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UPDATED: Denver board agrees to close Trevista middle school

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/29/2015 - 15:45

Updated after school board meeting, January 29, 7 p.m.

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a plan to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. The school will continue to house an early childhood education program and an elementary school.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole dissenting vote. Jimenez said that while he approved of the plan to have separate elementary and middle school programs, he was disappointed that the planning process had begun so late in the school year.

At a special school board meeting, current principal La Dawn Baity, assistant principal Jesus Rodriguez, and Laura Brinkman, the director of the district’s West Denver Network that includes Trevista told board members that they had considered phasing out the middle school or delaying the closure for year, but had decided a prompt closure would be better for students.

Baity, Brinkman, and Martinez said that the decision was driven by financial, not academic, reasons. Though the school has alternated between the two lowest rankings on the state accountability system, it had the highest student growth scores in northwest Denver last year and has seen improved student attendance in recent years.

Jimenez said that the district has been aware of declining enrollment near Trevista for several years but just began working with the school to plan for the closure earlier this month. He suggested delaying the vote until the February board meeting, saying he believed the process “would have been done differently if it had occurred in southeast or central Denver,” both more affluent parts of the city.

The district is planning to create a committee in northwest Denver focused on long-term goals for school facility use in that part of the city. That committee has not yet met.

Original story starts below:

The Denver school board will vote tonight at a special meeting on a plan to close the middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, a school in the northwest part of the city that currently houses early childhood, elementary, and middle schools students.

The vote comes just a day before the district’s school choice applications are due. Families of students enrolled at Trevista have been granted an extension until Feb. 6.

La Dawn Baity, who has been Trevista’s principal for three years, said that the decision is being driven by financial considerations, as the school’s middle grades enrollment bring insufficient funds to cover the staff the school needs. “We’re feeling sad because it’s a loss, to our school and to our community,” Baity said. “But the middle school was no longer really viable.”

The plan for Trevista comes after several district programs serving elementary, middle school, and early childhood students have been separated into distinct elementary and middle schools. “The very strong growth in our middle schools has meant in some cases over the last several years that E-8 school communities have recommended changing back to E-5 elementaries, and we have accepted those recommendations,” said district superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg said the district would also continue to have and support E-8 programs.

If the board approves the plan, Trevista would remain open in 2015-16 as a K-5 school with an early childhood program. Middle school-aged students zoned to attend the school will be guaranteed a spot at Strive Sunnyside, a charter school, or Skinner Middle School. Students enrolled in Trevista’s Transitional Native Language Instruction program for English language learners will attend a similar program at Bryant Webster. The district would provide transportation.

Baity said the school had been using per-pupil funds technically allotted to the school’s elementary school students to cover middle school programs and staff. The school’s middle school population has hovered between 120 and 140, but Baity said the school really needed closer to 200 students to fund a robust program. Overall enrollment at Trevista has dropped from 637 in 2010-11 to 514 this year.

Requirements for teachers working with English learners at the school had added a layer of complexity. Baity said finding teachers with the right mix of skills had proved to be a challenge. “We’re a turnaround school. We needed top teachers,” she said. “But we couldn’t get the best teachers in every content area and also have bilingual teachers.”

She said this was harder at the middle-school level than in elementary school. Some 45 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and 90 percent of those speak Spanish.

Because of the lack of Spanish-English bilingual teachers in the school’s middle school, DPS and school officials decided earlier this fall to move a native-language program for Spanish-speaking English language learners to Bryant Webster, according to DPS chief schools officer Susana Cordova. But that meant the school would have even fewer middle schoolers in coming years and would be even more financially strapped.

“That took an enrollment of 140 down to 120,” Baity said. “And on a student-based budget like DPS has—Well, it’s a great way to fund schools but when you lose 20 students, we couldn’t fund the teachers, the programs, the counselors, everything that a middle school needs.”

Baity and Cordova said they were not sure yet what would happen to the empty space left in the building.

In the fall, a group of parents known as the Sunnyside Education Committee had asked the district to move the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley Elementary building to create a neighborhood elementary school. The Smedley building is now slotted to hold the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School.

After learning of the plans to close Trevista’s middle school, the Sunnyside committee sent an email to the district again requesting that Trevista’s elementary program be moved into the Smedley building. A district representative replied that the district planned to wait until it had heard from a working group of community members in Northwest before making major changes.

Baity said Trevista students had taken field trips to the schools they would be zoned to attend next year and that other schools had also reached out to students and families. The principal at Skinner Middle School said her staff would welcome the students and has already created already had a transition plan for them.

The school’s seven middle school teachers are not guaranteed placements at other schools. Baity herself is leaving the school this year, in a move she said was unrelated to the plans and announced before the current closing was planned, and will be replaced by Rodriguez, currently an assistant principal at the school.

The board vote will take place at a special meeting, which includes a public comment session, at 5 p.m.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the superintendent’s comments about the district’s approach to E-8 schools.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Quazzo defended, Urban Prep to DC, teacher pension woes

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 01/29/2015 - 09:14

Election season made for a relatively quiet, lightly attended CPS Board of Education meeting Wednesday, save for a touch of the lingering drama surrounding board member Deborah Quazzo’s business interests. A few speakers joined Chicago Teachers Union representatives to call for Quazzo’s resignation, following up on a rally held outside the board member’s office a day earlier. Last month the Sun-Times reported on central office and schools purchasing of software and other technology in which Quazzo’s company had invested.

Board members took turns defending their colleague and repudiating the accusations against her. Mahalia Hines may have gone the furthest of all of them, likening the calls for Quazzo’s resignation to a “character assassination” that activists are trying to “smear across the front pages.” Quazzo kept mum the entire time.

Another highlight was a cameo appearance by Cook County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy’ Garcia, who spoke out against CPS’s “self-defeating fight with the Department of Justice” over alleged discrimination against pregnant teachers at Scammon Elementary School.

2. Urban Prep to D.C. Chicago’s only all-male charter school network is expanding to the nation’s capital. The Washington Post reports on plans to open a new Urban Prep Academy campus as part of a $20 million investment in new support programs for black and Latino males.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the decision has “everything to do with ‘mathematics.’ Black and Latino boys make up 43 percent of the students enrolled in D.C. public schools. By almost any measure — reading and math scores, attendance and graduation rates — their performance is lagging.”

Urban Prep’s CEO and founder Tim King (a former classmate of Henderson from Georgetown University) had been weighing several possible cities to branch out to last year. In a statement, King said that “after an extensive national review process of school districts for Urban Prep to expand to, it's clear that DC is the right place.”

3. Growing pension woes … Debt amassed by teacher pension funds nationally has ballooned to nearly half a trillion dollars, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Illinois has amassed the second-largest debt, with nearly $56 billion liability owed. What’s more, only 41 percent of the Illinois’s pension system is funded, by far a lower rate than any other state in the union.

The report, titled “Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers,” gave Illinois a C grade in its state-by-state pension report card. A big reason for the subpar rating was the fact that it takes 10 years on the job before Illinois teachers can start vesting for retirement. The report’s authors say teachers’ funds should begin to accrue after their third year on the job. Additionally, the report noted, a mind-boggling 76 percent of employers’ annual contribution to teacher pensions goes toward paying down the debt, instead of collecting in their retirement funds.

4. Not friendly to charters? A pro-charter school group ranks Illinois among in the bottom half of states when comparing which states have the most favorable laws for charter schools. It ranks 29th out of 43 states (including the District of Columbia) with charter school laws, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ sixth annual report. Eight states don’t have laws regarding charter schools so are not included in the rankings.

