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Study: Testing costs up to $78 million, covers most of school year

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 21:11

Colorado state government and school districts spend up to $78 million a year on testing, and some kind of standardized testing takes place during every week of the school year, according to a new study.

“Only accounting for direct costs, and not the additional opportunity costs incurred by redirected staff time, in total $70-$90 a student is spent on assessments in Colorado. This is between $61.1 to $78.4 million annually,” said the study by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, a Denver education research firm.

On the issue of testing time, the study said, “When considered in the context of a typical school year of 175 days … between 7 percent and 15 percent of time in the school year [is spent] preparing for or taking assessments.”

The study was done for the Standards and Assessments Task Force, the 15-member appointed group that is studying the state testing system and which will develop recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. The task force and the study were authorized by a 2014 law that was a legislative compromise in response to growing concerns about assessments. The group was briefed on the study last Monday.

The study’s conclusions were based primarily on information provided by surveys of district-level administrators, building administrators and teachers. Information about testing costs was based on the survey, state data and interviews with administrators in five districts.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • “It is clear that both teachers and students are spending a significant amount of time that could otherwise be devoted to instruction on these assessment-related activities,” despite variations among respondents about specific amounts of time spent on test prep and test taking.
  • “Respondents from all three levels indicated significant impacts and relatively few benefits for most assessments. … A majority of respondents at all levels reported disagreement that the benefits of assessments outweighed the impacts.” (The one exception was general agreement that the benefits of the ACT tests given to high school juniors outweigh its impacts.)
  • “Respondents … suggested changes to assessments, focusing on reducing the length and number of grades of students taking assessment or reducing to the federal minimum.”

The educator opinions collected by the study mirror those captured in an earlier Department of Education survey (see this story for details). But the APA study does combine a wide range of testing data in a single document and provides a fresh look at the alphabet soup of tests facing Colorado students every year – DIBELS, STAR, CMAS, ACCESS and many more.

Here’s a quick look at some of the study’s major findings.

Tests and the school year Do your homework

From a week of school readiness assessments in August to three weeks of early literacy progress monitoring in May, testing goes on across the school year, the study found.

“In this … example, over 40 weeks of assessment windows are open for 10 unique assessments (with specific date ranges overlapping) over a typical 36 week school year. This does not include additional formative assessments, course exams, or AP/IB exams. As is apparent, assessment is a year long process with at least one assessment testing window being open nearly every week of the school year.”

Student time on tests

“While the number of assessments administered varies by grade level, students at every level spend over a week of school time preparing for assessments, with students at key grade levels spending over two weeks of school time preparing for assessments. Time spent taking assessments is similarly high, taking at least a week of school time for students at all levels and more than two weeks of school time for students in some grade levels.”

Teacher time on tests

In the context of a 175-day school year, teachers spend between 5 percent and 26 percent of their time “preparing for or administering assessments.” The variation is accounted for partly by different loads for teachers depending on the grades and subjects they teach.

Costs of testing

The study found direct per-student costs for testing varying between $5 and $50 for state tests and $15-$58 for district tests.

“These figures would be much higher if opportunity costs due to diverted staff time were included. The costs range dramatically between districts and represent different resource starting points and capacity capabilities. Though there is not a perfect correlation the smaller districts tended to have higher costs than the larger districts.”

Costs & benefits

“Ratings of assessment impacts were remarkably similar across district, school, and teacher respondents. Teacher respondents tended to rate the impact of assessments as slightly higher than district and school respondents, but differences were not large. Impact ratings did, however, vary significantly by assessment, with all respondents indicating high level of impact from the CMAS and TCAP/PARCC assessments across all impact areas. Conversely, respondents indicated lower impacts from the ACT.”

What should be done

“A minority of respondents at all levels suggested keeping assessments as they were, with the exception of the ACT. Across all assessments, respondents at all levels favored reducing the length of assessments. There were not major differences in suggested changes from respondents at the district, school, and teacher level.”

The study found about 60 percent of district administrators want to reduce language arts and math tests to the federal minimum of testing 3rd-8th graders and once in high school. Only about a third of building administrators supported that. There was majority support across all three groups for reducing the length of tests.

What happens next

The study is expected to be a key piece of evidence in the task force’s deliberations as it works to prepare its report – or possibly reports – during its final two scheduled meetings on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12.

The group also has gathered a wide variety of information, including comments at several public meetings around the state. (See this page for links to summaries of those meetings.)

An outside advocacy group, the Denver Alliance for Public Education, also is seeking additional parent comment through an online survey, which it intends to present to the task force.

Some members of the task force have indicated support for trimming the testing system back to federal minimums. But there is a wide variety of views represented on the group, and members representing education reform groups are nervous about tinkering too much with the current system. (See the list of members at the bottom of this page.)

While the task force is still deliberating, members of the legislature already are at work on the issue.

“The legislators are drafting their own bills. We’re going to see bills that are across the spectrum,” said one lobbyist. “The legislature is going to have to pick and choose.”

How study was done

APA gathered information through document review, an online survey of district administrators, school administrators and teachers, follow-up interviews with five districts (Aurora, Center, Eagle, Kit Carson and Poudre) on costs and from CDE information. Here’s the breakdown of responses:

  • District-level administrators – Reponses represent 64 districts, or 36 percent
  • School-level administrators – Responses represent 12 percent of schools
  • Teachers – Responses represent 4 percent of statewide workforce

The study concluded that the responses were representative of statewide opinion.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board calls for testing cutbacks

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:46

After chewing on the issue for much of the summer and fall, the State Board of Education Thursday issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system.

The letter was sent to the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a 15-member appointed group that is developing recommendations on testing for the 2015 legislative session.

During meetings stretching back to August, when 2014 TCAP results were released, board members have clearly indicated that they wanted to add their collective voice to the flow of comment being considered by the task force.

The board’s letter adds to the rising drumbeat of discontent about state testing, which has steadily expanded in recent years with the addition of school readiness and early literacy evaluations, new online science and social studies tests and additional high school tests, including the first assessments for seniors.

Things will change even more dramatically next spring when the first online PARCC tests in language arts and math will be given statewide.

The letter, signed by all seven board members, said, “We ask that the task force give consideration to a system of assessments which is reduced to the federal minimums, with the addition of social studies.” It also suggested a testing system that has limited impact on instructional time, considers sampling systems instead of testing every student every years, allows local district choice of tests and exempts students from further testing if they’ve demonstrated mastery of academic content.

Related stories

“The board is keenly aware of the public’s concerns around the burdens imposed on educators, students, and districts – the impacts on instructional time, questions around transparency, unintended consequences related to course sequencing, and interruption of concurrent enrollment programs. By providing our observations to the 1202 Task Force, we continue that dialogue,” the letter said.

Board chair Paul Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado that the letter represents “a gathering of thoughts and ideas that have been talked about for months.” He said the board discussed the letter during its meeting last week and considered talking about it further in December but decided “we needed to get it out immediately so that the task force would have it.”

The task force has only two more scheduled meetings, on Dec. 16 and Jan. 12, before it has to make its report to lawmakers. (The 2014 law that established the group allows the task force to prepare majority and minority reports if it chooses.)

Several task force members are believed to favor cutting the testing system back to federal minimums, although the group hasn’t yet developed detailed drafts of proposals.

Colorado requires more testing, both of additional subjects and in additional grades, than is mandated by the federal NCLB law. Some of those additional tests have been required by the wave of education bills passed by the legislature since 2008.

The issue of federal minimums was discussed at length during the board’s September meeting, when members received an extensive briefing by Department of Education staff. That report indicated cutting back could have unintended consequences, particularly on the operation of the state’s model for tracking student academic growth over time. (See this story for details.)

Testing, including test results and growth data, are key to the state’s systems for rating schools and districts and for the education evaluation system, which is yet to be rolled out fully.

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Categories: Urban School News

Escuela Tlatelolco and Denver Public Schools to end contract

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 18:18

The end of the 2015-16 school year will likely mark the end of a contract between Denver Public Schools and Escuela Tlatelolco, a school with a storied past and ties to the city’s Chicano civil rights movement.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday to approve a proposal that would extend the school’s contract with the district for a single year while ensuring that the Escuela board will not seek to renew the contract, which has been ongoing in some form since 2004.

The proposal recommends that the school and district discuss creating a new, different agreement of some sort at this time next year.

Escuela Tlatelolco, founded as a private school in 1971 by civil rights leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, will remain open in its landmark building after the end of the contract, and school leaders say they plan to raise funds to keep all of their current students enrolled.

But while Escuela’s staff and board of directors agreed to the resolution on tonight’s agenda, the school community is contesting the district’s assessment of their school’s academic successes and the timeline of the end of the contract.

“We weren’t thrilled that we came to this place,” said Nita Gonzales, the school’s principal and the daughter of its founder.

When the district and Escuela first entered into a contract in 2004, Gonzales said, “it seemed like a win-win.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiElementary students at Escuela Tlatelolco.The influx of public funds were welcome as more than 90 percent of its students received scholarships and were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Denver Public Schools was looking for ways to help educate English learners and Latino students in West Denver—the same students Escuela, with its bilingual Montessori model, small classes, and focus on heritage and community, seemed to have success with. Some students were already coming to Escuela from DPS schools.

The district agreed to provide funds to Escuela in exchange for the school meeting certain academic and operational benchmarks. The school contracted with the district for some special education services, but retained its status as a private, independent nonprofit.

The contract with DPS was a welcome source of income for Escuela, which provided scholarships to more than 90 percent of its students, most of whom were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

But the school has received low marks on the district’s accountability system for multiple years. It was ranked red—the lowest possibility—each of the past four years. The district’s School Improvement Accountability Council has recommended Escuela for closure three times.

The district’s recommendation to the board last year included a set of cautions about the school’s performance, but the board voted to approve the contract extension.

