LAKEWOOD — As expected, hundreds of high school students left their homeroom this morning to join a week’s long protest against a proposed curriculum review committee they believe could lead to censorship.
But unlike the other protests that have unfolded across the sprawling suburban county, most Lakewood students returned to class after about 20 minutes.
By 9:40 a.m., more than half of the protesters were headed back to class. Some students are expected to return to the busy street throughout day during off periods.
Student organizers at Lakewood, who took great lengths to both showcase their concerns but not interrupt classroom learning, said they were happy how their peers were behaving.
As the protests, which began last Friday, have grown, it’s become apparent that a growing number of students have used the opportunity to ditch class than familiarize themselves with the issues.
“We wanted to find a way to do without actually missing school,” Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, told Chalkbeat Wednesday. “All of us really value our educations.”
Other schools expected to protest today included Bear Creek and Columbine high schools, The Denver Post reported this morning.
Of the Jefferson County neighborhood high schools, only Jefferson High School has not led some action against the proposal. A Facebook page indicates students there will walkout Sept. 29.
If formed, the proposed panel, which came out earlier conversations among board members regarding standards and assessments, would start its work by reviewing the new Advanced Placement U.S. history course. Architects of the new framework believe teachers should spend more time teaching major arcs and themes of U.S. history and spend less time on memorization of key dates and figures. Conservative critics, like Williams, believe the course is revisionist history and portrays the nation in a negative context.
The proposal, which was first presented earlier this month, was tabled at the same Jeffco school board meeting.
Williams, in a statement earlier this week, said critics of the proposal are misinterpreting her intention.
It’s unclear when the board, which has been at odds with the Jefferson County community for nearly a year, will take up the issue again.
CPR education reporter Jenny Burdin tweeted there are currently no plans for the board to take up the issue at its Oct. 2 meeting. The same students rallying throughout the week have pledged to be at the meeting to more formally voice their concerns.
— Jenny Brundin (@CPRBrundin) September 25, 2014
While Jeffco officials confirmed the topic isn’t on the Oct. 2 agenda yet, that could change, they said.
Update: This post has been updated to clarify that it appears a growing number of students walking out of schools have used the opportunity to simply miss class than lodge participate formally in the student led protests.
taking it to the streets
Jeffco students protested for a fourth day; more than 1,000 students walked out of four more high schools on Wednesday and more are likely to walk on Thursday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR, Coloradoan )
But not all students think that walking out of class is the best way to protest the school board's proposed curriculum review committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The dispute over the proposed curriculum review panel is the latest example of partisan politics playing a role in public education. ( Denver Post )
And here's a Q&A reviewing all of the issues behind the students' protests. ( CPR )
it's getting nasty
The Jeffco sheriff confirmed the department is investigating threats to the children of two school board members. ( KDVR )
down with bake sales
New rules may force many schools to consider healthier options for fundraising drives. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Colorado Springs D-11 school board voted unanimously to seek alternatives to state testing. ( Gazette )
Just in time for Banned Books Week, here's a list of policies in Aurora Public Schools and Jeffco Public Schools for challenging material. ( 9News )
paving the way
A technology push in Adams 12 has led the school to be recognized by a national nonprofit as a leading innovator. ( 9News )
The St. Vrain school board voted to reject Lyons' request to swap land so that Lyons could replace homes destroyed in last years' floods. ( Daily Camera )
Continuing a kind of dubious tradition started by former CEO Arne Duncan, officials announced Wednesday that first-day attendance was better than ever this year. Accountability Chief John Barker told board members at their monthly meeting that 93.7 percent of enrolled students showed up on the first day of class -- which is ever so slightly higher than last year’s 93.5 percent rate. In addition, he said the attendance rates were higher on each day of the first week of school.
Forget the fact that in 2009 Duncan announced first-day attendance was a record 94.1 percent. The method used to calculate first-day attendance has always been questionable. The first-day attendance rate is calculated by taking the number of enrolled or projected students, then dividing by the number who show up. The many thousands of inactive students or those who are not officially enrolled or projected are not counted in first-day attendance figures at all. In many schools, especially high schools, the number of students who eventually enroll is significantly more than those who are in attendance on the first day. Also, the first-day attendance figures do not include the 55,000-some students who attend charter schools.
Duncan started reporting first-day attendance because he said it affected state funding. Later it was pointed out and he conceded that the first day doesn’t count any more than any other day. Funding is based on the average number of students in attendance over the three months with the best results. Yet Duncan insisted that first-day attendance was important as it set the stage for the rest of the school year.
2. Outlawed… Wednesday’s board meeting was a rather civil affair, with some people complaining about the privatization of custodial services and others asking district offficials for help with overcrowding. Missing were some of the fiery speakers who regularly attend. DNAinfo reports that four of them had been banned, including Rosemary Vega and her husband Jesus Ramos. Vega and Ramos became incensed at the July board meeting when board member Jesse Ruiz left the meeting before they had a chance to speak.
The letter sent to Vega and others who were banned quoted public participation guidelines, which call for participants to be “courteous, respectful and civil.” CPS rules give Board President David Vitale the unilateral power to establish and publish guidelines.
The enforcing of such a rule is not the only way the board meetings have changed under this administration. The sign-up to speak at a board meeting starts a week and half before the actual meeting, and ends the Friday before. However, the board agenda does not get posted until the Monday before the meeting--effectively preventing anyone from speaking on the items on the agenda--something board members say they want.
3. Small wins for Dyett... Police arrested 11 people who refused to leave City Hall Tuesday night after staging a sit-in to protest the pending closure of the Washington Park high school. The school is scheduled to close after this school year with its final class of seniors, although in the week before school began, CPS officials called them to encourage students to consider attending a different school.
Activists say Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff made several concessions to the students, including a commitment to hire a physical education teacher so students wouldn't have to take an online gym class. They will also get to use the gym again, which had been closed soon after the school won a full overhaul of its facilities in an ESPN contest, DNAinfo reports. The mayor’s staff also agreed to provide ACT test prep and tutoring services to the students, in addition to allowing the school to hold prom.
4. Work in progress … Lawmakers and educational leaders continue to debate the merits Senate Bill 16, legislation aimed at transforming the way the state funds schools. But don’t expect it to get resolved anytime soon, according to comments in a recent Chicago Tribune article. "We're going to have hearings on Senate Bill 16 and continue discussions throughout the next year," said Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia during a recent meeting with suburban school district leaders. "We can't unravel 20 years of education inequity in just one year. That's highly unlikely.”
The state Senate passed SB16 last May, and House Democrats have been meeting regularly with Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) staff since June to discuss the new, simplified formula. SB16 would give more money to poorer districts, while including weights for need based on the number of students enrolled who are special education, gifted or English Language Learners.
The school funding bill has become a campaign issue in at least one House race, according to a recent Daily Herald article. A Democrat running to represent Downers Grove says that while she opposes the bill as it’s written because suburban districts stand to lose millions, it’s a good “conversation starter.” Her opponent, an incumbent Republican, says the problem with the bill is that it tries to adjust how education funding is distributed without adding more money to the pot. Check out a model developed by ISBE on how the legislation would impact local school districts based on 2013 data here (the model will be updated this fall using more recent data).