Todd Ziebarth, one of the report’s authors, says the Illinois rankings reflect a tumultuous year of charter legislation -- including failed proposals to eliminate the state’s independent charter school authorizer and to change the appeals process for charter school applicants that are denied by local school boards.

“In 2014 we saw an aggressive effort in the Illinois Legislature to go after charter schools and weaken charter laws, and they largely failed, but some improvements came out of the back-and-forth,” says Ziebarth. “We saw the state make some improvements to increase transparency around relationships between charter governing boards and charter providers, shining light on potential conflicts of interest.”

It’ll be interesting to see how charter school law changes under the leadership of Gov. Bruce Rauner, an ardent supporter of the publicly funded but privately run schools.

5. More money for STEM programming … Citizen Schools, a national not-for-profit organization that provides afterschool STEM programming to four middle schools in the South Side, announced a $1.5 million corporate donation that will help it boost its programs across the city and nationally. The 20-year-old organization operates programs in low-achieving public schools across the country, but this is only its third year running in Chicago. Bryce Bowman, executive director of Citizen Schools’ Illinois division, said he hopes to use the grant from the Biogen Idec Foundation to offer programs at an additional one or two schools in the city’s South or West Side.

The afterschool programs are mandatory for all enrolled students at schools hosting Citizen Schools, which invites technicians from corporations like Google and United Airlines to give hands-on lessons in STEM subjects. Bowman said the hosting schools boast NWEA improvement scores that were twice the district average, and that 92 percent of participating families report a positive impact on their child’s academic performance. CPS, Bowman said, has given the program tremendous feedback and “would like [them] to expand even faster than [they] already are.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Nation’s per-pupil spending continues to decline

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 01/29/2015 - 08:59

Manual reset

Denver's Manual High School is about undergo another in a long series of transformations. All previous reboot attempts since court-ordered busing ended in 1996 have ended in failure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

testing testing

Legislators quickly got into the weeds on testing Wednesday after receiving a new report on the issue, previewing future debates on the amount of testing, equity, parent opt out and a host of other issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, The Denver Post )

And here are some details on the testing panel recommendations ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Consensus, by George!

Plans to open the International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School to more students have taken a major step forward, without the controversy that has engulfed similar efforts in the past. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Starry night

Colorado Springs' District 11 will shutter the nine-year-old STAR Academy for poor academic performance, the school board decided Wednesday night. ( The Gazette )

Spending down

After more than a decade of increases in per-pupil funding for K-12 public schools, the nation’s per-pupil spending dropped in 2012 for the second year in a row, according to data released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics. ( The Washington Post )

Sex abuse education?

A bill being debated at the Colorado state Capitol would teach children as young as five about sexual abuse. Some lawmakers call it the biggest public health issue that no one is talking about. ( CBS4 )

Categories: Urban School News

Manual High School’s next leader to be named, advisory panel behind career education option

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 21:16

Denver school officials will solidify the direction of the district’s neediest high school in the coming weeks when they introduce the next principal at Manual High School. But some parents and community members aren’t sure they’ll be part of the welcome wagon.

Manual parents and community members met with two finalists, Nickolas Dawkins and Robert Kelly Jr., Monday evening. The candidates will meet with Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg next week for a final interview.

Meanwhile, a community committee assembled to advise Denver Public Schools officials on how to move the school forward has issued its final report.

The committee, made up of Manual alumni, parents, staff, and community members, has endorsed a career and technical program where students can earn biomedical training and certificates.

Some committee members also stressed their hope, despite Manual’s low enrollment, the school will continue to offer a comprehensive education to students that includes music and the arts.

“We feel like the Manual of today is strong, is moving in a wonderful direction, has a lot of momentum,” said Karen Mortimer, a member of the committee and DPS parent. “It’s not a school that needs to be unplugged. It’s a school that needs to be supported in its continued excellence.”

Yet as the next chapter for Manual is coming into focus, some community members and parents are raising concerns about the principal candidates qualifications and how the school’s new biomedical career track.

About the finalists

Dawkins is principal at Hamilton Middle School in Denver. Kelly is an assistant principal at Overland High School in Aurora.

Dawkins grew up in Denver, graduated from East High School, and later taught English at South High School.

In 2009, he was an administrative intern at Thomas Jefferson High School as part of the University of Denver’s Ritchie Program for School Leaders.

He then spent two years as a principal in residence at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College as part of the district’s leadership program, Learn to Lead.

Since 2012, he has been the principal at Hamilton Middle School, which has about 900 students.

According to Dawkin’s resume, he managed a $4.1 million budget, launched a program that gave every student a laptop, and raised the school’s performance rating to green, a status that indicates the school is meeting the district’s expectations.

Kelly is a graduate for the University Of Alaska-Anchorage. He began teaching physical education in Anchorage in 1995. He also coached a variety of sports teams including wrestling, track, football, and soccer.

According to his resume, he moved to Colorado in 2006 to become the athletic director and assistant principal at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County.

In 2007, Kelly moved to the Cherry Creek School District to become an assistant principal at Overland High School, which has more than 2,000 students. There he took a role in instruction and teacher evaluations. He has also been the school’s assessment coordinator. He developed an intervention program for at-risk students. And he launched two leadership programs for male students.

Both Hamilton and Overland are racially diverse schools. About half the students at both schools qualify for federally-subsidized lunches. Manual’s population is predominately black or Latino. Nearly three-fourths of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Neither Dawkins nor Kelly responded to requests for interviews.

Not afraid of the spotlight

A lot of hard work awaits Manual’s next leader. It is the city’s lowest performing high school.

Not only will the new principal need to drastically boost student achievement and roll out a new program intended to help students develop expertise in the medical field, he’ll also need to win over students, parents, faculty, district officials, and a fiercely protective group of alumni and community supporters.

At times, those constituencies haven’t seen eye-to-eye.

“We’re looking for someone who has the right skills to engage and engender buy in of community,” said Susana Cordova, Denver’s chief schools officer. “We’re looking for someone who is able to articulate and build on vision for the school and do that in collaboration with stakeholders. We’re looking for someone who is not afraid to be in the spotlight.”

Manual has been a hotbed of reform efforts since the mid-1990s. In 2006, the school was shut down for a year when Denver Public Schools attempted to reboot Manual, which sits in a historically black northeast portion of Denver. The reform efforts led by then-Superintendent Michael Bennet, now the state’s senior U.S. senator, was subject of a New Yorker profile.

While test scores improved for a short time, a leadership transition in 2010 meant a slip in academic rigor and culture. In 2014, then-principal Brian Dale was fired after he overspent the school’s budget by more than $600,000 without improving test results. Don Roy, a Denver middle school principal was named as Dale’s successor and charged with steadying the school. Roy’s tenure will end at the conclusion of the school year.

DPS officials announced this fall they were searching for a new principal at Manual High School. The news came as the district abandoned a plan to merge Manual with nearby East High School.

Cordova said whomever the district chooses to lead Manual will be working closely with his direct supervisor to ensure the school’s culture and academic rigor — which reportedly have been improving under Roy — don’t backslide. The district, she said, has put an emphasis on coaching not just teachers, but principals as well.

Some in the Manual community are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming leadership transition.

“Manual has been screwed a lot — starting with those boundary lines — but I feel like the district is taking a little more ownership,” said Lainie Hodges, a Manual alumni who served on the Manual Thought Partner committee.

Processing the process

Not all members of the Manual committee are convinced DPS has turned over a new leaf when it comes to Manual. A vocal group of parents who share a strong bond with former Manual assistant principal Vernon Jones, whose contract was not renewed this fall, have been raising concerns about how DPS has positioned Manual for the future.

