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State inches closer to federal approval of new testing system

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/10/2015 - 18:12

Colorado’s plan to ease the testing burden for 10th graders may well get federal approval, but the state still has to jump through some hoops before the change is a done deal.

The testing reform law passed by lawmakers last spring made several changes to the state’s assessment and accountability system, including a shift in high school standardized testing and a one-year timeout in the rating system for districts and schools.

But lawmakers didn’t necessarily have the last word, given that some changes require U.S. Department of Education approval as part of Colorado’s request for flexibility on requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s main education law.

State Department of Education officials have been discussing the changes with the U.S. Department of Education all summer and will present the proposed request to the State Board of Education for its approval on Wednesday.

“We’ve been going back and forth to make sure we know their issues” before going to the State Board, said Alyssa Pearson, the state education department’s interim associate commissioner of accountability, performance and support. After the board takes action the request will be submitted to Washington, but state education officials still will have work to do.

Here’s a rundown of the status of key issues, based on the draft flexibility application and on explanations provided by Pearson.

High school testing

There’s a little bad news and some good news here.

Learn more

Legislative backers of the testing reform law, House Bill 15-1323, hoped that the results of PARCC language arts and math tests given in 9th grade could be use to fulfill federal requirements for giving those tests once in the high school years.

Pearson said that after talking to federal officials, the state concluded such use of 9th grade tests to meet federal requirements “wasn’t an option for us.” (Colorado has tested 9th graders for years, but the federal government defines high school as grades 10-12.)

The good news is that federal education officials are open to use of a different 10th grade test. “They said that should work,” Pearson said. But here’s where the hoops come in. The feds want assurances that a new test would be aligned to state academic content standards and want to see a detailed implementation plan. She said the state has 30-45 days to come up with that plan.

The goal of the testing law was to reduce the testing burden on 10th graders by allowing them to take a college readiness test that takes less time than PARCC tests. The law requires the state education department to seek competitive bids for both that test and an 11th grade test. (The ACT test has been given to all high school juniors for several years.)

Timeout for school and district ratings

The testing law requires that the upcoming school year will be a time-out year for accreditation ratings. No new ratings will be announced this fall, meaning schools and districts will retain the ratings they were assigned at the end of 2014. Test scores and student growth data derived from scare are a major part of the ratings.

“They’ve allowed that for other states, so that should not be an issue for them,” Pearson said.

Alternative tests and accountability

A much-debated section of the testing law allows districts or groups of districts to create pilot programs to try out new tests and accountability systems, the hope being to eventually find something to replace the current systems.

The state’s draft application doesn’t include any requests on this issue, but the federal education department has made it clear that students participating in pilot programs also would have to take current state tests for two years, Pearson said.

That could be a disincentive for districts to propose pilots. One group of rural school districts, the Rural Innovation Alliance, has expressed interest in launching a pilot, but that work is in its very early stages.

Opting out of tests

The draft application doesn’t include any request related to penalties for schools and districts that fail to meet federal requirements that 95 percent of students participate in tests.

Test refusal became a hot issue in Colorado starting last fall, when the statewide participation rate on 12th grade science and social studies tests was about 82 percent.

In February, the state board passed a resolution stating districts shouldn’t be penalized for low participation, and test refusal was debated in the legislature last spring. A separate out-out bill died, and HB 15-1323 contains language that clarifies how districts should handle parents who want to opt out.

And spring test participation in major districts generally fell below 95 percent, a recent Chalkbeat investigation found (see story).

Whether districts or the state ultimately will be penalized for lower participation rates is unclear. State law penalizes districts for low participation by lowering their accreditation ratings. But because the accreditation rating system is on hold for a year, there isn’t expected to be any immediate impact from last spring’s widespread test refusals.

Teacher evaluations

Federal officials have raised questions about recent state board approval of an innovation application from the small Holyoke school district in northeastern Colorado. That innovation plan gives the district wide flexibility in meeting the state requirement that 50 percent of teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth data. (See details on the Holyoke plan in this document.)

“We have to give them more information” about the Holyoke plan and whether it meets the intent of state evaluation law, said Katy Anthes, the CDE interim associate commissioner.

English language learners

Various changes in testing of some English language learners are included in HB 15-1323. The U.S. Department of Education wants Colorado to do further work on a couple of those, Pearson said.

What’s next

The state board has gained a reputation for unpredictability since two new members joined in January. (A third new member was appointed over the weekend to fill a vacancy.) A majority of the board has been critical of PARCC tests and the Common Core State Standards. So Wednesday’s discussion of the waiver application bears watching.

Once the state files its waiver application – and answers other questions from the federal education department – it’s hard to say when Washington will make a final, formal decision on the application. The timeline is unclear, Pearson said.

Theoretically, federal rejection of Colorado’s flexibility application could threaten federal education funds for the state. But there’s a long bureaucratic process that would have to happen. And the rules for state-federal education relations could change if the U.S. Senate and House reach agreement on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Talks on how to reconcile competing bills are expected to resume when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Categories: Urban School News

Amid pomp and circumstance, Northfield High School opens its doors to first freshman class

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/10/2015 - 17:11

Along with blue and gold balloons, an array of district dignitaries and the usual first-day-of-school jitters, there was a sense of excitement among the 220 ninth-graders who gathered Monday morning outside Denver’s Northfield High School.

Before entering the gymnasium building for a welcome assembly, Larry Esteen and his friends Elijah and Earl Watkins said they felt good about starting at Denver Public Schools’ newest high school.

“This is good because I’ve been getting bored in the summer,” Esteen said.

Northfield High ninth-graders head out of the gymnasium for their first day of classes.

“I see familiar faces,” said Earl Watkins, scanning the crowd for friends from middle school.

All three boys, who plan to play football for the Northfield Nighthawks, said they think the school is going to be cooler than other district high schools they could have attended.

“Better opportunities,” Esteen said.

Northfield, the district’s first new comprehensive high school in 35 years, is located on the corner of Central Park Boulevard and 56th Avenue in fast-growing northeast Denver.

Its approach to education will be a bit different than that of its counterparts around the city. First, it will offer the International Baccalaureate program to all students—addressing concerns raised at other schools that minority students have been shut out of the prestigious diploma program.

Northfield stats
The school primarily draws from the following neighborhoods:

  • Green Valley Ranch
  • Montbello
  • East Park Hill
  • Stapleton

Student demographics

  • 29.4% Black
  • 30.7% Hispanic
  • 30% White
  • 8% multiple races
  • 2.8% Asian
  • .5% American Indian/Alaskan Native

Percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals

  • about 54%

Northfield also requires daily physical education classes, starts two weeks earlier than most district schools, and has a later daily start time than most other high schools, running from 8:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

On Monday, before students dispersed to search for their first-period classes, they listened to welcome remarks from Principal Avi Tropper, Superintendent Tom Boasberg, School Board President Happy Haynes and School Board Member Landri Taylor.

“You’re the founding class of Northfield High School,” said Boasberg, standing in front of the shiny gold and navy nighthawk logo emblazoned in the middle of the gym floor.

“Every year that you’re here, every day that you’re here, you’re the leaders of this school,” he said to applause from students, parents and staff.

Students were encouraged to ring the bell under the red archway as they entered Northfield High School for their first day on Monday.

At around 9:15 a.m., Tropper asked students to pull out their schedules and report to class in the academic building, at the front of the Paul Sandoval campus.

