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Updated: Vaccination education bill passes House 42-19

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 18:57

Updated March 24 - The House voted 42-19 Monday to pass House Bill 14-1288, the immunization measure that has touched a few nerves at the Capitol and among the public.

A small band of opponents gave it their best during preliminary debate on Friday, but the House gave easy preliminary approval to the measure, setting the stage for Monday’s final vote.

The House passed the measure on a voice vote following a 40-minute debate, during which one opponent complained the bill was telling parents “you’re too stupid to make this decision on your own.” A final roll-call vote will be taken later.

The bill would require parents who want to opt children out of immunizations for reasons of “personal belief” to obtain a note from a doctor or medical professional certifying they have been briefed on the benefits and risks of vaccinations. Or, parents could complete a state online training about those risks and benefits.

State law requires certain vaccinations for all children entering licensed daycare facilities and all schools, public and private. But the law also allows parents to opt out for religious, medical or personal belief reasons. To use the latter option parents need only sign a slip saying they’re opting out.

HB 14-1288 wouldn’t change the law on religious or medical opt outs but would require the educational component for parents who use personal belief.

Sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said the bill is aimed at parents who think that “it’s easier and more convenient to sign the form rather than provide immunization records” and who don’t actually have strong personal beliefs about the safety of immunizations.

“I stand firmly for parent rights on this issue,” said Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Windsor. He added, “I’m not confident that [education] is the ultimate goal.” (Some witnesses at a recent committee hearing said they fear the bill is just a step toward later elimination of the personal belief exemption.)

Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, argued, “Parents have done their research” and the bill isn’t needed.

Minority Leader Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, took that idea a step further with the “too stupid” comment.

Opponents tried various amendments, all of which failed. The only successful amendment makes it clear that the bill wouldn’t apply to children who are fully home-schooled or enrolled in a full-time online program.

No debate on this one

The House Friday voted 59-3 to pass House Bill 14-1291, which would allow charter schools to hire armed security guards. (Districts already have that power.) The bipartisan measure is a kind of a “consolation prize” for another guns-in-schools bill that was killed earlier. (Get the background in this story.)

Categories: Urban School News

Wellness follows a questionable path at test time

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 13:46

It’s TCAP season and at many Colorado schools that means a major effort to push healthy habits that will help kids perform their best. Think school-provided breakfast, pre-test laps around the track, deep breathing exercises, contests to encourage enough sleep, and special snacks and drinks.

But some parents and advocates worry that these efforts, while well-intentioned, have limited value if they only last as long as the spring testing window.

“It’s sad,” said Shawn St. Sauveur, a health specialist for Denver Public Schools. “Why are we so focused on it during testing but not the rest of the year?”

“It’s just sending the wrong message that testing is more important than anything else that happens in a school,” said Rainey Wikstrom, a Denver parent and wellness consultant.

To some educators, that may well be the case. With test results impacting everything from school performance ratings to teacher evaluations, it’s hard to take a chance that hunger-induced headaches or stomachaches will impair test-takers. And with strong evidence showing that exercise boosts focus, a pre-test regimen of jumping jacks, brisk walking or aerobics seems like common sense.

At some schools, it’s already part of the daily routine. At Bauder Elementary, a health and wellness-focused school in Fort Collins, universal breakfast and brain breaks occur daily whether or not it’s TCAP time.

“I’m hesitant to do anything special or unique just because of TCAP,” said Principal Brian Carpenter. “It should not be a big deal.”

Healthy snacks that aren’t so healthy

Healthy snacks during TCAP time are a common initiative in elementary and middle schools, but many parents say the snacks are often full of sugar and empty calories.

One Denver mother, who asked not to be identified, walked by her daughter’s classroom before TCAP testing, and saw a stack of pretzels and cookies on her desk along with a juice pouch. She saw the same types of snacks over five or six days of testing, and then on the last day there was an ice cream party.

Wikstrom said similar snacks popped up during testing at her daughter’s middle school, which solicited healthy snack donations from parents in an e-mail that said the effort would “make this time special for the students.”

“It’s really used as a way to motivate and manage kids’ performance,” she said.

At University Park Elementary, where her daughter used to go, parents typically put together an elaborate breakfast buffet in the hallway during testing time. While Wikstrom said the food was generally healthy, with items like fruit and yogurt parfaits and bagels with cream cheese, it often amounted to a second breakfast since many student either ate at home or in the school cafeteria first.

“Just the chronic overfeeding of kids in school is rampant,” she said. “Kids underperform when they’re overfed.”

TCAP Snack Makeover

At Denver’s Montclair School for Academics and Enrichment, parent Kristen Cooper has the job of organizing TCAP snacks. Last year when a local church donated money for the effort, she went out of her way to buy healthy foods, including organic strawberries and carrots, bananas, sunflower seeds, cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Those items were served along with bagels donated by a local Einstein Bros shop. This year, Cooper said, parents and school staff decided to bake those snack costs—about $300—into the school budget.

“You can do it healthfully,” she said. “I wish I could do away with the bagels…but you have to find that balance. At least it’s not Capri Sun or cookies or goldfish.”

Montclair is not immune to the siren song of candy during TCAP time. Cooper said students got two squares of dark chocolate–she chose a variety with 77 percent partly because it has less sugar–as part of one pre-test snack. In addition, teachers hand out small packs of “Smarties” or “Nerds” as a reward after a day of testing.

It’s hardly uncommon. Lots of schools give out candy or sponsor treat-filled events this time of year. Some schools even hand out peppermints because the scent is supposed to help kids stay alert during the test.

But some schools are making small changes for the healthier. For example, Soroco middle school and high school in the South Routt School District used to throw ice cream parties to celebrate the end of TCAPs. This year, smoothies were the centerpiece of those parties.

An extra push for exercise

Increasingly, schools are incorporating more physical activity into the average school day with classroom movement breaks, structured recess or after-school fitness activities. Even so, these efforts definitely ramp up during testing.

This image was sent out to staff at Montclair Elementary School in Denver prior to testing.

At Dupont Elementary School in the Adams 14 district, students got extra recess during TCAP time, plus special activities at the end of test days, including a Zumba class one day and a dance party another.

“We wanted to keep it healthy and active,” said assistant principal Don Bertolo, who noted that the only food-related activity was one day of cookie-decorating. The idea was “to get their minds off of TCAP and get…decompressed.”

In Jefferson County, students and teachers at Falcon Bluffs Middle School fan out around the building before TCAPS for a 30-minute session of relay races, jump-roping and other heart-pumping movement. The pre-test physical activity was launched last year as the school was piloting a year-long effort to increase physical activity among at-risk students in hopes of improving reading performance.

Principal Ryan West said his staff noticed big differences in students’ test-taking behavior after the movement sessions. They took more time, were more thorough and went back to double check answers.

At Montclair, teachers also do pre-TCAP exercises, ranging from Tae Bo and yoga to jogging on the track. Cooper said brain breaks are used regularly during non-testing times as well.

Eat your breakfast!

Perhaps one benefit of the wellness push during TCAP time is the chance that some efforts will take root. St. Sauveur said principals often contact him asking how they can serve breakfast in the classroom during testing weeks.

