Chicago Teachers Union leaders have repeatedly warned about the district’s high-risk financial dealings. Now, the Chicago Tribune weighs in with a story on “auction rate” swaps that will cost the district about $100 million more than it would have using traditional, fixed-rate bonds.
The story -- part of a series that continues this week -- says that financial advisors did not clearly spell out the financial risks, at least according to the documents the district turned over after the newspaper hired attorneys. The interest rate swaps and the auction rate swaps are part of the same series of deals, says Saqib Bhatti, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute who has been providing information to the CTU about the swaps.
In fact, the Tribune has nifty little videos explaining how these deals work. So far, though, the Tribune hasn’t mentioned that the CTU has been harping on these deals for years, though Bhatti says he was interviewed by the reporters.
In an interview with Catalyst Chicago, Bhatti says that it is clear that the banks misled district officials and that they could join other government agencies who have sued over them. “It is clear that CPS dove in head-first and went deeper than other borrowers,” Bhatti says. “Now that we can see what happened we need to try to get out of these deals.”
The district disagrees with the Tribune’s analysis, and the main financial advisor highlighted in the article accused the reporters of singling her out because she’s a woman. David Vitale, a top district administrator at the time the debt was approved, championed the complex financing method and told reporters he understood the risks. “I am not a neophyte,” he said.
What is really troubling to Bhatti is that CPS hired an outside firm to do an analysis of these deals to justify getting into them, rather than to consider the options for getting out of them.
2. More PARCC testing backlash The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) hasn’t budged on its refusal to delay the new Common Core standardized test this spring, despite parents’ and CPS officials’ requests. In fact, state Superintendent Chris Koch recently reminded district officials that “opting out of the PARCC is not an option.”
But a Sun-Times story points out that at least six other states do allow parents to opt out. And “even more remain mum when parents do so” including New York City, where thousands of children refused to take their annual state test last year with no repercussions.
It’s unclear how or whether governor-elect Bruce Rauner will address parents’ concerns about the PARCC and over-testing. As governor, Rauner will appoint new ISBE members who share his vision on education policy -- and who will be responsible for hiring a schools chief. Still, if the new governor decides to side with parent groups, delaying the PARCC could come too late in the school year and throw districts’ testing calendars into upheaval.
Chicago isn’t alone in concerns about the PARCC. The New York Times this weekend reported on how school officials across the country are responding to the pushback from parents on over-testing. Meanwhile, a survey by the Center on Education Policy found that 75 percent of 187 school system leaders who responded “said they face either major or minor challenges [with the PARCC], including a lack of computers with adequate processing speed, bandwidth and personnel who can handle technical problems during testing,” according to a Washington Post story.
3. What will Rauner do? The results of a non-binding referendum on the ballot last week showed that more than 74 percent of voters support the idea of providing more money to poor students. But what is unclear is how they want to distribute that money to students.
Senate Bill 16 would redistribute money from wealthy school districts to poor ones. But Rauner said during the campaign that he would not support the bill, which passed the Senate and which House Democrats have been meeting about for the past few months. Rauner said he did think the education funding formula should change, but did not spell out specifics. Democrats could try to push it through during the veto session, but State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia said she likely won’t bring it up until the new January session.
According to the Illinois Review, a conservative website, 120 superintendents are calling on Rauner to support SB 16. Two of them mentioned are Peoria and Elgin. But several school boards, including two in Evanston, have come out against it.
Need help understanding SB16? Catalyst publisher Linda Lenz will moderate a forum on the bill this Tuesday afternoon at the Union League Club of Chicago. Speakers include: Andrea Zopp, a CPS school board member and president of the Chicago Urban League; Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois; State Sen. Daniel Biss; Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability; Dr. Diane Rutledge, executive director of the Large Unit District Association; and Juan Salgado of Instituto del Progreso Latino.
4. Education policy under the GOP. Illinois isn’t the only place that could see significant changes in education policy under new Republican leadership. Come January, Republicans will be in the governor’s offices of at least 31 states -- up from the current 28, according to a story in Education Week. The winners “could be advocates of school choice programs,” although in many states, like Illinois, Republican governors will still need to battle with a Democratic-controlled legislature.
Still, the elections could provide a particularly strong mandate for governors to expand the reach of charter schools, tax-credit scholarships, and vouchers, says Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children, a Washington-based advocacy group that backs such scholarships and vouchers that parents can use to pay private school tuition.
At the federal level, Republicans -- who easily took control of the U.S. Senate and increased their majority in the House of Representatives -- say that an overhaul of No Child Left Behind and the Higher Education Act is at the top of their agenda, according to another Education Week story. Previously, Republicans have proposed that states test students but not necessarily set achievement goals or intervene in schools that aren’t making progress with particular groups of students. Another proposal would scale back the federal role in K-12 policy.
5. Leadership at The Ounce Just as she’d said during the heated gubernatorial race, Diana Rauner plans to remain in her role as president of the Ounce of Prevention come January, when her husband takes the governor’s office.
The Ounce, a leader in early childhood education, has received more than $123 million in state funding over the past 11 years -- making up about a fifth of its budget, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. A spokeswoman for the organization told Crain’s there is no conflict of interest if The Ounce’s president is married to the governor: “The Ounce has received state contracts for decades under administrations of both political parties because of its excellence in high-quality programming and training early-education professionals.”
Still, for weeks, some in Chicago’s early childhood education community have been asking themselves whether it’s appropriate. Few if any would say anything publicly, however, because, as one advocate recently told Catalyst, “You don’t want to make enemies with the wife of the future governor of Illinois.”
The votes are (finally) in
Colorado Republicans will narrowly be in control of the state Senate next year. That means a big change on the powerful Joint Budget Committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
We asked, you answered
Chalkbeat readers who shared their feelings with us last week overwhelmingly told us the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education and some of its decisions weighed on their minds while filling out their ballot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
This week's question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
You are my sunshine
While it's still unclear how Proposition 104 will affect school districts, a few Colorado school districts that already negotiate in public provide a glimpse of what might be in store. ( Denver Post )
About 500 teachers participated in a conceal carry class in Centennial. ( Denver Channel )
As the state's accountability clock winds down for Pueblo City Schools, the struggling school district took the first step toward a third party accreditation service. ( Pueblo Chieftain )
reading is fundamental
Boulder High School aims not just to teach students how to read, but how to love reading. ( Daily Camera )
Drawing on 150 years of classroom experience, NPR attempts to answer the question, "what makes a great teacher." ( NPR via KUNC )
The RE-1 Valley superintendent told the Sterling Rotary Club how her district is implementing the Colorado Academic Standards and what role the Common Core plays. ( Journal-Advocate )
home away from home
Here's a look at how Oakland Public Schools (now run by a former Denver Public Schools executive) is trying to improve the lives of recent undocumented immigrant children. ( New York Times )
Last week we shared with you news about a report on personalized learning.
Depending upon the a school’s model, personalized learning maybe very dependent on technology. According to the report: “Slightly less than half of teachers surveyed said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.”
This week’s question: What role should technology play in the classroom and how much ‘screen time’ should a student have?
Every Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses.
See last’s week’s responses here.
The long days of post-election vote counting ended late Friday, giving Republicans an 18-17 majority in the state Senate.