5. And the winners are…. Of 40 school staffs that spent the summer dreaming up projects that could help their schools, 23 will share a total of $100,000 to implement a pilot version of their programs, The Chicago Public Education Fund announced Tuesday. The Summer Design Program projects range from teacher professional development to parent engagement to buying technology to help teach STEM. The schools, which include charters and traditional schools, also are eligible to win an additional $30,000 for ongoing support.
The highest award per school for the Summer Design Program is $7,500. Budlong Elementary in Lincoln Square was one of the top winners and will use its winnings to make its third- through fifth-grade classes more interdisciplinary. “The program we designed was to pair teachers who are strong in humanities with teachers who are strong in math and science,” says Budlong Principal Naomi Nakayama. “Typically, when teachers are working together, they are working with other people in the same grade level, or the same content area in the upper grades. This is a different model for us.”
Nakayama says the school plans to use the money toward giving the teachers planning time and buying equipment so students can have hands-on experiences.
LAKEWOOD — Anna Tiberi hasn’t decided whether she’ll join her classmates Thursday morning, when hundreds of students are expected to leave their desks and head toward a nearby avenue to become the latest Jefferson County school to partake in a week’s long protest.
“I love that we’re doing something,” said the Lakewood High School senior. But, she said with a sigh, “I don’t think it’s the right thing.”
To be clear: Tiberi, like many of her classmates who are preparing to rally in the streets, is adamantly opposed to a controversial curriculum review committee, proposed by a Jefferson County school board member. Many believe Julie William’s proposal could lead to censorship; it has sparked nearly a week’s worth of student protests.
But Tiberi isn’t convinced the students’ message — essentially, “back off our classrooms” — is getting across. She’s actually concerned the walkouts may backfire.
“Just the idea behind [the panel] is so primitive and dictatorial,” she said. “But if they’re trying to stop us from being — in their words — ‘rebels,’ I think by [walking out] it furthers their cause.”
Williams’ proposal specifically requests that the yet-to-be-formed committee review an advanced history class to ensure it teaches a positive view of American history and discourages students from breaking laws.
Because some of Tiberi’s classmates share her concern, and because student leaders here have been debating for days about how best to make their opinions known, the student protest at Lakewood High might look very different from those earlier in the week.
“We wanted to find a way to voice our concerns without actually missing school,” said Ana Fairbanks-Mahnke, a Lakewood junior, previewing tomorrow’s plans. “All of us really value our educations.”
Since Friday, students from 13 of Jeffco Public Schools’ 17 traditional high schools have rallied in opposition to the proposed community curriculum review panel. Lakewood High, the county’s largest high school, is expected to be the 14th.
Each day’s subsequent protests have grown — from about 100 at Standley Lake High on Friday to 1,000 at Chatfield High today. The students have gotten louder and rowdier. And while student organizers have done their best to maintain the activist spirit of the walkouts, it’s becoming clear that some students are just out for a day off.
Instead of an early-morning mass exodus with no specific end time, students are being encouraged to rally for about 20 minutes during their homeroom at 9:20 a.m., be back for class at 9:40 a.m., and only return to the demonstration if they have a free period.
“To clarify the intent of this is not to ‘walk out’ in the sense that other schools have done,” Lakewood High organizers posted on Facebook. “We will in no way promote kids walking out of classes. This will be classier and show that we value our education.”
Organizers have also posted a detailed list of appropriate behavior and rules for tomorrow on social media.
To prepare, student leaders have met with school staff and Lakewood police department. And 650 students met with the county’s superintendent Dan McMinimee earlier in the week.
“Our students are well-informed,” said Lisa Ritchey, Lakewood High’s principal.
Lakewood students who participated in the meeting with McMinimee said they believe they have a grasp on the issues, even though there are still not a lot of answers about what’s next for the school district, which seems to be in a continuous frenzy.
Many upperclassmen at Lakewood, and throughout Jefferson County, said they’ve noticed their teachers have become increasingly frustrated.
“It’s unfair how they’re being treated,” said Liz Crosland, a senior.
What’s worse, students said, is that their teachers are trying their hardest to not bring their personal feelings into class.
“They’re not allowed to talk about it,” several students said.
The most specific advice any teacher at Lakewood High has given, students said, is “make sure you know what you’re walking out for.”
That’s advice that Daniel Torres, a senior, and Brayan Meza, a sophomore, are heeding.
“A couple of friends were talking about it this morning,” Torres said, “But I’m not planning on walking out.”
“I’m not sure what it’s all about,” Meza said. “And I won’t walk out until I do.”
Whether Lakewood High’s walkout will be more civil remains to be seen.
“We’re trying to keep it as controlled as possible while making sure everyone can be involved,” said Thomas Sizemore, another student organizer at Lakewood.
Tiberi, the senior struggling to find another way to make her voice heard, said Thursday can go either way.
“They’ve locked us into the corner,” Tiberi said, referring to the school board’s conservative majority. “We don’t want to be the rebels they’re trying to paint us as. We’re just frustrated and don’t know what to do.”
[Updated] LITTLETON — Stretching on for a fourth school day, students from some of Jefferson County’s largest high schools gathered at a busy intersection here to echo concerns about a proposed curriculum committee they believe could lead to censorship and show solidarity with their teachers.
The rally appeared to be the largest thus far. More than half of the 1,900 students at Chatfield High School, coupled with hundreds of students from Dakota Ridge walked, ran, and drove up and down a stretch of Simms Street shortly after classes were supposed to start at the two schools.
According to the Denver Post, students at Bear Creek High School also walked out this morning. Chalkbeat also confirmed students at Alameda International High School walked out after meeting with Jeffco’s Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
Students, as they returned to school, told Chalkbeat McMinimee wasn’t answering their questions.
“He didn’t listen to what we had to say,” said Regina Rios, a sophomore at Alameda High.
McMinimee told 7News later he wasn’t dodging questions — he just doesn’t have the answers yet.
“I do understand there was some frustration from some of the kids around feeling like I was trying to not answer their questions, but that’s because we’re not there in the process yet — haven’t had the discussion about how this committee might affect AP US History,” McMinimee told 7NEWS after the meeting. “The discussion [among Board members] was about the formation of the committee.”
Including Alameda, students at 13 of the district’s 19 high schools have walked out.
“I’m just so proud of them, the students, the teachers, the parents, for standing up,” said Cindy Heyerdahl, a Jefferson County resident who sent three students to the locals schools. Heyerdahl held back tears as she watched the students chat from a near by gas station.
But not all are impressed with the student-organized action.
“If I was a student, I’d want a day off, too,” said another gentleman at the gas station. “I think that’s why most are out here.”
Unlike earlier protests, the Littleton students, boisterous and sweaty, were under supervision by school administrators, coaches, and teachers. Some of the district’s highest ranking central administrators were also on hand with sheriffs.
The ongoing protests, which are likely to continue through the week, have drawn the attention of the national media and scrutiny of social media. A playful but critical thread of comments, marked by the hashtag “#jeffcoschoolboardhistory” was trending on the social media service Twitter last night.
When Allison Howe’s son started preschool in the Morgan County School District two years ago, her stomach churned when she learned about the school’s chief fundraising tool: frozen pie.
