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CPS touts minute improvements for students from closed schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 19:29

Ever-so -slight improvements in attendance, graduation on-track rates and grade-point averages among students from closed schools proved enough to please CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and board members.

In her first update on what has happened to the roughly 12,000 students whose schools were closed at the end of last school year, Byrd-Bennett told board members on Wednesday that dire predictions of chaos did not come true.

 “We’re stronger today than we were before and better positioned than we were before,” she said. “Students impacted by the consolidations are making academic gains.”

But the CEO’s preliminary report does not show substantial gains.

In every area, students from closed schools lag way behind and have made less progress than other students throughout the city. The on-track rate for students who did not experience any school actions last year was nearly 60 percent in Quarter 2 of this school year, up 2 percentage points from last year. Those numbers were nearly parallel for students from the welcoming schools, whose graduation on-track rates grew from 57 percent to 59 percent.

But students from closed schools have seen an increase of only 0.3 percent, to 48 percent.

Board members, who didn’t ask any questions about the report, lauded the CEO.

 “Congrats to you and the team,” said Board President David Vitale. “Frankly, it’s an incredible success to date.”

CPS has spent more than $225 million on capital and academic programming at the 50 welcoming schools to smooth students’ transition from the closed schools.

Byrd-Bennett said that the placement of additional monitors along routes used by students from closing schools led to no “major” incidents, and that attendance was up. During the first two quarters of the 2012-2013 school year, the average attendance of students from closed schools was 92.7 percent. During the same period this year, the average attendance was 93 percent.

The CEO also noted that just over half of students from closed schools improved their attendance. It’s unclear whether the other half fared worse off, or if their attendance did not change. CPS officials did not provide more detailed data.

Context missing from report

The 9-page midyear report does not take into account some factors that could have impacted data on student performance during the first two quarters of last school year – when a parsed list of potential closures was first made public.

A 2009 Consortium on Chicago School Research study on school closings found that the most precarious time for students of closed schools are the months around the announcement. The research indicates that the drama caused by knowing a school may close can affect attendance and conduct.

Also, some of the students in closed schools did not actually change buildings. In those cases, the staff and students from welcoming schools moved into their space. The children who did not change buildings would not have had to travel longer distances, something that many worried would affect attendance.

During her comments to the board on Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the CEO’s report doesn’t tell the entire story about the consequences of closing schools.

“There are still 800 students unaccounted for from the entire move last year,” Lewis said. “These are things that are never discussed publicly that need to be discussed publicly.”

The CEO said she would return to the board at the end of the school year with a more comprehensive analysis, and promised to provide annual updates during the next three years.

ISAT investigation “winding down”

Byrd-Bennett also briefly addressed the controversy surrounding an ongoing CPS investigation into teachers at Drummond Montessori School and Saucedo Scholastic Academy who refused to give the ISAT standardized test earlier this month.

CPS legal investigators interviewed Drummond students last week, infuriating their parents, who had not given their consent for the interviews. Investigators later talked with Saucedo teachers but said they did not interview students there.

“We are obliged to investigate the allegations of staff misconduct,” Byrd-Bennett said. “Our interviews are winding down and concluding, and after consultation with legal, I will bring back findings and recommendations for this board to consider.”

Many parents in the audience who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting criticized the district for the ISAT investigation. Parents said it was their decision – and not the teachers’ – to opt their children out of taking the ISAT.

“Who the heck thought it was a good idea to send an investigator in to question our kids?” asked Mary Zerkel, a Drummond parent. “Did our mayor approve this?”

School board silent on school turnarounds

Before the meeting, dozens of parents, teachers and community supporters rallied against a CPS proposal last Friday to “turn around” three elementary schools:  Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham. The board will vote on the proposal next month.

One Dvorak parent, Lisa Russell, asked the board to give the schools more resources to turn themselves around instead of turning over the management to an outside organization.

“I know we’re not moving as fast as you want us to, but we take every child from everywhere,” she said. “We take the children nobody wants.”

Russell also suggested that the board vote against a proposal to nearly double its budget for new furniture for CPS headquarters, which are changing locations later this year. Still, the board voted unanimously for the proposal, bringing the total furniture budget for the new office space to $9.5 million.

No more background checks for some volunteers

In other action, the board agreed unanimously to scale back CPS requirements on background checks for volunteers. The new tiered system makes it easier for parents and community members to get involved in schools, said Phil Hampton, who heads the district’s family and community engagement programs.

“We feel that the current policy and practice is somewhat restrictive and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “We want to increase access to interested volunteers, in particular to parents and non-parents, while also providing the necessary safeguards for students and staff.”

Criminal background checks will now only be required for parent volunteers who spend more than 10 hours per week at the school their child attends, and non-parent volunteers who work five hours per week. Chaperones on overnight school-sponsored trips, coaches, one-on-one tutors and others with direct, regular contact with students will still have to undergo background checks.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts minute improvements for students from closed schools

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 19:29

Ever-so -slight improvements in attendance, graduation on-track rates and grade-point averages among students from closed schools proved enough to please CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and board members.

In her first update on what has happened to the roughly 12,000 students whose schools were closed at the end of last school year, Byrd-Bennett told board members on Wednesday that dire predictions of chaos did not come true.

 “We’re stronger today than we were before and better positioned than we were before,” she said. “Students impacted by the consolidations are making academic gains.”

But the CEO’s preliminary report does not show substantial gains.

In every area, students from closed schools lag way behind and have made less progress than other students throughout the city. The on-track rate for students who did not experience any school actions last year was nearly 60 percent in Quarter 2 of this school year, up 2 percentage points from last year. Those numbers were nearly parallel for students from the welcoming schools, whose graduation on-track rates grew from 57 percent to 59 percent.

But students from closed schools have seen an increase of only 0.3 percent, to 48 percent.

Board members, who didn’t ask any questions about the report, lauded the CEO.

 “Congrats to you and the team,” said Board President David Vitale. “Frankly, it’s an incredible success to date.”

CPS has spent more than $225 million on capital and academic programming at the 50 welcoming schools to smooth students’ transition from the closed schools.

Byrd-Bennett said that the placement of additional monitors along routes used by students from closing schools led to no “major” incidents, and that attendance was up. During the first two quarters of the 2012-2013 school year, the average attendance of students from closed schools was 92.7 percent. During the same period this year, the average attendance was 93 percent.

The CEO also noted that just over half of students from closed schools improved their attendance. It’s unclear whether the other half fared worse off, or if their attendance did not change. CPS officials did not provide more detailed data.

Context missing from report

The 9-page midyear report does not take into account some factors that could have impacted data on student performance during the first two quarters of last school year – when a parsed list of potential closures was first made public.

A 2009 Consortium on Chicago School Research study on school closings found that the most precarious time for students of closed schools are the months around the announcement. The research indicates that the drama caused by knowing a school may close can affect attendance and conduct.

Also, some of the students in closed schools did not actually change buildings. In those cases, the staff and students from welcoming schools moved into their space. The children who did not change buildings would not have had to travel longer distances, something that many worried would affect attendance.

During her comments to the board on Wednesday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the CEO’s report doesn’t tell the entire story about the consequences of closing schools.

“There are still 800 students unaccounted for from the entire move last year,” Lewis said. “These are things that are never discussed publicly that need to be discussed publicly.”

The CEO said she would return to the board at the end of the school year with a more comprehensive analysis, and promised to provide annual updates during the next three years.

ISAT investigation “winding down”

Byrd-Bennett also briefly addressed the controversy surrounding an ongoing CPS investigation into teachers at Drummond Montessori School and Saucedo Scholastic Academy who refused to give the ISAT standardized test earlier this month.

CPS legal investigators interviewed Drummond students last week, infuriating their parents, who had not given their consent for the interviews. Investigators later talked with Saucedo teachers but said they did not interview students there.

“We are obliged to investigate the allegations of staff misconduct,” Byrd-Bennett said. “Our interviews are winding down and concluding, and after consultation with legal, I will bring back findings and recommendations for this board to consider.”

Many parents in the audience who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting criticized the district for the ISAT investigation. Parents said it was their decision – and not the teachers’ – to opt their children out of taking the ISAT.

“Who the heck thought it was a good idea to send an investigator in to question our kids?” asked Mary Zerkel, a Drummond parent. “Did our mayor approve this?”

School board silent on school turnarounds

Before the meeting, dozens of parents, teachers and community supporters rallied against a CPS proposal last Friday to “turn around” three elementary schools:  Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham. The board will vote on the proposal next month.

One Dvorak parent, Lisa Russell, asked the board to give the schools more resources to turn themselves around instead of turning over the management to an outside organization.

“I know we’re not moving as fast as you want us to, but we take every child from everywhere,” she said. “We take the children nobody wants.”

Russell also suggested that the board vote against a proposal to nearly double its budget for new furniture for CPS headquarters, which are changing locations later this year. Still, the board voted unanimously for the proposal, bringing the total furniture budget for the new office space to $9.5 million.

No more background checks for some volunteers

In other action, the board agreed unanimously to scale back CPS requirements on background checks for volunteers. The new tiered system makes it easier for parents and community members to get involved in schools, said Phil Hampton, who heads the district’s family and community engagement programs.

