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Find your school’s 2015 science and social studies scores

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/16/2015 - 13:57

Scores on statewide elementary and middle school social studies and science tests improved slightly compared to last year, according to results from state tests released Thursday.

The one exception was scores on the eighth grade science test, where the percentage of students meeting state expectations dropped by 3.5 points.

The 2015 results provide the first year-to-year comparisons of student performance on the science and social studies tests. Both sets of tests were new in 2014.

Use this database to find how your school did. And read our story about what the scores mean here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Analyzing the politics of one school board election

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/16/2015 - 09:47


The organization behind the recall effort of three conservative school board members in Jefferson County has raised nearly half its fundraising goal, $43,000, in just two weeks. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Q&A with Kiley

In it's third installment, Chalkbeat speaks to DPS board candidate Michael Kiley. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco negotiations

After months of heated debate, the Jefferson County School District and the teachers union have agreed on most items of a new contract. ( 9news )

TSD Board news

Thompson School District’s increasingly politicized Board of Education may change the face of school board elections in Northern Colorado. ( Coloradoan )

Donna Rice announced that she will not seek re-election to the Thompson School District Board of Education, making this the fourth seat up for grabs in the November election. ( Reporter-Herald )

Under Construction

Three areas of Peak to Peak Charter School's K-12 campus in Lafayette are under construction this summer. The $10.2 million project had been on hold since 2010 because of state cuts to K-12 education. ( Daily Camera )

Full of energy

Mead High School is ready to debut its new energy academy in the fall, with oil-and-gas and solar firms lending a hand to get the program going. ( Longmont Times )

Off roading

Starting this coming school year, Keenesburg School District students who live on dirt or gravel roads will have to catch the bus at a designated stop on a paved road instead of the buses traveling from house-to-house due to a new district policy. ( 9news )

In the spotlight

Education advocates in Colorado are moving beyond policy briefs and fact sheets: “The Colorado School Experience,” a new video project, launched this week. ( Durango Herald )

Traffic jam

A neighborhood meeting about Colorado State University's proposed new medical center drew about 40 people Wednesday night, with a good portion of the question-and-answer session focusing on traffic impacts to one of Fort Collins’ busiest intersections. ( Coloradoan )

In the money

Colorado State University this week announced a fourth consecutive year of record private fundraising, totaling $172.3 million. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teacher contract talks stumble over length of agreement

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/16/2015 - 09:43

Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association left the bargaining table Wednesday afternoon without a contract for the suburban school district’s teachers — and it’s uncertain when they’ll return.

When they do, the teachers union wants members of the Jeffco school board there to explain why they want a 10-month agreement.

Talks on Wednesday ended over a disagreement on how long the contract should last. The duration of the contract for the district’s more than 5,000 teachers is the final issue to be negotiated.

The teachers union wants a three-year contract to run from Sept. 1, 2015 through Aug. 31, 2018. The district wants a contract to expire in 10 months, on June 30, 2016.

“We are now calling upon the board to come to the bargaining table to express its interests around the duration of this agreement,” wrote JCEA president John Ford in a letter to the district’s five board members. “We feel that with more clarity directly from you, the decision makers, we can be successful in finding a mutually agreeable solution. We are available to meet with the board at your convenience.”

In a statement, Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee signaled that a 10-month deal is the district’s final offer.

The district’s rational for a 10-month contract is that it provides both teachers and the district to adjust to a more streamlined contract and it would align the bargaining process with the budget process.

“We believe this agreement is good for Jeffco students and Jeffco teachers and I hope the final document can be agreed to quickly and we can continue to provide a great education for our kids,” McMinimee said. 

A 10-month contract would be a bit unorthodox. According to research by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the average collective bargaining agreement for teachers unions in the United States is three years. However, Jeffco and JCEA have previously had one-year contracts.

Contract negotiations between the teachers union and district, the second largest in Colorado, have been ongoing since March. More than 140 hours have been spent negotiating. In total, the agreement’s length has been reduced by about 60 percent. That was a huge priority for the school board.

Talks broke down temporarily during the spring over teacher compensation. However, an agreement was reached and negotiations quickly resumed.

In June, the district shared with the union a nearly-completed draft contract. The two sides have been using that document and a table of contents supplied by the union as a to-do list to complete the contract.

The current contract expires Aug. 31, about two weeks after school starts in Jefferson County. Any new contract must be ratified by the unions’ members and approved by the school board.

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Categories: Urban School News

Denver board candidate Michael Kiley: DPS should support neighborhood schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/15/2015 - 19:39

Since 2013, Denver school board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents District 5, has been the only board member to regularly vote against DPS administration proposals. Now, Jimenez’s seat representing fast-changing northwest Denver is up for grabs.

Michael Kiley, a project manager at workforce management software company Kronos, and Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and former policy analyst for then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, have both declared that they are running for the seat. Kiley ran for the at-large board seat now held by Barbara O’Brien in 2013.

Both candidates say they are focused on creating quality schools, but they differ on the details.

In the third in a series of interviews with the candidates for Denver board, Chalkbeat spoke with Kiley about his take on neighborhood schools and making sure that all constituents, not just the most vocal, are represented. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat shared interviews with District 1 candidates Anne Rowe
and Kristi Butkovich; check back later this week for an interview with Flores.

Kiley says that his experience as a parent interested in improving Skinner Middle School led him to run for school board. This is how he tells the story:

Michael Kiley, a candidate for DPS’s District 5 board seat.

Kiley: I didn’t originally set out to run. I found myself in a situation with some other parents when we were going to have our middle school closed. This was Skinner Middle School, in 2009. We met with the principal, and she laid it out that if enrollment didn’t go up, they were likely going to close.

We made a laundry list of the attributes Skinner needs to have: honors programs, music. And we said, we think we can attract the proficient and above kids into Skinner. [The principal at the time] looked at us like we were from Mars. She said, you’re talking about honors, music — I don’t have the head count. So we sat down with Superintendent [Tom] Boasberg and laid it out and said, we’ll send our kids, we’ll get you other kids. He looked at us like we were crazy…but eventually, we compelled the board to give us a half million in school improvement grants. We got Spanish, got music, got honors, and we marketed the heck out of it.

It was all grassroots, at coffee shops and barbecues. Time and time again we said, yeah, we’re sending our kids.

Now Skinner’s got a waitlist. And we kind of felt like, hey, we’re onto something…

So what we realized was a couple things. One is if you have the right principal, they’ll get you the right teachers. The right principal’s going to partner with the community, and then the magic happens. It sounds elementary, but if you take similar magic, a core group of parents who believe in the school, they make it happen, they recruit others.

While this was going on, I realized that the board was a real challenge in terms of being a community member and coming to them and asking them to respect us as partners, to work with us, to give us the resources we need. The administration, too. They’re all good people, it’s not ill-intended. But the board needed a community voice, to take a step back.

It’s a large institution and it behaves like that. The board’s there to remind DPS of what the community’s wants and needs are. That’s what really excited me about this. I’m not a teacher but I’m a parent and I know what other parents are looking for. You can’t tell me neighborhood schools don’t work.

Kiley thinks the district should focus culling or improving its central office staff.

Chalkbeat: Can you talk about issues you think affect DPS as a whole?

Kiley: There are no lost neighborhoods in Denver. There’s no reason we can’t have a quality neighborhood option in every neighborhood. That is premise No. 1 to me. There are no failing schools, there are schools that we have failed.

Skinner is an integration success story. It’s really easy, it just takes hard work.

You have to recognize the choice process. It’s district’s responsibility to give parents what they’re asking for. And for schools that are struggling, we have to look at choice, look at data and fix what’s broken.

