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Weekend Reads: Single-sex schools survive despite criticism

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 19:15
  • Austin, Tex., is embracing single-sex schools even as they come under criticism nationally. (Buzzfeed)
  • Some single-sex schools use gendered instructional practices based on shaky neuroscience. (Slate)
  • Minnesota is making closing achievement gaps a top goal of its post-NCLB accountability system. (Politics K-12)
  • Los Angeles and New York City are among the districts not disclosing how often they restrain students. (ProPublica)
  • The latest adult to squirm when experiencing what students do every day is an occupational therapist. (Answer Sheet)
  • Texas might still approve some questionable textbooks, but its influence over other states is falling. (CJR)
  • Detroit is trying to attract middle-class families to its long-struggling school system. (Hechinger/TIME)
  • Economists examine the results of a Toronto program to keep at-risk teens in school. (Freakonomics)
  • San Diego sees kindergarteners as the key to boosting the city’s high school graduation rate. (Voice of S.D.)
  • His Common Core support is a liability for Jeb Bush, “education governor” and possible presidential candidate. (Politico)
  • Diversity at elite public schools is an issue even in cities where admission isn’t based on a single test. (Atlantic)
  • California is planning to change the way it reports student test scores, but it doesn’t yet know how. (EdSource)
Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco mulls overhaul for struggling schools

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 19:06

EDGEWATER — When Principal Michael James joined the administration team of Jefferson High School, he was appalled at the disrespect in the hallways and the litter around campus. Two years later, the hallways are quiet and the lawn, while dried out from the fall, is freshly manicured.

“It’s not a perfect walk everyday,” James said, referring to his regular rounds through the halls to check on classrooms. “But I don’t feel that culture is here anymore.”

Jefferson High, Jeffco Public Schools’ lowest performing high according to state tests, is in a bit of an upswing. It will be announced next week the school, which serves mostly Latino and poor students, has climbed a rank in the state’s annual evaluation, ending the possibility of state sanctions.

But that progress so far isn’t enough.

That’s why James, other area principals, and district leaders are proposing a substantial overhaul to the educational programs and operations at Jefferson High and the five schools that send students to the secondary school. The proposed changes, if approved, will affect schools that serve the poorest students of Jefferson County.

The proposal, which was shared with teachers earlier this week and the community’s parents today, calls for an extension of the school day and year, and for an expansion of dual language programs. The principals also want students in all grade levels to focus on longer-term projects that require problem solving skills rather than rote memorization and recall.

Jefferson High School Principal Michael James, right, visits with students Thursday. James said he hopes politics doesn’t get in the way of proposed changes to his school.

Further, if the proposal is approved by the Board of Education next year, Jefferson High School will serve seventh through 12th grades while all other schools in the neighborhood will serve pre-kindergartners through sixth grade.

Jeffco officials may also ask the state to grant innovation status to Jefferson High. That would provide charter school-like waivers to some state laws for the school.

Teachers at all schools would also receive similar professional development while students and families would see an increase in support for their social and emotional needs.

“I split a social worker with another elementary school,” said Rhonda Hatch-Rivera, principal of Lumberg Elementary School. “That’s not nearly enough support for my students.”

The proposed changes — which administrators and school leaders stress have not been finalized — would be the most substantial overhaul for the poorer Jefferson High School articulation area since anyone can remember. Teachers and community members will be invited to share their input on the proposal in various meetings throughout January.

While test scores have risen in some areas, all has not been equal. Principals of the Jefferson area, which include the entire city of Edgewater and slices of Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, believe these changes will fix that.

“We’ve known for several years — the Jefferson area has unique needs,” said Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s Chief School Effectiveness Officer. “And when you look at the data, we need to look at it differently and do everything we possibly can to support student growth. While we’ve made some improvements and we have some celebrations. But it’s not widespread enough. It’s not everybody — we do need to improve.”

In many ways the Jefferson area population is more like urban Denver than suburban Jefferson County. The average household income in the city of Edgewater is about $40,000, compared to the county average of $68,000. Residents are also mostly Latino. Additionally, Jefferson-area principals believe white and middle class students in the area are choosing to attend other Jeffco schools because of the reputation Jefferson High School has earned throughout the years.

“Our area is losing a lot of families to choice,” James, the high school principal, said. “Some have preconceived notions about what happens at our school. We need to make these changes so our community in Edgewater can be proud of all of our schools.”

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia A Lumberg Elementary School student exams sand as part of an experiment Thursday. If a district proposal is approved, students will spend more time working on longer projects.

The most substantial changes in the proposal is the closure of Wheat Ridge 5-8, moving seventh and eighth graders in the area to Jefferson High, and the consideration of innovation status for Jefferson High.

Wheat Ridge 5-8 has been considered a failing school by the state education department for four years. While Elliott praised the teachers at the school for their hard work, he acknowledged the rare school model is not working for students. He said if the plan goes through, those students will likely move to Stevens Elementary School and many of the teachers at Wheat Ridge 5-8 will be relocated.

“Those grades don’t go away, so those teachers don’t go away,” he said.

Elliott and school principals hope their suggestion to close Wheat Ridge 5-8 will reduce the number of transitions students have to make, and the one they do easier. Previous transitions between schools, James said, have led to a loss of student proficiency in math and English.

Similar reforms at the middle school level have been rolled out in Cincinnati, which influenced some of thinking in Jeffco, Elliott said.

If Jefferson High seeks innovation status, it would be the first in the district to do so. Innovations schools are an advent of a 2008 state law. Schools granted innovation status are freed from many central administration policies such as budget rules, curriculum mandates, and teacher contracts. Architects of the law believed that granting such freedoms could accelerate academic achievement.

Results in Denver, where innovations schools are most common, have been mixed.

Before the school can seek waivers from the state, 60 percent of teachers at Jefferson High, a majority of the school’s administration and School Accountability Committee, as well as the Jeffco school board must sign off on an application.

Given the political division between the school board and teachers union, that might be easier said than done.

President of the Jeffco teachers union John Ford said he thought teachers should have been involved in drafting the proposal, instead of just asking for feedback.

Ford said the proposal may in fact be the best thing for the Jefferson neighborhood, “but you have to have some conversations with people who work in those buildings, more than just the principals. This is just another example of unilateral decision making without teacher input.”

Ford said he’s heard from dozens of teachers from the area, most concerned about the lack of collaboration.

Elliott, the district effectiveness officer, said the rollout to teachers was intentional. He said he hoped teachers would have time to reflect on the proposal during the winter break and share feedback in January when they return.

“It was never an intent to exclude teachers,” Elliott said. “It’s just a question of where do you start a process?”

Jefferson High Principal James hopes politics doesn’t get in the way of accelerating student achievement.

“I need to know in my heart of hearts that [the school board] understands that a school like Jefferson is different than Dakota Ridge, or Conifer, or almost any of the district’s high schools — and there are 17 of them,” he said. “I want them to know and trust that there are structures and programs and the right people in place to make a difference in these schools.”

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect there are 17 other comprehensive high schools in Jeffco, not 12. It has also been corrected to correctly identify Stevens Elementary School. 

Categories: Urban School News

Garcia: Colorado “can’t back down” on education reform

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 18:31

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told an audience of school board members and administrators Friday that they should double down on the state’s slate of education reforms.

“We know we can’t stray from the path of high standards, rigorous assessments and educator effectiveness,” Garcia said.

“We need to agree to stay the course,” he added. “We know we’re making dramatic changes; we know it’s hard. If we back off now we risk, quite frankly, creating vast ripples of inequality and inequity in our education system.”