“This is the time we get our foot in the door,” he said.

While principals are given the choice to discontinue the program after testing, nine times out of 10, that doesn’t happen, said St. Sauveur.

Denise Marques, a parent of two children at Charles Hay World School in Englewood, said the school used to provide breakfast only during testing time.

“That really bothered me,” she said, adding that it didn’t make sense to focus “on healthy food and breakfast for only two weeks out of the year.”

Things changed last month when Charles Hay launched a permanent breakfast in the classroom program. Marques isn’t sure if the timing was related to testing or not, but she’s pleased nevertheless.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: DOE finds inequality in number of fronts

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 09:48

Black students are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience, according to comprehensive data released Friday by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. (The New York Times)

In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from all of the country’s 97,000 public schools, the Education Department found a pattern of inequality on a number of fronts, with race as the dividing factor.

CONDOM PILOT EXPANDS: Chicago Public Schools and the city’s public health department will be expanding a pilot program to make condoms available to high school students to 24 schools this fall as part of an ongoing effort to combat teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among young people. School officials said currently condoms are available at two district schools—Collins High School and Foreman High School. The district will be working with the Chicago Department of Public Health to identify which 24 schools will get the condoms, but CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said it is ultimately up to each principal to decide whether condoms will be available in their school building. (Tribune)

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS CHIEF CRIES FOUL: Changes in the standardized testing that Chicago Public Schools is requiring for entry to selective-enrollment high schools puts Catholic school students at a distinct disadvantage, the superintendent of the city's Catholic schools says in a letter sent to the district and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Tribune)

STUDENTS QUESTIONED: Fury is spreading among some parents of children at a Bucktown public school where investigators from the Chicago Public School's Law Department have been taking students out of classrooms and questioning them behind closed doors, sources confirmed Thursday. (DNAInfo)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: It’s official, no e-cigs for Pueblo students

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/21/2014 - 08:19

Add that to the list

Jeffco parents and teachers have a long and detailed list of what they would want to see in a new superintendent. And they have some tough questions for the people doing the hiring. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Another new face

Parents at Morey Middle School found out Wednesday who the school's new principal will be. It's the latest in a series of leadership changes at Denver schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Working out the bugs

Colorado will join 13 other states in running field tests of the upcoming new standardized tests and officials expect there to be glitches. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing season

Some teachers say they are "tested" by the testing and struggle to balance the time requirements of the tests with instructional time. ( 9News )

How I learned to stop worrying and love the new standards

One teacher finds a lot to love in the new Common Core standards, including higher expectations and less memorization. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Ban the smoke

Pueblo's school board has officially banned electronic cigarettes, which some worry are targeted at teens. ( Chieftain )

Around the network

150 teachers in Indiana spent the day on an experiment: could they build a better school budget, with better teacher pay? ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Memphis and Colorado principals were featured in videos about school leadership. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

New York's new chancellor of schools says the city will not force teachers into positions they don't want or force principals to accept an unwanted teacher, a practice known as forced placement. In Colorado, that practice has also been banned under SB-191, through so-called "mutual consent," which is currently being challenged by the teachers' union. ( Chalkbeat NY )

Categories: Urban School News

CPS investigating alleged ‘teacher misconduct’ with test boycott

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 19:33

UPDATE: Following Thursday's interviews at Drummond, CPS officials visited Saucedo on Friday to continue their investigation into "teacher misconduct" related to the recent ISAT boycott. CPS officials said that, unlike Thursday, no students were questioned on Friday.

Saucedo teachers said that CPS investigators only interviewed teachers who didn't boycott the test.

Investigators from the Chicago Public Schools Law department interviewed students and staff today about possible “teacher misconduct” related to ISAT testing at Drummond Montessori, where some teachers refused to administer the standardized tests as part of a highly publicized teacher protest earlier this month.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said in a statement that the district wants “to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered,” although he could not confirm any specific allegations.

The district has not yet disciplined any teachers at Drummond or at Saucedo Scholastic Elementary, where the entire faculty also boycotted the test. But Hood said that teachers do face possible discipline, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Drummond parents who “opted” their children out of taking the exams  – which CPS is phasing out and will not count this year toward students’ promotions or entry into selective schools – cried foul after learning that investigators had questioned some children without their consent.

“Don’t use these kids as pawns in this political game,” said Jonathan Goldman, a parent and chair of Drummond’s local school council. “Given that the allegations that has been made generally is that perhaps teachers were actively encouraging parents to opt their students out, then they should be talking with the parents. It’s the parents who made the decision.”

Goldman and other parents say they don’t understand why CPS did not notify parents or ask for permission before interviewing students. Some parents, including Mike Staudenmaier, called the school after learning of the ongoing investigation to ask that their children not be questioned.

Staudenmaier said he was “infuriated” that the school district would interrogate children at the school without attempting to notify their parents. 

“I’m not a lawyer but this seems completely unethical and reprehensible,” he said. “They know how to reach us and they chose not to attempt to reach me or any other parent, probably because they recognized they wouldn’t have any sympathy from us. So they harassed our kids instead.”

Hood did not respond to the parents’ criticism, but described the investigation as routine. He said that any time there are allegations of teacher misconduct, students and staff may be interviewed. He also clarified that CPS had sent investigators from its Law department, and not actual attorneys, to Drummond to conduct the interviews.

In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Hood said that “CPS may conduct similar investigations at other schools around the district.” Although he declined to name the other schools, the comment is a likely reference to Saucedo.

The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight any discipline.


Read CPS’s complete statement below. 

"Chicago Public Schools is meeting and talking with students, teachers and staff at Drummond Elementary School about ISAT testing to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered. CPS officials only spoke with students who opted to talk with them and the investigation does not pertain to any student disciplinary issue. Students who chose not to take the state-required ISAT test last week do not face discipline from the District. CPS has decreased the number of standardized tests issued each year, but the District is required by Illinois law to administer the ISAT, and the test is tied to federal and state funding for schools."

Categories: Urban School News

CPS investigating alleged ‘teacher misconduct’ with test boycott

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 19:33

UPDATE: Following Thursday's interviews at Drummond, CPS officials visited Saucedo on Friday to continue their investigation into "teacher misconduct" related to the recent ISAT boycott. CPS officials said that, unlike Thursday, no students were questioned on Friday.

Saucedo teachers said that CPS investigators only interviewed teachers who didn't boycott the test.

Investigators from the Chicago Public Schools Law department interviewed students and staff today about possible “teacher misconduct” related to ISAT testing at Drummond Montessori, where some teachers refused to administer the standardized tests as part of a highly publicized teacher protest earlier this month.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said in a statement that the district wants “to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered,” although he could not confirm any specific allegations.

The district has not yet disciplined any teachers at Drummond or at Saucedo Scholastic Elementary, where the entire faculty also boycotted the test. But Hood said that teachers do face possible discipline, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Meanwhile, Drummond parents who “opted” their children out of taking the exams  – which CPS is phasing out and will not count this year toward students’ promotions or entry into selective schools – cried foul after learning that investigators had questioned some children without their consent.