Gonzales said the current accountability system doesn’t accurately capture the school, which currently houses preK through 12th grade, and its work with students. “Part of what we were trying to do was to see, is there a way to work with DPS to frame an alternative scoring model?”

In a letter to the district’s board, members of Escuela’s board say that the school’s low performance on the district’s performance metrics were representative of systemic problems “teaching and evaluating with standardized tests the large West Denver Latino and English Language Learner population.”

A mural of Corky Gonzales, the founder of Escuela Tlatelolco, on the first floor of the school’s building.

In 2013-14, 72 percent of Escuela’s students were identified as English language learners and 98.4 percent were minority students. In a letter to the Denver board (see below for full letter), Escuela board members state that many of the school’s middle and high schoolers transferred to the school after struggling or considering dropping out of DPS schools. The school is also smaller than average—it has 161 students this year, including preschoolers, and some high school classes have fewer than 16 students.

“It was never evaluated or measured as an alternative school, because their elementary and preschool was a lot more like a regular charter. But they’re actually operating closer to an alternative school,” said board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the area around Escuela. He compared Escuela to Florence Crittenden, a contract school that works mainly with pregnant teens, for its ability to meet the needs of a specific group of students.

“We’re looking at numbers and data in this snapshot without all the other things that come into play,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t tell anything about Escuela–but I’m not sure it tells anything about any school.”

“What are you looking for? At the end of the day, is it that your students graduate? Those numbers are high,” she said. “Is it that at the end of the day that parents are involved? Our parental engagement is very high. Is it at the end of the day that students are engaged in their learning and participate? That’s what you’ll find here. Can you gauge that all on a single test? Maybe not.”

The resolution the board will vote on Thursday explicitly acknowledges the school’s point of view. It reads, in part, as follows: “Escuela offers a unique educational opportunity within the Denver context and whereas Escuela does not believe that the school’s model designed to support the whole child can be fully realized or evaluated within the district and state performance and accountability context.”

The move will have financial repercussions for Escuela: Some 50 percent of its funds came through the Denver district. Gonzales said the school had hoped for a two-year extension, rather than the one-year plan currently on the table.

At a public comment session of the Denver school board last week, Angela Alfaro, a parent representative for the school, said that “a one-year contract extension places extreme financial burdens on the school. We think it’s not enough time to raise the necessary funds to continue during the transition away from DPS funding.”

PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiA student and teacher at Escuela Tlatelolco work together. “Did the mom FELL something or DROP something?” “She dropped it.”

The school’s reliance on fundraising had raised concerns in the district about the sustainability of the model. “We have a costly program,” Gonzales said. “But we’re raising money all the time.”

At a work session earlier in the week, Denver board member Rosemary Rodriguez noted the school’s many accomplished alumni and the children of notable Denverites who attend the school, especially its preschool program.

“That’s one of the creative conversations we’d like to have. We have respect for so much of what Escuela has and does, especially creating culturally competent school programs,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s academic and innovation officer. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited the school last year to tout the benefits of early childhood education.

Gonzales said that while the school will enter conversations with the district next year about future partnerships, “we really don’t have thoughts on what that’d look like.”

“We were here long before [the contract],” said Gonzales, “and we’re going to be here after.”


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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boulder gets $1M to improve teacher training

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 09:41

Battle Lines

Denver Public Schools wants to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building. But nearby residents argue the building should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Making a better teacher

Wanting to improve teacher training, a family has donated $1 million to the Boulder Valley School District. ( Daily Camera, 9News )

Shuffling the deck

The Colorado House Education Committee is getting a makeover after two members were re-assigned to the budget panel. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Home at last

After moving several times, the Rocky Mountain Deaf School has a permanent home in Jefferson County. ( Denver Post )

It takes a village

A nonprofit, which has built a broad coalition, aims to improve student achievement in Jefferson County's poorer schools in Edgewater. ( Denver Post )

A helping hand

Lakewood High School students are raising money for an 8-year-old boy who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called FOP. ( 9News )

Taking candy from a baby

A Bennet woman is accused of taking more than $15,000 for her schools parent-teacher association. ( 9News )

After school special (report)

According to a new report, 15 percent of kids in Colorado, or about 146,856, in public schools take care of themselves after the afternoon bell rings. ( Gazette )

Connection failure

President Barack Obama called on school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to nearly every student within a few years. ( AP via Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: New rating system OK'd, Oppenheimer awards end, Advance Illinois report

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 08:56

Screaming from the audience, reprimands from Board President David Vitale and security guards carting people out are nothing new to CPS Board Of Education meetings. But the audience was much larger, more engaged and emotionally charged than usual at Wednesday’s meeting, which was held in the late afternoon in the auditorium of Westinghouse College Prep on the West Side. Many parents and teachers thanked board members for moving the meeting into the community, to which Vitale responded that they’re giving serious thought to holding more meetings outside of downtown headquarters.

It was the first opportunity for many to openly ask the Board to seek legal recourse over a series of financial transactions with banks since the publication of a Chicago Tribune investigation concluding they cost millions more than traditional municipal bonds. More than a dozen speakers  -- including mayoral candidate and Ald. Bob Fioretti -- took on that issue during the public comment period, though board members did not say much in response.

Other speakers included many parents from Mollison and Cook elementary schools who  complained about insufficient resources to pay for teachers and other key staff, while two opposing groups from Decatur Classical School debated whether the city should divert $15 million in tax-increment financing to expand to seventh and eighth grades and relocate into the shuttered Stewart Elementary.

In addition CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the district is looking into raising the wage for school employees and those of contractors to $13 per hour, mirroring a new city policy. The Board also approved another change to the district’s school ratings process, which Byrd-Bennett called a “perfecting” of the system already approved in 2013. To show the district had taken account public input on the controversial changes, the CEO asked several school representatives in the audience to stand and read a letter of support from Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. The final vote was not immediately available Thursday morning.

2. Goodbye Oppy awards … After 39 years of supporting CPS educators, the Oppenheimer Family Foundation is ending its Teacher Incentive Grant and OPPY achievement awards. Ted Oppenheimer said the work involved in putting together the annual grants has gotten exhausting for him and his wife, Susan. “There’s got to be a better way to support Chicago public school teachers without putting that much pressure on her,” he said.

The Oppenheimers plan to partner with another education organization through which to funnel their money and continue their mission of supporting teacher-developed, hands-on projects in classrooms. Over the years, the foundation has awarded grants totalling $3.7 million to 7,348 teachers.

“To see the enthusiasm of the kids, the excitement of the teachers being able to do projects they would not been able to afford to do otherwise has been very uplifting for us,” said Oppenheimer, a former CPS teacher himself. “And when we have [our award ceremony] each year and hand out the grants, we try to make them feel as positive about being a CPS teacher as possible, as opposed to how they’re being knocked down by politicians. We’re there. We have their backs.”

In its final ceremony this evening, the foundation will award 263 grants totalling $157,000 in addition to recognizing two educators for their work: jazz musician Diane Ellis, a band instructor at Dixon Elementary, and Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president and former chemistry teacher.

3. A complete picture, but not a pretty one overall. There’s good news, albeit sprinkled among plenty of not-so-rosy statistics, in The State We’re In 2014, a report from the group Advance Illinois. While the report doesn’t provide much in the way of “new” news, it offers a comprehensive look at how Illinois compares to other states when it comes to education from preschool through college.

Overall, elementary school students have made small gains in reading and math, with CPS students making gains at a faster rate than students elsewhere. It’s worth noting that the report measures gains made on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, which is a tougher test than the state’s ISAT and is probably more in line with the new Common Core-aligned tests that students will take this school year. Plus, high schools are offering more college-level courses, and more students, including students of color, are graduating.

Yet more students are living in poverty; fewer children are enrolled in preschool; the achievement gap between minority and white students hasn’t narrowed and remains widest for black students; minority students are still less likely to graduate from college; and the cost of college has become prohibitive.  Currently, a family earning $50,000—near median household income for the United States—would have to pay 32 percent of its annual income for one child to attend a public, four-year university in Illinois, the report states. That puts Illinois 47th among the 50 states for college affordability.

Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, acknowledges that there’s good and bad news in the report. The circumstances children and schools face are more challenging, given the increase in poverty and the growing number of students who are English-learners.  But the signs of academic progress, however small, show that “if we make the right investments, who knows what we could do?” Steans points out.

4. Illinois spending problem…  The Advance Illinois report points out that Illinois remains shamefully almost-dead-last among the 50 states when it comes to K-12 education funding. Illinois provides just 25 percent of total public education dollars, while other states average 50 percent; and state per-pupil spending on education has fallen by $1.4 billion in the past decade.

The lack of state funding and the funding formula have put many school districts in a bind. Using Illinois State Report Card data, the Chicago Tribune found that, in 2013, 500 of 860 school districts in Illinois spent more than they took in. Overall, school districts were almost $1 billion in the red.

But a big part of that $1 billion was CPS. CPS spent $5.7 billion, while only bringing in $5.4 billion, according to CPS’ report card. Only one year in the past decade did CPS spend less than it took in. However, 2013 was one of the worst years.

Meanwhile, the state average spent per student rose to $12,045, about 2 percent more than the year before. The Chicago Tribune points out that some school districts in Illinois are now spending more than $20,000 per student.

Lawmakers have done nothing to change that equation—and appear poised to continue doing same. The latest funding reform bill Senate Bill 16, , which was bantered about this week in a joint House committee hearing, is “…actually a dead bill, a repository of school funding reform bill language in a vehicle that is stalled and will cease to exist when the 98th General Assembly expires on January 13,” according to Jim Broadway of State School News Service.

5. A new vision … Leaders from school districts across the state say they want teachers to be represented on the state’s board of education, licensure reciprocity with neighboring states and expansion of broadband Internet access.

