more money for public schools, and to extend a tax to support preschool in Denver. How has education factored into your voting? Let us know! And if you’re still undecided, check out our guide to the education issues of the election here.

Categories: Urban School News

For the Record: Paying for preschool with social impact bonds

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:58

Board of Education member Henry Bienen took an unusual step at last month’s meeting: He voted against a plan that came down from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Bienen, a former president Northwestern University, said he was “very uneasy” with a proposal to borrow nearly $17 million from investors in a so-called “social impact bond” (SIB) to pay for a four-year preschool expansion.

“I’m not against social investments,” he said during the meeting. “And I don’t question the good motives of the people who are putting up the money. I think the measurement issue is very difficult, and I think the rate of return, or interest rate, is high.”

Social impact bonds haven’t been around long enough for researchers to have a consensus on the benefits to local governments, which must pay significant start-up costs and set aside money in escrow to make projected repayments. As a result, it's too early to tell whether Bienen is right.

But a review of the loan agreement and related contracts – which were approved by the CPS board and still must go through the City Council -- shows that the deal relies on a complicated formula that poses little risk to investors. That’s due largely to the proven track record of the project’s chosen preschool program, child-parent centers. In addition, investors gain good will and publicity in the deal.

The review of the documents found that:

--Nearly $1.3 million of the $16.6 million loan will never reach CPS. That money will go to pay a third-party project manager, audits, additional social services, and legal fees – including up to $250,000 for the investors’ own legal costs.

--In addition, the city must pay $319,000 for an outside group to evaluate the project in the third and fourth years.

--According to the city’s projections, CPS would pay about $21.5 million over the life of the 16-year program in payments for “savings” from fewer special ed services. However, if the program is more successful than expected, CPS will have to pay more, up to a maximum of $30 million.

--The city expects to kick in an additional $4.4 million in “success payments” based on children’s performance on kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests.

This means that if it's very successful, investors could get back more than double their money over the life of the progam.

City officials have not said how much– if anything – they expect to save. But Emanuel and his supporters have pointed to research on the benefits and long-term cost savings from good early childhood education.

“Each dollar invested is returned to society sevenfold,” said CPS board member Jesse Ruiz during a press conference announcing the project in October. “Because we can’t afford to wait for better fiscal climates, we’ve been searching for every possible dollar to expand high-quality early learning programs. This new initiative is an innovative public-partnership to bring the high-quality child-parent model to more children across Chicago.”

Low risk for high quality

Over four years, the money will pay for slots about 2,600 low-income 4-year-olds to attend child-parent centers that provide preschool, support services, and require strong parent engagement.

A 2002 cost-benefit analysis showed many long-term positive benefits to the centers -- ranging from a 41-percent reduction in special education placement and a 40-percent drop in retention. While child-parent centers serve children up to third grade, the research has found that the preschool participation alone saves taxpayers more than $7 for every $1 spent.

Experts who have tracked their success said it was easy to see why Chicago officials and the lenders zeroed in on the program.

“Most other [social impact bonds] that have been done are treatment programs that don’t have a record that the CPC program has. It’s already a renowned model, by far the most evidence-based program out there,” says Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied Chicago’s child-parent centers for nearly three decades and co-authored the 2002 cost-benefit analysis.

“The risk for investors to come in to fund it is much, much lower,” Reynolds added. “It’s a great way to take a creative financing mechanism and take advantage of the fact there needs to be a larger greater access to high-quality preschool expansion – and really fast-track the expansion of a very strong program that was showing strong evidence […] that things were working well.”

Even before Emanuel announced the expansion, CPCs were already growing in Chicago as a result of an Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Preschool enrollment has doubled since the 2011-2012 school year, Reynolds said, and many programs offer a full day of preschool. The social impact bond will only cover a half-day of services.

Reynolds said he’s been helping the mayor’s office on the proposal since last fall, when the city won technical assistance from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government’s Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab. The lab provides pro bono full-time fellows to governments implementing “pay-for-success” contracts.

Understanding the loan

If approved by City Council, the bond program would become the fifth in the country.

As in the other programs, Chicago would not borrow the money directly from the lenders – which include the Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation. The foundation is serving as the subordinate lender, meaning it’ll take any financial hits before the banks -- which reduces the banks' risk. The Pritzker family has been a longtime advocate of early chidlhood education.

As an added bonus, banks can use the social-impact bonds to boost their ratings under the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages lending in low-income communities.

The preschool loan money goes to an intermediary project coordinator, IFF Pay For Success I, LLC, a limited liability company set up by IFF, a lender and consultant to non-profits.

IFF then loans the money to the city, which will in turn disperses most of the funds to CPS.

However, a portion of the loan goes toward other costs. These include $470,000 for IFF’s services; $200,000 for Metropolitan Family Services for parent support and training; $170,000 in audit fees; $75,000 for IFF’s legal fees; and $100,000 for the city’s and CPS’s legal fees.

IFF is responsible for hiring an evaluator, whose fees are paid during the first two years by the Finnegan Family Foundation. The city must come up with $319,000 to pay its fees during the last two years of the loan disbursement.

As students in each cohort take kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests, IFF will take money out of the $4.4 million that the city must put into escrow to pay back the investors according to the evaluator’s findings.

In addition, next year CPS must begin to budget for its own projected payments for special education requirements; some years, CPS expects to set aside as much as $1.9 million to make the payments.

Those who are skeptical of social impact bonds have said that the escrow payments and administrative costs to government make them tough to justify on economic terms. At the end of the day, they say, governments are simply kicking the can down the road instead of paying to provide services up front.

In a 2013 report on a Massachusetts proposal to use SIBs for a prisoner re-entry program, Kyle McKay, who was then a policy analyst for the state’s Department of Legislative Services, said that a direct government investment was likely to have a greater impact and pose less risk than SIB financing.

“Given the difficulty of linking the evaluation of a social program to a highly complex contract centered on an outcome payment, the government may actually increase its operational risks in undertaking a SIB,” McKay wrote. “The government would also need to budget upfront for the contingent liabilities of outcome payments. As a result, a SIB program would increase both budgetary pressure and operational risks.”

Calculating “success” payments

Under the Chicago proposal, the loan will pay for 374 half-day slots in the first year; 782 slots in both the second and third years; and 680 slots in the fourth and final year. Six sites have already been chosen to receive funding this year: De Diego, Melody, Peck, Thomas, Wadsworth and Hanson Park elementary schools; two additional sites will be added next year.

