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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

Readers: Growth, not proficiency, best measure of a school

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 14:53

On Monday we asked our readers, “What measurement should Denver Public Schools consider more highly in its school rating system?”

Earlier, DPS unveiled how it plans to evaluate its schools during a transition between assessments, and beyond. While schools will continue to be rated mostly on student growth on standardized test scores, a larger chunk of how well a school is doing will be determined by how proficient its students are on those same tests.

Advocates of growth, which measures how much a student learns year-over-year compared to his or her academic peers, say the measurement demonstrates how much a teacher influences a student’s learning regardless of other factors like poverty or whether a student is learning English as a second language. Meanwhile, advocates for status, which measures whether a student is at grade level, stress that growth by itself can mislead the public.

Well, Chalkbeat readers have spoken and most agree with DPS: growth should be the predominant factor in a school’s evaluation.

Here’s a look at how our readers voted:

Readers who chose the “other” option said DPS should develop a metric that evaluates how the school is educating the whole child; for example, are music and art classes available.

Another reader said student and staff satisfaction should be a major factor in determining how a school is rated. (Denver does use staff and student surveys, but those play a very small role in the overall rating.) One reader went a step further and suggested teacher retention should be a major factor.

Meanwhile, Noelle Green (who said she lives outside of Denver) emailed this comment:

School rankings are so misleading. They are more about recognizing those schools that bring up the bottom, rather than true academic achievement. The great schools that consistently out perform every other school in testing and in academic competitions don’t rank as high as the schools that improve on mediocre scores (growth). I notice that Summit Middle in Boulder, which dominates Math Counts and typically score over 85 percent advanced on standardized tests, is only ranked 36 on Colorado School Grades, a nonprofit education reformer organization. Some of the schools ranked highest by US News and World Reports have mediocre test scores and limited curricula and enrichment. Maybe as a whole, we should reevaluate our definition of great schools. My evaluation system would include small class sizes, experienced and qualified teachers, low teacher turnover, a healthy culture with trust and respect, parental involvement, respect for the arts and music, and enrichment.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: More changes for schools in southwest Denver

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:35

Testing madness

The Colorado Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would legitimize parent rights to opt out their children from state tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The vote was 8-1. Denver Democrat Sen. Mike Johnston voted against the measure. ( Denver Post )

A change in the air

More changes are in store for schools in southwest Denver including a new middle school to be located at Lincoln high. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Tech savvy

Colorado Springs School District 11 placed fourth in the annual Digital School Districts Survey by the Center for Digital Education and the National School Boards Association. ( Gazette )

meeting the people

Ellicott School District superintendent, Dr. Pat Cullen, conducted a question-and-answer session with housing residents who had raised concern about the district. Here's a look at the issues in the rural Colorado school district. ( Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group )

verdict is in

A jury has awarded $2.2 million to the family of a disabled Pueblo student who was repeatedly restrained in a special control desk at school. ( AP via 9News )

Human Resources

Schools around the country are trying to stretch high performing teachers across multiple classrooms. ( NPR via KUNC )

winner, winner, chicken dinner

Chalkbeat Colorado was won two awards in a national reporting competition. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Spirit Day!

A high school shows off its spirit with an epic lip dub to Taylor Swift's "Shake it off." ( Huffington Post )

Which is clearly a throwback to Lakewood High's lip dub of Katy Perry's roar. ( Huffington Post (vintage) )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing opt-out bill passes Senate Education

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 00:26

The Senate Education Committee gave 8-1 approval Thursday evening to a bill that would codify parents’ right to opt students out of standardized testing and also forbid penalizing districts, schools, and teachers for low participation rates.

The vote was the first official action on any testing-related bill this session, and the debate and testimony offered a taste of future debates on the issue.

Discussion on the seemingly simple four-page bill also crystalized some key questions that remained unanswered after the committee vote, including:

  • Will passage of the bill blow up the state system for rating districts and schools because of incomplete testing data and the fact that the state couldn’t penalize districts for low participating rates?
  • Could the lack of penalties for low participation lead schools and districts to “game the system” by covertly encouraging certain groups of students to opt out?
  • Would the bill as written inadvertently prevent teachers from lowering a student’s course grade because the student didn’t take a test?

Those issues came to the fore during discussion of amendments proposed by Democratic Sens. Mike Johnston of Denver and Andy Kerr of Lakewood during the second half of the four-hour session.

Johnston, a main architect of key education reform laws in recent years, was the odd man out in the 8-1 bipartisan vote to send the bill to the Senate floor.

Speaking to Chalkbeat Colorado after the vote, Johnston called the bill “an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver

A key Johnston amendment would have allowed the state to continue using test scores and test participation to rate schools and districts, while holding teachers and students free of any penalties. He also proposed tracking which kinds of students opted out of testing. And a third amendment would have protected high-participation districts from any loss of federal funds if the state drops below required participation levels.