Friends Ben Chew and Adam Snowden, sitting near the top of the bleachers, scrutinized the white forms while waiting to be officially dismissed.

Chew said he anticipated an interesting year.

“I think it’s going to be cool to be part of a new school and establish a culture,” he said.

Snowden, wearing a navy Northfield T-shirt, admitted that he wasn’t too excited about the year. He complained about having to read five school-assigned books and do corresponding assignments during the summer.

“I felt like it was a little over the top,” he said, listing off other district high schools where there was little or no summer work.

After the assembly, Tropper chuckled about the comment as he hurried along the sidewalk to the academic building. If summer reading was the biggest complaint so far, “I’ll take it,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Some parents want school to start later

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/10/2015 - 09:34
SBE at full strength Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, was selected Saturday to fill the vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

summer slide Some educators and parents believe English learners have a deeper learning loss during the summer than their native-English speaking peers, partially due to less practice when they’re on break. But there’s no national, statewide or district data that proves this, which can raise several problems for students and schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

school supplies With many teachers spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to outfit their classrooms, a retired Jeffco teacher aims to ease their burden with a teacher-to-teacher consignment sale. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school A group of parents and teachers have put together an online petition to ask the Cherry Creek School Board to start school no earlier than Aug. 21. This year school starts Thursday for the district. ( 9News )

New classrooms, a refurbished school building, a new director and principals and even a new mascot are just a few things that will greet local students when they return for the 2015-16 school year. ( Chieftain )

The Greeley school district offered a chance to start the school year off with some fun Saturday during its second-annual School Kick-off Community Celebration. ( Greeley Tribune )

Board politics The El Paso County Republican Party is campaigning to recruit candidates to run for school board positions in November. ( Colorado Springs Independent )

Six candidates now have announced their intentions to run for four seats on the Thompson school board. Substitute teacher and nurse Tomi Grundvig is the latest candidate to announce. ( Reporter-Herald )

Susan Femmer, a retired paraprofessional, has announced that she’s running for the Boulder Valley school board. ( Camera )

Getting Ready A group of first-generation college students is getting prepared for the next step in their education thanks to an orientation program created by the 2015 class of Leadership Denver. ( 9News )

Citizen ed The Thompson school district is rolling out a nine-month program called "Explore Thompson" that will take participants into the schools, give them a look at the programs offered, the facilities and even finances. ( Reporter-Herald )

Brand new The first new DPS comprehensive high school to be built in 35 years is not just a new state-of-the-art building. In many ways Northfield High School is a new approach to education that reflects current thinking and research. ( Front Porch Stapleton )

No tests for me The opt-out movement has helped spark a lively debate about broader issues related to standardized assessments. ( 5280 )

Summer slide II Summer fun at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver includes video games, but these games come with math problems and literacy lessons. ( CBC Denver )

Two cents A retired teacher doesn’t think much of Sen. Michael Bennet’s record on education. ( Denver Post )

Radio host Michael Rosen defends Douglas County’s voucher plan. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Republican Joyce Rankin named to State Board of Education

EdNewsColorado - Sat, 08/08/2015 - 21:09

Joyce Rankin, a former teacher and principal from Carbondale, was selected Saturday to fill the vacant 3rd District seat on the State Board of Education.

She won the appointment after a 13-member Republican Party vacancy committee made the choice from among eight candidates.

Rankin will take the seat vacated by SBE chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this summer, citing board dysfunction and personal health issues (see story).

She has served recently as an aide to her husband, Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, who’s a member of the Joint Budget Committee. Last session Rep. Rankin was among backers of an unsuccessful attempt to launch a legislative study of the school finance system.

Two other board members have close legislative ties. Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker is the sister of Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel. Republican member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs is a lobbyist and a former member of both the House and Senate.

The board, which gained two new members at the start of the year, has had some tense discussions over the last several months on issues such as testing, parent exam opt outs, a state student health survey and student data privacy. Some board members feel that the body’s previous patterns of decorum and procedure have frayed this year. (Learn more about the State Board’s tumultuous spring in this archive of Chalkbeat stories.)

Rep. Bob Rankin and Joyce Rankin

The board will meet Wednesday and will elect a new chair. Most observers expect Durham to be elected chair. The body has a 4-3 GOP majority.

A key job for the board will be selection of a new education commissioner to replace Robert Hammond, who retired earlier this year. The board selected a search firm just last week to find candidates (see story).

State law requires that a vacant elected office be filled by a committee made up of members of the same political party as the person who resigned. Rankin will have to run for the seat in the November 2016 general election and has indicated she will do so.

The vacant seat drew wide interest from candidates across the sprawling, 29-county district, which covers much of the Western Slope plus Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.

The other candidates included:

  • Jake Aubert, principal of Holy Family Catholic High School in Grand Junction
  • Andy Burns of Durango, director of admissions at Fort Lewis College and a member of the Durango school board
  • Roger Good, a businessman who serves on the Steamboat Springs school board
  • Debbie Rose, a Beulah businesswoman who formerly served on the Pueblo 70 school board
  • Barbara Ann Smith, a retired teacher from Grand Junction who lost to Neal in the 2014 primary for the State Board seat
  • Anita Stapleton, an anti-Common Core activist from Pueblo
  • Bryan Whiting of Garfield County, a recently retired high school teacher who worked for 33 years at Glenwood Springs High School

Michael Lobato, a San Luis Valley rancher and member of the Center School board, applied for the post but withdrew before the vacancy committee met.

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: What happened when Missouri accidentally launched a modern-day school busing program

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/07/2015 - 17:46
  • This American Life goes deep into what happened when Missouri accidentally launched a desegregation program in the school district that Michael Brown attended; also check out part two of its series on integration, airing this weekend. (This American Life)
  • Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio sparred over the Common Core, the only time that education came up in this week’s primary debate. (Politics K-12)
  • A new report argues that the billions of dollars school districts spend on teacher professional education has very little payoff. (Slate)
  • A Brooklyn high school has started a summer class to train its students to be social justice activists. (New Yorker)
  • How conservatives forced the College Board to revise its Advanced Placement U.S. history course framework to place less of an emphasis on the history of racism. (Vox)
  • The importance of the presence of teachers of color to help students of color is well-documented, but diversifying the teacher workforce could have big benefits for white students, too. (The Atlantic)
  • The conservative-leaning organization that has successfully persuaded seven states to require students to pass a version of the U.S. citizenship test to graduate from high school is trying to spread his effort to more blue and purple states, too. (New Yorker)
  • The boom in digital news has created a corresponding boom in digital outlets — including Chalkbeat! — that cover education in depth. (EdWeek)
  • Of those outlets, Chalkbeat is distinct because of its local focus. (EdWeek)
Categories: Urban School News

Teachers spend big money to outfit their classrooms, but a retired teacher aims to ease the burden

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/07/2015 - 14:36

It’s not just parents and students who are hitting the back-to-school sales these days.

It’s teachers too—many of whom expect to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars of their own money outfitting their classrooms with books, games, activities and decorations.

In fact, that’s why Gwen Vann, a retired Jeffco teacher launched the Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale last year and expects up to 600 customers this year.

Sale details

  • Location: Resource Area For Teaching building, 3827 Steele St., Suite C, Denver
  • Hours: Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Who: The sale is open to the public

The massive sale, running through the weekend at the Resource Area For Teaching office in Denver, offers all manner of teaching supplies at deep discounts.