These were among the 25 education policy recommendations released this week by an alliance of school management organizations. Other suggestions in their report Vision 20/20 include prioritizing effective educators, learning integrity, shared responsibility, and equitable and adequate funding.

“We’re good at knowing what we lobby against [...] but this is an effort to lobby for things we are for,” said Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators.

The alliance doesn’t take a stance regarding the controversial PARCC assessments set to roll out in the spring. Jason Leahy of the Illinois Principals Association said his group supports “what the elements of PARCC are attempting to do,” such as providing more immediate instructional feedback and growth assessment aligned to Common Core, but urged caution.

“We’ve got to be very careful moving forward with how high-stakes we’re making this assessment,” Leahy said. “Because we’re hooking a lot of big decisions to that.”


Categories: Urban School News

Asking the hard questions

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 01:00

When he ran for mayor back in 2011, former Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle was considered a favorite among progressives but a long shot to win. He got 9 percent of the vote, coming in a distant third place behind Rahm Emanuel—who won outright with 55 percent—and Gery Chico, with 24 percent. Del Valle and Chico split much of Chicago’s Latino vote.

Since then, del Valle has largely stayed out of the headlines, though he’s keeping busy. Gov. Pat Quinn appointed him to the Illinois Commerce Commission in February 2013. In addition, he remains deeply committed to education issues, which he championed as a state senator. He chairs the Illinois P-20 Council, which advises the state on how best to align the educational system from preschool to college; is the vice chairman of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission; and sits on the boards of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois and the Federation for Community Schools.

In a recent interview, del Valle gave his take on the upcoming election—including the 11th-hour entry of Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia into the race—and the state of Latino political power in the Windy City. The following is an edited version of the hour-long conversation. 

Why aren’t you running this time around? Because I don’t have millions of dollars. I already went down that path. Gery Chico raised more than $3 million and he still couldn’t compete with the $12 or $13 million that Rahm spent. And the business sector here in this city, the corporate sector, is firmly behind the guy who they feel is best going to protect their interests. You think the business folks out there want to hear what I have to say?

How is this race different from the one in 2011? In 2011, it was an open seat. No incumbent, so there was no record to look at. And you had four candidates that really competed and stayed in it until the end. There were lots of small organizations out there that sponsored candidate forums. I went to most of them. Rahm Emanuel went to none of them. And while we were spending our time in these forums, sometimes with just a handful of people in the audience, Rahm Emanuel was running his television commercials. He had a voice that could be heard in people’s living rooms throughout Chicago and there was really nothing to counter that. 

What were the issues back then? At those forums I, along with other candidates, talked about the neglect of our communities and the need to elect a mayor that would prioritize neighborhood development over downtown development. When you look at tax-increment financing (TIFs) and other methods for stimulating economic activity, we see that not nearly enough has happened in the neighborhoods. Yet those tools that were established to develop blighted areas were used downtown. So those kinds of issues needed to be talked about. Certainly the schools needed to be talked about. Back then, I talked about how we were developing a dual system of public education. And that’s exactly what’s happening with the dramatic increase in charter schools and the reduction in resources to neighborhood schools.

Has anything about these issues changed under Emanuel’s tenure? They’ve been accelerated. Look, there have been some jobs created. But they’re jobs in information technology, in the financial sector. I don’t see a whole lot of folks from my neighborhood working on LaSalle Street. And while this administration says we’re developing more International Baccalaureate programs and magnet schools, the fact of the matter is that some of that is being done to accommodate the newer population. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t happen. What I’m saying is there has to be a balance.

So when you’re doing all of this and creating the 1871s [a hub for digital start-ups] and the high-tech sector and trying to attract all of this economic activity, you’ve got to have activity going on at the neighborhood level. You’ve got to plan for attracting more manufacturing jobs. You’ve got to train folks in the neighborhood high schools for college and careers, but also ensure that they have opportunities to develop some skills to go into advanced manufacturing.

Aren’t some of these job trends inevitable, though? We’ve seen an economy that has a very small percentage of people doing better than ever, while the rest of us, the middle class, is shrinking and the low-income population growing. Chicago is a reflection of what’s happening nationally in many respects, but it’s up to the political leadership to tackle these issues head-on and advocate for the kinds of policies that allow you to improve some of this.

Some folks will say this is inevitable and just the normal natural flow of things. To a certain extent that’s true. You can’t stand in the way of progress, some will say. I don’t want to stand in the way of progress. I just want to make sure everyone is brought along. 

We need to hold every elected official accountable for what they’re doing to ensure that promise of opportunity remains for all.

What’s been the impact on Latino neighborhoods? This is the sad part. When Latinos had no political representation, those of us who demanded political representation stood together and fought. We won some of those battles, and today we have political representation even though from a demographic standpoint we’re still underrepresented. But we’ve kind of reached a critical mass. We’ve been able to create Latino caucuses, yet sometimes it feels like we have less power than we did before, because Latinos and elected officials have focused on their own careers and agendas and have made accommodations with the power structure that allowed lots of things to happen around them. Look at the kind of residential development that has taken place in the West Town area or in Pilsen. 

Yes, many of these elected officials advocate on issues like immigration reform, but the holistic approach that we envisioned back when we had no political representation has gone by the wayside. 

How do Hispanic voters feel about Emanuel? I know a lot of people appreciated his promise to welcome a number of undocumented Central American children who’d been detained at the Mexico-US border earlier this summer. Look, he’s going to make himself attractive to them. That’s the sad part about politics and the huge amount of money that is involved. You have candidates that because of their multi-million dollar war chest are able to create new images of themselves in the voters’ eyes and the past is forgotten.

It would have been nice if he had taken those kinds of positions when he was in the White House and in Congress, where he actually advised his colleagues not to go anywhere near immigration reform. Rather than thinking of what he did or failed to do during those years, they’re going to think, ‘Wait a minute, he said he’d take the Central American kids? Therefore he must be our friend.’ That’s human nature.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia recently threw his hat into the mayoral race. What do you think? We’ll have a much livelier discussion around the key issues, which is what is desperately needed in the City of Chicago.

How much do you think he’ll be able to pull in the Latino vote? There are lots of Latinos who will support a Latino name on the ballot the same way African-Americans supported Barack Obama for the U.S. Senate in the state of Illinois and in the presidency. It’s about empowering an electorate.

But Chuy’s reach is broader than that. When he supports an increase in the minimum wage, this affects all people, all residents. This is not a Latino proposal, but a proposal to benefit all Chicagoans. That’s the case whether we’re talking about the minimum wage or how TIF dollars are used or the repression caused by the abuse of the placement of street cameras that originally were for the purpose of increasing safety but have been used by this administration for the purpose of generating revenue.

Do you support him? I’ll vote for him. I was ready to vote for [Chicago Teachers Union President] Karen Lewis, but she’s not in the race; Chuy is in the race. I’ve talked with him at length. It’s a big job just getting him on the ballot but I’m hoping some labor groups get behind him, that teachers and others will get behind him. The dynamics are always different. Their personalities are different. Karen had a different kind of base than Chuy does. How those two meld has yet to be determined.

Did you think Lewis had a shot against Emanuel? The dynamic Karen brought in was that there was no other African-American out there working it. And because she took on Emanuel as Chicago Teachers Union president and beat him, a lot of people out there said, ‘Wow, if she beat him once she can beat him again.’ There was a feeling out there that Karen would be the most competitive. Not that she would necessarily win, but there would have been a competitive race where these issues could be debated. Where you could force Emanuel to answer the question: How are you going to uplift these neighborhoods? Give us your plan for a second term. Those are the kinds of hard questions that need to be debated within an electoral process, because after it’s over, those tough questions are not going to be asked. The City Council, filled with lapdogs? They’re not going to ask those questions.

Are you saying that even if Karen ran and lost … It’s an essential component of our democracy to have a competition and electoral process that allows for a debate on issues that are of concern to people. If you don’t have that opportunity, then we all lose.

Ald. Bob Fioretti is running on a progressive platform. What do you think is going to come of his campaign? Well, I’m glad he’s there. He’s a nice guy. But he doesn’t have the standing that Karen had. I’m sure that Bob is going to raise some of these issues. But having personally gone through this many times over a 25-year period, it’s not enough to raise questions—it’s how are you able to get people to listen. And how do you engage a wide audience that then translates into having a lot of questioners out there? People asking those questions in the barbershop, at the grocery store, in front of schools where they’re waiting for kids to get out when the bell rings.

What advice would you give to Rahm right now, if he would listen?  Well, he doesn’t listen.

Categories: Urban School News

A campaign for good schools and jobs

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 01:00

Five months from now, Chicago voters will go to the polls to choose whether to send Mayor Rahm Emanuel back to City Hall for another term. It’s no secret that Emanuel is not popular right now among Chicagoans. But whether or not another candidate can ride the wave of discontent into the mayor’s office is still a question mark. His highest-profile challengers are Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, who both garnered ample signatures to have their names placed on the ballot.Emanuel has cited the country’s lagging economy as a major factor in his dismal poll numbers. And nowhere is the economic outlook as bleak as in Chicago’s black neighborhoods, where he faces his toughest sell for a second term. Black Chicago turned out in droves for Emanuel, giving him nearly six out of every 10 votes cast in predominantly black wards. That support is now turned on its head: Nearly six in 10 black Chicagoans, according to the Tribune poll, disapprove of Emanuel’s job performance. 

It’s not hard to see why the mayor has lost African-American support. I see the signs in my own Woodlawn neighborhood, where a community mental health clinic shut down, the jobless hang out at 63rd and Cottage Grove, virtually every street has abandoned homes marked with a red “X” and awaiting demolition, and two schools were among dozens shuttered last year. Yes, there are other hopeful signs. A school that took in displaced children is now a specialty STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school, the Grove Parc apartments on Cottage Grove are being revitalized, small businesses have popped up—a coffee shop here, a clothing store there—and pothole-riddled streets have been repaved. But perceptions die hard. 