The bill would require districts to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts and bans any penalties for students, teachers, principals or schools for low participation.

State and federal policy mandates that 95 percent of students participate in state testing, and Colorado imposes a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

Johnston politely told prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, “You are endeavoring unintentionally to tear down 10 years of work on the state accountability system. … You are knocking down a barn we built in the last decade, and you’ve got to put up something in its place.”

Holbert said, “It comes down to freedom and liberty … when it comes to our kids we have the right to make this choice.”

Earlier in the debate, Holbert said the way to ensure high test participation is to “build a better assessmnt tool that parents can trust.”

Holbert and other bill supporters argue that it’s necessary to prevent intimidation of bullying of parents by teachers and administrators who fear lowered school ratings if test participation drops. With that fear removed, supporters argue, school officials won’t feel the need to pressure parents.

The only amendment approved by the committee was a minor proposal by Kerr to require that schools inform parents about the “purpose and use” of statewide tests in addition to informing them about their opt-out rights, as the bill’s original language proposes.

Kerr withdrew an amendment that would have clarified the issue of consequences for students who don’t take class tests required for a course grade. The bill refers to no penalties for “standardized” tests, and that concerns Kerr because districts sometimes give standard tests across schools as course requirements. That issue likely will resurface later.

Another amendment intended to penalize school officials if they encourage students to opt out was defeated.

“The data is abundantly clear that there are schools in the state of Colorado that are urging students to opt out,” Johnston charged, without naming any districts.

The bill has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. The Senate sponsors are Holbert and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora.

The measure has wide support among interest groups including teachers unions and school districts, plus from anti-testing activists. Education reform groups oppose it. Those divisions were evident in testimony Thursday.

In the end, only one vote may count. If the bill passes the legislature in its current form, some observers expect Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto it.

Todd alluded to that possibility in her opening remarks, saying, “We’re really looking forward to having great conversations with the governor.”

Read the bill text here.

SB 15-223 is only the first of several testing-related bills pending at the Capitol. Get more information below.

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

More changes on the way for southwest Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 21:17

Denver Public Schools plans to put out an unusual late “Call for New Quality Schools,” announcing that it is looking for a replacement for Henry World Middle School and for a new middle school to share a building with Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver.

School staff and families found out about the plans this week. Officials say the new schools are part of an effort to bring better schools to southwest Denver and to address declining enrollment and academic challenges at Henry and Lincoln. (See DPS’s presentations about its plan for Lincoln High School and its plan for Henry World Middle School.)

The district’s board will vote on any final proposals in the fall, and the schools would open in 2016-17. That’s a unique timeline: All other new school applications for 2016-17 — which were due this month — will be presented to the board in June.

Board member Rosemary Rodriguez said that figures from the first round of school choice applications in the district and the schools’ low scores on the district’s school ranking system prompted DPS to make new plans for the schools now instead of waiting until next year.

DPS is targeting schools in southwest Denver for improvement efforts, prompted partly by a report put out by local advocates highlighting challenges in the region and calls from parents for the district to address problems in southwest schools, which serve mainly low-income and Hispanic students.

Several southwest schools have gotten new principals or programs, and several new charter and district schools have been recruited to open in the region in the next two years. DPS also created two new “shared enrollment zones”, which mean families are given preference at a cluster of schools rather than directly assigned to one school.

Rodriguez said that those shared enrollment zones highlighted problems at Henry. Fewer families chose Henry this year than last year, even as the overall participation rate in the district’s school choice system in southwest Denver jumped from 67 percent to 91 percent after an extensive outreach effort.

Last year, 53 percent of families zoned to Henry chose to attend other schools. This year, 74 percent of families chose to go elsewhere. Rodriguez said that she has heard that many families in the area send their children to Jeffco Public Schools.

Plans for Lincoln

Lincoln’s enrollment is also declining. The school enrolled 1,900 students in 2009 but now has closer to 1,400. The district has started a number of new high schools in the area in recent years, including KIPP Collegiate and DSST College View.

Some of the space left empty as Lincoln’s enrollment has dropped might be filled by the new middle school. There would be no cap on Lincoln’s enrollment even if another school is placed in the building.

The district is also planning to expand Lincoln’s career and technical pathways program and add a new digital technology program. The program would be supported partly by the city of Denver and potentially by a grant from the Ford Foundation. The district also says it will focus on improving college readiness at the school, though just how it will do so is not yet clear.

“Right now, for every 100 9th graders who start at Lincoln, one graduates from college in four years,” Rodriguez said. “We need to change that.”

Plans for Henry World Middle School

Henry will be phased out a grade at a time starting in 2016-17. That means that the school will have just 7th and 8th graders in 2016-17, just 8th graders in 2017-18, and then will be closed altogether. The school is also becoming a turnaround school, which means it will get some additional funds and resources from the district as it is phased out.