Garcia was a keynote speaker at the annual convention of the Colorado Association of School Boards, most of whose members are struggling with – and a bit cranky about – implementation of new state-mandated content standards, tests and educator evaluations.

Garcia is the Hickenlooper administration’s point man on education issues, and his speech came about a month before the legislature convenes for a session during which some lawmakers would like to revisit the reforms of recent years, particularly testing.

He reminded the audience of nearly 1,000 that “We came together as a state in 2008” to pass the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. “That didn’t come from the feds, that came from all of us.” Known as CAP4K, the legislation set in motion new standards and tests plus other requirements.

“It’s scary, it’s tough, but we can’t back down six years later,” Garcia said. “We know we can’t stray from the path of high standards, rigorous assessments and educator effectiveness. … We can come up with practical solutions to these conflicts. We have to, we must.”

Turning to testing, Garcia said, “It’s very clear districts are struggling with the volume of assessments. … We are open to streamlining the volume of assessments, [but] we can’t do it at the expense of giving up on fairness and consistency across schools. … The use of standards, as much as we hate that, and assessments are necessary.”

Garcia says funding solution ultimately lies with voters

The lieutenant governor drew applause when he said, “One of the most important things we need to do is adequately fund our schools,” quickly adding, “Of course that’s easier said than done.”

Citing constitutional limits on state spending and tax increases, Garcia said Colorado is in “kind of crazy situation – a budget crisis when the economy is doing just fine. … How do we stop this car before we hit a brick wall?”

Noting that voters rejected a proposed $1 billion tax increase for K-12 in 2013, Garcia said, “The movement for change must come from the ground up, and it must come from you. … We need to make the argument persuasively that we can spend the money effectively.”

“I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t. If I did I might be governor, not lieutenant governor,” he quipped.

Before moving into the tough issues of state mandates and funding, Garcia worked to warm the crowd up with some “good news,” as he put it, about education.

“We are making progress,” he said, citing recent modest improvements in early literacy, high school graduation rates, college remediation rates and other indicators.

“Student by student, percentage point by percentage point Colorado’s education system is producing better results every year, despite historically challenging budgetary times.”

Categories: Urban School News

Don't park the PARCC exam

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 14:22

In districts across the country, the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers) is the new standardized assessment that will be used to measure student learning and growth under the Common Core standards. This spring, teachers, parents and, most importantly, students in Chicago will be able to do something amazing: They have the opportunity to pilot the PARCC and, in doing so, enter unchartered territory without the fear of failure.  

These are the kinds of opportunities that teachers hope for, but that come along very rarely.  While standardized assessments seem to be always preceded by phrases such as “high stakes,” meaning tests that are used to make important accountability decisions (for students, teachers, schools and districts), this year students in Chicago will be able to test-drive the PARCC with no strings attached.  So, we ask...  Why park the PARCC when we can pilot the PARCC?

There is no doubt that a great deal of hesitation and skepticism surrounds the roll-out of the PARCC. Concerns range from the difficulty and rigor of the new assessment to the technical and bandwidth capacities of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and individual schools within the district.  These concerns will not go away by postponing the test for another year.  Piloting the PARCC now provides us with the opportunity to address issues head on and find solutions.

Teachers from all over Chicago recently got the chance to assess the new assessment at a “Testing the Test” event organized by Teach Plus. Teachers there spoke about the importance of getting this assessment in front of their students sooner rather than later.  When asked what was most frightening about giving the test, first-grade teacher Katherine Kerivan said, “The unknown.  It’s like a fog we try to prepare for, but do not know if we are prepared for until it is upon us.”

“We should definitely pilot the PARCC,” Kerivan went on to say. “Taking the test is an experience to gain clarity and confidence for both students and teachers.  And if it is not punitive during the pilot year, why wouldn’t we give it a try?”  

Working through the kinks, raising standards

Change that involves technology can be difficult.  By piloting the PARCC, teachers, school staff, and district officials have the opportunity to work through technology kinks, bandwidth issues, and other technical challenges that schools and CPS may face.  What’s more, Chicago’s students will gain invaluable experience using electronic assessment tools.  Instead of students feeling anxiety and apprehension about a new assessment, they will have a practice year to learn new skills that will help them reach higher levels of success in the future.  

Parents, teachers, and community members have expressed concerns about excessive testing, the time that assessments take, and the stress that this test puts on students and teachers alike. With the focus on producing high scores for students, teachers and schools, many teachers are left to “teach to the test.” We acknowledge this and agree that teachers should not have to teach to a test. However, standardized testing is a federal requirement and a constant in our education landscape. Teachers in Chicago are fortunate that they don’t have to worry about “teaching to the test” since the PARCC is accountability-free this year.  Additionally, students in Chicago previously took the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT), which the PARCC will replace, so no additional testing time has been added.  

And unlike the ISAT, PARCC will provide student performance feedback much quicker so that teachers and school leaders can identify both areas of strengths and areas where improvement is needed, making the PARCC more useful than previous standardized tests.

Most importantly, the PARCC assessment raises expectations for what students can and should be able to do. The tasks are challenging, complex, and at times leave teachers feeling uncomfortable. This does not mean that we should shy away.  Instead, we should welcome the push into a new era where students learn to think critically and complete complex tasks that require more from them.  Our students are capable and will rise to our expectations.

Let’s seize this opportunity to pilot the PARCC in a low-stakes environment.  By doing so, we can work out any implementation issues prior to PARCC being utilized in our district and schools.  As educators, it is our job to empower students to become the best learners that they can be.  This means preparing them to successfully complete challenging, complex, and at times frightening tasks, and to provide them with the right support to ensure that they succeed.   By piloting the PARCC now, we can empower our students to be successful when it counts and the test moves to a ‘high-stakes’ assessment in 2016.

This op-ed was written by Teach Plus policy fellows Eu Choi, Sherisse Lucas, Paige Nilson, Krista Rajanen and Lindsey Siemens. Teach Plus offers fellowships that provide classroom teachers with training on advocating for policies that will provide better education for students and help retain teachers in the profession.


Categories: Urban School News

Districts should use flexibility in teacher evals this year, Chalkbeat readers respond

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 13:30

Earlier this week, we asked our readers: if you were in charge of your school district, would you use the year of flexibility for the use of student data in teacher evaluations? If so, how would you use it? If not, why?

We asked because of an earlier report that found the state’s largest school districts are split on whether to use leeway this year provided by the state legislature.

Chalkbeat readers weren’t so torn. They said districts should use the flexibility.

Here are a few comments from Twitter.

@nicgarcia @ChalkbeatCO Absolutely. Also? The tests are not designed to evaluate teacher effectiveness. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

— Lisa C (@Realrellim) December 1, 2014

@ChalkbeatCO Teachers can listen to students! You know, actually sit down and listen to the people they share their classrooms with.

— Project VOYCE (@ProjectVOYCE) December 1, 2014

And Gunnison school board member Bill Powell emailed us this:

Boards and administrators need to support teachers as architects of their future, not as victims of mandates. The latest draft of the State’s proposed ‘graduation guidelines’ has the potential of unlishing the creative reconceptuslization of both classroom-level and school-level Unified Improvement Plans (UIPs) as do-overs of the teaching-learning partnership. The ‘longitudinal line of P-12 academic development’ in the graduation guidelines allows for at least 11 learning pathways for divese students who may need a range of pathways in order to demonstrate achieving a standards-based curriculum and meeting future graduation requirements. Additionally, flexibility in implementing SB191 may be necessary in terms of how both school calendar time and wrap-around student-oriented resources might be better and more creatively used by teachers and students to insure each student’s success in citizenship, career and/or college readiness. To make these changes, a public participation curriculum needs to be written and actually taught to community members giving them an ‘authentic insider’s view of how the school system really works’ … and why the aforementioned flexible changes can and will be made in behalf of student success.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Comings & Goings: Blasingame-Buford, Jackson, Kane

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 10:19

Roslind Blasingame-Buford has been appointed president of LINK Unlimited Scholars, which provides economically disadvantaged African- American high school youth with college preparatory opportunities. Blasingame-Buford has more than 15 years of nonprofit experience, including executive director of BUILD.