But I don’t accept that all we can do is put in charter schools … I long for the days when a charter was a group of teachers and parents who said, we can do this.

The second is, we’ve got to get as much resource into buildings as possible. I’m very concerned about how – first the new administration’s purchased this central office, and we seem to be filling it with administrators. As I look down the list of Instructional Superintendents, there are names that jump out, and they jump out not for their successes.

I come from the private sector, and you don’t get promotions for flying a school into the hillside.

You should have a rock star group of administrators. You should look at all the Instructional Superintendents and hear about the school they turned around, the community they brought together, that they are a master teacher themselves.

Chalkbeat: The current board just set a plan to move more decision-making to schools in action last May. What do you think about that?

Kiley: I’m relying on staff and principals and teachers to tell me their take. I’m cautiously optimistic. I want to see more money get to the school level.

Kiley says his style as a public commenter doesn’t necessarily reflect his style as a board member.

Chalkbeat: You’ve been a vocal critic of the district and have different stances on some issues than many of the current members. How do you see those dynamics playing out?

Kiley: Perhaps we’re not as far apart as we seem. When I go to public comment, it’s a final step in a 20-step journey, where the community didn’t get what they wanted after numerous meetings and phone calls.

It’s never personal. I don’t have a personal issue with anyone on the board. Any time I see them publicly, I say hello and chat. As a board member, I look forward to working behind the scenes.

I may go 1-6 on some things, but I do see those opportunities where we can reach compromise.

I’d like public comment to be 15 minutes long because there’s been such good community engagement that public comment’s about commendations, as opposed to one combative issue after another.

I’m not coming into this to fix DPS — I can’t do that. But for District 5, I can increase parent engagement.

Chalkbeat: District 5 has some very vocal community groups and constituents. How do you make sure that all of your constituents — not just the noisy ones or those who already have power — are represented?

Kiley: I’ve put great effort into outreach to families of every walk of life. I’ve walked Quigg Newton [a public housing project in northwest Denver], I’ve sat in the living rooms of people who have much nicer living rooms than I do. What I find is remarkable consistency in what they say they want. They want a quality neighborhood option. They like choice and I do, too.

Chalkbeat: What are some other issues on your mind in northwest Denver?

Kiley: We’ve got a lot of success stories, and we need to bring that to other programs. I visited Colfax Elementary. I really like the culture there and wonder, how can we help them? There are great things going on at West Leadership. There’s also Bryant Webster. People talk about dual language programs and all they think about is Valdez and Sandoval. I ask, did you take a tour of Bryant Webster?

It’s easier to talk about what doesn’t work. This town has experience with what doesn’t work. You tell families with resources to go to a school they don’t want to go to and they’re going to move, they’re going to go to private school, and then they’re out of the system. That tears at the fabric of the community. When you take out that ownership from community, it damages them. Trying to force someone to go to a school in the name of equity that doesn’t work.

So how do we fix it? Skinner, I think, is a good story to tell around that. It’s more diverse than the community it’s in. Make a compelling neighborhood school, and the majority of kids will choose it.

Chalkbeat: What about Trevista? Do you think that program should remain in that school?

Kiley: I’m impressed by the new principal and I want to see him be successful. Where there’s a challenge: Sunnyside needs a new middle school and it’s going to need it in the not-so-distant future.

Chalkbeat: What are your thoughts on standardized testing and opting out?

Kiley: Parents have the right to do what’s best for their child. It’s pointless to try to make them do otherwise. When I hear Arne [Duncan, the federal education secretary] posturing like he can somehow make somebody’s child take a test, I think, so why don’t we demonstrate the value of the test and people will gladly take it. I hear students either getting unduly stressed or just not caring. Both of those are bad outcomes. I’m also skeptical of a billion dollar testing industry having an economic stake.

(Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Gates Family Foundation.)
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Kiley’s employer, Kronos. Kronos is a workforce management company.

Categories: Urban School News

Recall effort in Jefferson County has raised $43,000

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/15/2015 - 16:59

The organization behind the recall effort of three conservative school board members in Jefferson County has raised nearly half its fundraising goal in just two weeks, according to campaign finance documents.

Jeffco United for Action has raised — in mostly small and local donations — $43,981 of its $100,000 goal. The report, filed with the Secretary of State on Tuesday, signals that there is a committed grassroots effort to change the governing board of Jeffco Public Schools and that suggestions that the effort is entirely bankrolled by the teachers union are inaccurate.

A Chalkbeat analysis of the organizations first filing found that only $675 of the total raised came from outside the state. About one-fifth of the individuals who gave to recall effort listed Jeffco Public Schools as their employer. Slightly more than 90 precent of the 536 donations so far were for $100 or less. And the two largest donations were for $1,000.

One of the individuals who gave a grand to the recall group was former Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

“I’ve seen such demoralization in the district,” Stevenson said. “I consider it a service to the kiddos and staff of Jefferson County to change the governance structure.”

Stevenson served as the district’s superintendent for a dozen years. She announced her retirement shortly after the board majority, which ran on a platform to challenge the district’s status quo, was elected. She then left her post early citing a poor working relationship with the school board’s new members.

Data Center
Find out who gave in the first fundraising push to support the recall effort here.

During the reporting period, Jeffco United for Action spent $5,159. Most of the organization’s expenditures thus far have been on fees for its online fundraising site.

By comparison, the political committee that supported the school board majority, Believe in Better Schools, spent slightly more than $22,000 to get Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk elected in 2013, according to campaign finance reports.

Jeffco United for Action is a political 527 group. That means it can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money on the recall effort.

The same group of individuals has also established a nonprofit organization that can also raise an unlimited amount of money. But that money can only be used to “educate” the public about issues — not directly campaign. Unlike the 527 committee, the nonprofit is not required to disclose its donors.

So far, neither the nonprofit branch of the recall effort, which paid for a direct-mail campaign last month, nor the Jefferson County teachers union has made a contribution to the 527 group. That sort of funneling of cash between nonprofits with 501(c)(4) tax status and political committees has become the status quo in elections.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit behind the political committee that supported Witt, Williams, and Newkirk is also actively seeking donations to raise awareness about what they consider positive steps for the suburban school district under the board majority.

“I think it’s incredibly unfair that [Jeffco United] is doing this,” said Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, in an interview earlier this month. “I want to be sure that the parents who voted for this board have a voice.”

Atwell said her organization is taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether to launch another political committee to directly support candidates this fall.

Backers of the recall, which kicked off with a campaign at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, have until Sept. 8 to collect 15,000 signatures per board member they wish to recall. Organizers want to be on the regular-November ballot and not force a costly special election are pushing to get enough signatures by the end of July. They believe if the recall effort can collect enough signatures by the end of the month, there is a strong likelihood that will happen. However, there is no guarantee the recall will be part of the general election.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado senators talk NCLB

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/15/2015 - 09:47

School safety

A panel of legislators and experts Tuesday started to get up to speed on one of the touchiest issues of the 2015 legislative session – school security and districts’ legal responsibility for keeping students safe. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No Child Left Behind

As the U.S. Senate takes up a rewrite of federal education legislation, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet share their views on the federal education legislation. ( Durango Herald )

Testing madness

And more states — but not yet Colorado — are considering dropping out of the testing group PARCC. ( AP via Ed Week )

Now Boarding

School board candidate Kristi Butkovich said she's getting into the race because she believes there needs to be more community input in decisions made by Denver Public Schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Contract talks

A judge's decision on whether to prohibit the school board from making changes to the expiring contract for teachers has been delayed by a month. ( Reporter-Herald )

Going to pot

A marijuana tax for school construction in Colorado raised more in the first five months in 2015 than it did for all of 2014. ( AP via 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

School safety panel ramps up for summer of study

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 18:19

A panel of legislators and experts Tuesday started to get up to speed on one of the touchiest issues of the 2015 legislative session – school security and districts’ legal responsibility for keeping students safe.