Whatever new school the district approves would open with 6th graders in 2016-17 and would add grades as the old school phases out.

The district has hired Lindsay Meier, currently an assistant principal at Skinner Middle School, to develop a proposal for an International Baccalaureate middle school program similar to the one that already exists at Henry World Middle School.

But the new district program is not guaranteed a spot in the Henry building. Rodriguez said the school will be evaluated against schools that are already approved to open in southwest Denver, including DSST, Compass Academies, and Strive, and with other proposals that might be submitted using a facilities policy the board approved earlier this year.

At a community meeting at Henry World Middle School last night, parents’ biggest concern involved discipline and school climate. Henry made national news in 2013 for a bullying incident, and local news last year after many teachers voted no confidence in one of the school’s then-administrators.

Rodriguez said there is a perception that the current interim principal is not excited to be at the school. “There’s a lot of dismay about current trends.”

Don Roy, currently the interim principal at Manual High School, will lead Henry through the phase out starting this summer.

Roy said that he knows staff and community members are apprehensive about the changes. He said he plans to introduce more consistency in the school’s approach to discipline.

“It’s an ongoing job,” he said. “You have to work on it every day.” Roy said he is committed to staying at the school through the phase out.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that DPS has not officially put out its new “Call for Quality Schools.” The official announcement will be released in April.

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat Colorado wins two national education reporting prizes

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 18:07

A Chalkbeat investigation on Denver’s principal turnover and a close look at the past and present struggles of Manual High School won recognition from the Education Writers Association, the reporters’ organization today.

Kate Schimel’s “The Revolving Schoolhouse Door,” examined years of principal turnover data in Denver and found that turnover was highest at schools where intense reform efforts were underway. The article won first place for investigative reporting in the small newsroom division in the association’s annual reporting contest.

Schimel, Nic Garcia, and Alan Gottlieb were also recognized for their coverage of Manual High School. Manual is the city’s lowest performing high school and has been subject to a series of high-profile reform efforts. The series “A Promise Unfulfilled” and additional coverage by Gottlieb were named a finalist in the single topic news or feature category.

EWA is the professional organization for journalists who cover education at all levels. EWA has more than 3,000 members and has existed for 65 years.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Everybody’s talking testing

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 08:48

getting testy

A vocal crowd of about 250 people, chanting slogans like “Enough is enough” rallied on the west side of Capitol Wednesday, calling for cuts in state testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Gazette )

A bi-partisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take is in limbo at the state legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don’t know when it will be rescheduled – if at all. ( KRCC )

PARCC test exemptions reached into the triple digits in Buena Vista last week, when roughly one-third of Buena Vista public school students in grades three-11 were pulled from the standardized test. ( Mountain Mail )

Two cents on testing

Without standardized tests, it would be far too easy for low-income and minority children to be passed along from grade to grade without accountability, the Denver Post editorial board opines ( Denver Post )

U of Phoenix's Icarus moment?

The for-profit University of Phoenix has seen its enrollment and its stock price plunge. ( CNN )

School growth

Construction of two new high schools — one boasting an athletics complex — plus a new elementary school, is included in a long-range planning proposal introduced late Tuesday by Poudre School District Superintendent Sandra Smyser. ( Coloradoan )

Durango's Mountain Middle School, a 4-year-old charter institution already recognized as one of the top schools in the state, plans to grow next year by adding grades three, four and five. ( Durango Herald )

Plug for PE

When it comes to kids and exercise, schools need to step up and focus more on quality as well as quantity. ( KUNC/NPR )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing opponents rally on eve of opt-out bill hearing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 20:46

A vocal crowd of about 250 people, chanting slogans like “Enough is enough” rallied on the west side of Capitol Wednesday, calling for cuts in state testing.

The rally, organized by the Colorado Education Association and other groups, drew a crowd of  teachers, students and parents over a cold, blustery lunch hour.

The event came a day before the first committee hearing this year on any testing related bill, a measure that would ban penalties against schools or teachers if test participation drops below required levels because of opt-outs. Progress on more substantive testing bills remains stalled.

“We are here to let our Colorado legislators know that our students are more than a score,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman, and the phrase “more than a score” was repeated on signs and in chants called out by the crowd.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, touted the opt-out bill, of which she’s a sponsor. Other speakers included a parent, a teacher, a high school student, and a national anti-testing activist.

Sign seen at testing rally

The rally also was sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, FairTest (a national group), Colorado Jobs with Justice, and the Colorado PTA. Absent from the rally were any representatives of the more conservative anti-testing groups that frequent State Board of Education meetings.

Four Democratic lawmakers were behind the podium or in the crowd, but no GOP legislators were seen.

Opt-out bill will provide first airing of testing issues

Testing was expected to be the top education issue of the 2015 session, and nine testing-related bills have been introduced. (Get information and links for all those bills at the bottom of this article.) But not one has had a committee hearing.

