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Budget panel gives ed department half a loaf amid staffing controversy

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 22:23

The legislative Joint Budget Committee agreed Tuesday to fund five of the seven staff positions the Department of Education had requested to help districts with teacher evaluations and rollout of new standards.

Funding for those jobs has been a touchy issue for some committee members for a couple of reasons. First, because the state is being asked to pick up costs previously borne by federal and other one-time sources. Second, because a private foundation paid for two of those CDE employees in the past.

Committee staff analyst Craig Harper recommended funding none of the positions, largely as a symbolic way to express displeasure with the department.

But some committee members argued that not funding the jobs would hurt school districts that need help evaluating teachers and integrating new content standards into classroom teaching.

“Discontinuing this kind of support sends a very poor message to our school districts,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat and vice chair of the budget panel.

The committee voted 4-2 to fund five positions in CDE’s educator effectiveness unit but deadlocked on a motion to fund two content specialists who help districts with standards. A tie vote means the jobs won’t be included in the department budget. However, the committee is recommending that five other content specialists already on the CDE payroll be funded in 2015-16.

The JBC’s decision isn’t the final word on the issue. The department could request the committee reconsider this issue, or the content specialists could be restored by an amendment when the full legislature considers the long bill.

CDE officials didn’t have immediate comment Tuesday on the committee vote.

This kind of dry business is usually followed only by top bureaucrats and lobbyists, but the CDE issue has a complicated backstory that makes it interesting. Here are the elements:

Worries about outside influence: Starting in 2012-13, two employees from the private foundation the Colorado Education Initiative (formerly known as the Colorado Legacy Foundation) worked at CDE as director of standards and instructional support and as a literacy specialist. They were paid directly by the foundation.

CDE officials told Chalkbeat Colorado they approved the arrangement because they were having trouble finding applicants for what would be short-term jobs.

Harper, the JBC’s staff analyst, raised questions about the propriety of that arrangement during a committee briefing in December. Department officials maintained there were no legal problems with the two workers but ended the arrangement Dec. 31.

The two employees now are classified as state workers, and the foundation has made a grant to CDE. (It’s common for outside groups to make direct grants to the department to help support specific programs, but it’s not common for an outside group to directly pay individual salaries.)

Some budget committee members were concerned that the arrangement distorted how the state personnel system is supposed to work. But some Republican lawmakers and activist groups had other concerns about the Colorado Education Initiative because it has received substantial funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is a frequent target of criticism by groups opposed to the Common Core State Standards, multi-state testing, and other education reform efforts.

Glossing over the costs of reform: A bigger issue is the legislature’s propensity to create sweeping programs without paying for them up front. The education department’s request for state funding of the educator effectiveness staff and content specialists represents bills coming due for earlier education laws the legislature chose not to pay for when those laws were created.

Sponsors of both the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids and the 2010 educator effectiveness law downplayed the potential costs of those reforms, because high price tags would have made the bills less popular, and because true costs were hard to estimate, given that both programs had long implementation timelines.

In the case of educator effectiveness, sponsors were counting on use of federal Race to the Top money, which didn’t come in until a couple of years after the law was passed.

CDE has funded implementation of education reform measures through a combination of one-time state, federal and private funds, money that largely will run out this year.

“We’ve been over the river and through the woods” on promises that education reform was cost-free, said JBC member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. Criticizing “winking and nodding and pretense that it wouldn’t cost anything. That’s all water under the bridge.”

Putting the educator effectiveness law into practice has evolved in some unexpected ways. For instance, CDE developed a model evaluation teacher evaluation system that districts could choose to use. State officials expected most districts would develop their own systems. But the vast majority of districts have opted to use the state system, requiring continuing support by the department.

School finance base set

The JBC devoted most of its day Tuesday to figure-setting for the alphabet soup of CDE programs as well as base district funding for 2015-16.

The panel opted for a plan that would increase average per pupil funding from $7,025 this year to $7,265 in 2015-16. That would set what’s called total program funding at $6.23 billion, an increase of $281 million in state and local funding over current district funding of $5.9 billion.

The JBC’s recommendation is not the final word on school funding for next year. The proposal basically increases support based on constitutional and legal requirements. A separate piece of legislation, called the school finance act, typically is used to provide additional K-12 support.

So proposals like Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to give schools a $200 million one-time increase, and a plan by superintendents to funnel another $70 million to at-risk students and rural districts, will be part of the discussion on that second bill.

For the record

The House gave final 45-19 approval to House Bill 15-1104, which would provide a $250 tax deduction to teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets. The bill is considered a feel-good measure that would recognize teacher contributions to their classrooms but not provide significant tax savings.

Who says bipartisan sponsorship helps pass bills in a split-control legislature?

The Finance Committee in the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday killed House Bill 15-1079, a bipartisan bill that would have expanded a teen pregnancy and dropout prevention program now operating in three Western Slope counties. Anything involving “sex” is a touchy issue in the Senate, given the strong social conservative views of Republicans in that chamber.

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco teacher contract talks off to a “good start”

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 19:16

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school district and teachers union began contract negotiations in earnest Monday and both sides left the first meeting feeling optimistic.

“It’s a good start,” Stephanie Rossi, a Wheat Ridge High School history teacher and lead negotiator for the Jefferson County Education Association, said at the end of the four hour meeting.

Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the union hope to have a new contract solidified by the end of May. But the district’s board room is reserved for negotiations almost every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday until the contract expires on July 31.

Some teachers and community members are worried Jeffco will become the largest school district in the state without a teachers union. That’s because they believe the aim of the conservative board majority, elected in 2013, is to weaken the teachers association just as the Douglas County school board did to its union in 2012.

Jeffco school board president Ken Witt has deflected those accusations and called for a fresh start with negotiations earlier this year. Last year, the union declared an impasse and the school board majority ultimately developed its own pay compensation system based on performance, not years in the classroom.

And if the district negotiating team has its way, that’s exactly what the end result will be: a near-complete rewrite of the teacher contract that is more of a blueprint to managing human resources and priorities than a proscriptive set of steps to cope with conflict.

“While it might not look like a traditional [interest-based bargaining] process, we are very committed to the collaborative aspects of the IBB process,” said Jim Branum, the district’s lead negotiator, during his opening remarks. “By working around the table, we’re going to come out with a much better agreement.”

While it appeared everyone left the bargaining table in high spirits after several laugh-out-loud moments, the meeting did not get off to a smooth start.

Early on, the independent moderator Jon Numair pointed out that the district is asking to invert the model of collective bargaining.

Normally, when a contract is renegotiated, both the employees’ association and district assume if particular language or issues are not discussed, those sections of the contract remain intact, Numair said. But the district is asking that only language that is discussed and approved by both sides stays.  Everything else in the contract could be dumped.

Members of the union said multiple times that they understood the district’s position and were starting from a similar point. But union members stressed they believed most of the language needed only to be tweaked, not eliminated or completely rewritten.

Despite everyone at the table seeming to be in agreement on this “starting point,” the moderator appeared unconvinced. He repeatedly asked, “are we sure?” “Do we have agreement” on a starting place?