Vote counts in Adams County, slowed by tabulation of write-in votes for a county office, ended with victory for Republican Beth Martinez Humenik in Senate District 24. She narrowly defeated retired teacher Judy Solano, a former House member.
The outcome was part of as surprising Republican surge in the traditionally Democratic county. Another apparent victim was Democratic Rep. Jenise May, who lost to Republican JoAnn Windholz in District 30.
But Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar, who had trailed in early counts, pulled off a narrow win in neighboring District 31 over Carol Buckler. Salazar’s win will bring the Democrats’ House majority to 34.
The Republicans’ Senate win and May’s loss will bring important changes to the Joint Budget Committee, which includes members from both houses. Now controlled 4-2 by Democrats, the new committee will have a 3-3 makeup.
Senate Republican leaders will have to find a second member to serve with committee veteran Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs. And Senate Democrats will have to decide between current members Mary Hodge of Brighton and Pat Steadman to fill their one seat.
In the House, Democratic leaders will need to find a replacement for the defeated May. Other current House members are Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.
The changes mean half the members will be new to the committee, as Rankin was named to the panel only after the 2014 session adjourned. The committee will face key decisions about both K-12 and higher education funding during the 2015 session. (Get more background on those issues in this Chalkbeat Colorado story about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget plan.)
Learn more about the possible implications of the legislative changes in this earlier story.
On Monday, we asked our readers, “What role — if any — have public education issues played in your vote this election?” Here’s a look at their answers.[View the story "Readers: Jeffco board weighed on their ballot " on Storify]
A group of Jeffco high school students, upset over the board's decision to redesign a curriculum review committee, interrupted Thursday's school board meeting by reading passages about civil disobedience aloud from their texts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )
A Washington Post editorial writer argues that the conflict over AP US History in Jeffco is less about culture wars and more a continuation of a battle over education reform started in Dougco but bungled by the Jeffco board. ( Washington Post )
new verse just like the first
Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The differing fates of bond measures in Boulder and Adams County highlights differences between the two counties. ( 9News )
revving their engines
In the wake of the elections, superintendents around the state are gearing up for a renewed push to increase school funding. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
election week 2014
As of Thursday afternoon, Democratic leadership in the legislature was confident that they would retain control of the House; a change in leadership could have big implications for education policy. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Students in Cherry Creek and Aurora, like their peers around the state, did not fare extremely well on new, more challenging social studies and science tests. ( Aurora Sentinel )
GOLDEN — Jefferson County students, upset over how their board of education redesigned a curriculum review committee, interrupted the school board’s proceedings tonight by reading aloud from their history books.
About 10 students either read out of turn about historical figures, known for acts of civil disobedience, at a podium or from their seats. Another dozen students also recited the Pledge of Allegiance before making a mass exit.
All students left peacefully. No arrests were made.
As part of their demonstration, the students said they had four demands: a public apology from the school board’s conservative majority for referring to students as “union pawns;” a reversal of an earlier decision to amend content review policies; proof from the board that they listen and act on community input instead of what students called an “ideological” agenda; and more resources for classroom instruction.
Some of the students, members of the recently-formed Jeffco Students for Change, played a role in organizing a weeks worth of walkouts at their individual high schools.
The walkouts at each of Jeffco’s neighborhood high school were also in response to curriculum review committee. At the time, board member Julie Williams was requesting a new committee be established by the board. She hoped the new panel would review an advanced history course she believed was unpatriotic. Critics of Williams’ proposal believed her intentions were to censor some of the nation’s less flattering moments.
Ultimately, under the eye of international media outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian, the Jeffco board amended existing policies that govern how the district responds to concerns about classroom content. Those changes include adding students and board-appointed members to a panel to review materials, and putting the review process under the auspice of the school board.
Board chairman Ken Witt called the 3-2 vote a compromise. But vocal teachers, parents, and students didn’t buy it.
In fact, the same students who disrupted tonight’s board meeting earlier held a weekend rally to gauge interest in a recall election for the board’s majority. There has been no further public discussion on that matter.
Lamenting the low turnout that they believe doomed a slate of bond and levy questions, superintendents across Colorado said Thursday that the building and budget needs that would have been alleviated by the tax measures will still have to be met eventually.
Voters rejected half the local school funding measures put in front of them on Tuesday. But school leaders said that decaying buildings, overcrowding and cuts in programs mean that districts will likely return to voters requesting more funding in the near future.
“We’re going to see a lot more of the breakdown of infrastructure. The community we serve will feel it more,” said Adams 14 Superintendent Pat Sánchez. He said the Commerce City district would likely request funds again next fall to renovate elementary schools and build a new middle school.
In Mapleton, where officials had requested $67 million to update and repair roofs, electrical systems and bring buildings up to safety code, Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio said that the district’s board would meet to determine how to move forward after the election. “It continues to be clear how many in our community lack understanding of the needs of a public school district, and how many people are choosing not to engage in conversations.”
Statewide, districts were seeking $50.9 million in 26 mill levy overrides. Just 11, totaling $17 million, passed. Mill overrides are additional tax hikes that must be approved by voters. Districts use the extra revenue to support various programs and fill funding gaps, which have increased during the past few years as the state begun using the so-called “negative factor” to cap state spending.
Colorado superintendents plan to push for more money from the state during the next legislative session.
School boards were also seeking $1.5 billion in 18 different bond overrides to support building construction and maintenance; voters passed nine worth $710 million. The bonds were proposed to create new buildings in fast-growing areas of the state or to replace deteriorating infrastructure in rural and suburban counties.
Colorado voters have a mixed record on supporting local referenda. While just over half of the mill levies and bonds passed both in 2014 and 2013, more than 90 percent passed in 2012, and fewer than a third passed the year before.
This year, mills and bonds passed mainly in rural districts, such as Pawnee and Platte Valley, and in more affluent areas, including Telluride and Boulder, which passed a $567.4 million bond for construction — the largest in the state’s history.
But in fast-growing Adams County, where all five districts requested additional funds, five capital construction bonds and four mill levy overrides all failed.
“I’m a little blue…Statewide, it seems like a lot of people didn’t get involved and didn’t vote.” said Commerce City Superintendent Sánchez. He said the lack of bond funds in particular would be a challenge. “We have to do the best with what we have.”
Groups in each Adams County district had organized to support the additional funding measures.
A spokeswoman for the campaign that supported the bond measures for the R27J school district that serves students in Brighton, Commerce City, and Thornton said of the results: “We are disappointed in the outcome of the election, because the bond would have helped the district address the very serious overcrowding happening in our schools. This situation will not get any better, and in fact will only get worse as more and more families move to the community.
Adams County district leaders said they were disappointed both by the outcome of the vote and by low voter turnout — just 43 percent in the county. Statewide, voter turnout hovered just below 55 percent. That’s still higher than the overall national turnout — 36.6 percent.
Adams 12 Five Star Superintendent Chris Gdowski said in a letter to parents that some voters might have assumed Amendment 68, which would brought more revenue from gambling into schools, would address funding woes. That amendment did not pass in Tuesday’s election.
In El Paso county, voters in Falcon school district 49 supported a mill levy override that would give $7.5 million in operating expense to the district, but blocked a measure that would have brought in $107 million to support new buildings.
Peter Hilts, the district’s chief education officer, said in an email that the override would “allow [the district] to pay our excellent teachers wages that are competitive with the more affluent districts to our west.”