“Nobody on this committee hasn’t been hurt and deeply affected by school violence,” said panel chair Mark Scheffel, a Parker Republican who is Senate majority leader. “Not all of us agree 100 percent on everything. That’s a positive thing.”

The 16-member School Safety and Youth in Crisis Committee was created by the 2015 legislature, which also passed a measure (Senate Bill 15-213) that makes school districts liable for violent incidents on school grounds.

District leaders are nervous about how they can meet the standards of security and liability created by the bill.

“I know schools are very concerned about Senate Bill 213 and about how this committee will define reasonable care,” said panel member Christine Harms, director of the state School Safety Resource Center.

Republican Rep. Yeulin Willet of Grand Junction noted, “I have some serious concerns about this legislation,” including the possible burden of higher insurance premiums for districts.

Interestingly, the eight legislators on the panel were split on SB 15-213, with four supporting it during final floor votes and four voting no.

But the liability law was discussed only briefly, and the group spent most of its time on preliminary briefings about school violence.

Harms discussed the work of her agency and said, “I think the information [on school safety] is out there and our schools are doing their best to be safe places.” But districts, particularly smaller ones, face challenges in adequately training staff, she said, and “We do need more mental health services in our schools and our communities.”

She also cautioned that making threat assessments of potentially violent students can’t prevent every incident.

Do your homework

“A threat assessment is a snapshot in time. It does not predict future behavior,” she said. “There is no profile of a school shooter. Instead we look to changes in behavior.”

Susan Payne, executive director of the Safe2Tell program, agreed. “There is no profile” of a student who commits violence, she said. “We know they make plans. They don’t just snap.”

Both agreed that schools need to pay more attention to suicidal students, noting that teens who commit violence often are suicidal. “We do not see a consistent response to handling a child who is struggling and suicidal,” Payne said.

The voting members of the committee are the eight legislators, evenly split between House and Senate members and Democrats and Republicans. They include House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran of Denver and Reps. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, Willet and Jim Wilson of Salida. Senate members are President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs, Scheffel, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Linda Newell of Littleton.

Non-voting members, chosen for their professional backgrounds, include:

  • Gregory McDonald, a Boulder Valley school counselor
  • Sharyl Lawson, a Brighton special education teacher
  • Heidi Ganahl, a parent and businesswoman from Superior
  • Melissa Silvia, a Sheridan parent who’s also on that district’s school board
  • David Crews, superintendent of the Norwood district on the Western Slope
  • Linda Weinerman, executive director of the Office of the Child Representative, a program of the state court system
  • Kate O’Donnell, a mental health counselor at Colorado Academy
  • Harms

At the request of Gov. John Hickenlooper, the committee agreed to name Desiree Davis as a non-voting “special adviser” to the group. Davis is the mother of Claire Davis, the student who died in a December 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School. Her death was the catalyst for SB 15-213, which is named in her honor.

The committee meets next on Aug. 27 and can hold up to four more meetings before the end of the year. The legislative members can propose up to five bills for consideration by the 2016 legislature.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Board candidate Kristi Butkovich: Decisionmaking needs to include community

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 17:10

In southeast Denver, this fall’s school board election pits incumbent Anne Rowe against Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

While Rowe and Butkovich both highlight their focus on the district’s students, their approaches to some of the specifics — including charter schools and teacher evaluations — diverge.

In the second in a series of interviews with each of the candidates for Denver board, Chalkbeat chatted with Butkovich about teachers, schools, and her strong feelings about standardized tests.

Kristi Butkovich, a candidate for Denver school board’s District 1 seat.

Butkovich says she was inspired to run for school board because she thinks more DPS decisions have been made without community input.

Butkovich: I’m a native of Denver, raised in southwest Denver, and I’m a third-generation DPS alumni. My husband is a 37-year retired veteran teacher and administrator, so I’ve been around DPS all of my life. It really wasn’t until we had our son, who was about three when I became involved with reopening Southmoor Elementary as a neighborhood school, that I launched my advocacy for public education. He’s going to be 21 – he’s a senior at CU Boulder. So I’ve really been involved in advocating for public education for 16 years.

I was a co-founder the Denver Alliance for Public Education, which was formed really to concentrate on public concerns in DPS in 2012, about the same time that the board and [DPS superintendent Tom] Boasberg were really not listening to the community in north Denver and northwest Denver. We formed an alliance to really get involved and become an advocate for putting the public back in public education.

Basically, I’m running a “3 Cs and a D” campaign: Commitment, Community Voice, Collective Collaboration, and Dedication to Public Education in the Denver Public Schools.

Chalkbeat: What was going on that you were concerned about?

Butkovich: In northeast, there was instance after instance where decisions were being made without the public consent or even involvement, and in many cases, the decisions were made, period. We believe that public schools should be centers of their communities, and it is the board of education’s responsibility to restore a voice and respect to those closest to the classroom and fulfill public education’s purpose as a propeller of our economy, an anchor of democracy, and a gateway to racial, social, and economic justice.

Chalkbeat: What are some of the issues you’ve been focused on this year?

This doesn’t have anything to do with Denver Alliance, but I personally testified at the legislature in favor of the opt-out movement and also on policies directly related to student data privacy laws. I’m on a board with a group of Colorado parents in ongoing negotiations on data privacy concerns with the Colorado Department of Education.

Butkovich says too many teachers are leaving DPS each year.

Chalkbeat: What do you think are the biggest issues facing Denver schools?

Butkovich:I believe that the community’s voice is left out of all conversations, and that the current administration has a top-down approach, and it should be the other way around: It’s a public entity, and public taxpayers are the reason the DPS exists.

I’m very concerned about the high turnover in teachers. One in five teachers has either left voluntarily or been fired from DPS, and this is my take on that. I think that corporations and the media and very good marketing have instituted a great scapegoating of teachers across our nation, including in DPS. And I believe that the scapegoating that’s going on is being carried out against passionate, certified, and good teachers in DPS and across America. It’s dismantling public education for private profit. I believe DPS is spending millions of dollars to hire inexperienced teachers who will not stay. Yes, DPS is able to lure in new teachers with higher SAT / ACT scores but my question is at what price. When the rigors of teaching every day set in for new teachers, DPS has and will see in the future its investment walk out the door.

The biggest cliche at the moment is that one of the purposes of education is to create a lifelong learner. But why should students strive for higher education when their own teachers aren’t valued for having years of experience, higher degrees, and national board certification? What value is there to becoming educated and entering the teaching field when all you have to do is sit for a few teaching sessions for TFA to work in the neediest schools?

Chalkbeat: What would you do to address this?

Butkovich: The number one place to begin is to go back to respecting and valuing our teachers. We need to revisit the evaluation process. We have teachers who have been in the district for decades that have never received a poor evaluation. Now teachers are being evaluated by people who haven’t taught before. That’s going to need to change.

Even in situations where an entire community has rallied to reinstate teachers who have been fired, when those pleas fall on deaf ears there is a breakdown in trust between administration and the communities they serve. Teachers are public servants, no different than firefighters or police officers, and none of those entities would ever do to their employees what DPS does to their employees.

Butkovich is a critic of standardized testing.