Finally, Lisa Elliott, the union’s executive director, suggested the group identify common interests based on both sides’ opening pitch. Those common interests, she said, could become the focus of the first working groups to develop contract language.

The rest of the meeting was spent working through some of those topics including effective teachers, educating the whole child, and school-level autonomy.

One mild scuffle that could foreshadow future conflict was a discussion between Elliott and Amy Weber, Jeffco’s human resource director, about how principals should work collaboratively with teachers.

“School-based autonomy sounds great until you’re in a building where it’s the principal’s way or the highway,” Elliott said urging for oversight.

This is the second year contract negotiations between the Jeffco school district and its union are open to the public. There were about six audience members as the meeting started, a far cry from the hundreds who usually pack school board meetings. The numbers fluctuated throughout the evening. At most there were a dozen. Toward the end of the four-hour session, only four teachers remained in the audience.

This marks the first year all school districts must negotiate with their respective teachers unions in public. Colorado voters in 2014 approved Proposition 104 which made contract talks public meetings.

Categories: Urban School News

What student protesters can learn from history

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 18:23

It seems that you can’t turn on the news or open a paper without seeing something about a protest movement somewhere around the world. People are rising up at an unprecedented rate, demanding that their voices be heard.

So it’s no surprise really, given that standards and standardized tests often take on the face of the “oppressor” within education, that we see students standing up and walking out of classrooms refusing to take part in “The Man’s” testing game.

It’s easy to be dismissive of these students—especially when they hold signs that read “Too cute 4 standardized tests.” But as a social science teacher, I can’t help but assign meaning and context to it all, and what I see is a group of young adults who desperately want to be a part of change, but don’t fully understand what it takes to make that happen.

Let me be clear, this isn’t entirely their fault. Pop culture, the media, and even much of education teaches us that if we stand up for what we believe in, and what we believe in is “right”, the higher moral ground will win the day and all will be well.

Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, people marched and boycotted, and suddenly the city of Montgomery saw the error in their ways and ended bus segregation. The 13 Colonies were tired of being “overtaxed,” they refused to pay, went to war, won, and now we have America.

All it took were groups of people to say “enough” and change happened. But it is this non-contextual lens by which we view history that leads to shortsighted solutions.

In this particular instance, the students didn’t want to take a standardized test—for whatever reason, good or bad—so they walked out. If the only goal of the walkouts and demonstrations was to bring to light the problems of over-testing, then I guess they can hang it up and move on. They have brought the issue to forefront of the conversation across the state.

People heard about the walkouts, students and schools made the news, district employees had to make statements, but now it’s back to business as usual. Each district that has experienced walkouts still has given, or plans to give, statewide standardized tests. And the overwhelming majority of students will take them. So if the students’ goal was real and systematic change, we aren’t quite there.

To revisit Rosa Parks, people often forget that the boycott lasted 381 days. Thousands of blacks and whites had to walk, carpool, bike, or whatever it took to be able to get to and from work or wherever they needed to go in whatever weather condition presented itself. They had to face death treats, and some lost their lives. They had to spend countless hours working with members of the city and state government, to negotiate and finally bring resolution to bus segregation.

The American Revolution lasted 18 years and when it was all said and done 50,000 American soldiers had been killed or wounded. And the American democracy we know now would not begin to take full form until those in charge did a decade of post-war work to establish something similar to the government we now enjoy and these students wish (and have the freedom) to challenge.

If students want to be taken seriously, it is critical that they come to the table with solutions, not just problems. They will have to realize that walking out, making signs, and protesting for a day or two is not the best approach if they are interested in more than just making the nightly news.

Students will have to come to a concrete understanding that authentic change takes time, effort, failure, and compromise. We will never eliminate statewide tests, because they do serve an important purpose. But how can we have accountability and information on student learning that everyone can feel good about? Students are a critical voice as we seek to find that balance.

I am confident that the students can rise to the challenge. I see in my students a growing awareness of the power that they have, and they are very much interested in leveraging that power to shape an education that THEY feel prepares them for THEIR future.

If adults—educators, parents, and policymakers—are serious about guiding students to be independent, critical thinkers who can advocate for themselves, then we have to make a more concerted effort to include students as we shape the policies that affect their lives, and students need to engage with the process long term.

Instead of opting out of the current tests, students need to be opting in to being a part of meaningful change.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: PARCC debuts in big Colorado districts to mixed reviews

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/10/2015 - 09:47

Ups and downs

Some Colorado schools reported technical glitches in their first day administering the PARCC tests. ( Denver Post )


The new PARCC tests in language arts and math have been received with cheers and jeers in Colorado. Plus, PARCC by the numbers ( Denver Post )

Student Protests

Listen to a live audio recording of Chalkbeat's panel discussion from last week's Rising Up event, featuring student leaders from Boulder, Denver, Jeffco, and Mancos. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Statehouse roundup

A bill that would give $10 million to promote collaboration between small rural districts passed the House's Education Committee but will likely face scrutiny. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Opt Out

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia encouraged students and parents to not opt out of tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Supply Yourself

A bill in the Colorado House would give teachers tax breaks for school supplies they buy themselves. ( 9News, Aurora Sentinel )

Answer Sheet

Around the country, some schools are offering incentives for students to take new standardized tests. ( Washington Post )

Energy Drinks?

Some parents at Erie Middle School were distressed to find water bottles featuring oil and gas company Encana's logo being passed out to students. ( Times Call )

South by Southwest

NPR reports from SXSWedu. Fewer songs, more learning. ( KUNC )

Audio Explainers

What is PARCC, and how is it different than other tests? ( CPR )

Jeffco Public Schools

Jeffco teacher negotiations began yesterday. ( Arvada Press )

Categories: Urban School News

$10 million rural aid bill advances one step

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 21:25

A bill that would provide $10 million to help small rural school districts save money by sharing services passed the House Education Committee on a 10-1 vote, but the measure’s price tag likely will get close scrutiny later in the legislative session.

Earlier in the day, the full House gave 34-30 final approval to House Bill 15-1221, which would expand and extend the life of an existing state law that allows some parents unpaid time off from work to attend some school activities. Only one Republican voted for the bill, which other Republicans have argued is unnecessary. The brief floor debate reprised a long debate last Friday – see this story for details.

Without debate, the House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 15-1104, which would give a $250 tax credit to teachers who spend their own money to buy school supplies. This measure has a strong feel-good element to it, given that legislators from both parties agree it wouldn’t have a huge in impact on teachers’ taxes. (See this story for background.)

Inside the shared services bill

The rural schools measure, House Bill 15-1201, is intended to relieve some of the financial pressure felt by small districts, by allowing them to partner with boards of cooperative educational services to share some administrative services. It’s sort of an alternative to school district consolidation, long considered a political non-starter in Colorado.

While the bill has bipartisan support, an advantage in the split-control legislature, its $10 million cost will put it in the end-of-session competition over total K-12 spending.

“I realize it will have to compete with other bills as regards funding, and that’s fine,” said Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, who’s teaming with Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale on the proposal.

The $10 million would be used for a three-year grant program. BOCES would develop plans for shared services for interested districts and apply to the Department of Education for grants, which could be as large as $500,000. The program also would be open to charter schools.