Consider the citywide statistics below, compiled with the help of The Chicago Reporter from city, Chicago Public Schools and federal data:

Chicago has the highest black unemployment rate among the nation’s five largest cities—25 percent, compared to 19 percent in Philadelphia, 18 percent in Los Angeles, 15 percent in Houston and 14 percent in New York City—based on 2013 figures.

Public sector jobs, traditionally a route to middle-class success for African-Americans, have been vanishing in recent years. But city workers from black ZIP codes account for 40 percent of the 5,000 city jobs lost since 2009 (two years before Emanuel took office).

Those layoffs don’t include the 1,691 school system employees from black ZIP codes who lost their jobs since 2011.

White households with an income of $100,000 a year now outnumber black households by a 6-to-1 ratio.

Responding to these and other numbers, the mayor’s office points to success stories such as Chicago Neighborhoods Now, projected to target $2.9 billion altogether to projects in seven communities that include predominantly black Bronzeville, Pullman and Englewood.

Whatever the statistics, one thing is clear: There is plenty yet to be done to ensure that all Chicagoans have an equitable share of economic and educational opportunity.

The mayor’s popularity in the black community took a major hit with last year’s closings of 50 schools. Then there’s the rest of Emanuel’s education policies: Charters and other privately run schools have mostly opened in black neighborhoods, often in the face of local opposition; black teachers have been hardest hit by layoffs; and the achievement gap remains widest for black students.

In this joint issue of Catalyst In Depth and The Chicago Reporter, Deputy Editor Sarah Karp examines the potential effect on the mayor’s policies on his re-election bid. Associate Editor Melissa Sanchez explains how the Chicago Teachers Union and its progressive allies are seeking to make inroads in City Hall. Sanchez also talked with former mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle about the upcoming election and the state of Latino political power in the city.  And the Reporter’s Ade Emmanuel explores the reasons behind the city’s high black unemployment rate.

Also, Stay tuned for details about “Education: Then, Now, Next. Celebrating 25 years of Catalyst Chicago.” We’ll have a range of activities, from forums around town to an online almanac featuring education highlights. We look forward to your participation in the celebration.

Categories: Urban School News

Tough lessons for Rahm

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 01:00

On a Monday evening in September, the normally desolate stretch of 75th Street near Yates Avenue in South Shore was lined with cars. Inside a banquet hall, Charles Kyle sat on a small stage with Karen Lewis and asked her questions about crime, economic development and, most of all, education.

“Renaissance 2010 was a real-estate plan,” Lewis told the crowd in her matter-of-fact style. Lewis was referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s controversial plan, aggressively continued by his successor Rahm Emanuel, to open new schools while closing failing ones in an effort to keep middle-class families in the city. “I don’t think many people understand that.”

Though the mayoral election was months away, Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, was gearing up to mount a dramatic challenge to Emanuel in his bid for a second term. As is well-known by now, serious health issues forced Lewis to bow out of the race before she officially entered it. 

Yet Kyle, the moderator for the Exchange Ideas community forum, which sponsors events aimed at improving South Shore, says the concerns that drew so many residents out to hear Lewis and cling to her words still weigh heavily on the neighborhood.

Black communities, more so than any other neighborhoods in Chicago, have been dramatically affected by the education reform policies championed by Emanuel. The neighborhoods are simultaneously struggling with crime, high unemployment, loss of wealth as a result of the housing crisis and a dire need for economic investment.

[See Black Chicago by the numbers]

A case in point: Last year, South Shore became a food desert when the Dominick’s grocery store on 71st Street closed, leaving residents with one neighborhood choice: a weekend farmers market. The neighborhood’s dilemma reflects the economic development problems faced by other black communities in the city that want to lure new businesses and jobs. For example, tax increment finance districts, created to spark economic development, have not generated the same level of revenue on the South Side as elsewhere. Among the city’s active TIFs, not a single district on the South Side is ranked in the top 20 for property tax revenue. 

Meanwhile, the anger about schools came to a head with last year’s closings of 50 schools, virtually all in black neighborhoods. And it is squarely at Emanuel’s doorstep, a potential threat to his re-election hopes: A shocking 77 percent of black voters disapprove of Emanuel’s handling of schools and only 10 percent agree with the policy of increasing funding for charter schools while cutting budgets for neighborhood schools, according to an August 2014 Chicago Tribune poll. 

Education also promises to figure prominently in aldermanic races, where both the teachers union and the group Democrats for Education Reform, which supports Emanuel’s policies, are seeking to field and support candidates who will back their agendas.

Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti calls Emanuel the most divisive education politician since Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chief who made national headlines for shaking up the district but became mired in allegations of test-score cheating on her watch.

“For the sake of politics, he gave children the shaft,” Fioretti says. 

Another challenger, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, spoke to an audience of teachers union members at a recent dinner and told them that a belief in the importance of neighborhood schools is what sets him apart from Emanuel. Garcia recounted his involvement in a hunger strike that led to the creation of Little Village High School. 

“We stood up for our children and protected them,” Garcia told the audience, after receiving Lewis’ crucial endorsement. “Instead of closing our schools, I believe in successful community schools.”

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says she has not seen the polls that show dissatisfaction with the mayor’s policies. And she strongly disagrees with the notion that neighborhood schools have suffered from disinvestment under Emanuel. The district has spent “tens of millions of dollars” putting new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula and International Baccalaureate programs into some neighborhood schools, while providing extra help to failing schools, Byrd-Bennett points out. “These things have made a tremendous difference,” she says.

*    *    *

The dissatisfaction with Emanuel’s education agenda is local evidence of a rising tide against the current version of “school reform.” In New York City, for example, Mayor Bill de Blasio rode to victory on campaign promises that he would curb charter expansion and standardized tests, and forge better relationships with teachers and parents.  

Chicago’s mass school closings became symbolic across the country of the disinvestment in neighborhood schools that has come as a result of the privatization movement, says author and education historian Diane Ravitch. “No one had ever done that in one day in America,” she says of the 50 closings. Ravitch, who is also on the education faculty at New York University, is perhaps the most outspoken and well-known critic of the reform movement that she once strongly supported. 

The public is also increasingly resistant to the use of standardized tests, another hallmark of reform. More and more, people have begun to realize that standardized tests are used to justify the closing of neighborhood schools and privatization of school systems, Ravitch says. 

A recent report by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, examined the anti-testing movement. According to the report, in New York City, 60,000 children and their parents refused to take federally mandated state tests in grades three through eight in 2014, up from a few thousand in 2013. More than 1,000 children and families opted out in both Chicago and Colorado, FairTest found, and smaller numbers of families did so in other regions. 

Meanwhile, the charter movement is now more than a decade old and the public is starting to ask hard questions about it, notes Peter Cunningham, who was press secretary for Arne Duncan when Duncan ran Chicago schools and followed him to the U.S. Department of Education. 

“We are further down the path,” says Cunningham, who now runs an organization called Education Post. “Is it enough to say that 29 percent of charter schools out-perform traditional schools? Maybe it should be 40 percent or 50 percent. It is not acceptable for charter schools to be worse.” 

CEO Byrd-Bennett says she is “absolutely agnostic [about] the type of school” and wants to talk instead about high-quality schools. She also points out that her administration has held charter schools accountable by creating a warning list for those not performing well, and closing two charters during her tenure. But the mayor and Byrd-Bennett will not commit to curtailing charter expansion altogether. 

These days, Emanuel talks little about charter schools, perhaps recognizing that they are not politically popular.  No new ones will be approved for next school year, putting the timetable for the approval process outside the timeframe for the run-up to the mayoral election.

*     *     *

Providing a good education for his son has always been a priority for Charles Kyle and his son’s mother, Kyle says. But the issue really hit home when he began to look at schools as his son was nearing kindergarten age. He went to visit Madison Elementary School, which he had attended until sixth grade. Along with familiarity, proximity was a factor: Madison is located less than a block from where he lives. 

Kyle says he would have liked to show his commitment to the neighborhood by sending his son to the local school. But he just wasn’t impressed. “The kindergarten classroom didn’t have sight words on the wall,” he says. The school’s test scores are average to below-average. 

Fewer than half of the children who live in the attendance area go to Madison, which has space for up to 750 students, but enrolled only 233 students at the time Kyle visited. 

So when Kyle’s son was offered a seat at Murray Language Academy, a magnet school two neighborhoods away in Hyde Park, he reluctantly accepted it. Murray has high test scores and also offers foreign language classes—French, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese—every day. 

Kyle’s experience is replicated in families throughout South Shore: About 8,000 school-aged children live in the community, but instead of attending the neighborhood schools, they are spread out among 364 schools across the city. That means more than half of the city’s public schools have at least one student from South Shore, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis.

Yet the exodus hasn’t resulted in children traveling to substantially better schools. Among those children who leave the neighborhood to attend school, only 21 percent are enrolled in top schools. A larger number, 25 percent, are enrolled in schools with test scores that are among the worst in the city. African-American students are more likely to travel to mediocre or poor-performing schools than any other group of children.

The phenomenon is not new. For years, the number of students traveling outside their neighborhood to school has been on the rise. And one point in Emanuel’s favor is that a smaller percentage of students are now making the trip to low-achieving schools than under Daley, according to a Catalyst analysis. 

Still, Byrd-Bennett says she is “very worried” about the numbers and says the district needs to do a better job of sharing information with parents. “Sometimes schools appeal to parents because they are quiet or calm, but they are not high-quality [educationally],” she says. 

Last year’s school closings may have aggravated the trend: Two-thirds of the schools designated to take in displaced children experienced a significant drop in state test scores—an indicator that children from closed schools perhaps fared no better academically in their new ones.