According to the city’s evaluation plan, students in the “treatment group” will be compared to students from similar low-income neighborhoods who did not attend preschool at any CPS site or at any Head Start site that’s overseen by the city.

City officials did not explain how the control group of children would be identified, considering Emanuel’s goal of providing preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds by next year.

The biggest loan repayments come from the expectation that the children who attend preschool at child-parent centers will be less likely to use special education services for mild disabilities than those who never went to preschool at all -- a projection based on the earlier cost-benefit analyses.

“Without additional support, many of these children may end up being diagnosed with a mild learning disability, emotional disturbance, or developmental delay including speech and language impairment,” according to the evaluation plan. “For these children, additional support in the classroom and at home can help ensure that they stay on track developmentally with their peers, avoiding the need for years of special education purposes.”

Children with severe disabilities, including autism or deafness, will be excluded from the study group.

When the first cohort of students enters kindergarten, CPS will begin paying the lenders for each fewer child who needs special education services when compared to the control group. CPS will pay $9,100 per child annually, an amount that increases by 1 percent each year.

The city did not provide Catalyst with a breakdown of how it calculated the $9,100 figure, but said it was “based on the time that teachers spend with children with specific learning disability types and the cost associated with that time per student.”

Other measurements, PARCC concerns 

The evaluator will measure “kindergarten readiness” through an assessment that’s already used in CPS preschools. For each child in the “treatment group” who performs at or above the national average on at least five of the six sections of the assessment, the city will repay lenders $2,900. The city projects half of the children will score high enough to trigger the payments.

Meanwhile, third-grade literacy will be measured using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a new test to which CPS is transitioning this year. The new assessment is aligned to the controversial Common Core State Standards and is considered more rigorous than current state tests.

The projections indicate that half of third-graders will be at “grade level,” meaning they score at or above the 25th national percentile on reading portions of the PARCC. Under the agreement, the city will pay lenders $750 for each child that meets that benchmark.

But the city and lenders have agreed to reconsider using this test if CPS students don’t do as well as expected.

“At the time of drafting this analysis, the PARCC test has yet to be officially implemented in CPS schools,” according to the documents. “Given the uncertainty of performance on this test and how its outcomes will compare to past tests taken by CPS students, the evaluator may suggest amendments to the definition of reading ‘on grade level’ that could include utilizing a different test or metric.”

Parents who have been protesting the PARCC and the use of other high-stakes tests in CPS said they were surprised to know the scores wouldn’t necessarily be used to determine payment to investors.

“It’s really concerning to have financial deals based on test scores. You’re going to get paid back on how kids score, compounding the fact things are already too high stakes,” says Cassie Cresswell, of the group More Than A Score. “Why not gather some political will to really fund these programs that work?”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: ISAT scores stagnant, college disparities, consultants with clout

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 10:56

CPS did not have a major announcement about this year's state test scores--and it turns out the scores remain exactly the same as last year's, with 52.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. Whatever the caveats, the figures and the lack of upward movement don't look good, especially with the district about to move to a new, more difficult exam aligned to the tougher Common Core standards.Also, the achievement gap widened: average scores for black and Latino students fell slightly, while white and Asian students posted tiny gains.

With the state officially releasing report cards on Friday, CPS finally posted ISAT information on district and individual school performance on its website. Historically, CPS would release the scores some time over the summer.

Scores on the NWEA,  another test that CPS students must also take, have not been released by race.

2. Welcoming schools worse off... Catalyst’s analysis shows that 35 of 52 schools, or more than two-thirds of the official welcoming schools that took in children displaced by closings, posted decreases in ISAT scores. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the highest-performing welcoming schools saw the biggest drops. The top 10 welcoming schools in 2012-2013--the year before the closings--saw an average of a 17 percentage point decrease on the ISAT. Only one--Hefferan--did not have a significant decrease.

For example, Leland, a small kindergarten through third-grade school in Austin, had nearly 80 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding standards in 2012-2013. Last year, only 33 percent of third graders met or exceeded standards. Another school, Courtenay, was a small school where more than 70 percent of students met or exceeded standards. It was combined with Stockton, a poor-performing school. Many Courtenay parents were outraged and took their children out. The result was that Courtenay was no longer the same school--and scores dropped 20 percent in just one year.

The Chicago Sun-Times concludes that, when using ISAT data as a barometer,  the performance of welcoming schools was a mixed bag at best. Six of the eight CPS schools that saw the biggest decreases in meeting/exceeding on the ISAT were welcoming schools. However, some (about 10) official welcoming schools saw increases in ISAT scores.

The Sun-Times points out that one of Byrd-Bennett’s promises was that students would wind up in better schools. Confronted with the analysis, CPS officials just e-mailed a statement, saying  that the district “continues to work to offer all students a high-quality education.”

The results are especially disappointing considering the district spent $285 million at welcoming schools. This money paid for iPADs, computers, long-needed renovations and labs for schools that were designated as International Baccalaureate or STEM, as well as extra staff and resources to help with the transition.

3. Opt-out info… That students were forced to take the ISAT, even though it won't be used for accountability purposes, sparked a big, embarrassing opt-out push. CPS officials downplayed the number of students who opted out, but activist parents say they think about 2,000 students sat out the test.

This is important for the upcoming year when CPS students will again be forced to take two standardized tests in the spring. The state will be using the PARCC for accountability purposes and the district will use the NWEA. Byrd-Bennett says she wants to delay districtwide implementation of the PARCC, perhaps in hopes of avoiding another opt-out push.

Activists hoped to use the ISAT information posted Friday to prove their point that a lot of students opted out. Overall, about 5,000 fewer students took the ISAT in 2013 than did in 2014, while only 1,800 fewer third to eighth graders were enrolled in CPS schools. Yet there could be many reasons for the number of ISAT test takers to be low, such as more students taking the alternative test for disabled students. More Than A Score leader Cassie Creswell says she will submit a Freedom of Information Act to request for the actual numbers.

The numbers indicate that at some schools the push to have students opt-out was successful. At Saucedo, where teachers took a stand against the ISAT, the number of students who took the ISAT dropped from 765 to 247, though the school had more third to eighth grade students. Also at Drummond, a Montessori magnet school on the North Side, so few students took the ISAT that CPS did not post detailed information about performance following a policy that the district shields categories of less than 10 students. Though about 176 students were enrolled in third through eighth grade at Drummond, only 31 students took the ISAT.