Shawn Jackson, former principal of Spencer Elementary, is CPS’ new deputy chief of teaching and learning with responsibility for  developing a systemwide framework for personalized learning, as well as supporting the district’s family engagement efforts.

 Kate Kane, the interim principal of Peterson Elementary, is now the contract principal.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones:

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: On second day of student walk-outs, students and police reflect

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/05/2014 - 09:56

testing testing one two three

At a forum of school board members, returning Democratic legislators promised a cutback in testing during the new legislative session. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

student voices

On the second day of large student walk-outs over racial inequalities and use of police force, students at East High School, who protested on Wednesday, processed the issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

On the second day of the walk-outs, hundreds of students from Lincoln, GW, Noel Community Arts and Bruce Randolph also joined in. ( CPR )

In the wake of the protests, police and school administrators have pledged to start a dialogue on race, law enforcement and social justice. ( Denver Post )

higher ed, higher funding

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday gave unanimous approval to a new formula that would fund state colleges and universities based partly on performance factors such as student retention and graduation and service to low-income students. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

stay in school, kids

Aurora Public Schools is ramping up its efforts to fight truancy and keep kids in class. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

the early bird catches the worm

A new report recommends a raft of policy changes that could help ease the financial burden for families with young children and the child care providers who serve them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Early childhood advocates also argued yesterday that investment in early childhood pays off later with savings in special education, incarceration and welfare. ( Gazette )

talking choice

Members of the Thompson school board agreed that they would like more choice options, including new dual-language programs, but they disagreed on the best policies to expand choice. ( Reporter Herald )

Categories: Urban School News

Returning Democratic lawmaker vows testing cutback

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 23:31

New state Sen. Mike Merrifield draw applause from school board members Thursday when he promised, “I will definitely carry some legislation that will push back on the amount of testing that I think is drowning our education system.”

Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat who previously served in the House, appeared with five other lawmakers at a legislative forum during the Colorado Association of School Boards convention.

The annual forum usually provides good indications of top education issues in the upcoming legislative session.

Merrifield was one of two Democrats on the panel, but his comments fit right in with the reduce-testing, reduce-regulation, local-control statements made by Republicans.

And his remarks indicated that GOP lawmakers, who were the prime critics of state testing during the 2014 session, probably have found a Democratic ally.

“I’m actually looking forward to working with those across the aisle and learning about issues I’ve perhaps been rigid about in the past,” Merrifield said. He added he’s still working on how much testing can be cut but said “down to the bare bones as far as I’m concerned.”

Republican Sen. Owen Hill also highlighted testing, asking, “How do we listen and respect the voices of so many who’ve said this testing is over-burdensome.” The trick, Hill said, is cutting back on testing without weakening accountability or violating federal requirements.

“I think we can do this. … I hope this can be a focus this year.”

Hill also is from Colorado Springs, and people who follow El Paso County politics might think he and Merrifield are about as far apart as politicians can be.

But both men made a point of saying they’d recently had breakfast together to discuss education issues.

“I was almost shocked to learn how much Senator Hill and I have in common. That gives me a feeling of confidence that we’ll be able to work together,” Merrifield said. Hill will chair the Senate Education Committee next year, and Merrifield will be one of four Democratic members.

Hill also said reducing testing and other “unfunded mandates” could be a way to partially address school board concerns about K-12 funding cuts of recent years.

The upcoming session “provides a great opportunity to empower you with resources and use this as an opportunity to scale back on some of these mandates,” Hill told the audience of board members from around the state, meeting at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

“It’s time to open up this box of mandates,” agreed Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth.

Lawmakers sympathetic on funding but make no promises

The panel spent a lot of time on K-12 funding, a sore point for boards and districts because years of cuts have left a $900 million shortfall in school support, a gap called the negative factor.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he has “lots of questions” about both Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed $200 million cut in the negative factor – which would be temporary – and about an additional $70 million increase suggested by a group of superintendents.

The state’s 2015-16 budget is “an extremely intricate combination of moving parts – with a lot of special interests involved,” said Steadman, the most experienced member of the Joint Budget Committee.

The negative factor has sometimes been compared to an unpaid credit card balance. “The balance on that credit card will take a long time to be paid off,” warned Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Carbondale.

“The JBC will be strong supporters of your needs – to the extent we can,” added Republican Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, a new member of the budget panel. He also said he has concerns about the usefulness of a one-time reduction in the negative factor.

Tracee Bentley, Hickenlooper’s top lobbyist, said the governor feels a one-time reduction would be fiscally prudent and still help districts pay some of the costs of recent state mandates.

CASB lobbyist Jane Urschel, who moderated the panel, said, “We want it to be recurring money, of course, but we believe districts can handle one-time money.”

Categories: Urban School News

Higher ed commission signs off on new funding model

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 19:15

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education Thursday gave unanimous approval to a new formula that would fund state colleges and universities based partly on performance factors such as student retention and graduation and service to low-income students.

The new model would create a much more defined and transparent way of funding higher education than has been the case in the past. The plan, required by a 2014 law, now goes to the Joint Budget Committee and the full legislature, which will have the final say both on the formula and how much state support goes to campuses in 2015-16.

The model would give every institution more money in 2015-16, but the percentage increases would vary, which hasn’t always been the case in past years.

“Some institutions would get considerably more of the increase than others,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told the commission before the vote. Garcia also is director of the Department of Higher Education.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing an overall 10 percent higher education funding increase for 2015-16. Under the new model, every institution would receive an increase of at least 10 percent, while some could receive up to 15 percent. Metropolitan State University, which has been relatively disadvantaged by previous funding allocations, would see the largest percentage gain.

Do your homework

The budget proposal includes $15 million in “transition” funding to help institutions that wouldn’t otherwise get a 10 percent increase under the calculations of the formula. That transition funding was a key element of gaining support for the funding model from all the state’s campuses and systems. The governor’s budget proposal “made this something everybody can live with,” Garcia said.

The lieutenant governor noted, “If the Joint Budget Committee decides to make adjustments, that frankly would upset this delicate balance.”

Budget committee members got their first formal look at the model Thursday morning, before CCHE voted.

Committee analyst Amanda Bickel praised the department’s work to create the model and in following the requirements set by the 2014 legislature.

Bickel’s briefing paper noted, “The model alone is unlikely to transform institutional behavior” and noted the model is yet to be tested.

Referring to the legislative debates to come, JBC chair Sen. Kent Lambert said, “We may have a variance of opinion or a variance of agreement about how this is going to work.” The Colorado Springs Republican was a sponsor of the bill that led to the model.

Although state support of higher education has recovered modestly in the last two years, most observers agree the new model doesn’t solve college funding challenges. Tuition and fees have risen rapidly in the last decade as state support has dropped, and tuition remains the largest source of higher education support.

The department is still tweaking details of the model and will submit a revised request to the legislature by Jan. 15.

Categories: Urban School News

As high school Ferguson protests snowball, East students search for the story

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 18:10

On Thursday morning, a group of students at East High School was trying to digest the story of a protest that had taken on a life of its own.

For the second day in a row, hundreds of Denver high schoolers had taken to the streets to protest police brutality and race-based inequity, spurred by a grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer who shot an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo.