Butkovich: I think that we need testing reform. I believe in assessment, I know the value of assessment, but the assessment we have is not appropriate assessment, and the kiddoes are the ones that lose out. They lose out in many ways, from the weeks and weeks of time involved in practicing, and they’re losing all that instruction time. A lot of kids are missing recess or their lunch to concentrate on statewide assessments. I really advocate for appropriate assessment. I think where we’re heading right now is taking our current kids down a dark road of – you know, maybe we’ll see the drop-out rate rise. Kids don’t understand the benefit to master their own learning because we have these teachers who are being trained to mindlessly follow a scripted task, it’s like a recital for state and corporate taste.

Butkovich says she hopes she could find common ground with board members with different points of view.

Chalkbeat: If you were on the board, you would likely disagree with most of the members on some key issues. How would you plan to navigate those dynamics?

Butkovich: Regardless of where we are politically or professional or privately, we all have to find common ground to work together. I don’t agree with anybody 100 percent of the time. I’m not join in to this with rose-colored glasses that we’re going to be able to wave this magic wand and sing “Kumbaya.” But I think we’ll be able to find common ground and hopefully, when we have disagreed on different issues, I will be able to see where they’re coming from and hopefully I can introduce them to my point of view.

Chalkbeat: The district has just approved a significant expansion for charter network DSST. What is your take on working with charter schools?

Butkovich: I think charter schools have a place, and in the beginning of the charter school conversation, 20-25 years ago, the strategy was not what charters are becoming now. I think they have a place, and the place is when community embraces them and it’s the community that rallies around opening a charter school in their neighborhood. But when you close a neighborhood school that has been deemed or identified as a failing school and you reopen a charter school, that’s not parent-driven. It creates conflict in the community.

Let’s say Park Hill has had crime on the rise for a year. So you write a strategy about how they’re going to lower the crime rate, and they’re giving this strategy 18 months, and if at the end of 18 months the crime rate hasn’t lowered, they don’t close the police station, and nobody loses their jobs.

Kids are coming in with different abilities, characteristics, a family life. And until we address those, it doesn’t matter if it’s a charter school or a public school or a parochial school. Until we address children’s needs, and make it a priority — a top priority to instruct kids on learning life skills, it doesn’t matter if we’re going to enable them to acquire or become college or career ready. Learning is a process, so if you skip processes it doesn’t always work out.

Chalkbeat: One of DPS’s focuses this year has been equity. Can you talk a bit about that issue?

Butkovich: Let’s compare what goes on in northeast Denver to what goes on in southeast Denver. There’s a huge equity issue. Right now, they’re segregating our schools. Whether that’s be design or they don’t recognize it, it shouldn’t be happening.

I also have have issues with choice system. If you have to participate in choice that’s not a choice. So when we have families who cannot under any circumstance transport their children to another school, that’s an equity issue.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado lawmakers to study school violence

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 09:49

School violence

Colorado lawmakers will study how to prevent school violence and support students' mental health. ( 9News )


A new study indicates that changing Colorado's teacher pension system could be costly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Teachers from the Pikes Peak region took part in AVID, a summer training institute focused on closing achievement gaps. ( Gazette )

District 1

Denver school board candidate Anne Rowe says that now that the district has plans and goals in place for student achievement, she wants to focus on reaching them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


Limiting rough play in soccer may help prevent concussions in young people. ( 9News )

St. Vrain

Amory Siscoe, a school volunteer, will run for St. Vrain's school board. ( Daily Camera )


Textbooks sometimes teach different versions of history, which has been highlighted as the Confederate Flag has been in the spotlight this spring. ( KUNC )

Two cents

The Denver Post writes that the Denver school board is rewarding success by expanding the DSST charter network. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver school board incumbent Anne Rowe: “Now comes the hard part”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 01:25

The beginning of the race for Denver Public Schools board opens up three seats on the seven-member board — and a set of questions about how DPS should approach school improvement, district management, testing, teacher evaluations, and more.

In southeast Denver, incumbent Anne Rowe, who has represented District 1 since 2011, is being challenged by Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education.

In the first in a series of interviews with each of the candidates for Denver board, Chalkbeat chatted with Rowe about why she is running for re-election and about education issues in DPS and District 1.

Rowe says that while the Denver Plan laid out ambitious goals, the district still has to figure out how to reach them. 

DPS Board member Anne Rowe

Chalkbeat: Why did you decide to seek re-election?

Rowe: Looking back at materials and outreach from four years ago, I had two broad statements that I believed firmly in. In 2011, what was I saying – as a person who hadn’t been in this – was that when I make policy, I’ll base it on what’s in the best interest of students and their families and what will dramatically drive student achievement.

I’ve tried to do that to the best of my ability and still believe those are the fundamental questions.

I’m running for a second term because I think DPS is making progress and we’re at a time right now where we can accelerate and actually make even more significant progress. The Board of Education and the district and community have set up a framework, the Denver Plan 2020, that sets a really focused, clear path forward. We have our five goals, and what really drives us all is the concept of great schools in every neighborhood. If we truly believe every child should succeed, every child has to have access to a high-performing school, and one that is in their neighborhood – they can choose to go somewhere else, but they shouldn’t have to to get a good education.

So now we have the framework. Now comes the hard part — we have to implement it with integrity and transparency to actually achieve our really ambitious goals. I think we’re making progress, but we have to focus on the policies to actually achieve the goals. That’s how I want to spend the next four years, if voters decide, so when 2020 comes along we can say, look what we’ve done for our kids.

Rowe says that a policy that determines which schools get placed in which building and a plan to give school principals more control over their curriculum have been some of the most significant policy achievements of her term.

Chalkbeat: What are some of the most significant policy changes that have happened in your time as a board member?

Rowe: One major thing was the facility allocation policy…Five or six years ago, we had tons of building space. But because of folks coming back to DPS, because they’re seeing schools that will benefit their children, we no longer have excess space. We’re looking to a 2016 bond now because we need more.

I’m also thinking about situations like turnaround: What does that look like and what’s the best way to do that? What the policy does is say, we need to have principles that guide us to put the best schools in communities based on what the communities want as well as the highest-performing options.

The other thing I think is incredibly significant is some of the changes we’ve made to push more decision-making and allowing for more autonomy at the school level…if you invest in strong leadership and then give them the flexibility to make the best decisions for the students in their community, that level of flexibility can accelerate growth for all the kids in their school communities. That in itself is quite transformational. It changes the culture of how you move forward in the school district.

Rowe says that standardized assessments were a major concern in schools in her district.

Chalkbeat: What are some of the biggest issues in southeast?

Rowe: I visited every school in the district over a five-week period this winter. One theme I thought was incredibly important: School leaders all believe in the value of assessment and testing, but they also have great concerns about the amount of time spent testing. They know that data about their students is incredibly important, and they have a right to know how their child is doing, but with regard to the amount of testing, it was a common theme that there is too much.

The legislature pared down PARCC, and we’re looking hard at how do we have valuable assessments to provide information for educators, students, and parents, and how not to overload them.

Chalkbeat: How does the new flexibility for schools in DPS that you were describing earlier affect this, if at all? Will principals get to decide how much testing happens in their schools?

Rowe: There are still a lot of unknowns. The one thing that will still be there is standards, and you have to meet the standards. But the question is what does a school community feel are the best tools to help them grow their kids and see where they really need to focus.

Chalkbeat: What’s your stance on opting out?