“We feel that the current policy and practice is somewhat restrictive and that’s why we’re here today,” he said. “We want to increase access to interested volunteers, in particular to parents and non-parents, while also providing the necessary safeguards for students and staff.”

Criminal background checks will now only be required for parent volunteers who spend more than 10 hours per week at the school their child attends, and non-parent volunteers who work five hours per week. Chaperones on overnight school-sponsored trips, coaches, one-on-one tutors and others with direct, regular contact with students will still have to undergo background checks.

Categories: Urban School News

Annual report card shows improvement in child health in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 18:39

The health of Colorado children earned a C on the 2013 Colorado Health Report Card released today, up from a D+ last year.

The change appears due to a reduction in childhood obesity, a decrease in the percentage of uninsured children, and an increase in physical activity among children, three of six indicators tracked for the age group.

According to the report card, which is published each spring by the Colorado Health Foundation in partnership with the Colorado Health Institute, the child obesity rate fell from 14.2 percent last year to 10.9 percent this year. That said, officials from the Colorado Health Institute said the change isn’t statistically signficant because of the small sample size used to get those percentages. In other words, the actual change may be smaller than the 3.3 percentage points reported.

“It’s a marker, but it isn’t necessarily all the information,” said Sara Schmitt, director of community health policy for the Colorado Health Institute.

The report card also found that the percentage of children between the ages of 6 and 17 doing vigorous physical activity four or more days a week jumped from 64.1 percent last year to 67.6 percent this year. In addition, the percentage of children not covered by public or private insurance dropped from 8.6 percent last year to 7.3 percent this year.

Colorado scored about the same as last year on two other child health indicators—the percentage of children in poverty and the percentage who get routine preventive dental care. On a sixth indicator—the percentage of children with a medical home—the state fell from 59.3 percent last year to 55.3 percent this year.

Overall, the improvements in child health mean that Colorado now ranks  25th among states according to the report card. Being smack in the middle of the pack may not be ideal, but it’s better than the ranking of 31st the state earned last year.

While child health measures improved a bit this year, adolescent health stayed almost exactly the same, earning a B again this year and continuing to rank about 15th among states. The Healthy Beginnings category, which tracks indicators like smoking among pregnant women, infant mortality rates, and child vaccination rates, earned a C again this year.

The last two life stage categories on the report card—Healthy Adults and Healthy Aging—earned a B and B+ respectively this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Girl kicked out for shaving her head is back in school

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 08:41

Cheers and Jeers

As Tom Boasberg wraps up his fifth year as Denver's superintendent, the question is what have those five years brought? Higher enrollment, some academic growth and the closure of 18 schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Ratng the rankings

Also in Denver, board members debated how to alter and improve the district's school ranking system, down to how the reports are laid out. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School safety

Three Denver schools, including George Washington High School and the Denver Green School, went into lockdown yesterday after shots were fired in the nearby streets. ( 9News )

Media Frenzy

A Grand Junction school made the headlines nationwide after sending a girl home for shaving her head in solidarity with a friend stricken with cancer. The girl was back in school Tuesday after a vote to allow her back. ( GJ Sentinel, 9News, Denver Post )

Quick change

A Poudre school board member who was elected in November will be leaving his post to take a job in Florida. ( Coloradoan )

No takebacks

State board member Marcia Neal may have changed her mind and decided to run for re-election. But that doesn't mean that the fellow Republican candidate who signed up to take her place is going to drop out of the running. ( GJ Sentinel )

Big talk

On the fourth anniversary of Obama's Race to the Top initiative, officials say it has sparked "enormous positive change." But the analysis released Tuesday were more upbeat that the US Education Department's own progress reports. ( Washington Post )

Help in the front office

Legislation to fund additional counselors in schools would lower the ratio of students to often overwhelmed counselor. Districts currently receiving grant funding have seen their dropout rates decline. ( CO Springs Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS wants $5 million for new HQ furniture

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 07:55

Chicago Public Schools is seeking to double its furniture budget to $9.5 million, chalking up $5 million of that to an upcoming move of its central headquarters. District officials want the Board of Education to approve the expense for the purchase and installation of new office furniture by Staples at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, a proposal the Chicago Teachers Union called “poor stewardship of money.” (Sun-Times)

TESTING PROBE RILES PARENTS: Some parents outraged over Chicago Public Schools interviewing children without parental consent in a probe into standardized testing at a Bucktown school said Monday they want the district to give them transcripts of the conversations and have expressed interest in talking to lawyers about potential legal issues of what happened. (DNAInfo)

AUSL GETS AUSTIN TURNAROUND: Less than a year after closing four elementary schools in Austin, CPS has announced it will overhaul a fifth Austin school. Chicago Public Schools said late last week it will designate Ronald E. McNair Elementary as a “turnaround” school; the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership will operate the school starting with the 2014-2015 academic year. (Austin Talks)

IN THE NATION
NEW VISION FOR NYC SCHOOLS: In remarks Sunday before the congregants of the Riverside Church, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his vision for New York City’s schools and pledged an approach that fosters fairness and progress across the entire school system. (NYC)

NEW STANDARDIZED TESTS: Schools across California began administering new standardized tests Tuesday that are designed to demand more of students and offer a clearer picture of how much they are learning. More than 3 million students will be tested in English and math through June 6, and for the first time, everyone will take the exams on a computer — either tablet, laptop or desktop.  The new tests are linked to state learning goals that have also been adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia. The tests and learning standards have raised philosophical and political questions across the country.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS wants $5 million for new HQ furniture

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/26/2014 - 07:55

Chicago Public Schools is seeking to double its furniture budget to $9.5 million, chalking up $5 million of that to an upcoming move of its central headquarters. District officials want the Board of Education to approve the expense for the purchase and installation of new office furniture by Staples at Wednesday’s monthly meeting, a proposal the Chicago Teachers Union called “poor stewardship of money.” (Sun-Times)

TESTING PROBE RILES PARENTS: Some parents outraged over Chicago Public Schools interviewing children without parental consent in a probe into standardized testing at a Bucktown school said Monday they want the district to give them transcripts of the conversations and have expressed interest in talking to lawyers about potential legal issues of what happened. (DNAInfo)

AUSL GETS AUSTIN TURNAROUND: Less than a year after closing four elementary schools in Austin, CPS has announced it will overhaul a fifth Austin school. Chicago Public Schools said late last week it will designate Ronald E. McNair Elementary as a “turnaround” school; the privately run Academy for Urban School Leadership will operate the school starting with the 2014-2015 academic year. (Austin Talks)

IN THE NATION
NEW VISION FOR NYC SCHOOLS: In remarks Sunday before the congregants of the Riverside Church, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his vision for New York City’s schools and pledged an approach that fosters fairness and progress across the entire school system. (NYC)

NEW STANDARDIZED TESTS: Schools across California began administering new standardized tests Tuesday that are designed to demand more of students and offer a clearer picture of how much they are learning. More than 3 million students will be tested in English and math through June 6, and for the first time, everyone will take the exams on a computer — either tablet, laptop or desktop.  The new tests are linked to state learning goals that have also been adopted by 44 other states and the District of Columbia. The tests and learning standards have raised philosophical and political questions across the country.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver board weighs in on proposed changes to school rating system

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 19:20

Denver school board members found a lot to question in the district’s framework for reporting school performance at a board session on Monday.

The session was the last step in a community outreach and polling process that will drive changes to the district’s School Performance Framework (SPF) reports, which are released each fall. The color-coded reports, which rank schools from red (low) to blue (high), are used both in accountability decisions and in informing parents about schools.

The changes would not affect the rankings for an overwhelming majority of Denver’s schools. Of those affected, 23, including 17 elementary schools, would see their ranking drop. Six schools would see their ranking increase.

By and large, board members agreed with the district’s proposals, which included more emphasis on kindergarten through third grade and on students’ performance on tests, but raised worries about the timeline for changes and the objectivity of the measures the board selected.

“What fundamental changes does [the change to the SPF] drive inside the building?” asked Landri Taylor, the representative for northeast Denver. “They need to happen now before school starts.”

But they urged that communicating the changes to the school and the public was going to be a tricky task.

“Pretty intensive communication with the schools being adjusted will be pretty important,” said Rosemary Rodriguez, the representative for southwest Denver.

Not tough enough

The biggest change the district is proposing is to reduce the historical emphasis on students’ growth and place more weight on how well students perform on state tests. That decision concerned board members, who worried that the change could discourage teachers working with students who come in behind.

But they also worried that the current system covered up low test scores with high growth. Members focused particularly on schools ranked as green, which indicates that the school “meets expectations,” but that still post low test scores.

“What does green actually mean?” said Anne Rowe. Rowe represents southeast Denver. “We need to be really thoughtful about what we mean when we say [that a school is] green.”

Rowe said that some green schools are actually two schools, one that’s “blue” or high-performing for affluent students and one that’s “orange” for their less affluent peers.

Other members were more concerned with the district’s high performers.

“You give schools points for moving kids from partially proficient to proficient, but not from proficient to advanced,” said member Mike Johnson, who represents central Denver.

Johnson and others pushed district officials to consider a way to look at how much the district’s higher achieving students are doing as well as a closer look at how well schools are actually doing at getting students to proficiency.