For Howe, a mother of three and healthy living blogger, it presented an ethical dilemma. She felt the pies were unhealthy and overpriced and she knew her northeastern Colorado region had the highest rate of child obesity in the state. At the same time, she knew that kids who sold the most earned prizes and special recognition. Plus, the fund-raiser consistently brought in $10,000 a year for the district-run Sherman Early Childhood Center.
“It felt icky,” she said.
Fast forward to this fall. With the help of a supportive principal, Sherman’s pie fund-raiser is gone in favor of catalog sales and an online donation platform. That said, Howe is not exactly waving a victory flag. She’s still frustrated by the resistance from some parents and staff to what she calls “overtly healthy” fundraisers like jogathons. She also believes the district lacks a cohesive approach to remaking the fund-raising landscape around healthier options.
But for Howe and other wellness advocates across Colorado, things may get a bit easier this year with the implementation of new federal rules that put stricter limits on some school fund-raisers. While the “Smart Snacks in Schools” rules won’t ban the sale of cookie dough, frozen pizza or pie, which are generally meant for consumption outside of school, they could curtail in-school bake sales and candy sales, and eliminate products like chips and Gatorade from school stores.
Nutrient standards for snack items under Smart Snacks in Schools
The Smart Snacks rules, which took effect July 1, establish limits on calories, sodium, fat and sugar in “competitive” foods sold at schools. In addition to food-based fundraisers that occur on campus during school hours, the rules apply to vending machine products and a la carte items sold in the cafeteria line.
Perhaps more important than the nutritional nitty gritty of the new rules, is the overarching message that school-sanctioned junk food–even if it’s lucrative for student council or PTA- is wearing out its welcome. Emily Jacobs, wellness coordinator for the Adams 50 school district, said she hopes the new rules will help build awareness about healthy fundraising options.
“I think that it’s something that’s been off the radar and is slowly creeping up and getting more attention,” she said. “Each year, as we get one or two people on board…the needle will move a little more in that direction.Ch- ch- changes
At many schools, the concept of non-food fund-raisers is nothing new. Some schools have been sponsoring walkathons, fun runs, plant sales, coupon book sales, car washes and auctions for years. But food fundraisers remain popular, and the desire for tried-and-true revenue streams can make them hard to shake. That’s part of what made the pies so appealing in Fort Morgan, said Howe.
“It’s not that teachers care about the actual product, it’s more the consistent funding every year,” she said.Resources
Jacobs found the same thing when she worked in the Adams 14 school district several years ago and questioned the wisdom of annual candy bar sales.
“I was told right off the bat, ‘Don’t touch our fund-raisers,’” she said. “One principal said, ‘We make $20,000 off these chocolate bars…That funds our books. We literally need these.’”
Some school leaders believe the trick is a gradual weaning so that other kinds of fund-raisers have time to prove their worth. At Putnam Elementary School in Fort Collins, a candy bar fund-raiser has routinely brought in $4,000-$5,000 a year, said Melissa Rivera, the school’s child nutrition manager and wellness leader. But last year, Rivera and the Parent-Teacher Organization decided to add a jogathon during the school’s annual field day
It didn’t raise a lot of money—a modest $1,144, but it was a fun community-building event that organizers plan to continue. Meanwhile, chocolate bars will be phased out of the school’s fund-raising mix.
Over the next three years, Rivera said, “That’s the one we’re trying to kick out.”Exceptions to the rule
Even with the new Smart Snack rules, Colorado schools will still have some leeway to sponsor occasional in-school candy sales or bake sales. That’s because every state is allowed to set the number of “exempt” fund-raisers that each school building can have annually. In Colorado, that number is three, though the maximum duration of those fund-raisers isn’t specified.
About 30 states chose to give schools no exemptions, while a few grant so many or give so much flexibility it seems the rules hardly apply. For example, Georgia and Tennessee allow 30 exemptions per building and Wisconsin allows two exemptions per student organization per year.
Amanda Mercer, a program specialist with the Office of School Nutrition at the Colorado Department of Education, said when districts in the state were surveyed about the number of exemptions to offer, most landed in the zero to five range. Some expressed concerns about having to decide which school groups would get to sponsor an exempt fundraiser.
The issue could be particularly tricky at the high school level where between sports teams, student clubs and parent-teacher groups, there might be scores of fundraisers each year. Take Weld County District 6, for example. Last year, 64 groups at the district’s three high schools ran 132 fundraisers, with per-school numbers ranging from 39 to 53.
Not surprisingly, the process for monitoring fundraisers and ensuring compliance with Smart Snacks rules will vary by district. In Weld 6, the Nutrition Services Department will begin assisting the Office of Academic Achievement with the process this year, flagging fundraisers that don’t comply with the federal nutrition requirements. The mechanism for deciding who will get to run exempt fundraisers is still unclear because the issue hasn’t arisen yet, said Jeremy West, the district’s nutrition service director.
CDE officials plan to solicit feedback from district officials later in the school year about the new rules.
“We plan to…assess how this has impacted schools to see if we’re going to continue with the three exemptions next year or revise that,” said Mercer.Moving the needle
While talk of Smart Snacks rules has been moving through school food service circles for months, many educators and parents are just beginning to hear about them. West said when he covered the topic with district principals this summer, they were apprehensive. To some, it felt like the sky was falling.
“It’s going to make our sponsors of our clubs a little more creative,” he said.
It may also require persistence and finesse. Some advocates of healthy fundraisers have discovered reluctance to try family-inclusive events like jogathons because of concerns that it puts extra stress on struggling parents working multiple jobs. Similarly, there’s a sense that families who are contributing in any way might stop if organizers rock the fund-raising boat.
“Let’s not give our parents more barriers,” is the message Jacobs sometimes hears.
For her part, Howe plans to continue pushing for healthy fund-raisers though she knows it will take time.
“It’s all about managing transitions,” she said. “It’s a lot of PR work.”
A training being developed by the non-profit RMC Health may help. Focused around healthy fundraisers, celebrations and rewards in schools, the training is set launch in early 2015 with 23 districts that have been part of the “Healthy Schools, Successful Students” grant program.Baseball players from Greeley West High School shucked corn on a recent afternoon as part of the team’s fundraising effort.
Even with the new rules, some school groups won’t have to change much about their fundraising repertoire. Take the baseball team at Greeley West High School. On a recent afternoon, more than a dozen coaches, players and parents shucked 1,800 ears of corn in the district’s central production kitchen as part of an annual fundraising effort that nets $400 over two days. It will help pay for the team’s annual spring break trip to California.
Shucking the corn that will end up in school lunches during the fall is an opportunity West began offering to various teams and clubs five years ago when he realized it would be cheaper to do the work in-house than pay the local farmer to do it.
In addition to corn-shucking, Coach Brian Holmes said his team will sell Qdoba cards, run the concession stand at a high school football game, and work with a local Buick dealership to get people to test drive cars. In the past, the team cleaned out ditches in a local subdivision.
“I like kids to do fundraisers that involve them working for their money. I think they appreciate it more,” he said.
Some schools, like Lowry Elementary in Denver, have recently turned toward active fundraisers, but it wasn’t because of Smart Snacks rules. Instead, parent organizers decided to switch from catalog and magazine-type sales to a fun run last fall with the hopes that it would be enjoyable, healthy and allow every child to participate.