Rowe: I respect an individual’s decisions to make whatever decisions they want. There’s value in assessments, from knowing how schools are doing to knowing how child is doing. Also, we’ve taken tests forever and that’s part of what we do. I think it’s a right for folks to know. In thinking about testing, rather than opting out — I don’t think that’s necessarily a great decision for folks to make. I’d rather talk about how do we make these useful and not onerous.

Rowe says that the district’s trying to improve retention among teachers and leaders — but that it can still do more. 

Chalkbeat: We’ve heard that turnover among teachers and leaders is a problem in Denver. What do you think the district should do to address this?

Rowe: It’s clearly something we need to look at and address. You want to bring in the highest-quality teachers and then keep them. You want to provide cultures where they want to be and the support they need to do. You want to think about compensation and what that means and how do you continue to incentivize folks. We’re doing a lot to address this: There’s our differentiated roles program, which allows for some career growth. That said, we do have turnover, especially in the early years…but if you look at our budget, we’re actually investing more in supporting teachers better in those years.

Over last few years, I believe with all the changes that have come about, teachers have felt like everything’s been put on them. And I understand why they’re feeling that way. We need to treat teachers like the professionals they are and provide them with support and tools. All professionals are evaluated and held accountability, but you can’t have evaluation and accountability without support. I think we’ve done that, but I think we can do a better job.

Rowe says that while it’s a good thing that southeast schools are drawing in more students, overcrowding is a growing problem — and achievement gaps within schools linger. 

Rowe: In southeast, and in any of our districts that have a large border with another school district, a lot of families send their children to other districts. But more and more people people are coming back to SE Denver schools. We had elementary schools that were 75 percent full or less. Now we have waitlists. That’s because they think the schools are good places for their kids.

But class sizes are getting very big, particularly in elementary school, so I’ve heard some concerns from parents that that needs to be addressed.

And, while all our schools are green and blue, we also have 20 percent of the population that are currently performing in the opportunity quartile (in the bottom 25 percent of students). How do we see these high-performing schools be that way for all kids?

Rowe is agnostic about the role of charter and district schools — that is, she thinks charter schools can serve the same purpose as district-run schools.

Chalkbeat: You mentioned that the district values having a good neighborhood school for all students. How do you balance policies like shared enrollment zones, which means kids aren’t automatically assigned to a neighborhood school, and the growth of the charter sector with that goal?

Rowe: When I refer to great schools in every neighborhood, I’m more agnostic to the kind of school. I care about what’s happening within the school, whether it’s a traditional district-run school or an innovation school or a charter school. It’s got a to be a public school, a DPS school, but the idea is to have schools in neighborhoods that serve the community well.

Having different kinds of schools — I’m probably stating the obvious, but not only do kids not fit in a box, we can throw the box away. I believe if folks want a very traditional school, they should have that option. They should also have other options.

Northwest Denver is a great example of that. The idea behind shared enrollment zone was to give people the option to go to high-quality schools and have the option to select school that best suits kids’ needs.

Chalkbeat: The DPS board recently approved an expansion plan from charter network DSST that means it will eventually educate a significant number of secondary students in the district. That growth is likely to affect other schools. Is that something you’re concerned about?

Rowe: That’s part of how we’re going to move forward rapidly. That doesn’t mean that other schools aren’t part of the solution, but there has to be significant change if we’re going to be successful.

On her role as a board member:

Chalkbeat: What else should we know about you?  

Rowe: I’ve committed to and invested deeply in the last three years. It’s an incredibly consuming opportunity. I’ve been honored to support District 1, and I’d like the opportunity to again. I believe deeply in public education and believe DPS can be the greatest urban district in this country, and I’m really proud of what SE Denver has done. I want to continue supporting and pushing for that to be true.

Categories: Urban School News

Study: Pension system shift could be costly in more ways than one

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/13/2015 - 20:53

Converting the current pension plan for teachers and state employees to a defined contribution system could cost up to $15.9 billion over four decades, according to a new study.

And a replacement system likely would be more expensive for the state and school districts to operate if current levels of retiree benefits are maintained, according to the new study by the actuarial firm of Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co. It was presented to the Legislative Audit Committee Monday.

The 211-page report, one of three commissioned by a 2014 law, provides the first-ever detailed projections about the cost of converting the Public Employees’ Retirement Association and also gives new details about what it costs government employers to maintain current levels of retiree benefits as compared to other types of retirement plans.

The PERA system is primarily a defined-benefit plan, meaning retirees are paid monthly pensions based on years of work and an average of their three highest-salaried years. (PERA actually is called a “hybrid” plan because it also has a feature that allows people who leave the system before retirement to keep their contributions in PERA, earn interest on those and receive benefits when they do retire.)

Defined contribution plans are similar to 401(k) savings plans in that retirees receive benefits based on what they and their employers deposited into their plans, plus any investment earnings.

The PERA system’s pension obligations currently are only about 62 percent funded. The division that covers about more than 295,000 retired, active and inactive school employees is about 61 percent funded, while another division covering 30,000 Denver Public Schools members is 82 percent funded. Closing those gaps is expected to take 30 to 40 years in some cases.

That gap has sparked years of debate in the legislature, with many Republicans, worried about the unfunded liability, arguing that PERA should be converted to a defined contribution plan.

Do your homework

The problem is that vested PERA members and retirees have a legal right to current benefits so can’t be forced into a new system. “The state cannot eliminate the unfunded liability by moving new hires to an alternative plan, but must develop a plan to address the existing unfunded accrued liability,” the study concluded.

The Gabriel report provided the first estimates that have been made of what it would cost to switch PERA to a type of defined contribution plan. A scenario involving an accelerated pay-down of the unfunded liability from now through 2053 would cost $8.8 billion.

The study estimates it would cost $15.9 billion through 2053 if the pay-down wasn’t accelerated.

Another key aspect of the Gabriel study was a review of what it costs PERA employers to maintain the system’s current average retiree benefit, which provides an estimated 72 percent of preretirement salary for civil servants and teachers who enter the system at age 35 and work for 30 years. (PERA members are not eligible for Social Security.)

“This study found that the current PERA Hybrid Plan is more efficient and uses dollars more effectively than the other types of plans in use today,” the report concluded.

Leslie Thompson, the actuary who was the senior consultant on the project for Gabriel, told the committee, “There was no alternative plan that was as cost-effective at delivering the retirement benefit as PERA. … There is no alternative plan for which you could pay the same cost and get a higher benefit.”

Greg Smith, PERA executive director, said the Gabriel report “allows policymakers to see the efficiency of the plan we have in place. … What we learned from the report today is the most efficient way to address that is within the hybrid defined benefit plan.”

Smith said he believes the Gabriel study also demonstrates the advantages of PERA for employees such as teachers who leave the system after several years but allow their funds to remain within PERA to grow and be taken upon retirement.

“Our plan provides greater retirement security for even the short-term employee,” he said.

Some education reform groups have argued that pension systems like PERA don’t provide adequate incentives for young teachers (see story).

The PERA system was more than 100 percent funded as recently as the turn of the century, but its position has slipped because of legislative expansion of benefits and reduction of contributions early in the century. And stock markets drops in 2001 and 2008 damaged PERA’s investment portfolio.

The legislature raised employer contributions in the mid-2000s, and in 2010 lawmakers passed a comprehensive PERA overall that tightened benefits for new employees and reduced cost-of-living increases for retirees, among other changes.

Despite passage of that law, PERA has remained a popular target for Republican-sponsored bill in recent sessions, none of which have passed. The 2014 law that required the Gabriel study also commissioned a separate study of how to improve tracking of PERA’s financial health at intervals over the coming decades. (See this story for more details on the thinking behind the studies.)

And PERA is scheduled to issue a report at the end of the year on the impact of the 2010 reforms.

