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Cascading middle school crises at center of Pueblo’s challenges

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 20:04

PUEBLO — When Tristan Smith was in the sixth and seventh grade at Roncalli Middle School, he often found it difficult to concentrate in class.

Students roamed the hallways, picked fights, and wandered freely through their classrooms. He also found it challenging to concentrate on material that seemed far above his and his classmates’ skill level.

“They taught us some stuff, but it seemed really advanced,” said Smith, who is entering his sophomore year at South High School. “Students didn’t know what they were doing. They were never on task. They were also talking — not really doing anything.”

By the time Smith transferred from Roncalli to a local charter school for eighth grade, he said, the chaos almost seemed normal.

But it quickly became evident to Smith just how far behind he was compared to his new classmates after his transfer to the Chavez Huerta K-12 Preparatory Academy.

This small city’s middle schools have been a blight on its school district, Pueblo City Schools, for years. Even before the state updated how it identifies and tracks failing schools in 2010, it was clear that improving those schools was the district’s biggest challenge.

“We were neglecting that age group,” said Kathy DeNiro, president of the city’s school board who also served in various administrative roles in the school district before retiring in 2007.

Steel City Turnaround

Despite a renewed focus on the schools, today much of the district’s struggles to lift itself out of the red zone in the state’s accountability system can be traced to the dismal state of its middle schools. Three of the city’s six middle schools are on the state’s accountability watch list, including Roncalli, which is now the lowest-performing middle school in the state. (Slightly less than half of the city’s elementary and K-8 schools are considered failing, while all four of the city’s high schools are in the safe zone.)

As the state’s accountability clock ticks toward state sanctions for Pueblo, officials are working toward improving its most troubled campuses by offering both additional central support and autonomy to principals.

If the district is able to improve its middle schools, its chances of avoiding state intervention rise significantly. But Pueblo’s recent attempts to better those schools suggest that the task is complex and delicate. The district’s last try, which did yield one popular and high-performing option for Pueblo families, also inadvertently set the stage for the district’s struggles at Roncalli.

And now, according to recent third-party evaluations commissioned by the district and obtained by Chalkbeat, Pueblo’s lowest-performing middle schools still have a long way to go before they can produce the culture and instruction they will need to boost student achievement.

School officials say they just need time, but given the state’s looming deadline — Pueblo might have just a year to significantly boost student test scores or risk intervention — it’s time they may not have.

Building one school, dooming another

Before Roncalli was the state’s lowest-performing middle school, it was one of the city’s most respected.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaKathy DeNiro, Pueblo City Schools’ board president, congratulates the East High School basketball team for taking the men’s 4A state championship in April. DeNiro was a former principal and administrator for the district.

Sandwiched between two booming middle- and high-income neighborhoods on the city’s south side, the middle school regularly achieved in academics and extracurricular activities from the 1990s to the mid-2000s. At the time, about half of Roncalli’s students came from low-income homes, a share that was about 12 percentage points below the district average.

But despite Roncalli’s successes, by 2007, Pueblo City School officials began to worry about an enrollment dip at the middle school level system-wide. Parents who sent their children to the district’s elementary and high schools looked for alternatives for the middle grades.

So the district hatched a plan to lure students back to public middle schools by creating a high-performing, rigorous, and uncompromising program that would appeal to families. In the fall of 2008, the district rebooted a middle school in one of Pueblo’s poorest neighborhoods that had dwindling enrollment and chronically low scores on state tests. The new school, led by principal Julie Shue, would have a no-nonsense culture, technology in every student’s hands, and a robust international curriculum.

As part of the process of relaunching the school, now known as Corwin International Magnet School, the district redrew its neighborhood school boundaries. Low-income families who had been zoned for Corwin were now sent to either Roncalli or Pitts middle schools, which at that point had less experience educating low-income students.

While Corwin was set up to absorb the neighborhood’s poorer Latino students — and did for its first year — students from more affluent families who had previously attended Roncalli and Pitts who were drawn to Shue’s vision quickly filled the school’s seats.

The result was a rapid influx of low-income students to Roncalli, a demographic shift that often presents huge challenges for schools. While Roncalli saw an overall drop in its enrollment, its share of students poor enough to be eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch jumped 30 percentage points in two years.

Today, 80 percent of Roncalli’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. At Corwin, it’s half that rate, or 41 percent.

“When Corwin [became a magnet school] it caused a significant demographic change at Roncalli,” said Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo teacher’s union.

And teachers weren’t prepared for that change, union and district officials now concede.

“The piece that might have been missing was — we didn’t prepare the communities well,” said Brenda Krage, the district’s former assistant superintendent.

A 2010 review of the school from the consultant group SchoolWorks bears out that conclusion. The consultants reported that they found little evidence of advance planning to welcome the new students arriving at the school.

That meant two things, the report found. First, tensions developed between Roncalli’s original group of students and the new arrivals from Corwin, leading to escalating behavioral and anger problems.

And secondly, “not all teachers [had] expectations of high levels of student achievement for all students,” the report states. “A lack of rigor and lowered expectations for students to perform at high levels are evident across the school.”

Those deficiencies soon showed up in students’ test scores. Reading scores for low-income students at Roncalli, for example, dropped about 10 percentage points between 2008 and 2009 and their proficiency rates have continued to drop each year, except for a brief bounce in 2010. Last school year, only about one in three poor students of color who attends Roncalli could read at grade level.

Meanwhile, the poor students who remained at Corwin through the transformation to a magnet school benefited greatly from the new economically diverse formation of the school. Reading test scores for black and Hispanic students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch skyrocketed nearly 40 percentage points and remain high. In 2013, eight in 10 low-income black and Hispanic students at Corwin, about 40 percent of the population, read at or above grade level.

A study in contrasts

Class passing time at Corwin is a quiet and orderly process. Boys in pressed white shirts and ties and girls in neat skirts walk in single file following traffic lanes down the middle of the hallway.

“Everything that happens at Corwin International is deliberate and on purpose,” the school’s principal Shue said.

Shue began to plan all the details of the school about eight months before it opened, travelling the country to observe the best schools and bring their methods back to Pueblo.

Those ideas included a laptop for every student, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, and, perhaps Corwin’s key strategy, mixing students of different skills in the same classroom.

Shue takes the mixing so seriously that, during the school’s second year, she reassigned groups of students to particular lunch periods in order to end the self-segregation between the new Corwin students and the old in the cafeteria she had observed the year before.

There are no prerequisites or entrance exams required to enroll at Corwin, despite what parents believe. But there is a waitlist and an admissions lottery, which gives slight preference to students in the neighborhood. And parents are required to volunteer a dozen hours at the school each semester, potentially dissuading low-income families strapped for time from applying.