Hundreds of East High School teens walked out of class in protest on Wednesday, and students at George Washington, Montbello, and Lincoln high schools followed suit on Thursday.

“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in my four years here,” said East senior Azen Jaffe.

Jaffe and his classmates, part of a TV production class, had collected several hours of video of the protests at East. They scrolled through footage of students pouring down a grassy hill toward the capital building, of the organizers describing their causes and administrators responding, of students shouting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as they walked backward in front of a cop car.

They had already decided that they would use that footage to create a documentary about the protests.

“I think what we can add is the student voice,” said Collin Metscher, a senior.

But they had not yet agreed on what that voice should be.

Someone suggested a video on student activism. Another thought the girls who had organized the protests—who were, they agreed, awesome—deserved a profile. A thirdpotential angle: Talking to black students at East about their experiences with the police.

“In a place as big as East, it’s always hard to see the whole picture,” said junior Zach Morris.

The Denver students’ protests were just some of hundreds around the country tied to the grand jury’s decision, which has been seen as part of a broader pattern of discrimination. They also came just after a series of student-led protests against standardized tests and school curriculum in nearby Jeffco and Boulder.

“We wanted other students to be aware of the case,” said Ashley Davis, part of a group of students who organized the protest at East, told one of the video students in an interview Wednesday. She said the students passed out flyers and spoke about police brutality and its disproportionate affect on minorities.

The East protests were marked by several unexpected turns. The protest, which had been intended to stay at the school, had evolved into a march toward the capital. And during that march, a car driven by a person in medical crisis ran into and injured several police officers.

As of Thursday afternoon, no one had been injured in the next series of protests.

District officials framed the protests as learning experiences. “We appreciate the cooperation we have with the police department and the example our student leaders are setting on how important it is that these be thoughtful, respectful, peaceful expressions about issues they care about deeply,” said superintendent Tom Boasberg in a district press conference.

“It’s important for our students to join these critical community conversations, and they have demonstrated their engagement in these important issues by interjecting their voices in thoughtful and peaceful means,” wrote East High School principal Andy Mendelsberg in a letter to parents. “We hope to see this thoughtful dialogue carry into the classroom.” Mendelsberg asked parents to keep the injured police in their thoughts, and clarified that not all East students had protested or supported the protests.

Students said that some teachers had been leading conversations about Ferguson during and after the protests. One English class read a poem from the 1930s about police brutality.

Mark Ajluni, who teaches the journalism class at East, said he was struck by students’ engagement with the issue. “They were really listening to each other. They really wanted to talk about it…a kid was killed that was about their age.”

But the discussions aren’t always straightforward.

Before they began planning their documentary on Thursday, the East students were deep in a conversation about the connection between race and class. Was gentrification in Five Points just capitalism at work, or was it an example of the workings of a society with race issues?

The students and their teachers bantered back and forth for a few minutes before junior Morris interrupted: “We’re not going to solve this here.”

Morris wondered if they could narrow the focus and examine whether the protests would affect their own school.

“Remember when you were talking about the whole walk-out of the standardized testing thing, and you were saying, if kids could make a big protest it’d make national news and it would change something?” Morris asked one of his classmates.

“Well here’s the big protest—kids could obviously get together and voice their opinions—but what if that protest refused to fight the problems within our school, not in our country? We could show, how do we keep the excitement going?”

Students discuss Ferguson

“But that sounds like an activist piece,” a classmate responded.

Jaffe thought that might not be a bad thing. “I think our documentary should take a stand.”

The students said they thought most of the coverage of the protests had been fair, and had disentangled the police injury from the students’ cause. But one student said he had had seen an article on a site called Young Cons that blamed the protesters for the cops’ injuries.

“Yeah, and if we were never born they wouldn’t have gotten hurt either,” replied another.

Sorting out rumors from truth was a topic of conversation. Someone had heard about a break-in; another said one of his classmates had thought his car was the one that had hit the police.

So too was naming the reasons students protested. “There were a lot of kids who I think were protesting for the right reason. But also, kids just love to be involved,” said Morris.

Metscher said other protests in Colorado had had an impact. “Seeing other kids, that not only were they able to organize a successful walk out but they got voices heard, it showed you can make your voice heard.”

“Some people were like, why is walking out of school even going to help anything,” said Jaffe. “To me it was like, we’re students, and this is what we can do. A grievous injustice took place in our nation and it’s continuing to take place.”

“As I was filming inside, I was getting a shot of everyone’s feet coming down, and I just got goosebumps.”

Categories: Urban School News

New report recommends ways to ease financial burden of child care

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 14:40

There isn’t much debate that quality child care is expensive in Colorado, stretching parents’ pocketbooks and providers’ lean budgets. A new report released today recommends a raft of policy changes that could help ease the financial burden for families with young children and the child care providers who serve them.

The report calls for expanded federal, state and local investments in programs such as the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program, which is primarily funded by a federal block grant, the state’s Colorado Preschool Program, as well as assistance programs funded by various municipalities.

In addition to recommending changes to things like income thresholds, co-pays and reimbursement rates in existing assistance programs, the report proposes creating incentives for private businesses to create family-friendly childcare policies. It also recommends changes that would eliminate some of the red tape families encounter when applying for child care assistance and providers face when they have to braid together multiple funding sources to pay for a child’s slot.

The report is the third in a series produced over the past seven months by Qualistar Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. The first report looked at the varying cost of child care across the state and the second looked at the key factors that impact the cost of care. All three reports are available here.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora schools ramp up truancy interventions to keep students out of court

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 14:21

AURORA — Early Wednesday morning Aurora Central High School Principal Mark Roberts met with a student who has not attended a single day of school since the start of the school year.

Like he does with every student who is considered truant but wants to return to the classroom, he reviewed the student’s transcript and her options to either graduate or complete a GED program. He also spoke with the student and her mother about the student’s living conditions, her need to work, and her future goals.

“Each student has their struggle,” he said later in an interview. “It goes beyond just school. There are usually deeper issues attached to each student as to why they are not attending.”

Wednesday’s meeting is just one of many Roberts is likely to have this year.

As part of a recent reshuffling of districtwide resources and a renewed effort to address the social and emotional needs of students including their daily attendance, Aurora Public Schools has launched or expanded a series of initiatives to ensure more students are at their desks each day. That includes reaching out to students and their families early and often about the importance of attendance, identifying family needs and trying to meet them, and providing technology to parents to monitor their students classroom activities.

APS students who rack up more than four unexcused absences are considered truant. At Aurora Central High, the average student is likely to miss six times as many days, according to attendance data collected by the state. The school, mostly poor students of color with limited English skills, has the tenth highest truancy rate of any school in the entire state.

Reasons why students aren’t showing up for class at Aurora Central — or any school for that matter — include living in poverty, family trauma, or health-related issues, said Jocelyn Stephens, an APS administrator who oversees a cluster of schools including Aurora Central High.

Chalkbeat Data Center
Find your school’s average daily attendance and truancy rate here.

“You have to be present to learn,” Stephens said.

Making sure students are in class to learn is a critical task for the Aurora school system, which is entering its fourth year on the state’s accountability watch list. APS has two years to improve student test scores and its graduation rate or face state sanctions.

Like most school districts across the state, APS’s average daily attendance is stronger at its primary schools than at its secondary schools. About 96 percent of elementary school students are present each day, about 94 percent show up to their middle schools Monday through Friday, and 90 percent of high school students are there on time for first period.

But a closer look at individual schools’ average daily attendance shows grave disparities.

Aurora Quest K-8 has the highest daily attendance rate of all the suburb’s primary schools at 96.82 percent. That’s 11 points higher than the lowest, the Jamaica Child Development Center.