Parent Courtney Torres, a member of the community advisory group, said she left the committee because she felt the process was only for show.

“From my point of view, [my participation] wasn’t beneficial for me or my students,” Torres said.

She also took offense to DPS suggesting a program to track students into the medical careers and not college.

“I think the reason I chose Manual was because it was a college prep,” Torres said. “It’s oxymoronic to call Manual a college prep school and offer [career programs]. College prep is when you’re preparing students to think critically, to learn with books, to engage in conversation. But when you track kids into giving kids medical assistance and technician certificates — that’s the opposite of college prep.”

Both Mortimer and Cordova stressed the biomedical track, which will be paid in part by a grant from the Kaiser Foundation, will be optional.

Parent Jason Janz said he is concerned that Monday’s parent meeting with the principal finalists appeared to be thrown together at the last minute with little notice to parents. He also expressed concern the candidates were not asked demanding questions.

“Both [candidates] are very likable individuals,” Janz said. “They’re passionate about education. But as a community, we only had 20 minutes to hear them talk. The questions were all scripted — I call them, ‘do you like children questions.'”

District officials did send out a letter announcing the forum. But the date was changed due to a scheduling conflict one of the candidates had. A district spokesman said three automated phone calls were placed alerting parents to the change in time. The district also posted notices on the school’s Facebook page.

Hodges, who helped organize the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, disagreed with some of Janz’s claims.

“Any rumor that hardball questions weren’t asked is just wrong,” she said.

Audience members were asked only to submit questions that both candidates could respond do. Participants were also able to ask both candidates individual questions afterward for about 45 minutes, she said.

Janz also said he is uneasy about the candidates’ qualifications: Neither has been a principal at a high school before.

“If you think every assistant principal is cut out to be a principal, you probably also think Sarah Palin or Joe Biden could run this country,” Janz said.

Cordova, DPS’s chief school officer, wouldn’t respond directly to those concerns, but said she had faith in the hiring process that included input and a review of applicants by multiple groups including Manual’s Collaborative School Committee, a formal body made up of parents, teachers, and community members.

Categories: Urban School News

Task force report kicks off legislative testing debates

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 20:32

Legislators quickly got into the weeds on testing Wednesday after receiving a new report on the issue, previewing future debates on the amount of testing, equity, parent opt out and a host of other issues.

The Standards and Assessments Task Force, created by the 2014 legislature, presented its final 25-page report to the House and Senate education committees Wednesday morning. The group is recommending significant cutbacks in high school testing and some reductions and streamlining of K-3 tests and evaluations. (See this article for more details on the recommendations and the links in the box below for the full report and appendices.)

Testing is expected to be the top education issue of the 2015 session. While the main recommendations of the task force report have been known for some time, the official release seemed to focus legislators’ attention and sparked nearly three hours of questions to and dialogue with task force members. The Capitol’s new second-floor hearing room was packed with a crowd of well over 100 for the report’s release, although the audience thinned considerably as the discussion wore on.

Here are some snapshots of the discussion on key issues.

Equity and tracking student progress

A key concern for some education interest groups is whether reduction of testing will make it harder to gather the annual data on student academic growth that reform groups say is necessary to track the progress of at-risk and minority students.

Several Democratic lawmakers asked about the issue.

Task force member Lisa Escarcega said, “There are other growth models out there” and that growth data is more important in earlier grades than in high school. She’s the chief accountability and research officer for the Aurora Public Schools.

“This discussion we’re having now is at the crux of the difficulty the task force was having,” said member Bill Jaeger, vice president for early childhood at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “The question is what do we give up when we go down that road” of reducing testing.

Learn more

Testing cost study done for task force

Jaeger said while new ways of measuring growth through local testing systems are on the horizon, “We’re not there yet. … The challenge is that it is not a flip of a switch, it is a system change.”

High school testing

The task force recommends that mandatory state tests be eliminated in 11th and 12th grades, and part of the group wanted to eliminate 9th grade tests as well.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, asked about that, saying, “It seems a little bit to me like turning off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter” and it’s important to have data on high school academic growth.

Task force chair Dan Snowberger said the group heeded public input on the issue, which was critical of high school testing. Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango schools.

In his opening remarks, Snowberger said, “The current system is hugely burdensome. … We’re hoping this report will give you traction to do something to reduce the pressure on our schools.”

John Creighton, a St. Vrain board member, said, “You try to take the one that makes the most sense to reduce,” and that was high school tests.

“I think there are valid arguments on both sides,” said Johnston.

State and local tests

The task force made no recommendations about local school and district tests, although Snowberger cautioned lawmakers about trying to limit local testing. “We want to recognize that as a local control issue.”

There were several lawmaker questions on the issue, and task force members emphasized the value teachers put on the usefulness of local tests in helping guide classroom instruction.

Social studies

The task force’s recommendation to end all 12th grade tests would in effect eliminate that social studies test, but the group made no further recommendation on that exam. It was split on whether to continue or eliminate social studies tests in 4th and 7th grades.

Snowberger said, “All of us recognize that social studies has a high value” but in the overall context of testing he felt it was worth taking a “pause” on social studies. Creighton agreed.

Parent opt-out

The ability of parents to opt their children out of testing is a top concern for some parent groups and Republican legislators.

The task force recommended that the state create an accountability “timeout” for the 2015-16 school year in case significant numbers of students don’t take tests this spring. (Districts’ accreditation ratings can be lowered if fewer than 95 percent of students take state tests.) The group also recommended that the state provide clear information to parents about the impacts of opting out.

Bethany Drosendahl, a Colorado Springs parent, was the only task force member who dissented from the report and didn’t sign the document.

“Parents have a right to refuse. We are not asking for that right. We already have it,” she told legislators.

Drosendahl also said she supports broad district testing flexibility because it’s “the best way for accommodating the vast variety of individual learners.”

Snowberger said final agreement by the group went down to the wire, including lengthy conference calls last Friday and on Sunday evening, when Drosendahl indicated she couldn’t sign on to the final report. He added, “Until everyone signed this morning, I could not have told you everyone was in agreement.”

Future reforms

The task force’s recommendations are based on the conclusion, as the report puts it, that options for changing the system are “severely restricted by the current federal testing requirements.”

The group didn’t address the issue of what could be done if those requirements change until its second-to-the last meeting. “We just didn’t have time to come to consensus,” Snowberger said.

So the panel’s “long-term recommendations are questions,” as member Syna Morgan put it. She’s chief academic officer of the Jeffco schools.

She added, “We believe there is an opportunity to have common ground” on a future testing system that’s much more flexible for districts and students. “It’s going to be challenging, but we believe we can get there.”

Where lawmakers go from here

Five testing bills have so far been introduced in the 2015 sessions.

There are two Democratic bills in the Senate, one that would reduce testing to federal minimum requirements and one to cut back on social studies testing.

Three Republican bills in the House are more comprehensive and propose various combinations of testing cuts, a withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards and PARCC tests, and greater district flexibility in assessments.

Hearings aren’t likely until mid-February and there’s also talk of a bipartisan bill on testing only, although nothing definite has surfaced.

What others are saying

Education advocacy groups reacted quickly to the report. A group of nine reform and business-related groups led by Colorado Succeeds issued a statement saying, “Colorado’s students spend too much time taking tests, and our state needs to address this problem. … Legislators should respect the opinions of the experts who were entrusted with this task.”

Colorado Children’s Campaign CEO Chris Watney issued a separate statement, saying. “We believe the recommendations strike the right balance.”

And the Colorado Education Association issued a lengthy statement expressing teacher concerns about testing and – without details – calling for “testing solutions beyond task force recommendations.”