Shue believes all students can achieve, “especially in Pueblo.” But she’s not ready now — or if ever — to expand her program past the 650 students it serves today.

“[Corwin] has the perfect balance,” she said. “Bigger does not equal better.”

She just hopes that, for now, her school is an asset to the large school district as it attempts to leap off the state’s accountability watch list.

“Change is one of those things we have to do on purpose,” she said, reflecting on the lessons she learned from re-opening Corwin and a potential lesson for the district.

Roncalli or bust

While students at Corwin reap the benefits of sustained leadership and close attention to the details of school culture, those at Roncalli have floundered under constant leadership turnover — a new principal has been assigned to the school each year since 2008 — and staff who were ill-prepared for the sudden influx of high-needs students.

Despite Roncalli’s poor ratings and weak school culture, Geno Duran is adamant: his children will attend Roncalli Middle School, just as he did. Family traditions are paramount in Pueblo, one of them being their schools. Generations of families have passed through the same hallways of the same campuses for decades.

“It’s convenient and close,” Duran said. More importantly, “I want them to have the same experiences I did.”

But the Roncalli Duran knew in the early 1990s is long gone. At least, the school’s tradition of academic excellence is.

In fact, the Roncalli Duran and his son knew just last year is gone as well.

That’s because part of the school’s innovation plan approved two years ago by the district and State Board of Education called for a completely new teaching staff.

Any staff member who wanted to reapply for their job could. Most didn’t.

Marci Imes was one of the few teachers who returned.

Originally hired for the 2013-14 school year as the dean, Imes was reassigned and became the school’s assistant principal for instruction. When students return to Roncalli on Thursday, she’ll be their new principal, the school’s sixth leader in as many years.

To Imes, Roncalli has made a night-and-day transition in four years: The school has seen an influx of extra cash from state dollars meant to implement its innovation program, as well as grants for its new science and technology focus. Students are more engaged. The new staff is dedicated — and for the most part staying put. The instruction is strong. And a renewed culture is growing.

Some things have not yet improved. The school had more suspensions between Aug. 1 and May 4 than any of the other middle schools. Nearly a third of Roncalli’s 539 students were on average suspended twice for a total of 374 out of school suspensions.

And according to a 2014 review of the school by SchoolWorks, the school still lacks clear goals around student achievement and expectations for students, among other issues.

Classrooms are not structured for learning, the report concluded. When learning does happen, it’s usually at a lower level than what would be needed to push the students forward. Teachers are being asked to cover each others classes during planning time giving up valuable collaboration time.  Parent involvement is still low. And there is no consistent policy to to make sure the school’s neediest students.

District leaders say the school and its new staff need more time.

Imes, who was one of the architects behind the school’s innovation plan, is confident that within three years — the timeline the school is using to roll out its science, technology, engineering, and math program — student test scores will improve.

“This is not a one and done,” Imes said. “Becoming a full-fledged STEM school doesn’t happen overnight.”

Complete system failure

While a dramatic demographic shift challenged Roncalli especially, there were far greater systemic problems at work at the city’s other middle schools.

By 2010, when the state introduced its accountability watch list, the city’s middle schools had hit an all time low. Five of the city’s six district-run middle schools were ranked among the state’s lowest-performing. Only Corwin, with its many middle-class families, escaped that designation.

Like at Roncalli, the school district asked school consultant SchoolWorks to identify the symptoms of the district’s low academic performance.

Their findings addressed everything from culture to instruction to professional development of teachers at several of the city’s middle schools.

The results were the same across the school system: Pueblo’s middle schools were toxic.

At Pitts Middle School, in 2009, some teachers did not believe that all children could learn. At Freed Middle School, the principal did not provide teachers feedback after classroom visits. At Risley Middle School, bullying was rampant.

Inside Pueblo’s middle schools
As part of its reporting, Chalkbeat obtained reports by a third party commissioned by Pueblo City Schools and the Colorado Department of Education that diagnosed systemic successes and failures in its middle schools in 2009 and 2010. The district had follow up reports on several of its schools completed in 2014. You can view them here.

“We had a lot of problems,” said Karen Ortiz, principal of the Pueblo Academy of the Arts, then known as Pitts.

For the last four years Pueblo officials — and some community members of the this Southern Colorado town — have worked to remedy the ills of their middle schools.

Today, the city’s schools have seen mixed results. Two middle schools, Heaton and Pitts, have moved into the state’s safe zone. A third, Risley, is close.

“I hate to say this, but there was a deficient attitude here,” said Charlotte Macaluso, Risley Middle School principal. “Teachers believed no matter what they did, it wouldn’t make a difference. But there’s hope now.”

Updated reports from SchoolWorks, completed last spring, show some improvement in school culture across the district. But instruction, leadership, and quality professional development of teachers are still lacking in critical ways, according to the reports.

Before her retirement, Superintendent Maggie Lopez said the district’s summer professional development for teachers and principals would be centered around improving many of the weaknesses school consultants found, especially concerning instruction.

Hope, not time, runneth over

Jeremy Duran, Geno’s son, sees some of those efforts bearing fruit at Roncalli. This year, fewer students ran in the hallways, he said. There were fewer distractions in the classroom, which meant teachers were no longer yelling as much. And last year he had just one social studies teacher — not three, as the year before.

Math and science were still a struggle for the eighth grader, but he was able to join his peers in mainstream classes rather than smaller classes for students with learning disabilities.

“I’ve made more friends,” he said.

Jeremy is aware of the school’s failing status. “If we don’t get better, the school is going to shut down,” he said.

While no officials have publicly suggested a full shutdown, the Duran family is hopeful the school will make enough strides to stave off drastic changes so that closure could never even be a possibility

After all, the Duran family still has two more students to send through Roncalli: Anthony, a sixth grader, and Kayla, a fourth grader.

And he plans to send them there no matter what happens with the state.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” the Duran patriarch, Geno, said.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaGeno Duran, right, with his Roncalli Middle School students, Jeremy, left, and Anthony.
Categories: Urban School News

Science, social studies test results could be a surprise

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 19:20

Next month some Colorado parents will get the news that their kids perhaps didn’t score as well on science and social studies tests as Mom and Dad might have expected — an experience likely to be repeated on a much larger scale next year after new online language arts and math tests launch.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday approved “cut scores” for the new online science tests that were given in fifth and eighth grades and the social studies exams taken by fourth and seventh graders last spring.

The cut scores will be used to classify student performance into four achievement levels.

The science tests aren’t comparable to previous TCAP science tests, and no statewide social studies tests were given in the past. But new achievement-level labels and significantly smaller percentages of students in the top two levels may be disconcerting to teachers and parents who are used to the patterns of TCAP test results.