“Don’t use these kids as pawns in this political game,” said Jonathan Goldman, a parent and chair of Drummond’s local school council. “Given that the allegations that has been made generally is that perhaps teachers were actively encouraging parents to opt their students out, then they should be talking with the parents. It’s the parents who made the decision.”

Goldman and other parents say they don’t understand why CPS did not notify parents or ask for permission before interviewing students. Some parents, including Mike Staudenmaier, called the school after learning of the ongoing investigation to ask that their children not be questioned.

Staudenmaier said he was “infuriated” that the school district would interrogate children at the school without attempting to notify their parents. 

“I’m not a lawyer but this seems completely unethical and reprehensible,” he said. “They know how to reach us and they chose not to attempt to reach me or any other parent, probably because they recognized they wouldn’t have any sympathy from us. So they harassed our kids instead.”

Hood did not respond to the parents’ criticism, but described the investigation as routine. He said that any time there are allegations of teacher misconduct, students and staff may be interviewed. He also clarified that CPS had sent investigators from its Law department, and not actual attorneys, to Drummond to conduct the interviews.

In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Hood said that “CPS may conduct similar investigations at other schools around the district.” Although he declined to name the other schools, the comment is a likely reference to Saucedo.

The Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to fight any discipline.


Read CPS’s complete statement below. 

"Chicago Public Schools is meeting and talking with students, teachers and staff at Drummond Elementary School about ISAT testing to ensure students were comfortable during the time the test was administered. CPS officials only spoke with students who opted to talk with them and the investigation does not pertain to any student disciplinary issue. Students who chose not to take the state-required ISAT test last week do not face discipline from the District. CPS has decreased the number of standardized tests issued each year, but the District is required by Illinois law to administer the ISAT, and the test is tied to federal and state funding for schools."

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado among 14 states to begin field testing new assessments Monday

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 18:37

Colorado students at more than 400 schools will be among thousands across the nation that will take part in the trial run of new standardized tests beginning Monday.

And officials behind the tests, which will be used in more than a dozen states, are expecting there to be plenty of hurdles, hiccups, snags and snafus. But that’s the point of the trial run, they said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

The aim of the pilot tests here and in the 13 other states apart of the coalition that developed the standardized tests, known as PARCC, is to work out any technological mishaps and to gauge the quality of the test questions, officials said. Those who designed the test, including teachers and instructional leaders across the country, want to make sure the questions are fair and accurately measure what students know.

“It’s my hope that when glitches arise — and they are inevitable — we don’t immediately assume things aren’t going well,” said Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education and chair of the governing board that is developing the tests.

Colorado is one of the 14 states participating in the development and execution of new standardized tests that will be used next spring. Most students will take the PARCC tests on computers and mobile devices in lieu of the paper-and-pencil TCAPs. The tests are supposed to measure student knowledge against the Colorado Academic Standards, which are based in large part on the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by 45 states.

The state also uses several years of testing data to measure student growth, or how much a student learned from year-to-year compared to their academic peers. That information factors heavily into school and district accountability measures.

Colorado schools have been putting those new standards into effect this year at various paces. And several districts have raised concerns that their technological infrastructure could be maxed out during testing time periods.

Most of the Colorado schools and districts participating in the trial run were identified by officials at PARCC, said Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessments for the Colorado Department of Education, in a separate interview. But whether they participated was left up to local leaders.

She said the department hopes to learn how it will best be able to support districts when most students begin taking the new exams next spring.

No student, school or district data collected from the field study will be released, officials said. However, the PARCC governing board is expected to release several findings including how comparable the paper-and-pencil is to its digital counterpart.

Categories: Urban School News

In the latest DPS leadership change, a new principal at Morey Middle School

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 17:18

District officials announced the new leader of central Denver’s Morey Middle School yesterday, replacing the school’s current leader who will leave at the end of the year.

It’s the second such announcement this month. Two weeks ago, Columbine Elementary School parents met their school’s new principal, after the controversial departure of its current leader.

In both of these cases, the district replaced the leaders after only two years and both schools have seen repeated leadership changes. Columbine has seen five principals in seven years. At Morey, the new leader, Noah Tonk, will be the third in five years, although past leaders have stayed as long as seven years.

A Morey parent who participated in the public interviews of candidates said Tonk seemed well-prepared and aware of what’s happening at the school. Tonk, who will take the reins this summer, previously taught in Adams 12 and has been an assistant principal for the past four years at Goshen High School, in Indiana.

The letter Tonk sent to parents to introduce himself is available here. Check back for updates.

Categories: Urban School News

Amid tension, Jeffco parents, teachers outline priorities for superintendent search

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 16:17

ARVADA — Wanted: Proven leader for large suburban school district. Five years of classroom experience a must. Exceptional communication skills, working knowledge of how to manage a multi-million dollar budget and previous experience negotiating contracts with labor organizations imperative. Should be detailed-orientated, student-driven, able to understand large amounts of data. Advanced degrees in education preferable. Must be able to mend fences.

That’s the description of the kind of superintendent Jefferson County teachers, parents, and students painted Wednesday night when they met with the superintendent search firm, Ray and Associates, Inc.

The meetings at Arvada West High School concluded two days of conversations the search firm, contracted by the Jeffco Public Schools board of education, held with individuals interested in the hunt for a new leader.

The suburban school district, west of Denver, hopes to have a new leader chosen by May. The search comes after Cindy Stevenson, who led the district for 12 years, left abruptly in February. Stevenson announced her plans to retire at the end of the school year after a new conservative majority was elected last fall. She said her decision to leave early was born out of distrust between herself and the board’s majority.

The tension between Stevenson and the board has spilled out to a portion of the Jefferson County community. While the breadth of the apprehension was not evident at the evening meeting — the size of the crowd was far less then the hundreds who have become regulars at board meetings — the depth was apparent. Some teachers and parents who spoke out against the board declined to give their name to a report out of fear of retribution.

Whoever the board chooses to lead the district will have to be able to bridge the widening division between some portions of the Jeffco community and the board’s majority, those in attendance said — repeatedly — Wednesday.

“He or she is going to have to find a way to unify the district,” said one parent.

Some participants feared the superintendent search would drive a deeper wedge between the district’s community. They questioned the search firm: Had they already began identifying candidates? Has the board’s majority already made their decision?

No, said Bill Newman, executive director of Ray and Associates.

Newman continued, the process of hiring a superintendent can be healing for a split board of directors. He hopes his company’s process of hiring, which relies on individual and team work among the board, will provide that opportunity.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” Newman said.

Researchers have routinely concluded hiring a superintendent is the most important role of a school board. And a weak transition between leaders could hinder a district.

Other issues the new superintendent will have to navigate include leading contract negations with the district’s unions, shepherding new projects like teacher evaluations and administering new tests that will be conducted on computers and mobile devices. The superintendent will also be in charge of a nearly-billion dollar budget, community members said.

The new leader will also to develop a detailed understanding of Jefferson County and the many different communities it serves. The district sprawls from north-Littleton to south-Westminster and west from Edgewater into the foothills of Conifer, teachers and parents said.

