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Weekend Reads: Why parent involvement may not matter (and why it still might matter a lot)

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 16:40
  • A new study found that many kinds of parental involvement in students’ educations result in few academic benefits. (Atlantic)
  • But that conclusion may have been drawn from a flawed measure of what parental involvement really looks like. (New York Times)
  • A new poll reports that while a plurality of white parents oppose the Common Core, a majority of black and Hispanic parents support the standards. (Hechinger Report)
  • This week’s conviction of 11 Atlanta educators on racketeering charges related to test score tampering is an example of Campbell’s Law in practice. (Atlantic)
  • Former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein responds to a critique that he unfairly casts opponents to his reforms as cynical and self-interested. (New York Review of Books)
  • High levels of teacher turnover cost school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year, says a researcher studying teacher retention and churn. (NPR Ed)
  • Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the long-term affects of the disruption in New Orleans students’ education can be seen in high youth unemployment. (Hechinger Report)
  • Success Academy Charter Schools founder Eva Moskowitz criticizes New York City’s proposed new school discipline policy and similar restorative models as too lax. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Louisville, Kentucky provides a rare case study in successful school integration. (Atlantic)
  • New research suggests that while more education could improve the lives of middle- and lower-income Americans, it’s likely not a solution to rising inequality, which is being driven by sharp increases in wealth among the already-very-rich. (New York Times)
Categories: Urban School News

Readers: How our students spent their opt-out time

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 13:11

This week marks the end of the state’s first wave of standardized testing. So, on Monday we asked our readers: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the PARCC English and math exams?

We heard from people all over the state and the responses were varied. Some parents kept their students at home for the few hours student took the exams while others spent that time in the library working on homework.

Bruce Hankins, superintendent Dolores County Schools and principal Seventh Street Elementary School, said more than 90 percent of his students opted out of the test. Here’s how his district handled those larger numbers:

We  look at our schools as a customer service organization, not a governmental organization. Which means our students and parents are our customers. Happy customers mean they keep coming back and trust you to do what is best for the them. Would you go back to a store if they told you you had to buy a certain color of shirt and you could not leave until you did? We decided to not disrupt our schedule, we feel students learning and teachers teaching is the most important job we have. So, our teachers stayed in the classroom teaching kids, and we had proctors administer the test.

On the hand, Chalkbeat reader Heather Phipps emailed:

My third and fifth grader went to the library with a few other kids, where they had supervision from a staff member.  They brought homework and books to read.  They helped reshelve books.  They had five days of testing so far and they were in the library for at least 1.5 hours each testing day. I went in 2 of the days and worked on math and reading with my children.

Karen King said on our Facebook page she kept her son home:

[T]he school respected our decision and our rights, they did not try to encourage us to take the tests.

And Lisa C replied to our tweet this way:

@ChalkbeatCO Yes! She spent it working on her spelling, which could benefit from extra time, and also on reading and social studies work.

— Lisa C (@Realrellim) March 30, 2015

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

Building reading fluency goal of United Way program

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 09:56

AURORA — On most school days, Izabella Menifee, a third grader at Murphy Creek K-8 school in Aurora, leaves her class for 20 minutes to read one-on-one with her tutor Emma Blatherwick.

During their time together, Izabella will read a short passage as fast as she can while Blatherwick tracks which words she misses or mispronounces. They’ll also take turns reading every other word. The goal of these exercises and others is to get Izabella reading about 135 words per minute.

Blatherwick is one of two Colorado Reading Corp members at Murphy Creek. The reading program’s aim is to improve the reading fluency of students who are below grade level. The idea is if students can spend less time stumbling over words, they can spend more time understanding the meaning of what they’re reading.

And it appears to be working. In its first year, 76 percent of third-graders who completed the program and were previously reading below grade level showed improvement and are now scoring at or above grade level, according to internal assessments by Mile High United Way.

“Our teachers work incredibly hard,” said Chris Capron, Murphy Creek’s assistant principal said. “But sometimes students don’t get the fine tuning they need. And if teachers and students don’t have to worry about fluency, they can focus on comprehension in the classroom. These students sound like readers.”

The Colorado Reading Corps is based on a similar program established in Minnesota in 2003. Today, that program is the largest state AmeriCorps program in the country.

Reading tutors, usually recent college graduates, work for a stipend and a $5,645 education award they can apply toward their tuition or school loans. They receive three days of intense literacy training before setting foot in a school. They work closely with a school leader and a coach from United Way.

The reading corps are in 41 schools in Jeffco Public Schools, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and Aurora Public Schools.

For Capron at Murphy Creek, the reading corps fills a large gap in the types of interventions he’s able to offer for students in kindergarten through third grade, as required by the Colorado READ Act.

The federal money Aurora Public Schools receives to serve low-income students does not follow each student. Instead the district funnels the money to schools that serve mostly poor students. That leaves schools like Murphy Creek, where four in 10 students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, with less money for intervention programs.

“We do really well with what we’re given,” Capron said. “But we have a lot of hardworking families. And their students come in with skills but are a little behind. This program really catches them up.”

For third-grader Izabella that means reading “big chapter books” at home and doing research on animals she likes, especially dolphins.

“She’s gaining the confidence to try new words,” Blatherwick said.

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified how many minutes schools spend with reading tutors. Students spend 20 minutes, not 30 minutes. This article has also been updated and clarified to reflect that 76 percent of students who completed the program were reading at grade level according to local assessments, not the state’s reading test. This article has also been updated to reflect how much a Reading Corps member earned as an education award.  

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Littleton settles with Davis family

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 04/03/2015 - 09:31

Budget Woes

Three bills that would have increased education funding are off the table due to budget constraints in the state. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Following Up

The Littleton School District has agreed to release information about last year's school shooting to the family of Claire Davis. ( Denver Post, 9News )


Babies learn from and experiment with things that surprise them. ( The Atlantic )

Two cents

A director of the Pagosa Charter School Initiative took his family on a road trip to explore charter schools across the state. ( Pagosa Daily Post )

Universal language

An autistic student with a musical gift is now studying at Berklee College of Music. ( KDVR )

Subbing Out

Colorado districts are struggling to recruit enough substitute teachers. ( Denver Post )

Round One

Nearly a million Colorado students are wrapping up the first part of this year's PARCC test. ( CPR )

Mascot makeover

The bill banning schools from using American Indian mascots without approval passed the House, but the schools won't get extra funds to help switch mascots. ( Associated Press via Denver Post )

Mascot Makeover, Part 2

But on the Eastern Plains, Lamar High School students don't want to stop being known as the Savages. ( Denver Post )

We're on the Run

Fort Collins students are training for a 5k and learning about self-image as part of Girls on the Run. ( Coloradoan )

Music and money, better together?

A Kansas rock band was in Longmont this week talking to high schoolers about music and... personal finance? ( Times Call )

Recent History

A decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans schools and students are still grappling with the impact of the storm. ( Hechinter )

Categories: Urban School News

Budget squeeze dooms three education spending bills

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 14:52

The House Appropriations Committee Thursday killed three major education spending bills, including proposals to increase funding for preschool and for full-day kindergarten.