Gwen Vann, a retired Jeffco teachers, spearheaded the Teacher 2 Teacher Educators Consignment Sale.

On Thursday evening, during a time slot reserved for newly-minted teachers, Vann teared up as she watched several young women browse the long tables of merchandise.

“It brings me back…I know they don’t have money. They’re just getting out of school. They have debt,” she said. “It’s about sharing the wealth that we have.”

She said many parents don’t realize how much teachers spend to create the attractive, colorful classrooms their kids walk into every day.

One shopper on Thursday evening was second-year kindergarten teacher Linda Richardson, who loaded bright blue tote bags with rhyming and counting games and other hands-on activities.

As a first year teacher in Aurora last year, she spent $1,000 on classroom supplies, she said, and was able to write off only $250 through a tax deduction.

Richardson, who this year will move to Hodgkins Elementary in the Adams 50 district, said she appreciates the discounts at the sale, and also the fact that the items have been road-tested by veteran teachers.

“I found some great games for every single content area,” she said.

Jodi Katz, a retired Aurora teacher who volunteered at the sale on Thursday, likened the event to “a teacher’s Candyland.”

“We needed this 30 or 40 years ago,” she said, reminiscing about the annual $1,200 out-of-pocket expenditures she made to equip her classroom and support her students.

Besides helping young teachers like Richardson, Vann hopes the consignment sale is a boon for retired or grade-switching teachers who want to jettison unneeded supplies.

In fact, it was the garage sale she held after she retired that prompted the idea for the consignment sale. She sold two truckloads worth of supplies gathered over 30 years of teaching.

Young teachers flocked to the sale, some of them tweeting the news to their friends. Meanwhile, she knew that many of her retired friends had a wealth of teaching materials stashed in their basements and garages too.

It was a good fit for both groups, and the sale was born.

It has already garnered many fans. Teri Kimbell, a retired teacher who volunteered at the sale Thursday, said she enjoys connecting teachers with sought-after supplies.

“I watched some teachers walk in and go, ‘Oh my God, they have this,” she said. “I absolutely love it.”

Categories: Urban School News

The not-so-secret ELL summer slide problem that no one has quantified

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/07/2015 - 14:28

Joey Casas doesn’t like speaking English.

“It’s too hard,” Joey mumbled in Spanish. “I don’t like when teachers make me speak it.”

The 8-year-old is one of more than 14,000 Aurora Public Schools students who is classified as an English language learner. He speaks primarily Spanish at home, which is where he spends a majority of his summertime.

Occasionally, Joey goes to the park or plays with friends, but they also speak Spanish, which means the student usually doesn’t utter a word of English between the end of school and the beginning of the next academic year.

Some educators and parents believe English learners have a deeper learning loss during the summer than their native-English speaking peers, partially due to less practice when they’re on break.

But there’s no national, statewide, or district data that proves this, which can raise several problems for students and schools.

Without knowing the depth of the problem, the nearly 127,000 students learning English as a second language in Colorado could be falling further behind in reading and writing without anyone noticing. And the issue is a tricky one, with factors both in and outside of school impacting students’ language skills.

In addition, these same students may not be aware they’re losing ground and their parents might be unaware of existing programs that can help curb the loss, or even turn it into academic gains with some assistance.

The research
There are case studies where English skills for groups of students are measured before and after summer break, but there’s no large database that measures the problem, said Kathy Escamilla, who is the project director for the Bilinguals United for Education and New Opportunities Center.

Part of the reason the data is limited is because there are some factors that are hard to account for.

For example, some English language learners leave the U.S. during the summer while others don’t, which can affect how much English exposure they get. So measuring their language abilities before and after summer break wouldn’t be accurate unless their exposure to English was also measured, which would be difficult to do.

“It’s very dependent on context, where the kid spends the summer,” Escamilla said. “What affects [summer slide] is your opportunity to continue practicing language.”

And not every student has that opportunity to practice during the summer, especially in homes where the primary language that is spoken is not English.

According to a 2012 study from an assistant professor at the University of California Irvine, students from non-English speaking homes experienced a deeper summer setback in English vocabulary than students from English speaking homes. And an article from 2012 highlighted the back-to-school struggle for Spanish-speaking English learners in Arizona who spent all summer without much exposure to English.

But a majority of the evidence that shows non-English speaking students suffer from summer learning loss more than their English-speaking peers is largely based on studies with small sample sizes or anecdotes.

The slide
So how do educators know this problem exists without consistent and broad data?

The issue starts with summer slide in general. It is well documented that students suffer learning losses during the summer. There are dozens of studies that show students score lower at the end of summer on the same math and English tests they take at the beginning of break.

The earliest studies go back more than 100 years, showing that summer slide has been a noticeable phenomenon for more than a century. A more recent study from the 1990s shows that at best students made no learning gains over the summer. But in the worst cases students lost about a month’s worth of reading, language and math skills.

The loss is even more striking for low-income students, who lose more than two months of reading skills, according to other studies.

One way families combat summer slide is by enrolling their kids in summer learning programs. But because English language learners also tend to hail from low-income homes, there can be difficulty accessing programs that cost money.

“I wish there were more [summer programs] that didn’t cost money,” Escamilla said. “A lot of our English language learner families also tend to be poor.”

But as much data as there is on summer learning losses for all students, how it specifically affects students learning English as a second language is not studied with as much fervor.

The problem
Even with a lack of data, educators and parents of students who are learning English know the problem is more pronounced for these kids.

One of these parents is Flor Vasquez, who came to the U.S. 12 years ago from Puebla, Mexico. She has three children who attend Swansea Elementary in northeast Denver and all of them are in the English Language Acquisition program, which tries to help non-English speaking students transition to full-time English instruction.

During the summer, her children don’t practice their English skills at home as much as she would like, Vasquez said. One of the challenges the family faces is that she is also learning English. Her first language, and the one she is most comfortable speaking in, is Spanish.

“[My kids] are pretty good at speaking [English], but not good at writing,” Vasquez said. “They don’t read or write as much during the summer. We’re all kind of learning English together. But it’s harder for them to learn when school is out.”

Vasquez and her three children all attended a summer learning program at Swansea held by Scholars Unlimited, a nonprofit organization that tries to improve literacy among high-risk students by offering afterschool and summer programming that incorporates reading and writing. This summer, about 700 Denver Public Schools students in 12 schools participated in the Scholars Unlimited summer program.

In addition, parents of these students could also participate in the program if they wanted to learn English.

Maria Valle, the site coordinator for Scholars Unlimited at Swansea, said students who don’t speak English often have parents who also don’t speak the language — which can be an especially difficult hurdle to overcome during the summer, she said.

“I’m more than sure [students who are English language learners] are more affected by [summer slide],” Valle said. “In talking to the parents, we have to let them know that everything they learned during the school year is going to be lost during the summer if they don’t continue to read and write [in English]… but parents aren’t able to help them, they don’t speak English and they don’t know how to help their kids.”

Even students themselves notice the problem.

Rainah Trujillo and Margarita Fonseca are both 9-years-old and attend schools in Denver. They both speak English and Spanish at home.

“I didn’t used to like writing but now I do,” said Rainah, who speaks mostly in English with her parents but mostly in Spanish with her grandparents.