All of the studies will give the upcoming legislative session plenty of information to work with, although major pension charges may be unlikely, given that Democrats control the House and Republicans run the Senate and that 2016 is an election year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Voucher case could reach highest court in the land

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/13/2015 - 03:15

One more round

The Douglas County School District's plea for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the voucher case has a slim chance of making it to that level, but both sides are optimistic. ( Douglas-County News Press )

Negotiation time

With an ongoing lawsuit looming, Greeley Education Association representatives and Greeley-Evans School District 6 officials are set to resume contract negotiations Tuesday. ( Greeley Tribune )

Walk in their shoes

Teachers from Colorado Springs School District 11 experienced a taste of what life is like for homeless students through the program Urban Experience. ( The Gazette )

Supply and demand

Several school supply drives are underway to help Colorado students prepare for the upcoming academic year. ( Daily Camera )

Dirty laundry begone

A seventh grader at The Classical Academy was named one of 35 state merit winners in the 2015 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for his invention- "Laundrobot." ( The Gazette )

Weird science

High schoolers are gaining lab experience with the help of mentors at the University of Colorado Boulder through the Photo-Origami Research Experience and Mentorship Program. ( Longmont Times )

College affordability

Colorado Mountain College was just named the nation’s third-most-affordable college for obtaining a bachelor’s degree, in a report from the U.S. Department of Education. ( Post Independent )


Aboard the space mission scheduled to rendezvous with Pluto on Tuesday is an instrument built and operated by University of Colorado Boulder students. ( The Gazette )

Not horsing around

The state’s first vesicular stomatitis cases of 2015 have been detected in horses, and Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories have gained special certification to test for the highly contagious virus. ( Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: How far is too far when preventing students from failing?

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 18:11
  • A focus on keeping students on track in ninth grade is driving Chicago’s graduation rate up — and raising questions about the lengths schools should go to prevent failing grades. (The Atlantic)
  • A Silicon Valley foundation has produced a digital curriculum to prevent students from falling behind in math. (Hechinger Report
  • The path that led a student from Paraguay to a large high school in New York City highlights how hard it is for immigrant families to make good use of school choice. (Pacific Standard Magazine)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s children are leaving their Virginia public school for the Chicago private school where their mom will teach. (Politico)
  • A new approach to discipline called “Collaborative and Proactive Solutions” could reshape the way schools think about students who misbehave. (Mother Jones)
  • Few textbooks meet criteria that would define them as “Common Core-aligned,” but districts are buying them anyway. (The Daily Beast)
  • PARCC, the Common Core test that many states pledged to adopt but fewer are actually using, is a big loser in the backlash against top-down education policy making. (Boston Globe)
  • Here are three reasons why schools are unlikely to offer inclusive LGBT curriculums even after the Supreme Court’s historic marriage ruling. (EdWeek
  • To help them learn coding, every seventh-grader in the United Kingdom will get a credit card-sized computer. (Wired)
  • The world’s oldest man until he died this week was a retired teacher from Japan. (AP)
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Lunch lady strikes back in firing dispute

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/10/2015 - 09:27

Getting results

The early-literacy programs created by a 2012 law have reduced the percentages of young students reading below grade level, according to a study by an advocacy group. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Board politics

When Denver voters elect three candidates to the school board this November, there’s a chance that the city’s 90,000-student school district will, for the first time in recent memory, be governed by a school board whose members are totally united in their support for the district’s approach to school reform. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Lunch lady strikes back

Della Curry, a Cherry Creek Schools kitchen manager who said she was fired for feeding hungry children in violation of school regulations, has made public documents that she says back her claims. ( Denver Post )

Testing Wars

New York has ditched Pearson as its state testing provider. Colorado uses Pearson for both PARCC and other statewide tests. ( Chalkbeat New York )

ESEA debate

As the U.S. Senate continued debate on a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, senators rejected an amendment that would have let states opt out of federal accountability requirements. ( EdWeek )

Warm weather learning

Summer school has shed its negative connotations to become a favorite time for teachers and students to work more closely on reading and writing. ( Colorado Community Media )

College online

The University of Colorado is moving ahead on its new online education initiative, with a name and a website set to launch next month. With the initiative, for now called University of Colorado On Demand, the university hopes to be able to compete with other, well-established online programs such as those run by Colorado State University and Arizona State University. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver elections could lead to unified school board during time of change

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/09/2015 - 18:21

When Denver voters elect three candidates to the school board this November, there’s a chance that the city’s 90,000-student school district will, for the first time in recent memory, be governed by a school board whose members are mostly united in their support for the district’s approach to school reform.

The board’s majority already tends to back district proposals, but a consistently unanimous board could have implications for decision-making and debate at a time when DPS is making significant changes to how it works with schools, planning to renegotiate its teachers’ compensation, and setting the stage to open a number of new charter and district schools even as it runs out of open building space.

The current board is significantly less fractious than previous iterations. Since 2013, the DPS board has approved every agenda item presented by district officials. When items have not passed unanimously, District 5 board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents northwest Denver, has been the sole dissenting vote in every instance since late 2014. The seat is term-limited and Jimenez will leave his seat this year.

Experts say that more-harmonious boards can be effective and well-received by the public, especially after times of dispute. But there is also a risk that members engage in less robust discussions at public meetings.

More than a month before final declarations for the 2015 election are due, campaigning has begun in northwest and southeast Denver.

Michael Kiley, a candidate for DPS’s District 5 board seat, and family.

Lisa Flores, a former senior program officer at the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation and leader of several local nonprofits, and Michael Kiley, a project manager at Kronos, a medical software company, have declared their intentions to run for the District 5 seat currently held by Jimenez.

Plans for schools in District 5 were a hot topic this past school year: The board recently approved a shared enrollment zone for some middle schoolers and plans to temporarily place several schools in northwest buildings after a series of tense community meetings that surfaced questions about school quality and culture, the role of charter schools, and diversity in a fast-changing neighborhood. Jimenez voted against the district’s plan.

Kiley, who ran for an at-large seat on the board in 2013, has been a vocal critic of some district proposals and community engagement in recent months. He is centering his campaign on his leadership in a community effort to bring new resources and attention to Skinner Middle School and North High School. Kiley says he is focused on creating a “quality neighborhood option” in every neighborhood, and that charter schools have a role but should not replace neighborhood schools.

Lisa Flores, a candidate for DPS District 5 board seat.

Flores says she hopes to bring attention to schools throughout District 5, where many schools are ranked in the bottom two categories on DPS’s school scorecard. She said she is also committed to improving services for and raising awareness of issues related to special education students, and to training and supporting school leaders. Flores says she supports high-quality schools regardless of governance model.

Meanwhile, in District 1, which encompasses southeast Denver, Kristi Butkovich, the executive director of the Denver Alliance for Public Education, and incumbent Anne Rowe have declared that they are running for office.

Candidate for DPS District 1, Anne Bye Rowe

Butkovich’s campaign announcement says she is focused on “fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning…That promise is under attack by those who demand and pursue austerity, polarization, privatization and DEprofessionalization.” [Emphasis in original email.] Butkovich says she hopes to improve public engagement with the district.

Kristi Butkovich, a candidate for Denver school board’s District 1 seat.

Rowe said she is focused on making decisions in the best interest of students and their families and in improving student achievement. She said plans to focus on implementing a new academic strategic plan and the Denver Plan 2020, a set of goals for the city’s schools, which have been developed during her tenure on the board.

At-large board member Happy Haynes, who is the board’s president, is also up for re-election. No other candidates have yet declared for that seat.