“We are making a shift in terms of our expectations” towards making students college and career ready, said state testing director Joyce Zurkowski. “This is very different from what we had under CSAP and TCAP,” whose expectations she described as merely “good enough.”

Board member Angelika Schroeder agreed. “What we are calling proficient [now] is not our goal” in the future, she said.

The new state testing system will have four performance levels called distinguished command, strong command, moderate command and limited command. Those will replace the TCAP classifications of advanced, proficient, partially proficient and unsatisfactory.

The science and social studies tests will be scored on a scale of 300-900. The Department of Education is still fine-tuning its final report on last spring’s scores, but based on the cut scores adopted by the board, performance levels are expected to look like this:

  • Above about 800 – Distinguished command
  • About 700 to 800 – Strong command
  • About 550 to 700 – Moderate command
  • Below 550 – Limited command

The four levels don’t compare to the four TCAP classifications, because the tests and the content standards on which they’re based are different. CDE officials expect fewer students will be in the top two levels under the new system initially. (Read descriptions of the four new levels.)

For example, CDE projects that 32 percent of students will be classified as distinguished or strong on the spring 2014 eighth grade science assessment. On the last eighth grade TCAP science tests, just over half of students were classified as proficient or advanced. (See the projected percentage of students at each level on each test in this chart, and check how those compare to eighth grade science results on other tests here.

Students in the top two categories will be considered on track for college and career readiness in the subject. Zurkowski said students with moderate command will need additional instructional support to get on track, and students with limited command will need extensive academic support.

Similar adjustments in scoring, classification and reporting of test results will be made after new CMAS language arts and math tests are given online next spring. (Those tests are based on the Common Core State Standards and were developed by the PARCC testing consortium.)

As has happened in other states, CDE officials expect a drop in achievement levels on the language arts and math tests.

“There could be a drop of up to 20 to 30 percentage points,” said Zurkowski. “We are going to need to work on communication” with parents and the public.

Schroeder agreed, saying that while districts and schools can explain testing changes to parents, the board and CDE have a responsibility to explain testing changes to the general public.

The board approved the recommended cut points on a 6-1 vote. Member Deb Scheffel voted no after expressing concerns that the cut points created “an un-level playing field,” partly because the complicated wording of some questions. “Bad cut scores are bad cut scores.”

The scoring and classification system was developed by 47 educator panelists selected by the testing company Pearson and by CDE. The group included 17 social studies experts and 16 in science. Panelists came from rural, suburban and urban districts around the state and from traditional and charter schools.

The department plans to release the elementary and middle school science and social studies test results to districts in mid-September. Districts and schools are responsible for distributing results to parents. High school seniors will take science and social studies this fall – the first time that 12th graders have had to take any statewide standardized tests.

Results from the social studies and science tests won’t be used in state accreditation ratings of districts and schools until 2016.

Categories: Urban School News

New kindergarten assessments voluntary this year, mandatory next year

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 17:17

On a recent Wednesday morning, Lori Sabian asked the two dozen teachers and principals seated before her what they had heard about Teaching Strategies GOLD, the early childhood assessment she would be training them on for the rest of the day.

Sensing hesitation, she added a reassurance: “This is a room of truth,” she said.

Then one teacher piped up with the advice she’d been given: “Run, run run!”

It was by no means the only opinion about the online tool, but it summed up the trepidation that many kindergarten teachers feel as they prepare to pilot the “school readiness assessment” this year in advance of mandatory statewide implementation next year.

This broad implementation — one component of a six-year-old school reform law — comes against the backdrop of ongoing concerns about the state’s “testing burden” as well as questions about the security of student data. It also unfolds on the heels of new K-3 literacy assessments required under the READ Act.

Even the educators who are excited about using Teaching Strategies GOLD to tailor instruction or provide better feedback to parents admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the time-consuming task ahead of them. One teacher at the recent training in Evans asked Sabian for something of a pep talk as she wondered how she would assess the nearly 40 students in her two half-day kindergarten classes.

“Can you just say something to keep me positive?” she asked.

Others in the room were more circumspect.

“We’ve always done assessment. We’ve always done data collection. And this just feels like a nice model that pulls everything together,” said Julie Claeys, assistant elementary principal and K-12 assessment coordinator for Union Colony Preparatory School in Greeley.

“Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work to learn but I’m really grateful that we have this first year where messing up isn’t fatal.”

Where did it come from?

Across the country, states are increasingly adopting school readiness assessments, also called Kindergarten Entry Assessments. In Colorado, the mandate was born out of a major piece of school reform legislation passed in 2008—the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or CAP4K.

The color bar system used in TS GOLD indicates what age most students are expected to achieve various developmental tasks. Purple represents what kids should know in kindergarten.

The law required that all kindergarteners have an “individualized readiness plan” informed by a valid, reliable and research-based school readiness assessment. While the law included no funding for the assessments, the state is using $1.2 million from its $44 million federal Race to the Top grant to cover implementation costs.

For state leaders, school readiness assessments like TS GOLD represent a more effective way to track and address the many domains of child development. These include social-emotional, cognitive, language and physical development, as well as academics such as literacy and math.

“If we have a great assessment system that addresses the whole child that way, I think it’s going to inform practice and start to give kids a better foundation,” said Sharon Triolo-Moloney, director of the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness at the Colorado Department of Education.

Claeys described the information provided by TS GOLD, saying, “It’s like having an [Individual Education Plan] for every kid,” referring to plans for students with special needs.

Unlike other kinds of standardized tests, most kids won’t even know they’re “taking” a school readiness assessment like TS GOLD. That’s because it involves a year-long process of observation and documentation of what students are doing in the normal order of their school day. This might mean counting to 100, retelling the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” resolving a squabble with peers, or using a quiet voice when visiting the library.

For the most part, the burden of completing the assessment rests on teachers, who will be responsible for taking regular notes, photos and videos, uploading them to the TS GOLD platform and categorizing them appropriately. Three times a year—around Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day—there are “progress checkpoints” where teachers determine how students compare to other children of the same age.

Because it’s a system that punishes procrastinators, Sabian and other speakers at the training frequently warned teachers not to let data—say, photos of student work or sticky notes describing a teacher-student interaction—pile up without being entered online.

“Don’t let it stockpile,” said Emily Kielmayer, an early adopter from the Garfield School District, recounting her own trials with entering lots of data at the last minute.

At the same time, she talked enthusiastically about how TS GOLD helped her work with struggling students who’d simply scored zeroes on other assessments. With TS GOLD’s birth-kindergarten continuum, it was easier to find a jumping off point for instruction.