Rainah admitted that if she hadn’t attended the Scholars Unlimited summer program, she would most likely not be reading or writing during the summer. Margarita echoed the same sentiment.

Joey, the ELL student from Aurora, stands in stark contrast to these girls. Since he doesn’t participate in any programs during the summer he doesn’t read, write or speak English for nearly three months.

A possible solution
These kids exemplify one of the main contributors to summer slide: availability of programs. While they participated in a summer program that keeps them writing and reading in between school years, that’s not the case for most students.

“There are limited opportunities for kids to engage in the kind of things that enrich your vocabulary and continue to propel your language learning,” Escamilla said.

Summer programs don’t even have to be specifically geared toward learning English or take place in a school setting to be beneficial, Escamilla said. For students learning English, simply engaging and practicing the language by talking and playing with other students can help stave off summer slide, she said.

“You can learn [English] by playing board games, you can learn English by being in little league and being on a team where everyone speaks English and you have to understand all the rules and you have to interact with kids,” Escamilla said. “There are all sorts of context and ways to learn English.”

But these programs come at a cost — literally. According to data from Afterschool Alliance, an organization that raises awareness of how important after school programs are, the average cost of summer programs in 2013 was $250 per child. If this applied to Vasquez and her three kids, they would have had to pay $1000 to keep learning English during the summer.

In addition, summer slide doesn’t just affect students during the summer, but the following school year as well, when these learning losses spill over.

In a survey from the National Summer Learning Association, 330 teachers out of a sample of 500 said it takes them three to four weeks to re-teach their students material from the previous year and 120 said it takes them even longer.

This can have a discouraging effect on students learning English, said Valle, the bilingual site coordinator.

“They have to start all over [the beginning of each academic year] and they get frustrated because they are coming again and again and making the progress but losing it,” she said. “They think ‘Why do I have to do it again?’”

But with some help from outside programs, these students might not have to “do it again.”

In addition to the summer program offered by Scholars Unlimited in Denver, Emerald Elementary in Broomfield works with the YMCA to host the free Cultural Awareness Through Creative Horizons (CATCH) camp.

While not specifically geared toward English language learners, the camp is free and targeted toward at-risk students in a historically white and middle-class community, such as those who are economically disadvantaged or behind in reading and writing.

More than half of the students at Emerald receive free or reduced lunch. In addition, about 45 percent of the students are Hispanic and almost a quarter are English language learners.

“It’s a really nurturing environment for kids to come into CATCH camp,” she said. “If they can have that summertime where they have fun, low pressure opportunities to practice English that’s not the high stakes experience of raising their hand in the classroom when you’re not sure if you have the answer right, I think it helps build this more trusting community for the kids.”

The feedback and data from these programs reflects the potential benefits.

According to teacher surveys at Emerald, students who participated in outside academic programs, including CATCH camp, saw an improvement in homework completion, participation and behavior.

In addition, commentary from parents on surveys indicated that they saw improvements in their children’s reading and homework.

And the Scholars Unlimited summer program reflects the same pattern seen at CATCH camp.

Students are given a reading comprehension assessment before and after the program to measure their English skills. Data from 2014 showed students made significant gains in literacy skills. A majority of the students were at or above grade level in reading, writing and speaking English by the end of the program.

If the data holds true for this summer, students won’t only avoid summer slide, but actually make gains in their language skills.

“We have many students who are new to the U.S. At one point we had 21 languages spoken in this school,” Reuss said. “Children and their families love these programs. These students are exposed to opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They love coming to summer school…it’s just a shame it’s not offered everywhere.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Students in Denver’s far northeast head back to school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/07/2015 - 07:53
Agreement -- for now Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association signed a tentative agreement for a teachers contract Thursday night. But it's unclear if the agreement will win support from the union's membership. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A sticking point for the union was the duration of the contract, 10 months. ( 9News )

back to school Students in Denver's far northeast neighborhood went back to school on Thursday. ( CBS 4, 9News )

And on Monday, Northfield High will be open as Denver's newest school. ( KDVR )

A Greeley charter school is entering its second year with lessons learned — and hope. ( Greeley Tribune )

One step at a time The State Board of Education has selected Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based company, to conduct the search for candidates to be commissioner of education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Relationships Leaders of teachers unions in Denver and Jefferson counties say they are losing access to talking with new teachers. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools With school nurses tackling more-serious illness everyday — including growing numbers of students with diabetes and asthma — nurses offices are packed with crucial medications and plenty more than just ice packs. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Learning and teaching Some 75 teachers from northwest Colorado are learning to teach a reading program based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which focuses on phonics and mnemonic instruction. The approach is recognized as particularly effective with dyslexic learners. ( Steamboat Today )

state of play Critics of the Jefferson County school board have filed official complaints with the Colorado Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Jefferson County District Attorney's Office claiming fraud after another organization that supports the school board majority registered a virtually identical domain name. ( 9News )

Nearly two months after appointing a retired elementary school principal to fill a vacancy on the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education, district officials on Wednesday removed her from the position. ( Gazette )

In a "surprise" move, The Garfield County superintendent is leaving. ( Post-Independent )

Berthoud resident Dave Levy has announced that he will run for the Thompson School District Board of Education seat currently held by Bob Kerrigan. ( Reporter-Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Jefferson County school district, union reach tentative agreement

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 22:48

GOLDEN — Officials from Jeffco Public Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association Thursday evening reached a “ground breaking” 10-month tentative agreement that some feared would devolve to a total impasse.

While officials from the teachers union expressed — repeatedly — their opposition to the length of the contract, the two sides compromised Thursday on a plan to reduce classroom size for elementary schools, require schools with more than 400 students to hire a librarian, and delay the rollout of a new system of tracking teachers’ personal leave time.

“We are horribly disappointed in the 10-month duration of the contract because it does not demonstrate any commitment to the teachers,” Arik Heim, a teacher at Wheat Ridge High School, said, accepting the district’s final terms and asking for those changes in writing. “But in the interest of having an agreement in place when our teachers show up to work on Monday, and so they can focus on the interests of our students, we hope that [the district] can doctor up language quickly so we can sign a temporary agreement tonight.”

After some minor tweaks to the contract language, a tentative agreement was signed by Heim and the district’s lawyer Jim Branum.

Five months in the making, the new contract must be ratified by a majority of the union’s members and win approval from the county’s school board in order to go into effect.

Union President John Ford said he’ll present the contract language to his some 3,500 members at an Aug. 21 meeting. If ratified, the board will have its chance to vote on the contract at its Aug. 27 meeting.

The union’s current contract expires Aug. 31.

Relations between JCEA and the school board’s majority have been strained since the board began linking teacher pay to their performance on evaluations. Previously, teacher pay was linked to years of service.

The new contract language, which was drastically reduced in length compared to its predecessor, emphasizes collaboration between teachers and principals to make decisions on issues like staffing and resources, codifies the district’s teacher evaluation process, and streamlines the grievance process.

“This innovative contract is a result of nearly 150 hours at the negotiating table by the negotiating team as well as a commitment to collaboration by the JCEA and Jeffco School Board,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While both sides compromised on contract components, we believe this agreement is good for Jeffco students and Jeffco teachers. I am looking forward to its implementation during this next school year.”

But it’s unclear how the union’s rank-and-file will respond to the contract language.

“I’m not celebrating much,” said Neva Sutter, a teacher at Wilmore Davis Elementary School who attended Thursday’s meeting.