Dale McCall, executive director of the Colorado BOCES Association, testified for the measure, saying, “We believe this bill would be especially helpful for the 38 districts in the state that have one administrator.”

McCall said possible shared services could include school nurses, information technology, transportation, data management and analysis, food services, and accounting.

Colorado has 148 districts that could take advantage of the grants, McCall said. That includes 104 districts with fewer than 1,000 students, plus another 44 larger districts that are officially defined as rural. The state has 178 districts.

Supporters of the bill acknowledged that current law allows BOCES and small districts to create sharing arrangements but said funding is needed to jump-start such initiatives.

Read the bill here.

Leaders of rural districts have long complained about what they feel are the administrative burdens of recent Colorado education initiatives, from testing to teacher evaluation to early literacy requirements. Another pending measure, House Bill 15-1155, would give small districts flexibility in evaluating students’ school readiness and reading levels, a prospect that makes some education reform lobbyists nervous.

Committee divided on discipline bill

House Education was less united on House Bill 15-1240, which would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with their local police departments about what kinds of school incidents are referred to police. The bill passed 6-5.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who’s been a tireless advocate of reducing what’s called the “school to prison pipeline” for minority students who get entangled with the police and courts because of school incidents. (Read the bill here.)

A more substantive bill on the issue is scheduled for Senate Education Committee consideration on Thursday. Senate Bill 15-184 would restrict the jailing of students for truancy. It’s sponsored by Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and by Fields.

Categories: Urban School News

Rising Up: Voices from Colorado’s student protest movement

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 19:11

In Denver, some students were told they’d face severe consequences if they walked out of school last fall.

In Boulder, students received donuts from school board members while they protested against standardized tests.

In tiny Mancos, student activists took to social media because they knew a protest in the streets wouldn’t make much of a splash.

These were just some of the details shared by the eight high school student activists who spoke at Rising Up: Voices from Colorado’s Emerging Student Protest Movement, an event held by Chalkbeat at the University of Colorado Denver last week. The students had different experiences, but shared a concern about how rarely students’ opinions are considered by policymakers.

After each protest, critical voices across the state raised questions about whether students were choosing the safest or most effective way to make their points. Some wondered if the high schoolers were taking their cues from adults, and if participants were more focused on missing class than on the issues at hand.

This event was a chance to hear directly from students in four districts about how they organized, why, and what comes next. We also invited a few adults with expertise in the subject matter to talk about how the protests were received and how they fit into a broader social and historical context. (For more student perspectives on activism, check out these interviews; for a glimpse at the social media conversation prompted by the event, check out this post.)

Below, we’ve pulled out some highlights and audio clips from the Rising Up event. You can also listen to a recording of the full event below.

PHOTO: Nic GarciaPanelists at Chalkbeat Colorado’s Rising Up Event. More diplomatic methods didn’t work

Several students said that more traditional methods of voicing dissent, such as letter-writing, were either unsuccessful or suggested too late in the game. Boulder student Rachel Perley said administrators suggested writing letters and provided students with lists of legislators and other policymakers to contact, but only after students proposed a walk-out.

Jefferson County student Ashlyn Maher talked about how Jeffco parents and teachers tried conventional methods to no avail.

Organizing on social media Activists at a multi-school event at City Park in Denver.

Students in all four districts used social media to launch their campaigns. In Boulder, Fairview High School’s senior class Facebook page was a launchpad for the resistance.

“About three weeks before the test actually happened was when we got our schedule for it,” Rachel Perley said. “That day that the schedule came out, that Facebook page blew up. Everybody was like, ‘Why are we taking this? Let’s refuse. Let’s walk out.’ It kind of went crazy.”

In Mancos, social media is where students started their “Terminate Trivial Testing” campaign. Mancos student Taryn Gordanier said that it made more sense to students in the small rural district to spread the word online.

Inspiring peers around the state and nation Mancos student Faith Aniscar talks about organizing and protests in a rural district.

In their role as the first Colorado district to try mass student protests last fall, Jeffco students served as an inspiration to high schoolers in other parts of the state.

Mancos student Faith Asnicar said, “These big schools up in Denver had been doing these protests and doing these walkouts and…that’s what kind of helped us realize, well, they’re doing it, so why can’t we do it?”

Hannah Sun, a Denver School of the Arts student, discussed the connections she saw between the districts.

Protests in Denver seen through different lens

Several panelists talked about how Denver students who protested the Ferguson grand jury decision were viewed differently than their suburban counterparts.

Bill de la Cruz, the director of equity and inclusion for Denver Public Schools, said, “It’s interesting that Boulder board members brought donuts…In Denver, it was the extreme from ‘Those kids are horrible. They should be in class,’ to ‘We’re really proud of them.’”

Ben Kirshner, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, shared his observations and questions about this reaction.

Discomfort with conversations about race in Denver

Multiple panelists talked about how there is a consistent discomfort with having conversations about race in many Denver schools. Estee Dechtman, a freshman at Denver School of the Arts, said that before the Ferguson walk-outs there was no structured class time to broach racial inequity and social justice issues.

De la Cruz said that the students’ walk-outs had raised awareness and led to some concrete changes: “I have to applaud these students because after they did all these walk-outs all these conversations weren’t happening and now they’re happening and they continue to happen as well.”

Testing protests a wake-up call for state policy-makers

Elliott Asp, special assistant to the commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education, said the anti-testing protests made staff at the department “sit up real fast” and start talking about how to include students in decision-making.

He said that the current testing program was developed partly in response to concerns expressed by civil rights organizations in the past that “who gets tested, gets taught.” The idea was that standardized tests, and spotlighting how different groups perform on them, could help ensure that all students get a high-quality education.

Asp also discussed the complacency among many officials as the culture of testing ramped up over the years.

Activism doesn’t stop with protests Ashlyn Maher, one of the leaders of Jeffco Students for Change.

Several students noted that while their activism started with high-profile protests—and while those protests are what captured the attention of the media and community—they’ve continued to stay involved in the issues they care about in a variety of ways. These include testifying before the legislature, holding in-school conversations about topics like race, and meeting with school board and state officials to air their concerns.

Ashlyn Maher from Jefferson County talked about how students in Jefferson County are remaining organized:

Audience member Roshan Bliss commented that adults’ efforts to include students’ voices can’t be purely symbolic. He said organizations need to avoid creating a “kids’ table,” where students’ opinions are expressed and then ignored. Several panelists agreed with Bliss.

Many adult allies forced to toe the line

While adult panelists as well as audience members roundly praised the student panelists at the Rising Up event, there was a sense that some adults—school staff in particular—had to stifle their support last fall.

“We had a lot of tacit support from our school and district administration because legally they weren’t allowed to support us,” said Boulder’s Rachel Perley.

“I was sitting down talking to my newspaper advisor earlier today…and she was saying, ‘OK, I can say it now…just how proud I am of everything you guys did and how well put together it was,” Perley said.

Bar set too high for student protesters?