“Every building in the district has its own life, its own culture,” said Debbie Millard, a parent and counselor at Bear Creek K-8. “Whoever is selected needs to be in those buildings. They have to know the unique struggles and successes. They have to know the school’s heartbeat.”

Parents and teachers agreed a leader with new ideas could be beneficial for the district, especially for some of the district’s more urban schools that border Denver and are lower-performing than more affluent schools deep in the suburbs.

“Those schools sometimes don’t have a large voice,” said Michele Bonfoey, a parent and teacher at Arvada West said. “We need to think about them sometimes more then we think about the schools that are doing well, because they won’t speak up for themselves.”

But a one-size-fits-all agenda pushing superintendent would face backlash, those in the school’s auditorium said.

“Picking up the newest fad will not work in this district,” a teacher said.

A crucial decision for the board and its new superintendent will be around how much “reform” the district needs, Newman said. He said he’ll coach the board to ask questions that will address what candidates have accomplished in previous positions rather than what they’d like to accomplish in Jeffco in order to gauge possible proven strategies that could yield the kind of outcomes the board wants.

The team from Ray and Associates will present its findings based on the community forums, an online survey and interviews with board members at the board’s April 3 meeting. The board will then develop an official job description and identify characteristics and skills they want to see in candidates. Ray and Associates will then screen potential candidates and provide the board with a short list of about a dozen candidates. The board, through a rating system developed by the search firm, will identify two or three top candidates and interview them. At that point, Newman said, the final steps and decision is up to the board.

Ray and Associates has a two year guarantee for every search they conduct.

Categories: Urban School News

The power of teaching (and speaking) in the present tense: my testimony in favor of Common Core

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 15:00

Last week, I was able to testify on behalf of the Common Core State Standards to the Colorado state senate committee on education, who convened to hear testimony for and against a bill written to pause implementation.

I found out late last Thursday that my voice, along with other voices from CTQ Colorado teachers, parents, union leadership and concerned stakeholders, influenced the committee so much that the proposed bill was voted down by a four to three vote.

As a topic of much debate across the country, here are my remarks on how the Common Core (embedded into our state’s Colorado Academic Standards) have become a positive force for learning and growth in my classroom.

I am here today to share some of my experiences with the Colorado Academic Standards, past and present, and to help you see how critical these standards are to the growth and success of all Colorado students.

I am here today to share some of my experiences with the Colorado Academic Standards, past and present, and to help you see how critical these standards are to the growth and success of all Colorado students.

I have been teaching for eleven years. I entered the profession around the same time that state standardized tests and the concept of standards driven instruction started to look similar to what it does today. When I started my first job, I was handed the old Colorado standards for English Language Arts, which comprised six focus areas and a laundry list of terms and ideas students were expected to recognize.

Very rarely in my early years of teaching did I feel like the old standards asked students to be critical thinkers or consumers of the world. This lack of student-centric instruction led to passive learning experiences for most of my kids. They only learned what I said was important and only learned it long enough to do well on their final assessments for that unit.

When I hear the argument that we need to return to the more simplistic and “better” instructional practices that existed prior to the implementation of the revised Colorado Academic Standards in 2010, I truly wonder how going back to passive learning will help our 21st century students be successful in the world that awaits them?

I own that my instructional practice as a teacher needed improvement in those early years. But my students and I also needed a higher bar to motivate us towards authentic thinking and learning.

Last year was the first official year of implementation for the new standards in my school. It took a lot of time, thinking and energy to realign our classes to these new standards, which on the whole are much more geared towards the teaching of practical skills and assessment of authentic learning targets.

At first I was trepidatious about the changes, but as my colleagues and I worked, we engaged in incredible collaboration about the best ways to teach and assess students.

The new standards have allowed us the opportunity to move away from lists of ideas and passive learning. Teachers and students now engage in much more authentic learning—learning that is geared towards real-world outcomes rather than rote tasks and memorization.

The new standards have allowed us the opportunity to move away from lists of ideas and passive learning. Teachers and students now engage in much more authentic learning—learning that is geared towards real-world outcomes rather than rote tasks and memorization.

My 10th grade students both this year and last are still reading, writing, researching and speaking.

Now, though, they are reading literature and non-fiction with the intention of building comprehension skills that can transfer to any literature or non-fiction text that they might come across in their future learning.

They are writing daily and are learning how to review their writing with a critical lens so that it can better achieve their rhetorical purpose and address their intended audiences.

They are speaking and listening every day not to earn points, but to grapple with complex ideas and to learn how to negotiate collaborative situations with purpose and grace.

They are researching and learning about things that interest them, learning how to create their own inquiry questions and how to review sources for accuracy and reliability.

In short, they are learning how to think for themselves and are being exposed to multiple opportunities to experiment with their thinking and skills so that they can be independent learners, workers and humans once they leave the K-12 system.

They are learning how to think for themselves and are being exposed to multiple opportunities to experiment with their thinking and skills so that they can be independent learners, workers and humans once they leave the K-12 system.

Just this week, for example, my students read an analyzed a series of primary source documents to build support for an in-class discussion about the costs and benefits of rapid societal change—something they will all experience within their lifetime.

A great deal of hard and valuable work has already gone into the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards. More importantly, though students have a high academic bar placed before them and it is exciting to see them rise to the challenges we are putting forth.

I believe very strongly that it is our responsibility as stakeholders in the Colorado educational system to ensure that all students have a high quality education that is comparable to what students from across the country receive. We owe it to my students and all students in Colorado to make sure that each child is given ample opportunity to learn and apply skills necessary for whatever the 21st century has in store.

We owe it to my students and all students in Colorado to make sure that each child is given ample opportunity to learn and apply skills necessary for whatever the 21st century has in store.

This post originally appeared on Teaching in the Present Tense, a Center for Teaching Quality blog.

Categories: Urban School News

At charters, variety the norm for teacher evaluations

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 12:38

During the contract negotiation sessions that recently ended at the UNO Charter School Network, one of the biggest points of contention for teachers was the evaluation system and its link to year-end bonuses.

Teachers considered the evaluation metrics unfair and complained that formal observations weren’t done the same way in all classrooms.

“For us, they stay the whole hour. For other [schools], they may only stay 15 minutes,” says Gerit Nora, a 5th-grade teacher at UNO’s Officer Donald Marquez Elementary. “In some schools, teachers never get feedback all year but then get a score at the end.”

At Marquez, teachers are formally observed and evaluated four times a year, Nora says. The evaluations are factored into a year-end score that comprises 40 percent of a teacher’s rating. Half of the rating is student growth on the NWEA test, and the remaining 10 percent is a mix of student attendance, student dress code compliance, and school-wide and network-wide performance.

The evaluation process did not change under the new contract ratified this week by UNO teachers and staff, who were represented by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or Chicago ACTS.

But the contract did eliminate the link between evaluations and pay. Mallory Bruno, a special education teacher at UNO’s Octavio Paz Elementary School, said the bonus system “really formed bad relationships and ruined morale.”

Organizers said UNO administrators “really believed” in the system and were unwilling to change it, but compromised on the link to bonuses.