Still, he wrote, the district needs to determine how to accommodate a student population that has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
“We’ve very much poised to hold the majority in the state House,” Democratic Speaker Mark Ferrandino told reporters Thursday as ballots still were being counted in several tight legislative races. “We feel very confident that we are at 33 and maybe more.”
Thirty-three constitutes the bare majority in the 65-member House.
“We feel very good, knowing what remains to be counted,” he added, acknowledging that tallying continue in Adams County and elsewhere. There were indications that the Adams count might drag into Friday.
Democrats are tentatively declaring House victory based on narrow winning margins for two Arapahoe County representatives, Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village and Su Ryden of Aurora.
Ferrandino acknowledged, “There are ballots to be counted in Arapahoe County, but not enough to see those [numbers] move against us. … If we were concerned we would not be sitting here today.”
The situation is murkier in a few key races for the Senate, where Democrats are hoping to hold their current 18-17 majority.Education implications of the election
Democratic control of the House – and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s re-election – likely means the policy landscape for education and other issues will be similar to that of recent legislative sessions, regardless of what happens with the Senate. Republican takeover of both the executive and legislative branches might have opened a path to new initiatives, such as tuition tax credits.
If Democrats don’t hold the Senate, Hickenlooper still will be on familiar ground. His party controlled the Senate but Republicans ran the House during his first two years, 2011 and 2012.
The 2011 session was the single one in the last six years that didn’t produce major education legislation, partly because lawmakers were focused on revenue and budget problems. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)
Things got more interesting for education during the 2012 session, which saw passage of the READ Act, the bill intended to improve reading levels in grades K-3; an easing of school zero-tolerance policies, and passage of the law that led to Colorado joining the PARCC multi-state testing group. That last issue is likely to come back in 2015, giving rising public and lawmaker discontent about testing. (Get a full review of the 2012 session here.)The undecided races
As of mid-afternoon Thursday, Kagan was leading Republican Candice Benge by a bit more than 400 votes. His total has been climbing slowly but steadily since Tuesday night, when he was running behind.
Ryden was leading Republican Richard Bowman by almost 600 votes. Her totals have been following a trend line similar to Kagan’s.
Five other races in both houses remain very tight, with votes still to be counted.
In Senate District 20, Sen. Cheri Jahn leads Republican Larry Queen by 116 votes. In District 24, Republican Beth Martinez Humenick leads Democrat Judy Solano by about 1,000 votes. Democrats need to win both of these to hold the Senate.
Here’s the House situation:
The races have been decided for current members of the House and Senate education committees.
Democrats Millie Hamner (the chair), John Buckner, Lois Court, Rhonda Fields, Brittany Pettersn and Dave Young won re-election, as did Republicans Justin Everett, Kevin Priola and Jim Wilson.
Three 2014 members – Republicans Frank McNulty and Carole Murray and Democrat Cherilyn Peniston – won’t be returning because of term limits. And Republican Chris Holbert will be leaving because he won a Senate seat.
On Senate Education, Democratic chair Andy Kerr narrowly won re-election while fellow Jeffco Democrat Rachel Zenzinger lost.
Four members – Democrats Mike Johnston and Nancy Todd and Republicans Vicki Marble and Mark Scheffel – are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. And Republican Scott Renfroe won’t be returning because of term limits.
Another familiar education figure will be joining the Senate as a freshman. Mike Merrifield had long service in the House as chair of the education committee. (Solano also had multiple terms on House Education.)
So new members will be filling vacant seats on the education committees, and past membership doesn’t necessarily mean continued service. Legislative leaders often shuffle committee memberships after an election, based on member preferences and political needs.
Ferrandino won’t be presiding over the new, smaller majority because he’s also term limited and now works as the chief financial officer for Denver Public Schools.
Colorado’s electorate might be as polarized as ever, but the state’s superintendents are finding plenty of consensus on how the state funds its schools. Or, as they see it, how the state doesn’t fund its schools enough.
“The number one concern is state funding. After that it’s testing and everything else,” said Bruce Messinger, Boulder Valley’s superintendent, in a post-Election Day interview.
And now, with a better understanding of who will shape the state’s next budget, those school leaders intend to make their frustrations known loud and clear.
Superintendents from across the state plan to send a letter to the governor and General Assembly outlining their recommendations for the next budget cycle. The letter is expected to be signed by most — if not all — of the state’s superintendents.
In that letter, which should arrive before the start of the next legislative session in January, the superintendents will ask Colorado’s lawmakers to both restore the estimated $900 million the state owes its schools and provide more funding targeted to the state’s neediest and rural students, multiple superintendents said.
The letter will also request that the state hand over the tax dollars without earmarks specifying how the money should be spent.
“The state doesn’t know what we cut, so how do they know what to give back?” said Mark Hale, superintendent of Montrose and Olathe schools.
School funding has been contentious in Colorado for some time. During the Great Recession, the legislature had to juggle constitutional requirements to fund education and balance its budget. To do so, it created the “negative factor,” which led to about a billion dollar in cuts.
“It’s very important that we invest in our kids and in our schools,” said Tom Boasberg, Denver’s superintendent. “Right now we continue to be one of the lowest-funding states in the country.”
Boasberg said the lack of funding hasn’t helped any school district boost student achievement, especially those school districts with a large population of students of color and those who qualify for free- or reduced-lunch prices. If anything, he said, the lack of funds has made the work more difficult.
As the economy has recovered, schools have begun to see more money. Some of those funds, however, have been only been provided to fulfill projects created by legislators. For example, earlier this year the legislature provided school districts money to create websites to report how individual schools spend their revenues.
“We’d really like to see our voice back — the way its been going, it’s been to have accountability at the local level but decision making at the (legislative) level,” Hale said. “There’s a disconnect there.”
While superintendents are fed up, they are optimistic about a recovering economy and what appears to be a willingness to collaborate on the part of state officials.
Prior to the election, Democratic lawmakers extended a sort of olive branch to superintendents inviting them to work together on school finance issues. And in his first draft of the 2015-16 budget, Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed an increase in student funding. But those extra dollars wouldn’t be guaranteed in the future.
“It’s a good starting place,” Hale said. “Maybe [Hickenlooper] is a little serious about giving us due consideration.”
The superintendents plan to send their letter outside the auspice of any formal organization. The process, they said, has been organic. Clusters of superintendents have been meeting off and on at different retreats for months. But the school leaders have decided there is strength in numbers.
“We’re a much more unified voice,” said Pat Sanchez, superintendent of Adams 14. “And we want to have a stronger voice at the legislature — like we used to have.”
They also decided that they can’t waste energy fighting among themselves and their respective priorities.
“There’s a saying, ‘the cure for Denver is often the disease of Montrose,'” Hale said. “[But] I don’t want to fight with Douglas County or Cherry Creek.”
That’s one just another reason why district officials want more control over how they spend tax dollars.
“There needs to be recognition that there are different needs between large schools and rural schools,” said Dan McMinimee, superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools. “On the eastern plains, they may have issues like infrastructure. They might have to hire more people. Here we might need technology and books, or to build new schools. The question is, how can we put together a package that we all want and need, knowing that each district is different. The bottom line: We want to make those decisions locally.”