There’s about a three percentage point spread among APS’s middle schools, the lowest being 90 percent at North Middle School.

But the daily attendance gap is the widest at the high school level. At William Smith High, 93 percent of students show up regularly. At Aurora Central, barely 8 out of every 10 students are present each day.

While states are required to collect truancy data under federal law, each state may define truancy as it sees fit. That makes it difficult to compare attendance trends across state lines and identify solutions to a common problem.

But according to school attendance expert Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, the most common attendance data — average daily attendance and truancy percentages — masks what she considers a significant and neglected problem they call “chronic absenteeism.” That’s when a student misses more than 10 percent of the school year, or two days per month, according to Attendance Works.

Research completed by Chang and others has discovered a strong correlation between attendance and student achievement. The more school a student misses, Chang said, the more likely that student is to be behind grade level and to eventually dropout.

“Chances are very slim a chronically absent student will be as successful as his or her peers,” Chang said.

Among Attendance Works’ suggestions to combat chronic absenteeism: track both excused and unexcused absences and engage families early and often about the importance of perfect attendance. Further, schools should reward students and families for their daily participation not punish them.

“There are still places that suspend students for being truant,” Chang said. “Who would reward a student with a suspension for being truant — it just doesn’t make since.”

Schools should also understand why students are missing school and not jump to any conclusions, Chang said.

“I really worry that in low income schools, when a kid doesn’t show up to school, what’s the reaction?” Chang said. “The parents don’t care. [Some teachers] have no idea of the issues related to that family. So what happens, the teacher’s reaction is to blame the kid, or blame the parent, and it further alienates the family.”

APS does not track chronic absenteeism in the same fashion as Attendance Works has for some school districts. But officials said they’re beginning to pay more attention to excused absences as much as unexcused absences.

The local focus now appears to be three-fold: empower schools to proactively monitor attendance, provide whatever service is available to and needed by families of students who are at risk of becoming truant, and keep students out of the truancy court system.

“Schools are encouraged to respond right away,” Stephens, the school network director said, but also on a case-by-case basis. No two absences are alike. The most common response to a missed day is a phone call or home visit.

Schools, especially those who serve predominantly poor students, are beefing up their services. Family centers that provide food, clothing, and other resources are opened at Jewell and Crawford elementary schools. The aim is to engage the whole family, explain the importance of school, and to eliminate as many barriers as possible to make sure the students are in their desks every day.

Student engagement directors are working with teams of school officials to reach out to students — especially at the high school level — after a second or third unexcused absence. Previously those directors only became involved after a fourth absence that could triggered a trip truancy court.

“It’s a tedious process,” said Chris Vann, an APS student engagement advocate, referring to truancy court. There are generally multiple court dates spread across several months and most students leave the system with little more than a societal stigma.

As for the Aurora Central High student who has missed every day of class since August? She’ll be in class, not court.

“We discussed at length the options available at Aurora Central and asked her to commit to one of the success plans presented that fits her current situation,” said Roberts, the school’s principal. “She is being enrolled and has a solid plan in place to finish school.”

Categories: Urban School News

Teachers aren’t the only only ones facing new evaluation system

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 12:19

Since a landmark piece of school reform legislation passed in 2010, teacher evaluations have become a hot topic in Colorado education circles. What’s lesser-known is that the system ushered in by Senate Bill 10-191 extends to thousands of school employees who don’t work in classrooms, but rather counseling offices, health rooms and other school spaces.

Starting this year, the law requires annual evaluations of counselors, psychologists, therapists, nurses and other staff labeled “Specialized Service Professionals” or SSPs. These employees fall into nine categories, number about 4,700 and make up around 9 percent of the licensed school workforce.

As with the introduction of statewide teacher evaluations last year, the evaluation process for SSPs has brought some predictable bumps in the road: anxiety, confusion and a steep learning curve.

“The details of it are huge,” said Anne Hilleman, director of exceptional student services for Montrose and Olathe Schools. “It’s a bear.”

It’s a sentiment familiar to Katy Anthes, executive director of educator effectiveness at the Colorado Department of Education.

“There was a big fear factor with Senate Bill 191,” she said.

SSP Evaluation resources

Despite concerns, there’s a sense among some SSP staff that the new system offers meaningful professional feedback and concrete avenues for improvement.

“I was kind of excited to have a useful evaluation tool,” said school nurse Jackie Valpiando, who came to the Widefield School District last year after working in other districts. “Before, we were kind of evaluated like a teacher because they didn’t know what to do with us…Most of the time I wasn’t evaluated.”

Widefield is one of 19 sites—mostly school districts and BOCES—that piloted SSP evaluations last year. So was the Montrose district. Previously, evaluations there were conducted using generic rubrics that didn’t always fit well with the employees’ responsibilities.

Under the state model system, which districts can use to guide the evaluation process, there are rubrics defining high-quality practice for all nine SSP categories.

“These rubrics [are] very detailed, very specific to each specialty area, which in terms of morale had to feel good to folks,” said Hilleman.

“Before last year, we were like, ‘Which rubric do you put an audiologist on?”

New model includes student outcomes

While many states have implemented evaluation systems for teachers and principals, mandating evaluations for other licensed school personnel is less common.

SSP Numbers in Colorado

    • School counselors: 1,617
    • Speech language pathologists: 1,065
    • Psychologists: 738
    • Social workers: 461
    • School nurses: 357
    • Occupational Therapists: 325
    • Physical therapists: 79
    • Audiologists: 67
    • Orientation and mobility specialists: 12
*Numbers are from the 2012-13 school year

“We’re probably in a small grouping [of states] that includes the specialized services professionals,” said Anthes. “Our state was pretty all-encompassing and comprehensive when the law said all licensed personnel must be evaluated.”

By the end of this school year, Colorado’s SSP staff will earn one of four final ratings: ineffective, partially effective, effective or highly effective. Eventually, the ratings will be posted publicly in the aggregate, but individual employee ratings will not be available.

While all Colorado SSPs must be evaluated this year, districts do have some leeway in how they come up with the final rating. They can choose to weigh only professional practice scores—those based on the SSP rubrics—in the final rating. That will change next year when 50 percent of the final rating must include “measures of student outcomes.”

Those outcomes, usually three to four different measures, are defined by each district and will vary by SSP category. For example, nurses may be asked to ensure that a certain percentage of asthmatic students can demonstrate the proper use of inhalers. Meanwhile, a counselor may be judged on students’ acquisition of knowledge after a social skills program.

In some districts, student outcomes measures may include things like state test scores. That may sound counterintuitive since SSP staff don’t provide academic instruction, but the rationale is that all school staff have ownership of student achievement.

“Interestingly, a lot of the SSPs are including some portion of student growth in the collective measure,” said Anthes. “Kind of as a nod to saying, ‘We’re all supporting students. We’re all contributing to the environment that helps them learn.’”

In Widefield, state test scores will count for 5 percent of SSP evaluations.

“They want us to have buy-in and I agree with that 100 percent,” said Vialpando. “We need to make sure the kids are successful too.”

She added, “I’m glad it’s 5 percent and not 50 percent.”

Adjusting to a new system

While most district administrators have always had some role in evaluating SSP staff, most agree that the new system is far more time-consuming. Hilleman, who evaluates SSP staff as well as other employees, said the new system has tripled her evaluation workload.

“You are more frequently engaged in coaching and evaluative conversations with people,” she said.

Overall, she believes the process is valuable, but given the time commitment wonders if “rock star” employees truly need annual evaluations.