4. College disconnect… The Chicago Tribune focused their coverage of the school report card release on the disconnect between the number of students who are college-ready. Statewide, within 16 months of graduating from high school, 70 percent of students enrolled in college. Yet only 25 percent of students were college-ready according to the ACT definition, and only 46 percent according to the state’s definition. The Tribune quotes Elaine Allensworth from the Consortium on Chicago School Research who notes that high-stakes tests are not the only factor that determine whether someone does well in college.  The report cards do not include information on college persistence, but studies have shown that grades, not test scores, are a better predictor of whether students stay in college.  

The Tribune also points out CPS had a below-average college-going rate of 67 percent, but that the selective enrollment schools had some of the highest rates in the state. On average,  only 27 percent of CPS students were deemed college- ready. The highest college-going rate was at Catlin High School in Vermilion County, east of Champaign. However,  most students are not "college ready" and go to the local community college. Glenbrook South is one of the few districts that doesn't have a disparity in college-readiness and college-going. 

5. Clout consultants… The Sun-Times reports this morning about dozens of high paid, politically connected consultants working as employees or subcontractors with CPS contracts to manage “small renovation projects” done by other contractors. Among two examples are former CPS COO Sean Murphy and former CTA Chief Operating Officer Richard Rodriguez. Murphy gets paid a whopping $388,000 as the subcontractor to URS Corporation. That is a good deal more than he made while working for CPS and more than Byrd-Bennett makes. Rodriquez, who currently serves as chairman for the UNO Charter School Network, works for Lend Lease, which has been paid $10.9 million by CPS since 2012.

While the fact that these guys are politically connected is worrisome, the story also begs the question of whether the district could get this work done for far less than it is paying. It also reminds us that CPS still only has an interim inspector general, even though it has four months since the former inspector general resigned.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Center superintendent to continue controversial punishment

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 10:00

Testing madness

Two more Colorado school districts want waivers from state tests. But some of those tests are required by federal law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

High school seniors in the Thompson School District will have a few extra days before they take the next round of standardized tests because of connection problems throughout the district. ( Reporter-Herald )

Thinking inside the box

A Colorado superintendent will continue to ask students who misbehave to study in 4-by-6-foot rooms, instead of being expelled. The Center School District leader says this approach is leading to a decline in dropouts. ( AP via Gazette )

The Colorado Department of Education does not monitor how schools discipline students statewide, because of local control laws. ( The Denver Channel )

Human Resources

According to an open records request, not a single Colorado teacher has lost their license for being a weak educator. ( KDVR Fox 31 )

Election 2014

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to support tax increases to support four Adams County school districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Boulder Valley School District is asking voters to approve a $576 million bond question — which would be the largest amount in Colorado history. ( 9News )

Ya Basta!

A methodical and strategic approach by Denver Public Schools to improve southwest Denver schools is fine, The Denver Post editorial board says. But it shouldn't have taken this long for the conversation to start. ( Denver Post )

Taking a toll (road)

Parents of a Denver elementary school worry what sort of unintended consequences could disrupt their school if a plan to widen Interstate 70 come to fruition. ( Denver Post )

Stolen thunder(bolt)

A thief or thieves stole 18 computers from Denver's Manual High School. ( 9News )

It's all about STEM

Some Jefferson County students are developing an understanding that what they're learning in the classroom has real-world applications due to a partnership with Xcel Energy, which sends mentors to classrooms. ( Denver Business Journal )

A Cherokee Trail High School shop class has replaced its saws with lasers. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Seven Pueblo schools have received mini-grants to be used for science projects or equipment. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Healthy schools

About 95 teachers from eight Boulder Valley schools attended a training sessions on classroom movement. The goal was to increase classroom movement and student achievement. ( Daily Camera )

Parents at a Longmont high school — saying research shows teens simply aren't wired to wake up early — want classes to start no earlier than 8 a.m. ( Daily Camera )

Could our sedentary schools be a root cause to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? One research thinks so. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Contributions ramp up in Adams school tax campaigns

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 23:38

Campaign committees supporting tax increases in five Adams County school districts have raised nearly $260,000, according to final pre-election spending reports filed with the Department of State.

Committees in the Adams 12-Five Star, Brighton, Commerce City, Mapleton and Westminster districts grew their combined war chests by about 50 percent since the previous set of reports were filed on Oct. 14.

Those five districts all have bond issues and/or tax override proposals before voters, believed to be the first time all five large districts in the western end of the county have been on the ballot at the same time.

Those districts are among some two-dozen statewide that are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides. (See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this story for details on those proposals, and see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more background.)

A total of nearly $475,000 has been raised statewide by district campaign committees. The largest single amount is the $99,000 raised by Citizens for District 49, which is supporting the bond and override proposed by the Falcon district.

The statewide total doesn’t include the $395,450 raised in Denver by the Preschool Matters committee, which is backing the proposed increase and extension of the sales tax that funds scholarships for the Denver Preschool Program (see story). All the district proposals elsewhere involve property taxes.

The largest amount of money raised in Adams is the $87,697 collected by IAM27J, the committee backing the $148 million bond proposal in the fast-growing Brighton district.

Citizens for Adams 12 Schools has raised $85,220 in that district, while Yes for Mapleton has raised $37,855, Our Schools – Our Community in Westminster has raised $37,189 and the We Believe committee in Commerce City has raised $11,864. The reports covered activity through Oct. 26 and were filed Friday.

The largest contributors to most committees are bond advisors, construction companies and developers.

For example, investment banker Stifel Nicolaus has contributed a total of $27,500 to Citizens for Adams 12, while contractor Adolphson & Peterson has given $15,000.

Shea Homes and Oakwood Homes have each donated $10,000 to IAM27J, which also has received funding from several construction companies.

The Yes for Mapleton committee has received $7,388 from investment bank George K. Baum & Co. (That contribution came in after the latest report so is in addition to the committee’s reported total.) The group also has received $10,500 from the Mapleton Education Foundation.

Falcon’s campaign also is heavily funded by developers and construction companies.

The largest single proposal this year is Boulder’s $576.4 million bond issue. But the Yes on 3A committee has raised a relatively modest $37,778.

Most committees statewide reported substantial jumps in spending from Oct. 14 to Oct. 31 as mail balloting began and the election date neared. Committees had spent a combined total of nearly $400,000 as of the Oct. 31 report.

This story was updated and corrected on Nov. 3 to include information about the Westminster campaign.