In South Chicago, an elementary school counselor tells her neighbors that City Hall needs to begin paying attention to the working class. In Avondale, a social studies teacher says an elected school board and a higher minimum wage are essential to improving neighborhoods. In Austin, a special education teacher says she doesn’t want to work at another school that gets turned around or closed.
These Chicago Public Schools educators are each running for aldermanic seats, pushing a progressive agenda with the ambitious goal of unseating incumbents in the February 2015 elections. Though Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is no longer considering a run against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at least eight CTU members have entered the political fray.
You could call it the political year of the teachers.
The CTU House of Delegates, which will endorse aldermanic candidates in stages, voted on Nov. 5 to endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor, along with three of the teacher candidates: Sue Sadlowski Garza, a counselor at Jane Addams Elementary School, running in the 10th Ward, which includes South Chicago; Tim Meegan, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School, running in the 33rd Ward on the North Side; and Jenner Elementary teacher Tara Stamps, in the 37th Ward.
More endorsements will come next month.
Though it has historically been difficult to unseat sitting aldermen—especially those who aligned themselves with City Hall and, in turn, received mayoral backing—the candidates hope that widespread dissatisfaction with Emanuel and his City Council allies will set the stage for grassroots change next February.
“Everything I’ve done up until now has been instrumental in getting me ready for this moment,” says Sadlowski Garza. “I was really inspired to run by Karen Lewis’ [potential] bid … but had been poked and prodded to do this for a while. I think we really have the potential to change the entire political landscape of the city."
Candidates have until Nov. 24 to gather signatures and file nominating petitions to run.
On a personal level, Sadlowski Garza and other candidates say events such as the historic 2012 teachers’ strike (the first in Chicago in more than two decades) and the protests over last year’s massive school closures convinced them that they won’t see the changes they want in schools and neighborhoods unless the political system is radically transformed.
On a broader level, the decision by CTU members to run for public office speaks to the union’s wading more deeply into electoral politics. The shift started in 2010, when the progressive Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) was first elected into the union’s leadership. The new CTU prides itself on being a “social movement” union concerned with social equity and economic justice, not just the bread-and-butter issues that impact members in schools.
As such, the union and its progressive allies in labor and community organizations consider politics as critical to advance that mission. It’s a strategy that is also playing out on a national level, as progressive unions work to elect pro-labor candidates.
“This is not about one race,” Lewis herself reminded supporters in September. “It’s about building a movement so that our city can be what it’s supposed to be—a city that responds to every single person, a city that responds to every single neighborhood.”
From activism to campaigning
In a way, it’s not surprising that Sadlowski Garza is running for office. She grew up in a radical union home in South Chicago, the same working-class neighborhood where she still lives and works. Her father, Ed Sadlowski, was a steelworker and local union leader who nearly won the presidency of the national United Steelworkers in the 1970s.
“As a child, I spent a lot of days getting woken up at 6 in the morning, dressing in the dark to go to gates at the mill to hand out pamphlets,” says Sadlowski Garza. “I was taught that when you see a picket line, you raise your fist and beat your horn—and then you go to the doughnut shop and bring the guys doughnuts.”
Unionism might be in her blood. But Sadlowski Garza, who worked as a “lunch lady” and teaching assistant before becoming a counselor, says her personal awakening didn’t come until the 2012 strike. There’s a telling photo of Garza from one of the last days of the strike: Pulling out of a parking lot in her silver 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis, which is covered in union signs, Garza is waving her fist out of the car window.
Across town, in the Austin neighborhood on the city’s impoverished West Side, Tammie Vinson says the strike generated a welcome uptick in activism among teachers. That summer, Vinson and other black teachers [who have been hardest hit by layoffs stemming from closings] revitalized a fledgling Black Caucus within the union.
“The CTU has been like a beacon of hope,” Vinson says.
Vinson, a special education teacher running in the 28th Ward, had been organizing against so-called “school actions” (turnarounds, in which the entire staff has to reapply for their jobs, and closures) since 2008. That year, the school where Vinson worked, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary, was turned around. Vinson lost her job and moved on to Emmet Elementary. Emmet closed last year.
“With both schools, we were actively fighting, mobilizing the parents, going to the board, strategizing for ways to keep it opened,” says Vinson, who now teaches at Oscar DePriest Elementary.
Stamps, who is running in the neighboring 37th Ward, is the daughter of a longtime Chicago housing and civil rights activist, Marion Nzinga Stamps. “I was kind of born into revolution and activism. This is what I inherited,” Stamps said at a forum on social justice activism and violence in September.
And nearby, in the 29th Ward, community activist and parent Zerlina Smith, is running for aldeman, too. Smith was an active parent leader in last spring’s boycott of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, where her daughter attends preschool. She says CTU staffer Jackson Potter, who is widely considered the union’s de facto political strategist, became her mentor.
Other teacher candidates are Dianne Daleiden, a math teacher at North River Elementary School, running in the 40th Ward on the North Side; Guadalupe Rivera, a bilingual teacher at Morrill Elementary School, running in the 16th Ward on the Southwest Side; Ed Hershey, a science teacher at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, running in the 25th Ward on the Southwest Side; and Marcia Brown-Williams, a recently retired teacher running in the 9th Ward on the Far South Side.
Like the other teacher candidates, Brown-Williams says schools aren’t the only issue on her agenda. She’s concerned about bringing economic development to her neighborhood, reducing crime and adding affordable housing for families. The 9th Ward includes parts of Altgeld Gardens and Roseland, two communities that are in dire need of an economic boost.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of education,” says Brown-Williams, who resigned from her job in June because of what she considered a “bullying” atmosphere against teachers at her school. “But if you have economic growth in your neighborhood, then you have better schools, more parent involvement, and more businesses involved.”
Building a movement
Though some of the candidates went through the union’s summer organizing program, union leaders say there was never a concerted effort to get educators to run for office.
“But there was a political conclusion that was drawn going into the school closings fight,” reflects CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “People saw their aldermen taking cowardly positions and just going with the person in power as opposed to supporting the teachers.”
Conversations about forming an independent political organization in Chicago and planning what its agenda would be began during CORE’s annual convention last year.
“We were asking ourselves, do we step out and form an independent political movement or do we work with the Democratic Party?” remembers Meegan, who is running in a ward that includes Avondale and Albany Park. “I’ve mostly voted Democrat my whole life but I’m no longer interested in supporting the party […]. Nobody is representing the working class anymore.”
What was born out of those and other discussions is United Working Families, an independent political organization made up of the CTU, SEIU Healthcare Illinois and the community groups Grassroots Illinois Action and Action Now. Although they share similar names and visions, the group isn’t officially connected to the Working Families Party in New York and New Jersey, which helped progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio win last year’s mayoral race in New York City.
United Working Families’ mission is to support progressive candidates in the 2015 municipal race who agree to champion an elected school board and a $15 minimum wage as part of their campaign platform. (Emanuel is opposed to an elected school board, but supports a $13 minimum wage to be implemented gradually over the next few years.)
Kristen Crowell, the group’s executive director, says United Working Families will likely make early endorsements for the city’s incumbent progressive aldermen. It will also train and vet the nearly three dozen progressive candidates before making endorsement decisions. With those endorsements, of course, will come financial backing.