The votes were expected but that didn’t make the decisions any easier for some committee members. “We just don’t have the funds. … I think it’s a sad day in appropriations,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The third measure would have created a pilot program paying bonuses to highly effective teachers who work in low-performing schools.

The bills were doomed because of the state’s contradictory budget situation. Although the economy is healthy and state revenues are rising, there’s little money available for new or expanded programs because of constitutional spending caps and required refunds of surpluses to taxpayers.

These three measures were postponed indefinitely on 13-0 votes at the requests of their sponsors:

House Bill 15-1020 – The measure proposed that the state pick up the $236 million cost of providing full-day kindergarten for all students. The idea is a crusade for Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who said, “We shall return.”

House Bill 15-1024 – The $11.3 million proposal would have added 3,000 places to the Colorado Preschool Program, which currently serves 28,360 at-risk students. The legislature has been trying for several sessions to chip away at the program’s waiting list but never has found enough money to eliminate it. (Get more information of the kindergarten and preschool bills here.)

House Bill 15-1200 – This bill needed $4 million to support a pilot program of paying stipends to highly effective teachers who work in low-income schools. A similar bill died last year. (Get more information here.)

The appropriations committee did approve House Bill 15-1165. This is the bill that would require American Indian school mascots to be approved by a state review panel. The committee stripped the bill’s $200,000 funding. (Read this story about the bill.)

New bill proposes school finance study

House Bill 14-1334, introduced late Wednesday, proposes creation of a 10-member “legislative oversight committee on school finance” to study Colorado’s K-12 funding system and recommend changes to both state law and the constitution.

The group would be advised by a nine-member technical advisory committee of district administrators and school finance experts. The two groups would work together this year and next and would make specific recommendations to the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses, including Senate Education Committee chair Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood. House sponsors are Hamner and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale. Both are members of the Joint Budget Committee.

The bill is seen as a modest nod to the continuing frustration of school district leaders with tight school funding. The measure will be heard in the House Education Committee on Monday. (Read the bill here.)

Similar legislative panels studied school finance in 2005 (see report) and 2009 (see story). Both committees produced extensive information but little in the way of substantive legislation. Colorado’s current school finance formula is two decades old.

In other money news, the Senate spent more than an hour in polite partisan recriminations Thursday before giving final 21-14 approval to Senate Bill 15-234, the 2015-16 state budget.

Highlights for K-12 include increased funding to cover inflation and enrollment growth but no reduction in the $880 million education funding shortfall. A small amount of additional school support will be proposed in the annual school finance bill, which hasn’t been introduced yet.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Could pot tax money for schools go up in smoke?

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 08:50

pay and play

After bursting onto the national scene a few years ago, the Pay For Success financing model is gaining traction among Colorado school districts and early childhood organizations. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

girl power

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country, including Los Angeles. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Refund madness

A year after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, millions of tax dollars are rolling in, dedicated to funding school construction, marijuana education campaigns and armies of marijuana inspectors and regulators. But a legal snarl may force the state to hand that money back to marijuana consumers, growers and the public — and lawmakers do not want to. ( New York Times )

Testing tussle

The Senate Wednesday rejected a bid by five Republicans to pull $16.8 million in testing funds from the 2015-16 state budget bill. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

cheaters gonna cheat

“Guilty,” Judge Jerry Baxter read the jury’s verdicts for conspiracy for 11 of the 12 defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial. ( Atlanta Journal Constitution )

Submarining sub numbers

A steady decrease in the number of available substitute teachers across the state has many school districts getting creative with ways to recruit more temporary teachers. ( Denver Post )

opening up

The Littleton Public Schools board will meet Thursday to hear district staffers recommend that the board approve a proposal allowing the family of Claire Davis more access to information about the December 2013 school shooting that left her dead. ( Denver Post )

It's a Gass for Telluride

The Telluride R-1 School District Board of Education has announced that it has unanimously selected Michael Gass, who is currently assistant superintendent for Eagle County Schools, to be the new Telluride superintendent of schools beginning on July 1. ( Vail Daily )

Gaseous Boulder

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plans to work with the Boulder Valley School District in administering a "symptom survey" to staff members at Boulder's Casey Middle School, where hydrogen sulfide sewer gas has posed problems. ( Daily Camera )

Packed in

Nine crowded Poudre Valley schools need immediate fixes for overcrowding. ( Coloradoan )

Categories: Urban School News

Bid to pull testing funds livens up Senate budget debate

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 21:31

The Senate Wednesday rejected a bid by five Republicans to pull $16.8 million in testing funds from the 2015-16 state budget bill.

“What we are hearing from parents is there is too much testing,” argued Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “They want out of this product called PARCC. … This one amendment does something very simple, it defunds PARCC.”

The proposed amendment was offered during the hours-long debate on Senate Bill 15-234, the so-called “long bill” that will set state spending in the upcoming budget year.

Long lists of amendments are proposed to the budget bill every year, mostly by minority party members who know their motions will fail but who want to make political points. The GOP controls the Senate by a one-vote margin this year, and the testing amendment was proposed by five Republicans, all of whom to sit on the Senate Education Committee.

Democratic senators opposed the amendment – along with some key Republicans.

“This is not the place to do it,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver and a member of the Joint Budget Committee. “This is something current law requires the state to pay for.”

Later in the debate, JBC chair Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs agreed, saying, “I don’t think this is the right vehicle either. … We try not to make substantive law in the long bill.”

Lambert was referring to the longstanding legislative practice of using the budget bill only to set amounts of funding for programs that are currently required by state law, not to change those programs. Separate sections of state law require the current testing system, and the language of the amendment wouldn’t have changed those. The amendment also didn’t refer specifically to PARCC tests.

It’s also longstanding legislative practice for JBC members of both parties to oppose changes to the long bill, regardless of which party proposes those amendments.

The 40 minutes of debate ended with an initial standing vote. Several Republicans voted no, including Lambert, fellow JBC member Sen. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Majority Leader Mark Scheffel of Parker.

The budget bill was debated on what’s called “second reading,” or preliminary consideration. A final Senate vote on the budget will be taken Thursday.

Testing critics will have plenty of other opportunities for debate. The House Education Committee will consider a major testing bill next Monday, and Senate Education will have a testing marathon featuring five bills on April 9. (See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for information and links on all 2015 testing bills.)

House panel advances rural aid bill

Some House Education Committee members questioned the $10 million cost of a new bill intended to help small rural school districts, but the committee passed the measure 10-1 Wednesday after listening to testimony and chewing on it for more than 90 minutes.

House Bill 15-1321 would exempt rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students from certain state requirements related to parent involvement, accountability committee membership, financial reporting, and evaluations, and also provide $10 million in 2015-16 for per-pupil distribution to those districts. (Get more details in this Chalkbeat story and this legislative staff summary.)

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, was the biggest skeptic. “I have some concerns about the $10 million. … So many other schools” have financial needs as well, she said. Fields was the only no vote.