“We’re going to need a SPF that raises the bar,” said board president Happy Haynes. Right now, she said, there is no incentive for the district’s top-performing schools to do better. “What we’re saying is if you’re green or blue, stay right where you’re at. What we need is a way to say don’t coast.”

Another change district officials are proposing is using early learning assessments required under the state’s early literacy act to measure how schools are doing in kindergarten through third grade. The greater focus on younger grades was popular with board members but Haynes acknowledged concerns about using a tool intended for teachers’ diagnostic use as a school accountability measure.

District officials said the tests were the only metrics available for all schools, including charters but that they they were taking steps to ensure the assessments, which are administered by teachers, are objective.

Lots of questions, few answers

Although district officials were seeking feedback on two specific ideas, the meeting also proved an opportunity for board members to raise a host of other changes they would also like to see, including tougher standards and clearer communication about what a school’s report means.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, board members drew up a list of questions to answer during the discussion, including:

  • We’re going to change the SPF for a reason. What does that mean we are going to do differently because of that change?
  • We need to be very clear on what the purpose of SPF. What is used for? What it isn’t used for? Where is it misused?
  • How does the SPF guide achievement for all students?
  • How do we align the annual goals we’re establishing with Denver Plan with the SPF?

By the meeting’s conclusion, many of those questions still lingered unanswered and more had been added on topics ranging from parent engagements to how parents interpret the reports.

Board members urged the district to reconsider how school rankings are visually presented, minimizing the overall rating and highlighting aspects like status scores, student growth and achievement gaps.

The visual impacts of the way the reports are presented could impact schools and the communities they serve.

“When they tag a school as a red school, they tag that community as a red community,” said Taylor. He said that could have impacts both on morale and on housing values, which can depend in part on school quality.

In an interview following the meeting, Johnson said few parents read beyond the school’s ranking to look at aspects that could impact their student’s learning.

“A lot of people look just at that and not at the stuff further down,” he said. “I think we probably have to have an overall category but change the presentation so it isn’t the first thing you saw.”

It’s a suggestion district officials say they are open to.

“If a school is green or blue overall but has really large achievement gaps, that should be visible to parents,” said Grant Guyer, the district’s executive director of assessments, in an interview with Chalkbeat after the meeting.

He and other district officials will take it into consideration as they move forward on the changes to the SPF. Guyer plans to spend the month of April meeting with district leaders to decide on what exactly those changes should look like.

“People have very strong opinions about what the SPF should and should not be,” said Guyer. “We look for as much consensus among opinions as possible.”

Categories: Urban School News

After five years of Boasberg administration, cheers and jeers have piled up for Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 14:52
“If I’ve done a decent job, Tom will do an even better job.” — U.S. Sen Michael Bennet

When former Denver Public Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet was tapped by then-Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, the urban district’s board of directors looked to its Chief Operating Officer, 44-year-old Tom Boasberg, to steer the ship. At the time, the district was in its early years of navigating the sometimes murky and rough waters of free-market school reform.

Boasberg, who joined the district in May 2007, was viewed as the top candidate to replace Bennet, a childhood friend. His likeness to Bennet — including a law degree and years of experience in the corporate world but little background in classroom instruction — made him in some ways a natural successor.

DPS school board President Theresa Pena, at the time, said hiring Boasberg meant the district wouldn’t “skip a beat.”

Boasberg’s ascension to the corner office at 900 Grant St., where the district’s central headquarters are located, brought favorable reaction at the time. Colorado politicians and education advocacy groups shot off statements of praise, as did the teachers union.

But Boasberg, then and now, has not been without his critics.

In the five years since Boasberg was appointed leader of the large urban district, enrollment has grown and the student growth has improved — modestly. However, the district still has a wide achievement gap, low proficiency scores, and officials have yet to hone an improvement strategy that teachers, principals, parents and observers can latch onto, understand and participate in.

That’s the assessment of some of Boasberg’s colleagues and critics who spoke to Chalkbeat Colorado as the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools closes out his fifth year in office.

Here we discuss Boasberg’s five-year tenure through five perspectives and news reports. Plus, Boasberg chimes in himself.

‡‡‡

Whom we spoke to

Tony Lewis is the executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, a private family foundation thats aims to improve public education. (Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay Foundation provides funding for Chalkbeat Colorado.)

Andrea Merida is a former DPS board member. She was a vocal critic of the Boasberg administration and a leading board dissident who generally opposed many of the administration’s reform efforts.

Van Schoales is the CEO of A+Denver, an education reform advocacy organization.

Henry Roman is president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Denver’s largest teachers union.

David Greenberg is founder of the Denver School for Science and Technology, now known as DSST Public Schools. Greenberg is currently a vice chancellor at Denver University. His opinions do not represent those of either DSST or DU.

‡‡‡

Consistency was an integral part in the decision to appoint Boasberg as superintendent after Bennet left the district for Washington. In many ways, Boasberg and Bennet were cut from the same cloth: both were privately educated in Washington, both had law degrees and both spent time in the private sector working for big businesses. However, there was one big difference.

Roman: Bennet was definitely more political. He had political savviness. And that’s a big difference.

Boasberg, who will be 50 this year, is a self-proclaimed introvert.

Boasberg: Introverts build fewer relationships that are deeper, that’s true for me. I think I’ve had to work hard to make sure that I work hard to form more and more relationships with more people.

One of those people who Boasberg had to spend a lot of time with during his tenure was board member Andrea Merida. The two didn’t always see eye-to-eye. But …

Merida: I always say we’re both renaissance people and education activists. I’ve been impressed by his growing expertise and thoughtfulness of equity.  He’s always treated me with a lot of respect, which I didn’t get from a lot of people in his realm.

For education advocate Van Schoales, the fact that Boasberg has little background in the classroom is a double-edged sword.

Schoales: Tom’s strength is also his weakness. He’s not an educator. I think because of that, he’s been more open-minded to doing things differently. He’s brought in some great folks for the service, food and transportation departments.

Lewis: Tom is a very good human being. He’s an honest, straightforward person. But he has a thin skin. It’s a tough quality to have in a superintendent.

Boasberg: I disagree. I don’t think [I’d] survive in this job [if I had a thin skin].

Boasberg has done more than survive. He’s outlasted most expectations.

Greenberg: Being a superintendent of an urban public school district is perhaps the hardest job in public life.  It is a thankless task. You are always being scrutinized and have no real allies. Every decision you make creates new enemies.  Most superintendents get thrown out or burn out in about 3.5 years. So, first and foremost, the most remarkable thing about Tom Boasberg’s fifth anniversary is that he has survived and thrived.

How well Boasberg has handled the scrutiny, however, is open to interpretation.

Lewis: [Superintendents] catch a lot of flack. And Tom takes it very personally. While he’s one of the most honest and forthright and respectable people I’ve dealt with, he has an aversion to risk. While I get along with him well, a lot of people find him hard to read.

Flack is something that Boasberg has not been in short supply of. Whether it was minute policy changes like co-locations of schools or dramatic overhauls of entire networks of schools like the one in far northeast Denver, plenty of his decisions have caused public outcry.

Merida: What happened at North High School, as far co-location goes, as far as co-location goes in general, it causes a lot of stress. Boasberg will say the community is calm, now. But communities have to work it out.

In 2012, the DPS school board, in a 4-3 vote, approved the co-location of a STRIVE charter school at the North High School Campus. Supporters of North believed at the time the board was sending a signal that the governing body was no longer interested in investing in the struggling school. Meanwhile, the STRIVE network said it had simply run out of room and needed space to create a high school for its students. Early in the debate, the district attempted to find a compromise that would have shuffled many northwest schools to different buildings. around. However, logistically it couldn’t happen.

Boasberg — despite some complaints — believes his administration is doing a better job of managing public engagement than it ever has.

Boasberg: There were times early on, we didn’t do a good enough job of having a longer community process to discuss what needed to be done. We’ve worked harder to have longer community discussions and processes. Sometimes we’re going to reach decisions that not everyone is going to support. But the role of the leader is to be responsive to the community and have the community’s take. Sometimes you have to make the decision not everyone will be happy with, especially, when it comes to putting the interests of kids ahead of adult interests.

Merida agrees the district is doing a better job of engaging the community. But the process could still be improved.

Overall, Boasberg believes the district’s strategies have been worth it and are working.

Boasberg: I think, three years ago, we were in a situation with hundreds of families who live in [the far northeast] who put their kids on buses for hours a day, just in the hopes of going to a better school. Now, those families are here. They’re staying here. The families are saying the schools are a lot better. At the same time, this work is not “one year and we’re done,” especially in areas with high poverty.

In fact, recent reports highlight the mixed successes of Boasberg’s tenure.

Greenberg: Enrollment continues to climb at a time when most urban districts in the U.S. are losing students. DPS has succeeded in making early childhood development an essential component of the system. The fiscal condition of the district is sound compare that with Philadelphia, Detroit and numerous other urban districts. The district has succeeded in providing more low-income students with access to better schools.