That will change Thursday, when the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 15-223.

The proposal would require districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

Another sign at rally

The bill’s summary also says that neither the state nor a local school district can “penalize the student, the student’s teacher and principal, or the public school that the student attends, and the department cannot penalize the local education provider that enrolls the student, if the parent excuses the student from taking the standardized assessment.”

Current state and federal policies mandate that 95 percent of students participate in state testing. The federal government requires states to impose a penalty on districts that drop below that level. Colorado imposes a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

While the bill doesn’t specifically reference the accreditation penalty, its no-penalties provisions presumably would prohibit that.

The bill has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. The Senate sponsors are Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker and Todd. Seven of the nine Senate Education members are sponsors of the bill.

Other testing bills remain in limbo

No legislator nor education interest group is publicly in favor of more state standardized testing or even of keeping the current system.

But it has proved remarkably difficult for lawmakers to gather behind a single testing bill for a variety of reasons.

Observers cite differences and rivalries within the Senate Republican caucus and the Senate Education Committee, lack of cooperation between the GOP Senate and Democratic House, and a push by conservative Republicans to get rid of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC tests as reasons for the lack of progress.

A study group, the Standards and Assessments Task Force, recommended cutting back state testing to more closely match federal requirements. (See this story for details.)

A bipartisan bill containing many of the task force’s recommendations was introduced two weeks ago (see story). Gov. John Hickenlooper publicly endorsed the bill (see story), but it has failed to gain traction with lawmakers and many education interest groups, who see it as too mild.

The education reform and business groups whose leaders flanked Hickenlooper at his news conference last week would like minimum tinkering with the testing system and definitely oppose elimination of Common Core and PARCC – or any of the changes to the teacher evaluation system that are included in some testing bills.

According to the latest Capitol handicapping, all the currently introduced testing bills may be heard in committee, with Senate Republican bills ultimately killed in the House. (There are no Democratic testing bills pending in the House, although there’s talk that a copycat version of SB 15-215 may be introduced there.)

After such a bloodbath of bills, the speculation goes, a compromise bill would emerge, perhaps a version of a Holbert plan that would reduce testing and give districts some flexibility in using local instead of state tests.

Whatever scenario plays out, testing may not come to the fore until mid-April, after the Senate and House finish the 2015-16 state budget bill. Lawmakers have to adjourn by May 6, so that tight timing has prompted a few statehouse observers to start speculating about the possibility that no testing bill will pass this session.

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

Rise & Shine: Gender gap in drop-out rate persists despite overall decline

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 09:59

Double down

In an ode to charter school networks, Denver Public Schools is giving a successful principal a second school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

By the numbers

Race and gender are big factors in determining who drops out of school in Colorado. ( KUNC )

#COLeg Report

A tuition tax credit bill won approval of the Republican-controlled Senate Tuesday. But the bill is likely to be spiked in the House, which is controlled by the Democrats. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

A new testing bill introduced yesterday takes aim at PARCC, the Common Core, and teacher evaluations. ( Denver Post )

State lawmakers will have nearly $50 million more in tax revenue than they thought they’d have, but local schools probably won’t see much of it. ( Vail Daily News )

Meanwhile, a bipartisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take remains in limbo. ( KUNC )

A high school in Fredrick with a Native American inspired mascot is watching a debate at the Capitol closely. The fate of the bill might mean the school needs to find a new identity. ( Times-Call )

English language learners

A new report suggests Colorado policies around teaching non-English speakers should include teacher preparation requirements and funding for pre-school aged English learners. ( Denver Post )

Healthy schools

Several Colorado school districts offer a program that rewards overweight adult participants — whether staff members or local residents — with cash prizes for losing weight. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Boulder Valley School District is rebalancing the air handling system for better air circulation and installing extended vents at Casey Middle School over spring break. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Tuition tax credits bill moves on to the House

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 20:25

Updated March 25 – Without further debate, the Senate Wednesday voted 18-17 for final passage of Senate Bill 15-045, which would create a system of state income tax credits for private school tuition, home school costs, and donations to private school scholarships.

The bill got a full airing and preliminary approval Tuesday after lengthy debate and two false starts.

Some form of tax-credit legislation has been introduced by Republicans in every session of recent years. None have gone very far, given Democratic or split partisan control of the legislature for more than a decade.

Prime sponsor Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, argued Tuesday that the bill is needed to put private schools and homeschooling on equal footing with public schools.

He said school choice would be strengthened by the tax credits.

The bill would allow a tax credit equal to half of the statewide per-pupil public school spending for taxpayers with children enrolled full-time in a private school. The credit wouldn’t apply to students already in private school but only to students who move from a public to a private school.

A credit of $1,000 would be allowed for full-time home-schooled students. People who donate to private school scholarships could claim a credit of half of statewide per-pupil funding or the amount of the scholarship, whichever is smaller.