*     *     *

Another bone of contention in black communities is the diminishing public input and control of decisions about schools in African-American neighborhoods. 

When Emanuel walked into office, only three of the schools in South Shore and South Chicago, the community next door, were run by private entities. Now, eight of 21 schools, or about 38 percent, are either charter schools, contract schools or turnaround schools, which are managed by the non-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership.  

A telling example is evident in South Shore. Val Free, executive director of the South Shore Planning Coalition, recalls the opening of Great Lakes Academy, a charter school that is technically in South Chicago but draws South Shore students. 

Free feels that Great Lakes was forced upon the community unnecessarily. Virtually all the neighborhood elementary schools in the surrounding area are underutilized. While many are low-performing schools, one of them, Powell Elementary, earned the highest academic rating last year. 

“Why would you try to dilute Powell by adding a charter?” Free says. “It seems like sabotage.”

Neither the planning coalition nor the South Shore Community Action Council—one of several such entities created by CPS to weigh in on school decisions—supported the Great Lakes plan. Yet school board members approved it and the charter opened its doors last school year.

Free says her group asked the charter operator to sign a community benefits agreement that would stipulate having a certain number of people from the neighborhood on the school’s board, in the classroom and in other jobs, such as janitorial. 

Great Lakes Charter operator Katherine Myers was resistant, Free says. At one point, the charter did offer spots on the board to community members. Yet when Free was nominated to serve, Myers refused because Free had opposed the opening of the school. 

Despite how she felt about the school, Free says she would have been fair on the board out of a desire to have the students get a good education. (Myers did not return numerous calls from Catalyst.)

Henry English, the head of the Black United Fund, which supports local non-profits and is active in the community, says he is disappointed when he sees the teachers walking through the doors of Great Lakes. 

“They seem short on experience,” he says. “Great Lakes did not hire any teachers from the community… that is for sure.” 

*     *     *

The impact of school actions—closings, turnarounds in which most teachers end up losing their jobs, and charter expansion—on the black teaching force is a major flashpoint for many in the black community. African-American teachers have borne the brunt of layoffs as a result of closings, since the teaching force at shuttered schools was largely made up of veteran black teachers, according to an analysis of Illinois teacher service records. Meanwhile, the new, privately run schools have tended to hire younger, white teachers.

Citywide, 1,134 black educators—teachers, social workers and school counselors—are gone from the CPS payroll in recent years, according to CTU data. (The numbers include retirees.)  In South Shore, the number is 91. These job figures help fuel antagonism toward charters and turnaround schools. 

What typically has happened to schools in South Shore and other black communities is the exact opposite of what has taken place in white and Latino communities. 

Take Lakeview, a mostly white North Side community that, like South Shore, sits on the lakefront. Here, 70 percent of children attend their neighborhood school. Of those students who travel outside the community, nearly 90 percent land at a high-achieving school. No charters or contract schools operate in Lakeview. No schools have closed or undergone a turnaround. And since 2011, 140 additional teachers are working in schools in the neighborhood.

The contrast in what has happened in different communities has been by design. Andrea Zopp, a school board member and head of the Chicago Urban League, told a City Club audience recently that charters and other privately run schools were opened in neighborhoods that needed “quality options.” 

District officials have also maintained that school closings were intended to make the school system more efficient by shuttering buildings with too few children, and that the closings were done at one time to minimize disruption over multiple years.  

But the closings were still a bitter pill for many to swallow. And as for choice, education organizer Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization argues that what people want is good neighborhood schools, not a million options to sift through. Brown is also national coordinator for Journey for Justice, an alliance of activists who have fought against school closings, turnarounds and charter expansion in communities of color.

“It has ripped black communities apart, and people are becoming more sophisticated and angry,” Brown says.

*     *     *

Last year, Kyle worked in an afterschool program at Fiske Elementary in Woodlawn, a school designated to take in displaced students from Sexton. Kyle says that the students in his program felt as if they were being moved around like pawns on a chess board.

“No one asked them what they felt about the merger,” Kyle says. “They didn’t have a choice at all, and they felt abandoned by the staff at their old school.”

The first few months at Fiske were rough, Kyle recalls. Students fought and the staff struggled to maintain discipline. Eventually, the environment calmed down. But Kyle worries that the disappointment the students had in the education system will linger.

Like others, Free has mixed feelings about the closings. The schools were failing and “not producing global citizens,” she says. Free, like so many parents, decided not to send her son to a neighborhood high school; instead, she enrolled him at the Chicago Military Academy at Bronzeville, a good 6 miles from South Shore.

Yet what didn’t make sense to her, and still does not, is that immediately after closing schools, neighborhoods with a lot of half-empty buildings got new schools thrust on them. 

Byrd-Bennett acknowledges that some community groups are still unhappy about the closings, but adds that parents of displaced students have told her they are pleased with the education their children are getting. 

According to CPS statistics, 74 percent of welcoming schools saw their enrollment fall by more than 10 students. Byrd-Bennett said she is not familiar with those figures.

*     *     *

When Emanuel talks about schools now, he emphasizes new programs and statistics that have improved, like graduation rates. The five-year graduation rate this year was 69 percent, up from 58 percent when he came into office.

Kyle says the statistic does not resonate for him or people in his community. Despite areas of South Shore that are wealthier, the community still has blocks crowded with abandoned apartment buildings, boarded-up businesses, high unemployment and too many young guys hanging out with nothing to do all day.  

The graduation rate for black males in Chicago still hovers at about 50 percent and is still the lowest compared with other racial groups. A shocking 92 percent of black male teens in Chicago are unemployed, according to a January 2014 Chicago Urban League report.

Sitting at a coffee shop one day, Kyle looks out the window and points to a young man whose shoulders are slouched as he peers down the block.  Kyle says the boy’s name is Donte and he worked with him at Fiske.  “I told him to go home, but look, he is back out there,” he says. 

The combination of dropouts and high unemployment means that illegal activity is commonplace. This reality intertwines with other concerns, including education and the ability to attract businesses to the neighborhood. 

It becomes a cycle that is hard for a community to break. “I never saw a good school surrounded by a depressed community,” says Kyle.

Categories: Urban School News

New members for budget panel, big vacancy on House Education

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 17:46

Two key Democratic members of the House Education Committee, including the chair, have been named to the Joint Budget Committee, opening the way for big changes on the education panel.

Reps. Millie Hamner of Dillon and Dave Young of Greeley were named to the budget committee Wednesday by Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder, who will be speaker of the House next year.

Hamner, retired superintendent of the Summit County Schools, has been chair of House Education for the last two sessions. She was at the center of negotiations and decisions on school funding during the 2014 session. In 2013 she was the prime House sponsor of Senate Bill 13-213, the proposed school finance overhaul that didn’t go into effect because voters rejected the income tax increase needed to pay for it.

Because of their workload, JBC members don’t serve on other committees, so the departure of Hamner and Young leaves a couple of big gaps on the education committee, which already has lost several members because of term limits.

Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon / File photo

Hullinghorst didn’t announce any other committee assignments Wednesday. Budget committee appointments had to be made now because the JBC already is holding briefings and hearings on 2015-16 budgets for state agencies.

The Nov. 4 election gave Republicans an 18-17 majority in the Senate and Democrats continued control of the House. That shift required reshuffling JBC membership, which is split 3-3 between senators and representatives. The changes mean that four legislators will be new and facing the steep learning curve for first-time JBC members.

Veteran committee member Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, will be chair. Other Senate members are Sens. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and one of the legislature’s top budget experts, and Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City and a newcomer.

Joining Hamner and Young from the House will be Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who started sitting in on JBC sessions at the very end of the 2014 session.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, is leaving the JBC to become majority leader. Rep. Jenise May, D-Aurora, lost her bid for reelection so won’t be returning to the committee.

With Hamner and Young leaving House Education, only four of the seven Democrats who served on the panel last session remain in the House for possible reappointment to the 2014 panel. They are Reps. John Buckner of Aurora, Lois Court of Denver, Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood. The chair presumably will be one of those four.

Republican members of the 2014 committee who won reelection to the House are Reps. Justin Everett of Lakewood, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Jim Wilson of Salida.

One Democratic and two Republican members of the committee were term-limited, and Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is moving to the Senate.

Senate Republicans already have made their committee assignments, and the new education committee leaders are Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs as chair and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins as vice chair. They will be joined by newcomers Holbert, Tim Neville and Laura Woods, both of Lakewood.

Senate Democrats haven’t yet received committee assignments. Three 2014 members – Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver, Andy Kerr of Lakewood (chair last session) and Nancy Todd of Aurora – remain in the Senate.

House Republicans also haven’t yet made committee assignments.

Read Hullinghorst’s release on the JBC appointments here.

Categories: Urban School News

Battle over Smedley building highlights tension between choice, neighborhood schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 15:18

Tensions are brewing over a Denver Public Schools proposal to expand a Montessori junior and senior high school program into a northwest Denver elementary school building that nearby residents argue should instead house an elementary school program for neighborhood students.

The Denver school board will vote Thursday on a plan to place Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School into the Smedley Elementary School building, which is currently the home of the Denver Online High School and another elementary school temporarily awaiting its own new building. But a group of parents in Sunnyside, the neighborhood surrounding the Smedley building, is pushing the district to abandon that plan and bring an elementary school to the building instead.

The disagreement highlights the tightrope that Denver school officials must walk when its commitment to building a broad selection of school choice options clashes with residents’ desires for diverse, high-quality neighborhood schools, which the district says it also supports.

“I’m not opposed to the choice process per se, but I think we should have choice schools in the neighborhood that we can walk our kids to,” said Irene Glazer, whose children attend Brown Elementary. “It makes me so mad that I have to drive across the insanity and traffic that ensues at schools that were set up for walking or biking to…and to have Smedley here a few blocks away and not be able to use it.”