Union spokesman Mike Wetzel said, “Teachers, parents, and students want more than what was recommended today. Just as we worked with this task force, we’ll partner with legislators to explore what we can do together to lessen the testing burden and return time and resources to classroom instruction.”

Categories: Urban School News

Revamp of George Washington IB, other programs progresses without past rancor

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 15:06

Plans to open the International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School to more students have taken a major step forward, a committee planning the changes reported Tuesday night.

Although some IB parents and teachers expressed vehement opposition to the plan when it was first floated by Denver Public Schools last spring, consensus is building at the school that major changes to the school’s programming can work for all students, members of the One George steering committee told a crowd of about 100 people in the school’s auditorium.

Read the One George report here.

“We set out to develop pathways that would lead students to college prep, AP, or IB, keeping in mind that we wanted to keep IB intact as a world class opportunity for study but to beef up some of the other programs so they’d have an equivalent level of rigor,” said Suzanne Geimer, George Washington’s long-time IB coordinator.

The consensus plan to revamp the school’s programs represents a marked departure for the school, where a succession of earlier attempts to open the IB program to more students over the years dissipated under intense parental opposition.

For almost 30 years, the IB program at GW has educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges. The rigorous four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, and interviews. Freshman and sophomore students in the program take “pre-IB” courses to prepare them for the rigors of the IB Diploma Program, which spans grades 11 and 12 and whose curriculum is set by an international organization.

The school also has non-IB classes, including an Advanced Placement program, which has had a less-than-stellar reputation. On Tuesday, two student speakers described the separation they noticed between IB students and those in non-IB classes.

Under the One George plan, the 9th- and 10-grade Pre-Baccalaureate program would be opened to “qualified” students without any application process. And to gain admission to the IB Diploma Programme, students are “advised” but not necessarily required, as they were in the past, to take a full compliment of Pre-Baccalaureate courses.

The One George plan also includes efforts to build unity in the school and improve student support.

Jose Martinez, named interim principal last summer after former principal Micheal Johnson became a lightning rod for parent discontent over the proposed changes, will stay on for another year to oversee implementation of the changes.

“We recognized early on that in order to achieve our stated goals, [Martinez] agreeing to stay was very important,” said Todd Mackintosh, a GW parent and member of the steering committee. He said Martinez had brought “a sense of optimism and years of experience” to his role. Martinez was a principal coach, leader of diversity programs, and principal in the Jeffco school district before coming to George.

DPS leadership approved the plan earlier this winter. A number of task forces focused on school culture, leadership, the content of the new pathways, and student-centered learning will meet over the course of the next few months.

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force report, recommendations released

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 13:51

Here are highlights of the recommendations made by the Standards and Assessments Task Force to a meeting of the House and Senate education committees on Jan. 28. (Read the full report here.)


Task force members agreed that testing has several values and uses. “However findings from research studies and public input made it clear that Colorado’s current system of state and local assessments has created far too many demands on time, logistics, and finances that are impacting the teaching and learning process in schools and undermining public support for the assessment system as a whole.”

The panel’s conclusion “is that, where possible, changes must be made to the type, frequency, and use of various assessments.”

The report noted that the state’s ability to change the testing system is “severely restricted by the current federal testing requirements.” In the short term, “the state must adhere to these federal requirements in order to avoid the fiscal and other consequences of non-compliance.”

High school
  • Eliminate state-require tests in 12th grade
  • Eliminate 11th grade tests except for a college entrance exam like ACT. Make language arts and math an option for districts
  • Fulfill high school science testing requirement with an augmented college entrance exam
  • Consider whether to continue 9th grade testing (task force split)
  • Consider whether to continue social studies in 4th and 7th grades (task force split)
  • Continue language arts and science tests in the 10th grade, as well as in 3-8
  • Schools and districts shouldn’t be held accountable for test results in 2015-16 school year
  •  Kindergarten students should be able to take the first literacy assessments within 90 days of start of school, rather than immediately
  • A student who’s proficient on first test shouldn’t have to take further tests during the school year
  • A student who doesn’t show grade-level proficiency on the first test should be tested again within 60 days before being designated as having a significant reading deficiency
School readiness
  • Reduction to six in the number of learning domains assessed
  • Assessment should be given only at beginning or year, not three times
  • Kindergarten students shouldn’t have to take both readiness and READ Act tests
  • Schools shouldn’t have to develop separate readiness and READ plans for the same child
  • State should continue to expand choices for readiness and literacy evaluations
ACCESS tests
  • English language learners in a Colorado school for less than a year shouldn’t have to take English language arts tests
  • Their second-year test results shouldn’t be used for accountability purposes
  • Availability of pencil and paper tests at all levels beginning in 2015-16
  • Consider additional funding to districts for costs of test-related technology
Future changes in testing
  • The task force recommended creation of a long-term advisory board to work on testing issues. The report suggested that group should consider:
  • Balance of state and local testing
  • The use of state tests for accountability and student growth and whether local testing can be used for part of these purposes
  • The amount of flexibility local districts should have in choice of tests
  • Handling of parent opt out and how should it affect accountability
  • The extent to which paper and online tests can be balanced in the future

One of the 15 members, parent representative Bethany Rosendahl of Colorado Springs, dissented from the report. She told committee members she believes districts and schools should have greater flexibility in choosing tests and that parents have the right to opt out of testing.

Get more information on the task force and its work here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Crowded Jeffco elementary schools spur changes

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:52

Graduation By the numbers

A variety of college-prep and career-training programs are driving a jump in graduation numbers at Sheridan High, school officials said. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But school officials in Sterling, where the dropout rate increased, are concerned they don't have enough alternative options for students who leave school. ( Journal-Advocate )

But how complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools? Tell us and we'll share your answer on Friday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No room at the Inn

Crowded elementary schools in Lakewood are forcing Jeffco Public Schools to rethink which programs should be in which buildings. ( Denver Post )

For good measure

Another school district — Steamboat Springs — will ask the state for a waiver from this spring's testing. Meanwhile, the attorney general still hasn't issued a formal opinion on the matter. ( Steamboat Today )

Decisions, decisions

Colorado Springs' Academy District 20 and District 49 led the region in the number of students who choice in. ( KOAA )

Meanwhile, Colorado dropped one spot on a national survey of state's and charter school laws. We're now ranked No. 6. ( Gazette )

parochial problems

Some rural Catholic schools are struggling to keep enrollment up, while others have an iPad for every student. ( 9News )

Two cents

Parents should reach out to local school boards in support of standardized comprehensive sex education policies. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

At Sheridan High School, an all-in approach to boost graduation rates

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 22:36

SHERIDAN — When Makayla Joe stopped showing up for school last year, one of her best friends begged her to return.

Joe’s friend, then a fellow junior at Sheridan High School, even threatened to stop attending class herself if Joe didn’t come back.

That didn’t make any sense to Joe. But the threat worked. Joe soon was back in her seat at Sheridan High where school administrators recruited her into a program that took her to a college campus last summer and showed her how to prepare for college.

“Everyone has motivated me to be my best,” Joe said, Tuesday. “They’ve shown me there is always another step for me to take to make myself a better person.”

It’s that sort of communal support — along with a growing variety of college-prep programs — that Sheridan School District officials point to as the driving force behind a doubling of its on-time graduation rate during the last three years.

In 2012, just three out of every 10 students who began high school in 2008 graduated from either Sheridan High or the district’s alternative high school, SOAR Academy. In 2014, six out of every 10 students who began high school in 2010 graduated from one of the tiny district’s high schools. (Sheridan High enrolled 377 students, most of whom are poor and Latino, during the 2013-14 school year. SOAR had just 147.)