What districts are proposing

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Oct. 6.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: A classroom role reversal sparks inspiration and sympathy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 15:29
  • A teacher spent two days shadowing students and came away with inspiration and sympathy. (Answer Sheet)
  • The mother of a child with special needs notes problems with evaluating nonverbal children. (Uncommon Sense)
  • Teachers unions are pressing Time Magazine to apologize for its cover story about “rotten apple” educators. (HuffPo)
  • The KIPP charter network is moving beyond the basics to invest heavily in technology-infused instruction. (Hechinger)
  • Getting low-income kids to go to school more frequently could have a big impact on test scores. (Vox)
  • California students lost a wormy science experiment in this week’s NASA rocket explosion. (Oakland Tribune)
  • Los Angeles officials are working feverishly to fix sweeping errors in high school transcripts. (L.A. School Report)
  • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has softened on testing. Some say the president pushed him to. (Politics K-12)
  • Some say teachers unions have turned on the Common Core, but the truth is more complicated. (Ed Next)
  • An internal memo reveals the lengths that Teach For America goes to to combat what it sees as criticism. (The Nation)
  • Kids who don’t love science class love watching YouTube-star science teachers. Here’s why. (Atlantic)
  • Stock photos tell hilariously misleading stories about teaching. (Buzzfeed)
Categories: Urban School News

School board testing discontent rumbles louder as more districts ask for waivers

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:48

Two more Colorado school boards have passed resolutions requesting waivers from state testing requirements, even though federal law bars such exemptions.

Boards in Montrose County and Dolores County both unanimously passed resolutions earlier this month. The Montrose resolution petitions “the Colorado State Board of Education for a 5-year waiver from PARCC and CMAS testing requirements.”

As Dolores Superintendent Bruce Hankins readily acknowledged, “Most people realize it’s a symbolic gesture, but I think it’s a gesture that needs to be out there.”

The board in Colorado Springs District 11 was first out of the box this year when it passed a similar resolution in September. The district since has decided not to press its request with the state Department of Education. But board vice president Elaine Naleski told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We’re not ready to just drop everything. We’re still having the conversations.” (See full Gazette story here.)

Also in September, delegates attending a Colorado Association of School Boards meetng passed resolutions calling on the state to reduce testing to federal minimum requirements, allow parents to opt out of state tests without penalty to districts and to let districts use approved alternative tests instead of the state’s CMAS program.

“We hope that many, many districts will follow suit,” said Montrose Superintendent Mark MacHale, while noting, “We’re under no fantasy that the state board will grant this.” But it’s important to raise the issue, he said, “Because most of us feel our voices have been lost.”

Prompted by district concerns and State Board questions, CDE officials recently queried the U.S. Department of Education about testing flexibility. The answer was that the state has few if any options on measures suggested by testing critics, such as sample testing and use of local tests. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Do your homework

Jane Urschel, CASB deputy executive director, said it’s hard to guess how many more school boards may pass testing resolutions but noted, “At the CASB delegate assembly the conversation was that there’s too much assessment, and the majority of people feel that way.”

Paula Stephenson of the Rural Alliance said small districts feels their concerns haven’t been addressed in the past. “As a result, more and more of our member districts, with the support of their parents and communities, are standing up and saying, ‘This is not OK. We will no longer stand idly by and voluntarily participate in reform measures that we know are harmful to our schools and students.’”

Testing worries aren’t limited to only small districts. Several big-district superintendents who participated in a Denver panel discussion on Wednesday were critical of the state’s current testing system. (See this story for what they said.)

Debate about the state testing system has been bubbling for a year but seems to have intensified in recent months.

New online social studies and science tests were given in two grades last spring, and the somewhat sobering scores were released just this week (see story).

Next spring’s online language arts and math tests for grades 3-11 are fast approaching, raising anxiety levels in many districts, and the testing window for 12th grade science and social studies tests opens next week.

MacHale is skeptical of the value of those tests, noting, “We will get the results back when they’re in college.”

“What are we going to do with that?” asked Hankins.

An appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force has been studying the issue over the summer and fall and is supposed to make recommendations to the 2015 legislature. The group hasn’t yet made any major decisions and has three more meetings scheduled.

The State Board has discussed testing several times in recent months, and the issue is expected to come up again in November. Montrose district leaders want to make their case to the board in person.

The upcoming legislative session will be key. “I think people may be waiting to see what happens at the Capitol,” Urschel said. “Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in control, one of the top issues is going to be assessment.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Proponents of change in southwest Denver schools disagree on specifics

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 09:06

Pick a plan...

Southwest Denver parents and activists told board member Rosemary Rodriguez that DPS needs to come up with a plan for their schools—but disagreed on just what that plan should be. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool Really Matters

Preschool Matters has raised nearly $400,000 to push for an extension of Denver's preschool tax. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

green schools

The U.S. Green Building Council's Colorado chapter highlighted work in Colorado to make environmentally sound schools. The University of Denver will host a green buildings conference in November. ( Education Week )

State Board

Colorado's state board of education races are drawing more attention and money than usual. ( Denver Post )

mental health

Sarina Gonzales is Colorado's secondary counselor of the year. ( Daily Camera )

This class is on fire

The U.S. Chemical Board studied several classroom fires, including one in Colorado, and determined that science teachers need more safety training. ( Aurora Sentinel )

money matters

Colorado superintendents say they want fewer laws dictating what they can do and more money to do it. ( Arvada Press )

Reach Higher

Michelle Obama has announced a video contest encouraging students to apply for FAFSA or show off college programs. The prize: The first lady speaking at your school. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Unsharing spaces

In Memphis, the school district is backing away from "co-locating" traditional schools with charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Us, Too

Large suburban and countywide districts call for testing flexibility. ( Education Week )

Socratic Seminar

Kids talk about Socrates as part of NPR's 50 Great Teachers project. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Campaign for Denver preschool tax raises nearly $400,000

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 16:14

The campaign that’s pushing for extension of Denver’s preschool sales tax has raised $395,450 for its effort to persuade Denver voters to pass measure 2A.

The Preschool Matters committee has spent $391,952 for mailers, yard signs and other advertising, according to the group’s final disclosure statement before Tuesday’s election.

Major contributions of note during the most recent reporting period include $25,000 from DaVita, $15,000 each from Xcel Energy and the Gary Community Investment Co. and $10,000 apiece from education philanthropist Joan Brennan and the Merage Foundation.

The campaign also reported a $100,000 in-kind contribution from Entravision, a Spanish-language media company with operations in Denver. (See the full list of recent contributors here.)