Lakewood Sen. Andy Kerr led Democratic arguments against the bill, saying, “It’s not a front door voucher bill, but it is a backdoor voucher bill.”

Arguing that tax credits actually would undermine school choice, Kerr said “a select few people who can afford to will take this tax credit.”

Democrats used the time-honored tactic of proposing amendment after amendment, prolonging the initial discussion. All were defeated on voice votes.

Legislative rules allow amendments to be resubmitted after the preliminary consideration calendar is completed, so the Democrats did just that. All were again defeated, but one bipartisan change making it easier for lower-income taxpayers to claim the credit did pass.

Prompted by that, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, invoked a procedural maneuver to get a new cost estimate calculated for the bill. That sent the Senate into recess while legislative staff scrambled to write the estimate, known as a fiscal note. In the end, Democrats chose not to make an issue of it, and the Senate finally recessed just after 3:30 p.m.

The original legislative staff analysis estimated the measure would cost the state $12.1 million in 2015-16 and $37 million in 2016-17, involving 35,891 students in that second year. Its estimated the loss in tax revenues could reach $318.3 million by 2028-29.

The new fiscal note predicted an increase in costs starting in later years of the program, Steadman said.

Supporters of the bill argue public schools actually would benefit financially from the bill because they’d have fewer students to serve. But bill critics say that wouldn’t be the case because of districts’ fixed costs.

Tuesday’s prolonged discussions weren’t the first delay for the bill. Senators previously spent 40 minutes on SB 15-045 last Thursday and another 40 minutes on Friday, but both those debates were called off when the Senate ran out of time.

Tax break for teachers moves ahead

The Senate Finance Committee late Tuesday voted 3-2 to pass House Bill 15-1104, which would provide a small tax break for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies.

Teachers could deduct up to $250 from their taxable income, yielding a tax savings of about $10.

Sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, pitched the bill to his fellow committee members, saying it would “help encourage and support those teachers.”

The bill originated with a Republican House member, Rep. Clarice Navarro of Pueblo, but two Finance Committee Republicans voted no, Sens. Chris Holbert of Parker and Tim Neville of Littleton.

Get more information on this bill in this prior Chalkbeat story.

Categories: Urban School News

With nod to charter networks, DPS is giving a successful principal a second school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 18:43

What do you do if you’re a school district with a successful principal?

In the case of Alex Magaña, the principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, Denver Public Schools has an idea: Give him two schools.

Starting in 2016-17, Magaña will oversee Grant Beacon and a new district-run innovation school, which will be called Kepner Beacon, at the Kepner Middle School campus in southwest Denver.

As executive principal, Magaña will supervise principals at both Kepner and Grant. A small network staff will include a data specialist and an operations officer responsible for both schools. Teachers at Kepner and Grant will plan and train together.

The schools together will be known as the Beacon Network. Both will be innovation schools, which have flexibility from certain district and state policies, and will focus on blended learning, in which technology is integrated into classroom instruction.

DPS is calling the new arrangement an Innovation Management Organization. The structure and its name are directly cribbed from the charter school world, where charter management organizations run networks of schools.

The hope is that the Innovation Management Organization structure will allow successful principals to expand strong programs without leaving their current schools to crash and burn.

Many DPS principals stay at their schools for only a few years, which leads to instability for staff and students. Magaña says this new arrangement means he will be able to expand the scope of his work while maintaining his ties to the community and programs at Grant Beacon.

“The biggest fear is, if you leave this falls apart. That’s not a good feeling,” Magaña said. “So much has been invested here.”

A template

Beacon is likely the first of several such networks in Denver.

At least one other district school, McAuliffe International School in Park Hill, has already applied to expand and become the city’s second innovation management organization. (McAuliffe principal Kurt Dennis declined a request for an interview.)

Other innovation schools, such as DCIS and Ashley Elementary, might also be candidates for expansion, said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Denver’s chief academic and innovation officer.

“It makes sense to do more of what we know already works versus always trying to design from scratch,” Whitehead-Bust said.

Magaña said that the rapid growth of charter school networks in the city made him wonder.

“There’s a demand for effective schools to replicate quite quickly,” Magaña said. “We thought, ‘Why can charter schools replicate so quickly? Why can’t I do that?’…I think we can show public schools are just as effective as charters.”

Bryan Hassel, a co-director of Public Impact, an education policy and management consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C, said that the idea of a single principal overseeing several schools is not unique. But, he said, both the idea of using this as a strategy for expanding the reach of successful principals and the charter-inspired name is new.

“Urban areas are desperate for good principals,” he said. “When they find them they often promote them into a central office job where they aren’t really impacting teachers and kids like they are in the principalship. The idea of creating this alternate career path is compelling.”

But there are challenges for principals newly charged with overseeing several schools, Hassel said.

“If you’re over two schools, over three schools, how do you have the time to do them justice?” he said.