Gradual roll-out

Both last year and this year are voluntary phase-in years for TS GOLD, with an emphasis on experimentation and flexibility. For example, teachers can focus on just three or four of the nine developmental areas covered by TS GOLD, or assess only a handful of students instead of the whole class.

School readiness assessments under consideration

  • Riverside Early Assessments of Learning (REAL)
  • Work Sampling System (WSS)
  • Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP)
  • Kindergarten Early Learning Scale (K-ELS)

State officials estimate that nearly 1,200 teachers in 103 of the state’s 178 school districts will use TS GOLD this year. Starting next year, all Colorado kindergartners must be assessed, though leaders in some districts are hoping to be circumvent that requirement. Last winter, the conservative-leaning Jeffco Public Schools board of education voted to seek a waiver from TS GOLD’s use in  kindergarten.

While the state didn’t grant that waiver, district administrators are waiting to see what other school readiness assessments might be approved in advance of next year’s mandatory implementation. Four other assessments are currently under consideration, but a final decision isn’t expected from the State Board of Education until sometime this fall.

“I know there’s a big push for something that’s easier,” said Cheryl Caldwell, director of early education for Denver Public Schools.

Still, she doubted that quicker, easier assessments would look at the whole child in the comprehensive way that TS GOLD or similar assessments do.

As is typical for online assessment systems, TS GOLD charges a per-student fee—it’s around $9 in Colorado. This year, like last year, the state will cover those costs completely in implementing districts. Next year, the state will cover at least 60 percent of the costs; the following year, that number will drop to around 30 percent.

Many veteran users in the state

While TS GOLD may be new to most kindergarten teachers, a fair chunk of Colorado’s preschool workforce is already familiar with the assessment. That’s because it’s been used for two years, and sometimes longer, in classrooms funded by the Colorado Preschool Program or CPP. (Another approved tool—the Child Observation Record or COR—is used in about 9 percent of CPP classrooms.)

Ilona Witty, director of early childhood in the Salida School District, said her staff has used TS GOLD for five years to assess the district’s preschool students and the last three years for its toddlers. It was stressful at first, but the early childhood team gradually learned shortcuts that made the process more efficient, she said. Getting iPads helped too.

In Denver Public Schools, where around 300 kindergarten teachers will pilot TS GOLD with at least five students each this year, administrators believe preschool teachers will be a good resource for the kindergarten adopters. District officials also say they’ve focused on the purpose of the assessment at trainings this summer.

“We talked about the why…We didn’t just talk about here’s another test and here’s how you give it,” said Cheryl Caldwell, the district’s director of early education.

“It’s a tool that helps…teachers really understand development and how it happens,” she said.

While Witty knows some observers worry that TS GOLD has a monopoly in the Colorado market, she’s believes the assessment is a good one that provides valuable feedback about the district’s youngest students.

“It drives our planning, it drives our ordering. It drives our professional development,” she said. “Of course they’re making a ton of money…If the product wasn’t good, I’d probably be more up in arms”

Administrators in Salida like the assessment system so much they aren’t stopping with kindergarten. In the coming years, first, and second grade classrooms will begin using a new version of TS GOLD that’s designed for children through third grade. The existing version and the one coming out for older children align with Common Core State Standards.

Sharing the data

Among the benefits of TS GOLD that most excited teachers at the Evans training was its potential to give parents more information about their children’s progress and better engage them as educational partners. Kielmeyer noted that she’d replaced report cards and parent-teacher conference forms with reports generated by TS GOLD.

“I had the best parent-teacher conferences I’ve had in the last 10 years,” she said. “I had boxes of tissues because I had parents crying tears of joy. They were just amazed at what I had to share.”

While parents have the option of asking that their child not be photographed or videotaped as part of TS GOLD, Kielmeyer and others say parents often become more receptive as they learn how those types of data are used to document progress. In fact, teachers can even invite parents to contribute to the assessment using documentation they’ve collected.

In addition to replacing report cards, Kielmeyer  said that TS GOLD allowed the district to replace some of its former assessments because GOLD provided the same information. In Denver Public Schools, Caldwell said a committee is in the process of deciding whether such overlaps warrant the elimination of some assessments.

One unanswered question about TS GOLD is how the data will be used at the state level. Currently, aggregate preschool data from TS GOLD and the other approved assessment is collected through the state’s Results Matter system. A summary is published in the annual Colorado Preschool Program legislative report.

At least initially, Triolo-Moloney said there won’t be a comparable report for the state’s kindergarten cohort.

“Everybody’s chomping at the bit for that,” she said. “But we’re trying so hard to not do that because we really want teachers to be free to practice this thing.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Big bond on the ballot for Boulder schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:46

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo City Schools is the largest district to near the end of the state's timeline to improve or face interventions. But it was once touted as a reform "miracle." Chalkbeat looks at what happened, in the first in a three part series. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Setting the stage for election season

Boulder Valley's school board ok'ed a move to put a $576 million dollar bond for schools on the ballot. ( Daily Camera )

Scantron Skirmish

The battle over testing has opened on a new front: the AP U.S. history test. And it's coming to Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Outside the classroom

In a look at what kids learn from play, NPR takes on a classic recess activity: marbles. ( nprEDU via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

As the state’s accountability clock ticks down, a district struggles to move forward

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 20:04

PUEBLO — There’s little carpet visible in the modest living room of the row house in the shadow of Pueblo’s steel mill after Julianne Williamson spreads out all of her children’s academic awards.

“My daughter is so smart,” said Williamson, the mother of a sixth-grade daughter and third-grade son at the city’s Bessemer Academy. “She’s going to be outsmarting me soon. My son, he reads like an adult.”

But recently, Williamson’s children haven’t been bringing home awards as often, and she’s worried that the school’s chaotic environment might be hurting their learning. The list of questions she has for Pueblo’s school officials is growing long:

Why has Bessemer Academy had three principals in as many years? Why was her son shuffled between two different teachers this school year? Why can’t the adults in the building control the students’ behavior?

She also has questions that reach beyond Bessemer’s four walls:

What are Pueblo officials doing about the school’s state designation as a “turnaround” school, a marker that gives Bessemer two more years to improve or face state intervention? What happens if the school doesn’t make the deadline?

“What’s going to happen to my kids?” she asked.

Turnaround tension

Williamson’s question is shared by many parents in Pueblo. A third of the public schools in the city are failing, according to state ratings.

And if the district doesn’t improve its students’ academic performance soon, Pueblo could pose the first big test of Colorado’s school accountability system, which gives struggling schools and districts five years to improve or face sanctions.

The district, which enrolls nearly 18,000 students, is the largest in the state to near the end of that timeline. Unless Pueblo’s most recent test scores — which will be released later this week — reflect significant gains, officials will have just a year to get the district into the state’s safe zone.