Boasberg: We’ve gone from being the lowest district with year-over-year academic growth of our kids in the state to the highest. All the statistics would predict we’d have the lowest. We’ve had the highest growth two years in a row. If you look at the top 25 [growth] schools in the state, we have 15 of them. We’ve decreased our dropout rate by 60 percent since the start of the Denver Plan [in 2005]. I think all those things are remarkable.

But…

Schoales: That growth hasn’t turned into proficiency.

What’s more, much of that success, observers point out, hasn’t come from district-led efforts, but charter schools.

Schoales: I think [the instruction at DPS] is really weak. The most dramatic progress we’ve seen is through new schools and charters. We don’t see progress in the traditional, district-run schools. I don’t get it, to be honest.

One of the hallmarks of Boasberg’s efforts to boost student achievement is closing low-performing schools. Since 2009, DPS has closed or is phasing out 18 low performing schools. The most ambitious and controversial was the turnaround efforts in the far northeast neighborhood, where three schools were phased out and replaced by multiple programs and one school was taken over by a charter operator (that has since handed back its charter).

Lewis: It’s been a mixed bag. If you look at the data, more kids are getting a better education in Denver. But it continues to authorize and keep some open like Escuela Tlatelolco [which has been one of the district’s lowest performing elementary charters schools for three years].

Boasberg, last fall, recommended that Escuela Tlatelolco’s charter be re-authorized for one year.

Lewis: That’s the thing that stuns me: why? Maybe he thinks the politics are too hard with the community? That seems crazy to me. The hard part is to figure out where the district is headed. There’s no clear strategy I can identify.

Boasberg maintains there is a strategy: people. He said the district is committed to having teams of quality teachers and leaders in every building.

Boasberg: I think we do have a clear idea of what’s working. Most importantly, having high-quality leaders and teachers working together as teams. But human beings are not clones. Teams are not clones. You can’t just say you have a high performing team [in School A] and just clone the members of that team and put them in School B. It’s about recruiting talent in all of our schools. I think we have a very clear idea of what’s working. What we’re working very hard on is how do we scale those practices that are working well.

Part of the district’s overall strategy to recruit, evaluate and retain effective classroom teachers is the LEAP evaluation program. The district began piloting the program in 2011 in response to Senate Bill 191, or the Colorado Teacher Effectiveness Act, which passed in 2010. This school year is the first year all Colorado schools must evaluate their teachers, however no personnel decisions may be made off the results.

Teachers union boss Roman said the Boasberg administration has been a good partner.

Roman: There are ups and downs — like any other relationship. But we’ve worked closely with DPS and the Gates Foundation with the LEAP process. The conversation is not easy.

One of those downs is the district’s use of mutual consent, or how teachers are placed in schools. In 2012, the union accused the district of keeping secret files that contained information used to place teachers on leave without giving them a chance to respond. The district denied the claims. Earlier this year Boasberg again defended the district’s use of mutual consent after the state’s largest union filed a lawsuit against the district.

Merida: We went full-court press on implementation of SB-191 well before [we needed to]. I think LEAP is a work in progress. It has improved quite a bit. But we still need to fix the gap between the evaluator and H.R. We also need to make sure principals and school leaders are also evaluated and high quality.

Boasberg has defended the district’s use of mutual consent.

Denver, like many Colorado school districts, has historically had a shortage of quality leaders, especially at the secondary level. And with the advent of turnaround schools, research now points to an entirely different skill set principals need. But Boasberg believes the district is — for the first time — in a strong position for recruiting and retaining leaders.

Boasberg: This is an area where we’ve been most successful. For the first couple of years, we were not as successful as we should have been. I wish I would have started on this Day 1. But the focus we have on leadership development is the best in the nation. We have a clear vision on the kind of leadership that is most appreciated. We ask our [schools] every year, to provide their assessment of school leaders. We’re seeing [positive] growth. I would say, four or five years ago, when we lost a school leader, especially at the secondary level, we’ve struggled. Now, I’m very confident.

But Merida points out the support teachers and principals receive from the district also needs to be enhanced.

Merida: I’m flabbergasted by the lackluster instructional superintendents. These support positions, if they’re not effective, they don’t work. That’s a big thing. It’s still a big problem.

So while the district might have isolated instances of successes at schools and certain departments, the next challenge everyone seems to agree upon is the need to replicate over and over.

Schoales: Very few districts are able to scale-up.

Boasberg: That’s exactly what we are doing — recognizing that successful implementation of a very large organization is a difficult task. You’re not going to get it right every time. People are going to make mistakes.

Charter school founder, Greenberg, agrees.

Greenberg: Even Peyton Manning throws incompletes about a third of the time. That being said, school turnarounds and community conversations have been a constant source of friction. This is true in virtually all urban districts nationwide.

Roman: On the surface, our schools are doing great, but do we maintain? We have to pay close attention to the details. There has to be proper oversight and enough resources. Those are still key to success.

Providing resources to schools has been a struggle for Denver, as it has been for all Colorado school districts since 2009, when the state fell victim to budget cuts due to the Great Recession. Only next year will some school districts begin receiving more state money.

Boasberg: The economic challenges have been extraordinary. Four years ago we were one of the lowest funded states in the country, as far as K-12 education. We’re now $50 million lower. Apples to apples. I think money isn’t everything. It’s essential we spend every dollar well. But resources matter in terms of giving kids individual attention, really helping our kids who are struggling catch up, how do we give kids more time, provide more social/emotional and mental health supports, helping us attract and retain good people. We’ve been very fortunate. We’ve attracted $150 million in competitive funding, it’s really helped us move forward with professional development and innovation practices. We’re at a remarkable time to build on the progress we’ve made to have a unified vision with our school board to do what we need to do for kids and an economy that hopefully in its recovery will help us target more resources.

Denver voters did approve a bond and mill levy in 2012. But critics, including former board member Merida, have criticized what they see as a lack of oversight and transparency around how that money is being spent. She believes the district’s handling of the bond is one reason why Denver voters did not approve Amendment 66, which would have increased taxes to boost education spending. The amendment was handily defeated across the state.

Merida: There have been a lot of missed opportunities. The bond has been un-transparent. It’s weathered a lot of trust with voters. The district has left a bad taste in a lot of voters’ mouths.

If money isn’t everything, as Boasberg attests, relationships between a superintendent and his board might be. Observers have long believed the dynamics between Boasberg and his board, which until November was usually split on market-based reform policies 4-3, held up the district’s success.

Merdia was a vocal member of that minority.

Merida: I disagreed on implementation, not values. It was very important at the beginning of my tenure that I represented a voice of a different community.

Those disagreements have overshadowed Boasberg’s tenure almost from the beginning.

Merida and other dissident board members’ disagreement with Boasberg reached an apex in 2012  when the board’s minority released its own assessment of the Boasberg administration during the superintendent’s annual review. While the board’s majority felt Boasberg had lived up to his goals, the minority accused Boasberg and his staff for not following board policy. They also recommended that he not receive any performance-based compensation.

Last year the board released only one performance review, but it did contain remarks from the two camps.

Schoales: The old board would latch onto anything. That doesn’t work.

Boasberg: I learned [from Jeannie Kaplan and Andrea Merida] how personal politics can sometimes be. I really learned a lot about what makes an effective leadership team and what can upset leadership relationships. It’s important for the board to spend time to develop itself and as a team to develop the relationship between the board and the superintendent.

Merida: We know where we agree and disagree. For me, Tom was never the catalysis for the strife. But strife isn’t a bad thing; it’s part of the democratic process.

But that’s all changed since the November 2013 election. A slate of candidates that generally support the reform efforts DPS has undertaken was elected.

Schoales: Tom has a board behind him now.

Boasberg: In two months with the new board, we’ve spent more time as a leadership team then we did the previous four years. It really takes time when you have seven extremely intelligent, forceful individuals.

To say Boasberg is optimistic about his work with the new board is an understatement. But having a board almost completely behind a superintendent comes with its own challenges.

Schoales: Tom has a tendency to support his staff before he asks whether a program is working or not. If the district was to do more self-evaluating and be more transparent, the district could take a big turn.

As Boasberg enters his sixth year, the board of education is rewriting the Denver Plan, the district’s strategic document, and at the same time, the superintendent himself is reflecting on his strategies and leadership style.

Boasberg: I think, we have a lot of challenges. I didn’t do a good enough job early on, and still need improvement on [explaining] “these are our priorities and we’re just [not] going to focus on these things.” As a leader, I’ve learned and grown. I don’t think I did a good enough job focusing on our culture and values as a team. I don’t think I did a well enough job of coordinating of different parts of the districts. I think that’s improved. As a leader, I think it always came naturally for me to lead from my head. As an introvert, someone who is more private, I’ve had to learn that in an organization like this, everyone is here largely because of their hearts, they care about kids. Being a stronger leader from heart has been important. I’m pretty cognizant of a few things I’d do different.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Q&A with Randi Weingarten

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 14:38

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten was in Chicago on March 24 to deliver the annual “Distinguished Labor Leader Lecture” at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Weingarten and the 1.5-million member AFT made national news recently when Weingarten announced the union would no longer accept money from the influential Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the AFT’s Innovation Fund. In this interview with Catalyst Chicago Associate Editor Melissa Sanchez, Weingarten talked about that decision, Chicago’s test boycott and charter union movement, teachers’ distrust of the Common Core and what can be done about it, and whether Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis should run for mayor.