Rural administrators and lobbyists from groups including the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado League of Charter Schools testified for the measure.

The rural aid bill joins a long line of proposed spending bills awaiting action in the House Appropriations Committee. Each house of the legislature has been allocated only $5 million by the JBC for new or expanded spending this year. But the bills on the appropriations calendar total hundreds of millions of dollars, including more than a dozen education-related measures running to about $280 million.

House Education’s talkative session on rural aid meant it ran out of time to vote on House Bill 15-1322, which would commission a $165,000 study of the data reporting requirements the state imposes on school districts. (See a bill summary here.)

Some committee members complained about the cost; others wondered if it was necessary. When amendments surfaced just before the committee was due to be kicked out of the hearing room for another meeting, chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, pulled the bill off the table.

More education bills introduced in House

The session’s May 6 adjournment clock is counting down, but that doesn’t mean the legislative leadership is stopping members from introducing new bills. Here are education-related measures that popped up in the House on Wednesday.

House Bill 15-1326 – This bill would prohibit state colleges from discriminating against applicants who have high school diplomas from districts that have lost state accreditation. The sponsors are Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo. Both represent school districts that could soon face state intervention for low performance. The bill has no Senate sponsors.

House Bill 15-1328 – The measure would require youth sports organizations to conduct criminal background checks on staff members and some volunteers. This is a House retread of Senate Bill 15-048, which was killed in the Senate.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

GALS plans for expansion in and out of Denver

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 17:02

The Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS), an all-girls charter school in West Denver, has plans to grow both in Denver and in cities across the country.

The Los Angeles Unified School District will vote later this month on whether to open a brand-new GALS middle school in 2016, and GALS’ leadership in Denver is researching the possibility of opening an all-boys school in Denver.

GALS opened in Denver in 2010. The school currently enrolls 280 students — all girls — in grades 6 through 9, and plans to eventually enroll 600 students in middle and high school. GALS is in the midst of doubling the size of its school building.

Plans for an all-boys school in Denver are still in early stages, but a new task force assembled by the school’s leadership and board is studying the possibility.

Chalkbeat talked with GALS founder Liz Wolfson about why the school is considering expanding, the purpose of an all-boys school, and more. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why an all-boys school?

There are practical reasons and then there are philosophical reasons.

GALS was founded on an assumption that we can create a more civil society in the world by ensuring that as many young women as possible understand that they have access to all opportunities and that we can break the clear ceilings that exist in all industries for women.

Philosophically, you can’t change society by only working on women. The philosophy of GALS is based on healthy relationships.

There’s a clear, direct path from education to behavior and relationships that create a more dynamic, inclusive society. This is just our piece of adding our choice option to portfolio of schools that exist.

What boys deal with in schools is just as sensational as what’s going on for girls, in terms of achievement in schools but most importantly in terms of who they are in the world. The messages boys are receiving through public culture today are really disempowering. They need real attention in terms of knowing who they are and feeling that they matter just as they are.

Practically, now that GALS has developed this strong program around health, wellness, and gender, one could argue that a boy doesn’t have that choice, especially with Sims-Fayola [an all-boys public school in the district] closing.

Why does that learning for boys and girls have to take place in a single-gender environment? 

We’re honoring the journey of adolescence, so each gender has a chance to fully become themselves before they go into the natural organic stages of socialization, romance, interconnectedness.

It’s about honoring the reality that our public culture hypersexualizes boys and girls and hyperinflates issues of who you’re supposed to be based on a girl in a bikini and a guy watching football. The idea’s to slow that down and allow boys and girls to figure out who they are first…

All we’re saying is, we want healthy interaction, but most importantly we want kids to know who they are.

What’s most important for boys is not always the same as what’s important for girls. Empowerment isn’t the issue, it’s about finding your voice and recognizing that you don’t have to be Superman to be valued and impactful.

What are your plans for expansion outside of Denver? 

We’re in the process of putting together our strategic plan for national expansion. The vision from the get-go was to be in four or five distinct geographic regions across the country, with the idea that we want to put out a next generation of girls who have been through our schooling.

We’re not looking to expand like KIPP, or to dominate a single city. We’re looking to hit the discourse around equity around the country.

We’re not going to be a CMO [charter management organization] like DSST or STRIVE, where there’s a central office. It will be a series of place-based organizations, and the directors of each will be on the board of the national GALS.

There are a number of cities we’re interested in: Baton Rouge, Rhode Island, Indianapolis, Seattle Tacoma. We believe it’s not about whether we’re interested, it’s what’s going on locally and do we have the leadership to make it happen.

What does your staff look like? Are your teachers mostly female?

I think our staff looks like every staff. The research shows it’s important to put role models of every shape color and age in front of students.

One thing is that we want role models of different ages. The idea that you can continually fill staff with just 23-year-olds…the bottom line is, a 23-year old has a different perspective than a 45-year-old. We want both. We also look for diversity of staff to match the kids in the school.

Categories: Urban School News

More groups explore how Pay For Success financing can help kids

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:20

After bursting onto the national scene a few years ago, Pay For Success financing is gaining traction among Colorado school districts and early childhood organizations.

The Early Childhood Council of Boulder County and Adams County School District 50 are both exploring the British-born financing mechanism as a way to pay for underfunded early childhood programs. Aurora Public Schools may use the model as well, to beef up college and career readiness.

The exploratory work by all three groups unfolds as state law-makers consider Pay For Success legislation for the second year in a row. Last year’s bill, which was introduced late in the session and focused exclusively on early childhood programs, died in committee.

Chalkbeat reporting on PFS

Pay For Success resources

Common PFS focus areas 

  • Early childhood
  • Recidivism
  • Chronic homelessness
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Asthma

The idea behind Pay For Success, or PFS, is that private investors or philanthropists pay upfront for evidence-based social programs. If those programs save public money by preventing costly interventions such as emergency room visits or special education services, the investors are repaid with interest.

The potential savings accrued from Pay For Success projects are calculated by comparing the public costs of an individual or group after an intervention program to the public costs of an individual or group with no intervention.

For example, a school district considering a preschool-based Pay For Success project might use national studies showing that high-quality preschool reduces special education enrollment by 15 percent, to estimate its prospective savings.

If for some reason a Pay For Success project doesn’t yield the hoped-for savings, the investors lose some or all of their money. Therein lies part of the appeal of Pay For Success. While it can inject new funding into effective prevention programs, there is relatively little financial risk to the public entities that stand to benefit from those programs long-term.

When it comes to projects targeting children and youth, the Early Childhood Council of Boulder County is farthest along in the complicated development process. (Among all Colorado projects, a Denver effort to address chronic homelessness among adults is closest to fruition.)

The council is studying the possible expansion of a 30-year-old home-visiting program—the “Community Infant Program”—that aims to prevent child abuse and neglect. If the current cost-modeling work shows an expansion is feasible, the project could launch in 2017 with an five-year investment of $2-4 million. It’s not yet clear who the project’s investors would be.

“We’re not seeing any yellow or red lights. They’re all green,” said Bobbie Watson, executive director of the council.