But parents whose students are enrolled in the Montessori program say the secondary school will fill a necessary gap in the district’s offerings and will serve a diverse group of students. “It would be nice for every neighborhood to have its school, but I honestly believe you have to have a bigger variety of options,” said Thomas Carr, the chair of the Montessori program’s collaborative school committee. “Every school only serves the select few that go there, whether they’re from that neighborhood or for a different program.”

Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High currently enrolls 80 students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, and is set up in a cluster of rooms in Gilpin Elementary, home of a Montessori elementary program in northeast Denver. The move to Smedley would allow the school to expand to 120 seventh, eigth, and ninth grade students next year — drawn mainly from the four district-run Montessori elementary schools located throughout the city — and to continue to add grades after that.

“The idea of the Denver public Montessori school is that it would really be a secondary option to work well with the elementary Montessori programs,” said DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg at a school board work session last week. “We recognize the real concerns in the Sunnyside community about having strong and diverse elementaries in the community, and are working with them.”

But at the same work session, board member Arturo Jimenez, who represents the neighborhood around Smedley, objected to the plan that would have turned the building over to the Montessori school permanently. He said that local residents felt shut out of the process and were concerned the options under the current system were reinforcing a socioeconomic divide between neighborhoods in the area.

Since that meeting, the board has adjusted its proposal to include the creation of a working group that includes community members and Montessori representatives to determine the neighborhood’s needs. The proposal specifies that while the Montessori program will be placed in Smedley next school year, the board will reconsider the placement if an amenable alternate home is found by the working group.

Though both sides have said they are open to a working group, the disagreements about the building’s future run deep.

Members of the Sunnyside Education Committee argue that the district’s current choice process isn’t serving the neighborhood well. They point to data that shows that 64 percent of families in the area choose to send their children to schools outside the neighborhood, leaving their local option, Trevista, with an enrollment that draws largely from Quigg Newton, a large nearby housing project.

Trevista hosts an early childhood, elementary, and middle school program. The Sunnyside committee argues that parents from Quigg Newton and from Sunnyside dislike having preschoolers in the same building as middle schoolers, and would benefit from having a separate neighborhood elementary program in Smedley.

Some committee members also argued that it would be expensive to renovate Smedley to turn it into a high school facility appropriate for the Montessori program—and that the district has given them a moving target about how much those renovations would cost.

“They’ve made the decision and haven’t even given our neighborhood say,” said Felicia Medina, one of the parents. She said their group had advocating for an elementary program in the building for several years. “We’re not saying no to DMS in northwest Denver—just not in Smedley.“

Meanwhile, supporters of the Montessori program argue that the district should prioritize the needs of their already-existing school.

“I understand their argument, but I feel like the needs of the existing program with kids, to me, really outweigh this neighborhood group,” said Carr.

Katy Myers, the school’s principal, said that though the school will need some minor renovations, Smedley had the amenities the Montessori program needed in a school, including a kitchen and space for their farm.

“We’ll be good neighbors,” she said. “We want to be on board with the neighborhood. But I’ve got 80 kids who need a home next year.”

Board member Jimenez said on Tuesday that Sunnyside committee was still suggesting changes to the board’s proposal.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Polis: Opt-outers’ protests should be taken seriously

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 10:02

tackling toxic stress

Nadine Burke Harris, who studies the effects of childhood trauma on health and learning outcomes, explains how schools can be proactive about helping students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

stepping stones to the future

Low-income Colorado students are far less likely to make it to elite colleges than their affluent peers, but some districts -- including Boulder and Jeffco -- are doing better than others at getting their low-income students into top schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

melting pots

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg explains and promotes the district's efforts to teach English to non-native speakers and increase their fluency in their native languages. ( Denver Post )

zoning in

Denver Public Schools is exploring a shared attendance zone for three elementary schools in southeast Denver. ( Denver Post )

opting out

Jared Polis argues that we need to take a closer examination of the purpose of standardized tests and consider scaling back those with no implications for students and schools. ( Daily Camera )

pot for schools

The St. Vrain Valley School District has been awarded nearly $100,000 in marijuana revenue grants to help students who have been skipping school because of drug use or anxiety; Boulder is waiting for word on a similar grant application. ( Daily Camera )

opening the doors

The Pueblo Chieftain argues that open teachers contract negotiations will be a welcome change. ( Chieftain )

the show must go on

A performing arts high school in Boulder is launching a national fundraising campaign to purchase a historic theater. ( Daily Camera )


St. Vrain's superintendent is being nationally recognized for the district's one-to-one technology initiative that gives devices to every student. ( Longmont Times Call )

morning music break

Here's a cool performance of Dvorak's String Quintet in G major that Denver School of the Arts students gave in Colorado Public Radio's studios in advance of a concert they're giving Thursday. ( CPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Q&A: The doctor who’s taking on the impact of childhood trauma

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 18:36

Any teacher can tell you anecdotally that what happens outside the classroom has a huge impact on how students do in school and in life. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has explored the brain science and public health research that’s now driving national conversations about mitigating the effects of childhood trauma and toxic stress.

Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, spoke at the Colorado Children’s Campaign annual luncheon today.

Much of Burke Harris’ work is grounded in the landmark “Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,” or ACES, which suggests that traumatic experiences during childhood are risk factors for health problems, difficulties in school, poor quality of life and premature death. This Q&A was conducted shortly before the luncheon.

Was there a point in your career where you had that ah-ha moment about adverse childhood experiences?

Definitely…my passion and background is with health disparities and when I read the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study…in 2008, it was an incredibly powerful experience for me because so much of what I was seeing as a clinician just made sense.

For me, diving into the science of why there’s this connection between adverse childhood experiences and all of these poor behavioral and health outcomes, really in a lot of ways has changed my view of the world. It’s changed my career…it’s certainly influenced my experiences as a mom and I think it’s really exciting to be part of this movement.

There are many health conditions associated with adverse child experiences that show up later in life, like heart disease and cancer, but what about for school-aged children?

First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.

What’s the biggest challenge in spreading the word about adverse childhood experiences?

One of the biggest challenges …is that many of us think of it as an issue only for low-income communities of color. In that, I think we’re missing a big part of the picture. I like to remind people that the original ACE study was done in a population that was 70% caucasion and 70% college educated.

If we only look at it in those communities then what we miss is that this is a public health crisis that affects every socioeconomic status, every geographic location, every racial/ethinic group. It affects all of us.

What other work is happening now that’s piggy-backing on what you started and seeding it even further?

The work that we do really is part of a national movement. There are folks working tremendously hard on this issue, that are really taking leadership in Iowa, in Maine, in Wisconsin, in Washington state, just all over the country.

In California, we just hosted the first California statewide summit on adverse childhood experiences. There are a lot of places where this movement is being seeded. There’s a lot more work to be done.

We need to get to the point to [where] the household recognition of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a threat to the health and development of our children is as well-known as the link between second-hand smoke and adverse health outcomes. It needs to be a thing where people are talking to their neighbors about it. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the way there.

Similarly, I’ve heard people say that adverse childhood experiences needs to be recognized in the same way that lead poisoning is, but one difference seems to be that with lead-poisoning you try to prevent it, but you can’t always prevent adverse childhood experiences.

I think that’s right, but the thing that I would say to that is by treating it when it comes up you’re preventing it for the next generation…That’s the importance of the two-generation approach. When you work with both the caregiver and child, it really does help to decrease the child’s dose of adversity and we need to be thinking about it in that way.

Have you heard of the term herd immunity?…So, everyone gets the flu shot and not only are they less likely to get the flu, they’re less likely to spread the flu. That’s what we need to do here in terms of spreading the word and raising that national awareness, and then also doing interventions for children who are affected.

If we can prevent those kids from going on….or even their parent from having the same issue with their subsequent siblings then we are creating this zone of kids who have much more healthy attachment, who have much more healthy ways of relating…who are able to serve as a healthy emotional buffer for their kids when stressful or traumatic situations come up. So that then really prevents the progression of toxic stress.

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Path to top colleges for low-income kids is smoother in affluent districts

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 17:13

Low-income students in some of Colorado’s more affluent school districts—Boulder, Cherry Creek, and St. Vrain Valley—are more likely to attend top colleges than their peers around the state.

But across the state, and even in those districts, less well-off students attend elite schools at a lower rate than more affluent students.

A new report from A+ Denver, a nonprofit education advocacy group, encourages districts, parents, and policymakers to pay attention to where, not just whether, students enroll after graduation, and to make an effort to ensure that more low-income students have access to elite schools.

Everyone from public school leaders to universities to President Obama’s administration has made helping low-income students attend and graduate from college a priority. This report argues that elite schools, which tend to have higher graduation rates, are more likely to help students improve their social standing and secure high-paying jobs after graduation.

Statewide, just 3 percent of low-income students attend elite colleges, compared to 12 percent of more affluent students. According to the report, ten percent of all Colorado students attend elite colleges (in this case, schools that earned a place on the U.S. News and World Report rankings) and 57 percent attend college at all.

The researchers write that the current situation may actually exacerbate income inequality, with high-income students having easier access to elite schools and the opportunities that come with them at higher rates

The findings may bolster the arguments of advocates of socioeconomic diversity in schools: Poorer students at wealthier schools and in wealthier districts were more likely to go to college, and wealthier students at poorer schools were less likely to go to college.

The ten districts that sent the biggest portion of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (a common measure of students’ economic background) to elite schools were Boulder (10.9 percent); Cherry Creek (6.3 percent); St. Vrain Valley (5.7 percent); Jeffco (5.1 percent); Westminster (4.4 percent); Denver (3.7 percent); Northglenn-Thornton (3.5 percent); CO Springs (3 percent); Adams-Arapahoe (2.9 percent); and Poudre (2.4 percent).