(This interview has been condensed.)

Catalyst Chicago: So while it might seem like there’s never a dull moment in the Chicago education world, you’ve come at a particularly interesting time. What do you think of last week’s announcement that the district will “turn around” three more schools?

Randi Weingarten: CPS should be fixing, not closing public schools. This is not about charters vs. non charters. There’s room in this city for lots of different school designs, as long as they’re public schools. Parents want good neighborhood public schools. Schools that are safe. Schools that are welcoming. Schools that help engage kids in terms of arts, music and have the services they need like guidance services and nursing services. They don’t want schools to be shuttered.

CC: Also last week, the CPS legal department interviewed children without their parents’ consent as part of an investigation into some teachers’ decision to boycott the ISAT standardized test. Some parents say they feel their kids are being used as pawns in a political fight. How do you think this will end?

RW: First off, in the two schools where you had teachers actually boycott the test, they voted to join a parent-led boycott of the ISAT. This boycott started with parents, not with teachers. Those teachers were listening to the will of parents -- something that the school system should be listening to as well, not trying to interrogate parents’ children without parents’ knowledge. The issue here is: why do you even have an ISAT when everybody believes that test is unnecessary and irrelevant? This punitive action makes no sense. Frankly, people should be crediting the teachers for saying they want that time to actually work with kids.

CC: Earlier this month you announced that the AFT’s Innovation Fund will no longer accept money from the Gates Foundation because so many of your members don’t trust how the Common Core State Standards have been implemented. Are there other funders that members are asking you to reconsider accepting money from?

RW: I think this is a very unique issue. When the Broad Foundation seemed to be on the path of closing schools and stripping teachers of rights as opposed to working together and helping kids succeed, we also said we weren’t going to solicit funds from that foundation. The other major foundation here is the Walton Family Foundation, which doesn’t even pretend to respect workers. Look at what they’ve done in their own worksites throughout the country, stripping our kids’ parents – the people who work for them – of decent wages, of health security, of retirement security. So they don’t even pretend that teachers are an important part of this equation. And the third major foundation in this arena is the Gates Foundation.

I think that there are things that the Gates Foundation has done that are good, and I think there are things the Gates Foundation has done that need to be rethought. But regardless of what I think, the trust with your members is of paramount importance. So when they are so deeply distrustful of a foundation, one needs to listen to them. Even though we don’t believe that the foundation influenced our policymaking, the perception is more important than the reality. And so the line we drew is to say that prospectively, on something so important like the Innovation Project, where folks are trying new things and innovating and take different risks, we would look to replace that funding with members’ money.

CC: Do you think members will be willing to pay more in union dues to offset that loss?

RW: What we’ve said in the proposal that would be at our convention is that we’re asking for 5 cents per member per month to fully replace the funding we got from the Gates Foundation. It was a statement that said that the membership’s deep concern with what’s happening in schools today is more important than anyone’s grant money.

CC: What do you think it will take to reduce the overall distrust teachers have of the Common Core standards? Is it even possible?

RW: Look, in a place like California, there isn’t the deep distrust because California did two things: First, they decoupled it from testing. They didn’t do it permanently, but they also targeted resources for people to be comfortable with the transition. So there is much more openness to a transition to these standards that most people believe have real promise. If you think about schooling as fundamentally three things – how do you help people develop relations with each other and with adults; how you help kids apply knowledge, not just “know things”; and how do you help kids confront adversity and get up when they stumble -- then a transition to standards that are embedded in critical thinking and problem-solving is important. Common Core is not the only way of doing it. The problem [arises] when people think this is more about testing and measurement and reducing kids to an algorithm as opposed to the process of teaching and learning. Teachers get the difference.

CC: Teachers and staff at one of Chicago’s biggest networks of charter schools ratified their first labor contract last week. The local that negotiated the agreement is part of the AFT. How important are organizing efforts at charter schools for the AFT?

RW: They’re very important. In a city like this, where charter schools are a reality, teachers are teachers. They want a voice at work, whether they’re in a charter school or whether they’re in a traditional public school. They want to be part of helping kids succeed. They want to get the tools and conditions they need and decent pay for it. When you’re all rowing in the same direction, as the UNO contract suggested, then what happens is, we have a chance to help more kids. When you have huge polarization, you’re constantly in the conversation about who’s right.

Public education is how we help all kids succeed, not how do we try to eliminate each other. What you’re seeing in too many places is a ruse of austerity to justify starving schools. There’s just this constant drumbeat that public schools are bad. It creates this Catch-22 circle of starve the schools so they don’t have the funding that they need to help kids, particularly poor kids, so that it’s open to other alternatives, which then take the public dollars. And ironically, these other alternatives actually have been around for 20 years and they haven’t done any better than the public schools. And the public schools are the schools that have the accountability, the transparency, and also the public voice.

CC: CTU President Karen Lewis may be the most public adversary of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Many of her followers would love to see her run against him in next year’s mayoral race, although she’s suggested that won’t happen because she’s not a politician and her husband has said “no.” Do you think she should give it a shot?

RW: I am not … (laughs). Karen is a fantastic leader of our union. Most of us love doing the jobs we are doing, which is representing educators who want to make a difference in the lives of children and working with parents and communities to make a better life for those children.

Categories: Urban School News

Q&A with Randi Weingarten

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 14:38

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten was in Chicago on March 24 to deliver the annual “Distinguished Labor Leader Lecture” at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Weingarten and the 1.5-million member AFT made national news recently when Weingarten announced the union would no longer accept money from the influential Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the AFT’s Innovation Fund. In this interview with Catalyst Chicago Associate Editor Melissa Sanchez, Weingarten talked about that decision, Chicago’s test boycott and charter union movement, teachers’ distrust of the Common Core and what can be done about it, and whether Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis should run for mayor.

(This interview has been condensed.)

Catalyst Chicago: So while it might seem like there’s never a dull moment in the Chicago education world, you’ve come at a particularly interesting time. What do you think of last week’s announcement that the district will “turn around” three more schools?

Randi Weingarten: CPS should be fixing, not closing public schools. This is not about charters vs. non charters. There’s room in this city for lots of different school designs, as long as they’re public schools. Parents want good neighborhood public schools. Schools that are safe. Schools that are welcoming. Schools that help engage kids in terms of arts, music and have the services they need like guidance services and nursing services. They don’t want schools to be shuttered.

CC: Also last week, the CPS legal department interviewed children without their parents’ consent as part of an investigation into some teachers’ decision to boycott the ISAT standardized test. Some parents say they feel their kids are being used as pawns in a political fight. How do you think this will end?

RW: First off, in the two schools where you had teachers actually boycott the test, they voted to join a parent-led boycott of the ISAT. This boycott started with parents, not with teachers. Those teachers were listening to the will of parents -- something that the school system should be listening to as well, not trying to interrogate parents’ children without parents’ knowledge. The issue here is: why do you even have an ISAT when everybody believes that test is unnecessary and irrelevant? This punitive action makes no sense. Frankly, people should be crediting the teachers for saying they want that time to actually work with kids.

CC: Earlier this month you announced that the AFT’s Innovation Fund will no longer accept money from the Gates Foundation because so many of your members don’t trust how the Common Core State Standards have been implemented. Are there other funders that members are asking you to reconsider accepting money from?

RW: I think this is a very unique issue. When the Broad Foundation seemed to be on the path of closing schools and stripping teachers of rights as opposed to working together and helping kids succeed, we also said we weren’t going to solicit funds from that foundation. The other major foundation here is the Walton Family Foundation, which doesn’t even pretend to respect workers. Look at what they’ve done in their own worksites throughout the country, stripping our kids’ parents – the people who work for them – of decent wages, of health security, of retirement security. So they don’t even pretend that teachers are an important part of this equation. And the third major foundation in this arena is the Gates Foundation.

I think that there are things that the Gates Foundation has done that are good, and I think there are things the Gates Foundation has done that need to be rethought. But regardless of what I think, the trust with your members is of paramount importance. So when they are so deeply distrustful of a foundation, one needs to listen to them. Even though we don’t believe that the foundation influenced our policymaking, the perception is more important than the reality. And so the line we drew is to say that prospectively, on something so important like the Innovation Project, where folks are trying new things and innovating and take different risks, we would look to replace that funding with members’ money.

CC: Do you think members will be willing to pay more in union dues to offset that loss?

RW: What we’ve said in the proposal that would be at our convention is that we’re asking for 5 cents per member per month to fully replace the funding we got from the Gates Foundation. It was a statement that said that the membership’s deep concern with what’s happening in schools today is more important than anyone’s grant money.

CC: What do you think it will take to reduce the overall distrust teachers have of the Common Core standards? Is it even possible?

RW: Look, in a place like California, there isn’t the deep distrust because California did two things: First, they decoupled it from testing. They didn’t do it permanently, but they also targeted resources for people to be comfortable with the transition. So there is much more openness to a transition to these standards that most people believe have real promise. If you think about schooling as fundamentally three things – how do you help people develop relations with each other and with adults; how you help kids apply knowledge, not just “know things”; and how do you help kids confront adversity and get up when they stumble -- then a transition to standards that are embedded in critical thinking and problem-solving is important. Common Core is not the only way of doing it. The problem [arises] when people think this is more about testing and measurement and reducing kids to an algorithm as opposed to the process of teaching and learning. Teachers get the difference.