If they fall short, the next steps are uncertain, fueling the anxiety of educators and parents like Williamson. Colorado law requires state officials to strip the district of its accreditation, which could leave graduating students ineligible for college scholarships. The district could also lose significant amounts of federal funding.

Individual schools that don’t improve in time may be asked to replace their principal and teaching staff, be turned over to a charter operator, or be closed altogether.

But some observers question whether the state has the political will or the capacity to enact dramatic changes in districts like Pueblo — and nearly a dozen others — that are close to the deadline.

In Denver, questions about the state’s ability to impose changes come mostly from people who want to see the state step in. But in Pueblo, those questions come from a deep-seated skepticism of outsiders and a belief that local problems call for local solutions.

Steel City Turnaround

Even as a small but influential group of Pueblo community leaders have recognized the scale of the challenge and are doing what they can outside of school walls to improve student achievement, they remain resistant to seeing the state get involved. In fact, they are skeptical that the state’s intervention would bring any improvements.

“If the state has all the answers, why are they waiting for five years?” Rod Slyhoff, president of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, asked. “Why didn’t they just come in year one?”

District officials and city leaders claim they’re on the right path to beat the clock. And state officials agree that beating the clock is possible. Pueblo has already climbed the state’s rankings for two consecutive years.

“It is within striking distance,” said Keith Owen, the state’s deputy commissioner of education and a former Pueblo elementary school principal.

But following the retirement of the district’s superintendent in June, many in Pueblo fear that a leadership transition might trigger a backward slide just as the state’s deadline closes in.

This spring and summer, to better understand how a school system that primarily serves low-income and Latino students and its city are affected by and driven to improve under immense pressure of a ticking clock, Chalkbeat interviewed dozens of students, teachers, parents, district leaders, and observers in Pueblo. We also reviewed dozens of public documents and district data that detail the conditions of the city’s neediest schools.

Over the next three days, we will explore the bureaucracy still struggling with change revealed in those interviews and documents. While Pueblo’s school improvement efforts have been undertaken by a group of well-intentioned individuals fighting against the odds of high poverty and shrinking budgets, not everyone is on the same page.

District officials and teachers are both mentally and physically worn.

And several of the district’s neediest schools still lack consistent quality instruction and the robust school culture that turnaround experts believe is necessary to drive student achievement.

As Bessemer goes, so goes the city

The academic rise and fall of Bessemer Academy parallels that of the Pueblo City Schools system as whole.

In the early 2000s, Bessemer, a kindergarten through 8 public school in one of the poorest parts of this Southern Colorado town, was nothing short of a modern education reform miracle, observers said.

Results from the state’s first-ever round of third-grade reading exams found, in 1997, barely one in 10 students was reading at grade level. But by 2000, the percentage of students that passed the fourth-grade test had increased; seven in 10 students tested at grade level.

The school headed into the new century either meeting or beating the state’s average on its standardized tests. And everyone from Gov. Bill Owens to President George W. Bush was paying attention to the little Southern Colorado school district that could — and did.

As Bessemer held its significant academic gains and other schools’ scores also rose, district officials were invited to Denver and Washington, D.C., to share the secret to their formula.

Then-superintendent Joyce Bales told the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education in 2002 that Pueblo’s success was based on its focused mission and high quality teachers. She also cited teachers’ professional development tools, organizational systems, and their use of data to inform their instruction. The district also used a literacy program called Lindamood-Bell, a renowned and expensive phonics-based program.

Less than a decade later, Bales was gone and, according to present-day Pueblo officials, so were all of her systems and the Lindamood-Bell program.

New leadership and budget cuts forced Pueblo City Schools to abandon the literacy program and instead chase instructional grants haphazardly.

Today, 46 percent of the district’s students are reading on grade level and 28 percent write proficiently, according to the state’s literacy exams. (Comparatively, the state averages about 70 percent of students reading at grade level and 55 percent of student writing at grade level.)

It’s a big improvement from the late 1990s, when only 12 percent of its fourth grade students were reading at grade-level and just 2 percent could write on that level. But it’s also a big drop from Bales’ heyday.

And neither Bessemer nor the district — which has not experienced any radical demographic shifts since the early 2000s — are meeting the state’s expectation for student growth, the measure of how much a student learned from year to year compared to his or her academic peers.

The most conservative interpretation is that growth is flat. Students who have been designated as below proficient on state tests are staying behind. And those who are considered proficient are barely hanging on.

At Bessemer, while some classes of students are posting slow but steady growth, others fluctuate every year, moving between minimal and fairly large gains.

So close, yet so far away

Right now, Pueblo is just three points shy of the 52 points out of 100 on the state’s annual school review scoring system to get itself off the state’s accountability watch list.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaPueblo City Schools board members Mike Colucci, left, and Kathy DeNiro and Superintendent Maggie Lopez recite the school district’s mission before a school board meeting in April. School officials are confident they’re on the right path to beat the state’s accountability clock.

And Pueblo officials are confident their efforts have been enough to push the district across that threshold, if not this year, by 2015.

“We’ve flown through some turbulence — but we continue to fly,” Superintendent Maggie Lopez, who retired at the end of June, told State Board of Education members in April. “Achievement is beginning to take a turn.”

The district, officials told the State Board, has aligned their standards and created a single instructional roadmap for all of its schools. They’ve instituted interim assessments to monitor student progress. Principals are now trained to be leaders, not managers. Teachers are working together in communities, not isolated in their classrooms. And a team of district administrators has been created to respond directly to individual classroom needs.

“As a district we are far more timely and responsive to meeting the schools’ needs than we have ever been,” said Brenda Krage, then the assistant superintendent of learning services.

The district has also put an emphasis on school choice. It’s closed some low-performing schools — mostly for budgetary, not academic, reasons. And it has created a path for students on the city’s East side to access the International Baccalaureate curriculum at each grade.

District leaders have also elected to provide more autonomy to three of Pueblo’s most troubled middle schools by designating them “innovation schools.”

A 2008 state law created the innovation schools designation. Schools granted innovation status are freed from many central administration policies such as budget rules, curriculum mandates, and teacher contracts. Architects of the law believed that granting such freedoms could accelerate academic achievement.

But early anecdotal reports from those schools — the Roncalli STEM Academy, Risley International Innovation Academy, and the Pueblo Academy of the Arts (formerly known as Pitts Middle School) — suggest that results are mixed.

And if third grade reading scores from last spring’s standardized tests are any indication on whether Pueblo’s efforts have paid off — and, depending on who you ask, they are or are not — the news isn’t good for Pueblo. As a whole, the district saw its scores drop by more than 3 percentage points, while the state remained relatively flat.

At Bessemer Academy there was a double digit drop.