According to 2014 graduation data released last week by the state, 80 percent of seniors who attended Sheridan High School, just south of Denver, completed their high school coursework in four years. That’s up from 60 percent the previous year.

“These numbers are a testament to what is happening at our high school,” said Michael Clough, Sheridan’s superintendent. “It’s also evidence of the quality of the learning coming up through our entire system.”

Sheridan has so few students that the graduation rate can move significantly with just a handful more students graduating on time. Each graduating class has fewer than 100 students. That means if the school graduates just a few more students than the year before, the numbers grow at a faster rate than at a larger school.

Talk to us
Chalkbeat’s question of the week asks: How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools? Answer here.

School officials have used the small student population to their advantage.

“We know all our kids,” said Michele Kelley, Sheridan High’s principal. “This is there safe haven. This is where they are getting their needs met.”

Among Sheridan High’s efforts to move more students toward college and career: an extended day that affords students an hour of intervention services if they fall behind, a redesign of the district’s summer school program, and a new elective that focuses on the academic and social skills students will need for college.

Sheridan High also requires students to take four years of math, including one taught by an instructor from a community college. Students must pass each math class with at least a 70 percent or repeat the course before they can graduate.

“The question we always ask ourselves is ‘does the student have the skills they need to do what they want to do?'” Kelley said. “If they don’t, they stay here.”

The school also partners with a variety of nonprofits and federal programs including College Summit, Upward Bound, and TRIO, to prepare them for college life.

Graduation rates in Colorado do come with a warning: Just because more students are graduating doesn’t mean they are all prepared for college or career. Individual school districts, not the state, determine the requirements for graduation. Those requirements can vary widely.

Other factors that illustrate the rigor of a high school’s course of study include the graduating class’ composite ACT score, the number of students who are eligible for and enroll in college courses while in high school, and their college remediation rates.

Sheridan’s graduating class of 2014 had a composite ACT score of 16.14, about three points behind the state average of 19.68. And it will be several years before the state will release either the number of Sheridan students who concurrently enrolled in a college course or how many students who needed remediation at a Colorado college.

However, Sheridan High officials said each year more high school students are becoming eligible to take college level courses.

Twenty-seven students, or about a fourth of the the graduating class of 2014, scored high enough on a third-party exam to be able to enroll in courses at Arapahoe Community College. Meanwhile, 39 students in the graduating class of 2015 have done so.

While the graduation numbers are accurate, Sheridan’s graduation rate — and whether it means more students are prepared for life after high school — is further complicated by an appeal the district made to the State Board of Education last year.

The district, which has been on the state’s watch list for poor academic performance and may face state interventions next year, asked the state board to reconsider the district’s accreditation rating, claiming the district’s schools were meeting the state’s expectations.

The crux of Sheridan’s argument last year was that it had students enrolled for a fifth, sixth or seventh year of high school who were concurrently enrolled at both its high school and Arapahoe Community College. Those students had met the qualifications for a standard diploma, but were seeking an advanced “21st Century Diploma” that required additional college courses. Sheridan officials believed those students should have counted toward its overall graduation rate.

The state board, taking the advice of CDE staff, disagreed.

Clough, the district’s superintendent, said his staff was working with CDE to ensure the advance diploma’s legitimacy and that for the time being, the community college is overseeing the district’s concurrent enrollment program.

Meanwhile, he said he’s hopeful the high school’s higher graduation rate will boost his district’s official rating enough next year to stave off the state from imposing sanctions.

“I’m a lot less worried about [the state] then I was a year ago,” Clough said.

The district will learn its next rating in the spring of 2016.

As for Joe, the senior who almost gave up her junior year, she hopes to attend Fort Lewis College after graduating to become a pharmacist.

But before she goes she has to finish one extra year of math.

“I want to be ready to go to college,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Marketing plays a growing role in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 10:16

School choice

As the city's school choice system evolves, DPS and charter schools are employing marketing specialists to tell their schools' stories. ( Denver Post )

Little Ones

A House panel passed funding increases for kindergarten and preschool, but it's unclear just where the money will go. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Show what you know

The idea of a "competency-based degree" is increasingly popular. ( KUNC )

Stay Fit

Students at Aspen Academy are taking a 90-day fitness challenge. ( 9 News )

Onward and Upward

Peak to Peak Charter School in Boulder has raised funds to provide scholarships for its college-bound seniors. ( Daily Camera )


9 News spotlights an online learning academy in Douglas County that's expanding its offline programming. ( 9 News )

Cloud Ceilings

Students contributed design ideas for a new school building in Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

Always on My Mind

Aurora state representatives are concerned about student loan burdens, state testing. ( Aurora Sentinel )

What's in a name?

In Louisiana, providing funding for promising minority students to help boost their IQ scores and get them into gifted programs. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Panel passes kindergarten, preschool funding bills, but divisions remain

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 23:18

The House Education Committee on Monday passed two bills intended to increase funding for both preschool and full-day kindergarten, but the discussion highlighted differences over which program should have the highest priority.

House Bill 15-1020, a measure that would increase state financial support of full-day kindergarten, passed 10-1, with only one Republican voting no. But House Bill 15-1024, which would provide more funding for the Colorado Preschool Program, only passed on a 6-5 party-line vote, with majority Democrats on the winning side.

The two issues consumed much of a hearing that lasted more than six hours.

The primary impact of the committee votes is to keep the ideas alive. The real decisions on the two proposals will come much later in the legislative session, when lawmakers wrestle with and finally decide the broader issue of school funding for 2015-16.

The kindergarten proposal would cost $236 million, while the preschool plan adds up to $11.3 million, according to initial estimates by legislative staff.

Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a retired superintendent from Salida, has made a crusade of increasing kindergarten funding.

The state provides districts with .58 percent of full per-pupil funding for each kindergarten student. “As a state we claim to have a K-12 system. We do not. We have a .58 system,” Wilson told the committee.

A majority of Colorado’s 178 districts offer full-day kindergarten, but they pay for it themselves or, in some cases, charge tuition. “We have a K-12 system only because the districts are footing the bill,” Wilson said, adding that districts spend $207 million on full-day kindergarten.

If the state picked up the tab, districts could use that $207 million for other educational needs, including preschool, he argued.

Three witnesses supported the bill – two school superintendents from Wilson’s district and Bill Jaeger, lobbyist for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which is a strong supporter of the preschool bill.

Jaeger supported the kindergarten measure but in a nuanced way. “We encourage you to think about a long-term strategy to implement the goals of Rep. Wilson’s bill.”

Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, was the only no vote on the kindergarten bill.

The discussion took a different turn on HB 15-1024, whose funding would allow expansion of the Colorado Preschool Program from 28,360 students to 31,360. The program primarily serves four-year-olds who meet a specific definition of being at-risk. The program is offered both through schools and non-profit groups.

“The funding for this program has not kept pace with the need,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

There are a couple of fault lines on this issue, which cropped up during committee discussion.

On one side, Wilson argues that school districts should be able to choose whether to devote state early childhood money to preschool or to full-day kindergarten, depending on their individual needs. A 2014 increase in early childhood funding went into what’s called the ECARE program, which allows districts to choose how to spend the money. Some preschool advocates think too much of that money went to kindergarten.

“Why should we think we know better than the educators” in deciding how to use the money, Wilson asked.

Other Republicans are skeptical of the value of preschool and prefer that young children stay at home until kindergarten.

A parade of witnesses from advocacy groups – the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Together Colorado, Mile High Montessori, and others – testified for the bill, while two parents opposed it.