CC: Teachers and staff at one of Chicago’s biggest networks of charter schools ratified their first labor contract last week. The local that negotiated the agreement is part of the AFT. How important are organizing efforts at charter schools for the AFT?

RW: They’re very important. In a city like this, where charter schools are a reality, teachers are teachers. They want a voice at work, whether they’re in a charter school or whether they’re in a traditional public school. They want to be part of helping kids succeed. They want to get the tools and conditions they need and decent pay for it. When you’re all rowing in the same direction, as the UNO contract suggested, then what happens is, we have a chance to help more kids. When you have huge polarization, you’re constantly in the conversation about who’s right.

Public education is how we help all kids succeed, not how do we try to eliminate each other. What you’re seeing in too many places is a ruse of austerity to justify starving schools. There’s just this constant drumbeat that public schools are bad. It creates this Catch-22 circle of starve the schools so they don’t have the funding that they need to help kids, particularly poor kids, so that it’s open to other alternatives, which then take the public dollars. And ironically, these other alternatives actually have been around for 20 years and they haven’t done any better than the public schools. And the public schools are the schools that have the accountability, the transparency, and also the public voice.

CC: CTU President Karen Lewis may be the most public adversary of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Many of her followers would love to see her run against him in next year’s mayoral race, although she’s suggested that won’t happen because she’s not a politician and her husband has said “no.” Do you think she should give it a shot?

RW: I am not … (laughs). Karen is a fantastic leader of our union. Most of us love doing the jobs we are doing, which is representing educators who want to make a difference in the lives of children and working with parents and communities to make a better life for those children.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Indiana abandons the Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 09:18

By the numbers

More Colorado students are living in poverty and those students are concentrated in the state's lowest performing schools, according to this year's KIDS COUNT report. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Westword )

Pueblo received low scores for measures of child wellbeing, as did Montezuma and Denver counties. ( Chieftain )

A seat at the table

A bill to consider charter school requests in designs of mill levy overrides, a common way to raise local funds for schools, passed the House Education Committee yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Build it up

Dougco is considering a new facility for special education students with the highest needs, to ease the pressure on other district schools. ( Denver Post )

In the shuffle

Hayden School District, in northwest Colorado, is looking for a new superintendent and they've narrowed the list down to four. Those four include three Colorado natives and one candidate from Kodiak, Alaska. ( Steamboat Today )

It's a maze

For some families, navigating the costs of college and the daunting aid process proves overwhelming. Advocates are pushing to simplify the process. ( NPR via KUNC )

Not so common anymore

It's official. Indiana will be the first state to drop the Common Core standards, after the governor signed a bill into law yesterday. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

It's the latest battle in a fight that has divided Republicans and set off political firestorms. ( AP via Sentinel )

But one teacher says there's more in common between critics and proponents than people think. She hopes to find "the common ground around the Common Core." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Student group calls CPS discipline racially biased

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 03/25/2014 - 07:35

A student group joined religious and community leaders Monday in pushing for a "Campaign for Common Sense Discipline" in Chicago Public Schools. The groups presented data showing that African-American students were 30 times more likely to be expelled than white students in CPS last school year. (DNAInfo)

PRACTICE TEST TAKING: Students in Illinois schools will take a practice test this spring that will help them become familiar with next year’s line of new assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics and provide state policy makers and educators with valuable feedback before the tests are finalized. The new state tests are aligned to Illinois’ new learning standards and aim to deliver clear and timely information about what students know and can do and whether they can demonstrate the academic preparation necessary to succeed as citizens and in college and careers. (Press release)

IN THE NATION
TAXPAYERS FUND CREATIONISM IN CLASSROOM: Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies. Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way in 26 states from Alaska to New York — a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment. (Politico)

FALLING SHORT ON EDUCATIONAL EQUITY: New federal civil rights data show persistent and widespread disparities among disadvantaged students from prekindergarten through high school on key indicators—calling into question whether the national push for educational equity and college and career readiness for all students is working. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Bipartisan committee support for charter revenue bill

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/24/2014 - 18:28

Colorado charter schools have long complained about being left on the sidelines when districts ask voters for additional operating funds through what are called mill levy overrides.

House Bill 14-1314, approved 12-0 Monday by the House Education Committee, wouldn’t guarantee charters a slice of the revenue pie, but it would require they have a seat at the table when districts consider whether to ask voters for overrides.

The bill “seeks to increase the cooperation between districts and their charter schools,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. The bill has bipartisan sponsorship and is modeled on a 2008 law that requires charter school participation in planning for district bond issues.

Don Schaller, advocacy director for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, testified that one of the challenges facing charters is “consistent access to local revenue” and that if the bill passes, “the charter school voice will at least be brought to the table.”

Representatives of some other advocacy groups, including the Colorado Association of School Boards, also supported the bill.

The bill would require:

  • Inclusion of charter representatives on override planning committees and in any other district study and decision-making methods
  • Districts to consider and prioritize charter requests for override revenues
  • Mutual agreement on division or allocation of new revenues
  • A district to formally notify a charter if it chooses not to include a charter request in a ballot proposal

Even after consultation, the decision to include a charter in an override proposal would be solely up to a district’s board. (The bill wouldn’t apply to charters overseen by the state Charter School Institute, which doesn’t have taxing authority.)

The bill also contains provisions governing the sharing of election costs between districts and their charters.

Tax overrides enable districts to raise additional property tax revenue, usually for specific purposes. Override revenues aren’t counted as part of the basic state/local revenues known as Total Program Funding and sometimes have been criticized as contributing to financial disparities between districts.

Read the bill text here and See the bill summary here.

Bills keep trickling in

The House and Senate have big backlogs of education (and other) bills to consider, but that hasn’t stopped new ones from being introduced.

Unveiled in the Senate Monday was Senate Bill 14-167, which would create a pilot program under which two small groups of alternative education campuses would receive 30 percent increases in per-pupil funding to pay for new initiatives and programs to increase student achievement in such schools.

Alternative education campuses are defined as schools that serve populations that are at least 95 percent at risk. They generally serve older students. There has been concern in recent years about student turnover and low completion rates at such schools and debate about the appropriate accountability measures for those campuses. See this story for background on the accountability debate, and read the bill here.

For those who weren’t paying attention last Friday, Sen. Mike Johnston’s bill to allow districts one-year of flexibility in using student growth to evaluate teachers was introduced as Senate Bill 14-165. It will be heard in Senate Education on Wednesday morning. (See this story for background and read the bill here.)

Categories: Urban School News

Finding common ground on Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/24/2014 - 15:00

In his song, In This Love Together, Michael Bernard Beckwith urges us to:

See with the eye behind the eye
Hear with the ear behind the ear
Feel with the heart behind the heart
So we can
See the invisible
Hear the inaudible
Do the impossible.

We live in interesting times where cynics would have us believe that people are separate from each other and that we must identify ourselves as “us” vs. “them.” Frequently this division translates into the perception that in order for our views to be right, the other side’s must be wrong. Nowhere in education is this more evident than the swirling controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

What if it weren’t true that one side must be right and the other side must be wrong? What if there was a place where both sides could be right? What then?

I would suggest that this is absolutely possible, and that there is a third position, one where everyone is seen, heard, and understood. This is a place where everyone is right. Through discovering and embracing this third way, we can finally move beyond the status quo and engage in real transformation of our education system on behalf of all students and their future.

Over the last several days I listened to many hours of panel discussions, legislative testimony, and hallway conversations from both supporters and detractors of all things having to do with the Common Core State Standards. At first glance, you might believe that this is an either/or proposition; that you either support CCSS or you don’t. But what was most striking to me about these interactions was that everyone, regardless of what “side” of the issue they aligned with, had a lot more in common than not.

As I thought about Michael Bernard Beckwith’s song and the stories from both sides that resonated with me,

HERE IS WHAT I SAW WITH THE “EYE BEHIND THE EYE:”

  • Parents and community members who love their children and want what is best for them.
  • Teachers who have had the love of teaching sucked out of them by over-testing and being held accountable for things over which they have little or no control.

HERE IS WHAT I HEARD WITH THE “EAR BEHIND THE EAR:”

  • Frustration that school experiences have been narrowed to the point where there are few, if any, opportunities to engage students in music, art, and physical education since those subjects are not tested.
  • A desire to do what is best for students and advocate for more support and resources like time, materials, and technology.

HERE IS WHAT I FELT WITH THE “HEART BEHIND THE HEART:”

  • The pain of one mother whose child became sick over high stakes testing and another whose child has an individualized education plan yet does not receive individual treatment because of the over-emphasis on accountability.
  • A desire to prepare kids to be successful adults by engaging them in authentic learning experiences where they can apply their learning in a real-world context.

When the Common Core debate is framed this way, there is no right or wrong; there is no “us” vs. “them.” There are only parents, teachers, and community members who want our kids to be happy, healthy, and well prepared for what life has to offer them.

I, for one, am ready to become a warrior for the human spirit and work towards solutions based on common ground around the Common Core. Anyone interested in joining me in doing the “impossible”?