Sutter said the contract fails to improve the district’s evaluation system that she and others believe is unreliable, and provides no assurances on teacher pay in the coming years.

“Myself and my husband (who is also a Jeffco teacher) had two very different experiences with evaluations this year,” she said. “The feedback was completely different. I had 14 observations. He had two.”

While contract negotiations between the district and union started off on a positive note, talks came to halt twice. And the specter of a strike popped up in the spring.

First, the union sued the district over a compensation plan for new teachers. The district and union eventually came to an agreement over compensation. Then, union officials took a time out when the district refused to budge on the length of the contract.

“Some folks I talked to before I took this job told me this wouldn’t end well,” said moderator Jon Numair.  “… But I want to congratulate you over what you’ve done these last few months. … Each of you stepped out of your comfort zone to make this happen.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate member count of the Jefferson County teachers union.

Categories: Urban School News

State Board selects commissioner search firm

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 18:48

The State Board of Education has selected Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based company, to conduct the search for candidates to be commissioner of education.

The board is searching for a replacement for Commissioner Robert Hammond, who resigned at the end of June (see story). Elliott Asp, a former Hammond advisor and veteran Colorado administrator, is serving as interim commissioner.

Ray and Associates, headquartered in Cedar Rapids, is a national company that specializes in searches for education administrators.

According to the group’s website, it’s currently doing superintendent searches for the Kansas City and Fort Worth districts, plus searches for top administrative positions in the Oklahoma City and Milwaukee schools.

It’s also doing a principal search for Aspen High School. According to information Ray gave the State Board, the firm has done recent searches for various jobs in the Jeffco, Colorado Springs 11, Eagle County, Westminster and Boulder districts.

The firm recently closed searches for superintendents in Albuquerque, Austin and the Brevard and Palm Beach districts in Florida, as well as a search for state superintendent in Michigan.

The State Board voted 6-0 to hire Ray during a special meeting Wednesday.

The board will back to full seven-member strength Saturday after a Republican Party vacancy committee chooses a successor to board chair Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who resigned earlier this year. Eight candidates are seeking the post. One applicant, Center school board member Michael Lobato, has withdrawn. (Read about Neal’s resignation here, and learn about the people vying to succeed her here.)

The board is scheduled to select a new chair at its regular monthly meeting next Wednesday. Most observers expect Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican who joined the board last January, to be selected.

Also on the board’s agenda are discussion of the commissioner search, of possible data privacy requirements for companies that provide data services to the state and of high school graduation guidelines, which developed into a touchy issue for the board earlier this year.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New school could be full from the start

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 08/06/2015 - 10:40
Score gap A majority of U.S. Hispanic students planned to enroll in college last year, but nearly half weren’t ready for college-level courses, according to a recent report from ACT. There’s good reason to believe Denver’s Hispanic students mirror this national trend. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Growing pains The High Plains School could be at capacity by the time it opens in 2016 due to growth on the east side of Loveland and the lack of schools in that area. ( Reporter-Herald )

Helping hand A scholarship fund created by a Denver community group is intended to help refugees get an education. ( 9News )

Elections loom It’s a big education election year in Garfield County, with board seats up for grabs Nov. 3 in Roaring Fork School District, Garfield Re-2, Garfield 16 and on the Colorado Mountain College board. ( Post-Independent )

Consumer guide Careful shopping can yield savings on school supplies. Get info on metro-area prices. ( The Denver Channel )

Oops Nearly two months after appointing a retired elementary school principal to fill a vacancy on the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education, district officials on Wednesday removed her from the position because of residency issues. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Data from ACT and DPS shows that Hispanic students aren’t college ready

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/05/2015 - 14:43

A majority of U.S. Hispanic students planned to enroll in college last year, but nearly half weren’t ready for college level courses, according to a recent report from ACT.

In 2014, 83 percent of Hispanic students, who make up the largest demographic in public elementary and secondary schools in the country, said they planned to enroll in college but 47 percent of those students didn’t meet any of the minimum scores ACT uses to determine college readiness.

While this specific report didn’t include results at either the state or school district level, there’s good reason to believe Denver’s Hispanic students mirror this national trend. The average ACT subject scores for Hispanic students were all below the ACT benchmarks, according to data from DPS.

“Part of the information we get from the ACT is that we have too many kids who are not ready [for college],” said Susana Cordova, the Chief Schools Officer at Denver Public Schools. “So even though we see scores going up — our Latino students had a full point gain over the last year — we still know that white students have double college readiness rates, according to ACT, than our Latino students do.”

The benchmarks, which are set by ACT, are scores on subject tests that predict how a student will do in college courses. These scores indicate whether a student has a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding first-year college classes.

In 2014, only 14 percent of Hispanic students in the country who took the ACT met all four benchmarks, compared 26 percent of all students. The performance gap is even larger in Colorado where only 10 percent of Hispanic students met four benchmarks compared to a state average of 25 percent, according to a state-specific report from ACT.

The district is struggling to help Hispanic students for a number of reasons.

One problem is that a large portion of Hispanic students in DPS are also English language learners, Cordova said. The ACT is in English and includes reading and writing portions, which could be especially difficult for a student who isn’t fluent in the language.

In addition, the problem is cumulative, she said. Students don’t just suddenly fail to meet benchmarks their junior year of high school; they most likely didn’t meet minimum requirements long before the ACT.

“A lot of the work that we think about as ACT prep happens in high school, but it happens long before high school,” Cordova said. “It starts as early as elementary school…kids who are most likely to meet those college readiness benchmarks met those benchmarks along the way in elementary school.”

To help raise those student’s scores, DPS offers different resources to help high schoolers with ACT preparation.

Last year, about 1,300 students in 11 different Denver schools used the ACT preparation program Princeton Review. The program allows students to take practice ACT tests and provides feedback on what they need the most help in. Cordova said the number of students using Princeton Review at DPS is expected to double this academic year.

It isn’t clear how many of those students were Hispanic or English language learners. But according to enrollment data, nine of the schools that use Princeton Review have a Hispanic student population above 60 percent. In addition, those nine schools have an ELL student population that ranges from 40 to 80 percent.

However, as the data shows, Hispanic students still slip through the cracks and don’t meet the ACT benchmarks. But DPS finds other ways to help them be college ready, Cordova said.

Students who don’t meet ACT benchmarks in the 11th grade are encouraged to take remedial college courses the following year through concurrent enrollment. So if the district fails to help a student get adequate test scores, they can at least show they’ve met the minimum core requirements through college credit.