UNO representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

While traditional schools in CPS must adhere to the new evaluation system called REACH (Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago), one of the hallmarks of charter schools is the variety of systems used to evaluate teachers. 

Nationally, charter school teacher evaluations can be “as different as the number of charters,” says Nancy Waymack of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “It is hard to generalize and say that charters evaluate their teachers in one way, versus districts.”

Allison Jack, director of charter growth and support at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says charter school principals often can spend more time in the classroom for observations because they more commonly hire business managers to take on school operations. As a result, they may be more hands-on, teaching lessons and observing teachers regularly.

As with UNO, charter schools commonly weigh growth in test scores more heavily in evaluations than non-charters. (Under REACH, test score growth currently accounts for up to 25 percent of teacher evaluations.)

In charters, scores are also often used to determine merit pay, unlike in traditional CPS schools.

Chicago ACTS President Brian Harris says that union members are almost entirely opposed to merit pay, believing it sows distrust. Instead, Harris suggests, evaluations should be about coaching and improving teachers’ work.

Teacher firing not a big strategy

Waymack notes that charter schools have more freedom to fire teachers with—or without—negative evaluations. But charters have not necessarily been quick to get rid of teachers who don’t measure up. Instead, some say they place more emphasis on good hiring practices and training.

Angela Montagna, director of external affairs at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, says the network leaves it to principals to “decide if and how they want to evaluate teachers.”

All teachers in the Noble network are eligible for bonuses based on factors including growth in student test scores, school culture, and parent involvement. But principals get the leeway to create their own evaluation systems.

Tyson Kane, the founding principal of Noble Street-Chicago Bulls College Prep, says that the network places a greater emphasis on hiring teachers who can demonstrate good results with students, rather than on evaluation once teachers are hired.

At Kane’s school, 80 percent of teachers’ evaluations scores are based on factors related to student achievement, like ACT and Advanced Placement test results and whether students are on-track to be promoted to the next grade. The remaining 20 percent is determined by more intangible factors, like professionalism and helping other teachers.

Teachers are measured against the Noble network’s own historical data that shows how much progress teachers are able to make with students.

He says the school focuses on outcomes such as test scores because those are the same factors that will determine life opportunities for students.

“If those outputs are on the critical path to our students being able to graduate from college, then we really have to give credence to these things [that] Harvard and Yale and Dartmouth are saying,” Kane says.

Allison Slade, the founding principal of Namaste Charter School, says that school uses a modified version of Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the teacher rating system CPS has adapted for its observations.

Teachers receive 12 short, informal observations each year from administrators and colleagues who drop into their room, and two longer, formal observations from their immediate supervisor.

Teachers don’t get an overall rating, however. “I don’t think that is helpful in helping a teacher grow,” Slade says. Instead, they get ratings in each category of the scoring rubric.

Teachers with lower ratings are put on an “Improvement Action Plan,” but three-quarters of them complete it successfully and are able to keep their jobs.

Test scores are a factor in teachers’ raises, along with attendance on the job and at professional development workshops, plus other intangibles like collegiality, communication with families, and observation ratings.

Contributing: Melissa Sanchez

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Boards wrestle with public comment

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 10:15

Which job counts?

Superintendents juggle lots of jobs in small districts, creating some tricky problems for evaluating their performance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Paying for schools

The House Education has amended and passed two of the session's biggest finance bills but left some controversial issues for the Senate to solve. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The data gap

The Senate Wednesday voted 19-14 for final passage of the measure that modifies the district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Let them talk

The Thompson school board has ended the debate over public comment at meetings by deciding to allow unlimited input from audience members at certain meetings. ( Reporter-Herald )

Meanwhile in Dougco

The Douglas County school board also is wrestling with the issue of public comment at its meetings. ( News-Press )

Marijuana and teens

A young woman tells her story of marijuana addiction in the latest installment of a series on the impact of legalized marijuana on teenagers. ( CPR )

Lawsuit time

A former top Poudre district administrator is suing the district for what claims was wrongful termination. ( Coloradoan )

Wyoming schools

A new accountability system to grade Wyoming schools, teachers and principals is still on track despite two failed bills on the topic this legislative session, state education officials say. ( Trib.com )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CCSR report looks at sorting students by ability

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/20/2014 - 09:34

How students are sorted into classrooms by skill level can have as much of an effect on their achievement as the content they are taught, according to a new report by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. "Skill-Based Sorting in the Era of College Prep for All" examines the effects of two curricular reforms by Chicago Public Schools, one that sorted students into algebra classes based on ability and another that de-sorted students. (Press release)
Key findings from the report include:
• Overall, test scores are higher when classes are sorted by skills due to large benefits for high-skilled students’ learning gains.
• However, sorting by ability has different effects on test scores than on grades and pass rates; the grades and pass rates of high-skilled students decline, while the grades of low-skilled students improve.

HAPPY STUDENTS IN HYDE PARK: A video of Kenwood Academy High School students singing and dancing in the hallways to Pharrell Williams’ infectious hit “Happy” has become a minor YouTube sensation, drawing nearly 14,000 views – more than seven times the school’s population – in just a few days. Produced last week on the South Side campus, teens perform for the cameras alongside teachers, security guards, administrators and the school mascot, Billy the Bronco. (Tribune)

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS AND DATA MINING: To woo prospective students, many schools are increasingly gathering multiple streams of online information to hone the most personalized pitch. Institutions are turning to "big data" companies such as Hobsons, Oracle and Ellucian to be their Match.com. The trove of data allows recruiters to mine social media interactions, Internet habits and the socioeconomic standing of a student's parents, experts say. (Tribune)

IN THE STATE
LET GO: The Belleville School District 118 school board unanimously approved the honorable dismissals of one full-time teacher and 24 teaching assistants at its meeting Tuesday night. (Belleville News Democrat)

IN THE NATION
BOON FOR PUBLISHERS: The new education standards called Common Core that are being adopted in 45 states and Washington, D.C., have has created an opportunity not just for companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children's books - novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure. (NPR)

MORE PRE-K EXPANSION: Maryland already offers free pre-kindergarten classes to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds, but state leaders proposed a new bill that would slowly expand those classes to all 4-year-olds. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Some key school finance decisions left for Senate

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 21:25

Two important school finance bills moved smoothly out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday, with some touchy major issues left for the Senate.

After saying how pleased she was with how work on the bills had gone, prime sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner said, “I will also acknowledge we have more work to do. … We have agreed to let the Senate take on the challenges that remain.”

Those issues include reform of enrollment counting and use of school construction funds, among others.

House Bills 14-1292 and 14-1298 still face two House floor votes before they move to the other chamber, but no major changes are expected on the floor.

Known as the Student Success Act, HB 14-1292 would reduce the current $1 billion school funding shortfall by $100 million and also proposes spending a total of more than $200 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learner programs, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems.

The accompanying School Finance Act, House Bill 14-1298, is partly a technical bill needed to provide annual school spending, but it also would provide an additional $17 million that districts could use for either preschool or full-day kindergarten slots for at-risk children. The money would support slots for 5,000 additional students.