While student protesters certainly gained support from many adults in their respective communities last fall, some observers raised questions about whether all participants were well-informed about the issues and whether some were treating the protests simply as an opportunity to skip class.

Kirshner addressed this criticism during the panel discussion.

Connections to protests of the past PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaFairview High School seniors Alei Russo, left, Emily Bollman, and Natalie Oberer stand along Broadway Street in Boulder Thursday morning. The students opted-out of the state’s standardized science and social studies test that was administered today at their school.

Both students and adults drew connections to protests of the past. CDE’s Asp said it was an odd experience for him, as a former student activist from the 1960s, to be on the receiving end of protests. The University of Colorado’s Kirshner said that there is a rich history of activism in Colorado, including groups such as Padres y Jovenes Unidos.

Senior Cody Limber mentioned getting an email from John Tinker, a former Des Moines high school student who protested the Vietnam War and ultimately sued the school district for impinging on his freedom of expression.

Full audio recording provided by the University of Colorado Denver:

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado lieutenant governor: Don’t opt out

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 16:21
We're all working to make sure that Colorado's schools are inclusive and provide a world-class education for every student. These assessments help us to see if we are meeting the high standards we have set for ourselves in Colorado. Opting out just makes this work harder.
– Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

The lieutenant governor made his remarks Monday, as the state entered the first official week of standardized testing.

However, many larger school districts — some of them hotbeds of the opt-out movement — began testing last week. While precise numbers of students skipping the tests won’t be available for several weeks (many school districts are declining to release numbers until after the testing window has closed), social media and anecdotal reports suggest a sharp increase  in opt-outs at several Front Range schools.

Garcia’s statement goes on to say: “With full participation, we can ensure that every student gets a great education. We can ensure teachers and other educators get the credit they deserve for their incredible efforts. That’s why I’m urging students to take the test and that’s why I’m asking parents to encourage their kids to participate.”

While the depth and breadth of the anti-testing movement has increased, different motivations drive different players in the movement. For example, teachers are concerned about testing eating up too much instructional time; parents have concerns about data privacy; Republicans believe the tests, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards amount to federal overreach.

The Colorado General Assembly is expected to take up the testing debate later this spring.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Jeffco teacher contract talks begin

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 09:47

Testing madness

The state's testing window officially opens this week as school and district leaders have mixed feelings about how standardized tests affect instructional time. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Several school districts opted to start testing early. As expected, there are cheers and jeers from students, educators, and school leaders. ( Denver Post )

The Steamboat Springs School District was one of the 20 districts that asked for a testing waiver from the state. Here's why. ( CPR )

Even though they're not legal, the Pueblo County school district might ask the state for a testing waiver. ( KRDO )

Students from northern Colorado rallied at the Capitol on Saturday to ask lawmakers to roll back the state's testing system. ( Denver Post, 9News )

A pair of Colorado colleges have announced they will consider the use of scores on the PARCC exams as a way to determine whether students are ready to take college courses. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interrupted

Two members of the Jefferson County school board surprised their colleagues Thursday with a motion to shuffle three high performing Wheat Ridge schools around to different campuses. The motion was tabled. Here's a closer look at what that request looks like. ( Denver Post )

Open negotiations between Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association have begun. ( Arvada Press )

Do You Hear the People Sing?

These are the five lessons we learned from our event on student protests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


A big stack of education bills still must be discussed as the Colorado General Assembly enters the second half of its regular session. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A bill that would guarantee parents time off for some school activities sparked a lively House floor debate before passing on a preliminary vote Friday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

summer school

Denver preschool students will once again be able to receive financial support through the summer. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

You're Fired

A Longmont art teacher is now out of a job after apparently posting a picture of one her students on Instagram, accompanied by the caption, "I hate him" and several derogatory hashtags. ( Denver Post via Gazette )

Human Resources

The Douglas County Secondary Teacher of the year focuses on three C's: compassion, community and competence. ( Douglas County News-Press )


Pueblo City Schools officials notified the county school district that it is in violation of state law and county school buses will no longer be able to have stops within the city's boundary area. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Two cents

The Chieftain calls Pueblo City School's move "stubborn." ( Pueblo Chieftain )

A father of four Douglas County students and an education-reform advocate explains why he's a big believer in annual testing. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Big stack of education bills still awaits action

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 20:06

The 2015 legislative session enters its second half Monday with lots of work remaining, including on key education issues.

As of Friday 80 education-related bills had been introduced out of the total 479 measures floated in the House and Senate.

A number of education bills have been disposed of – 19 have been killed in committee and six non-controversial housekeeper measures already have been sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But 27 bills haven’t even had their first committee hearings, and more measures are expected to surface, including on top issues like testing and school finance.

Some of the new measures introduced Friday relate to workforce development, which is emerging as the fashionable new education-related issue of 2015 for both Democrats and Republicans. Several of the workforce bills would affect schools and community colleges.

Those bills include:

House Bill 15-1270 – Allows creation of “p-tech” schools that would have a focus on STEM fields, combining high school and college-level classes with workplace experience. Bipartisan sponsorship.

House Bill 15-1274 – Proposes state creation of specific career pathways programs that students would use to train for employment in specific industries. Bipartisan sponsorship.

House Bill 15-1275 – Allows school districts to add apprenticeship and internship programs to the college classes now included in concurrent enrollment programs. Students use concurrent enrollment to take college classes while still in high school. Bipartisan sponsorship.

Previously introduced workforce/education bills involve career pathways (House Bill 15-1190) and career-tech scholarships (Senate Bill 15-082).

Also introduced Friday was House Bill 15-1273, which would add sexual assaults and unlawful use of marijuana on school grounds to the list of incidents that schools must report to the state. The bipartisan bill also sets requirements for law enforcement agencies and district attorneys to report school incidents to the state. And the measure requires the Division of Criminal Justice to compile periodic, detailed statewide report on school crimes and incidents.

The bill was prompted by legislator dissatisfaction with alleged gaps in school incident reporting highlighted by the 2013 fatal shooting at Littleton High School.

A bill proposing to change the way multidistrict online schools are regulated was introduced earlier in the week. Senate Bill 15-201 would change the current system, under which the Department of Education certifies such programs.

Instead, CDE would certify districts, BOCES and groups of districts that once certified would be allowed to authorize and oversee those online schools. This is a complicated and politically fraught issue. Some online schools and for-profit operators oppose regulation for such schools beyond what is provided by the state school accountability system. Other groups believe those schools need greater oversight because of low performance.

The bill doesn’t apply to online programs that districts run or authorize just for their own students.

The bill largely mirrors the recommendations made by the Online Task Force, which studied the issue over the summer and autumn. Read the panel’s report here, and see the bill text here.

The bill has been assigned not to the Senate Education Committee but to State Affairs, usually considered the chamber’s “kill committee.” But Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is one of the bill’s prime sponsors, and he’s also a member of State Affairs.

Categories: Urban School News

Two Colorado colleges move toward making PARCC results count

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 03/08/2015 - 02:01

A pair of Colorado colleges have announced they will evaluate the use of scores on PARCC language arts and math exams as a way to determine whether students are ready to take college courses.