Candidates for Denver’s school board must declare by August 30. Candidates must file 50 valid petition signatures, but those petitions aren’t circulated until August 6. Denver Public Schools board members are not paid.

Keep your eyes out next week for a series of Q&A’s with each of the four candidates for a contested seat.


Categories: Urban School News

Early literacy effort having impact, advocacy group reports

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/09/2015 - 14:58

The early-literacy programs created by a 2012 law have reduced the percentages of young students reading below grade level, according to a study by an advocacy group.

The report, the READ Act Implementation Study, found that the statewide percentage of kindergarten through third grade students identified with a “significant reading deficiency” dropped from 16 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2014. That amounted to about 5,000 students.

The study was commissioned by Colorado Succeeds, a business-oriented education reform group, in cooperation with several other local advocacy groups and foundations.

“It is abundantly clear from the information collected and analyzed from assessment data, surveys of successful districts and schools, and case studies that schools in Colorado have made a measurable difference in just one year of implementation of the READ Act,” the study concluded.

The goal of the READ Act is to have all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. It requires literacy evaluations of K-3 students at the beginning of each school year plus periodic progress assessments. Schools must create individual reading plans for students identified with significant deficiencies.

The program rolled out in the 2013-14 school year, so results from 2014-15 provided data for comparison.

The report also found that all demographic subgroups showed declines in the percentage of students with significant deficiencies, with the exception of special education students.

“The READ Act appears to be having the greatest positive impact for students who are often identified as being most at-risk for reading difficulties,” the report said. “As an example, 35 percent of ELL students had an SRD before the READ Act, and 27 percent of ELL students had an SRD after one year of implementation. The number of free and reduced lunch students with an SRD fell from 26 percent to 23 percent. Though these reductions are to be celebrated, the number of students in various at-risk categories with an SRD is still significantly higher than their peers.”

The study said 59 percent of districts reduced their percentages of students with significant deficiencies, 30 percent showed increases and 11 percent saw no change.

Only two larger districts, Adams 14 and Adams 50 (Westminster), were among the 15 districts with reductions of at least 8 percentage points.

The report concluded, “Four primary factors were identified as having contributed to the success of so many schools in just one year: (1) the systematic use of student performance data, (2) professional development of teachers and staff that aligned to the READ Act, (3) the use of high-quality instructional materials from the recommended list provided by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and (4) following the goals and mandates of the READ Act.”

But the study cautioned, “Colorado’s most recent third grade reading results show that literacy continues to be an area in dire need of improvement. Third grade reading results went down statewide in 2014, with just over 71 percent of students scoring proficient or above.”

(See full report at the bottom of this article.)

The report, conducted by two professional researchers, used assessment data, surveyed 120 districts that had reductions and did case studies of four successful schools and one district.

The READ Act was the most recent piece of major reform legislation passed by the legislature. Education debates in the three sessions since then have been dominated by school finance and testing.

A major point of contention during the 2012 READ Act debates were provisions that allowed lagging 3rd grade students to be held back. Those provisions were significantly limited in the final version of the bill, leading to the compromise that made passage possible. The new study doesn’t address the issue of holding students back. (See this Chalkbeat story for the history of the READ Act.)

As part of an omnibus testing bill, the 2015 legislature eased some READ Act requirements, including a provision that students who are reading at grade level don’t need to be tested later in the school year. Lawmakers also eliminated some overlaps between the READ Act and school readiness assessments. (Learn more about the new testing law in this story.)

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: A new online charter academy is slated to open this fall

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/09/2015 - 10:09

Jeffco Interrupted

Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed the local fairgrounds Wednesday night to learn what they could do to recall three members of their school board whom they believe are wasting taxpayer dollars, skirting open meeting laws, and disrespecting teachers and community members. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Earn your wings

The Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum is partnering with Elevate Academy to open the Wings Aerospace Academy, an online charter school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. ( Denver Post )


The Boulder Valley School District is installing new hardware and increasing its bandwidth to four times its current capacity, a move district officials say is necessary to keep up with the increase in technology use in schools. ( Daily Camera )

back to school

Even though it's early July, hundreds of students at two elementary schools in Harrison School District 2 headed back to school due to a new schedule. ( The Gazette )


HomeDenver and the WestStory DENVER AND THE WEST University of Colorado study links education to lower mortality rates CU study finds that lack of education is as deadly as smoking By Electa Draper The Denver Post POSTED: 07/08/2015 02:33:01 PM MDT4 COMMENTS| UPDATED: ABOUT 5 HOURS AGO Green Valley Ranch High School in Denver Green Valley Ranch High School in Denver (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post ) Lack of education might be as bad for your health as smoking, according to a study by the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ( KUNC )

( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Thousands pack rally to launch Jeffco school board recall effort

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 23:24

GOLDEN — Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed the local fairgrounds Wednesday night to learn what they could do to recall three members of their school board whom they believe are wasting taxpayer dollars, skirting open meeting laws, and disrespecting teachers and community members.

The mood in the barn ranged from curious to outright giddy, with some recall advocates jumping up and down, hugging each other, and dancing to a galvanizing playlist that included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ and Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”

“There’s been a lot of hard work leading up to this moment,” said recall organizer Wendy McCord. “But the fight has just begun.”

Critics of the three board members — Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — began exploring the possibility of a recall almost as soon as the board majority was elected in 2013. The trio was bent on pushing a conservative free-market education reform agenda in Jefferson County, the critics charged.

The intervening 18 months have only solidified their concerns, as some board members sought to censor an Advanced Placement class, approved a charter school linked to a Christian university, and changed the way teachers are paid.

Now, if all goes according to the recall organizers’ plan, Jefferson County voters will get the option to recall Witt, Williams, and Newkirk on this November’s ballot. But as opponents of the recall have pointed out, that plan is far from assured.

Organizers have only a short time to get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot. In the coming weeks, volunteers will canvass neighborhoods, parks, and businesses to round up support, organizers said.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Thousands of Jefferson County residents packed a barn at the local fairgrounds to learn about an effort to recall three of the county’s school board members.

If Wednesday night’s event was any indication, they are likely to find traction.

The crowd of approximately 2,000 included plenty of teachers and parents familiar with the ongoing dustup in Jefferson County, as well as fresh faces and political figures.

It also included many students, who have been a powerful force in lobbying against the board members. Before recall organizers took the stage, students from Jeffco Students for Change led the crowd in chants of “Recall! Recall!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

Not everyone in Jefferson County is excited about the prospect of a recall.

Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First and a supporter of the board majority, said she believes the recall campaign will end up as a waste of time and money.

“For right now, I’m just focusing on highlighting all the great things this board has done,” she said when asked what role her organization might play in defending Witt, Williams, and Newkirk if voters do face a recall choice in November. Atwell raised money for the board majority during the 2013 campaign.

There are signs that the recall effort is mobilizing families who more typically would stay on the sidelines.

Back at the barn, Jeffco Public School parent Loreli Bratton, who will organize petition gathering in Wheat Ridge, said she was initially reluctant to join the recall effort.