The committee approved both major and minor amendments proposed by its sponsors after extensive negotiations with school districts and other interest groups about HB 14-1292.

But the most important amendment, which would have stripped a controversial new enrollment counting system from the bill, wasn’t offered because of lack of agreement on the issue.

The original version of the bill proposed a phased switch to the average daily membership system of counting enrollment, replacing the state’s current Oct. 1 single count. That’s a change sought by Republicans and education reform groups, but districts have pushed back on the idea because of concerns about cost and administrative burdens.

Hamner prepared an amendment that would have replaced the ADM section of the bill with a two-count system, Oct. 1 and Feb. 1. She indicated she hadn’t reached agreement on the issue with Rep. Kevin Priola of Brighton, the primary Republican proponent of ADM.

“This conversation will continue in the Senate,” said Hamner, a Dillon Democrat who’s also chair of the committee. With a nod to people “who aren’t quite as pleased or satisfied” with the bill as she is, Hamner added, “Clearly there’s more work to be done on the ADM language” and on parts of the bill that propose spending on kindergarten and charter school facilities. Critics of those provisions fear they would divert money from the Building Excellent Schools Today construction grant program.

Another amendment, which would change the bill’s proposed spending on English language learner programs, was proposed and adopted. The amendment reduces the proposed funding from $35 million to $30.5 million, would provide the money through an existing distribution mechanism rather than a separate one originally proposed and would reduce the levels of data reporting requirements and Department of Education oversight originally suggested.

The amendment “takes out some of the requirements that the school districts found onerous and complicated,” Hamner said.

Two other amendments expand the potential uses of funds district would receive from a $40 million “implementation fund” intended to help them pay the costs of implementing new content standards, tests and education evaluation systems.

The committee made no changes in HB 14-1292’s proposal to reduce the K-12 spending shortfall (known as the negative factor) by $100 million. Districts have pushing for reductions as high as $275 million.

Hamner obliquely referred to that dispute by noting that new state revenue forecasts weren’t “quite as optimistic as we’ve hoped for,” hinting that a larger reduction would be difficult.

(In a related development, the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday voted 5-1 for an amendment to the yet-to-be-introduced state budget bill that would devote an additional $52 million to K-12 funding next year. The money would be raised by shaving planned increases in payments to medical providers and in state employee salary increases. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the transfer would make a $100 million reduction in the negative factor more financially sustainable. He declined to say whether he’d support or oppose a negative factor reduction of more than $100 million.)

House Education passed HB 14-1292 on an 11-1 vote. Only Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, voted no, noting his district (Douglas County) opposes the bill and saying, “This is not the answer.”

The panel’s vote on HB 14-1298 was split, and it passed on a 7-5 party-line vote. Committee Republicans opposed the additional spending on at-risk preschool and full-day kindergarten students, saying it would only benefit some districts.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, proposed an amendment to remove the bill’s earmark for early education and let districts spend the extra $17 million as they choose. Wilson said his preference is that districts use it for full-day kindergarten, which currently is only partly funded by the state. Committee Democrats killed the amendment.

HB 14-1298 also contains a provision that would divert 75 percent of any state surplus left at the end of 2014-15 into the State Education Fund, a dedicated account restricted to K-12 spending. What happens to that plan is anybody’s guess. Steadman told Chalkbeat Colorado he opposes that idea, and Steadman is expected to be a central figure in school finance decisions in the Senate.

A final financial note

The budget committee, working to finalize the main budget bill before it’s introduced next week, also took a significant action relative to new spending.

The panel voted 6-0 to set aside $50 million for spending on new state programs proposed by bills pending in the House and Senate appropriations committees. Several bills want new spending on various education programs. (See this story for details on those bills.)

The $50 million is considerably higher than the amounts of money available for new programs in recent legislative sessions.

Categories: Urban School News

For educators who wear many hats, which hat to evaluate?

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 18:13

When Kendra Ewing, superintendent of Agate School District, had to submit a list of her official titles to her local school board, the tally ran to 18 items.

“Principal. Special education teacher,” the list reads. “Pitch-in janitor.”

Ewing is one of 35 superintendents in the state who also serve as their district’s principal, often along with many other roles. (For a full list of her responsibilities, see here).

But under the state’s evaluation system, which rolled out this year, Ewing is only required to receive feedback on one: superintendent. For the rest of her jobs, she has to seek feedback through back channels, often without any additional funds.

The struggles of district leaders like Ewing with the state’s new educator evaluation system have highlighted the heavy burden the system puts on small rural districts. But they have also proved the flexibility of a system that may not have been designed with such districts in mind and have raised the profile of leaders in multiple roles, who received little attention in the past.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity”

The struggle for superintendents who serve in multiple roles is to balance both what measures they must be evaluated on under state statute with what they can be evaluated on, given limited resources in their district.

Because they are the highest-ranking administrators (and often the only administrators), there is no one in the school with the authority to evaluate them, leaving only the local school board. But few school boards have the educational expertise to provide feedback on their work as a principal.

“There are specific responsibilities that a superintendent has to a school board,” said Toby King, who directs the Colorado Department of Education’s Educator Effectiveness unit. King works with the nearly 20 percent of the state’s superintendents who serve in more than one administrative role, so-called “superintencipals.” “Those are the things that make sense [to be evaluated on].”

In response to confusion from districts, King’s department released guidance earlier this year for any educator serving in multiple roles to help districts stay within the law. The document, which is available here, states that all educators should be evaluated on their highest role, no matter what other roles they play.

“If I’m supermarket general manager, you are sometimes going to work in produce,” said King. “But you are always going to be evaluated as a general manager.”

The department’s guidance is an attempt to clarify a system many rural districts have criticized for the time requirements and confusion it has placed on already overloaded rural administrators.

“We have tried to reduce ambiguity,” said King.

Despite the confusion over how to evaluate “superintencipals,” state officials and rural advocates say the system has proved more flexible for superintendent-principals than many imagined.

“There are things in the law that don’t even pertain to how rurals work,” said Tina Goar, the Colorado Department of Education’s rural advisor. “[But] there’s a lot of flexibility on how you set things up in your district while staying within the law.”

No correct answer

While that flexibility has streamlined the process somewhat for “superintencipals,” it has also left them to their own devices when they want feedback on the rest of what they do. And the solutions they have come to vary widely, from having no formal system to hiring outside evaluators.

Some have sought feedback from teachers and other district staff. In Crowley County School District in southeastern Colorado, the superintendent gave the state’s principal evaluation rubric to his staff and asked them to fill it out.

Ewing said her board gives her feedback based on all of her roles but she has also hired a consultant to spend one day a month in her district, giving her feedback on her performance.

Superintendent Kendra Ewing puts kindergartner Peyton Golliher down for a nap in her office.

“What she’s paid to do is be honest with me,” said Ewing. “That’s my way to say in my own conscience I’m doing a good job.”

According to King, that variation may not be a bad thing, but instead a sign that the system is working.

“Comparability has to be from one classroom to the next before we can have it from one school to the next, one district to the next,” said King. “Plus every district has its own context.”

But does that mean no good answer?