“We’ve had a very large push to make sure that students whose ACT scores show they’re not ready have the opportunity to take developmental education courses while they’re in high school,” Cordova said. “We think it’s important to look at what else we can do to ensure that kids are ready.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pot money for school facilities is up, but it’s not enough to build new schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/05/2015 - 07:48
Election 2015 About a dozen of the state’s 178 districts are considering tax proposals for the November election, according to results from a preliminary survey by the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization. But there's still time for school boards to consider asking voters for more money. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Going to pot Colorado schools will likely see more tax dollars for facilities from pot sales. But it won't be enough to build new schools. Here's why. ( The Cannabist )

To AP and beyond Pushing students — regardless of skill level — into advanced courses can put them on a clear path toward college. ( 7News Denver )

Jeffco Interuptted Members of the Jefferson County Education Association were asked by police officers to leave a school campus Tuesday. The veteran teachers were distributing invitations to new teachers for an afternoon luncheon. ( Colorado Independent )

An independent investigator concluded school board president Ken Witt did not bully a student last May. ( Complete Colorado )

A helping hand A 10-year-old nonprofit organization that helps feed students and their families in Jefferson County says its services are needed more now than ever. ( 9News )

Volunteers helped stuff 1,600 backpacks for Thompson School District students from low-income homes ( Reporter-Herald )

STEM A defense contracting giant will pay for an interactive traveling math exhibit that will be open in Colorado Springs from January until May of 2016. ( Gazette )

College rankings Colorado ranked the ninth best state for student debt on Tuesday, according to a WalletHub study. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, CU-Boulder dropped to No. 7 on the Princeton Review's "Reefer Madness" list, which ranks colleges and universities by the popularity of cannabis on campus. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Most districts may take a pass on asking for tax hikes

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 16:41

It looks like that a relative handful of Colorado school districts will ask their voters for tax increases this year, a sharp contrast with the crowded ballots of 2014.

About a dozen of the state’s 178 districts are considering tax proposals for the Nov. 3 election, according to results from a preliminary survey by the Colorado School Finance Project, a research organization. (See current list at bottom of this article.)

The only larger district on the list is Brighton 27J, the state’s 16th biggest district with about 17,100 students. In the 2014 election voters rejected a proposed $148 million bond issue by Brighton, which has been one of the state’s fast growing districts.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any big districts” going to the voters, said Tracie Rainey, executive director of CSFP.

The project’s list is preliminary, both because some districts haven’t yet responded to the group’s survey and because school boards still have about a month to decide if they want to propose bond issues or property tax overrides for operating expenses. Districts have a Sept. 4 deadline to submit final ballot language to county clerks.

Rainey doubts that any large-enrollment districts will take the plunge because “for a big district to decide it takes some time. … You’re talking a year out to set everything in motion.” Large districts typically use special panels to decide on potential uses for bond and override revenue and on independent committees to gauge possible voter support and to run campaigns.

Denver and Cherry Creek reportedly are considering tax elections in 2016. “I would think that next year you’re going to see bigger districts and more Front Range districts” going to the voters, Rainey said.

The fact that 2015 is an election year for school boards may be a factor in the apparent low number of tax elections.

Bond & Mill

  • Bond measures are voter-approved increases in property taxes for facilities needs. Districts sell bonds to raise the cash to pay for construction, then use the additional tax revenues to pay the bonds off.
  • Mill levy overrides are voter-approved hikes in a district’s general property tax rate that a district generally uses for operating expenses or special needs like technology purchases. (A mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent and is used as a mathematical device to calculate taxes.)

“You have board elections this fall,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of Schools Boards. “For some districts they want to keep it [the ballot] as uncomplicated as possible.” She also said some district leaders may not want to push tax increases until after new boards are seated.

Rainey agrees. “I know they all are really focusing on board elections.” She added that bond and override proposals on ballots sometimes draws anti-tax voters, and “having anti-tax sentiment isn’t exactly helpful” in board races.

Urschel noted another reason why some districts may be hesitant. “There are so many of them who feel they can’t pass anything.”

Rep. Millie Hamner agreed, saying, “I think districts are afraid because it’s hard to ask your voters for more money.” The Dillon Democrat is incoming chair of the legislative Joint Budget Committee and an expert on school finance.

And Rainey also noted that the number of bond proposals may be down because the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today construction grant program has reached its cap on large grants. With BEST making fewer grants, fewer districts are asking voters to approve local matching bond funds.

Recent years have been busy for tax elections

In 2014 about two-dozen Colorado school districts sought some $1.5 billion in property tax increases for construction projects and operating funds. About half were rejected. Boulder voters approved a record $576.4 million bond issues, but nine proposed increases in five Adams County districts were defeated.

The year before voters also passed only about half of measures proposed in about two-dozen districts. The 2013 election was overshadowed by Amendment 66, the proposed $1 billion income tax increase to provide more school funding. It was defeated overwhelmingly.

The 2012 election saw voters in 29 districts approve 34 bond issues and operating revenue increases – plus one sales tax hike – worth just over $1 billion.

The state’s 10 largest districts have a mixed record on bond and override elections. In the last decade those districts have had 45 ballot measures, of which 25 passed and 20 were defeated.

The Aurora, Boulder, Cherry Creek, Denver and Poudre districts passed all their proposals, while Adams 12-Five Star, Douglas County and Jefferson County had more mixed success.

The combined bond debt of all state districts was $7.2 billion in 2013-14.

Are local taxes an untapped resource?

Bond issues are a straightforward piece of school funding. A district decides on needed construction and renovation projects and asks voters to approve a property tax increase to pay for them. If voters say yes, the district sells bonds, uses the proceeds to pay the contractors and then uses the annual revenue from the tax hike to repay bondholders over several years.

Tax overrides pose more nuanced policy issues, ones that drawing increasing attention from some policymakers.

The first is equity. It’s sometimes easier for large districts to win voter approval for overrides. And in large districts with substantial property values, a small increase in the property tax rate yields significant revenue.

Smaller, poorer districts often face voter resistance and have lower property values, so an increase in the tax rate doesn’t produce much revenue.

Because of Colorado’s unique constitutional limits on government revenue and spending, paying the bills for education is a never-ending challenge for educators and policymakers. Learn more in this backgrounder, which includes links to our archive of funding stories.

State budget issues in recent years have squeezed the amount of extra support the state can provide to those poorer, smaller districts, heightening concerns about equity. Revenue from tax overrides isn’t included in the state K-12 funding formula, so large districts with overrides can supplement their budgets. Districts without override revenue have to survive on what the state formula gives them.

The second issue is untapped capacity. State law sets a cap on override revenue. That aggregate limit for districts that currently have overrides is about $1.6 billion.

But those districts currently raise only about $826 million a year from overrides.

Hamner sees that untapped money as one way to ease district budget problems. “At a time when the state budget is definitely strapped I’m really encouraging g districts to rally at the local level. …. I think people are more inclined to support local increases than statewide increases.”

She said she’s sometimes “frustrated” by district leaders who complain about tight state funding but won’t consider asking voters for local increases. “That’s where I would at least start, to remind districts that they have that option. …. I definitely would encourage them to go for the local ask.”

Hamner acknowledges the wide differences in districts’ capacity to raise local revenues. She said the legislature needs to look at the issue, but she hasn’t developed any specific proposals yet.

Urschel hopes that districts will think more seriously about overrides after they realize that state budget pressures may get worse and after this November’s board elections. “That’s when districts take stock of the financial picture and see if they need mill levy elections.”

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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Denver teachers union shut out of new teacher orientation

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 09:09
on boarding Three have announced their candidacy for the Jefferson County school board. Yes, there is a regular — non-recall — school board election this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Candidates for the Thompson School District Board of Education may begin circulating nomination petitions on Wednesday. So far, four candidates have announced their intention to run for three of the four open seats. ( Reporter-Herald )

(dis)orientation The Denver teachers union said it was shut out of a program Monday welcoming new teachers to the district. ( CPR )

closing the opportunity gap A Pueblo elementary school principal organized a community meeting to address socioeconomic barriers his students face. ( KRDO )

Steady course Stability seems to have settled in at Falcon School District 49, which starts classes for the 2015-16 school year Tuesday. And that is making all the difference. ( Gazette )

Human Resources Teach for America, a national nonprofit that recruits college graduates and other professionals to work in schools in high poverty neighborhoods, has accepted three Colorado Springs-area locals into its 2015 teaching corps. ( Gazette )

a picture is worth 1,000 words This is what the Common Core — and life in general — looks like at three schools in the Silicon Valley. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

In Jeffco school board election — the one that’s not the recall — three vying for seats

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:27

Did you hear about the school board race in Jefferson County?