Crowell notes that United Working Families will have a long-term strategy that goes beyond a single election cycle. That means continuing to hold accountable—and support—any progressive candidates who win their races. Plus, she adds, “We need to shift the culture of how we work together after the elections.”
Crowell is known in progressive circles for her role in helping to put together organized labor’s recall effort against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose policies ended most collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. A year ago, Crowell moved to Chicago from Wisconsin, in part to get away from what she describes as a depressing political atmosphere that formed after the recall failed.
Crowell was attracted to the movement she saw building in Chicago since the CTU strike. “There’s hope here,” she says. “The fight is alive and well.”
In the coming weeks, United Working Families will form a political action committee that can start serious fundraising. Crowell says she expects the PAC will be able to easily collect donations from organized labor and “lots of progressive small donors” from across the country.
Chicago’s organized labor
It’s not unheard of for union members or labor leaders to run for political office. Among the aldermanic candidates in the 11th Ward, for example, is John Tominello, who spent more than a decade working to unionize state court reporters. (“It’s not just Rahm,” he says. “It’s the City Council. They’re anti-union.”) And a handful of former local teachers’ union presidents have been elected to the state legislatures in Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin.
But those who study organized labor and politics say that what’s happening with the CTU and the upcoming elections is part of a larger national trend. In locales as diverse as Vermont; Minneapolis; New Haven, Conn.; and Jackson, Miss., among other places, progressive unions have encouraged their members to run for office to try to unseat incumbent Democrats who don’t value labor concerns.
“It reflects the disenchantment with [President Barack] Obama, six years of lowered expectations and disappointments” in the Democratic Party, says Steve Early, an author and former union organizer who studies labor movements. “People are trying to intervene at the local level, where mobilized union members and local issues can energize voters and you can overcome the disadvantage of not being able to spend as much on politics.”
In Chicago, unions have historically held an important role in fundraising and getting out the vote for candidates who were friendly to organized labor. With few exceptions, that meant joining the Democratic Party coalition and supporting that party’s candidates. Trades unions were especially loyal to City Hall because of the benefits of prevailing wages and yearlong work; in addition, unions tended to support the incumbent politicians who controlled the city’s purse strings.
Things started to change after 2006, when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley exercised his first and only veto on the so-called “big box” ordinance. Unions—and especially the more liberal ones such as SEIU and AFSCME locals—wanted stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot to increase wages and provide healthcare benefits to workers.
Disenchanted with Daley, many of these same unions poured millions of dollars into the following year’s aldermanic races and gained seats for a handful of progressive aldermanic candidates– including now-mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti—over incumbents who had Daley’s backing.
The trend has accelerated since Emanuel’s election in 2011 as “labor unions have become disaffected with City Hall, thinking that it doesn’t represent them,” says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago and former city alderman.
Still, organized labor is divided. The city’s trade unions and the Teamsters have already given the mayor and his PAC hundreds of thousands of dollars—even though the deadline for candidates to file isn’t until Nov. 24. It’s too early to tell who many of the other unions will support.
Next for CTU
In September, the CTU’s House of Delegates voted to allow union staff to provide some technical help to members who are considering electoral runs. The resolution notes that, as a general rule, CTU won’t formally endorse candidates until they’ve secured a place on the ballot—and any early help doesn’t constitute an endorsement.
“Candidates know an endorsement from the CTU means something,” says the union’s political director, Stacy Davis Gates.
To get a sense of the work CTU might do for mayoral or aldermanic candidates, it’s helpful to look at two of last spring’s state legislative primary races in which the union campaigned hard for two progressive candidates with strong education platforms: Will Guzzardi, a journalist-turned-organizer, who won his race in the 39th District, which includes Logan Square and Belmont-Cragin; and community organizer Jhatayn “Jay” Travis, who lost hers for the 26th District, which snakes down from Streeterville to South Chicago.
The teachers union poured money into both campaigns, while also encouraging members to write their own checks, help out at phone banks, and knock on doors for the candidates, Davis Gates says.
“To be perfectly honest, this past spring was the most intense amount of work we’ve done for an electoral cycle before. It was intense, intentional, and focused,” she says. The upcoming electoral work promises to be more intense.
Meanwhile, the teacher candidates are putting in long hours after school and on weekends to gather the signatures they need to qualify as candidates. It’s a lot of work, admits Daleiden, but people are getting the message.
Daleiden tells voters she wants to fight the privatization of public schools and “stop corporations from siphoning public money from public assets.”
“I’m not out there knocking on doors to save my job in a public school,” she says. “I’m knocking on doors because I think children deserve quality schools and we all need to stand up to this as community members.”
election day turned election week
After a confusing day of vote-counting, it was still unclear late on Wednesday which party would have control of the state legislature, a situation with big implications for education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
When Colorado's high school seniors start taking new standardized tests this week, some younger students will be getting the days off entirely. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
look into my crystal ball
Now that voters have decided that teachers union contract negotiations should be public, what does the future of negotiations look like? Here are a bunch of predictions, ranging from more confusion and legal expense to more districts cutting union ties. ( 9News, Gazette )
One last time
The Thompson school board held a closed session Wednesday to discuss contract negotiations, technically legal because Proposition 104 hasn't actually gone into effect yet. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )
District tax measures
Boulder Valley School District is now in planning mode after voters approved the state's largest K-12 construction bond issue. ( Daily Camera )
Low turnout of younger voters contributed to the defeats of some school tax proposals, some other district leaders think. ( Denver Post )
There's no "we" in personalized learning
A new report outlines how schools in Colorado and around the country are utilizing "personalized learning" -- but it's still unclear exactly what "personalized learning" means or how effective its methods are. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Longmont's Burlington Elementary School is under the Colorado Department of Education's microscope, with a goal of figuring out why the school is successful so other schools can replicate that success. ( Longmont Times-Call )
Louisville's Monarch High School students are producing the premiere of a never-before-seen play, "Bubble Boy: The Musical," written by a New York high school student and based on the Colorado family's hoax. ( Daily Camera )
The City Council voted on Wednesday to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to borrow $17 million from investors to pay for a temporary expansion of a high-quality preschool program. Under the so-called “social impact bond,” the city and CPS will only repay the money if fewer children need expensive special education services and have high academic achievement. But as we reported earlier this week, banks face little risk in the complex financial agreement.
That's due largely to the fact that the chosen program -- child-parent centers, which enroll children through third grade -- are backed by decades of research proving their long-term savings. If the program is very successful, Goldman Sachs and other investors stand to double their money. Only five aldermen voted against the proposal, including Northwest Side Ald. John Arena, who said that if he “was at Goldman Sachs, I would be doing this, too,” according to a Sun-Times story. Critics from the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois, meanwhile, called it “another parking meter deal.”
During a finance committee meeting on Monday, Lois Scott, the city’s chief financial officer, threw a lot of numbers at aldermen to convince them it was a good idea. At one point, she even said the city could save up to $300 million over the duration of the students’ K-12 education if all of them avoided special ed. The Chicago Tribune parroted this claim without questioning why Scott would ever suggest that 100 percent of any preschool class would need special ed services to begin with, whether they attended preschool or not, since district data show that about 12.6 percent of CPS students need the services. In addition, children with severe disabilities, who are part of that total, won’t be included in the program.