According to reading scores released in May, just one in three of the kids at the school can read at grade level.

Watching, waiting

With those dismal academic results and increasing discipline and leadership issues at Bessemer, the Williamson family’s frustration is rising.

This year, the school is getting its fifth new principal since 2007. At the last awards assembly she and her husband attended, Williamson said, it took 20 minutes for the teachers and administrators to gain the student’s attention. And there appears to be no clear discipline protocol. As punishment for acting out, one teacher made students make her coffee, missing valuable lessons.

Williamson would consider sending her children to a different — better — school. But with only one car for her family of five, that’s not possible.

And Jacob, the third grader, would be devastated, she said. He thinks the test scores don’t reflect how hard the kids are working.

“They think the school is dumb,” he said. “But if they were to watch a class for a full day, they’d see how much we learn and pay attention.”

Like the local leaders who want to keep the solutions local, Jacob believes that his and his classmate’s hard work will eventually be clear. But Williamson is more worried about the work that school officials are doing — and, like the state officials who are watching Pueblo closely, she is anxiously waiting to see whether the work will pay off.

“I know there has been a lot of turnover as far as the staff and principal goes,” Williamson said. But she doesn’t think those reasons are excuses for the school’s struggles. “I can’t think of anything that could justify it.”

Tomorrow, Chalkbeat Colorado will explore how Pueblo’s strategy to improve one school in part created the state’s lowest performing middle school.

Categories: Urban School News

Another skirmish shaping up in testing wars

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 17:02

Some testing critics are taking aim at a new Advanced Placement United States history program, and the the Republican chair of the State Board of Education is bringing the debate to Colorado.

Paul Lundeen of Monument has presented a resolution for consideration at the board’s session this Thursday (see text here). Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado, “Some concerns had been expressed to me by constituents. My research suggests that a resolution delaying is appropriate at this time.”

The proposed resolution reads, “The new APUSH Framework reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects. … The Framework presents a biased and inaccurate view of many important events in American history.” (APUSH is an acronym for Advanced Placement United States History.)

The resolution also claims the AP framework conflicts with state content standards and asks that roll-out of the new program be delayed “for at least a year.”

An Aug. 1 Huffington Post column by Patte Barth traces the flap to a March paper published by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank.

The hue and cry since has been picked up by commentators for the National Review and on conservative websites such as Breitbart.com and TheBlaze.com. Glenn Beck’s website. Last weekend the Republican National Committee passed as resolution opposing the new history framework, and the controversy also has popped up in Georgia and Texas.

Because College Board President David Coleman was a leading figure in creation of Common Core State Standards, commentators have tried to draw a link between the new AP program and Common Core, a focus of conservative worries for more than a year. (The College Board runs both the Advanced Placement program and the SAT tests.)

In an email sent this week to members of the state board, Coleman wrote, “People who are worried that AP U.S. History students will not need to study our nation’s founders need only take one look at this exam to see that our founders are resonant throughout.”

Because of public concern, Coleman said the College Board was taking the “unprecedented action” of releasing a full sample exam (see it here). He added, “We will soon release a clarified version of the course framework to avoid any further confusion.”

Read a defense of the framework in this June article by Lawrence Charap, director of AP curriculum and content development. See the full framework here and a College Board FAQ here.

The AP American history class is not a part of high school for most Colorado students. According to Department of Education data, 5,568 students took the class in 2012-13, about 4.5 percent of the 121,352 high school juniors and seniors enrolled that year.

Discussion of the resolution is on the board’s Thursday afternoon agenda, after results of the 2014 TCAP tests are presented to the group. The only public comment period of the board’s two-day August meeting is scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon, so the issue may get an airing then.

Over the last year opponents and supporters of the Common Core have made monthly appearances during SBE public comment periods to express their views.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:05

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:05

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora middle school evacuated after failed pipe bomb

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 08:49

it's official

Denver's City Council gave the ok to put a tax to voters that would extend and raise funds for the city's preschool program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School violence

An Aurora middle school was evacuated yesterday after the discovery of a failed pipe bomb. Authorities are looking for two suspects. ( Gazette )

Something old, something new

A new school is opening in Salida, with a long history in the community. ( Mountain Mail )

Marijuana and teens

An anti-marijuana campaign commissioned by the governor will specifically target teens, telling them that the effect of the drug on teens is still uncertain. ( Gazette )

Lunch box transparency

Parents with kids in Poudre schools will soon be able to know exactly what's in the school lunch, using a database that has nutritional information, ingredients and allergens for every meal served. ( Coloradoan )

Cars and the classroom

The Arapahoe County Sheriff's office is kicking off a back to school safety campaign -- for drivers. ( 9News )

Big Oops

Sensitive student records from Smiley Middle School somehow ended up in a dumpster behind the school yesterday. ( KDVR )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver voters to decide extension, expansion of preschool program in November

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 22:11

Denver’s City Council on Monday night agreed to ask the city’s voters to extend and raise a sales tax to fund a preschool program that provides tuition scholarships to families of four-year-olds.

The vote, 10-1, was expected.

If approved by Denver voters, the sales tax would be raised from .12 percent to .15 percent, or 15 cents for every $100 spent in Denver on taxable items. It would also extend the tax until 2026.

The additional revenue would go to reinstate summer programs and keep up with the demand of full- and extended-day options, officials from the Denver Preschool Program have said.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced his intent to campaign for the tax increase earlier this summer. The official campaign backing the tax, Preschool Matters, is co-chaired by Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks and has some of Denver’s most influential politico heavyweights behind it.

Still, Denver voters narrowly approved the tax in 2006 — the third time supporters took the initiative to the ballot. And supporters, while confident they have the data to prove the Denver Preschool Program is a success, are prepping for an uphill battle.

Since 2007, the program has provided about $55 million in tuition credits to 31,816 four-year-olds. The credit is determined by family need and the quality of the preschool provider. The average tuition credit during the 2013-14 school year was $290. The Denver Preschool Program also conducts quality reviews and professional development for its partnered-preschool providers.

Eight individuals spoke in favor of the ballot initiative at the council meeting.

“I can see a notable difference in the student who attend a preschool program,” said Stephanie Romero. Students who do not attend preschool “lack the confidence to become independent learners.”

Single mother JoMarie Garcia told the council the Denver Preschool Program allowed her to send her student to preschool, something she didn’t think she could afford. Her preschooler was also ready for kindergarten by the end of the year.

“My daughter went into preschool already able to sound out words,” Garcia said. “When she went into kindergarten she was ready to read.”

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, the lone no vote, said she supports early childhood education but she would rather see the state’s program expand rather than the city — which has no official business in public education — take on the effort.