No, not the potential recall. The other one. Like, the regularly scheduled school board election that happens every two years.

So far, three candidates have announced their intentions to run for two seats on the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. Both seats are open because current board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper are not seeking re-election.

Competing for Fellman’s District 3 seat are former commercial real estate manager Kim Johnson and former teacher Ali Lasell. District 3 covers most of the northwest corner of Jefferson County, including the city of Arvada.

And so far running unopposed for Dahlkemper’s District 4 seat is former teacher Amanda Stevens. District 4 includes most of the city of Lakewood, which is directly west of Denver.

Ali Lasell

Because both of the open spots are currently occupied by members of the board’s left-leaning minority, the outcome won’t upset the current balance of the board, which has been run by Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Those three board members won their seats in 2013 and are now subject of a recall effort by a group of parents, community members, and teachers. If the recall effort is successful and placed on the November ballot, Jefferson County residents will have the opportunity to reshape the school board entirely.

Both Lasell and Stevens have been vocal critics of the school board’s majority. But in interviews with Chalkbeat, both said they want to run positive campaigns. And while they support the recall effort, they say they’re focusing on their individual campaigns.

Kim Johnson

When asked where there was agreement between themselves and the board majority, Stevens applauded board member Williams for her deciding vote to expand a science and technology program at a local middle school. She also said she appreciated Witt standing up for the Colorado Academic Standards during a discussion earlier this year.

And Lasell said she believed Williams was a true advocate for students with special needs. She also said she shared a desire to be fiscally responsible like Witt and Newkirk.

Johnson, in an interview, said she couldn’t answer where she would side with the board’s majority, because too often the information she would want to influence her vote wasn’t presented at school board meetings.

Amanda Stevens with her daughter

“I consider myself good at asking the right questions, listening carefully, and making rational decisions,” Johnson said. “It’s not about ideology for me.”

All three candidates are mothers of Jeffco Public Schools students and hope that civility can be restored after the November elections.

“I’m not interested in my kids or the other 86,000 kids in Jefferson County being a proxy for a political battle,” Stevens said. Adding, “I might have to be the first to compromise.”

Among the issues the candidates wish to address if they’re elected:

  • Lasell said she’d like to review how Jeffco recruits and retains teachers, which includes the district’s evaluation system.
  • Stevens said she’d like to provide more access to extracurricular opportunities to student’s from low-income homes.
  • Johnson said she’d like to establish a five-year plan supported by the entire board to address overcrowding in many of the district’s schools.

The candidates appear to agree broadly on some of the hottest topics in education. Each believe there has been too much testing, the state should fund schools more, and that charter schools and parent choice are important. As the campaign progresses, it will be the finer policy stances that will separate the candidates.

“I’m where everyone is on testing — there’s too much,” Lasell said.

“I would be really happy to see what I could with a fully funded school,” Stevens said.

“Choice is a critical piece of the Colorado education system,” Johnson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Kim Johnson’s previous career. She was a commercial real estate manager, not a broker. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Inside the battle for a school district’s salary records

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 09:57
Funding puzzle Gov. John Hickenlooper told school administrators that something must be done to improve Colorado K-12 funding — he just wasn’t specific on what exactly that something should be. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No hunger pains A one-year-old federal program that allows school districts to offer universal free meals at some or all schools is growing in Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Records battle More than five months after her initial request, former school board member and president Marilyn Flachman is getting the employee salary information she requested from Adams County School District 50. It took four Colorado Open Records Act letters, assistance from an attorney and $745. ( CFOIC )

NCLB Colorado senator Michael Bennett is leading the push to rewrite the long-standing federal education law No Child Left Behind. The legislation that is still being debated in Congress and many of the reforms started in Denver could soon be part of a new federal law. ( Denver Post )

PARCC All last week, educators from a dozen states crouched met in Denver to decipher the meaning of scores from a new era of standardized tests meant to be tough. But more states are backing out of the tests. ( Denver Post )

History repeating itself Last fall thousands of students in Jefferson County walked out of school in protest of a proposal by Board Member Julie Williams to review and possibly change the curriculum of Advanced Placement U.S. History. Now, the curriculum has been changed. ( 9News )

Out with the old Greeley-Evans School District 6 is in the midst of a huge asbestos removal project. ( Greeley Tribune )

Pikes Peak school board Pikes Peak region school districts will be holding information sessions for prospective board candidates. All 17 public school districts in the Pikes Peak region have seats open on the Nov. 3 ballot. ( The Gazette )

back to school As Pikes Peak schools start up again, students will notice new programs, new buildings, and in some cases, new superintendents. ( The Gazette )

New year, new look The House of Neighborly Service is helping kids prepare for the new school year by providing students with clothing and supplies. ( Reporter-Herald )

ACE-ing summer Greeley-Evans School District 6, with support from the city of Greeley, rolled out the Achieving Community Excellence internship program this year. The district paired students with local governments and businesses to give them a glimpse of real world jobs. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: A deep dive into the school-to-prison pipeline in St. Louis and beyond

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 16:40
  • A plan to integrate an under-enrolled California school in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood represents a new, more cooperative approach between school districts and housing developers. (Hechinger Report)
  • Comedians Key and Peele got a viral video hit by imagining a world in which teachers were treated the way we treat professional athletes that includes a draft, incentive pay and lots of classroom game tape. (YouTube)
  • A California high school teacher lists seven things he wishes the public understood about teaching, including that the “cult of the superteacher” is a myth. (Vox)
  • The first thing that schools often get wrong about their newly-arrived immigrant students is their names, a basic error that can have repercussions far into the students’ education. (Chalkbeat Indiana)

  • The Justice Department investigation found that vastly disparate treatment of black and white children in St. Louis County’s juvenile justice system that “cannot be explained by factors other than race.” (HuffPo
  • In an analysis of data from more than 60,000 schools, a sociologist found that schools with more poor students and students of color were more likely to respond to behavioral problems with criminalized disciplinary action rather than referring students to psychological or medical care. (Vox)   
  • Another new study finds that academically talented black and Hispanic students often turn away from the chance to attend elite universities in favor of schools closer to home with larger numbers of students of their race. (EWA’s Latino Ed Beat)
  • Here’s a quick guide to the research behind education buzzwords like motivation and grit. (The Atlantic)
  • The most popular high school plays over the past seven decades are “Our Town” and “You Can’t Take It With You,” plus more fun facts from an analysis of high school theater productions. (NPR Ed)
  • An intense summer program aimed at getting Mississippi third-graders who have repeatedly failed state reading tests on grade level is getting mixed results and a bit more time to succeed. (Hechinger Report)
  • A quarter of teachers who responded to a survey on teacher satisfaction reported that lack of opportunity to use the bathroom as an everyday stressor — and that seemingly small problem could have big implications for the profession. (The Atlantic)
  • A New York City education advocate sees parallels between Mayor Bill deBlasio’s fight with the car-sharing service Uber and his conflict with city charter school operators. (The 74 Million)
Categories: Urban School News

Hick: Educators need to make grassroots case for more money

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:48

Gov. John Hickenlooper told school administrators that something must be done to improve Colorado K-12 funding — he just wasn’t specific on what exactly that something should be.