The committee also voted 6-5 (same partisan split) to advance House Bill 15-1001, another Pettersen-sponsored effort that would provide funding to education schools and non-profits to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators who want more training in their field.

Wilson said he’d be interested in amendments that would require scholarship recipients to both finish their degrees and work in the field for two years, and Pettersen said she’d be open to discussing those.

“We look forward to earning your votes,” she said to the committee Republicans.

Panel rejects change in school age requirements

The committee also split 6-5 on House Bill 15-1053, with Democrats voting to kill the bill. The measure would have changed the required age to enroll in school from six to seven and allowed students to leave school at 16 instead of 17.

The bill was sponsored by freshman Rep. Kim Ranson, R-Littleton, who told the committee, “This bill will allow the decision making to rest with the parents rather than the school authorities. … It simply gives parents additional time with the special cases” such as children who aren’t ready for school, illnesses, and family crises.

Ransom said the compulsory attendance ages were seven and 16 as recently as a decade ago.

Three parents testified in favor of the bill, while a representative of the Colorado Education Association opposed it.

Native American tuition bill advances

A bill that would expand resident-rate college tuition to a wider range of Native American students passed House Education on a 6-5 vote, with majority Democrats supporting and Republicans voting no.

To be eligible for the lower rate, students would have to be registered members of one of the 48 tribes with recognized “historic ties” to Colorado. One of the witnesses supporting the bill was Marshall Gover, president of the Oklahoma-based Pawnee Nation. Pawnees once lived in Colorado before white settlement. A long list of other witnesses supported the bill.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, sponsored a similar bill during the 2014 session. It got all the way through the House but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee late in the session, primarily because of cost issues. The potential cost of House Bill 15-1027 is tough to predict, given that it’s not known how many such students currently attend state colleges and pay out-of-state tuition, nor how many new students might be attracted. (See the best guess by legislative staff in this fiscal note.)

With Republicans now in control of the Senate, the tuition bill may not have good prospects there regardless of financial considerations.

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What do graduation rates really mean?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 18:40

Last week the Colorado Department of Education released spring’s graduation and drop out numbers. The state saw a slight increase in graduation rates, and for the eighth straight year a decrease in dropout rates. You can read our coverage here, here, and here.

Denver Public Schools was among the school districts who celebrated an uptick. Superintendent Tom Boasberg had this to say:

It’s an enormous positive change for our community to have more students finishing high school, ready to go on to college and career. In today’s economy, it’s actually essential.

But one of Boasberg’s bosses, school board member Barbara O’Brien, cautioned:

A lot of people have worked very hard to increase graduation rates and lower dropout rates. But we have to keep the eye on the prize—students who can do college or career level work without remediation after high school.

That brings us to our question of the week: How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools?

Each week, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Elected board controversy, more on testing and learning time

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 11:10

One of the most divisive issues that came up at Saturday’s mayoral forum was the elected school board proposal. Voters in 37 wards will get the chance to vote on a non-binding resolution asking whether they want an elected school board instead of a mayoral-appointed board. (Here’s a quick take on the history behind the current selection process.)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is against the measure, suggested that it’s a moot point given that new Gov. Bruce Rauner isn’t in favor of the idea, while a bill to change how  board members are chosen hasn’t gained much traction in the Legislature. “I don't think we should actually convince (or) trick people by having a political campaign issue as a way to fixing our schools,” Emanuel said, according to a Tribune story.

The mayor’s challengers all support an elected board. During the forum in the Loop, hosted by the Chicago Women Take Action Alliance, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said an elected school board would bring needed accountability, while Ald. Bob Fioretti said conflict-of-interest issues were “running amok” within the current board. "We all ought to be embarrassed by what we see at CPS at this point,” the alderman said.

2. Major caveats on closing success: Chief Operating Officer Tom Tyrrell resigned his $180,000 position, effective Friday, in order to become the state’s Central Management Services director, according to the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune. A former Marine colonel, Tyrrell was hired in spring of 2012 to oversee the closing of 50-some elementary schools--the largest mass closure of schools ever. His job was not only to move the children, but to also move massive amounts of furniture and to try to sell off the buildings.  

District officials have declared success. However, only one-third of students enrolled in the new schools designated for them, far less than the 80 percent Tyrell predicted. Also, the district wound up spending $30 million to move materials from the schools and secure the buildings, three times the $8.9 million initial contract. Only one shuttered school building has been sold.

3. Social media law: CPS won’t compel students to give officials their passwords to Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and any other social media platform, according to an article in DNAinfo. A new state law gives school districts the right to design their own cyber-bullying policies, which could include allowing school administrators to force students to provide their passwords. CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said that CPS’ policy calls on staff to monitor public items on social media, but not to try to access private pages. The district’s policy, she said, takes bullying of any type seriously.

But a downstate Belleville school district already used the new law and forced some students to give up passwords, which has led to numerous inquiries to the American Civil Liberties Union, Illinois chapter spokesman Edwin Yohnka told DNAinfo. Yohnka said the ACLU is troubled by the new law and believes compelling students to give up their passwords crosses the line. In fact, Yohnka said that the ACLU is against any policy that give schools power to punish students for activity outside of school and would rather see that left to parents.

4. Testing, testing: The use--or overuse, in critic’s eyes--of standardized tests has become arguably the biggest controversy in education these days. Testing is one thing that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan refuses to budge on, despite a growing national backlash: Annual standardized tests should remain mandatory under any rewrite of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In an interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz breaks down why many teachers feel testing has distorted the learning process and what states and schools could do instead to assess learning. Kamenetz is the author of a recent book “The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing--but you don’t have to be.”

5. More on learning time:  Children in high-poverty public schools don’t have access to the extra learning time that students in wealthier schools routinely take advantage of. The latest issue of Voices in Urban Education from The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University tackles learning time from this perspective of equity.

A national cross-section of authors write about using learning time in new ways in schools in poor neighborhoods. Among the programs noted are the TIME Collaborative of the National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation, through which 39 schools are each adding 300 hours of time to the school year for all students (the equivalent of 50 days for a 6-hour school day).

The authors of one article make a critical point: Children in poor neighborhoods often experience considerable stress in their family life--unstable housing, lack of medical and dental care, community violence and so on--that impacts learning time by making it more likely they will miss class and more difficult for them to concentrate on academics.

In Illinois, education officials have asked for an additional $5 million in fiscal year 2016 for extended learning time activities. This year, the Illinois State Board of Education received 141 applications for learning time grants but only had money for 51 projects. The additional funds would allow ISBE to serve approximately 50 more sites--though sadly, given the state’s fiscal problems, the funds aren’t likely to materialize. Typically these programs are funded with federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers monies; last December programs in Chicago got about half of the state’s share of some $34 million in these federal funds.

The Center on Education Policy also came out with a report on expanded learning time last week.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Neighbors, police concerned about fights near Denver high school

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 10:00

Schools and the City

Bucking national trends, Denver is enrolling more students. And more of them come from middle-income homes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


School and police officials are concerned about a spike of student fights near East High in Denver. ( Denver Post )

get out of testing free card

A small rural school district was the first to apply for a testing wavier from the state — even if they aren't legal. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Good, but great?