James McGhee, assistant director of special education in Widefield, said the district’s old process, which entailed a written narrative about the employee’s strengths and weaknesses, took about an hour to complete. Not only do the new write-ups take 1.5-2 hours to complete, the district opted to move from one formal evaluation a year to two though that’s not required by the state.

“It’s a big shift,” he said, one that was rough at first but ultimately more informative for staff.

“The feedback is more specific in helping them grow as professionals.”

SSP staff have noticed the increased time commitment too, but some say the close examination of their day-to-day work is welcome.

“It’s a chance to be acknowledged and validated for what we do as special service providers,” said Christine Gray, a counselor at Aspen Elementary School.

Working outside the classroom sometimes gives SSPs the sense, “You’re an ‘other,’ a  little out of the mainstream,” she said.

The evaluation process–time-consuming though it is–helps remedy that feeling. For Gray, the new system has also meant more on-going reflection. Under the previous system, she’d usually turn her attention to her evaluation for a day, maybe two.

Now, she says she can’t quantify the minutes and hours she spends preparing for, having, or reflecting on her evaluation because it’s woven throughout her job.

“Its not something you put to bed anytime,” she said. “Hopefully its something you carry with your and it guides your practice.”

Moderating expectations

Aside from the extra time investment, many SSP employees find the new system challenging because earning top ratings on the professional practice half of the evaluation is tougher than under most previous evaluation systems.

Under the state model system, SSP staff can earn one of five ratings for professional practice: exemplary, accomplished, proficient, partially proficient and basic. While “proficient” meets state standards, it can seem like a mediocre rating to employees who are used to superlatives.

Valpiando said she earned “exemplary” on a few standards last year, but overall would have fallen into the proficient category.

“I’ve always thought of myself as better than proficient….so that was hard for me to take,” she said.

One of the criteria that distinguishes proficient from “accomplished” or “exemplary” for all types of SSP staff, is whether they move from carrying out required duties to empowering students, parents or teachers around certain professional goals. For example, a proficient employee might make a recommendation to a student, whereas an exemplary employee prompts the student to act on the recommendation.

“That is a really unique piece of all of our rubrics…the same things happen with principal and assistant principal rubrics,” said Anthes. “When you move to accomplished or exemplary it’s what has the work you’ve done enabled others to do?”

Hilleman said while her SSP staff all scored well into proficiency based on the rubric, few were exemplary.

“I did really have to frontload especially with my overachievers…Don’t feel like this is a ding.”

Impacting personnel decisions

With many SSP staff employed on single-year contracts, their employment status may depend more on student enrollment and district needs than evaluation ratings. Still, those not on single-year contracts who score below effective for two years in a row can lose non-probationary status. Technically, this could make it easier for districts to dismiss them.

“It is easier to fire you if you don’t have non-probationary status,” said Anthes. “Whereas if you had non-probationary status… it might take a district longer to remove you.”

No SSPs will lose non-probationary status till the end of the 2016-17 school year at the earliest, since this year is considered a hold-harmless year. Even then, districts will not be required to dismiss partially effective or ineffective employees, though administrators will have that option.

Despite the potential influence of SSP evaluations on job security, Anthes said, “That’s really not the main point of the law…We really try to emphasize…it’s about professional growth.

As always, she said, districts should use evaluation ratings for personnel decisions, such as determining what professional development to offer, how to draft professional growth plans or where to place staff.

“Every professional in public schools deserves meaningful practice.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Four police officers injured in car crash while escorting East High School protestors

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 10:29

in the line of duty

Four Denver police officers, who were returning from escorting hundreds of East High School students protesting events in Ferguson, Mo., were struck by a car and injured, one critically. ( Denver Post, 9News )

The Denver Post editorial board says that the tragedy is a reminder that the everyday work of police has nothing to do with police abuses of civil liberties that are currently drawing large amounts of criticism. ( Denver Post )

new faces

Lobbyist and former Republican legislator Steve Durham has been named to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, Gazette )

preview of coming attractions

The state’s academic standards and testing system drew skeptical questions from both sides of the political aisle during a pre-session joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees on Wednesday, providing a preview of what are expected to be prolonged discussions on those issues after the 2015 legislative session convenes in January. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

choice questions

A new report says that Denver parents feel better about their school choice options than those in many cities, but transportation and equity questions remain. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

talking dollars

The Denver Post editorial board argues that state Democrats should refine their pitch on a potential ballot measure that would allow the state to keep TABOR refunds to backfill K-12 funding, among other things. ( Denver Post )

more tragedies

Residents in Frederick celebrated and mourned the lives of the latest of three Frederick High School students to take his own life. ( 9News )

accountability talks

Colorado fared somewhat poorly on a first-ever ranking of state policies for holding charter school authorizers accountable for their schools' academic performance. ( USA Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Arts education report, costly closed schools, PARCC concessions

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 08:12

CPS did a better job last year of providing arts education when compared with a year earlier, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel first unveiled an ambitious arts plan for schools. Still, fewer than half of the city’s public elementary schools provided students with the recommended 120 minutes of weekly arts education last year, and teachers and other resources remain inequitably distributed.

The data point is one of many in a comprehensive “State of the Arts in Chicago Public Schools” progress report released today by the non-profit arts advocacy group, Ingenuity Inc. Executive Director Paul Sznewajs says the report shows “encouraging progress” both in terms of the number of schools participating in the voluntary Creative Schools Initiative -- which tracks schools’ arts programing and resources -- and in improvements at 371 schools that participated in both years. “We like what we see but we recognize that there’s still a lot to do and we want to keep at it,” Sznewajs says.

The Creative Schools Initiative allows Ingenuity to rate schools based on self-reported resources dedicated to arts education -- including teachers, minutes of instruction and whether the school collaborates with outside arts organizations. Although elementary schools in every part of the city got the highest rating, the data show an unequal distribution in programming. More than 40 percent of schools in the center, North Side and Far North Side of Chicago obtained the highest rating, while less than 20 percent of schools on the Southwest Side were highly rated.

Nearly nine out of 10 schools participated in the Initiative; a year earlier, just 57 percent of schools did so. Most schools that didn’t participate in the survey were charter schools. Ingenuity also announced the 100 schools that will receive a total of $1 million to improve arts programs.

2. Costly closed schools … After waging a battle for the information, NBC-5’s investigative reporters found that CPS spent $2.7 million to keep the gas and electricity on at closed schools—almost as much as CPS spent when the schools were in operation. District officials explained the money was to maintain the buildings, which makes sense considering buildings need to stay warm over the winter to prevent burst pipes and other expensive repairs.

But the costs show that CPS has already spent a good deal more money than the projected $1.8 million it expected to pay to maintain closed buildings. Perhaps more interestingly, the NBC-5 story also reveals Washington Park’s Ross Elementary was so badly damaged by vandals that an internal report shows repairs would cost $10 million more than estimated. All in all, the report calls into question the district’s assertions that it would save $43 million annually by closing the 50 schools. Despite repeated requests from reporters, district officials have never provided an itemized accounting of the estimate.

3. Flexibility on the PARCC … In a concession to principals and parents worried about scheduling test burnout in high schools, the state is giving districts options to choose from other tests besides the new PARCC. Superintendents were told about the option last week via a newsletter and have to make a decision by tomorrow.

Unlike previous tests that were administered by grade level, the PARCC is given by subject. The state chose English Language Arts III and Algebra II or Integrated Math 3 -- courses usually taken during the junior year-- as the set of PARCC tests to be given at high schools. Yet many juniors also take Advanced Placement tests, in addition to the ACT or SAT. Also, principals of large high schools say that, because students of different grade levels take these classes at different times, getting everyone into a computer lab at the same time is a scheduling nightmare.