Growing school district interest

In the last few months, local school districts have also begun testing the waters of Pay For Success. Both Adams 50 and Aurora have applied for grants through the University of Utah Policy Innovation Lab, one of a several intermediary organizations distributing federal dollars to build PFS capacity. The grants of up to $250,000 would primarily pay for new in-house employees to help develop PFS projects in each district.

Adams 50 is also an alternate finalist for a grant through the Boston-based Third Sector Capital Partners, another intermediary for Pay For Success capacity-building grants.

The two districts’ bid for such funding speaks to one of the biggest challenges facing organizations interested in the Pay For Success path: the need for money and expertise long before a project launches.

“This is the big problem with PFS right now,” said Mary Wickersham, a consultant working on the Boulder project. “There’s this dearth of funding on the front end.”

While Watson and her team raised around $150,000 to cover those costs, it’s not easy.

Of the more than 40 Pay For Success proposals received in response to a state “Request For Information” in 2013, only two–Denver’s chronic homelessness project and Boulder’s home-visiting project–are actively moving forward.

Dozens of others, “some portion of which could be great deals … are kind of languishing right now for want of support to get them to the finish line,” said Wickersham.

Preschool potential

Following in the footsteps of school districts in Chicago and Salt Lake City, Adams 50 is considering a PFS project that would expand preschool access. Specifically, the district and two community partners, Growing Home and the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, want to increase the number of full-day preschool slots in the district and add parenting classes.

The hope is that such a PFS program would decrease special education costs and improve early reading scores, said Mat Aubuchon, director of early childhood education in Adams 50.

“I think it’s exciting: a potentially totally different kind of funding stream in [early childhood education],” he said.

While half-day preschool is relatively accessible in the district, Aubuchon said there are very few state-funded full-day slots and most families can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. Three-quarters of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a proxy for low-income status.

The district and its partners are just starting to hold meetings on Pay For Success with potential investors in the philanthropic community, said Aubuchon. The earliest any project could launch is the 2016-17 school year.

“Obviously, we’re at the very infancy state of even exploring something like this,” he said.

Creating a college-bound culture

Meanwhile, Aurora Public Schools, in partnership with the Aurora Public Schools Foundation, is looking at Pay For Success with an eye toward improving outcomes for older kids.

Borrowing a concept used in Denver schools, the project under consideration would establish “Future Centers” in district high schools where students would get advising on all matters related to college and career readiness. The goal is to strengthen the district’s college-bound culture, decrease drop-out rates, and reduce the need for remediation.

“There’s some really clear metrics of deliverables” around post-secondary readiness, said Cheryl Miller, the district’s assistant director of grants and federal programs. “It perfectly aligns to our new strategic plan.”

Among the state’s 15 largest school districts, Aurora had the lowest on-time graduation rate last year: 55.9 percent. Statewide, 77.3 of high school students graduated on time.

Miller said the district initially considered a preschool-based PFS initiative, but wanted to differentiate itself by trying something outside the early childhood arena.

The goal was to be “doubly innovative,” she said.

More money for mental health

The Early Childhood Council of Boulder County began exploring Pay For Success in late 2013. Intent on using the model to make a positive impact on the youngest children, the council looked at six home-visiting programs already operating in the county.

“My board has particular interest in the birth to three population,” said Watson. “That’s where you get your best return on investment.”

The Community Infant Program, in which nurses and psychotherapists work with families around mental health, rose to the top of the list.

“We have a 30-year track record and I think people were pretty excited about the longevity in the community,” said Program Director Janet Dean.

The program, which has 20 employees and an annual budget of $1.5 million, helps parents create healthy relationships with their babies by addressing issues ranging from post-partum depression to anger, stress and mental illness.

Absent such intervention, children may experience abuse or other types of toxic stress that have long-term consequences on their health, education and well-being. There are financial consequences too, often incurred by the public sector. These can include expensive hospitalizations, court proceedings or entry into the foster care system.

If the number-crunching underway now confirms expectations, Pay For Success funding represents a front-end investment that could defray those back-end costs.

Dean said there are usually 20-30 families waiting for services from the Community Infant Program. An expansion would allow the organization to better serve families in the mountains on the west side of the county and those around Longmont, Lafayette and Louisville.

“We have families waiting for our service,” she said. “Mental health is just not funded, in general, to the level it needs to be funded.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Researchers describe “perfect” classroom

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 09:44


With changes in its International Baccalaureate program, Denver's George Washington High School is preparing for its first school year as “One George.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Help for the smallest

Rep. Jim Wilson is continuing his crusade to relieve small rural districts of state regulatory burdens, and he wants to give them some extra money as well. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Perfect classroom

University researchers have reviewed past studies to come up with the physical attributes that make for a great place to learn. ( )


The Loveland Classical Schools charter is working to increase funding, including from the Thompson district, in an effort to keep its high school program open. ( Loveland Reporter-Herald )

The Durango school board has conditionally approved the application of the K-5 Juniper School. ( Durango Herald )

Testing boycott

More than 100 families at three Eagle County high schools have opted out of PARCC testing. ( Vail Daily )

Thinking ahead

The Steamboat Springs district has unveiled a strategic plan to guide the district's future. ( Steamboat Pilot )


Two schools in the Mapleton and Westminster districts have received grants from the Foundation for Great Schools for success with their students. ( Northglenn Thornton Sentinel )

Brain science

A provocative new study suggests that poverty affects brain structure in children and teenagers, with children growing up in the poorest households having smaller brains than those who live in affluence. ( Washington Post )


Five decades and more than half a dozen revisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act later, calibrating the proper federal K-12 role remains an elusive goal. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

George Washington High prepares for more open IB

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 18:13

After three decades of housing two distinct programs and a year filled with concerns and compromise, George Washington High School, one of Denver’s comprehensive high schools, is preparing for its first school year as “One George.”

Starting in 2015-16, the school will house a redesigned academic program aimed at expanding access to the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which over the years has been notably more academically successful — and notably less racially and socio-economically diverse — than the rest of the school.

The “One George” plan also aims to improve the quality and sequencing of the school’s Advanced Placement and standard classes.

Starting this fall, incoming freshmen will decide whether to enroll in the two-year IB Diploma Program in the spring before 11th grade. Until now, prospective students have applied for the school-designed pre-IB program as incoming freshmen, and only those who successfully passed pre-IB have been allowed to enter the Diploma Program.

“There was a sense that starting the cohort in 9th grade seemed to close the program for some kids. It felt like they were already behind, had already lost out,” said Melanie Bryant, who will direct the IB program at the school next year. “This gives them opportunities along the way.”

Whether the changes will genuinely alter the composition and quality of IB program or the academic performance of students throughout the school remains to be seen.

The school will have three “Patriot Pathways:” IB, Advanced Placement, and college preparatory programming. In freshman year, students interested in all three pathways will be able to take a mix of classes that are designated as pre-IB, honors, and standard.

The new flexibility in 9th and 10th grade programs is aimed at broadening the path to IB. But students vying for the IB diploma are still being strongly encouraged to take pre-IB and honors classes.