This post originally appeared on Divided No More: Integrating Soul and Role, a Center for Teaching Quality blog.

Categories: Urban School News

More children now in poverty than during the recession, according to 2014 Kids Count

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/24/2014 - 14:59

More children are living in poverty than during the 2008 recession, and that number is growing.

That’s the latest from the 2014 KIDS COUNT report from Colorado Children’s Campaign, the annual report on the state of child health, wellness and education. Colorado has one of the fastest growing rates of child poverty, a consistent pattern since 2000.

“We are heading in the wrong direction, and quickly,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign

The KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report is part of the national KIDS COUNT project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Colorado report.

Wide gaps, from early years on

There were few bright spots in the report, which showed wide disparities between the state’s affluent and poor students.

“Why would such a prosperous place to live be such a tough place for families?” said Watney. “It was no one factor.”

The report did show the costs of childcare outpacing families’ ability to pay for them. Enrollment by low-income families in early childhood education still lagged, even among those eligible for either state or federal aid.

That may be largely due to access, which has failed to keep pace with demand. An estimated 500 Colorado students could lose access to the federal early childhood program HeadStart, due to cuts made during the government sequester. Colorado’s state-funded preschool program served 21 percent of all eligible four years olds and 6.2 percent of all eligible three year olds. That number could increase this year, with legislative approval of additional seats.

The economic disparities don’t disappear in later years. The report found that for K-12, the state’s poorest students are concentrated in the lowest performing schools.

Schools in the state’s two lowest rankings for performance had on average 70 percent low-income students, nearly twice the percentage in the state’s highest performing schools. The report also found consistently wide academic achievement gaps between affluent and disadvantaged populations, among the widest in the nation.

Other highlights

The report also looked at other measures of childhood wellness and education. Key findings include:

  • Colorado’s graduation rate continues to increase, up to 77 percent in 2013 from 72 percent in 2010.
  • Colorado ranked as the fifth least affordable state for childcare, an improvement over last year’s fourth place ranking.
  • The state’s teen pregnancy rate continue to drop statewide, although Eagle County, which includes Vail, saw an increase.
  • In one of the positive outcomes, the number of children living without health insurance dropped to below the national average. Since 2006, 63,000 children have gained insurance.
Location, location, location

The report found strong geographic patterns in child well-being, one of the key metrics studied in the report. Douglas County ranked at the top of the state’s counties for child wellness, for the third year running.

Also for the third year in a row, Denver ranked at the bottom, due in large part to factors related to high poverty levels. Denver serves nearly a tenth of the state’s homeless students and has nearly double the state’s percent of students receiving free lunch, a federal indicator of extremely low family income. On the bright side, Denver has high rates of kindergarten enrollment, nearly 100 percent, compared with 70 percent state-wide.

While most counties saw no change in their status this year, several saw a decline in their childhood well-being score. Montezuma County, which ranked as the second worst on the metric this year, saw a decline in its status.

Although Watney and others were unsure as to the exact reasons for that decline, the county’s low ranking can be attributed to a high poverty rate and the presence of a larger proportion of American Indians, who continue to struggle on a host of both academic and health metrics.

Watney hopes the report will prompt counties to reexamine their practices.

“We are very hopeful that communities will take a deep dive into their numbers and can look at opportunities for improvement,” she said. “I think KIDS COUNT gives you a chance to compare yourself to other counties in your area.”

She also said the report has influenced the Children’s Campaign’s lobbying efforts at the state level.

“One of the policies we are focused on at the legislature is making improvements at the early childhood level,” Watney said. “For children living in vulnerable families, we believe early childhood education can really improve outcomes.”

For more on the report, see here. County-level data is available on nearly all metrics and the report covers a variety of metrics not explored here.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: Progress cited in Race to the Top

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 03/24/2014 - 09:16

States have made great progress in the final year of Race to the Top, but there have been bumps in the road, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington that many consider to be closely aligned with the Obama administration. (Education Week)

MAKING ATTENDANCE PAY OFF: Harper High School students with good attendance could get a job out of it. The Rev. Johnny Banks Sr., executive director of the nonprofit A Knock At Midnight, last week told a group of 15 William Harper High School students and their parents that if they go to school every day on time for the next two weeks he would hire them at $10 per hour. (DNAInfo)

CONSUMERIST MESSAGES: Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis wants schools to teach social justice, not “consumerism,” she said in a video. Lewis spoke about ways to avoid “consumerist” messages while teaching subjects typically seen as apolitical, like math, at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education, a progressive advocacy group that backs public schools. (Daily Caller)

MEETING IN CHINA: Students from Thomas and South middle schools in Arlington Heights who began a 10-day trip to China on Tuesday got a chance to meet first lady Michelle Obama at the Summer Palace in Beijing on Saturday. Obama is on a good-will tour to China with her daughters and mother. (Daily Herald)

IN THE NATION
RANKING CHARTER SCHOOL LAWS: Although charter schools have been a part of the nation's education landscape for more than 20 years, states still have a long way to go in paving the way for them to successfully educate students, finds a new report from a research and advocacy group that supports charter schools. (Education Week)

CLARIFIYING CHARTER POSITION: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday acknowledged he has fallen short in explaining his position on charter schools, after coming under criticism from both sides of the debate. (Capital New York)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colo. schools, teachers looking for standard-aligned materials

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/24/2014 - 07:57

High-Stakes Health

Schools across Colorado are in the midsts of high-stakes standardized testing. And for many that means a renewed push for healthy habits. But some critics, including parents, wonder if schools are sending the wrong message. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teaching to the (Missing) Text

Colorado educators are working to fill in the gaps between out-of-date textbooks and the state's new academic standards. The effort is underway while the state begins to assess teacher effectiveness largely based on student results on standardized tests. ( Denver Post )

#COLeg

Opponents gave it their best, but the Colorado House Friday gave preliminary approval to House Bill 14-1288, an immunization measure that has touched a few nerves at the Capitol and among the public. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A technical bill that would allow armed guards at charter schools — similarly to district run schools — moves to the state Senate. ( KKTV )

A K-12 Online Education Commission, set up by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers who are considering introduction of online legislation this session, made a few recommendations Friday, including updating the definition of online education and should change the way multi-district online schools are managed. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Abort Mission

Despite the advice from district staff, the Jeffco Public Schools board of education decided to abandon a legal appeal over a piece of open land. The board said the district had more to lose by pursuing the case. Some in the district believe it will set a far-reaching precedent. ( YourHub )

Why ask why?

Teachers in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction are applying new STEM skills they've learned to their classrooms. And they believe students are already seeing the benefits. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

H.R. Department

A Denver elementary school has ended a contract with an after-school basketball coach after the school learned of some inappropriate musings on social media. ( 7News )

Former Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson must have a brain tumor removed. She learned of tumor after she left the district. ( 9News )

Barbara Ann Smith announced her candidacy for the Colorado State Board of Education during the Republican County Assembly meeting at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. ( Durango Herald )

The Bessemer Academy in Pueblo has a new principal, its fifth since 2007. The Academy is a turnaround school. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

And during its meeting Tuesday, the Poudre School District’s Board of Education is expected to confirm David Patterson as Beattie Elementary’s new principal. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Quick-turnaround online task force makes recommendations

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 03/23/2014 - 16:32

Colorado needs an updated legal definition of online education and should change the way multi-district online schools are overseen, a task force that’s advising four legislators has recommended.

The group made no definitive suggestion on the touchy issue of accountability for online schools, concluding that the issue needs more discussion among educators and interest groups and that new ways to measure the performance of such schools should be tested in a pilot program.

The K-12 Online Education Commission was set up by a bipartisan group of four lawmakers who are considering introduction of online legislation this session. The panel was on a short timeline, having been convened on Jan. 30.

The four lawmakers face equally tight timing. The 2014 session must adjourn no later than May 7, and the next two weeks will be dominated by consideration of the 2014-15 state budget and related bills. Once the budget clears, there will be only a month left in the session, with plenty of other issues still to be resolved, including other education measures.

“We’ve got to move quickly. It’s a little challenging,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, one of the four. Young and Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood met with the task force Friday. Young said he, Kerr and Republicans Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida probably will consult by phone over the weekend.

Here’s a summary of the group’s recommendations:

  • Definition – Current law defines online programs and schools primarily in terms of instruction done “primarily through use of the Internet.” The task force proposes a broader definition that accommodates the variety of online and electronic learning methods that have evolved since the current state law was written.
  • Attendance – Enrollment and attendance of online students basically is calculated the same way as for students in buildings. The task force felt that doesn’t work and that more flexible enrollment counting methods are needed for online students. (This is an idea that may get tangled up in the broader – and unresolved – debate about whether the state should convert to the average daily membership method of counting enrollment.)
  • Records transfer – Current procedures require student records to be transferred to online program within 30 days. The task force is suggesting 14.
  • Authorization – Currently, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education certify online programs that are open to students in multiple districts. (Some of those schools have been criticized for low achievement and high student turnover.) The task force suggests that the state should instead set standards for and certify the authorizers – districts and the state Charter School Institute. The idea is that authorizers would become more responsible for the performance of multidistrict online programs. Although this sounds bureaucratic, this is a significant recommendation.
  • Pilot programs – The task force recommends that the legislature require CDE to work with online interests on development of pilot projects to experiment with course-level and competency based funding, different accountability measures for online programs, improved ways to count enrollment, better methods for helping struggling students and better ways to make students more accountable for their online success.