Measure 2A proposes to increase and extend the sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

Read about prior campaign fundraising here, and learn more about the Denver Preschool Program and the ballot proposal in this story.

Categories: Urban School News

In Southwest Denver, calls for change but clashes on details

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 14:11

Southwest Denver parents and activists are pushing the district to move faster to improve schools in the neighborhood, but are still far from a consensus on exactly what changes are needed.

At a community meeting convened on Wednesday by Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy organizations, residents and advocates agreed that a plan to boost the neighborhood’s struggling schools was overdue. But they disagreed about whether charter schools or in-district solutions would be most effective and about how the district should serve the area’s many English learners.

This week’s meeting comes on the heels of DPS’s decision to delay plans to open two new schools in southwest Denver next year, including one run by charter operator Strive.

DPS officials say they are working steadily to improve schools despite the delay, but parents and advocates have claimed change is not coming quickly enough.

The quality of schools in the southwest, which is home to some 22,000 students, has been the subject of concern and discontent for years.

“This is something that’s been going on for decades and generations. The school board has known it, the superintendents have known it,” said Marco Antonio Abarca, a board member of Latinos for Education Reform.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a barrage of statistics illustrating the neighborhood’s plight drawn from a report called “Ya Basta”—Enough is Enough—released by a coalition of local advocacy groups last spring.

“We’re saying that now is the time for change,” said Van Schoales, the CEO of A+ Denver, one of the groups behind the report.

“We’re here to demand from the school district high-quality public schools in southwest Denver,” said Oscar Castillo, a member of Stand For Children. “It’s disappointing to see a slow response on the part of the district.”

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaPadres & Jovenes Unidos co-director Ricardo Martinez, right, at Abraham Lincoln High School on Wednesday.

Castillo and other parents spent the evening advocating for more school choice, more high-quality elementary schools, and better transportation options in the neighborhood. One mother described how her child had to travel an hour to get to school. Another said students need a restorative justice system, healthy food, high standards, and extended time in school.

Schoales said efforts in the Far Northeast, where many schools have undergone intense turnaround efforts and others have been converted into charter schools, could be a model for improvements. Several parents said they hoped Strive and DSST, networks of high-performing charter schools, would move into the area, and one charter operator used the public comment section to recruit families.

But Padres & Jovenes Unidos, originally slated to cohost the event, chose not to host because it did not agree with the other sponsoring groups—Stand For Children, Latinos for Education Reform, A+ Denver, and Democrats for Education Reform—that charter schools are the answer.

Members still showed up to the Wednesday’s meeting to call for change.

“Our strong recommendation is to improve our schools, not to replace our schools,” said Ricardo Martinez, the group’s co-director. “Not all charters are bad. They’re good incubators for best practices. But we feel the incubation period is over. We know what works and we should do our most to replicate those practices in our schools.”

In this heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhood, there was also disagreement about how the district should work with students who are learning English.

One commenter said research showed students should begin learning English at the very beginning of their school careers. A first-year Teach For America corps member spoke in both English and Spanish to illustrate the benefits of bilingual education.

Darlene LeDoux, DPS director of academic achievement for English learners, said the district’s current program, in which some students learn in their native language before focusing on English, is research-based and benefits students. “It’s imperative to retain culture and the connection to family,” LeDoux said.

Nearly a third of the comments came from school and advocacy group leaders. Two staff members at Compass Academies, which plans to open in the neighborhood next year, used the comment time to present a slide show featuring images of teachers and kids. And David Hicks, founder of the Colorado Construction Institute, described his school—now in its second year—and said the district shouldn’t neglect career education in favor of college preparation for all.

Rodriguez told the crowd that she planned to share their perspectives with the district. She said she planned to host additional meetings and events, including having a college fair for elementary-aged students in the area and having a community-wide conversation about restorative justice and bullying.

Though the meeting was not organized by DPS, district officials and board president Happy Haynes came to listen to comments and talk to attendees. DPS officials have said they are already working with community members and schools in southwest Denver to address concerns.

After the meeting, Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said she and other DPS staff had already been in conversations with community members in the neighborhood. She said the district was taking a different approach to school improvement in southwest than it had in northeast Denver, where dramatic changes and turnaround efforts led to some pushback from community members.

She said parents in southwest should already be seeing some improvements. One school is receiving a new leader; other principals are learning strategies for coaching teachers. “The principal should be more visible, there should be changes in the kind of work students are doing…it’s not nearly as flashy as, we’re going to shut this school down and bring in a brand-new program, but it’s the kind of work that will pay off.”

“You heard here in the room this tension between urgency and, don’t close down all our schools, don’t make the same mistakes,” she said. “I thought it was a very balanced conversation around the role high-performing charters can play, about the role of improving neighborhood schools. I think it’s really a good way to move into a region-wide approach to thinking about this.”

Rodriguez said more people came to the meeting than she had anticipated. “People thought there was an opportunity to be involved. People are aware we have room to grow and want to come up with steps to achieve it.”

She said she wasn’t surprised that most of the meeting participants had ties to the advocacy groups that had organized the meeting.

“They wouldn’t join an advocacy group if there weren’t something to advocate for,” Rodriguez said.

Categories: Urban School News

Dyett supporters vow to fight for "green tech" plan

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 11:59

The announcement last week that CPS reversed course and now plans to reopen Dyett High, set to close at the end of the school year, was a hard-won battle for community activists. But the war is not over.

Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization gathered this week at City Hall to issue a no-confidence vote – symbolized by slips of yellow paper – for the reelection of 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns. The Washington Park school is in Burns’ ward and has been a flashpoint in the alderman’s relationship with some in the community.

KOCO’s Jitu Brown said the demonstration was a result of Burns’ recent comments on WVON-AM Radio, which Brown called a “smack in the face” that would lead to Burns’ “political death.”

On WVON’s Matt McGill Show earlier this week, Burns discussed the recent developments regarding Dyett. He explained that the request-for-proposals CPS will issue for the school as it seeks a new operator for it will make it “very clear” that Dyett will not be a charter or alternative school and would be an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school.

“If there are groups in the community that have an idea and have the extra piece,” Burns said on the show, “it’s their opportunity to come forward with a plan to run Dyett and bring it to the Board of Education.”

Burns made no mention of the coalition’s existing plan to turn Dyett into a school whose curriculum would be based on teaching “global leadership and green technology.” The academic plan was developed over several years, Brown said, and has the partnership of several outside institutions as well as the input and support of more than 2,000 Bronzeville community members.