As for fundraising side of things, parent April Archer, co-chair of the school wellness team, said the idea was, “Let’s ask people to contribute to our school–not in exchange for anything–and see what happens.”
What happened was an event with almost no overhead and a $16,000 return.
“It wasn’t like we had elaborate tents and banners and decorations…It was all about getting kids running, dancing, skipping and jumping,… getting people involved and having a lot of fun,” she said.
Warren Chapman has been named Chief Advancement Officer at The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired. In this position he will manage activities related to analysis, planning, and execution of fundraising/development goals.
Previously, Chapman has served as senior vice president and interim vice president for Institutional Development at Columbia College of Chicago; vice chancellor for external affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago; vice president and national philanthropic advisor at JPMorgan Chase; president at Bank One Foundation; and lead program officer at the Joyce Foundation. He has also served on numerous boards, including Catalyst Chicago’s.
Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones firstname.lastname@example.org.
taking it to the streets
The third day of Jeffco students' rallies against a proposed curriculum review committee was the largest, and more walk-outs are planned for later this week. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, AP via the Coloradoan, CPR, New York Times )
The president of Jeffco's teachers union applauded students for exercising their First Amendment rights. ( 9News )
A process already exists for parents to challenge curriculum that they feel is biased or inappropriate, and since the late 1960s, it's been used to change what students learn almost 20 times. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The dust-up over the proposal to review history curriculum to ensure that it promotes patriotism and a positive view of the United States prompted the rise of a satirical hashtag on Twitter that jokingly proposed history lessons that meet the board's requirements. ( Denver Post )
a different kind of rebellion
The Colorado Springs District 11 school board will consider a resolution asking to be allowed to pursue alternatives to the state's testing regimen for three years. ( Gazette )
Education dominated a conversation with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez in Colorado Springs; Beauprez suggested passing a "teachers' bill of rights," increasing accountability measures, and improving implementation of the state's READ Act literacy effort. ( Gazette )
The National Education Association is airing Spanish-language ads in Colorado targeting Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner. ( CQ Roll Call )
splitting down the middle
Two University of Colorado campuses that currently share leadership will move to a model in which each has its own chancellor. ( Denver Post )
to prevent another tragedy
The mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold is planning to write a book sharing her story. ( AP via 9News )
In 1981, a Jefferson County curriculum review committee banned The Book of Lists, which, according to the book’s publisher, is “filled with intriguing information and must-talk-about trivia it has spawned many imitators — but none as addictive or successful.”
In 1989, a similar panel said a “homosexual speaker” was only allowed to address students who had permission from parents.
And in 2008, Stephen King’s It, the graphic horror novel that depicts seven children terrorized by a clown, was removed from middle school libraries but remained in high schools.
For the past three school days, Jefferson County students have rallied in the streets against a proposed curriculum review committee. We wanted to examine how often pieces of curriculum have been successfully challenged in the school district.
Since 1968, nearly 100 pieces of curriculum — books, movies, entire courses — have been challenged by Jefferson County parents and community members.
About one-fifth of those challenges have resulted in either an outright ban on classroom materials or restrictions put in place, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of Jeffco Public Schools documents. In some instances, it is clear why certain curriculum was either challenged or banned.
The complaints were filed under existing school district policies that allow parents to challenge materials his or her students are provided either in a classroom or school library.
According to Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the district has 24 such policies to either establish or review curriculum.
But conservative school board member Julie Williams wants to establish one more: a community committee that would serve at the school board’s pleasure. Williams would like that committee — which has not yet been established — to start off with an advanced history course that is drawing the ire of conservatives. It is her proposal that has ignited the three days of student protests.
While Williams’ proposal has sparked debate, it is true Jeffco has existing policies that provides the board the ability to weigh in on curriculum.
Take for example, the May 1996 case of Nova: The Miracle of Life. The school board at the time overturned a decision by the district’s superintendent to ban the video.
Here are some other interesting takeaways from our analysis of the challenged curriculum:
Social studies material that has either been banned or had restrictions placed on them include the books Human Expression: A history of Peoples and Cultures and My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban. The movie The Seduction of Joe Tynan also makes the list.
The last recorded challenge to any Jeffco curriculum was in 2011; that would be Patricia McCormick’s book about a 15-year-old girl who self-mutilates. The book remains in Jeffco libraries.
ARVADA — Hundreds of Jefferson County students took to the streets today for the third school day in a row to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel they believe could stifle an honest teaching U.S. history.
Meanwhile, Julie Williams, the suburban school board member who has proposed the district review an advanced U.S. history class, reaffirmed her position in an early morning statement to the media.
Williams, echoing concerns of conservatives across the country, believes the new curriculum for the Advanced Placement U.S. history course is revisionist and portrays the nation’s history in a negative context.
“I was truly surprised by the reaction of so many people regarding the AP U.S. History curriculum,” said board member Julie Williams. “I must not have explained myself clearly. I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education, understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new [curriculum]. … Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is not censorship.”
Architects of the new curriculum and teachers who are using it have said the concerns are unfounded. Instead, the new curriculum guide actually allows teachers more flexibility and focuses on key historical concepts that have shaped the nation’s identity.
Tuesday’s protest, made up of demonstrations across the county, is the largest so far. Hundreds of students walked out of Pomona and Arvada high schools between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. to busy intersections along the county’s main artery Wadsworth Boulevard. Students from Golden High School rallied at the district’s headquarters and some later jaunted to an intersection near Wheat Ridge High School to join students there.
Other schools that had planned protests include Arvada West and Ralston Valley high schools.
While the student protests have primarily been aimed to voice concern about the proposed committee, some students are also demonstrating on behalf of their teachers. Tension between the county’s teachers and the school board’s majority appears to be at an all-time high. The conflict has led to a teachers union vote of no confidence in board chair Ken Witt and an apparent “sick out” that closed two high schools.
“The frustration level is just so high right now among students and teachers,” said Kayla Greco, a senior at Pomona High. Greco led the walkout there. “It’s not just the teachers who are upset about changes.”Arvada High School students rallied along Wadsworth Boulevard Tuesday morning. They’re upset over a proposed curriculum review committee.
Student walkouts are likely to continue throughout the week.
Jeffco school officials said they’re monitoring social media, which has been the main platform students have used to organize, and trying to communicate with parents as quickly as possible.
“I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class.”
Jeffco officials this morning also dispatched central administrators to schools they knew had planned protests to help answer students’ questions. But that didn’t seem to deter them from rallying.
“I want the school board to know we don’t want to be sugar fed history,” said Leighann Gray, an Arvada High student. “They didn’t send anyone from the school board to talk to us. [The central administrator assigned to her school] is not from the board. So I don’t care.”
As the protests have grown in size, it is becoming less clear how much the students are speaking out versus acting out. Some students who left school to rally along Wadsworth were treating themselves to nearby fast food, running through intersections, and loitering in parking lots.
Others couldn’t articulate why they were protesting. Some students incorrectly believed the board had already acted and that the new curriculum was created because of the state’s new standards. Others believed teachers were going to see pay cuts if they didn’t comply with teaching American exceptionalism.
Student organizers, like Greco, took it among themselves to self-police goofballs, including asking some to leave. Arvada authorities were also on hand observing students.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Pomona High School students gathered at a busy intersection near their school to protest a proposed curriculum review committee they believe will lead to censorship.