Positive trends in Denver's graduation and drop-out rates continue. But some question how prepared students are for life post-high school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

unfinished business

Jeffco Public Schools isn't sharing the status of a $600,000 project to create a universal data dashboard. ( 9News )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers said the state needs to make funding more equitable. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Funding squabbles

Colorado House Republicans are upset that Democrats have killed their school funding bill that had broad support. ( Denver Post )

Decisions, decisions

It's School Choice Week in Colorado. ( KDVR )

By August, Denver Public Schools will have 200 schools, including 53 charters for parents to choose from. That makes marketing a need for school leaders. ( Denver Post )

And school choice options are creating a cutthroat environment, as schools in the Colorado Springs region vie for students and the money that accompanies each filled seat. ( Gazette )

seeing is believing

Students at Monarch High in Boulder are learning everything from cellular function to math equations in 3D. ( Daily Camera )

Out of school context

A Douglas County school board member is defending a school field trip to a mosque. ( Douglas County News Press )

A million chances

A Boulder charter school is setting up a $1 million endowment to pay for college scholarships. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Positive trends in Denver graduation, drop-out rates continue

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 07:00

As Denver Public Schools marked seven consecutive years of improved graduation rates last week, the city’s education community celebrated the gains while stressing that there is still work to be done.

The district’s graduation rate increased from 61.3 percent in 2012-13 to 62.8 percent in 2013-14, and its overall drop-out rate declined from 5 percent to 4.5 percent, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education last week.

Observers in and out of the district said the numbers are just one part of the story about whether students are being adequately prepared for their post-high school lives. This is especially true in Colorado, where each district sets its own requirements for graduation.

“A lot of people have worked very hard to increase graduation rates and lower dropout rates,” said DPS board member Barbara O’Brien. “But we have to keep the eye on the prize—students who can do college or career level work without remediation after high school.”

But district and state officials touted the improvement. “We know there is still a lot of work to do, but we’re always encouraged when we see growth,” said Judith Martinez, the director of the Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Reengagement.

Gains over time

The four-year graduation rate in the state of  Colorado increased this year to 77.3 percent.

In Denver, the portion of students graduating in four years has increased dramatically since since 2006-07, when just 38.7 percent of students who had entered as freshman four years before graduated on time.

That’s neither notably better nor worse than districts with comparable student income levels.

How Colorado calculates its four-year graduation rate:
(Number of students receiving a regular diploma within four years of transitioning from 8th grade during the 2013-14 school year)DIVIDED BY
(Number of students transitioning from 8th grade at the end of the 2009-10 school year plus number of transfers in minus number of verified transfers out)
Four-Year “on-time” Graduation Rate
Note: The state first adopted this formula in 2009-10 after federal requirements for tracking graduation rates changed. It has since calculated the equivalent rate for the 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09 school years.  
Source: Colorado Department of Education

There was significant variation between schools: At North High School, the graduation rate increased more than 12.9 percentage points between 2012-13 and 2013-14, while at Manual High School the graduation rate dropped for the second year in a row, to 57.1 percent from 62 percent, after a turbulent year.

Many of the students who do drop out of school are in the district’s alternative schools, which enroll students who have special needs or who are identified as “high-risk.” Last year, 21.8 percent of alternative school students dropped out, compared to 2.1 percent in non-alternative schools.

Gaps among racial and ethnic groups, males and females, and subgroups of students identified as having special needs lingered. For instance, 73.5 percent Denver’s students who identified as white graduated in four years, compared to just 39.5 percent of American Indian students. (See charts for more detail.) 

At a time when the district’s high-income population is growing faster than the number of low-income students, low-income students still graduate at a lower rate than their peers: 56.9 percent of economically disadvantaged students graduated on time.

Kate Neal, the director of programs and evaluations for Colorado Youth for a Change, an organization focused on dropout prevention and recovery, said that this mirrored trends in the rest of the state.

She said Denver’s improvements were tied partly to several recent district and community efforts. One is a program that identifies students on the verge of dropping out before they leave school, created with Colorado Youth for a Change. Another is the growth of credit recovery programs, which allow students who don’t have the credits they need to graduate to catch up on coursework quickly.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg attributed the improvement to the work of the district’s teachers, principals, and guidance counselors.

Searching for meaning A sign on the wall at North High School in Denver. North’s graduation rate was this year’s “most-improved” in DPS.

Colorado is the only state that has no state-level set of graduation requirements, other than that all students must take a civics course.

Van Schoales, the director of A+ Denver, a research and advocacy nonprofit, said that means it’s not always clear that earning a diploma signifies that a student has gotten a strong education. “We need to make sure diplomas are actually meaningful,” he said.

DPS students in public Colorado colleges and universities are more likely than their peers in the rest of the state to require remedial courses, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education. But that number dropped significantly between 2009 and 2012.

Nicole Veltze, the principal at North High School, said that her school had been encouraging students to take more or more rigorous courses than current DPS currently requires.

“Over the last few years, we’ve increased our expectations for students above and beyond the DPS requirements,” she said. “We expect our students to graduate without needing remediation.”

Meanwhile, holders of high school diplomas still fare better in the job market than those without a diploma.

“It’s an enormous positive change for our community to have more students finishing high school, ready to go on to college and career,” Boasberg said at a press event at North High School on Thursday. “In today’s economy, it’s actually essential.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rural Merino district first to formally seek testing waiver

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 19:15

The 315-student Merino School District in northeastern Colorado is the first to formally seek a waiver from some state testing, following up on an “offer” made earlier this month by the State Board of Education.

Superintendent Rob Sanders, at the Capitol earlier this week to testify at a hearing, told Chalkbeat Colorado that he’d dropped the paperwork off at the Department of Education. A CDE spokeswoman said Merino’s was the first waiver request received.

“We realize you were told by Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tony Dyl, that you do not have the authority to pass this kind of motion,” read a letter from the Merino school board that accompanied the resolution seeking the waiver. “We also understand the Commissioner of Education is consulting with the Attorney General’s Office to determine the legality of the directive. Yet, the burden of these tests and the negative impact they are having on our ability to set educational standards and priorities to meet the needs of the students and to provide opportunities for innovation and creativity mean we cannot wait any longer.”

On Jan. 8, the State Board voted 4-3 to direct the commissioner of education to grant waivers to districts that want to opt out of the first part of the state’s language arts and math tests that will be given this spring (see story). Unlike past exams, the new tests will be given in two parts, the second near the end of the school year. The State Board resolution offers a waiver from the first part.

The attorney general’s office has advised CDE that such waivers aren’t legally permitted, but a formal opinion is being prepared. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond has said he won’t act on any waiver requests until he has a formal opinion from the attorney general.

A split Jefferson County school board voted on Jan. 15 to seek a waiver (see story). But it hasn’t been filed yet.

After the State Board’s vote, a group called the Rural Alliance drafted a letter supporting the board’s action and prepared a model resolution that school boards could use for submission to the department. The alliance is a coalition of small districts around the state. The Merino board’s resolution follows the language of the model resolution.

The Merino schools are southeast of Sterling. The district also is known as Buffalo. The interchangeable use of the two names is a holdover from a long-ago consolidation.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: How one state is putting teachers in charge of their evaluations

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:47
  • Wisconsin wants instructors to take a larger role in developing the state’s teacher evaluation tool by asking them to decide how much students should be expected to learn, and how that growth should be measured. (Hechinger Report)
  • If schools want to improve student achievement, they must racially integrate their classrooms. (Huffington Post)
  • Or they should just let teachers run them. (Washington Post)
  • Some students should experience the benefit of touch. (Atlantic)
  • New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña made her most substantial changes to the district’s bureaucracy this week. (Chalkbeat New York)
  • Author of the new book “The Test” answers questions about the future of standardized testing in the U.S. (NPR Ed)
  • Vox explains No Child Left Behind, including what’s next. (Vox)
  • ICYMI: Here’s what President Obama had to say regarding education issues during the State of the Union. (EdWeek)
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan live tweeted during the president’s #SOTU. (
  • To improve student discipline, change teacher behavior. (Slate)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: For equitable results, give schools equitable funding

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:35

On Tuesday, we asked our readers “How can Colorado schools become more equitable?”