2. Expected endorsement… The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates voted Wednesday to endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor. CTU President Karen Lewis had already said she backed him and he was the keynote speaker at the union’s legislative dinner on Friday.
The fact that union leadership had seemingly already thrown their support behind Garcia, before the vote, frustrated some delegates. But delegates said that inside the meeting, they were told the endorsement shouldn’t wait. An activist teacher questioned on Facebook who Garcia was and why he had seemingly come out of nowhere. Lewis, who has a brain tumor and had to bow out of the mayoral race, responded: “Point of personal privilege: I endorsed Chuy because many of my non-CTU supporters wanted to know what to do once it became clear I could not continue my mayoral bid. Chuy was an invaluable advisor to me in terms of building coalitions throughout the city.”
As the Tribune article pointed out, the other main mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti was not happy with the union for so quickly running to Garcia’s camp. "Bob has been in the trenches fighting with parents and educators from the start and will continue that fight as mayor," campaign spokesman Michael Kolenc said. "He has been there for educators over the years, and we know a lot of them are with us now."
3. More principal training... This week the district quietly announced a three-year partnership with Northwestern University to provide professional development, executive coaching and other leadership opportunities to at least 20 principals each year. CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett called it an “unparalleled opportunity” for principals.
Sound familiar? You may recall that CPS awarded a $20 million no-bid contract last year for another principal training program, the for-profit SUPES Academy, run by a private operator. A Catalyst investigation revealed questionable ties between Byrd-Bennett and the founders of the business, while many principals still complain about the quality of the training. The CPS Inspector General is investigating the contract.
The 21 fellows chosen under this program won’t have to attend SUPES trainings. Under the new Chicago Public Schools Principal Fellowship program, Northwestern faculty will provide participating principals six days of academic training, a 360-degree assessment -- which involves feedback from coworkers, not just superiors -- and group and individual coaching from Northwestern experts.
“We recognize that principals may need different types of support or different experiences to grow professionally, depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses,” said a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Education Fund, which has committed $500,000 to fund the new training program and had previously funded SUPES Academy before it became a district program. Catalyst has written about Chicago’s efforts to better prepare and retain principals.
4. Getting poorer… WBEZ offers up a rather academic discussion on what it means for the state to have more than half of its students identified as low-income. Michael Rebell, the head of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, says that the trend has “tremendous” implications because poor students need more services, such as before-and-after school programs.
But the president of the Fordham Institute notes that the numbers may be inflated and points out that the number of students identified by schools as low-income has grown more than the official numbers of children in poverty. He says that not many low-income students make it through college and that the nation might need to rethink the idea that college is the path to the middle class.
In Illinois, the child poverty rate went from 15 percent in 2000 to about 21 percent in 2012, according to Voices for Illinois Children. For schools, the definition of low-income includes students whose families have incomes just above the poverty line as well as those below it. WBEZ's Linda Lutton points out that two-thirds of low-income children live outside of Chicago and all of the increase occurred in the suburbs or downstate.
A Catalyst analysis of state data shows that 24 school districts had increases of more than 20 percent. On average, 64 percent of the students in these school districts are white, 15 percent are Latino and 11 percent are black.
Karen Triezenberg, principal of Willow Spring School District 108, says her low-income numbers jumped by more than 30 percent as student population in the one-school district went up. The mobile home park in the area offers specials to families, she says, and some of the houses vacated during the housing crisis are now being rented to low-income families.
5. Middle-school intervention… Thirty-four CPS schools will get extra help to make sure sixth- through eighth-grade students are on track to graduate.The new initiative, called The Success Project, will also use a program called 6to16, designed at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute to help middle-schoolers set and reach goals for high school and beyond. The Lefkofsky Family Foundation is funding the project.
John Gasko of the Urban Education Institute called the initiative a “compelling answer to what research says matters.” A new study released today by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that middle-grades performance is strongly connected with both high school and college success.
Ten neighborhood schools will gain a full-time “success coordinator” and 23 Academy for Urban School Leadership turnaround schools will receive training and professional development. A final school, Cesar Chavez Multicultural Academic Center, which already has a strong focus on high school preparation, will also use the curriculum.
“We feel there’s inconsistency across the country, especially here in Chicago, in terms of trying to get students to pay more attention to the choices they make in high school,” Gasko said.
Updated Nov. 5, 9:45 p.m. - Republican and Democratic legislative leaders Wednesday sweated through a long day of not knowing which party will control the 2015 General Assembly.
A late-evening Chalkbeat Colorado count of races already decided plus races still being counted indicated either party could end up with majority control of the House or Senate – or both.
The outcome depends on the final results in a few key races where vote counts have been slow, particularly in Adams County. Unofficial final results aren’t expected until Thursday.
Because of the uncertainly, party leaders have put off the caucus meetings at which next session’s leaders will be elected. Those meetings traditionally are held the Thursday after an election.
In the Senate, Republicans have won 17 seats, including those held by GOP senators who are in the middle of their terms and weren’t on the ballot. Republicans are narrowly leading in one race, the District 24 contest between GOP candidate Beth Martinez Humenik and Democrat Judy Solano.
Democrats have won 15 seats, including mid-term senators. They lead in two races that remain to be finally tabulated. Those are the District 20 race between Democratic Sen. Cheri Jahn and Republican Larry Queen, and the District 22 contest between Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr and GOP hopeful Tony Sanchez.
If Humenik holds her lead after Adams County finally finishes its count, the GOP will win 18-17 control of the Senate, even if Jahn and Kerr maintain their leads.
But if Solano wins her race, and Jahn and Kerr are the victors, Democrats win an 18-17 Senate majority.
The prospects are similarly complicated – and murky – in the House.
Democrats have won 31 seats and are leading narrowly in two others. Republicans have 29 clear victories and are leading in three close races. So, if the Democrats hold the two races in which they’re leading, they gain a 33-32 House majority. Those two races are District 3, where Rep. Daniel Kagan is ahead of Republican Candice Benge, and District 36, where Rep. Su Ryden has a narrow edge over Richard Bowman. Both districts are in Arapahoe County.
Republican control of both houses could have interesting implications for Colorado’s continued participation in the Common Core State Standards and the multi-state PARCC tests, as well as the amount of state testing and for such issues as tuition tax credits. Democratic majorities, or control of one House, would make new Republican education initiatives less likely to be successful.
In any event, Democrats will retain control of the Capitol’s first floor, given that Gov. John Hickenlooper has won a narrow victory.
Here are the key legislative races of interest to the education community. (All the incumbents are members of either the House or Senate education committees.)State Senate
District 11 (Colorado Springs) – Democrat Mike Merrifield, former chair of the House Education Committee, faced GOP Sen. Bernie Herpin, who won election a year ago in a recall. – Merrifield won.
District 19 (Jeffco) – Appointed Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger was challenged by GOP businesswoman Laura Woods. – Woods appears to have won narrowly.
District 22 (Jeffco) – Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, faced GOP political newcomer Tony Sanchez. – Kerr was leading by about 1 percent.
District 24 – Solano, a long-time testing critic and former representative, battled GOP civic activist Beth Martinez Humenik. – Humenik was leading.State House
District 22 (Jeffco) – GOP Rep. Justin Everett faced Democratic community activist Mary Parker. – Everett won.
District 28 (Jeffco) – Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen was opposed by GOP lawyer Stacia Kuhn. – Pettersen held her seat.