But for some, that flexibility just means there is no clear solution. Bruce Hankins, the superintendent in Dolores County School District Re-2J in southwestern Colorado, said that so far he has not found a solution that satisfies him.

Of getting evaluated by his teachers or his assistant principal, Hankins said, “it would be like you evaluating your boss,” an uncomfortable situation that doesn’t lend itself to honest feedback.

And the time requirements have proved a challenge.

“In the dual role, there is just so much,” he said. “I can’t spend two weeks doing this evaluation,” in addition to evaluating his teachers.

It’s a complaint many in the rural community have raised and King acknowledges that it’s an issue for many small rural districts. He and others anticipate that the time demands will lessen as people adjust to the new system, but the burden remains heavy for districts where there are few administrators.

In fact, the rollout of the evaluation system has prompted some districts to rethink their school structure.

In La Veta School District, Bree Lessar, the superintendent, asked her school board to hire an assistant principal to take over some of the teacher evaluations.

“With full implementation of [the new teacher evaluation law], I told my board I was unable to numerically do all the evaluations with fidelity,” said Lessar. The assistant principal now does the evaluations for 10 of the district’s 21 teachers.

Others have simply dodged the state-mandated evaluation system entirely. Kit Carson School District, on the eastern plains, applied for and received exemption from the state system, under Colorado’s 2008 innovation law, which grants schools and districts autonomy from some mandates.

“The previous superintendent foresaw the time it was going to take to do evaluations,” said Brenda Smith, Kit Carson’s superintendent. Kit Carson teachers are evaluated less frequently that teachers state-wide, although Smith uses the state rubric.

Smith says she would not be able to fulfill all of her duties if her district did not have innovation status.

“I feel bad for my colleagues who have to evaluate everybody everywhere,” she said.

Long term solutions

Still, even with Kit Carson’s unique flexibility, the system hasn’t been popular with teachers or administrators, who feel the state hasn’t provided enough resources to put the system into practice.

“The reason it’s been a sour note for the district is it goes back to unfunded mandate,” said Smith.

It’s an argument many in the Colorado Department of Education are sympathetic to. And the evaluations for the state’s 35 “superintencipals” have been a proving ground for how state officials can support districts overwhelmed by the pace of reform.

Goar, who is a former superintendent-principal herself, meets with all 35 dual-role administrators on a regular basis to identify the unique issues and find solutions. The responses of that group have helped inform the state’s guidance for rural evaluators.

“In some ways, Katy [Anthes, executive director of the Educator Effectiveness department] and Toby [King] have a real good handle on how do we differentiate things for our rurals,” said Goar. “It’s a unit that’s really thought about that.”

In fact, she said, dual role administrators are getting more attention that they have in the past.

“No one has ever thought about what to with these guys who are in a dual role,” said Goar. She hopes having more rural input will mean more focus on issues unique to rural areas, like the “superintencipals.”

“Right now support is just at the beginning and I hope there’s more,” said Goar.

Categories: Urban School News

Updated: “Data gap” accountability tweak on way to governor

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 16:38

Updated March 20 - The House Thursday accepted minor Senate amendments and voted 61-4 to repass House Bill 14-1182, the measure that modifies the state’s district and school rating system to adjust for unavoidable problems expected when the state switches to new achievement tests next year.

The bill originally passed the House 59-0, but 14 Republican senators voted no on Wednesday. There has been concern among some GOP members about the flexibility the bill gives to the State Board of Education.

The state Department of Education believes the bill is needed because of timing and data issues that will be created by launch of the new CMAS tests in the spring of 2015.

First, results won’t be available until late in the year or early 2016, meaning the data won’t be on hand when district and school ratings are calculated in the autumn of 2015.

Second, there probably won’t be academic growth data available, because that requires two years of comparable test results. Districts and schools are rated both on test scores and on student growth, along with other factors.

So the bill proposes to do three things:

  • Ratings issued next fall (based on this spring’s tests) will apply to both the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 school years.
  • Districts that later feel they or their schools should have different ratings in 2015-16 can appeal to CDE and provide additional data.
  • The State Board will be given more flexibility on choosing intervention measures for schools that reach the end of the five-year accountability clock. (Existing law already gives the board flexibility for handling districts that reach the end of the clock.

Without HB 14-1182, CDE believes the clock would be “timed out,” giving struggling districts and schools more than five years before state-ordered interventions are required.

A relatively small number of schools and districts would be affected by the bill. Only two districts, the Aurora Public Schools and Weld Re-8, would go into the fifth year in 2015-16, unless they improve their performance before then. Some 31 individual schools in multiple districts are in the same situation.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DA won’t file charges against Poudre officials in records-tampering case

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 09:45

where's the money

Newly issued state revenue forecasts don't substantially alter the debate over school finance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Those school funding fights may come to a head on Wednesday when two finance proposals come up for a vote. ( AP via the Gazette )

transparency and accountability

The Larimer County district attorney said no criminal charges would be filed against school administrators who ordered employees to destroy a student's files. ( Coloradoan )

High Times

A pilot program at Commerce City's Adams High School aims to help students who are addicted to marijuana. ( Colorado Public Radio )

rumbles in jefferson county

Two Jeffco alum and current parents argue that the current school board's actions will harm the district's ability to advance student achievement. ( Denver Post )

school supplies

Boulder Valley is ending a program that sold unused PCs to students and teachers cheaply because the district has run out of the old computers to sell. ( Daily Camera )

School safety

Two Boulder high school students were arrested in connection to a threat made to the school. ( Daily Camera )

matters of conduct

The Pueblo City School Board approved a policy that addresses how to maintain professional staff and student relationships. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

cooperative questions

The Steamboat Today editorial board criticizes the school board for trying to withdraw from its BOCES. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: CPS to begin computer science curriculum pilot

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/19/2014 - 07:46

Chicago Public Schools announced Tuesday that 46 schools will pilot the district’s new computer science curriculum beginning next fall, the most comprehensive K-12 computer science education program of any major school district in the country.

This effort is part of CPS’ plan to provide access to computer science at an earlier age to bridge the digital divide and gender gap. While computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new graduates, fewer than 3 percent of college students across the nation will graduate with a degree in computer science – and of all students taking Advanced Placement Computer Science, fewer than 20 percent are women and fewer than 10 percent are African American or Latino.
 
Participating schools include:
Elementary schools: Ariel Community Academy (Pre-K-8); Armstrong International Studies (Pre-K-8); Azuela (Pre-K-8); Bateman (K-8); Daniel Boone (K-8); Carson (Pre-K-8); Chicago Academy (Pre-K-8); Coles Language Academy (K-8); Disney Magnet (Pre-K-8); Edison Regional Gifted Center (K-8); Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy (Pre-K-8); Hamilton (K-8); Henderson (Pre-K-8); Andrew Jackson Language Academy (K-8); Mahalia Jackson (Pre-K-8); Moos (Pre-K-8); Kwame Nkrumah Academy (K-5); Sauganash (K-8); Sayre Language Academy (K-8); Sheridan Math & Science Academy (K-8); STEM Magnet Academy (Pre-K-8); Tonti (K-5); Washington (K-8); Waters (Pre-K-8); Whitney (Pre-K-8).
 