However, in his weekly message, state Superintendent Christopher Koch announced he will let superintendents choose math and language arts courses typically offered in freshman and sophomore years. In related news, Koch wrote to the U.S. Department of Education last week asking for affirmation on how the state has interpreted federal requirements for giving the PARCC.

The letter is in response to parent groups that have been urging the state to delay the test, although ISBE says that’s impossible without risking federal funding.

4. Money for after-school programs … Dozens of extended learning programs for low-income students across Illinois were awarded nearly $34 million this week by ISBE. Programs in Chicago schools -- including some administered by CPS, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, and Enlace Chicago, among others -- got a total of $17 million. The money comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds after-school, summer and other kinds of educational enrichment programs. The funding is expected to be renewed annually over the next five years.

Leaders of many organizations had complained to Catalyst back in May about how long it was taking ISBE to issue a request-for-proposals for the funding and, as a result of the uncertainty, said they were scaling back or cutting their offerings. One of the reasons for the delay, ISBE officials said, was because the state had additional flexibility this year on how to use the money. For the first time, programs had the option of using funds for student activities during the school day.

5. Better options for juvenile justice … Everyone basically agrees that locking up teenagers is not a good way to get them to straighten up, according to a new study released by Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation and the Adler School of Professional Psychology’s Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice. These organizations interviewed 200 “stakeholders” and found that virtually no one thinks it is a good idea to remove young people from their communities.

The study points out that 90 percent of young people from Cook County who go to youth prisons end up going back. The study suggests that sentencing teenagers to alternative programs are much more likely to lead to positive outcomes.

On a related note, youth activists hoping for action on a bill that requires school districts to report suspensions and expulsions, as well as to develop action plans of they have high rates of punitive discipline, might be out of luck, at least for now. Today is the last day of the veto session and it does not look like Senate Bill 3004 will move forward.

Voices of Youth in Chicago Education held a press conference this week to urge Illinois legislature to act.

In the wake of the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., having the appropriate disciplinary measures in schools is important to everyone in the community, said Brandon Johnson of the Chicago Teachers Union.

“As a teacher, as a father, it’s an offense that this system here in Chicago, and school districts across the country, are sending a clear signal to black boys that their lives do not matter,” Johnson said.

Categories: Urban School News

Testing, standards skepticism surface at pre-session legislative hearing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 19:12

The state’s academic standards and testing system drew skeptical questions from both sides of the political aisle Wednesday, providing a taste of what are expected to be prolonged discussions on those issues after the 2015 legislative session convenes on Jan. 7.

“Maybe it’s time we had an open mind on whether we’ve headed in the right direction,” suggested Sen.-elect Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, referring to education reform initiatives of the last several years and flat student performance over the last decade.

“Just suppose Colorado backs out of Common Core. What effect will that have?” asked Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida.

The two repeatedly asked such questions during a pre-session joint meeting of House and Senate education committee members, who gathered for a briefing on the strategic plans of the departments of education and higher education.

The annual event is typically a pro forma affair, but this is the time of year when lobbyists, lawmakers, legislative staff and Capitol observers start looking for rhetorical straws in the wind that might give hints about the upcoming session.

“The discussion was very interesting,” said Sen.-elect Tim Neville, R-Littleton, who sat at the back of the hearing room and didn’t participate in the discussion.

Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs / File photo

Merrifield is a retired music teacher and former House member who won a Senate seat last month. He’s known for his skepticism about almost any kind of education reform idea.

He also had questions about the Common Core State Standards, asking, “Are the assessments going to be fair in assessing Colorado standards?”

Wilson, a retired rural superintendent with a taste for Western-cut suits and cowboy boots, complained about federal testing requirements, asking, “Why do the feds have any right to tell us how we assess our students in Colorado?”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida / File photo

Merrifield has been named to the 2015 Senate Education Committee. Wilson served on House Education last session and is a big advocate for small districts and for increased kindergarten funding.

Department of Education leaders gamely and politely tried to answer the two lawmakers’ questions.

Responding to Merrifield’s first question, Commissioner Robert Hammond noted that education initiatives such as new standards and educator evaluation only rolled out in districts last school year so it’s too early to gauge their impact on student achievement.

“You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when you’re just starting,” Hammond said. “Education reform is like turning the Titanic. … If we hang with it I’m convinced we’ll see changes.”

Responding to Wilson’s question about dropping out of Common Core, Hammond said, “My answer to that is, what next? … I don’t mean to be flippant, [but] what do we change them to?”

Associate Commissioner Jill Hawley responded to Wilson’s federal requirements question by noting Colorado could lose more than $300 million a year in federal funding if it didn’t meet those testing requirements.

“I think it’s a violation of constitutional rights,” Wilson groused.

The meeting, called a SMART Act hearing after the 2010 law that requires such sessions, didn’t draw a lot of legislative interest. Of the 20 current members of the House and Senate education committees, only seven showed up. Merrifield and Neville were the only two new lawmakers to attend. Several current House Education members are term-limited and won’t be returning to the Capitol.

See the slideshow CDE presented at the meeting

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Categories: Urban School News

New school ratings show mixed bag

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 17:40

As Phillips High School’s football team recently made its way to the state championship game, media accounts went beyond celebrating the accomplishment in sports: The all-black, all low-income school was lauded for earning the district’s highest academic rating last year.

Today’s long-delayed release of the latest ratings offer a sobering picture: Phillips is the only school to fall from the top rating last year to the bottom this year and is among only 44 schools (7 percent of 670 schools in the district, and including nine charters) to land at the bottom under a new rating system. Last year, nearly 30 percent of schools got the lowest rating.  

What happened?

For one, the district’s new rating system places more emphasis on improvement in test scores rather than the scores alone. As a result, more schools with low test scores, but a decent rate of improvement, moved up in the new five-level rating system. One example is Robeson High in Englewood, which had always landed on the bottom rung in the past but moved up a level this year. Phillips, on the other hand, had poor student growth.

Improving Phillips is more a process than an event, says AUSL spokeswoman Deidre Campbell. Phillips was turned around by AUSL in 2010. "We are expecting good things in the future," she says, noting that six of AUSL turnarounds were among the two highest ratings.

Another school, Leland Elementary in Austin, would have plummeted from the top to the bottom like Phillips. But CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett used a power, just granted her at the last board meeting, to keep it at Level 1. In all, Byrd-Bennett used her discretion for 12 schools; half of the 12, like Leland, are welcoming schools that took in displaced students from closed schools.

Level 3 schools face consequences including having their principal and local school council removed or becoming a turnaround, in which all staff have to reapply for their jobs. (Because of the district’s stated five-year moratorium, they are not in danger of being closed). The nine charter schools among the 44 will be put on a warning list and will be shut down if they don’t improve, according to district policy.

CPS leaders have touted the new rating system as more comprehensive, pointing out that schools earn points based on overall improvement in test scores as well as improvement that narrows the academic achievement gap among black, Latino and other groups of students.  College enrollment, college persistence beyond freshman year, the percentage of ninth-graders on track to graduate, and dropout rates are also taken into account for high schools.

Byrd-Bennett says she believe the new rating system shows that good schools are spread around all areas of the city. However, one finding did disturb her: Among half of the 132 top-rated elementary schools—those rated Level 1-plus—so few black students were enrolled that no information was provided on their academic growth. 

“It does disturb me for obvious reasons,” she says.

Navigating choice

School ratings are supposed to help parents navigate the system and choose the best school for their child, providing information on options from charters to magnets to selective enrollment schools. But the information comes at the last minute, since the deadline for the application to selective enrollment and magnet schools, as well as other traditional district-run schools, is just a week and a half away. Charter schools have individual application deadlines that are usually later in the winter, in January or February.