“It’s important that our community understand that no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee,” McMinimee said in his statement.
But there is no indication at this point Williams will withdraw her proposal.
Despite her call for balance in history classes, Williams’s statement concluded with her belief students should taught American exceptionalism.
“I humbly ask our Jeffco history teachers to review their philosophical position on the [curriculum]. I think the majority will be surprised to find they agree. I invite them to join us while we investigate this curriculum together.”
The Jeffco school board may take the issue up at its Oct. 2 meeting.
Students from Golden High, who met with district staff during their rally, said they plan on addressing the board then.
“We weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” said Noelle Cohn, a Golden High senior. “We’ll be back in a civilized way to address the board.”
Most of the protests ended by the afternoon.
In an email to parents, Pomona High principal Andy Geise said, “This is our students’ school. As I see it, they are trying to make it the best they can. I appreciate our community’s support of our students. We have great kids here at Pomona. I’m proud of all of them.”
Ups and downs
And the overall number of students in top-ranking schools dipped slightly. ( CPR )
Take it to the streets
The drama continues
In a letter to the district, teachers who participated in a "sick-out" last week defended their approach and said the district should have found substitutes. ( Denver Post )
Dollars for schools
State revenue forecasts bring good news but also a potential complication for efforts to restore school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Columbine High School went into lockout Monday morning over a potential threat. ( 9News )
A Denver school security guard is facing child sex charges over a sexting scandal. ( 9News )
taking the next step
Colorado Mountain College plans to work closely with nearby high schools to help students transition to college-level coursework. ( Steamboat Today )
Busting at the seams
Poudre's school board will consider its options for dealing with facilities and the growth in the number of students. One potential topic up for discussion? Redrawing boundaries. ( Coloradoan )
Work hard, play hard
A Telluride school takes a different approach to student learning -- and to work/play balance. ( The Watch Media )
Freedom of information
Want more information on what your rights are to information? Join Chalkbeat's Nic Garcia and others at a panel on school transparency tonight at 7 p.m. ( 9News )
A new parent group is holding a school fair this fall that promises to offer something unprecedented: a one-stop place to shop for all schools, whether it be neighborhood, charter or private schools.
CPS has endorsed the Oct. 4 fair and is requiring all district-run high schools to have a display. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to parents encouraging them to come and district officials are organizing buses for seventh- and eighth-grade parents and students.
Also, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and the Archdiocese of Chicago are co-sponsors.
“As parents we send our children to someone for a long time each day to be educated,” says Chris Butler, the head of ParentPowerChicago. “We want to make sure they know the breadth of options.”
In the past, the district has run a high school fair and there was something called a New Schools Expo, which featured mostly charter schools. However, mostly the different types of schools, especially Catholic and other private schools, recruit students at different times and places.
Sullivan Principal Chad Adams says the fact that neighborhood high schools will be in attendance is a good thing and shows Byrd-Bennett’s commitment to neighborhood schools. But he says that he doesn’t expect to recruit large numbers of students from the fair.
“I will get more bang for my buck by visiting elementary schools in the area,” says Adams.
But ParentPowerChicago has raised suspicion among some parents who are concerned that the people behind the effort have an agenda. They also wonder why CPS would be so heavily involved in an effort that could draw students out of public schools and into private ones.
“Over and over, the optics are such that CPS appears not to believe in their own ability to provide a great education to all students within the public school system,” says Wendy Katten, who runs the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand Chicago.
Connections for parents
Butler was the outreach and advocacy director of New Schools for Chicago, which provided private funding for charter schools and is now in the process of reorganizing. Also, the IRS lists the address of the organization as the same as Old World Industries in Northbrook. Old World Industries was founded and is run by J. Thomas Hurvis, who served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.
Other well-connected pro-charter philanthropists, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, served on the board of New Schools for Chicago.
ParentPower is a not-for-profit organization and, as such, will have to file public tax returns, called 990s. But because it is only a year and a half old, those returns are not yet available. The Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Database indicates that ParentPowerChicago had $800,000 in income in 2013 and $90,000 in assets.
Richard Sanderson, a brand-marketing executive who runs the administrative side of ParentPower, says he and Hurvis are the two major donors. He and Butler declined to provide the names of any other donors.
Sanderson says he and Hurvis are both businessmen who thought that parent engagement was a missing piece in improving education. He says the main purpose of ParentPower is to connect parents with resources.
“This is a total agnostic venture,” he says. “There is no commercial interest and there is no income. The whole idea is to elevate children.”
Sanderson points to the fact that district-run schools, as well as private and charter schools are invited to the fair. He also notes that school choice is only one element of what the organization plans to help parents navigate.
Butler says that in the initial stages of the organization, 500 parents were surveyed about what they needed and wanted. “Parents said they wanted the best for their children, but they don’t feel like they have enough time to be engaged. They also said they don’t have the necessary information and relationships to make a difference for their children.”
Butler says it is not directed at any particular demographic. “But it is the parents who have least who often need the most help finding resources,” he says.
While Butler’s contention that the organization is just trying to provide information about different school choices seems innocent enough, some will argue that if the district invested in neighborhood schools, then the maze of choices and school fairs would not be necessary.
But ParentPowerChicago is setting out to help parents find resources on subjects other than schools, such as preschools, tutoring and summer programs. This spring, ParentPowerChicago attracted 3,000 parents to a summer program fair. The organization also is doing two-day parent trainings called a parent university.
It also has a hotline that parents can call. A young man who answered the hotline last week says that radio ads have led to a steady stream of calls. Many times parents ask about after-school programs, he says. He finds out what their child is interested in and what neighborhood they live in and he tries to direct them to an appropriate program. Other times they ask about tutoring.
Sometimes, but rather rarely, they ask about school options, he says.
Colorado tax revenues keep rising faster than state economists can predict them, a trend that might seem to be good news for education but which actually could make it harder to trim the $900 million shortfall in K-12 funding.
That’s because projected revenues are rising fast enough that they likely soon will hit a constitutional trigger that requires refunds of surplus revenues to taxpayers. If the trends continue, the 2015 legislature may have to set aside money in the 2015-16 budget to cover refunds in 2016.
The likelihood of reaching what’s called the “TABOR limit” was a key element in quarterly state revenue forecasts presented to the legislative Joint Budget Committee Monday morning by economists from the Legislative Council staff and the executive branch’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting.
“I’ve been thinking this has been coming for years,” said Lisa Weil, policy director for Great Education Colorado, a group that advocates for increased K-12 funding. “It certainly complicates” school finance discussions, she added.
Weil isn’t the only person who’s seen this coming. State economists have referenced the TABOR limit in the last several forecasts. But hitting the trigger always has been far enough in the future that policymakers didn’t think too much about it. Now, it seems, the future is just about here.
The TABOR limit is part of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which required that state revenue growth beyond inflation and population increase in a given year be refunded to taxpayers. That limit was modified by Referendum C, a 2005 voted-approved measure that shelved the limit for five years and eased its restrictions after that.
Legislative economists estimate that Ref C, as it’s called around the Capitol, has enabled the state to retain and spend $9.8 billion that otherwise would have been refunded.