“Thousands of people in the ward have said what they want,” Brown said. “This is not some cockamamie plan. We’ve been dreaming about what should be happening in this community [since 2008], so we are not going to let some [private] contract operators go into these schools.”

Other speakers talked about mobilizing voters to elect a new alderman in the 4th Ward and pressuring CPS officials to skip the RFP process in favor of the full proposal from the coalition.

At the end of the press conference, the activists relocated to the City Council Chambers, calling out Ald. Burns in the middle of a budget hearing and chanting, before being escorted out by security.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco mulls school options in growing area

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 08:54

Having their say

A group of district leaders criticized excessive testing and had some frank comments about legislators Wednesday during the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Push for better schools

Parents backed by education reform groups are making their case with a board member as they seek improved schools in southwest Denver. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Planning for growth

The Jeffco school district is looking at building a new K-8 school in a booming area of Arvada, but it does not have funding set aside for a project that is expected to run about $25 million. ( 9News (with video) )

Possible reunion?

After a four-year hiatus, the Douglas County School Board is considering rejoining the Colorado Association of School Boards. Some members think CASB would be a useful ally in Capitol K-12 funding debates, but others are concerned about the cost of membership. ( Castle Rock News-Press )

District considers options

The Pueblo City Schools, which is on the state's accreditation clock, is considering whether to employ an independent accrediting organization to provide a districtwide support system as part of its turnaround and priority improvement actions for 14 of its schools. ( Chieftain )


The Colorado School Counselor Association has named Sarina Gonzales, a counselor at Lafayette's Centaurus High School, the 2014 Secondary School Counselor of the Year. ( Daily Camera )

The St. Vrain district has won an award for its parent leadership program. ( Colorado Hometown Weekly )

Points of view

A Jeffco teacher writes about how he used a class about violence and killing to teach empathy to at-risk boys. ( Denver Post )

The current testing climate not only produced lots of bad bubble tests that measured mostly shallow learning but it also caused classroom time to be eaten up by test drills, writes the former communications director for DPS. ( Denver Post )

Backing off

The Obama administration has watered down its threatened crackdown on for-profit colleges, loosening tough sanctions under heavy political pressure from the industry and members of Congress from both parties. ( Politico )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Preschool enrollment falls, union election spending, asbestos concerns

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 07:58

Preschool enrollment in CPS is down again this year. The district’s 20th day enrollment data show a drop of about 800 children, with 4-year-olds accounting for the entire decline.The downward trend continues  even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to expand access to high-quality preschool for all low-income 4-year-olds in the city. Early childhood education advocates and parents have blamed the drop on his administration’s decision to centralize the application process for preschool enrollment last year. (Enrollment fell by about 950 among 4-year-olds last year.) Parents say the new process is harder to navigate, and that their children often get placed at schools that are too far away.

The centralization process -- which was one component of the mayor’s Ready to Learn! initiative -- was meant  to ensure the neediest children got priority. In a statement, CPS officials acknowledged the drop but noted that enrollment is down across the district. And while that’s true, no grade level saw as big an enrollment drop as 4-year-olds in preschool, which is voluntary. (See Catalyst's analysis of CPS data here.)

In a statement, CPS officials said that this year “we have already received more applications for school-based programming compared with last year, and expect to receive further applications as enrollment remains open throughout the year.” The district also said that more than 86 percent of families that applied this year were offered seats in their first- or second-choice programs.

2. Union rethinks Chicago election spending  … The American Federation of Teacher’s commitment to contribute $1 million to CTU president Karen Lewis’ mayoral bid bolstered her chance of being a viable candidate. But now that she isn’t running, will the AFT -- a staunch critic of Emanuel’s education agenda --  be involved in the mayoral election at all? That has yet to be decided. On Tuesday, the AFT’s Randi Weingarten issued a statement saying the initial commitment was to Lewis as a “union sister.” “As Karen has decided not to run, we will have to re-evaluate based on many factors – as we do across the nation — starting with conversations with our local affiliates in Chicago," she says.

The AFT money could be a big factor in the viability of any mayoral candidate -- including Cook County Commission Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a progressive who threw his hat into the race this week but has less than $20,000 in his campaign account, the Chicago Tribune reports. Emanuel has already raised some $8.7 million for the election. 

3. Asbestos concerns… A week after parents complained about damaged lead paint at Gale School in Rogers Park, Little Village parents and teachers are raising concerns about asbestos and other problems at Saucedo, according to DNAinfo. The cancer deaths of at least two teachers have heightened concerns, but teachers and parents are not saying the condition of the school is responsible for the deaths. Also, CPS inspectors found that though asbestos is in the school, which was built in 1912, the levels are acceptable in all places where children are at.

According to DNAinfo, parents were told the school had conducted an asbestos test through a private investigator and that the school had passed. However, CPS would not provide parents full results.  Gale’s parents, along with activists, had to file a Freedom of Information Act and go to the Illinois Attorney General to force CPS to comply. The communications problems are mystifying, given that parents need to feel secure that their children at the very least are safe in school.

4. Closings and mergers … The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago announced this week it will shutter seven elementary schools and consolidate six more by next year, a move that will affect more than 1,200 students and 200 employees. Church officials assured that “unlike past shutdowns in which some schools got reprieves, all decisions this time are final,” according to a Tribune report.

Low enrollment due to a declining population of school-aged children is being blamed for the closings across Lake and Cook counties. This year, there are 82,000 children enrolled in the system’s 240 schools; at its peak in 1965, some 366,000 students were enrolled in 524 schools. As schools emptied and parish funds dried up, many schools relied on big subsides from the Archdiocese.

5. About that study … Remember that report that came out two weeks ago that concluded that charter schools in Chicago perform worse, on average, than traditional schools? Most of the local media covered its findings, although later pointed out that the CTU had helped pay for the study by the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota. In an opinion piece published in Crain’s Chicago Business this week, the reports’ authors defended their findings against criticism of their work by the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

INCS' Andrew Broy had taken issue with the data quality, data sources and omission of “high-quality research” that has found positive outcomes at charter schools. In their Crain's piece, authors Myron Orfield and Thomas Luce dismiss Broy’s criticism and say they used statistical controls to compare student performance in charter schools versus those in nonselective traditional schools.

In this highly charged debate, it’s important to remember that studies on charter schools across the country have fallen in both camps, with the general consensus being that they perform about as well -- sometimes slightly better, sometimes slightly worse -- than traditional neighborhood schools.

One last note ... Waukegan school district officials and teachers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday night, ending a month-long strike. Classes are set to resume on Monday.