She also raised concerns about the programs administrative expenses. Under city ordinance, the Denver Preschool Program has a 5 percent limit on administrative costs. But Faatz believes its much higher because it doesn’t consider media or customer service as contract work.

Part of the reauthorization would allow the program to increase its administrative costs by 2 percent. Faatz estimated the program could be spending as much as 19 percent of its budget on items not related to tuition credits.

“That’s just too high,” she said.

The program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum said using Faatz’s math, the total costs discussed was about 10 percent of the programs budget $11.8 million budget.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS to expand STEM options with $7M grant

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:49

Money matter

School district leaders don’t necessarily see new budget and spending reporting requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

expanding options

A $7 million grant is helping Denver Public Schools to expand its science, technology, engineering, and math offerings next school year. ( Denver Post )

Scout's honor

A Longmont Eagle Scout is rounding up used band instruments for a local — and growing — middle school. ( Longmont Times-Call )

#teamchalkbeat

Don't forget, the Chalkbeat Book Club kicks off today with Elizabeth Green's "Building A Better Teacher." It's totally going to be better than Oprah's. Yeah, we went there. Join today on Facebook. ( Facebook )

Still need convincing? Check out Green's weekend interview with NPR via local affiliate KUNC. ( KUNC )

And teachers, we especially want to hear from you! We're curious how much you plan to spend to outfit your classrooms and whether new reforms are putting an extra burden on your back-to-school budget. Fill out our survey here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school

While we're on the subject of back to school, here are 37 "insanely smart" teacher hacks to file away. ( Buzzfeed )

Non-Hispanic white students are projected to be the minority this school year for the first time. The shift is largely due to a growing Hispanic population. ( AP via 9News )

Open communication between parents and students can go a long way during the back-to-school season, a psychologist said. ( 9News )

Pueblo City Schools is launching an app this year for parents and students to better understand their lunch menu. ( Fox 21 )

Every penny counts

Vail students who were dually enrolled in high school and college courses last year saved an estimated $1 million. ( Vail Daily )

Out of school context

Environmental education leaders, business people and others will meet later this month to develop an environmental education curriculum. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Introducing the Chalkbeat book club

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:28
  • Discussion of “Building a Better Teacher” is starting in the brand-new Chalkbeat Book Club. Join now!
  • A critique of the book says content, not teaching quality, has derailed Americans’ math learning. (Brookings)
  • A new kind of calculator that requires estimation could be a tool in Common Core-aligned classrooms. (Voice of San Diego)
  • The story of one student arrested in a Chicago school last year shows the potential of diversion programs. (Catalyst)
  • A new nonprofit joins a cadre of others in evaluating Common Core teaching materials. (Curriculum Matters)
  • In a hift, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel picked a former teacher and school administrator to advise him on education. (Sun-Times)
  • An educator rounds up the best advice she’s got for new teachers. (On the Shoulders of Giants)
  • A New Jersey district that gave some students iPads and others Chromebooks now prefers the less expensive gadget. (Atlantic)
  • Formal collaboration agreements between charter schools and districts allow strong practices to be shared. (Education Next)
  • Graduation rates are on the rise again in Texas. Is it another miracle? (Texas Tribune)
  • A Detroit school that lost students when it lengthened the year highlights the challenges of expanding learning time. (Hechinger)

Join the club!

Categories: Urban School News

“The places are poor, and the people are poor.”

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:06
“My goal here is that these kids aren’t out there slashing tires,” [Mimi] Marmon says. Everything she does, she says, is oriented toward setting their minds on getting jobs, which might not be the norm they grow up with in a place where government benefits often substitute for work. “My fear is that these kids grow up, and they think, ‘my parents lived through this, so I can too,’” Marmon says. “If you’ve got this mindset that the world owes you something, and that’s all you hear, it’s a very scary thing. I watch these kids and I just think, they’re so adorable when they’re little, but what’s their future going to be?”
– "How rural poverty is changing: Your fate is increasingly tied to your town," Washington Post

The southeastern Colorado town of Las Animas is fading, along with many rural towns. The Washington Post explores the intertwined fates of the town and its inhabitants, who often stay despite a lack of opportunities. Read the full article here for a look at how that decision impacts the lives of children who live there.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Districts take wary view of new transparency law

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:19

School district lobbyists did their best to kill the idea during the 2014 legislative session, but now that new financial reporting requirements are law, school districts and the Colorado Department of Education are scratching their heads and sorting out how to make them work.

There have been ripples of anxiety – and not a little confusion — in many districts as details of the mandate started to sink in after both the legislative session and the school year ended.

“People are grumpy,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer for Colorado Springs District 11. “No doubt about it.”

Some district leaders don’t necessarily see the requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes.

The financial transparency requirements are part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act that was at the center of fierce school finance policy debates during the 2014 session. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on all the bill’s provisions.)

What the law says has to be done

While many nuts and bolts of implementing the transparency requirements remain to be worked out, the new mandate goes significantly beyond a 2010 transparency law (get details on that here) and requires three main things:

Uniformity – The law requires greater standardization in how districts display financial information on their websites. “All districts will have to report [data] in the same fashion,” said Leanne Emm, associate commissioner for school finance at CDE.

Data for every school – Districts ultimately will have to report spending information for individual schools, information that some districts report now but others don’t.

One-stop shopping – Three years from now there will be a single website containing financial information about all districts and schools. The law requires the website to be designed so as “to ensure the greatest degree of clarity and comparability by laypersons of expenditures among school sites, school districts, the state Charter School Institute, and boards of cooperative services.” (The site will be created by a to-be-selected contractor, not CDE.)

What worries districts

A wide variety of district officials interviewed by Chalkbeat raised four main concerns about the law:

Implementation – District officials generally agree that compliance will be relatively painless for large districts but presents a greater challenge to some medium-sized and small districts. “It is going to be a lot of work for a lot of people. It depends on how big you are and how many people you have working for you,” Gustafson said.

Comparability – Even with the requirement for greater uniformity, some district officials wonder if district and school data will be fully comparable. They raise the question of likely district differences in how they account for costs borne by multiple schools – things like the salaries of special education teachers, psychologists and other staff who split their time among buildings.

“It is a significant change to set up your personnel systems [to account for] a teacher or even a principal who works at several different schools,” said Bill Sutter, chief financial officer of the Boulder Valley School District.

Use & Misuse – District officials say they support transparency as an ideal but are openly skeptical that new financial data will see much use by the public.

“Who’s going to actually look at this website?” asked Tracy John, business manager of the 606-student Peyton School District northeast of Colorado Springs.

Anecdotally, districts say there’s little public use of financial information currently available online. “I don’t receive very many calls about transparency,” said Guy Bellville, chief financial official of the Cherry Creek Schools.