District 40 (Aurora) – Democratic Rep. John Buckner faced Republican JulieMarie Shepherd, an Aurora school board member. – Buckner won.
District 50 – Democratic Rep. Dave Young was challenged by GOP businessman Isaia Aricayos. – Young held his seat.
District 61 – Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner, chair of House Education, faced a repeat challenge from GOP artist Debra Irvine. – Hamner was victorious, albeit with a smaller-than-expected margin.
House Education members who won easily included Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora and Republican Rep. Kevin Priola of Henderson. Republican Jim Wilson of Salida was unopposed. And GOP House committee winner Chris Holbert of Douglas County coasted to an easy win in his bid for a Senate seat.
Many of Colorado’s 63,000-some high school seniors start taking standardized science and social studies tests this week, an event that will mean time off for younger students in some districts.
This is the first year that seniors will have to take a portion of the state’s standardized tests, known as the CMAS. In the past, ninth and 10th graders took the language arts and math tests, 10th graders also took science tests, and juniors also took the ACT.
The expansion of testing at the high school level — 11th graders now have to take language arts and math exams — has been a sore point for many students and parents, and has become part of the debate over the state testing system.
One complaint is that testing disrupts classroom instruction, and that’s exactly what’s happening in at least three large districts – Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek and Douglas County.
Chalkbeat Colorado checked with eight major metro-area districts. Administrators in those three districts said schedules would change for some freshmen, sophomores, and juniors because of issues specific to certain high schools, such as numbers of computers and availability of computer labs and other rooms.
Here’s a rundown:
Boulder Valley – Some 5,700 ninth, 10th, and 11th grade students at Boulder, Broomfield, Fairview and Monarch high schools will get the mornings of Nov. 13 and 14 off so seniors can take their tests.
“In the four largest high schools we are unable to accommodate the online assessment when the other students are in attendance,” said Superintendent Bruce Messinger. “… Even with this assessment plan we will be transporting hundreds of laptop computers from other schools to the high schools so that every student has a device for the assessments. In order to administer the online assessments we need to have the students take the assessments in classrooms/tech labs so the students have wireless access.”
Cherry Creek – Spokeswoman Tustin Amole said, “Underclassmen will have two days off during the seniors’ tests. We are not able to run a normal schedule for them on the testing days due to space.” That affects some 12,000 ninth, 10th, and 11th graders on Nov. 13-14.
Douglas County – This south suburban district has a complicated schedule to accommodate the tests. Underclassman were scheduled for a half-day off Wednesday and Thursday at Chaparral, Castle View, Douglas County, and Rock Canyon high schools. There will be schedule changes Nov. 12 and 13 at Highland Ranch, Mountain Vista, and ThunderRidge high schools.
Other big districts will be juggling classes and tests with schedule changes.
Adams 12-Five Star – “We’re not having to make schedule adjustments to accommodate CMAS tests,” said communications chief Joe Ferdani.
Aurora – There will be no schedule changes or early release of students
Denver – Spokeswoman Kristy Armstrong said, “It has been stressed to schools that instructional time should be impacted as minimally as possible. And we’re not aware of any schools releasing early.” (Armstrong was asked about DPS plans last week. Since then East High School has announced underclassmen will have the mornings of Nov. 12 and 13 off.)
Jefferson County – “It is our understanding that some schools are making adjustments to their bell or period schedules, as needed, to enable testing to be completed, but school will be held for all students during the testing window,” said spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.
St. Vrain – There are no schedule changes because of testing.
The “testing window” for the senior CMAS tests opened on Wednesday and runs through much of November. Districts can choose when to give the tests.
Some elementary and middle school students took the tests last spring. Achievement levels were generally low (see story).
“Personalized learning” is in — just look to the more-than-$5 million in grants Denver Public Schools has received in recent years to create new personalized learning programs for evidence. But just what makes learning “personalized,” let alone whether such programs work, is less clear.
A new report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation aims to define and analyze the practices and performance of schools focused on personalized learning. It concludes that while early efforts are promising, there remain practical and systemic barriers to expanding programs that aim to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs and skills.
“It seems theoretically like a good idea to let children work at their own pace and continue working on things until they get mastery on a topic,” said John Pane, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation who led research for the report. “But it’s important to see if these schools did produce stronger takeaways than traditional schools.”
On that question, the report, ”Early Progress: Interim Report on Personalized Learning,” is cautiously optimistic. Researchers from RAND found that students in 23 personalized learning schools did better on a computer-based reading and math assessment known as MAP than peers in a control group, and students who started out behind were even more likely to show growth.
But the report notes that overall, it’s not yet clear whether the personalized learning programs are responsible for the gains. Other elements of the schools — all charter schools that use technology in instruction — might help explain the scores, the report notes.
“Clearly it’s not harming students,” Pane said. “And it might be a possible explanation for why they’re doing well. We need to do more work to decide.”
The researchers looked at schools that had been using personalized learning programs for at least two years and had gotten funding from the Gates Foundation or other philanthropies to support technology, professional development, and other elements of personalized learning, but each had designed its program independently. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Gates Foundation.)
Although not all of the features were in place at every school studied, researchers found that the schools tended to use:
The report highlights advantages of personalizing learning beyond boosting test scores. Most teachers in the schools reported that they felt supported by administrators and that their professional development helped them tailor lessons to students’ needs.
It also notes areas where teachers said their schools’ personalized learning efforts fell short. Fully half of teachers said the training they got took up more time than it was worth, and only a third said they got data about their students’ performance in subjects other than math and reading. Others said discipline and absenteeism presented challenges.
In Denver, the district is considering creating several new personalized learning-focused schools, including one that would grow out of Grant Beacon Middle School.
Alex Magaña, the principal at Grant Beacon — which was not included in the Gates study — said that when his program adopted a blended learning program and focused on personalizing lessons to students three years ago, test scores and student engagement both improved. He said the school has built a bank of lessons and best practices for its teachers over time.
“Now we have people from around the country coming to visit us and sharing ideas, asking us, what does this look like?” Magaña said. “Because there is no model. That’s the fun part. We get to create it. Yet the gains are showing.”
Vicki Phillips, who heads the Gates Foundation’s U.S. education division, said the results in the 23 schools in the study “give us a sense of what’s possible.”
“We have a lot more to learn and a broader band of schools to see if this is more effective — and a lot more to do to really isolate what works,” she said. “But if we don’t talk about it, we don’t grow or mature as a field.”
Colorado votes 2014
Last night's seismic shift that resulted from a Republican wave may have serious implications for Colorado's education community. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
According to late returns, Colorado Republicans are in a strong position to take control of both chambers in General Assembly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
That means the Republican Party picked up at least nine seats in the Colorado House. ( Denver Post )
Voters statewide torpedoed Amendment 68, which would have expanded casino gambling. At the same, they approved open negotiations between teachers unions and school districts. Additionally, Denver voters approved a tax increase to fund preschool tax credits. But Adams County residents said no to nine different tax increases ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, 9News, KDVR )
But Adams 12 voters said no to a a $15 million mill levy override and a $220 million bond. ( Adams County Sentinel )
Voters in Boulder passed a $576.5 million school construction tax increase — the largest in Colorado's history. ( Daily Camera )
Head Start, the federally-funded early childhood education program, is still making a difference in El Paso County where one in six children live in poverty. ( )
No attack ads here
It might have been Election Day in America, but it's STEM week at Aspen Creek K-8 in Broomfield. ( Daily Camera )
Updated Nov. 5, 7:15 a.m. – Colorado voters continued their anti-gambling tradition Tuesday and defeated Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would have expanded casino gambling and devoted some of the revenues to K-12 education.