High schools: Amundsen (9-12); Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy (9-12); Bogan (9-12); Corliss (9-12); Hancock College Prep (9-12); Julian(9-12); Kenwood Academy (7-12); Lake View (9-12); Lane Tech (7-12); Lindblom (7-12); Marine Math & Science Academy (9-12); Mather (9-12); Morgan Park (9-12); Solorio Academy (9-12); Urban Prep West (9-12); Urban Prep Bronzeville (9-12); Urban Prep Englewood (9-12); Wells Community Academy (9-12); Whitney Young (7-12); U of C Woodlawn (6-12); Young Woman's Leadership (7-12).

UNO TEACHERS RATIFY CONTRACT: Teachers and staff at schools operated by the United Neighborhood Organization, one of city’s largest charter school networks, overwhelmingly ratified a first contract Tuesday. The contract includes salaries that will promote teacher recruitment and retention and increased time to prepare and collaborate. The vote was nearly unanimous, according to a press release from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

LSC CANDIDATES: A Chicago school that vociferously protested school budget cuts last summer has some interesting candidates running for its local school council, among them a former member of the Chicago Board of Education. (WBEZ)

SUGAR IN THE MORNING: University of California-San Francisco anti-sugar advocate Dr. Robert Lustig says the U.S. School Breakfast Program is "poisoning our kids." He explains here in a conversation in WBEZ's Monica Eng.

IN THE NATION
RACE TO THE TOP PROGRESS: States sharing $4 billion in the federal competitive grants are delivering on some promises, but continue to struggle on teacher evaluations, the U.S. Department of Education finds. (Education Week)

LOOKING FOR COMMON CORE DEFENDERS: Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder who is spending part of his considerable fortune trying to change U.S. public education, last week called on teachers to help parents understand the new Common Core academic standards in an effort to beat back “false claims” lobbed by critics of the standards. (The Washington Post)

Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts don’t change much for school finance debate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 18:13

The newly issued state revenue forecasts aren’t substantially different from projections made before the 2014 legislative session opened, which means about the same amount of money remains in play for this year’s K-12 funding debate.

Improved state revenues have focused attention on school finance this year, with districts and other education groups pushing hard for a significant reduction of the funding shortfall that built up during recent years of budget cuts. But key legislators are resisting that push, fearing that too large a buildup of K-12 funding now will lead to budget squeezes in future years. (See this story for background.)

Boiled down to its simplest terms, the fight is about spending more money now or spending less and saving more for the future.

The public debate has been on hold for two weeks while everyone waited for Tuesday’s forecasts. Projections significantly better than those made in December would have provided ammunition for interests seeking a big reduction in the school funding shortfall. Significantly worse predictions would have provided support for those with more cautious views.

In its new forecast, the executive branch Office of State Planning and Budgeting estimated that general fund revenues will be about 1 percent higher than was projected in December for both the current 2013-14 budget year and for 2014-15.

The Hickenlooper administration is proposing about $10.1 billion in spending next year from the general fund and the State Education Fund, a dedicated account that can used only for K-12 spending. (Total state spending is about double that, including federal and cash revenues.)

Both the OSPB forecast and one from Legislative Council economists took positive views of the overall economy and future growth, albeit with the usual warnings about possible bumps down the road.

Do your homework

Chief legislative economist Natalie Mullis said, “2015 is our year. We’re going to have a full, mature economic expansion.” But, she added with a smile, “I can’t be sure.”

School district lobbyists said they took heart from the Tuesday forecasts, saying they show the legislative and governor have plenty of money and flexibility to take a bite of $200 million out of the estimated $1 billion school funding shortfall. Districts believe money the administration wants to use for reserves, to pay back cash funds and to maintain a healthy balance in the education fund should be used for the shortfall.

Focus turns to House Education

The public school funding debate resumes in earnest Wednesday morning when the House Education Committee is scheduled to again take up two key bills.

House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act, proposes spending $100 million to buy down part of the shortfall (called the negative factor) and spending a total of more than $250 million on implementation of reform laws, English language learners, early literacy, kindergarten facilities and charter construction and implementation of new enrollment-counting and financial transparency systems statewide. (See this chart for more details on those elements.)

The committee took extensive – and often critical – testimony on March 3. Since then sponsors Rep. Millie Hamner and Carole Murray have met with scores of interest group representatives in an effort to reach some compromises.

Proposed amendments were circulated to lobbyists and others on Monday.

The most important concession is a proposal to scrap the bill’s plan to move to the average daily membership method of counting students. Districts had complained that would be expensive and cumbersome. Instead, a proposed amendment would merely add a second enrollment count, on Feb. 1, to the current system, which counts students on Oct. 1. Districts that gained more students midyear would get more funding, but districts that declined wouldn’t be financially penalized.

Districts also opposed a requirement for public reporting of school-level spending. A proposed amendment would specify that districts could use currently available data for that and not have to compile additional information.

And another suggested amendment by the sponsors would allocate an additional $30 million for English language learners through an existing funding mechanism. Bill critics complained the separate funding mechanism proposed in the bill would unfairly advantage some districts while disadvantaging others. The proposed amendment also eases some of the regulatory requirements proposed originally.

Another amendment would give districts additional flexibility in how they could spend money from the Implementation Fund, which the bill proposes as a way to help districts implement new standards, tests and evaluation systems.

Discussions over the last two weeks reportedly haven’t produced movement on the amount of the negative factor reduction. The bill proposes $100 million (a concession on the sponsors’ part), while some interest groups have proposed $200 million, and a group of superintendents is pushing for $275 million.

As sponsors and lobbyists have negotiated, advocacy groups have been lobbying legislators on the negative factor. The group Great Education Colorado has been urging lawmakers to sign a negative factor reduction pledge, and it touted its success in a letter to the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.

Categories: Urban School News

Students at Manual want to be heard — and they have a lot to say

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/18/2014 - 14:00

Last month, Chalkbeat staff began to seek out the voices of Manual High School students: What are their experiences at school? What does Manual do well or not well for them as students? Ultimately, what about students’ experiences did we miss in our reporting? This effort follows Chalkbeat’s special report, A Promise Unfulfilled, in which reporters Nic Garcia and Kate Schimel explored the factors that led Manual to go from a nationally watched model for transformation to, by some measures, Denver’s lowest-performing high school. We visited two leadership classes facilitated by Project VOYCE staff and joined a student-led forum addressing next steps for Manual students.  More details and a taste of what we heard, below.

Student-led forum

On a February afternoon, Chalkbeat staff joined a group of student-leaders who were eager to tackle tough conversations and have students’ ideas be a part of improving Manual High School. Students led conversations ranging from how they as students can help improve attendance, to how the school should expand its academic offerings, to the systemic social justice issues that play a role in Manual’s performance. These video clips provide a taste of what this student forum looked like.

Introduction

Limited Resources

 

Contrast to Other Schools

 

Perseverance

 

Stop the Trial-and-Error

 

Get to Know us

 

A special thank you to videographer, Alicia Garcia for donating her time and energy and making it possible for us to share these clips with you.

Categories: Urban School News

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