The most common response: If you want equitable results give schools equitable funding.

Before we see what our readers had to say, I asked our capitol editor and school funding expert to explain how schools here are funded. Here’s what he had to say:

Colorado schools are funded through a complicated formula that weights cost of living for district staff, district size, percentage of at-risk students and other factors to determine different per-pupil funding amounts for each district. Some critics feel the current system doesn’t adequately pay the true costs of educating at-risk and minority students or English language leaders, especially in districts where such students are concentrated.

And some observers feel funding is further distorted because some districts — often larger, wealthier ones — have additional revenues from extra property taxes approved by local voters, in addition to money provided by the state formula. Some poorer, smaller districts haven’t been able to raise such revenues.

That maybe why Mark Sass, a teacher and occasional First Person contributor put it plainly in our comment section:

Allocate funds based on academic need versus the current per pupil allocation.

Former State Board of Education member Ed Lyell went a little more in-depth:

Declare the total state one valuation district. Eliminate the school district boundaries in terms of property values, mill levies, and funding.  This would cause Aspen to help fund Antonito, etc.

It is archaic to even have local districts in terms of funding since the state is the primary source of funding of all schools. Up to the 1970’s local property tax paid over 60% of school funding. Now local property tax is less than 40%, and near 0 in some areas.

On another note, Chalkbeat reader Gwendolyn Eden suggested on Twitter the — very unlikely — idea of closing private schools. She got an idea from this 2012 Gawker article.

@ChalkbeatCO Close all private schools. @WarrenBuffett

— Gwendolyn Eden (@gwennebrask) January 21, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Foley, Hilsabeck, DeClemente, Shah, Papineau

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 16:08

Karen G. Foley has been appointed president and CEO of Juvenile Protective Association. JPA, founded in 1901 by Jane Addams, works with and on behalf of children and families in some of Chicago’s most challenging neighborhoods. Prior to joining JPA, Karen served as president and CEO for The Hope Institute, president of Chicago Scholars, and executive vice president and head of global marketing at CNA.

Alison Hilsabeck has been named provost of National Louis University with responsibility for the National College of Education and the college of professional studies and advancement, as well as all departments that support students’ academic, professional and personal goals. She previously served at NLU’s college of education as associate dean, dean, and executive dean, and was vice provost for academic programs.

CPS has created four manager positions for the Office of Student Health and Wellness. Tarrah DeClemente is the new manager of student wellness, Sujata Shah will serve as manager of student health, and Kenneth Papineau will be the manager of vision and screening. The manager of PE and health education position is yet to be filled.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

Categories: Urban School News

As Denver Public Schools enrollment booms, poverty rate drops

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 10:00

The flock of construction cranes downtown and in Cherry Creek, rising rents and new businesses across the city are often cited as signs that Denver is booming. More people are moving to the city. Denver looks different now than it did 20, 10, or even five years ago.

Want more evidence of change? Look at who’s attending Denver Public Schools.

In a sharp reversal from the recent past, the number of DPS students from higher-income families is growing faster than the number from lower-income families.

The percentage of students from low-income families has been shrinking incrementally for three years now. And DPS and state officials are projecting that the new trend is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Neighborhoods like Stapleton and River North are gentrifying, and more middle-class families are staying in the public school system. There’s also evidence that more families are moving out of poverty as the Great Recession recedes.

But some of the forces at work are more surprising: State and local officials point to the longer-term changes in who attends public schools wrought by the shrinking economy, the steady improvement in the district’s reputation and academic track record, and even a state-funded contraceptive program.

A confluence of trends

DPS is growing more quickly than any other school district in the state. In 2000, the district enrolled 70,955 students; this year, it had 90,150. For most of that time, both the number and percentage of the district’s students who lived near or at the poverty line—$23,850 per year for a family of four in 2014—were increasing at a steady pace.

School systems often use families’ eligibility for federally-subsidized meals as a means of tracking poverty. Families with an income that is 130 percent of the poverty rate are eligible for free lunch. Those whose income is 185 percent that rate are eligible for reduced-price lunch.

In 2000, 61 percent of Denver students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. By 2011, that had increased to 73.6 percent.

But the 2011-12 school year marked a turning point. Since then, the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch has been dropping, to 72.2 percent in 2012-13, 72.1 percent in 13-14, and 69.7 percent this year.

The percent of students eligible for free lunch dropped more quickly, from 66 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013 and 62 percent in 2014.

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the real number of students eligible for free-and reduced-price lunch combined increased slightly, by some 150 students. The number of students eligible for free lunch declined for the first time in years.

Citywide, the total number of people in poverty increased from 2008 to 2010, said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s State Demographer. “But overall, things are definitely improving since 2010.”

That lines up with statewide trends: The poverty rate in Colorado schools overall decreased from 41.9 percent last school year to 41.6 percent in 2014-15.

But both state and city are bucking national trends. According to a report released earlier this month by the Southern Education Foundation, the number of low-income students in the country’s public schools has increased in recent years, to 51 percent in 2013.

Changing numbers

Garner said that while the total population under 18 in Denver dropped between 2008 and 2013, more residents now are sending their children to the Denver school district.

“Our capture rate of middle-class families is going up,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said. Before, he said, more families were transferring to nearby suburban districts or opting into private schools. “Especially in middle school, the quality and reputation of our schools has gone way up.”

The trend has not been evenly spread throughout the city, however. Gentrification in certain neighborhoods has had a major effect, Boasberg said.

Still, Boasberg said that he hoped that the declining poverty rate would allow for increased socioeconomic diversity in Denver schools. “I think the more diverse we are as a district, that helps us in our efforts to have greater diversity in our individual schools.”

State and district officials said that the simultaneous reduction in free-lunch eligible families and increase in reduced-lunch eligible families indicate that some families are moving out of poverty as the economy recovers from the Great Recession.

But Garner said the recession led to a web of other changes. For one, more than 10,000 of the city’s foreign-born residents left the city between 2008 and 2013 as the economy bottomed out. She said there were also fewer low-income Hispanic residents in 2013 than in 2008.

Garner said that the gloomy economy may also have helped spur more affluent citizens to send their children to the public schools. “Some people who could previously afford private schools were now choosing to send their children to public schools.”

“That will push down the share of people in poverty or the share who are eligible for free and reduced lunch, because you’re adding people on the higher end,” Garner said.

Another wrinkle: The state demographer said there has been a decline in the number of children aged 0-5, partly due to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a state program that funded contraceptive devices for women. That program is credited with lowering Colorado’s birthrate by 40 percent over five years.

Garner said the steepest drops in birthrate were among women under 20, who, she said, are more likely to live in poverty. Children in that age group are not yet in school, but could be part of projections that lower-income regions will see fewer students in school.

Budget, academic implications

The changing demographic may eventually be reflected in academic performance in some of the city’s schools: Often, students from higher income brackets score better on standardized tests.

The change will also have funding implications for Denver schools. School districts receive state and federal funds to support low-income students.

Mark Ferrandino, the district’s chief financial officer, told the DPS board last week that the district is projecting a decrease in the revenue it gets from Title I—a pot of federal money targeted at high-needs schools—as both Colorado and Denver have a smaller percentage of at-risk students than in the past.

Ferrandino said the district would make cuts to central office programs to avoid affecting school budgets.

“The reason why the state and federal governments tie funding to free and reduced-price lunch is that there are often higher needs for those kids,” Ferrandino said.

“Relatively, from a budgetary perspective, it means less money coming in,” he said. “But from an overall societal perspective, it’s good news.”

Categories: Urban School News

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