Current Grant Beacon staff are optimistic.

“I think that Grant Beacon Middle School is pure magic, and I’ve been here long enough to know what it used to be like and what it’s like now,” said Valerie Svodoba, a teacher leader and language arts teacher at the school. “To be able to take that success and transplant that into a school that really needs it is a beautiful thing.”

Grant Beacon has earned national attention for its blended learning program. It has also moved from the second lowest rating of five on the district’s school performance framework to the second highest during the past eight years. The performance framework evaluates a schools’ academic performance and other characteristics.

The school has also seen a trend toward declining enrollment reverse.

Magaña said that if the Kepner expansion goes as well, the network might eventually add a high school or an elementary school.

New plans, complicated history

In 2016-17, Kepner Beacon will start enrolling students in the Kepner building. The plan is to phase in a grade at a time, starting with sixth graders.

But the new school is opening in a complex environment, as part of an effort to replace the current Kepner Middle School. Kepner, in southwest Denver, was identified as in need of drastic improvements last school year. DPS floated and then retracted several proposals for the school over the course of 2014.

In December, the district put its decision-making on hold yet again to respond to concerns about whether its plans adequately met the needs of the school’s English language learners and the requirements of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice that governs how DPS works with Spanish-speaking students.

As part of an effort to meet the requirements of the agreement, Kepner Beacon will have a native-language program for Spanish speakers. Such a program is not in place at Grant Beacon.

The plan the district’s board eventually approved means that in 2016-17, four schools will be running in the Kepner building: the current program that will be in its second-to-last year of being phased out; and two charter schools, Compass Academy and a school run by STRIVE Prep. The school will also be within one of the district’s new shared enrollment zones, in which students are not assigned to a neighborhood school but are given enrollment preference at a cluster of schools.

Magaña said he is approaching the shared space with some trepidation.

“Culture is our number one priority,” he said, and creating that culture in a shared space might prove more challenging.

Kepner Beacon teachers will start work in 2015, a year before the school is scheduled to open. Using school start-up funds earmarked by the district, the network will begin preparing new teachers for Grant Beacon’s blended learning approach and work with English language learners.

Unknowns remain PHOTO: J. ZubrzyckiAt Grant Beacon Middle School in Denver, Principal Alex Magana greeted a parade of students as they moved between classes in early March.

Magaña said he thinks the model will be more sustainable for the principals at Grant and Kepner, who will have the support of the network team and the executive principal as well as teacher leaders in their schools. He said he envisioned himself spending far more time in each school than the district’s instructional superintendents, who oversee principals across the district.

He said he also thinks the model will be more financially efficient in three years than running two separate schools. That’s because the schools will be able to share some staff and resources.

But just how the Beacon Network team — an extra level of administration — will interact with the rest of the district’s staff is still not yet clear.

“We’re early on in our thinking,” Whitehead-Bust said. “Clearly [Magaña] will report to an instructional superintendent, but he’ll have more autonomy in managing the two building leaders.”

Svodoba, who currently leads Grant Beacon’s data literacy team, said she is interested in working as one of the Beacon network staff.

“There’s a little bit of apprehension about what that will look like,” she said. “The roles aren’t clearly defined yet, so we’re sort of having to invent them as we go.”

Categories: Urban School News

In some districts, cash prizes for staff weight loss

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 12:44

Several Colorado school districts offer a program that rewards overweight adult participants—whether staff members or local residents–with cash prizes for losing weight.

Called “Weigh and Win,” the program is popping up in districts like Denver, Cherry Creek, Boulder Valley, Canon City, and Weld 6, and at libraries, hospitals and recreation centers across the state. In school districts, it’s typically seen as a staff wellness tool, though in some cases parents and community members are invited to enroll as well.

The centerpiece of Weigh and Win are kiosks where anyone 18 or over can sign up, step on a scale and get a full-length photograph taken. Participants then have access to an array of online or text-based services ranging from health coaching to grocery lists and meal plans.

Those with body-mass indices of 25 or over—the threshold for being overweight–are eligible for cash awards if they shed pounds between quarterly weigh-ins. Those with lower body-mass indices are entered into prize drawings if they do things like open Weigh and Win emails or refer friends to the program.

While Weigh and Win is free to individual participants, it’s not a non-profit organization. It was launched in 2011 by parent company incentaHEALTH and its kiosks cost up to $4,250 per year. Funding from the “DPS Health Agenda 2015″ grant covers that expense for Denver Public Schools.

Weigh and Win is contracted by Kaiser to deliver the program and earns money through annual per-participant fees paid by Kaiser.

Mandy Hydock, director of finance in Weld 6, has earned a total of $105 from Weigh and Win for losing 80 pounds over the last year. While she’s also consulted with a nutritionist unaffiliated with Weigh and Win, she said the program’s daily tips and reminders help her stay on track too.

“Any time people are incentivized with money, it helps keep you going,” she said. “It’s just human nature.”