The last TABOR refunds were paid in 2005, triggered by a $41 million surplus in the 2004-05 budget year. The refunds averaged $15 per taxpayer.Do your homework
Refunds receded into the realm of the theoretical after that as the recession pushed growth in state revenues well below annual TABOR limits. The March 2011 forecasts marked the turnaround for revenues, which have been on the upswing ever since.
Legislative economists estimated Monday that $125.1 million will have to be earmarked in the 2015-16 budget to cover 2016 refunds, and $392.6 million will have to be set aside in 2016-17 to pay for 2017 refunds.
Executive branch forecasters estimate the amounts to be refunded in those two years at $133.1 million and $239.4 million. (The two sets of forecasts offer differ in amounts.)
The legislative staff forecast estimated 2016 refunds at $11 per taxpayer, provided through the earned income tax credit and sales tax refunds. The larger 2017 refund would be provided by a temporary lowering of the income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent, plus more sales tax refunds.
TABOR refunds matter to education spending because they require lawmakers to consider yet another demand as they attempt to juggle competing state spending needs.
The state’s school districts took a $1 billion hit in expected funding after the 2008 recession, a impact known as the “negative factor” after the formula used to reduce K-12 spending in order the balance the overall state budget.
District leaders and lobbyists fought hard during the 2014 session to trim the negative factor, and lawmakers did make a $110 million cut. (Get background in this story.) Education interests have signaled their intent to push for trimming the negative factor further during the 2015 session, an effort likely to be complicated by the need to address the TABOR limit.
“It’s going to take a lot of conversation,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the group’s Capitol lobbyist.
The negative factor also is being challenged by a pending lawsuit (see story).
The amount of funding available for education also is a key concern for the state’s colleges and universities. Their state support has recovered modestly in the last two years. But the higher education system also is in the middle of fleshing out a performance funding system mandated by the 2014 legislature. Many in higher ed are worried there isn’t enough funding to allow that new system to operate properly. (Get background here.)
Lawmakers have an alternative to paying refunds – asking voters to let the state keep the money, as Ref C allowed nearly a decade ago.
“It’s time to talk about TABOR’s binding requirements,” Urschel said, adding that it’s “maybe” time to consider a new version of Ref C.
The politics of that are tricky, especially if Republicans take control of the Senate, the House, the governorship or any combination of the three in the Nov. 4 election.
“This is going to a fun session,” Weil said of 2015, with a hint of irony in her voice.Forecast notes
The forecasts released Monday touched on three other topics of interest for education funding watchers.
State Education Fund: This dedicated account, used to supplement K-12 spending, is projected to have between $561 million and $672 million in it for spending by the 2015 legislature. The fund contained more than $1 billion last spring, prompting a tug of war between lawmakers who wanted to spend more on schools and others who wanted to save for future rainy days. The rainy day crowd mostly prevailed.
Marijuana revenues: Up to $40 million a year in excise (wholesale) taxes on recreational marijuana is earmarked for the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. Prior marijuana revenue forecasts proved way too optimistic, partly because many users so far have chosen to stick with low-tax medical marijuana. The latest legislative forecast puts excise revenues at under $12 million in each of the next two years and at only $12.3 million in 2016-17. (See this story for more background.)
College construction: The higher education lobby’s big spring 2014 gamble paid off. Scrambling to find campus construction money, higher ed helped push through a bill that earmarked some surplus 2013-14 revenues for buildings – if that surplus materialized. It did, and nine of the 10 projects on the priority list got their money on Sept. 15. The 10th is expected to get its cash near the end of the year after the state’s 2013-14 books are finally closed. The list of 10 includes a few non-campus projects. The higher ed projects are at the Auraria Higher Education Center, CSU-Fort Collins, CU-Boulder, Fort Lewis College and Adams, Colorado Mesa and Western Colorado state universities.
A sea of elementary schoolers crowded into McMeen Elementary School in southeast Denver on Monday morning were eager to tell their superintendent Tom Boasberg what made their school great. “We have good teachers,” said one student. “We respect other people,” said another. “It’s fun!” said a third.
Boasberg had a more specific reason: This was the fifth year McMeen earned the top ranking, “blue,” on the district’s school performance framework, released Monday morning.
“What it means to be blue is you’re learning and you’re growing,” Boasberg said.
Explore Chalkbeat’s database of this year’s school rankings.
The number of schools in Denver earning top marks on the district’s school performance framework increased this year, but the number of schools in the lowest category also increased for the second year in a row.
The district has set a goal of having 80 percent of its students in green or blue schools by 2020, as part of its Denver Plan. Today, 60 percent of students in the district are attending schools ranked either green or blue—down one percent from last year.
“There are some really strong spots and some clear areas of concern,” Boasberg told Chalkbeat on Monday.
Overall, 92 of the district’s 185 Denver schools earned a green or blue ranking, the top two levels. McMeen was one of 27 “blue” schools in the district. That’s part of a steady upward trend, according to district officials. But the number of “red” schools—identified as the lowest-performing in the city—increased again this year, from 25 in 2013 to 31.
The district’s charter schools were disproportionately represented in both the top two and bottom two categories: Eleven of the district’s 26 blue schools, or more than two-fifths of the high-ranking schools, were charters, though charters make up just one-fifth of the district’s schools. At the same time, 11 of the district’s 32 charters were in the bottom two categories.
The district’s efforts to increase the number of schools into the top categories will be complicated by two policy changes that go into effect next year. State and local officials have predicted that scores on the state’s new set of standardized assessments, PARCC, are likely to be lower than scores on TCAP, the current testing system. That’s likely to have a ripple effect on the school’s ratings and accountability measures but the district hasn’t decided how they plan to handle those impacts.
The district is also in the process of adjusting the formula it uses to evaluate schools. Beginning next year, rankings will give more weight to schools’ absolute scores rather than to measures of how much progress students made compared to their peers.
The rankings are based students’ performance on standardized tests and a group of additional measures, including what percent of students reenroll in the school and what percentage of parents respond to a survey.
The School Performance Framework gives schools a grade out of 100 points and a color-coded status. Schools are coded as red (on probation); orange and yellow (on a “watch list”); green (“meets expectations”); or blue. The state, which uses the same terms but a different performance framework, will be releasing its scores later this year. The district also rates its early education programs and alternative programs using specially-tailored frameworks.
The rankings carry the most impact for the “red” schools, which are subject to school improvement efforts ranging from increased professional development for teachers to bringing in entirely new leadership or management.
“We were struck by and disappointed the increased number of red schools,” Boasberg said “There will absolutely be changes in all of those schools.”
Several schools that made progress in previous years slipped back into the lowest ranking, including Schmitt Elementary and the district’s all-boys charter school, Sims-Fayola International Academy.
Sims-Fayola’s charter contract is up for renewal this year. Students made an impassioned plea for the school’s survival at Denver’s board meeting last week.
Boasberg said the district should focus on retaining high-quality teachers in struggling schools by shoring up the supports teachers receive and pay incentives for working in low-performing schools. Teachers currently receive a $2,500 bonus; “that’s not nearly enough,” he said.
At successful schools, Boasberg said, “it’s not a complicated formula – you see good teaching, good leadership and a strong culture.”
Boasberg singled out improvements the district’s middle schools.