Of course, overall college-going rates also varied: Just 3 percent of Adams-Arapahoe students who were not low-income went to elite schools, while in Boulder, the rate was more than 30 percent.

The schools that sent the highest portion of low-income students to top schools were the International Baccalaureate program at George Washington in Denver, DSST, and Boulder High School. The drop-off between the very best schools and the next tier was steep: Forty-four percent of low-income George IB students enrolled in elite colleges, compared to 4 percent of such students at East, the tenth-most-successful school.

The researchers advocate for more transparency in the data about which students attend what schools and why; better communication about college to students in an effort to encourage more students to strive for elite colleges; and improving K-12 education so more students in all racial and income groups are equipped for elite schools.

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Schools’ concussion policies in the spotlight

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 09:34


A fallen soccer goal highlights schools' concussion policies. ( Chalkbeat )

That's what I want

Colorado superintendents tell lawmakers they want $70 million more for schools. ( Chalkbeat )

Just Say No

Boulder Valley teachers asked legislators to cut back on standardized testing at a roundtable hosted by the BVEA. ( Daily Camera )

Blended Learning

The superintendent at St. Vrain was recognized at an event for "connected superintendents" hosted by the White House. ( Daily Camera )

Defying Stereotypes

Local Muslim students share their stories with peers. ( The Gazette )

Hello, Mavis Beacon

Students in Widefield and around the state are learning computer skills and typing to prepare them for PARCC. ( The Gazette )

moving on up

Douglas County earns the state's highest accreditation rating. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Teaching and Rhyming

A rapping teacher brings together his musical & academic sides. ( KUNC )

Test Nation

A new study shows that students take as many as 113 standardized tests in their school careers—and even Arne Duncan is acknowledging the stress. ( CPR )

Critical Thinking

A backlash against No Excuses discipline. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Falling soccer goal raises questions about how schools handle concussions

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 13:36

Eighth-grader Mia Leff was jogging around the soccer field during PE class at Denver’s Skinner Middle School when it happened. As she passed one of the soccer goals last March 13, a gust of wind blew it over.

It hit her on the shoulder, knocked her to the ground and came to rest on her head. It took at least four students to pull the metal frame off her, said her mother Suzanne Leff.

“It was a pretty strong blow,” Leff said. “She was clearly disoriented. She couldn’t remember where she was, what had happened.”

Suzanne Leff became more alarmed by something her daughter said during the car ride to  Children’s Hospital’s emergency clinic. Mia described having back pain “where my wings are.” The strange comment underscored the fact that Mia may have been walking and talking, but something wasn’t right.

It turned out Mia had a severe concussion, which led to a referral to a concussion clinic and weeks of recuperation. As is often the case with concussion sufferers, Mia appeared outwardly normal soon after the incident. Some of her teachers reported that she was a bit quieter than usual, but there was more to it.

She had headaches, blurry vision, light sensitivity, fatigue and trouble concentrating. While preparing for an annual Shakespeare performance in which she’d often played multiple parts with ease, memorizing lines proved so difficult that she barely managed a minor role.

As Mia got better—she’s now a healthy ninth-grader–her parents decided to dig deeper into the district’s concussion training requirements and its system for securing soccer goal posts. What they found was both encouraging and disheartening.

On the plus side was the district’s eventual decision to replace more than 150 mobile soccer goals, including the ones at Skinner, with new tip-resistant, anchoring models. The bad news was that the district’s concussion protocol—a system for handling such injuries and helping students return to school and sports–was absent from the district’s website and routine staff training.

“The protocol looks really great on paper,” said Suzanne Leff.

But when she asked whether school-level staff are advised about the protocol, the district’s Deputy General Counsel Michael J. Hickman replied in an e-mail, “It’s my understanding there is no district-wide implementation.”

That, Leff said, “explains why the school didn’t have a copy of it and there was no understanding of what needed to be done [when Mia returned to school.]”

Sports rules the roost

Experts say many educators lack awareness about “return-to-learn” practices because concussions have long been considered a low-incidence injury that mostly happened in sports. In other words, it’s been the domain of coaches and trainers, not teachers and principals.

Concussion resources

Karen McAvoy, director of the Center for Concussion at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, said the first priority for many school districts is to comply with the law, and most states’ concussion laws focus exclusively on the sports side of the equation—requiring things like annual coach training and doctor clearance before kids return to play. That’s the case in Colorado, which passed the Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act in 2012.

“Nowhere in there does it say, ‘You will support them academically at school,’” said McAvoy, author of a highly regarded concussion management protocol called REAP.

The language also leaves out the many children and youth who sustain concussions outside of sports, in car accidents, bike or skateboard crashes or playground mishaps.

“I am not surprised that grade schools and middle schools are not necessarily up to speed,” said R. Dawn Comstock, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health.

That’s not where the focus or funding has been as the concussion field has evolved over the last five to eight years, she said. Plus, the question of how schools address concussions gets more complicated because not every family reports suspected concussions and common symptoms of concussion can mirror other conditions.

“This isn’t like a kid who shows up on crutches and in a cast,” said Comstock. “Concussions are a silent injury, particularly for the junior high school or high school age.”

Comstock, who runs the RIO surveillance system that tracks sports-related injuries at the high school level, said finding the sweet spot on concussion awareness can be tough for schools when they have so many other things, including a long list of student health issues, to address.

“One of the problems is providing training to every single educator….it’s expensive,” she said.

McAvoy said while concussion management practice very widely among schools, some districts are ahead of the curve. She cited Jeffco, Dougco, Cherry Creek, Boulder and Mesa County Valley 51,  as districts that have taken advantage of the free resources available, include her trainings, the REAP booklet, and downloadable concussion guidelines from the Colorado Department of Education.

In Denver Public Schools, academic personnel haven’t pursued concussion training or resources with the same vigor that the athletic staff has, she said.

“Their athletics and academics seem separate.”

Still, she’s hopeful that one outcome of Mia’s injury might be to galvanize district leaders around increased concussion awareness and training.

“I think it needs to have enough administrative support to be a districtwide kind of effort”

The slow journey back

When Mia returned to Skinner after her concussion, her parents were persistent about arranging a gradual re-entry to the academic rigors of school. At first, Suzanne Leff contacted the principal and each teacher individually, but eventually a school liaison coordinated communication between teachers and the Leffs.

For weeks, Mia received a number of accommodations. She was excused from TCAP testing as well as non-critical homework assignments. Because she couldn’t tolerate looking at screens, her teachers made print-outs or otherwise modified computer-based assignments.

She used the school elevator because her balance was off and ate lunch in the principal’s office or another quiet place to avoid the hubbub in the cafeteria. She was also allowed to leave classes early so she could navigate the hallways in relative calm. Friends were enlisted to carry her books.

Staff members at Skinner were receptive and accommodating, but Suzanne Leff, an attorney, began to wonder what would happen to other students in Mia’s situation if they didn’t have vigilant advocates.

“If we hadn’t known how to advocate for our daughter, she would have been in a classroom flailing for weeks….We pressed hard with her teachers and principal.”

Scrap metal

While falling soccer goals are hardly a common cause of concussions, they are not unheard of either. Such tip-overs have caused dozens of serious injuries or deaths across the nation over the last thirty-five years, usually because children or teens were climbing or hanging on them.

In Mia’s case, the factors were windy conditions and the fact that the goal had been moved into place for a game that afternoon. Usually, it was stored off to the side, chained to a fence.

The Leffs are pleased with the district’s decision to replace 166 soccer goals with newer models. The replacement effort began earlier this fall with the replacement of 46 goals at a cost of $100,000. An additional 120 goals will be replaced before the start of the spring sports season.

Trena Deane, executive director of facility managment for DPS, said not every soccer goal in the district is being replaced. Some were judged safe by an action team that formed soon after Mia’s injury and assessed all the district’s goals.

The Leffs learned about the goal replacement project in early October, the same weekend that the first set of old goals were cut up for recycling.

Suzanne Leff said Mia was thrilled with the news, saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad they’re doing that…So no one else has to go through what I had to.”

Categories: Urban School News

Another change proposed to rating policy

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:47

In August of 2013, CPS officials announced they would make the school rating system more comprehensive, looking at multiple factors, including college enrollment and how particular groups of students were doing, and change the ratings from three "levels" to five "tiers" to make it more nuanced.

But this new rating system does not seem to be working out.

Schools have yet to see the results for 2013-14 and now CPS is announcing yet another change. The CPS board meeting agenda posted this morning includes an amendment to the comprehensive performance policy that would retain a three-level system but would add "Level 1+" and "Level 2+."

Also, it adds a paragraph that would allow CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to keep a school to at "Level 1+"  (the highest level) or "Level 1" if the school experienced a “significant event.” Significant events are defined as a change in student population, teaching staff, principal, academic program or “any other event that had a significant impact.”

That Byrd-Bennett could overrule the rating system’s results would be unprecedented. It is sure to raise the ire and suspicion of principals and parents who are already suspicious of the ratings because they are late. Even before the more recent amendments were announced, one principal said he thinks that CPS officials are trying to protect particular schools that didn’t do well under the new policy.

In a statement released Monday afternoon*, Byrd-Bennett said that "schools that experienced a significant change that may have contributed to a lower rating deserve a full school year to recover without an impact to their rating.  By giving schools a one-year reprieve, we are recognizing the effect of the change on students, teachers and leadership without unfairly burdening the school with the additional requirements of a lower level school.”

District officials said the new ratings will be released "in the coming weeks" but did not specify when. The ratings are usually released in late September and given to parents as part of a school progress report on the November report card pickup days, which were last week.