I’m going to add one little line to the end of the Take 5 that says: One last note, Waukegan school district officials and teachers reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday night, ending a month-long strike. Classes are set to resume on Monday.

Categories: Urban School News

Superintendents vent on testing and about the legislature

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 15:04

A group of district leaders criticized excessive testing and had some frank comments about legislators Wednesday during the annual PEBC Superintendent Forum.

“What I wish we could do is back off of testing some,” said Cherry Creek Superintendent Harry Bull. “We’re losing instructional time, and our teachers don’t have the time to teach.”

And as for the legislature, Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger was blunt: “Quit passing laws and let us do what we know how to do.”

The event brought together eight superintendents to field questions posed by moderator Donna Lynne, a top Kaiser Permanente executive who serves on several education panels.

The most interesting responses came when testing and standards and legislation and school funding were raised.

Messinger echoed Bull on testing, saying high-stakes testing often is “meaningless” and that Colorado should use “the minimum amount of assessment we need to document student success.”

La Veta Superintendent Bree Lessar used an image that she said resoates in her rural, 210-student district. “If we want to fatten up the cow we have to be careful about how many times we take it to the scale.”

But Chris Gdowski, superintendent of the Adams 12-Five Star schools, said, “What we need is more time” for both instruction and assessment. “I think the conversation we need to have is about expanding the school day and the school calendar.”

Opinions were even more varied on academic standards.

Douglas County Superintendent Liz Fagan said, “The Common Core and some of the standards that are out there are lower than we would like them to be.”

But Bull said, “We are embracing the Colorado Academic Standards,” complaining that “The conversation around the Common Core is incredibly politically energized. It distracts from the most important conversation” about what really happens in classrooms.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg also complained about “the incredible politicization around the new standards.” He called the Common Core “extraordinarily good,” much better than the “politically influenced hodge-podge of often not very good state standards.”

Asked about the upcoming legislative session, the group was pretty much on the same page about more laws and about funding.

  • “I wish what the legislature and the governor would do is trust us as professionals. I think there is a lack of trust and respect,” adding that legislators’ “depth of knowledge on specific topics is very limited.” – Bull
  • “Show me the money. We need money.” – Gdowski
  • “We as a state are not investing in our future,” especially in early education. – Boasberg
  • “Mandates that come down without funding are a problem. – Scott Murphy of Littleton
  • “The funding in Colorado needs to come back.” – Fagen

Lynne also raised the question of school district conflicts, in the news recently because of Jefferson County’s travails.

The prompted Bull to say, “I think there’s this world call ‘reasonable,’” but that discussions about Common Core and testing have brought out extreme views. “For most parents, for most communities there is that place called ‘reasonable.’ Our task is to constantly bring us back to that.”

New Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee alluded quickly to the situation in his district and said, “I agree with Harry. Everybody you talk to wants the same things, they want a great experience for their kids.” Referring to his challenges, he said, “You have to come a really good listener.”

Categories: Urban School News

Southwest Denver parents to share vision of schools with board member

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 13:30

Southwest Denver parents, organized by some of Denver’s most prominent education reform advocacy organizations and incensed over an apparent delay to improve their schools, are taking matters into their own hands tonight.

That’s when they’ll meet with their school board representative, Rosemary Rodriguez, to discuss how they hope Denver Public Schools moves forward to improve their chronically low-performing schools.

The meeting will feature testimony and ideas on how to improve schools from more than 60 parents, several of whom have been asking for a vast reform effort in the mostly poor and Latino southwest corner for months.

In a rare instance, tonight’s meeting is not organized by Denver Public Schools, but by school board member Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy groups, including Stand for Children, A+ Denver, Democrats for Education Reform, and Latinos of Education Reform.

“I’m very happy that my son is getting a good education [at a KIPP middle school],” said Graciela Contreas, a Stand volunteer and southwest Denver mother. “But speaking on behalf of other families, I know Denver needs to do a better job at some of their schools.”

Abraham Lincoln High School, her district-run neighborhood high school, is a case in point, Contreas said, shaking her head.

“Lincoln is not a good school,” Contreas said.

Among the suggestions parents plan to pitch Rodriguez tonight are an immediate increase in tutoring, a serious discussion about granting innovation status to some schools, and thoughts about how to create high performing programs — either run by the district or a charter network — that are also is in compliance with a court order that dictates how  DPS must teach English language learners.

Know before you go Tonight’s meeting between Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez and a coalition of southwest Denver parents and reform groups is at 6 p.m. at Abraham Lincoln High School Community Room, 2285 South Federal Blvd.

The parents and the coalition that backs them released a report last spring that detailed the plight of the city’s southwest schools and kicked off the campaign to improve the neighborhood schools.

According to the report, of the 42 schools in southwest Denver, only three were given the highest rating on the district’s evaluation of its own campuses. It also found that only about one student out of every 10 are college or career ready by the time they finish high school.

Southwest Denver schools serve more than 22,000 students — about a quarter of the entire district.

“Rosemary is our greatest hope,” said Mateos Alvarez, city director for Stand. “This is why we knocked on doors for her a year ago. We believe Rosemary can lead us into a place where we can get this done.”

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she hopes to hear what parents want and then present that to district officials.

“Parents have been asking — at every board meeting — for a plan for southwest Denver,” Rodriguez said. “And I want to give them an opportunity to tell me what kind of schools they think would best serve their kids. Then my intention is to take their feedback to district and say, ‘this is what parents want, these are their priorities. How does that fit in with what you have in mind. And can we create a plan for the area that we can point to and that we can be accountable to.’”

Advocates behind tonight’s meeting say part of the reason the meeting won’t include any district officials is because southwest families have grown tired of waiting for the bureaucracy to act.

“So much time has passed,” Alvarez said. “We don’t know if they’ve dragged their feet, we just know it’s taking a really long time.”

But Susana Cordova, Denver’s chief schools officer, said that’s not the case.

Her team has met with 29 different southwest school communities to discuss transportation issues and access to high performing programs and has provided regular updates to the Kepner Middle Schools community on a delay to phase-in new programs, and has held frequent conversations with Valverde Elementary School families about a transition between principals.

Cordova also plans to present a comprehensive report and plan to the school board in December about how to move forward in southwest Denver.