The ratings also help district officials make decisions about which schools need intensive supports.

In previous years, the ratings were released in late September and given to parents in the form of a school report card during the November report card pick-up day. Byrd-Bennett says that did not happen this year because, as the district moved to the new system, she wanted to make sure that the information was correct. “There was a lot of double-checking,” she says.

In addition, the rating system was revised twice after its initial approval in August of 2013. One of the revisions was semantic. Schools now are rated 1-plus, 1, 2-plus, 2 or 3, rather than 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 as they were initially going to be.

The other two revisions were more substantive, giving Byrd-Bennett discretion to pick a school’s rating and letting some schools have their rating based solely on test scores instead of improvement in scores; officials say these revisions resulted in a change in rating for only 14 schools. Two schools—Grissom in Hegewisch and Prussing in Portage Park—benefited from being judged solely on scores rather than growth.

Byrd-Bennett gave a boost to one high school, Senn in Edgewater on the North Side. Rebecca Labowitz, who writes the blog, says that Senn is one of the neighborhood high schools that parents are starting to see as a viable option. For schools like Senn, and also Amundsen and Lake View, a better rating may mean that they are able to attract more students, she says.

Welcoming schools benefit

Some welcoming schools that would have seen their rating drop significantly benefitted by having Byrd-Bennett step in and allow them to remain at Level 1.

Before the school closings, Leland School in Austin was a top-rated, small kindergarten-through-third-grade school. Its teachers and students moved into what was once May Elementary. May then became Leland, a move the district made in order to fulfill a promise that students from closed schools would only be moved to better schools.

But Austin community activists and parents thought the plan was crazy, given that the principal and staff of Leland had only been successful with little children in a small school. “They did not know how to talk to middle-school children,” says activist Dwayne Truss. “They did not have control of the school. Sources inside the school district tell me that it was a mess, that it was chaos.”

Truss says that people in the community know that the school has had problems and are more likely to take that into account than a rating.

Labowitz, whose blog caters to parents looking for advice on how to get into the city’s best schools, says that parents new to Chicago Public Schools might be influenced by a school’s rating. “A parent of an incoming kindergartener might see that their neighborhood school is a Level 3 and look for options based on that,” she says. “But once parents get more used to the system they realize that schools are much more than one number.”

Word of mouth often plays a bigger role than the ratings, she says.

Individual school reports are on school profile pages at and here is an Excel file:

Categories: Urban School News

Report: Denver parents feel informed about school choice options, want better transportation

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 13:58

Parents in Denver are more optimistic about the direction of the school system and feel positive about the information they have about school choice than parents in other cities—but equity issues and challenges in providing transportation as more students leave their neighborhood schools remain.

Those are some of the findings from a new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which polled parents and guardians about their experiences with school choice in Denver and seven other cities with more developed school choice systems.

CRPE, a research group that focuses on school choice systems and other issues in urban school districts, released a report with broader findings from the same surveys earlier this year. This month’s report gives more detail about parents’ perceptions in each city.

Denver Public Schools’ current school choice system has been in place for about four years. Parents fill out an application in which they name their top choices, and are assigned to a school by the district’s central office. The process has been tweaked over time: It now sets aside more spaces for students who miss initial registration days, for instance.

In Denver, more parents reported that they were able to access information about school options than in other cities. Parents also reported that the district’s “common application” worked well. That’s a contrast to New Orleans, another city that’s created a common application that includes charter and district schools.

Denver parents were also most likely to report that there were other good school options in the city besides the school they send their child to. A full 60 percent said they’d be happy to send their child to another school, compared to 40 percent in Philadelphia and 47 percent in Cleveland.

Close to 60 percent of parents said they felt the school system in Denver is improving.

But Denver parents said they often had trouble finding transportation to their child’s school.

And not all Denver parents get into any of their desired schools. The report highlights a parent named Joe Jimenez who applied for three schools after extensive research, but was able to send his daughter to none of them.

Despite the district’s emphasis on choice, about 50 percent of parents in Denver reported sending their children to neighborhood schools. Some 11.6 percent of students attended charter schools in 2011-12, according to the report. District officials said more than 17 percent of students attend charter schools as of this October.

The report finds marked variation between the eight cities’ systems and parents’ perceptions of how they’re working. But across the board, parents who have children with special needs, minority parents, and low-income parents reported having more challenges accessing schools. Parents who are more educated also tended to use the choice systems more.

The report advocates for all of the districts it profiles, including Denver, to increase the number of “high-quality” schools, invest in their information systems, improve transportation options, and create schools tailored to the needs of their communities.

 (CRPE receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides some support for Chalkbeat.)

Clarification: The report cited charter school enrollment for 2011-12, not the current school year. The article has been updated to clarify and to include more up-to-date enrollment numbers.

Categories: Urban School News

Former legislator named to fill State Board vacancy

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 12:31

Lobbyist and former Republican legislator Steve Durham has been named to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education.

Durham will replace chair Paul Lundeen on the seven-member elected board. Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, recently was elected to a seat in the state House.

First elected to the state House from Colorado Springs in 1974, Durham was elected to the Senate in 1980 but was appointed regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1981, a job he held until 1983. He was elected to the Senate for a second time in 1984.

Durham is one of the Capitol’s best-known lobbyists and is CEO of the lobbying firm Colorado Winning Edge. The company’s clients include the Colorado Association of Home Builders and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

According to filings with the Department of State, Durham’s clients also include CenturyLink, the city of Glendale, Colorado Association of Career Colleges and Schools, Colorado Gaming Association, Colorado Health Care Association, Colorado High School Activities Association, Colorado Rural Electric Association and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Durham will be the second board newcomer in January. Democrat Valentina Flores of the 1st District was elected in November.

During his time in the House, Durham was part of a group of insurgent Republicans known as the “House Crazies.” Also in that group were Tom Tancredo, who later was elected to Congress and ran unsuccessfully for governor, and the late Ann Gorsuch Burford, who later became national administrator of the EPA under President Reagan.

Members of the State Board are elected to six-year terms and represent districts that are identical to the state’s congressional districts. Durham will represent the 5th District, which primarily includes El Paso County.

When an elective office is vacated between elections, a successor is named by a vacancy committee made up of people from the same political party as the person who left the office. Lundeen was elected to the board in 2010.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Top U.S. senator wants to revise education law by next year

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 12/03/2014 - 10:54

Honor Roll

The Colorado Department of Education honored dozens of school districts and individual buildings yesterday during their annual award ceremony. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Six of those school districts were from the Colorado Springs area. ( Gazette )

The Aspen School District picked up three honors, including one for serving English language learners. ( Aspen Times )

setting priorities

The Tennessee Republican who is the incoming chairman of the U.S. Senate education committee said his top priority is fixing the landmark No Child Left Behind law. He wants a bill signed by President Barack Obama early next year. ( AP via Aurora Sentinel )

To the rescue

A campus security guard at Denver's East High School saved a student's life. ( 9News )

You scratch our back and ... we'll report the news

If you find our morning headline roundup and the stories we share with you throughout the day valuable, please donate to Chalkbeat Colorado today. Oh, and when you do, you'll get a really awesome gift. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Tooting his own horn

Stephen Jordan, president of the Metropolitan State University of Denver, in an op-ed shares how his campus is leading the way in training the next generation's technological workforce — including a partnership with Denver Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District. ( Denver Post )

Sound off

Don't forget to take a few moments to answer Chalkbeat's Question of the Week. This week we want to know: If you were in charge of your school district, would you use the year of flexibility regarding teacher evaluations? If so, how would you use it? If not, why? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

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