School finance is usually Topic One when the governor appears before education advocacy groups, and that was the case Friday when he spoke to more than 700 people attending the summer conference of the Colorado Association of School Executives in Breckenridge.

“At some point we obviously are going to need to find additional resources and work on the negative factor and get more resources in the classroom,” the governor said, referring to the state’s school funding shortfall.

Doing that probably doesn’t include repealing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the constitutional provision that requires voter approval of tax increases and sets limits on annual increases in state spending, he said.

“I don’t think there’s a will to get that passed,” Hickenlooper said, saying advocates need to “work within” TABOR to increase school funding.

Creating public support for TABOR changes that would increase school funding needs to start at the grassroots, he said.

“All of us can collect the stories and the narratives … in a way that it [school funding] becomes about real people. … We’ve got to collect stories of individual people that are affected in a very, very significant way” by inadequate funding. “Just giving statistical numbers and trends has been insufficient to drive people to make changes.”

Educators are close to their communities and can drive public attitudes, he said. “You know what kind of stories it’s going to take to change their opinions.”

The governor also said voters want to know what they’ll get from any ballot measure to increase school funding. “What are voters going to get for it, what are they going to see, what outcomes?”

Hickenlooper said “deliverables” could include things like “more art and music … it could be a longer school day.”

Asked about equity and the continuing squeeze on funding for low-income and at-risk students, the governor said, “That’s got to be included in whatever solution we come up with.”

The governor also asked for CASE members’ support in persuading the legislature to change the classification of a fee imposed on hospitals to help provide Medicaid funding. Even though the fee’s uses are earmarked, it counts against the state’s overall revenue limit and has helped push revenues to the level that requires taxpayer refunds.

Reclassifying the fee so it didn’t count against the limit could free tax revenue for other spending. “We would be able to take some pretty big bites out of the negative factor,” Hickenlooper said.

A proposal to change the fee died in the 2015 legislature, but the administration plans to try again next session.

Speaking after Hickenlooper finished, Boulder Superintendent Bruce Messinger said, “I heard the governor say he’s going to work with us to get more money for public schools. … He looks to use to create the network around the state to accomplish that.” He urged CASE members to get legislators into schools “so they understand the impact of inadequate funding.”

Messinger is co-chair of CASE’s lobbying committee and has been a prominent advocate for increased funding.

In 2005 voters approved a constitutional change that eased some of TABOR’s limits on state spending. But in 2013 voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed $1 billion increase in income taxes to provide more school funding.

Various civic and business groups are discussing ideas for a possible 2016 ballot measure on school funding and other programs, but no definitive proposals have yet emerged.

Categories: Urban School News

After hesitation, more Colorado districts join federal program to give out universal free meals

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:13

A one-year-old federal program that allows school districts to offer universal free meals at some or all schools is growing in Colorado.

A dozen districts, most small and rural, are planning to participate in what’s called “Community Eligibility Provision” or CEP this year. The program, which no longer requires families to fill out applications in order for kids to receive free breakfast or lunch, launched with eight districts last year.

At the time, administrators in some eligible districts passed on CEP because of concerns it could jeopardize funding for at-risk students. A year in, that trepidation appears to have eased a bit.

CEP represents a shift from giving meals only to students who fall below the government’s income bar to all students in high poverty schools or districts. The goal is to increase access to school meals with the hope of reducing hunger and some of the issues that go along with it, such as spotty attendance or discipline problems.

Julie Griffith, program specialist in the state education department’s Office of School Nutrition, said CEP has been a good public relations step in the districts that have signed on.

“It is offering free meals to all students so there’s no barriers really,” she said.

“There’s no stigma attached…whereas maybe there used to be.”

PHOTO: Sarah GlenMostly rural districts in southern Colorado have confirmed participation in CEP for 2015-16.

In the 18,000-student Pueblo City Schools, administrators sat out CEP last year, but after much discussion this spring got the go-ahead from the school board.

Jill Kidd, nutrition services director for Pueblo City Schools, said in addition to making parents happy, she expects the program to increase meal participation by 5 percent districtwide and bring much-needed funding to her department. .

“I need refrigeration. I need upgraded electrical. I need ovens…I need new vehicles,” she said.

“There’s just not that kind of money in the district’s general fund to do those things, so this is an opportunity to get that kind of funding.”

The hitch in the giddyup

While CEP has the potential to achieve goals that food service directors strive for—feeding hungry kids and bumping up meal participation—it comes with a risk.

That is, the loss of millions in at-risk funding if districts can’t successfully transition from the old system of tallying low-income students to the new system under CEP.

The old system was based on counting free and reduced-price meal applications, which parents were required to fill out in order for their kids to receive free or subsidized lunches.

But under CEP, things are different. The application is gone, replaced by a similar form called the “Family Economic Data Survey.” The trick is ensuring that parents fill it out even though their kids get free meals either way.

Kidd said the possibility that parents won’t comply and the district will lose at-risk funding is the biggest con of CEP.

“The superintendent is still quite nervous about it,” she said.

Nevertheless, she said the district’s principals know the importance of collecting the new forms and there are procedures in place to ensure that it happens.

Low-income schools

Schools or entire districts are eligible for the CEP program for four years if 40 percent or more of their students are identified as low-income because they receive certain types of government benefits such as SNAP (formerly known as the food stamp program), or are classified as homeless, migrant or in foster care.

CEP districts
Continuing participants from ’14-15

  • Harrison-19 schools
  • Alamosa-districtwide
  • Centennial-districtwide
  • Moffat Consolidated-districtwide
  • Mountain Valley-districtwide
  • Sierra Grande-districtwide
  • South Conejos-districtwide

New participants for 2015-16

  • Huerfano-districtwide
  • East Otero-2 of 3 schools
  • Rocky Ford-2 of 3 schools
  • Pueblo 60-districtwide
  • Center-districtwide

Discontinuing districts

  • Mesa County Valley 51-1 school

This “identified student percentage” is typically lower than a school or district’s free and reduced-price meal rate.

For example, Pueblo City Schools, the largest Colorado district participating in CEP this year, has an “identified student percentage” of 61 percent. In contrast, 72 percent of its nearly 18,000 students were eligible for free or subsidized meals last year.

While many districts don’t qualify for CEP on a districtwide basis, they are allowed implement the program in select schools that exceed the 40 percent threshold. That, however, has not been widely embraced in Colorado.

In part it’s because it requires two different systems of data collection to occur simultaneously—the traditional meal applications and the family economic data surveys. While a combined form is now available, there are still two sets of requirements to navigate.

Only three of this year’s 12 CEP districts–Harrison, East Otero and Rocky Ford—are opting for partial implementation. (All three districts qualify for the program districtwide, but stand to benefit more financially if they do it at their highest needs schools rather than all schools.)

Griffith said the education department’s goal for next year will be to recruit more districts for partial CEP implementation. This year the focus was districts eligible for full implementation, she said.

The deadline for CEP adoption this year is August 31.


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