Colleen Grandis, staff wellness coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said the program is simple and engaging for employees, and could eventually help the district save on health care costs.

“It was a great opportunity to just extend our wellness program,” she said.

In Colorado, more than half of adults are overweight or obese and more than a quarter of children ages 2 to 14 are overweight or obese. The rates are even higher for blacks and Hispanics.

DPS got a mobile “Weigh and Win” kiosk in 2013, but recent technology upgrades have put a greater focus on it this year. The kiosk–essentially a large sign, a scale and a tablet– regularly moves to different locations around the district, with stops this week at the transportation department building and Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.

All told, more than 650 people, including some community members, have signed up for Weigh and Win through DPS. Statewide, more than 60,300 people are enrolled.

While students can’t use the kiosks unless they are 18, Weigh and Win officials say the healthy habits promoted by the program have a trickle-down effect.

“If the parents utilize the program, it will help the children adopt these behaviors,” said Kaytee Long, health promotion manager at Weigh and Win.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Child poverty in Colorado declined for the first time since 2008

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 09:59


A survey of 1,800 teachers conducted by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association spotlights concerns about discipline in district schools. ( Colorado Public Radio )


The percent of Colorado students living in poverty declined for the first time since 2008. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, CPR )


The House Education Committee passed a bill that means schools would need to get approval before using an American Indian mascot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News )

Grading Graders

There will be no green or blue schools in Denver Public Schools next year. A look at how the district's school scorecard is changing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Talk to us

That brings us to our question of the week: Do you think growth or status matter more in a school's ranking? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )


President Obama announced a new round of financial support for STEM education. ( Associated Press via Denver Post )

Summer vacation

Cherry Creek schools will start early and end before Memorial Day next school year. ( Denver Post )

standardized tests

Anti-test activists are holding a rally at the Capitol in Denver on Wednesday. ( The Gazette )


The website DonorsChoose has allowed teachers to bring more resources into their classrooms — but also highlighted funding disparities. ( KUNC )


Would an extra $45,000 per student per year help your school implement education technology? Education Week is launching an exploration into technology in elite private schools. ( Education Week )


The Arvada Wheat Ridge Wheat Ridge Service Ambassadors for Youth recognized dozens of local youth who have overcome adversity. ( Arvada Press )

Expeditionary Learning

The Douglas County News-Press takes a look at an expeditionary learning school in Douglas County. ( Douglas County News-Press )

Categories: Urban School News

Indian mascots bill passes first committee after emotional testimony

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 22:40

“We are not some people you can just make fun of,” Lakewood student Jerico Lefthandbull told the House Education Committee Monday afternoon, testifying in favor of a bill that would require schools to get state permission to use American Indian names or images as school mascots.

Many other witnesses made the same point – that American Indian mascots are damaging for Native American students — during a hearing that lasted more than three hours. But Lefhandbull, wearing his dance regalia from last weekend’s Denver March Powwow was the most succinct.

The committee passed House Bill 15-1165 on a 6-5 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans voting no.

The bill would create a subcommittee of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs that would have the power to rule on schools’ and colleges’ Indian names and mascots, including existing ones. If the subcommittee rejected a name, a school would have two years to find a new mascot or face fines of $25,000 a month.

According to bill cosponsor Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, some 38 Colorado schools have Indian names or mascots. A few, like Arapahoe High School in Centennial, have agreements with tribes that sanction use of the name. Other school names have generated controversy, like La Veta’s “Redskins.”

Jerico Lefthandbull

Monday’s hearing had a more youthful air than most legislature hearings. Large numbers of students were in the audience, and three panels of students from Denver’s East High School and a group called Mile High Unity testified in favor of the bill.

Much of the testimony focused the negative impact of mascots on American Indian students and their self-image.

“These mascots do not honor us but instead bring to mind negative thoughts,” said Elicia Goodsoldier of Firestone, who has studied the issue.

Melton picked up on the same theme, saying, “No one can tell me they’re honoring anybody when they say ‘redskin’ or ‘savage.’”

School board members from the Strasburg and Cheyenne Mountain districts opposed the bill, saying mascot decisions should be made at the local level and that changing names would be costly for hard-pressed school districts. Both districts use the nickname “Indian.”

Prime sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Melton got themselves temporarily crosswise with fellow Democrats with a slideshow they used to present the bill. The slides included caricatures of black, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish “mascots” labeled with offensive names.

That deeply offended Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who said, “I have a hard time seeing the N-word up there.”

Chair Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, asked Salazar and Melton to stop showing the slides. Melton, Fields and Buckner are black.

The bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where its $200,000 price tag might be an issue, given that the 2015 session has little money to spend on new programs. The funding would be used for grants to school districts to help pay the costs of converting to a new mascot – things like repainting gym floors.