Adams State University in Alamosa, a part of the state system, will allow students to use PARCC scores to demonstrate readiness, with scores of 4 or 5 signifying eligibility to enroll in college course for credit. (Those are the top scores in the PARCC system.)

Aims Community College in Greeley, which is locally governed but receives some state funds, has committed to collecting PARCC scores for evaluation to see if they are valid in predicting student readiness for college classes. (Adams is reserving the right to use other tests to measure readiness.)

“We’re proud to be the first state with institutions making a bold step toward relying on PARCC assessments to determine college readiness,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia in a prepared statement. “This marks a significant shift toward streamlining the testing process for students and helping them identify earlier whether they are prepared for higher education success.”

Garcia also is executive director of the Department of Higher Education.

Up to now Colorado colleges typically have used scores on the ACT test, which all high school juniors have to take, or scores on shorter exams such as the Accuplacer to determine if students need to take remedial courses. Those cost extra and don’t carry credits. Some colleges are moving toward allowing students to sign up for credit courses but requiring them to also have tutoring or take refresher programs that are shorter than full remedial classes.

One of the criticisms of giving standardized tests in the last two years of high school is that students don’t see any relevance for their futures and are more focused on entrance exams like the ACT and SAT. A commission that advised the legislature on testing reform recommended rolling back state tests in 11th and 12th grade. Those tests started only last year.

It’s possible that ending tests after the 10th grade might make them less useful to evaluating students who are entering college two years later.

Guidelines being developed by the Department of Education and State Board of Education may include PARCC test results in the menu of choices school districts can use to set local graduation requirements.

The online PARCC tests, based on the Common Core State Standards, are being given to all Colorado students in grades 3-11 this winter and spring. Testing in several districts started Monday.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver Preschool Program resumes summer tuition support

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 13:00

PHOTO: Nic Garcia

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced this morning the extension of financial help through the summer months to families of four-year-olds who participate in the Denver Preschool Program.

While the program, known as DPP, has been around since Denver voters approved a sales tax ballot initiative in 2006, it hasn’t always included funding for summer preschool classes. Such funding was available in 2008 and 2009, but sales tax revenues fell during the recession and summer tuition support was discontinued, said the program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum. That’s changing this year because voters approved an extension and expansion of the tax last November.

DPP provides preschool tuition credits to four-year-olds in Denver, with a tiered scale that means low-income families and those whose children attend highly-rated preschools get more assistance and higher-income families and those whose children attend lower-rated preschools get less.

The new summertime help from DPP will be available only at community-based preschool sites, not Denver Public Schools sites, which are closed during the summer. Families that get DPP tuition help during the school year for district-based preschool will have the option to receive summer tuition help if they enroll their child in a community-based program.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Where have all the teachers gone?

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 19:28
  • Why doesn’t anybody want to be a teacher anymore? (NPR)
  • Standardized tests aren’t great, but the fix is more data, not less. (Wired)
  • Study shows how education advocacy groups influence lawmaking in 3 Republican states. (Education Week)
  • One of America’s top testing tutors says no one should take the SAT in 2016. (Yahoo Finance)
  • A parent: Public school will teach my child things a private school couldn’t. (Salon)
  • On digital textbooks: “Technology should be a means, not an end. In this country, it’s becoming an end.” (The Atlantic)
  • Just what should be taught in sex education courses isn’t clear in a diverse and sometimes divided society. (The Atlantic)
  • An epic senior prank puts a bucket in the principal’s hands and leaves him in a puddle of tears. (Wichita Eagle)
  • One Chicago school is trying to remove barriers to college by making sure that all of its students fill out the FAFSA. (KUNC)
  • Researchers examine the affect of having an incarcerated parent on children. (Education Week)
  • A few takes on how to make sure students are getting high-quality educations. (New York Times)
  • Schools on military bases hope Common Core(ish) standards will help ease transitions for a very mobile group of students. (Hechinger Report)
  • Oklahoma was concerned the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum focuses too much on “what’s bad about America.” The New Yorker has a proposed replacement curriculum. (New Yorker)
  • The Peace Corps and Michelle Obama are partnering on an initiative to encourage education for girls around the world. (NPR)
Categories: Urban School News

Testing time shuffles schedules, impacts instruction

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 16:46

As close to half of the state’s school districts wrap up their first week of standardized testing and the rest prepare to start, school and district leaders have mixed feelings about how state standardized tests affect instructional time.

In some Colorado districts, concern over the amount of staff and student time dedicated to testing instead of instruction has risen to unprecedented levels. At least one district is conducting a survey to gauge how much staff time is tied up in testing, while across the state, some students and their parents are refusing to participate in the test.

In other districts, leaders say the new state tests are themselves a learning experience for students and that this round of tests will not have a dramatically bigger impact on instructional time than in previous years.

For all, the testing window is a time of unusual schedules and of juggling resources, staff, and schedules.

“Basically all work on improving instruction comes to a halt so that the buildings can manage the disruption of the testing windows,” said Jason Glass, the superintendent of the Eagle County Schools, which includes Vail.

“We all recognize that it’s taking instructional time to do it, but we also all recognize that it’s required by the state,” said Elizabeth Fagen, the superintendent of Douglas County schools. “So you have to figure out how to make it work.”

Logistics and technology

Colorado is using a new set of assessments this year. The language arts and math tests were developed by the testing company Pearson for PARCC, one of two multi-state testing groups, and are based on the Common Core State Standards. Science and social studies tests are Colorado-only exams. (Read more about this year’s assessment program here.)

Many districts have been preparing for the shift from the previous paper-and-pencil tests to the new assessments for several years by purchasing devices and training teachers and students on how to administer and take the test.

District leaders said that their spending on technology is an investment in classrooms and instruction, not just in online testing. But a school’s technological set-up is part of determining how much finagling is necessary to accommodate the tests. 

In the tiny Center district in the San Luis Valley, where all students have a laptop or device, Superintendent George Welsh said students can test in their classrooms.

In other districts, however, schools are repurposing rooms and constructing schedules that allow students to use available devices. That means that the technology or space isn’t available for regular class uses.

In Colorado Springs 11, some libraries will be testing centers for the remainder of the year, said chief financial officer officer Glenn Gustafson. Library technology staff at the school will be focused on supporting the online assessments between March and May.

And in the Montrose-Olathe district on the Western Slope, the district has converted art and music rooms in all elementary schools to testing centers. That means those teachers are roaming until end of school year, according to Mark MacHale, the district’s superintendent.

Staff resources

The staff time devoted to preparing for tests has come under fire.

In the Boulder Valley School District, Superintendent Bruce Messinger said, the district is conducting a survey in its schools of how much staff time is dedicated to test preparations.

“It’s literally countless hours,” said Rhonda Haniford, the principal of Centaurus High School. “One of my assistant principals is full-time working on this. I have a teacher who is partly dedicated to test coordination and another who’s focused on accommodations.”

Do your homework

Glass, the Eagle County superintendent, said that professional development for teachers and teacher-leaders comes to a halt during testing time. “We just can’t afford to have building leaders away in the event something goes wrong in terms of the testing technology.”

He said school district employees were spending time preparing for tests that could otherwise be spent on “the art and science of teaching.”