The IB program itself remains exclusively a diploma program, which means students must enroll in an entire suite of IB courses junior and senior years and can’t earn certificates for individual IB classes. Many high schools across the country allow students to pursue individual IB course certificates.

Compromise seemed unlikely

That a compromise that genuinely altered the selective programs would be reached at all seemed unlikely less than a year ago. When district officials and the school’s then-principal Micheal Johnson announced plans to open up access to IB last spring, alumni, parents, and community members were furious. They said DPS wasn’t listening to community concerns.

But after a series of meetings and planning sessions throughout the summer, fall and winter, passions have cooled, and the school is moving forward with plans for a redesigned program with cautious optimism.

“Obviously it was rocky. And I wish it hadn’t been,” said DPS board member Mike Johnson. “But, while we haven’t docked the ship yet, we’ve kept it from sinking.”

The “docking” has been accompanied by some significant changes in personnel. Former IB Director Suzanne Geimer, who opposed a series of district attempts to open up the IB program over the years, is retiring after more than 30 years. A number of teachers have left the school. Bryant, a former IB teacher and district peer observer, is currently acting as co-director and will take the reins this summer.

Jose Martinez, brought in as an interim principal for the 2014-15 school year after Johnson was removed, will remain in his post next year. Many parents, students, and staff credit Martinez with bringing much-needed stability to the school after a rocky introduction of the plans for change.

Parents’ fears have not been entirely ameliorated. “I remain troubled by a certain view coming from the DPS administration that does not acknowledge the success of the IB program,” said GW alumnus and parent Steve Weil. Weil said he is concerned that the district is not committed to its selective programs, which he said are necessary to meet the needs of some students.

But, Weil said, “after everyone calmed down, I think we realized there was a cultural divide that needed to be addressed at GW. The other fact was, you have the IB program, which is excellent and doing well. Why not try to expand it? I think it’s a brilliant compromise.”

Over the course of the fall and winter, task forces of staff and community organized by school and district leadership developed proposals for school culture, implementing the DPS’s teacher leadership program, the three pathways, and student-centered learning.

How it will work

A committee that consisted mostly of teachers developed a plan to address the main logistical challenge: How students can move through 9th and 10th grade classes in different ways to be prepared for IB, Advanced Placement, or college preparatory programming. [Read the One George Action Plan released in January to see pathways and requirements.]

Next year’s freshmen will start school in August with a new orientation program, during which they’ll consider which of the three pathways they’re interested in following. The school is also starting an advisory program that will connect students with a teacher with whom they will regularly consult about their academic and personal goals.

Students will still have to qualify academically to enroll in the IB program as juniors by having on-grade-level standardized test scores and above-average grades.

But for the first time, students can technically take a mix of classes before then and still be considered for IB. Non-GW students will also be considered for admission at the end of their 10th grade year.

A document outlining the changes at the school says that “our intention is to look holistically at each student’s preparation for success.” But, it says, “we will not enroll students in Honors/PB [Pre-IB] courses who, in considering the totality of the qualifications above, are unprepared to be successful.”

Teacher Michelle Rosen, who teaches both pre-IB and standard classes, said teachers had been concerned about the changes when they were first proposed. “It was hard to take it all in, and no one wants those programs to be lost.”

But Rosen said she is optimistic about the bridging effect of the changes. “Students in all my classes are phenomenal, and I want them to talk to each other.”

Leveling the playing field

Principal Martinez said by creating chances for students who might not previously have opted into or qualified for the full pre-IB program to take some Pre-IB classes in 9th and 10th grades, “it creates that ability for someone to experience what it’s like to be in what’s typically been a program that’s not for me.”

“We’re looking for ways to level the playing field for our students,” he said. “A person’s ability to move about a community has an impact, poverty has an impact, race has an impact.” George Washington’s IB program was noted in a report for this fall for its success in sending low-income students to college.

Martinez said the school is also investing in professional development for all its teachers and is focusing on making sure that students who are not in IB are also getting a quality education. “It’s clear we need to improve the quality of instruction.”

The school is requesting funds to train its teachers in AP and IB. It also plans to standardize syllabi and curriculum in its AP and college preparatory classes to make sure that they’re solid and consistent.

Martinez said bolstering the quality of those programs will also allow students who decide IB is not their path to feel confident in their academic future.

Martinez said he has also been focused on building a school culture that includes all students this year, by creating events where all students interact.

“In this school for probably over a decade, we haven’t really attended to school culture,” Martinez said. “We weren’t talking about ethnicity, race, class, about what we do in a comprehensive high school with a diverse population to make everyone feel welcome.”

The One George Action Plan includes recommendations to have events that recognize student and staff accomplishments and “break down barriers” between students.

This year’s school choice application in Denver reflected the upcoming changes: While the application previously differentiated between IB and non-IB, this year students could only select George Washington.

Some parents and school staff feared the application would lead some people to believe that the IB program no longer exists.

But numbers from this year’s round of school choice don’t show a dramatic decline. In 2014-15, 316 students were accepted into the regular program and 151 to the IB program. In 2015-16, 455 students applied for the school’s freshmen class.

It remains to be seen just how many students enroll in each of the three pathways. The school reached out to students individually to gauge whether they were interested in IB in order to help plan for the fall.

Martinez said it is important that students be able to choose their desired program and that all of the school’s classes be of high quality. “This schedule is built as a choice of studies. We don’t track students and say you’re relegated to this pathway. We say, what would you like to study?”

Categories: Urban School News

Rural flexibility bill includes $10 million for small districts

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 18:10

Rep. Jim Wilson is continuing his crusade to relieve small rural districts of state regulatory burdens, and he wants to give them some extra money as well.

House Bill 15-1321, introduced late Monday by Wilson and Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, would exempt rural districts with fewer than 1,000 students from certain state requirements related to parent involvement, accountability committee membership, financial reporting, and evaluations of staff members with multiple job titles.

It also would provide $10 million in 2015-16 for per-pupil distribution to such districts and increase the ceiling on tax overrides the districts could ask from voters. (Get details in the bill text.)

For now, the bill’s on a fast track and will be heard by the House Education Committee Wednesday morning.

The regulatory burden on rural districts has been a cause for Wilson, a retired superintendent who spent his career in small districts. He started the effort last year with a bill that originally proposed wide regulatory relief for small rural districts. As finally passed, that bill allows districts that are in the two highest state accreditation categories to file performance plans every two years instead of annually.

Earlier this session Wilson introduced House Bill 15-1155, which includes some of the same provisions as the latest bill but which also proposes giving small rural districts flexibility in implementing school readiness and early literacy requirements. That idea makes some legislators and education reform lobbyists nervous.

Asked Tuesday if he’s going to let HB 15-1155 slide in favor of the new bill, Wilson said he’s holding the first measure “in his back pocket” while he sees what happens.

“I’m taking one step at a time.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida / File photo

Some interest groups and other officials also have called for increased rural district funding. The state’s superintendents have urged lawmakers to provide $20 million for rural districts and $50 million for at-risk students on top of regular funding.

Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, is pushing House Bill 15-1201, which would create a $10 million grant program that boards of cooperative education services could use to help small districts share non-academic services like administration, technology, and transportation.

So there will be competition for the $25 million the Joint Budget Committee has set aside for any K-12 spending beyond the roughly $6 billion in basic school support in the main state budget bill.

The $25 million would come from the general fund, the state’s main account. While extra money is available in the separate State Education Fund, there’s not nearly enough there to pay for multiple rural initiatives, at-risk funding, reduction of the $880 million school funding shortfall, and other projects lawmakers are interested in.

The state includes 105 small rural districts, defined as having fewer than 1,000 students and being a certain distance from urban areas. Those districts enroll 35,151 students, so the proposed $10 million would amount to about $284 per student.

Another 45 districts are defined as rural but not small and have between 1,000 and 6,700 students each. They wouldn’t be covered by Wilson’s latest bill. Colorado has 178 districts.

See the full list of rural districts, small and otherwise, here.

Wilson and Petterson on Monday introduced another bill aimed at state education regulations. House Bill 15-1322 would require the Department of Education to hire an outside consultant to review data reporting requirements the state imposes on schools, with an eye to determining which mandates provide unnecessary data and which requirements impose burdens greater than any value they produce. (Read bill here.)

The measure also will be heard by House Education on Wednesday.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: New testing bills introduced in legislature

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 09:39

Testing, Testing

Two new testing bills were introduced yesterday in the state legislature. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher Leadership

Chalkbeat sits down with Rick Hess, director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “The Cage-Busting Teacher," for a conversation about teachers, leadership, and more. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Pay for Success

The state's legislature is considering a "Pay for Success" bill, through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher Turnover

Nationwide, teacher turnover costs schools billions of dollars each year. ( Colorado Public Radio )

States of Beeing

A Louisville middle schooler is heading to the national geography bee. ( Daily Camera )

Education Tech

Schools have spent billions on education technology. ( Hechinger Report )

Teaching Rura

Teachers in rural areas use blogs and the internet to keep up-to-date on practice and issues. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Education committees offer different testing visions

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 22:21

Two new testing bills introduced in the legislature late Monday afternoon remix elements of other measures and toss in some new ideas, adding more choices to the stalled Capitol testing debate.

The latest measures seem to set up a face-off between the legislature’s two education committees, with a majority of the House panel supporting the new House bill, and a majority of Senate Education backing the fresh Senate bill.

Nine testing-related bills were introduced earlier in the session, including one that covers only parent opt-out rights. Most of the rest, including measures that propose pulling Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests, are considered not viable for a variety of reasons.

One recent measure, Senate Bill 15-215, has bipartisan sponsorship and the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper. But it was greeted with faint applause elsewhere in the statehouse and has faded from consideration.

Here’s a look at the two latest bills:

House Bill 15-1323 (read bill)

What’s included: Elimination of state-required tests in 9th, 11th and 12th grades. The ACT test would continue to be given to juniors, and districts could give 9th grade tests. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations.

New twists: Holding districts unharmed from accountability and ratings consequences in 2015-16. (This is related to the opt-out issue.)

What’s not included: Any mention of Common Core or PARCC.

Who’s pushing it: House prime sponsors are Reps. John Buckner, D-Aurora, and Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. Eight additional House Education members, six Democrats and two Republicans, are cosponsors, plus former committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. But there are no Senate sponsors.

Senate Bill 15-257 (read bill)

What’s included: Requires only one set of language arts and math tests in grades 9-12; individual districts can test in two additional grades if they choose. Keeps 11th grade ACT test. Paper and pencil tests available on request. Streamlining of school readiness and early literacy assessments and valuations. Social studies tests appear to be gone.

New twists: Local tests can replace state tests, creation of a pilot program for new assessment and accountability systems, extension for three more years of the current one-year of district flexibility in using student growth for teacher evaluations.

What’s not included: The bill doesn’t mention Common Core or PARCC, but its goal is to ultimately give districts options for using a broader array of tests.

Who’s pushing it: Senate prime sponsors are Republican Owen Hill and Democrat Mike Merrifield, both of Colorado Springs. Five additional Senate Education members, four Republicans and one Democrat, are co-sponsors. The two committee members not signed on are Democrats Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood. The two House prime sponsors are people not previously involved in testing bills, Reps. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont. No members of House Education are signed on.

Despite widespread criticism of testing by legislators, action on the issue has been stalled by disagreements between the parties and within the parties, and by a reported lack of communication among legislative leaders. (See this story for background.)

Only one testing-related bill, Senate Bill 15-223, has had a committee hearing. That measure, which involves parent rights to opt out and a ban on penalizing districts for low student participation, faces its own challenges (see story).

Even if one of the new bills gains traction – or becomes the vehicle for a compromise plan – lawmakers have little time to deal with the issues. The Senate is focused on the state budget this week, and the House faces that multi-day task the week after Easter.

That will leave only a bit more than three weeks until the required May 6 adjournment date.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Lawmakers get a second look at “pay for success”

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 18:56

A new bill in the legislature would enable the state to launch “pay for success” programs through which private investors or philanthropists would fund social services programs.

Funders would be repaid if those programs produced savings in other government services but would have to absorb their costs if programs didn’t produce results.

For example, investors in a preschool program would be repaid if that program led to reduced remediation or special education costs in schools.

The bipartisan sponsors of House Bill 15-1317 hope their bill has better luck than a similar 2014 measure, which passed the Senate but died in a House committee during the chaotic final days of that session.

“It’s a very new concept,” acknowledged prime sponsor Rep. Alex Garnett, D-Denver. (Some senators at hearings last year seemed a bit befuddled by the whole idea.) But Garnett hopes the idea will get more traction the second time around, and that this year’s version may have more appeal, given that it’s less focused on education services.

He also said increased experimentation with such programs by local governments provide concrete examples that can be cited during hearings on HB 15-1317.

Garnett stressed the concept is worth serious attention because “for a state as cash strapped as Colorado … we really need to find innovative ways to fund programs.”

The idea is gaining interest around the nation. Pay for success programs have been launched in a handful of state to pay for preschool, recidivism prevention programs for youth offenders, and for initiatives to reduce homelessness.

A conference sponsored by Chalkbeat Colorado last December drew about 150 people to learn more about the concept. Read about that event here, and also see this previous Chalkbeat story about pay for success.

What’s named the Pay for Success Contracts Act would put the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the executive branch’s budget arm, in charge of developing such programs. The state treasurer and auditor also would have roles, and the effectiveness of the programs would be judged by outside evaluators. Local governments and agencies could partner with the state in such projects.

Garnett said local governments are free now to launch pay for success programs but that the bill is needed to get the state into the game.

The bill was introduced last Friday, with just 40 calendar days left in the 2015 session. Garnett admitted, “The timing is something I worry about,” given that lawmakers still have to approve the 2015-16 state budget and deal with big issues like school funding, testing and others.

The other prime sponsors are Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale and a member of the Joint Budget Committee; Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton. Both Garnett and Martinez Humenik are freshmen.