“Middle school is where we’ve seen the deepest push on many of our reforms,” he said. He said many of the district’s middle schools, both charter and traditional, are now smaller and higher-performing than in the past.
Three new middle schools—Hamilton, KIPP’s Montbello campus and DSST: Byers — joined the list of schools that met or exceeded expectations. Denver charter network’s STRIVE’s Lake campus dropped off the list, part of a pattern of declines at STRIVE schools.
Boasberg said the performance framework’s measures “all come together to form an overall view of each school. He urged parents and teachers to look both at schools’ performance and at individual children’s scores. “Every parent wants to know, is my kid learning or growing?”
Parents at McMeen today said that the rankings confirmed what they already knew about their school and its teachers.
“When we moved here from Littleton, I remember pulling in and seeing the ‘school of excellence’ banner,” said Shelley Keoppel, who has second and fourth graders at the school. “But it’s really being here, the more you’re involved, that you become more aware of what’s going well.”
GOLDEN — For the second school day in a row, students rallied against a proposed curriculum review committee that they believe — if established — could lead to censorship.
Additional student-led protests are planned for Tuesday morning.
“We want to get the message across that we’re not going to let [the board] mess anything up for future generations,” said Dylan Losche, an Evergreen High School senior.
Superintendent Dan McMinimee said he neither condones nor condemns the rallies, but he would prefer, for safety reasons, students stay on campus.
“I will come to them,” he said after meeting with four students this morning. “I will go to any school that asks.”
The Evergreen High students, about 100 of them, repeated several of the concerns their peers from Standley Lake High made Friday.
They believe a community committee to review standards, assessments, and curriculum — in particular for an advanced history course — being considered by the Jefferson County Board of Education will prohibit lessons on civil disobedience and will only present the nation’s history in a positive light.
Conservative board member Julie Williams, who proposed the committee’s scope of work, said critics are reading too much into the proposal.
While McMinimee has not explicitly said he’s opposed to the panel, he did tell the board at its Thursday meeting the district has 24 different policies to establish and review which text books and lessons are taught. One policy includes how a parent can challenge a book in a library or a classroom.
The crux of the discussion between McMinimee, his staff, and the students, was to explain the board’s process.
Some students incorrectly believe that the board has already taken direct action to curtail the Advance Placement U.S. history course.
“I learned a lot about the process,” said Eric Temple, a senior at Evergreen. He knew the board hadn’t put the committee into place, but was unclear about what would happen next. “I thought I was pretty well researched — more than the average student.”
McMinimee said he hopes the students left feeling that they had been heard.
The students, who said their concerns have not been answered yet, plan on addressing the board at the next regularly scheduled board meeting, Oct. 2.
Meanwhile, Jeffco staff is continuing to monitor its teachers’ substitute requests. On Friday, the district canceled classes at two high schools because there wasn’t enough substitutes to cover the unusually high number of requests. About one-third of the teaching staff at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools either called in sick or took a personal day in an apparent “sick out.”
All schools were open today. The number of call-ins was not out of the ordinary.
Teachers have grown increasingly frustrated with the school board’s majority. Earlier this month, the board’s chairman introduced a new compensation model that links bonuses to evaluations.
McMinimee said central office staff is working hurriedly to issue guidance to teachers on the compensation changes.
About a third of the teaching staff at two Jefferson County high schools were absent Friday forcing the district to cancel classes for the day. Meanwhile, students at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools protested a proposed curriculum panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, KDVR )
Here's a look at how journalism students at Standley Lake covered the day. ( The Lake via Chalkbeat Colorado )
The principal at Standley Lake is concerned about what's to come. ( CPR )
in other news
Meanwhile, Jeffco officials proposed redrawing school borders, reconfiguring grade layouts, and building a new K-8 school along Highway 93 and 58th Avenue to help alleviate overcrowding. ( Arvada Press )
Join Chalkbeat and Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Monday, Sept. 29, at the Jeffco Fairgrounds for a panel to discuss your rights to information and open meetings in your school district. ( Colorado Freedom Of Information Coalition )
The Denver Post editorial board opined the school board was correct to table the controversial curriculum review committee — and provides a bit of advice if the board seeks to move forward with a community panel to review texts in the future. ( Denver Post )
keeping it in the classroom
At one Colorado private school, no homework means a new approach to learning during school hours. ( 9News )
Rated 'G' for Green
The Boulder Valley School District showcased its most eco-friendly practices to federal officials last week. ( Daily Camera )
The Core debate
CBS's "Sunday Morning" takes a look at the debate over the Common Core State Standards. The Sunday news magazine stops by a Florida and New York school to exam the issues. ( CBS News )
Denver Public Schools is correct to reconsider its bidding process that has left out businesses owned by women and people of color, The Denver Post believes. ( Denver Post )
WBEZ’s Becky Vevea looks at the challenges of re-engaging dropouts in Chicago. One of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first goals in office was getting more of Chicago’s 60,000 school-aged dropouts back into class. Vevea reports that the district’s new Student Outreach and Re-Engagement (SOAR) has helped bring 1,700 students back into CPS since it started last year; 130 of these have since gotten their high school diplomas.
Vevea rides along with staff from Prologue, a long-time alternative school operator, as they try to bring young people back into school. Not-for-profit operators, like Prologue and the 20-some Youth Connection Charter School campuses, are under pressure to get students. CPS has beefed up its recruitment of dropouts at the same time as it has embarked on a major expansion of for-profit alternative schools. Seven of these schools are slated to open this year. These schools, like all CPS schools, receive funding on a per-student basis.
Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that the district’s graduation rate has increased under their administration and is now nearly 70 percent. All ethnic and gender groups have seen increases, but Black male student gradutation rates, already the lowest, did not go up as much and remain the lowest, with only 51 percent of Black male freshmen graduating in five years.
2. More subs… A Chicago Tribune analysis shows that students are increasingly coming to class to find that they have a substitute for the day. The analysis only included suburban and downstate schools, not Chicago. While students might be happy, experts say learning suffers when they are not with their regular teachers. School district officials say that some of the teacher absences can be attributed to participation in professional development to learn how to implement new standards, called the Common Core. Another reason is that, as a generation of teachers retire, districts are hiring a crop of young teachers, who often go on maternity leave.
In Chicago, the lack of substitutes is often a problem. Principals complain that the substitute center often doesn’t send substitutes, even when they ask for them several days in advance, according to a February 2013 Catalyst story. When substitutes don’t show up, city principals often pull assistant principals, special education teachers and art teachers to cover classes. Catalyst has heard that the problem has not improved over the last two years.
3. What’s in a name… Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that he wouldn’t pursue his plan to name a new North Side selective enrollment high school after President Barack Obama. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes that, even as he backs down from using the Obama name, Emanuel misses the larger point. She says he should reconsider building a new selective enrollment school on the North Side altogether. “These voters aren’t worried about what name hangs on a school. These voters are still seething because they couldn’t even control the pitiful, failing schools in their own neighborhoods,” she writes.
The building of a new selective enrollment high school, which Emanuel still wants to do, brings up another point. As required by state law, CPS had to develop a 10-year master facilities plan. The plan, which was completed last year, should have outlined what the district has and what the district needs. Hearings on the plan should have been about the specific types of new construction that the district would undertake over the coming years. But the plan is thin on specifics and is more a description of current conditions than anything else. Decisions about what new schools will be built, which ones will get annexes and which ones will get improvements seem to be made in a vacuum, without any justification or public input.