“The daily and hourly rate costs for hundreds of employees (or thousands in the case of larger districts) is a significant opportunity cost impact,” he said.

Teachers and administrators also had to be trained in how to proctor the online tests, which are being used in most schools, said Matt Reynolds, Douglas County’s chief assessment and systems performance officer.

High school challenge

Testing schedules look different in elementary, middle, and high schools. In Denver, most elementary school literacy tests are administered during the schools’ literacy block early in the day, which is already more than two hours long.

“It’s no more complicated than it was in the past,” said Rob Beam, the principal at Johnson Elementary School in Denver. “It’s actually less complicated in some ways, because the computer changes the accommodations.”

For instance, students who previously had the tests read out loud to them by an adult can now listen to the test with headphones, Beam said. Johnson school is also part of an extended learning time program, which Beam said might ease some concerns about lost instructional time.

But scheduling is more complicated in high schools, where classes are often shorter and where a single class might have students from multiple grades. A class with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, for instance, would be interrupted by each grade’s tests.

Districts have taken different approaches. In the Elizabeth district, Superintendent Douglas Bissonette said, “as for high school students in grades not being tested, they will not be required to attend school during testing. It proves nearly impossible to plan teacher and student schedules and classroom spaces to accommodate both testing and instruction at the same time for our comprehensive high school.”

The Cheyenne Mountain district took a similar approach, said Superintendent Walt Cooper. “We need to do this because of the numbers of staff necessary to proctor,” he said, noting that scheduling is his single biggest frustration with the tests.

But in Aurora, chief information officer Steven Clagg said that while scheduling in high schools is “a challenge” because testing times are longer than normal class periods, there will be no late starts or early releases for high schoolers.

Meanwhile, at Centaurus High School in Boulder, Haniford said, teachers in mixed-grade classes search for ways to create meaningful assignments for students who are not testing while not leaving the students who are testing behind.

An intrusion, or part of the program?

Opinions about the tests’ value vary. In Denver, Ivan Duran, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary education, said that while testing does put a pause in business as usual at a school, “assessment’s part of the instructional program. We build it into the schedule.”

Duran said that the technological investment and skills students need to take the tests are also useful to them in non-testing context.

DPS Chief Academic Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust said that district’s stance is that the senior tests are not “the most instructionally appropriate use” of students’ time. But, she said, the new tests mean there is “greater alignment between assessments, standards, and college- and career- readiness.” She said the new question formats are “nice resources for teachers to design their own classroom tests” and that the data tests provide is useful.

But in Boulder, concerns about how tests affect instructional time has been burgeoning since this fall, when a group of seniors protested against science and social studies tests for 12th graders. “Buy-in is very low,” said Centaurus principal Haniford.

The students’ concerns are mirrored by district and school officials. Superintendent Messinger said that while the district is not opposed to assessment in theory, “we think the current level is burdensome.” Centaurus principal Haniford said she is concerned that the tests do not give teachers useful feedback in a timely manner.

On the day testing began, Haniford said that her phone was ringing regularly with calls from parents wanting to pull their children out of tests. She said the major concern parents shared was that the tests take away students’ time to prepare for tests like Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, which could earn them college credit or an advanced high school degree.

Haniford said those students who were not taking the test could spend the time in the school’s student center.

Capitol Editor Todd Engdahl contributed research to this story.

Categories: Urban School News

Parent time-off bill highlights partisan divide

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 16:07

A bill that would guarantee parents time off for some school activities sparked a lively House floor debate before passing on a preliminary voice vote Friday.

The discussion focused on how to balance the right of parents to be involved in their children’s education with the right of employers to run their businesses.

House Bill 15-1221 prime sponsor Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, said he values parents more highly than business flexibility. “You have to make a decision about which of those values you hold.”

But Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, cited the lack of any data that an existing parent time-off law has had any impact, calling it “an unproven program.”

Both the existing law, passed in 2009, and HB 15-1221 have significant limits and don’t provide parents free rein to take time off from work for any school activity. (The current law is set to expire later this year, so it will go out of effect unless HB 15-1221 is passed.)

The current law requires only businesses with 50 or more employees to give workers up to 18 hours a year in unpaid leave for parent-teacher conferences or meetings related to special education services, interventions, dropout prevention, attendance, truancy or disciplinary issues. The requirement didn’t apply to businesses with existing leave policies, employers can deny time off if it would disrupt business operations and the law contains no enforcement provisions or penalties for non-compliance.

In addition to extending the current law indefinitely, HB 15-1221 would add meetings with school counselors and “academic achievement ceremonies” to the list of activities for which parents can claim time off. It also would extend the law’s coverage to parents of preschool students and require school districts to inform parents about the time-off law.

Opponents of the bill argued that most businesses are flexible about giving parents time for school activities. But supporters say low-income and minority parents and low-wage workers need the law.

“This is really about families and children,” argued Rep. Rhonda Fields, another Aurora Democrat who also is a prime sponsor.

On the other side was Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

“This is just an overreach of government,” he said. “This should be between the employer and the employee.”

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Business, two influential lobbying organizations, oppose the bill.

If HB 15-1221 gets final approval in the Democratic-majority House, it’s chances could be iffy in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Teacher tax break gets important committee approval

A measure that would give teachers a $250 state tax break for the cost of school supplies they buy was passed 12-1 Friday by the House Appropriations Committee, clearing it for House floor debate. House Bill 15-1104 had to be considered by appropriations because it could cause an estimated $355,522 in budget year 2015-16 and $711,640 in 2016-17.

Get more details on the measure and the issues behind it in this prior Chalkbeat Colorado story.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: 40 percent of Boulder students aren’t taking the state’s tests

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 10:28

Privacy matters

The Senate Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved a key student data privacy bill, but not until adding an amendment that might complicate the delicate balance of interests backing the measure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

“We are not in the business of selling personally identifiable student data or permitting its use for targeted advertising,” Pearson, the multinational testing company at the center of the student privacy issue said in a statement to the Coloradoan. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

Opt Out

Testing participation in Boulder Valley schools is at about 60 percent, well below the federal and state requirement of 95 percent. ( Daily Camera )


The Jeffco Public Schools board approved a series of changes to most of its low-income schools that are aimed at improving student achievement and reduce overcrowding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Here's a closer look at the plan's details and some of the reasons why the changes are needed, according to district leaders and school principals. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The principal at one of the middle schools that is going to be closed as a result of the board's decision said there are no hard feelings. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

work force ready

Both political parties stood side by side Thursday at the Colorado Capitol to introduce a package of workforce-development bills that leaders of both parties termed as being among their highest priorities. A few of the bills have implications for career readiness programs at schools. ( Denver Business Journal, Denver Post )

Human Resources

Several Denver Public Schools employees were tricked by a phishing scam that may have led to the theft of seven direct deposit paychecks worth a total of $26,000. ( Denver Channel )

Getting out of the gap

Students that ordinarily may have fallen through the cracks are given a second chance with the Expelled and At-Risk Student Services that bridges the gap between a home life that may not be conducive to an education and school. ( KUNC )

to infinity and beyond

Budding scientists at a Littleton school might be some of the youngest ever to send an experiment up to the International Space Station. ( 9News )

Off to college

A Longmont nonprofit, Nest To Wings, will hold its annual conference that aims to educate both daughters and mothers on the college experience. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board approves changes, shuffle for Jefferson and Alameda schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 00:54

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County school board Thursday night approved plans to overhaul two clusters of schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students.