“I would much rather be in my garden or reading a book,” she said amid mud and the scent of wet cow manure. “But when people start messing with my child’s education, I’m forced to get involved.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Dozens of young Jefferson County residents ran through the barn and climbed on rails during a campaign rally July 8.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco recall campaign kicks off today

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/08/2015 - 09:54

No Waiver Left Behind

Colorado should be cautiously optimistic about having key changes in its testing system approved by the U.S. Department of Education, according to education policy experts surveyed by Chalkbeat Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Recall Nation

The Jefferson County Clerk on Tuesday OK'd a petition for signatures to launch a recall effort for three conservative board members. ( Denver Post )

The group behind the recall effort, Jeffco United for Action, will hold a kick off campaign today. ( 9News )

Leading the way

Utah could learn a thing or two about public education from Colorado, a foundation report suggests. ( Salt Lake City Tribune )

dollars and sense

The Adams 12 school district has approved a budget that will eliminate a $15 bus fee for students. ( Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel )

Modeling success

As Native American students across the country continue to lag behind their non-Native peers in educational achievement, a small charter school in New Mexico, has found remarkable success in making sure its students graduate. ( Santa Fe New Mexican via The Durango Herald )

Human Resources

Thompson Valley High School's former assistant principal, Tom Texeira, is the district's new head of human resources. ( Reporter Herald )

Two cents

Federal safeguards for disadvantaged students must be part of the rewrite of federal education laws — otherwise children will indeed continue to be left behind, The Denver Post opines. ( Denver Post )

Colorado should adopt more aggressive school choice options so students can have access to high performing private schools like Denver's Arrupe Jesuit, suggests education policy analyst Ross Izard. ( Complete Colorado )

Copy cats

As the Achievement School District in Tennessee completes its third year of operation, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arkansas all appear poised to launch state-run turnaround school districts, with Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Nevada even seeking to copy Tennessee’s “ASD” moniker. ( Chalkbeat Tenessee )

Straight to the top

Here is how one Israeli educator turned around on of the nation's lowest performing schools into one of its top performing. ( NPR via KUNC )

Testing madness

The nation's largest teachers union will support opt-out rights and oppose tests linked to the Common Core standards after a member vote at its national convention. ( Ed Week (Paywall) )

Categories: Urban School News

Experts handicap Colorado’s odds on assessment, accountability changes

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/07/2015 - 16:09

Colorado should be cautiously optimistic about having key changes in its testing system approved by the U.S. Department of Education, according to education policy experts surveyed by Chalkbeat Colorado.

The testing law passed by the 2015 legislature contains several changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system, including a shift in high school standardized testing and a one-year timeout in the rating system for districts and schools.

Such changes require signoff by the U.S. Department of Education as part of Colorado’s overall ESEA Flexibility Request, a state-federal agreement that allows some state practices to vary from those required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as long as Colorado meets the overall goals of that federal law.

The state’s current flexibility agreement is expiring, and state and federal officials are negotiating a new one. Theoretically, federal rejection of Colorado proposals could threaten the state’s overall flexibility plan or could require the legislature to go back to the drawing board on testing in 2016.

“The department is going to be open to listening,” said Michelle Exstrom, a program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But, “It’s hard to know what the department will do,” cautions Kirsten Carr, director of accountability at the Council of Chief State School Officers, a group that represents the nation’s education commissioners.

Since the new state testing law (House Bill 15-1323) passed in May, officials at the Colorado Department of Education have been discussing those changes with their Washington counterparts, trying to get a sense of what will pass muster.

The department will prepare amendment language based on those discussions and present those amendments to the State Board of Education for approval in August, according to Alyssa Pearson, CDE interim associate commissioner of accountability, performance and support.

In an effort to handicap Colorado’s chances, Chalkbeat interviewed several education policy experts around the nation. While cautioning that it’s hard to predict what the federal department will decide, all believe the issues involved are open to negotiation. Here’s what they had to say on the key changes in state testing law.

High school testing

What’s proposed – Federal law requires language arts and math tests be given once in high school, which has been interpreted as during 10th, 11th or 12th grade. Colorado long has given the tests in ninth grade, which isn’t required, and in 10th grade as well. The new law proposes to continue 9th grade testing but to switch to a college and career readiness test like the Accuplacer in 10th grade.

“I don’t think the year of the test would be a sticking point,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president for policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group that focuses on high school improvement.

But, Lovell said, Colorado will need to demonstrate that new 10th grade tests are properly aligned with state academic standards.

Chad Aldeman, associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, agrees that the U.S. DOE will want to know the details of how new tests align with standards and college admissions.

He said “ninth grade tests are potentially a problem.” Bellwether is a Massachusetts-based consulting group.

“I think there are policy arguments Colorado could make here,” said Lee Posey, education committee director in NCSL’s Washington office. “Those are the kind of things the [federal] department might look at.”

Exstrom, who works in NCSL’s Denver headquarters, said, “I think that will be a point where they [state officials] are really going to be negotiating with the Department of Education. She added that “states [like Colorado] that are showing good-faith efforts” on school improvement might be able to make the case for such a testing change.

While optimistic about Colorado’s chances, Lovell did say, “From a policy point of view I find it interesting that the tests would given at the beginning of high school,” when students have just begun their academic careers at that level.

The accountability timeout

What’s proposed – The coming school year will serve as a time-out for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this autumn, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014. The rating system won’t full kick back into operation until the 2017-18 school year.

The experts don’t expect Colorado will have a problem on this issue, given previous statements by Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the need for a time out after states switch tests, which Colorado did last spring.

“The department has shown openness to that in the past,” Exstrom said. “A number of states are in similar situations,” said Lovell. “It’s a logical request.”

Carr and Aldeman agreed, although Aldeman said the department will want assurances that improvement efforts at the lowest-performing schools will continue during the time-out year.

Other issues

Another element of the testing law allows pilot programs through which districts and groups of districts can try out new ways of testing students and holding schools accountable. The goal is that two programs will be chosen from the first group of pilots, and that one of those might eventually become the new state testing and accountability system. This plan will require multiple levels of federal approval.

A limited pilot program is underway in New Hampshire, and “A number of states have been looking” to that state, Exstrom said.

If a program is closely modeled on New Hampshire, and if alternative tests measure the same skills as statewide assessments, “The U.S. Department of Education would be open to that,” she said.

“This certainly will be an important part of negotiations,” said Lovell. “Given the department’s work with New Hampshire, I think there’s a pretty decent chance that Colorado and the department can work something out so that the pilot could be part of the plan.”

Aldeman noted that the department set “a pretty high bar” for New Hampshire and that “Colorado would have to meet a similarly high bar.”

Colorado also is proposing changes in testing of some English language learners and not using English language arts scores of ELL students who have been in the U.S. for fewer than two years as part of school and district accountability calculations.

“This is an area a number of states are exploring,” Exstrom said. “I don’t have a good sense of what their reaction will be,” said added, referring to federal officials.

(See this Chalkbeat story to learn more about these issues and about additional parts of the testing law that don’t require federal sign-off.)

Will Colorado get points for good behavior?

Some of the experts cited Colorado’s record on education reform as a point in its favor.

“Colorado has been a leader,” said Carr, adding that the department may lean toward proposals from states that are being “thoughtful” about their accountability systems.

“I think there’s room aroind the edges for a state that is really trying to make a good faith effort,” said Exstrom. “The department is going to open to listening.”

Congress may change the rules

The flexibility agreements held by Colorado and many other states are commonly called “waivers” because they are DOE-approved exemptions from some provisions of the ESEA.

The department started issuing waivers in 2011 because of congressional failure to update ESEA. But the issue is back on the front burner in Congress, where both the House and Senate are debating bills this week.

Increased flexibility for states is part of the measures before Congress, so the landscape could change significantly if lawmakers come to agreement.

“A lot of these questions could be answered by passage of the ESEA reauthorization,” Lovell said. “There’s a decent likelihood of that happening,” he added. “It may not be this calendar year, but there’s a decent possibility of it happening early into next year. … It has the best chance of passing that it has in a really long time.”

Categories: Urban School News

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