The bill has been assigned to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, but no hearing date has been set.

Read the bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rick Hess: ‘teacher leadership’ can and should be more than an empty phrase

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 17:43

Rick Hess, the political scientist and education reform advocate/critic, is out with a new book, “The Cage-Busting Teacher.”

The book is meant to be a guide for teachers who want to create a better learning environment for themselves and their students. Hess was in Denver last week to promote his book at a special event hosted by the Donnell-Kay Foundation. Before his event, Hess, who is the director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado to talk about his new book and what teachers in cities like Denver can do to advocate for themselves.

This interview has been edited and for length and clarity.

You write “I’m struck by how often even acclaimed teachers tell me that they feel muffled, stifled, ignored, undervalued, and marginalized … and aren’t sure what to do about it.” How do you think we got to this place where teachers feel trapped? 

One, it’s always been this way. Back in the 1970s, a wonderful University of Chicago scholar, Dan Lortie, wrote the book “Schoolteacher,” talking about how teachers were out of the loop for key decisions about their schools. I think it’s part of the way we’ve built the American education system. In the 19th Century, when we created the common the school, we feminized teaching and put men in charge. The men would call the shots and the women would just do what they were told. And we never revisited that model. So a lot of it is historical.

Second, when teachers fought for their rights — I mean, teachers used to be treated just horrifically. Women who got pregnant would be fired. Teachers in New York would be fired if they didn’t fit a certain height or weight requirement. As teachers fought for step and lane pay and tenure, I think those things were good advances a century ago. But as the teacher unions fought to build on things like seniority protection, things that were once reasonable adjustments created a very bureaucratic profession.

And I think third, frustration that schools that were designed hundreds of years ago and systems that were designed 50 to 100 years ago don’t seem very conducive to excellence today. You have a lot of reformers and policy makers trying to do something about it. And their language and ideas have sometimes been careless and crudely drawn. And teachers have not responded productively, which has made these reformers distrust them. I think we set the table and teachers have reacted in a way that makes the reformers distrust them. We’ve gotten into this cycle of hostility.

This book [attempts]…to help teachers think about how to break that cycle.

Can you give me an example of a workplace rule that you find nonconducive to today and conversely a half baked policy initiative?

Step and lane pay were introduced a century ago because women were being paid a third of what their male counterparts were making. And so the idea that teachers should be paid based on experience and some credentials was a far more equitable approach. That made a lot of sense at that point in time. Today, that’s not how any professional is compensated. Seniority is a part of how professionals are compensated and credentials matter, but places that employ college graduates don’t usually have these strict gridlock models.

What’s a place where reformers have misfired? On compensation: we should absolutely differentiate pay. Some people are better at their job, some aren’t. We’ve seen for example in Nashville: the school district was going to pay science teachers more if their kids’ test scores went up. Well, that’s really how we paid encyclopedia salesmen in the 1960s. That’s not anyone’s recipe for how you attract professionals or motivate them in the 21st Century.

You write, “Breaking free from this disheartening standstill begins with cage-busting teachers ready to step out of their classroom, able to deal with policymakers in good faith, and willing to make teacher leadership more than an empty phrase.”   When I read this, it makes it sound like it’s the teachers responsibility to end the hostility. Why do they have to step up? Why isn’t it the reformers responsibility to end the hostility?

Frankly, you only get out of the cycle if both sides do their part. Most of what I write is targeted toward the reformers. Many of my reformer friends are somewhat frustrated with me because I raise these kinds of points about how reformers tend to take good ideas and out of the best of intentions push them further than they can usefully push them and rush them in clumsy ways.

So, the backdrop is that reformers and policymakers need to do a lot better here. But this book is not for them — its for the teachers. And in reality, teachers also have to do their part on this. And they have to do at least their part because they’re in an asymmetric relationship with policymakers. Like it or not, its policymakers who are elected to write the laws and fund the schools.

…[W]hat’s happened is to a large extent…there are these teachers out there who are doing amazing things and speaking up, there are lot of teachers who are just doing their thing in the middle, and then you have teachers who are disgruntled and frustrated. These teachers in the backend, the 10 percent, they’re the teachers the reformers and policymakers envision when they think about the profession. They’re the ones who are rallying and screaming and writing nasty notes at the bottom of New York Times stories.

So what’s happened is they’ve become the face of the profession. And what I’m taking about, those other teachers, instead of retreating to their classrooms saying ‘I don’t want any part of this,’ need to take ownership of their profession…

In the preface and in some of your blogs, you take to task the idea of teacher leadership. You call it an empty buzzword. Well, it’s a really big buzzword in Denver. Are you familiar with the local model?

Not specifically.

The one thing about Denver’s model is that there is no one model. Every teacher-leader has their own sort of portfolio. While they might all do some coaching, one might be in charge of professional development, one might be in charge of leading data discussions. What do you think needs to happen in places in Denver — or any urban district — to make teacher-leaders a reality?

Teachers don’t work in isolation, they work in schools. If discipline is lax it affects how a teacher does her job. If a school is disorganized with their substitutes and a teacher has to be pulled out to do coverage, that affects how a teacher does her job. So the reality is a lousy schools make it difficult for a teacher to close her door and teach. And good schools make an OK teacher a better one because she can ride on the coattails of her colleagues.

Part of the trick is so many terrific teachers think of the job simply in the terms of pedagogy and instruction. So they’re writing a lot of micro-grants and they’re up until 2 a.m. and burning themselves out and they’re not really changing anything at the school. So the logic for me, what teacher leadership really needs to come down to is teachers who are opening that classroom door and creating schools and systems that are easier for them to do their best work. Where professional development is actually energizing rather than infuriating. Where principals are helping solve problems. Where weak colleagues are either getting better or moving on.

For me, teacher leadership should start with teachers using their specific insight on what’s going on in their schools and classrooms to help make schools work better for kids and teachers. So, when principals are coming on and making announcements and disrupting first and last period, teacher should call them on that. When meetings are wasting time and not yielding any useful outcomes, when schools are giving feedback or taking into account teacher morale, these are the kinds of things I want teachers to start with.

One of my concerns about leadership is that it’s led teachers to believe it means giving up your Saturday to go to the statehouse to rally or sit in some boring meeting or talk to legislators for 10 minutes.

Rather than thinking “leadership,” it’s solving problems at the school, generating trust to get more involved at the district, and then using that insight and expertise to then contribute at the policy level and in public discussion. That all falls under the umbrella of leadership, but I think it gets lost when people just throw that word around.

(Disclosure: Chalkbeat Colorado is a grantee of the Donnell-Kay Foundation.)

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Hess as a social scientist. He is a political scientist. 

Categories: Urban School News

Tell us: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the tests?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:07

The state’s major testing window for English and math exams is coming to a close. According to reports, the number of students who did not take the tests because their parents opted them out is at an all time high — especially in more conservative spots in the state.

That made us wonder: How are the students who didn’t take the test using their new-found free time?

That brings us to our question of the week: What did your students do while they weren’t taking the PARCC exams? 