The board, in a series of rare unanimous votes, approved the plans to overhaul and shuffle schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods.

The schools in the Jefferson area border Denver’s west side and have been struggling academically for several years.

The Alameda neighborhood schools serve most of Lakewood. Its elementary schools are significantly overcrowded. Most of the students in the Alameda area are also academically behind their peers in other parts of the county.

At the meeting, several teachers and parents from schools in the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods spoke in favor of the plans.

“The Jefferson plan presents local solutions instead of district solutions,” said Joel Newton, a Lumberg elementary school parent and director of the Edgewater Collective, a nonprofit that serves schools in the Jefferson area.

Under Colorado law, the district would have been forced to make drastic changes at one of the Jefferson area schools — Wheat Ridge 5-8 — at the end of the school year because the middle school has been on the state’s accountability watch list for five years.

The board’s action tonight, which included shutting down Wheat Ridge 5-8, will keep state intervention at bay. 

One group of teachers said they supported the plan and were anxious to work through the details.

“There are still numerous questions and concerns about the logistics, jobs and placements, student concerns, and future plans, but we know that the reconfiguration committee is currently working on answering these questions and ironing out the details,” said Rhiannon Wenning, a Jefferson High School teacher. “We are appreciative of the committee’s and our administrators’ work so far and would like it if their work be allowed to continue.”

The teacher group suggested that teachers be paid for additional time, principals share the same information at every building, and open positions be filled as soon as possible.

During an earlier portion of the meeting, Amy Weber, Jeffco’s head of human resources, suggested the district pay teachers at many of the schools in the Jefferson and Alameda areas an additional $3,800 on top of their current salaries.

The teacher group also asserted that the Jefferson schools don’t need to seek innovation status from the state. Such a status allows schools to opt out of some state and district policies as well as any collective bargaining agreement.

The discussion around innovation status has been one of the more contentious parts of the discussion around the Jefferson reform plan. At a board meeting last month, Jeffco’s Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott said the district would not seek innovation status for at least one more school year and would do so only after receiving approval from a majority of teachers, parents, and students at Jefferson schools. 

The board’s votes didn’t come without some last minute fireworks.

Board member John Newkirk proposed an additional shuffle of schools in the Wheat Ridge area. The additional changes had been lobbied by an organization known as the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance. That resolution was tabled pending further community engagement. 

Categories: Urban School News

Data privacy bill advances – with a complication

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 22:41

The Senate Education Committee Thursday unanimously approved a key student data privacy bill, but not until adding an amendment that might complicate the delicate balance of interests backing the measure.

Senate Bill 15-173 is the sole surviving 2015 bill on security and privacy of student data, an issue of increasing concern in Colorado since Jefferson County parents pushed back against a controversial data collection system in 2013.

In its original form, SB 15-173 proposed to restrict software, database and app companies from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data. The committee approved a full rewrite of the bill – known in legislative parlance as a “strike-below” – but the basic thrust of the measure remains the same. (See the amended version of the bill here.)

The measure also would require school districts to provide information to parents about data collection and all vendors used by a district. Small rural districts would be excluded from this requirement. Districts also would have to provide staff training on data security and notify parents of data breaches.

The bill would apply to companies that supply educational services, not to broader online or other services like web search engines.

But it’s a second amendment that’s causing heartburn. Proposed by Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, the change would impose additional disclosure requirements on vendors and also would require the deletion of student records within three years after they were no longer needed by a vendor to fulfill its contract with a school district. The amendment was added to SB 15-173 on a 5-4 party-line vote, with majority Republicans prevailing. (Read the Woods amendment here.)

Lobbyists for vendors don’t like the additional requirements, and school districts are worried that requiring vendors to delete data after three years would require districts to bear the expense of maintaining their own backup databases of student information that originally was collected by vendors. (Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, raised the example of a student who needs copies of academic records several years after graduating from high school.)

SB 15-173 was drafted after months of negotiations among school districts, parent groups and vendors, brokered by Elisabeth Rosen, lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Schools Executives.

The bill also has bipartisan sponsorship – Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker and Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon of Denver. Holbert repeatedly told his fellow education committee members Thursday that he’s committed to a bill that can pass both chambers and earn the governor’s signature.

“Rep. Pabon and I will put the bill on the governor’s desk,” he said.

But the Woods amendment, if approved by the full Senate, likely will face opposition in the House, raising the possibility that SB 15-173 could end up in a House-Senate conference committee late in the legislative session.

There was extensive testimony on the bill, including statements from several Jefferson County parents who’ve been advocates for better data privacy protections.

“It’s simply a beginning, a foundation,” said Paula Noonan, a former Jeffco school board member who’s been active on testing and data privacy issues.

Holbert also indicated that the bill wasn’t the final answer to the problem. He said the measure “takes a first step toward restoring trust of parents in their school system.”

The measure next goes to the Senate floor for preliminary consideration. Although it’s possible that the Woods amendment will generate costs for the bill, which would require it to be sent to from the floor to the Senate Finance Committee.

Two more extensive data privacy bills already have been killed by the House Education Committee (see story). They include provisions on parent consent and opting out of data collection, ideas that weren’t likely to pass.

Senate Finance nixes college savings bill

A bill that would have created an additional tax advantage for low- and middle-income families who use the CollegeInvest savings program was killed 3-2 by the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

The apparent deciding vote was cast by Holbert, who described himself as “a very reluctant no.”

But the Parker Republican said he was keeping in mind the interests of his constituents in the well-to-do Douglas County.

The amended version of Senate Bill 15-118 would have created a graduated system of deductions. So families with annual incomes of $150,000 or less could have taken a double deduction, while families that make more than $500,000 a year could have claimed no deduction. (Currently CollegeInvest participants get a $1 income tax deduction for every dollar deposited in the program, regardless of income.)

“The people who elected me and whom I represent are in those two upper brackets,” Holbert said. (The bill also would have changed the credit for families making between $250,000 and $500,000 a year.)

Get more details on what the bill would have done in this legislative staff memo.

Parties unite on workforce development bills

Members of both parties teamed up at a joint news conference to announce a package of workforce development bills, several of which are related to education.

Here’s a quick look at some of those bills that yet to be formally introduced:

  • A measure that would make apprenticeship and internship programs part of state concurrent enrollment programs, which up to now have focused on helping high school students take college-level courses.
  • A proposal to help high school students focused on STEM courses to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.
  • A bill that would establish mobile learning labs that would bring community college courses to workplaces.

Several other workforce development bills already have been introduced in the 2015 session.

Categories: Urban School News

No hard feelings, says principal of Jeffco middle school set to close

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 17:11

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia

LAKEWOOD — O’Connell Middle School Principal Jennifer Kirksey, left, hated breaking the news about a possible merger between their school and Alameda High School to her teachers and staff.