And districts are nervous that advocacy groups will use school-level financial data for their own ends, ignoring the context and nuances of why districts spend money as they do.

“Rather than build confidence in school budgeting decisions, it is more likely to provide ammunition to public education detractors who have no interest in learning the deeper context or complexity that comes with school budgeting,” argues Jason Glass, superintendent of the Eagle County Schools.

Impact on student achievement – “Tell me how this is going to impact student achievement,” Gustafson said. “This is a distraction that takes away from student achievement.” Said Boulder’s Sutter, “I’m fairly certain there are no studies about how one more accountant in the district office is going to affect outcomes.”

Another view on data use

Sen. Mike Johnston, a prime sponsor of HB 14-1292 and the instigator of much recent education reform legislation, has a different take on the law.

The Denver Democrat made his case at a recent meeting of district finance officials and CDE staffers who are starting to flesh out the details of implementing the law.

“People will use the data depending on how easy it is to use,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of presenting information in the right way.”

Johnston also made the pitch that greater financial transparency might make voters more sympathetic to increased funding for education.

During the Amendment 66 campaign in 2013 many voters has “this misperception that education was this large overfunded bureaucracy.” He argued the state needs “to allow parents to understand in regular language where the dollars go in their schools. Our belief is doing this well will paint a clear picture to parents and taxpayers about where those dollars are going. … This makes it easier to make that case” for more funding.

Education interest groups have a variety of reasons for supporting greater financial transparency. Reform groups that advocate for funding equity hope it will provide greater insight into whether low-performing schools are getting the money they need to help at-risk students. Charter schools think greater insight into district spending will show whether or not they’re getting an appropriate share of funding. Republican lawmakers hope transparency will shed more light on pension costs. And others hope transparency is a step toward greater control of money at the school level and even “backpack” funding for individual students.

Transparency a second-tier trend

While financial transparency doesn’t have the high profile of issues such as Common Core State Standards or testing, “it’s a trend we’re seeing right now, and it’s been going on for awhile,” said Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

“Most states require districts to report on financial data,” Griffith said, and now policymakers are saying, “You need to start accounting on a school-level basis.”

Part of the trend is rooted in overall technological change. “As the technology has advanced and people have gotten used to looking things up … that has pushed policymakers.”

Griffith added, “When the idea is presented to policymakers they get excited because they like data. The question is what they do with it when they get it.”

On the school district side, he said, “There’s another fear – they’re going to have to change the way they do business.”

As Colorado administrators discuss the new law, Michigan and Rhode Island are frequently mentioned as possible examples to follow.

Michigan’s state system is under construction; get more information here. To see how districts report, see this page on the Lansing School District site. (All Michigan districts are required to have a prominent financial transparency logo on their home pages. But school-level data isn’t currently required.)

Learn more about Rhode Island’s system here.

The transparency to-do list

The state transparency website doesn’t have to launch until July 1, 2017, but that doesn’t mean CDE and districts don’t face a lot of work – starting now.

A subcommittee of CDE’s Financial Policies and Procedures Committee is working to develop a standard template for districts to use on their websites and hopes to finish that by October.

The full FPP group is supposed to develop a recommendation for the State Board of Education on how to report district revenues.

CDE plans to have a request for proposal finished by the end of the year. This contains specifications that outside bidders will have to meet if they want the $3 million contract to build the statewide website.

Districts will have to use the new template starting July 1, 2015, posting the financial information required by the 2010 transparency law.

In late 2016 or early 2017, using a second template developed by the state, districts will have to post individual school financial data on their sites.

Using data provided by districts, the contractor is supposed to launch the statewide site July 1, 2017.

Emm said the current 2014-15 school year “is almost a planning year” but that districts will have serious work to do starting in about February.

But it’s not fully clear what that work will require. “School districts will not understand what’s required until the FPP completes the template,” said Cherry Creek’s Bellville.

Finding district information can take some effort

District leaders and lobbyists last spring repeatedly made the point that state law already requires posting lots of financial information on district websites, making a new mandate unnecessary.

They were right that the 2010 law requires districts to post annual budgets (full budgets and summaries), audits, quarterly financial statements, salary schedules, check registers, credit and purchase card statements and investment performance reports. (See CDE’s suggested – not mandatory – current template for displaying that information.) The new law allows districts to drop quarterly statements, check registers and card statements after July 1, 2017.

But in many ways the current system is more translucent than it is transparent.

Chalkbeat clicked around the websites of Colorado’s 10 largest districts plus eight more districts of varying sizes – one district with about 1,000 students, another with about 900 students and so on down to a 100-student district.

Overall we found that if you’re looking for district financial information, be prepared to make educated guesses about which homepage link to click and be ready to do a fair amount of clicking, scrolling and opening of large PDF files.

Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of what we found, along with a few hints to help your searches.

  • Home page links to transparency information aren’t consistent. We found them near the top of some pages, in the middle of others and at the bottom of some. (Boulder Valley gets kudos for its blue “BVSD Financial Transparency” button near the top of the home page. Dougco has a Transparency link in a row across the top of the home page.)
  • The link doesn’t always read “Financial Transparency.” If you don’t see those words, look for links with wording like District Finance, District Office, Financials, Administration, Finance & Budget and even About. Pull-down menus generated by such links sometimes reveal a Financial Transparency link.
  • When all else fails, type “financial transparency” into the search window on the district’s home page and see what you find.
  • District budgets and budget summaries can contain a wealth of information, including school-level information for some larger districts. But every district uses its own format. Cherry Creek, for instance, provides easy-to-read information for every school, including photos and demographic details. Other districts’ budgets contain multiple number-crammed spreadsheets of school information. Some districts provide per-pupil spending by school; others don’t.
  • You’ll need to click and scroll. Once you find it on the website, open your district’s budget in Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, use the table of contents column on the left and start hunting.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teen marijuana use down very slightly in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 09:48

Welcome wagon

Several weeks before school starts, members of Manual High School's small incoming class met their teachers, each other, and began to prepare for high school life. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

mea culpa

State education officials said that their processing mistake led to the omission of the Arapahoe High School shooting from violence reports, not the district's failure to report it. ( Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio )

starting early

Thursday was the first day of school for a handful of Denver schools that are adding more time to their school years. ( 9News )

Less lighting up

Teen marijuana use in Colorado is down slightly, but health officials say it's too early to declare legalization the reason for the decline. ( Denver Post )

out in the field

A new regional council of environmental education leaders is meeting to make their programming more accessible to students and schools around the state. ( Steamboat Today )

outside the schoolhouse

More families are choosing home-schooling and other alternative education options in Mesa County. ( Post Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:53

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Categories: Urban School News

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