4. Charter unions … Why have we not seen more of them? The answer, according to Dara Zeehandelaar, research manager at the Fordham Institute in Washington in an Education Week article, is in part because teachers at charter schools “believe in the importance of autonomy .. They’re young, and young teachers believe in [unionizing] less.”
Zeehandelaar says the national unions -- the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) -- began moving in on charter schools after recognizing that it’s better to be “on the table” than not be there at all. Quite simply, “the greater percentage of those schools that are charters, the fewer percentage of schools are district schools, and the fewer teachers that are unionized.”
In Chicago, teachers are organized at about a quarter of all charter schools. The most recent school to unionize is Chicago International Charter School (CICS) ChicagoQuest, where teachers voted to unionize in May and are negotiating a contract. Meanwhile, teachers at Latino Youth Alternative School are nearing a vote on their own contract.
Read more about charter school unionization in these EdWeek stories, as well as a Catalyst story from earlier this year when teachers at the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) network voted on what some say is one of the largest labor contracts for a charter network in the country.
5. Benefits of a full-day of Pre-K … With all this recent talk of universal preschool, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commitment to expanding slots for low-income children and a recent call by progressive unions for full-day preschool, it’s worth taking a look at a program here in Chicago that’s been providing comprehensive educational intervention to young, low-income children and their families for nearly three decades.
Last week, the Hechinger Report posted a Q&A with Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, who has been following a class of 1,539 children from Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers for nearly 30 years. (This longitudinal study has tracked all sorts of long-term benefits of preschool, from academic achievement to a reduction in remedial education and juvenile arrests.)
Child-Parent Centers in Chicago and elsewhere got a funding boost from the federal government a few years ago, which is why they’ve been able to expand. And at more than two-dozen schools, principals are putting in additional funds to make the programs full day. At those schools, Reynolds says, “We found [significantly better] learning gains compared to kids in the half-day preschool. … That also reduced chronic absence rates by 40 percent. This fall, the program has over 30 full-day pre-K classes in the city of Chicago. This has been a tremendous expansion.”
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Journalism students at Standley Lake High School have been following today’s rally and “sick out” on social media. The school’s news team has pulled together updates from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites you haven’t even heard of yet, to keep us all in the know.
Check out our updated feature with all the best education reading for your Friday afternoon!
[Updated] JEFFERSON COUNTY — School might have been canceled for students at Standley Lake High School, but that didn’t stop about 100 students from rallying this morning to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel.
Jeffco Public Schools canceled class at both Standley Lake and Conifer high schools this morning due to a large number of teacher absences.
About a third of the teaching staff at the each of the two schools called in, district staff said. Jeffco does not have an explicit policy on when to close down a school due to teacher absences. The decision to close a campus is made on a case-by-case basis.
The protests are the latest development in an escalating series of conflicts between vocal segments of the Jefferson County community and its school board. In recent weeks, conflict has centered around a new teacher compensation model the board adopted earlier this month that bases teacher raises on their evaluation ratings, as well as around a proposed new committee to review curriculum on criteria such as whether it promotes patriotism.
“While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways to work through these differences without putting kids in the middle,” said Dan McMinimee, Jeffco’s superintendent, at a press conference today.
McMinimee stressed several times during the press conference that 153 of Jeffco’s 155 schools were still open.
On average, about 410 teachers call in sick or take a personal day each day in Jeffco, with an average of 480 calling in on Fridays. District officials said teacher absences were normal throughout the rest of the county.
District staff was monitoring its substitute teacher request phone line throughout the evening. As of 7 p.m. last night, Jeffco staff reported there was no sign of a mass call-out. But that changed at about midnight when Jeffco began contacting television news stations with the Standley Lake closure.PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Superintendent Dan McMinimee apologized to parents for having to cancel school Friday at two county high schools. About one-third of the teaching staff of those schools were absent.
Meanwhile, the Standley Lake students had planned to walk out of class as a sign of protest at 8:20 a.m. But with the school closed, they met at the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth Parkway instead. Students held posters they made yesterday after school and chanted “my school, my voice,” and “isn’t it great to have an education?”
Students said they were worried the board’s proposal aimed to censor their history classes.
“We can’t let this start with AP U.S. history,” said Ben Smith, a junior. “It will spread to the entire school.”
Board member Julie Williams — who has asked for a community panel to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history course, which has been a target of conservatives across the country — said critics have misinterpreted her request. Standley Lake is one of the schools in the district Williams represents.
“All I’m asking is that we look at it,” Williams said at last night’s board meeting.
While the student’s protest was clearly taking aim at the board’s debate over curriculum review, it was less clear why teachers called out sick.
The rumored “sick out,” which was discouraged in an email from district staff yesterday, was not organized by the suburban teacher’s union.
“District leadership has heard from several sources that a significant number of employees may be planning an organized ‘sick out’ on Friday, Sept. 19 and Monday, Sept. 22,” the email to teachers read. “While we hope this isn’t true, we also can’t disregard the impact on our students and schools if this were to happen.”
The email also cited a Colorado law that makes an organized “sick out” illegal. While the district is reviewing all options, leaders were not prepared to “pigeon hole” teachers at the two schools who called in on Friday.
But in a statement, board president Ken Witt blasted the teachers who called in sick, saying that he was disappointed in the teachers’ choice to force schools to close.
“These same teachers that yesterday were wearing ‘Stand Up 4 Kids’ buttons, today decided not to stand up for our students, only one day after the board chose to give them generous performance raises,” he said. “I am saddened to see Jeffco students being used as union pawns, and am heartened that only two schools out of over 140 in Jeffco chose to be a part of this abuse of our students.”
Rumors about the “sick out” swirled throughout Jeffco Public Schools yesterday, including at last night’s board meeting. Teachers familiar with the “sick out” plans, speaking privately, said teachers throughout the district feel their voices have been ignored.
Earlier month the union issued a vote of no confidence in board chairman Ken Witt’s leadership. Witt, in August, unilaterally proposed a new compensation model for teachers that link evaluation scores to pay increases. While all teachers will be see some form of pay increase this year, many kinks in Witt’s model still need to be worked out.
In a statement, Jefferson County Education Association spokesman Scott Kwasny said that while the union was not involved in organizing the protest, officials empathized with the feelings that motivated it.
“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their elected officials are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” he said. “Last night’s discussion about censoring the AP history curriculum is yet another example of this board majority shortchanging our students.”
Students are expected to return to the corner of 104th Avenue and Wadsworth at about 4 p.m. to resume their rally.
Jeffco officials are monitoring teacher absences for Monday. McMinimee said he plans to continue having conversations with teachers one-on-one and in small groups.
“For me, it’s less about punishment, and more about understanding and picking up the pieces and moving forward,” he said. “We have to schools in session. Our kids deserve to have an opportunity to learn.”
One Standley Lake mom, Lindsay Woltz, said she was sorry tensions between teachers and the Jeffco board had come to this.
“Our teachers have their act together,” she said. “I know today was an act of rebellion, but I don’t think they had a choice.”