But voters statewide approved Proposition 104, a measure that will require contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions to be held in public.
Voters delivered a mixed verdict on proposed district tax increases, approving slightly over half of the more than 40 measures on the ballot. The Colorado School Finance Project released this list early Wednesday morning.
Of nine proposed tax increases in five Adams County districts, none passed.
But Boulder voters resoundingly approved a record $576.4 million bond for construction, while in Falcon, a construction bond failed but an override for operating expenses passed.
In Denver, voters approved an increase in the Denver Preschool Program sales tax, from .12 to .15 percent, and an extension of the tax until 2026. (Get background on the program and the tax here.)
Advocates of the DPP say it’s helped ensure school readiness, boost third-grade test scores and improve preschool quality, while skeptics said providing subsidies should be the state’s role, not the city’s, and that the program’s universal approach means that tax-payers are subsidizing preschool for families who don’t truly need the help.
It was a record year for local tax proposals. Some two dozen districts proposed a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides for operating expenses just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion state income tax increase for K-12 funding.
Here are the major proposals:
Districts were hoping for a change in voters’ attitude toward local school taxes—toward which they have often been skeptical—this year. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways in 2013. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.
The gambling proposal would have allowed opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park horse track south of Aurora, with one casino each allowed in Pueblo and Mesa counties at later dates, if certain conditions were met. The initiative would have devoted 34 percent of a casino’s adjusted gross casino proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund, which would have been distributed to districts on a per-student basis. Legislative analysts estimated $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17. (See our archive for more information.)
The proposal drew virtually no support from education groups. Since casino gambling was approved in 1991, Colorado voters have rejected every proposal to expand gaming beyond the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Most voters were skeptical of the proposal. “Number one, I’m not for gambling,” said Brittany Moore, of Golden. “Number two, I don’t trust that the money is going to go to the school system like they say it will. I’m sure there is some loophole.”
“I don’t think we need any more opportunities for the working man to throw away his money,” said Phillip Doe, of Jefferson County.
Other voters supported the change. “If they’re going to gamble, it may as well go to schools,” said Jeff Tomlinson, of Denver.
“Every little bit that goes to education helps,” said Christine Davis, also of Denver. “Public schools need more funding.”
More than $30 million—most of it on TV ads—was spent by the two campaigns, the pro side funded by Arapahoe Park’s owner, a Rhode Island casino firm, and the opposition bankrolled by the gaming corporations that own the mountain-town casinos.
“A vigorous campaign was waged on both sides; now Colorado voters have spoken and with their votes have said that they prefer the status quo,” said Monica McCafferty, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Better Schools, which supported Amendment 68, in a press release.
“Horse racing will continue at Arapahoe Park and the company will continue to be a good neighbor as it always has been,” she wrote. “The company will continue to work with the education community in Colorado in an effort to find ways to improve education in the state.”
“Trying to write special rules didn’t pass muster with voters tonight and it won’t in the future,” said Senate Minorit Leader Bill Cadman, who led a campaign against the amendment, in a statement on Tuesday. “If you want to have casinos in Colorado, then you need to do it in the three towns Colorado voters have set aside for you.”
Proposition 104, drafted and backed by the Independence Institute, requires collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public, as well as school board strategy sessions. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open.
“The battle to bring sunshine into the smoky back rooms where school districts and teachers union scheme to decide how our kids are to be taught is coming to an end,” said Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute, in an email to supporters.
“I agree [negotiations] should be public,” said voter Dave Giroir, a former member of an electricians union from Lakewood. “It would create confidence in the process.”
“I was glad that was on the ballot,” said Davis, a resident of the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. “It’s a public issue.”
Voter Tomlinson said he voted against. “I don’t think that should be public. It’s the administrators’ job.”
The measure was opposed by most education interest groups, who warned it is vague enough to affect conversations beyond formal meetings and might require clarification by the courts. (Learn more about the measure here.)
“Coloradans have always valued transparency in their government, so it’s no surprise that they support open school board negotiations too,” said Ranelle Lang, a spokesperson for Local Schools, Local Choices, which opposed the measure. “But this measure’s vague wording will leave many school districts unclear on what will now be expected of them. At a time when school districts across the state are struggling to educate rapidly-growing populations of school-age children in Colorado, this measure could take money out of the classroom to pay for the legal counsel needed to help navigate and comply with this new mandate.”
Updated 11:30 p.m. – Two incumbents held onto their seats on the State Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, leaving the board’s 4-3 Republican majority in place.
GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction had a 34,000 vote lead over Democrat Henry Roman, a former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, in the sprawling 3rd District at about 11:30 p.m.
In suburban Denver’s 7th District, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff easily defeated Republican Laura Boggs. With 76 percent of the votes counted, Goff led by about five points.
The state board performs a primarily regulatory function and tends to vote unanimously on most such issues. But there are significant philosophical differences between Democratic and Republican members on bigger issues like the Common Core State Standards, testing, local district autonomy and the federal government’s role in education.
Some education reform groups have been worried that continued Republican control could lead to board efforts to pull Colorado out of the Common Core and the PARCC tests.
State Board races typically are quiet affairs, and anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 fewer votes typically are cast in a board race than in a congressional race. (State Board seats are based on congressional district boundaries.)
But there was heightened interest this year because a campaign committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform pumped more than $200,000 into campaign literature supporting Roman and Goff and criticizing their opponents.
The 3rd District covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo. While the district generally is considered Republican territory, winning vote margins were relatively small in Neal’s 2008 victory and in a prior win by another Republican.
Neal is a former social studies teacher and Mesa 51 school board member who sometimes is a swing vote on the board and who’s been a strong advocate for rural districts. Roman is a former Pueblo 60 superintendent, has worked recently as a charter school consultant and hadn’t previously run for elected office.
The 7th District includes much of Adams and Jefferson counties. Adams County tends to lean Democratic, while Jeffco is pretty evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.
Goff, of Arvada is a former Jeffco foreign language teacher and administrator who also served as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. Boggs, from Lakewood, is a former Jeffco school board member who was a one-woman conservative minority before the board changed hands in the 2013 election.
Despite losing her race, Boggs said Tuesday was a good night for education. She said, “Proposition 104 was a huge win. I’m excited for Marcia Neal. So obviously, I’m disappointed about the results in CD7, but a good number of voters — not all voters, but a good number of voters — spoke loudly that they want to break the one-size-fits-all education system.”
The board’s 1st District seat, which primarily covers Denver, was also on the ballot this election, but the only candidate was retired educator Valentina Flores, who defeated a reform candidate in the June Democratic primary. Flores will replace Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman, who chose not to run again.
Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, ran unopposed for a seat in the state House. A GOP vacancy committee will choose a replacement for his District 5 board seat.
Three board members are in the middle of terms and weren’t on the ballot: Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur (4th District), Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker (6th) and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder (2nd).