“We take the parents’ concerns very seriously,” Cordova said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Preschool supporters optimistic voters will approve tax hike

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 09:06

Big bucks

Spending by an independent expenditure committee Raising Colorado, which is tied to the nonprofit Democrats for Education Reform, far outstrips the combined $58,539 spent by all four candidates in the 3rd and 7th districts. So far, the committee has spent more than $200,000. ( Chalkbeat )

Toddler tax

Supporters of a tax that would continue to fund the Denver Preschool Program are optimistic city voters will pass the issue on November's ballot. ( Denver Post )

bashing bullies

A Colorado Springs middle school student has published a book about bullying. ( Fox 21 )

No laughing matter

A North High School student was recently arrested for bring a BB gun to school. ( KDVR )

We got your back

The Douglas County School District is defending a teacher and principal who are subject to a lawsuit that claims they are using school time to promote Christianity. ( Christian Post )

It's like Amazon — but for schools

Meanwhile, Douglas County schools is introducing an online tool to help parents choose which school is best for their children. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Chartering a new path

A new charter school, backed by a former Dougco school board member, appears likely to open next year. It put in a bid to buy the former Denver Christian Schools campus in Highlands Ranch. ( Douglas County News-Press )

But a current school board member is raising question about proposed changes to how the district authorizes charter schools. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Field trip

The Butterfly Pavillon, which offers education classes to students and adults, is now accredited. It's only the second invertebrate zoo in the nation to receive the honor. ( Westminster Window )


A Tennessee school district's policy governing what students say on their social networks and other policies regarding mobile devices in school are drawing the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. ( Tennessean )

Around the network

New York's largest teachers union is asking a court to toss a lawsuit that could invalidate tenure in the Empire State. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Memphis Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he would propose expanding his own turnaround efforts known, while the school board’s chairwoman said she would push for a legislative moratorium on the state's Achievement School District’s expansion. That's because iZone schools are regularly outperforming state run schools. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Categories: Urban School News

Education reform group doubles down on State Board races

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 16:10

A political committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform has pumped another $84,691 into support of two Democrats running for the State Board of Education, bringing the total spent to more than $200,000.

The spending by the independent expenditure committee Raising Colorado far outstrips the combined $58,539 spent by all four candidates in the 3rd and 7th districts.

The money has been spent on radio ads, direct mail and other media supporting Democrats Henry Roman in the 3rd and Jane Goff in the 7th and criticizing their opponents, Republicans Marcia Neal and Laura Boggs. Committees such as Raising Colorado make spending decisions independently and aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates’ committees.

Raising Colorado’s involvement in the races surfaced after the Oct. 14 campaign finance disclosure deadline, when the group reported spending $70,500 on Roman’s behalf and $56,366 backing Goff. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on that spending and the motivations behind it.)

Another reporting deadline fell on Monday, and the committee reported spending another $56,442 backing Roman and an additional $28,249 in support of Goff.

Roman has raised $17,874 on his own and reported spending $6,370. Neal, the incumbent, has narrowed a prior funding gap, raising $16,220 and spending $13,893. (However, that latter amount includes about $5,000 that she spent on her June primary.)

Incumbent Goff is way ahead of Boggs in the financial race, having raised $32,731 and spent $26,869. Boggs has managed to raise only $4,472 and spend $1,507.

Raising Colorado also stuck its toe in other races, reporting spending $29,249 on direct mail to oppose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez and laying out $3,748 to buy newspaper ads supporting Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon and chair of the House Education Committee.

DFER taking a higher campaign profile

Raising Colorado’s spending isn’t the only DFER involvement in this year’s elections. So far the committee has raised $450,020 and spent $358,485. It has received most of its funds from yet another DFER-affiliated committee, Education Reform Now Advocacy. That group has spent a total of $1.9 million, much of that funneled to other, Democratic-affiliated committees that in turn redistribute the cash in support of many different Democratic candidates.

The Colorado Education Association, traditionally the big education player in campaign finance, has spent about $440,000 so far this year, spread between those Democratic-related committees, opposition to Proposition 104 and in contributions to campaign committees that are backing proposed tax increases in several districts. Small-donor committees related to CEA have contributed additional funds to candidates.

Outside cash sloshing around in many races

Democratic candidates in battleground legislative races of interest to education have continued to raise significant war chests as the Nov. 4 election nears.

Learn more about the 2014 races of interest to education in the Chalkbeat Education Voter’s Guide

The leader is Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Jefferson County, who’s raised $239,540. Close behind in a nearby district is Sen. Andy Kerr, who’s raised $217,438. Kerr is chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Zenzinger is a member.

Democrats Judy Solano of Adams County and Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs, two former House Education Committee members now seeking Senate seats, each have raised about $150,000.

And two current House Education members, Democrats Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Dave Young of Greeley, have raised about $130,000 each.

Jefferson County, evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters, is ground zero for this year’s elections. As of Monday, more than 94,000 Jeffco voters already had returned their ballots, the largest number from any county. About 660,000 ballots had been returned statewide.

In addition to the outside money, Kerr is getting some other outside help. Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Election Association, will be in Colorado Friday to volunteer at Kerr’s campaign office.

Candidates’ own campaign efforts have been supplemented with independent spending by that network of Democratic committees.

The candidates mentioned above, as well has many other Democrats, have benefited from independent spending of up to five figures each by committees such as Colorado Neighborhood Alliance, Save Jeffco Schools, Priorities for Colorado and others. Most of the spending is on literature, phone banks and canvassers. Those committees receive much of their funding from a group called Mainstream Colorado. (Read an explanation of how the system works in this Chalkbeat story.)

Republicans have a somewhat similar – but not as well funded – system using committees such as the Senate Majority Fund and Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government.

Using Chalkbeat’s campaign finance chart: Click a candidate to see contribution and spending totals in a bar chart at the top of the graphic. Additional information will appear below a candidate or committee name. You can click on multiple candidates to see comparative information.

Other committees mostly quiet

In addition to the big party-related committees, a number of other campaign groups focus on education. With the exception of Raising Colorado, most of those committees have been inactive for the last several weeks, having made their contributions earlier in the election cycle.

Monday’s reports, which cover activity from Oct. 9-22, are the last before the election. (The exception to that are reports from committees backing local district proposals. They have a filing deadline on Friday.)

After that, campaign committees don’t have to make post-election reports until Dec. 4.

This chart shows activity by education-related committees through Monday.

Key to chart: SDC means small donor committee, usually funded by dues or individual small contributions from a large number of people. IE means independent expenditure committee, which can spend for or against candidates, but spending can’t be coordinated with campaigns. PAC means political action committee, which can contribute directly to candidates.

Categories: Urban School News

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