Each week, 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. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: How the great testing compromise bill fell apart

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 09:36

Human Resources

Denver's teachers union says it needs time to consider a new proposal that would give more incentive pay to teachers at 30 high-needs schools. The proposal calls for a reduction of bonuses at other schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Testing madness

The testing compromise bill that won the endorsement of House and Senate leadership and the governor was dead from the moment it was introduced. ( Denver Post )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers believe Denver Public Schools is right to use student growth data as the ultimate measurement of a school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

trip of a lifetime

Three Colorado teenagers earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World Resort in Florida where they meet celebrities and professionals in the fields that the teens dream of entering one day. ( 9News )

Inside the classroom

Engineering students at Lafayette's Centaurus High School are designing prosthetic hands using the basic circuitry and computer programming skills they learned through a recent pilot program. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Conflict in Dougco

Some Douglas County parents are upset their principal has resigned after a dispute with district leadership. ( Douglas County News Press )

construction zone

The city of Broomfield has approved a plan to provide a new location for a K-8 school but it could take years for the school to be built. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

Sports editor: Indian mascots at Colorado high schools are respectful and the state doesn't need to butt in. ( Denver Post )

A high school teacher explains how she got her students to work together — even when they said it would never happen — to write beautiful poetry. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Performance-pay negotiations in Denver catch on changes for high-needs schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 18:56

Several months into negotiations over changes to ProComp, Denver’s 10-year-old taxpayer-funded incentive pay plan for teachers, the city’s school district and teachers union leaders are haggling over a proposal that would shift more bonus funds to teachers who work in high-needs schools.

The district would accomplish this shift by decreasing bonuses for teachers throughout the district whose schools are identified as top performing on the district’s school performance framework.

The overall dollar amount the district spends on the bonuses — $20.8 million per year — would remain the same.

Both Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools officials said during a bargaining session Thursday that they were eager to come to an agreement quickly, because many schools have already begun hiring for the upcoming school year and changes might be too late to incentivize teachers to work at any given school.

But DCTA negotiators said they need time to process the proposal and made a series of requests for information they said would help them understand its implications. Union representatives said that this was the first time the district has brought forward a concrete outline of proposed changes.

This is Denver Public Schools’ first round of union-district bargaining sessions since Colorado passed an open bargaining law in November 2014.

DCTA president Henry Roman told Chalkbeat late last year that he anticipated that the agreement would be finalized in January. The union and DPS have had six bargaining sessions since the start of the year.

The last agreement between DPS and the union was finalized in 2008, and is informally referred to as “ProComp 2.0.” The initial agreement was approved by the district’s board in 2004.

A study group convened by the union and the district in 2014 recommended that the district make significant changes to ProComp. One of the recommended changes was stronger incentives for teachers in high-needs schools.

The current round of negotiations was initially focused on clarifying the impact of changes to state standardized tests on ProComp, and on extending the current agreement in advance of a more comprehensive round of negotiations at the end of this year.

Historically, teachers have been eligible to receive bonuses for working at a school identified as top performing. Since schools are not being assigned an overall rating this year due to the change in assessments, the district is proposing that those incentives go to teachers at schools whose students have high growth scores on tests in 2014-15.

The district also proposed at Thursday’s meeting decreasing the top performing incentive in 2015-16 to fund increased bonuses for teachers in some of the district’s neediest schools.

In 2015-16, teachers at the 30 schools the district has identified as highest-need would be eligible for a $5,800 bonus if they had earned one of the top two scores on their evaluations the previous year. Teachers who earned the third-highest score would earn a $4,000 bonus. The current incentive is $2,481. Highest-need schools are identified based a number of criteria, including the percentage of special education students and percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

The district would also expand the number of teachers eligible to earn a $2,481 bonus for teaching at a school identified as hard-to-serve — a broader category than “highest-need” — by including all schools that receive Title I funds from the federal government due to their high numbers of low-income students.

The funds for those changes would come from a reduction to bonuses for teachers at schools identified as top performing. Those teachers would now be eligible to earn $1,000 instead of $2,481.

More than 90 percent of the teachers whose bonuses would be decreased if the proposed shifts are approved are already receiving an additional bonus because they work at schools with track records of improving student learning, district officials said.

The DPS proposal also would tie some ProComp bonuses to the district’s evaluation system instead of directly to standardized test scores.

The DCTA team told district officials several times that pay alone would not lure teachers to struggling schools.

“One of biggest issues is, specifically in this group of schools, history’s repeated itself,” said Zachary Rupp, a music teacher and DCTA negotiator. “We haven’t seen significant changes to the other pieces that need to go into this puzzle.”

Sarah Marks, the district’s executive director of strategic school support, said, “We know this is just one piece of the puzzle. Our charge at this table is thinking about ProComp, one of the options we can use.”

DCTA representatives said they were concerned about which schools would be identified as the highest-need and how long the designation would last, and about tying ProComp to the district’s evaluation system.

In an email to members earlier this week, DCTA officials wrote that they are hesitant to decrease any teachers’ bonuses and shared a proposal based on funds the district might have if a bill that is making its way through the state legislature is approved.

“DCTA does not support taking money from one group of underpaid teachers to give to another group of underpaid teachers,” the email read. “DCTA believes that we need to find new money to increase compensation.”

DCTA left the district with a long list of data requests Thursday, including an overview of the methodology DPS uses to invoice the ProComp funds and an analysis of the level of effectiveness of teachers at various schools.

Friday morning, DPS sent an email to teachers outlining the district’s proposal. The subject line: “Can’t We Reach a Compromise to Help Teachers in Our High-Poverty Schools?”

The next round of bargaining is scheduled for April 9. The union and district agreed to extend the current agreement until April 17.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: Toward a better way to measure college-readiness

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 18:53
  • What if college readiness is being measured in a way that isn’t accurate? Here’s how we can better help underprepared students, and steer nontraditional students toward a college degree. (FiveThirtyEight)
  • Bored students score higher on tests compared to highly-motivated students, according to a new global study. So does creating an engaged student body really matter? (The Atlantic)
  • Here are seven reasons why more money is spent on education in the U.S. compared to almost every other country in the world. (Vox)
  • New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s argument that taking annual state tests should be compared to getting a medical check-up doesn’t support her case against opting out. (The Hechinger Report)
  • Common enrollment systems can help parents in cities with more school choice. (Flypaper)
  • An education researcher and parent calls for charter schools to do more to take responsibility for educating students with special needs rather than forcing the traditional public schools be the places of last resort for those students. (CRPE)
  • A Nashville-area teacher sees the isolating impacts of the opportunity gap all around her. (Mind/Shift)
  • A new study reports that one-third of New Orleans principals interviewed admitted that, though their schools professed to enroll all comers, they tried to select the best students. (Times-Picayune)
  • Detroit Public Schools is $53 million behind in pension payments, costing the city the equivalent on one student’s annual state funding grant in interest each day. (Detroit News)
  • A plotline about charter schools in a gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood tells a lot about middle class white families’ attitudes toward public education. (Salon)
Categories: Urban School News

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