As a first-year principal at a school the state has identified as failing, where the staff has been working hard to improve student outcomes, the last thing Kirksey wanted to do was give her anyone a reason to quit, she said.

The Jefferson County board of education vote tonight will determine whether the district will shutter O’Connell and send the school’s seventh and eighth graders to nearby Alameda High School.

Kirksey said that when she arrived, staff morale was low, as were expectations for students. In fact, an independent review of the school, commissioned by the state, described the campus as joyless.

But things have improved over the course of this year, Kirksey said: Attendance is up, office referrals are down, and the principal is betting on an uptick in student test scores. That’s why it was so hard to level with the staff about the potential school closure.

“As far as I’m concerned, my teachers walk on water,” she said. “The staff has already shown in one semester that great things can happen.”

“But we’re caught in the middle of a facilities problem,” she said.

So, was all the staff’s hard work this year for naught?

“Absolutely not,” Kirksey said. “When a teacher ups her game, and the students feel great — it’s worth it.”

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco school board to vote on changes for struggling, crowded schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/05/2015 - 17:11

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Principal Warren Blair has a teacher problem: He has to keep hiring them.

In the five years his school, Wheat Ridge 5-8, has been open, teacher turnover has been a consistent challenge. Just last year, Blair had to replace about a third of his staff. The year before that, he said, a little less than half of his staff left. One year, the teacher turnover rate Wheat Ridge was 70 percent.

Tonight, the Jeffco Public Schools board of education will vote on a plan that aims to reduce those high rates of teacher turnover and improve student achievement in the part of the county known as Jefferson, where Wheat Ridge 5-8 is located. As part of the plan, the district will close Wheat Ridge 5-8 and send seventh and eighth graders to Jefferson High School, create specific professional development programs for teachers at all six schools, and develop a problem-based learning curriculum for each grade level.

At the same time, the board will decide whether the district should move forward with a similar set of changes in the Alameda neighborhood, which is suffering from extreme overcrowding in its elementary schools.

Both clusters of schools serve mostly poor and Latino students, unlike most of the rest of the majority-white, middle class suburban district.

If the board green-lights the proposals in their current form, many details, such as bell schedules and new incentives for teachers, will still need to be worked out. “All the unknowns need to be decided, fast,” Blair said.

The plans

The plan for the Jefferson neighborhood aims to address lower academic achievement, while the plan for the Alameda schools is designed to relieve overcrowding at elementary schools in Lakewood. But though the reasons for the proposed changes are different, the plans are similar.

In both neighborhoods, academically struggling middle schools will be merged with nearby high schools. In Alameda, next year’s seventh and eighth graders who would attend O’Connell Middle School will instead report to Alameda High School. In Jefferson, seventh and eighth graders who would attend Wheat Ridge 5-8 will instead report to Jefferson High School.

O’Connell Middle School will be converted to a new elementary school and draw students from nearby Stein Elementary, where enrollment is at 164 percent of the building’s capacity. Currently, O’Connell Middle School enrolls only seventh and eighth graders and uses just 60 percent of its building space.

Related: O’Connell principal says staff will continue to work hard for Jeffco 

Under the current plan, the Wheat Ridge 5-8 building would house Stevens Elementary; Sobesky Academy, which serves Jeffco students with extreme emotional needs would move to the current Stevens campus.

The new district-run elementary school in the Alameda area will adopt an International Baccalaureate or IB model. It will complement the IB program that Alameda High already uses.

Meanwhile, all Jefferson schools will offer a dual language program for native Spanish speakers and will adopt problem-based curriculum. That means students will be asked to learn math and science concepts through real world problems.

The main difference between the school revamps in the two neighborhoods involves teachers. The Alameda plan does not include changes to teachers’ professional development, compensation, or schedules. But such changes are very much at the heart of the proposed Jefferson plan.

While details are still being worked out, teachers in the Jefferson neighborhood — which the district refers to as the Jefferson articulation area — can expect to have special professional development, more support in the classroom, time carved out to work with peers across the hall and at other schools, and a discussion about a different compensation model.

“We want to make teaching in the Jefferson articulation area a desired career path,” said Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s chief effectiveness officer.

Tara Scholten, an eighth grade teacher at Wheat Ridge 5-8, said she hopes the changes include more formal teacher collaboration, known as professional learning communities. But conditions need to be right for that to work, she said.

“Teachers need to be vulnerable” she said. “It takes extra time and you can’t close your door and just teach by yourself.”

Mandy Hayes, a dual language teacher at Molhom Elementary in the Jefferson area, is cautiously optimistic about the changes despite the unknowns, but has been critical of the plan’s rollout so far.

She said communication to teachers and parents has varied from school to school. “I’m pouring my heart and soul into my community every day,” she said. “The staff is going to be the ones living and breathing these changes. And there have been more questions raised than answered. That’s not creating a positive work environment.”

High teacher turnover plagues both neighborhoods

While curbing teacher turnover isn’t part of the Alameda area’s plan, turnover rates in the Lakewood schools are similar to those in the Jefferson neighborhood, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s data.

At Alameda High, for example, teacher turnover was 26 percent last year. That’s compared to 21 percent at Jefferson High.

For the 2013-14 school year, teacher turnover rates were also high in at least three Alameda area elementary schools: 28 percent in Kendrick Lakes Elementary, 23 percent at Patterson Elementary, and 20 percent at Stein Elementary.

In the Jefferson area, 42 percent of Stevens Elementary left their posts last year, compared to 28 percent at Edgewater Elementary, and 21 percent at Lumberg School.

Meanwhile, the district’s average teacher turnover rate — which includes teachers who have retired or moved into administration, as well as those who have switched schools, left the profession, or been fired — was 10 percent last year, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Education.

Student safety

The plans the board will vote on tonight have been pitched to the community at district board meetings and at the schools that would be affected by the changes.

Parents in both the Jefferson and Alameda neighborhoods have been most vocal about their concern about the safety of seventh and eighth graders who would share the same campus as high school juniors and seniors.

“They don’t feel like they’re safe in their elementary and middle schools now,” said Molhom Elementary teacher Hayes.

In fact, student incident rates, which include classroom suspensions, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and expulsions reported to the Colorado Department of Education, are much higher in the Jefferson and Alameda areas than in the district as a whole, especially at the middle schools. During the 2012-13 school year, the student incident rate at O’Connell Middle School was 53 percent, compared to a district average of 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, the incident rate at Wheat Ridge 5-8 was 47 percent.

But principals at both Alameda and Jefferson high schools said they’re taking every precaution to keep students safe even if the changes are approved, by having different start times for younger and older students, funneling different grade levels to different parts of their building, and having locker room aides during gym class.

“There will be adult supervision at all times,” said Susie Van Scoyk, Alameda High’s principal.

Correction: An earlier version of this article omitted a prevision of the Jefferson area plan that would move Stevens Elementary School to the Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus and the Sobesky Academy to the Stevens campus. This article has also been updated to reflect the correct teacher turnover rates at Wheat Ridge 5-8. 

Categories: Urban School News

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