“The current accountability system is an unrealistic and incomplete indicator of student and school performance,” the task force report says. “The prevalence of difficult issues requiring more time and voices led to the commission’s recommendation of creating pilot programs.”

The task force recommended that the issue of drop-in centers for online students also needs further study and isn’t ready for legislation.

The task force was supported by staff of the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which has done previous work on online education.

Read the full report, including the detailed recommendations, and see list of task force members here.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS proposes three new school turnarounds

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 19:28

CPS officials announced late Friday afternoon that they are proposing turnarounds for three schools: Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham.

Since 2006, CPS has been turning around schools—a process that involves laying off an entire staff. Though they can reapply for their jobs, most principals and teachers don’t stay on. Like most turnarounds in CPS, these schools will be managed by the not-for-profit teacher training program, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

After a round of public and community hearings in early April, the proposals will likely be voted on at the April board meeting.

Angela Gordon, LSC chairwoman at Dvorak, said at first she didn’t know how to react, but as the afternoon went on, she pledged to fight the turnaround. “The mood at the school is sad and somber,” she said.

Gordon said she thinks Dvorak is a good school. She said she brought her children to Dvorak when she was homeless four years ago and the staff has stepped up and helped her family.

Low test scores are not entirely the fault of the teachers, she said. “It takes a village,” she said. “We need more parent support and more CPS support.”

Performance not stellar

AUSL currently manages 20 elementary turnaround schools and two high schools. CPS operated its own turnarounds at nine additional schools before former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2011 that the district would not undertake them any longer. Brizard said he would recruit other organizations to do so, but so far, no other groups have stepped forward.

CPS also has not turned around any high schools since the 2009-2010 school year. High school turnarounds, whether managed by CPS or AUSL, have had lackluster results.

Even elementary schools have not had stellar performance. Four of the AUSL turnarounds that are more than two years old score in the bottom 10 percent of all elementary schools. Ten of them are Level 3 schools, which is the lowest rating on the performance scale.

Interestingly, Chalmers, a new turnaround this year, moved up from Level 3 to Level 2 based on last year’s test scores and performance--when the pre-turnaround teachers were still in place.

CPS Network and Strategy Implementation Officer Adam Anderson said district officials think AUSL has had impressive results. Thirteen AUSL turnarounds improved at a faster rate than other district schools on the ISAT. AUSL students are also showing higher-than-average growth on the NWEA, the standardized test that CPS is using to determine student promotion and other decisions as it phases out the ISAT.

“These are the most challenging schools and the ones that need the most support,” Anderson said. “They are catching up to the district as a whole.”

Dvorak, McNair and Gresham are in the bottom 10 percent of elementary schools, but are not the lowest-performing.

When deciding which schools to turn around, CPS officials look at more than the ratings under the district's performance policy, Anderson said. They also look at the trajectory of achievement and whether the current staff can put the school on a better path.

Anderson said Dvorak, McNair and Gresham have low attendance compared to the district average and noted that it translates into many missed days of instruction.

Critics speak out

Soon after the announcement, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a press release criticizing the proposals. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and Board President David Vitale were high-level AUSL officials, which CTU leaders see as a conflict of interest.

The CTU also is highly critical of the fact that turnarounds usually result in layoffs of veteran, mostly black teachers who are replaced with less-experienced, mostly white teachers.  

Of the 70 teachers at Dvorak, Gresham and McNair, 64 percent are African American, compared to 25 percent in CPS overall, according to the 2011-2012 teacher service records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education. Also, teachers at the three schools have an average of 15 years of experience, compared to 12.75  years in CPS.

“This is the mayor’s continued war on our schools and older black educators. This is nothing more than school closings by another name,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a press release.

Lewis said school turnarounds are akin to school closings.

The CTU and others also criticize AUSL turnarounds because schools end up being run by private entities. And with more charter schools opening every year, CPS is responsible for managing fewer and fewer schools.

North Lawndale has been hit especially hard. If these turnarounds are approved, almost half of North Lawndale’s 18 elementary schools will be under private management: Three will be AUSL turnarounds and five are charter schools.

After watching two schools close last year in North Lawndale, Gordon said she feels as though Dvorak is predestined to either close or become a charter school. “What will happen if the scores don’t move with the turnaround?” she said. “Then what?”

Austin also is home to two other AUSL turnarounds.

Last year, as CPS was in the midst of shuttering 50 elementary schools, officials proposed turning around Barton in Auburn-Gresham, but the school was pulled off the list at the last minute by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Harvard in Auburn Gresham has been a turnaround school since the 2007-2008 school year.

Click here for detailed information on the race and experience of teachers at the proposed turnaround schools.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS proposes three new school turnarounds

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 19:28

CPS officials announced late Friday afternoon that they are proposing turnarounds for three schools: Dvorak in North Lawndale, McNair in Austin and Gresham in Auburn-Gresham.

Since 2006, CPS has been turning around schools—a process that involves laying off an entire staff. Though they can reapply for their jobs, most principals and teachers don’t stay on. Like most turnarounds in CPS, these schools will be managed by the not-for-profit teacher training program, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

After a round of public and community hearings in early April, the proposals will likely be voted on at the April board meeting.

Angela Gordon, LSC chairwoman at Dvorak, said at first she didn’t know how to react, but as the afternoon went on, she pledged to fight the turnaround. “The mood at the school is sad and somber,” she said.

Gordon said she thinks Dvorak is a good school. She said she brought her children to Dvorak when she was homeless four years ago and the staff has stepped up and helped her family.

Low test scores are not entirely the fault of the teachers, she said. “It takes a village,” she said. “We need more parent support and more CPS support.”

Performance not stellar

AUSL currently manages 20 elementary turnaround schools and two high schools. CPS operated its own turnarounds at nine additional schools before former CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced in 2011 that the district would not undertake them any longer. Brizard said he would recruit other organizations to do so, but so far, no other groups have stepped forward.

CPS also has not turned around any high schools since the 2009-2010 school year. High school turnarounds, whether managed by CPS or AUSL, have had lackluster results.

Even elementary schools have not had stellar performance. Four of the AUSL turnarounds that are more than two years old score in the bottom 10 percent of all elementary schools. Ten of them are Level 3 schools, which is the lowest rating on the performance scale.

Interestingly, Chalmers, a new turnaround this year, moved up from Level 3 to Level 2 based on last year’s test scores and performance--when the pre-turnaround teachers were still in place.

CPS Network and Strategy Implementation Officer Adam Anderson said district officials think AUSL has had impressive results. Thirteen AUSL turnarounds improved at a faster rate than other district schools on the ISAT. AUSL students are also showing higher-than-average growth on the NWEA, the standardized test that CPS is using to determine student promotion and other decisions as it phases out the ISAT.

“These are the most challenging schools and the ones that need the most support,” Anderson said. “They are catching up to the district as a whole.”

Dvorak, McNair and Gresham are in the bottom 10 percent of elementary schools, but are not the lowest-performing.

When deciding which schools to turn around, CPS officials look at more than the ratings under the district's performance policy, Anderson said. They also look at the trajectory of achievement and whether the current staff can put the school on a better path.

Anderson said Dvorak, McNair and Gresham have low attendance compared to the district average and noted that it translates into many missed days of instruction.

Critics speak out

Soon after the announcement, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a press release criticizing the proposals. CPS’ Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and Board President David Vitale were high-level AUSL officials, which CTU leaders see as a conflict of interest.

The CTU also is highly critical of the fact that turnarounds usually result in layoffs of veteran, mostly black teachers who are replaced with less-experienced, mostly white teachers.  

Of the 70 teachers at Dvorak, Gresham and McNair, 64 percent are African American, compared to 25 percent in CPS overall, according to the 2011-2012 teacher service records maintained by the Illinois State Board of Education. Also, teachers at the three schools have an average of 15 years of experience, compared to 12.75  years in CPS.

“This is the mayor’s continued war on our schools and older black educators. This is nothing more than school closings by another name,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a press release.

Lewis said school turnarounds are akin to school closings.

The CTU and others also criticize AUSL turnarounds because schools end up being run by private entities. And with more charter schools opening every year, CPS is responsible for managing fewer and fewer schools.

North Lawndale has been hit especially hard. If these turnarounds are approved, almost half of North Lawndale’s 18 elementary schools will be under private management: Three will be AUSL turnarounds and five are charter schools.

After watching two schools close last year in North Lawndale, Gordon said she feels as though Dvorak is predestined to either close or become a charter school. “What will happen if the scores don’t move with the turnaround?” she said. “Then what?”

Austin also is home to two other AUSL turnarounds.

Last year, as CPS was in the midst of shuttering 50 elementary schools, officials proposed turning around Barton in Auburn-Gresham, but the school was pulled off the list at the last minute by CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Harvard in Auburn Gresham has been a turnaround school since the 2007-2008 school year.

Click here for detailed information on the race and experience of teachers at the proposed turnaround schools.

Categories: Urban School News

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