This would be the second major change since CPS adopted a comprehensive rating system. In August of this year, CPS already had decided to give schools two ratings, one based on multiple measures and the other based solely on test scores. Schools get to claim the higher of the two ratings. Many suspected these changes were made to protect high-performing schools that didn’t do well on the other factors. ​

Ratings are used by parents to help choose schools. Principals say they are frustrated that the ratings are not available yet, especially if they are expecting to do better, because they use the ratings to market their schools.

The ratings are also used by officials as they decide what schools to close or turn around.

*This story has been updated to include Byrd-Bennett's statement.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Discipline reporting push, CPS schools in football semi-finals and Senate Bill 16

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 11:43

Young advocates will go to Springfield this week to press lawmakers to pass a bill that would make it mandatory for school districts to release information on punitive discipline practices. Jose Sanchez, coordinator for the student group VOYCE, says the group would like to see the legislation passed in the veto session. The bill calls for the reporting of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions and student retention. It also requires school districts to report law enforcement involvement, including arrests--something already required by the federal government. And it prohibits schools from charging students fees for misbehavior, a controversial practice that the Noble charter schools once used but abandoned last year under political pressure.

The bill also calls for school districts to report when students are removed to alternative settings. In revising its Code of Conduct this past Spring, CPS officials created a loophole that allows schools to transfer students to what is called a Safe School--a special school historically reserved for expelled and dangerous students awaiting expulsion--as an alternative to expulsion, without any due process, Catalyst reported this summer. Without this bill, it will be near impossible to find out how many students were given this "disciplinary reassignment."

Under the bill, schools with the highest rates of exclusionary discipline would need to submit improvement plans to the Illinois State Board of Education.

Sanchez says that some school superintendents are pushing against the bill. But he thinks the stories of students who have been suspended for small things or things that they couldn’t help, like being near a fight but not in it, have helped to convince lawmakers that some light needs to be shined on the issue.

After years of having advocates fight for the information, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett released school-level suspension and expulsion data. However, that data, which cover the first semester of last year, have not been updated. Byrd-Bennett also announced a revision of the Student Code of Conduct that made suspension and expulsion the punishment of last resort. However, Sanchez says he still hears stories of students being suspended for what seems like insignificant reasons. For example, one boy, who is struggling since his father passed away, was suspended for missing school.

2. Three cheers… The football teams of Simeon and Phillips made it to the state semi-finals--the first time two public league teams have been in the final four, reports DNA info. The last public league team that made it this far was Hubbard’s 2005 team,  and the last state championship won by the public league was Robeson in 1982. Simeon’s coach Dante Culbreath says that the achievements show the “growth in the public league.”

Phillips seems to be beating the odds in other ways. It is a turnaround school, managed by the Academy of Urban School Leadership. Though ratings aren’t out for this year, it earned the district’s top rating last year. Yet like other public high schools in Chicago, it still is losing students. This year only 614 enrolled, which makes fielding a strong football team even more impressive. Simeon, the career and technical education school attended by the Bulls' Derrick Rose, has a middle rating and has been able to maintain a healthy student body of 1,400 students, though it also has lost students.

The importance of a strong sports program was underscored in a 2009 Catalyst story on the achievement gap between black male students and other racial/gender groups. Researchers say organized athletics can provide a sense of structure and discipline for youngsters. “There’s a point when you realize that stability is really the beginning point of academic achievement,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sports in Society, a Boston-based sports research and advocacy group.

3. Bring them back… WBEZ’s Curious City returned to the question of whether CPS should bring back truancy officers, a position the district eliminated more than 20 years ago to help balance its budget. Curious City had previously looked into the history of truancy officers, but in this update to that story, the reporter actually interviews someone who used to have the job.

Patrick Nelson, who was a full-time truancy officer in the 1990s, offers an interesting and timely perspective. He says he tried to be “as positive and uplifting with children as possible, to show them that someone cared — and noticed — they were missing.”

This summer, a state-appointed task force suggested CPS create a position similar to truancy officer. These “attendance coordinators” would go out to find absent students fortified with a background in psychology or social work and training in data analysis and counseling.   The task force was convened in response to a 2012 Chicago Tribune investigation into the “empty desk epidemic." Catalyst reported earlier this year that chronic absenteeism and truancy increased in 2013, despite all the additional attention, though the numbers fell slightly last school year. Nelson told Curious City he thought the state was asking for too much in the catch-all “attendance coordinator” position: “You put too much plumbing in the works, you’re gonna get clogs.”

4. Senate Bill 16's future... Lawmakers are set to take up Senate Bill 16 -- the proposed legislation to revamp how schools are funded -- on Tuesday at the start of the Legislature’s fall veto session. But as an Associated Press article points out, it’s unlikely to get very far before the January inauguration of Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.

Republicans in the Illinois House criticized their Democratic colleagues for excluding the GOP from summer meetings about SB 16. “Sadly, the way in which the majority party presented it and went into hiding was a terrible disservice to taxpayers and families whose children are part of the public education system,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Meanwhile the parent group Raise Your Hand came out against the bill over the weekend, noting it brings no additional revenue to schools. “Our schools are severely underfunded and merely shifting inadequate dollars won’t change that,” Wendy Katten posted on the group’s Facebook page.  Raise Your Hand is asking legislators to pledge to support a funding reform bill only if it “includes a fair weighted formula, significant new funding for education and adequate resources for students with disabilities.”

5. Four more years … The U.S. Department of Education last week extended waivers for states to avoid compliance with the tough 2002 No Child Left Behind law. Forty-one states, including Illinois, had gotten waivers -- which were set to expire next year but can now be extended for up to four years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Politico says the long extension “would carry the Obama administration’s policies well into the next presidential administration and possibly buy time for a congressional fix to the law,” which requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

To get the waivers, states must do more to show how they plan to intervene in low-performing schools, but, as Education Week reports, “they won’t have to provide any data to show their new systems are actually improving student achievement.”

Anne Hyslop, a senior analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting organization in Washington, told EdWeek it doesn’t seem like the federal government is “really making significant changes [...] They are not necessarily doing anything new or ambitious, they are not collecting any new outcome data. It's kind of just the same old, same old."





Categories: Urban School News

Colo. superintendents tell lawmakers they want $70M more for schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:16

Colorado’s superintendents have a message for the legislature: if you want results, we need more money.

That’s the sentiment expressed in a letter signed by most of the state’s superintendents to the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee, the panel responsible for drafting the state’s budget.

“To meet the expectations that have been set forth for Colorado’s schools and students, we must receive adequate funding to carry out this important work,” the letter, sent Friday, reads. “We see both short- and long-term challenges to adequately funding Colorado’s schools.”

The letter goes on to outline challenges and the superintendents’ proposed solutions.

In the short term, superintendents want an additional $50 million, on top of what Gov. John Hickenlooper has already proposed, allocated to their schools based on free- or reduced-lunch populations. They also would like to see an additional $20 million given to rural school districts.

And they want that money with no strings attached.

“We further propose that decisions about the specific allocations and use of the aforementioned funds, as well as funds included in the Governor’s State Budget Request, should be made by local boards of education and not directed by policymakers at the state level,” the executives wrote.

Further, the 174 superintendents go on to say the state’s funding system for schools is “structurally flawed.” But they say they’re ready to work with lawmakers to fix the system.

Part of the problem, as the superintendents see it, is the legislature’s use of the “negative factor,” a legislative workaround of multiple constitutional requirements.

While it’s unclear how the state’s school executives and policymakers will work through their issues next year, a Denver judge last week rejected the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit on the negative factor.

Signed, your state’s superintendents DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1362346-superintendent-position-statement-to-jbc-1' });
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Preparing students for new online tests in Colorado Springs

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 09:44

chalkbeat question of the week

Chalkbeat asked our readers what role technology should play in the classroom and how much screen time students should have; readers responded that tech should have a limited and purposeful role. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

This week, we want to know where you fall on the debate over what role testing should play in schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

beyond typing class

Colorado Springs school officials have carved out weekly computer labs for young students in an effort to get them the tech skills they need to do well on new online state tests. ( Gazette )

bad news

A new report says that child homelessness in the United States has reached an all-time high. ( AP via Denver Post )

giving the brain a workout

Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School hosted a chess tournament for around 150 students in Fort Collins. ( Coloradoan )

the jeffco debate continues

A U.S. News and World Report columnist argues that Jeffco students were right to walk out of classrooms to protest a proposed curriculum review committee meant to ensure patriotism in schools. ( U.S. News and World Report )

global perspectives

Local foreign exchange students from Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan are trying to teach fellow students that their home countries are more than what Americans might hear about on the news. ( Gazette )

college preview

About 50 Peak to Peak Charter School students are sitting in on a CU-Boulder climate change class. ( Daily Camera )

can you tell me how to get to wall street

Roughly 1,200 students gathered at the University of Denver to simulate the stock market. ( Denver Post )

teachers behaving badly

A Denver teacher who was caught on video ingesting an unknown substance that may have been drugs resigned before the district completed its investigation. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: what should Colorado’s assessment system look like?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 08:00

Last week hundreds of suburban high school seniors refused to take the state’s standardized tests. After the most public assault on the system so far, it’s clear Colorado’s testing system is at a crossroads.

And now state officials are looking for direction. Joyce Zurowski, executive director of assessment at the Colorado Department of Education put it this way:

Colorado still has to have that conversation — what is that we want from our state system. I think that conversation should be occurring. … This new assessment system has been built off [previous conversations and] those assumptions, those priorities, those values, and it may very well be across time those have shifted. We need to know how those have shifted, and we can try to adjust within the confines of the law.

This weeks question: What do we want state standardized assessments to accomplish and how should we use the results?

For example: should the test results be used only for school and district accountability purposes? Or should we have a required graduation exam for all 12th graders? Or is do we just need to adopt the federal minimum?

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

See last’s week’s responses here.

Categories: Urban School News

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