If the bill passes the House it may not get far in the Senate, where majority Republicans generally don’t like what they see as “politically correct” measures like HB 15-1165.

Get a more detailed summary of the bill here.

Committee kills educational savings accounts bill

After more than an hour of questions and testimony, the House Education committee voted 6-5 to kill House Bill 15-1196, a proposal that would have created state-funded savings accounts that parents could have used to pay for education at any school – kind of an electronic voucher system.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Paul Lundeen, former chair of the State Board of Education and a tireless advocate for what he sees as educational innovation.

The Monument Republican said, “We need to move beyond a system of calendars and clocks set to the annual calendar of an agrarian society.” His proposed C-FLEX program “is not a voucher, it’s an educational savings account.”

The bill proposed to establish personal education savings accounts funded by the state and maintained by a third-party administrator that parents could use to buy educational services wherever they chose.

The program would have given preference to special-needs and gifted students but also would have been open to the first 5,000 other families that applied.

Witnesses representing the Colorado Association of Schools Board, Colorado Association of School Executives, and Colorado Education Association opposed the bill, saying it would syphon badly needed funding from public schools.

Jon Paul Burden, director of exceptional student services for the Windsor school district, said the program’s funding structure wouldn’t be sufficient to pay costs for special education students.

And Cindra Barnard, with the Douglas County group Taxpayers for Public Education, called the bill “just another privatization scheme.”

Democrats killed the bill on a party-line vote. The panel’s senior Republican, Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, said he voted for the bill to keep the discussion going, but he noted, “I’m not a big fan of a voucher system, coming from a small district.”

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What’s more important when rating schools?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 16:37

Denver Public Schools is evaluating its schools a little differently next year, due in part to a change in assessments.

Moving forward, the district is also changing its rating formula and there is a shift in what matters and how much.

Previously, Denver put a greater emphasis on a data point called growth. Growth measures how much a student learns year over year compared to their academic peers. That’s compared to status, which measures how close a student is to his or her grade level.

While DPS will still measure a school more by how much its students are learning, a greater portion of the rating system will depend on how many students are at grade level.

There are more detail’s in this story. But all of this brings us to our question of week:


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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

Here’s how Denver schools are going to be evaluated this year

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 14:46

There will be no such thing as a “blue” or “green” school in Denver next year.

That’s because Denver Public Schools plans to temporarily change the way it evaluates its schools due to changes in the state’s assessment system. But district officials say the changes don’t mean schools are getting a reprieve.  

DPS’s School Performance Framework, or SPF, guides some of the district’s most significant decisions about charter school contracts and interventions in district-run schools, the allocation of financial and staff resources, and more. It also influences employees’ compensation, management, and state accreditation ratings. And it’s one tool parents and teachers can use to compare schools.

Schools are rated, from highest to lowest, blue (for distinguished), green, yellow, orange, and red (accredited on probation).

But in 2015, schools will, for the first time since the framework was created, not receive a single overall rating. Instead, schools will receive ratings in each of several categories.

The district is also temporarily removing several measures — such as how many students move between achievement levels on the tests — that will be impossible to determine accurately because of differences between last year’s standardized tests and this year’s.

Close to 60 percent of the framework is tied to test scores and is therefore affected by the state’s transition from the former TCAP tests to the new CMAS, which includes the PARCC English and math exams.

But Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, said “We will still be using the SPF to make decisions,” she said, about school closures, turnarounds, and charter school contracts next year.

The district is also planning to make a more permanent set of changes to the SPF, which would kick in for the 2016-17 school year, to reflect ongoing concerns about how accurately the SPF reflects schools’ quality. Starting in 2016, DPS is planning to increase the weight of overall student performance on state tests and reduce the weight of how much academic progress students make on those exams year-over-year.

Changes for 2015

In 2015, schools will get scores in each of the SPF’s categories instead of an overall ranking.

The district’s executive director of assessment, research and evaluation, Grant Guyer, said that the district is not releasing an overall score because of the transition between assessments and the uncertainty about how to measure how much a student learns in a year will be calculated given that change.

This is what the old School Performance Framework looks like.

The district relies on the state to provide test scores, and it is not yet clear when the Colorado Department of Education will release data from this year’s assessments or how the state will calculate student growth.

The 2015 SPF also won’t include the “Catch-Up” figure, which tracks how many students improve their test scores, or a “Keep-Up” figure, which tracks how many students maintain proficient or advanced scores on the tests, because of difficulties comparing results on last year’s test to this year’s.

This is what next year’s SPF will look like.

Guyer said that despite the temporary changes and omissions, the district will still be able to make comparisons between schools. They’ll do that by seeing where schools stand relative to others that were similar to them in years past.

“If we see significant shifts in how schools compare, that would be one example where we’d still potentially intervene,” he said. “We also get plenty of data around attendance, enrollment, student and parent satisfaction.”

Other tweaks for 2015 include the addition of college remediation rates. The district is doing this to align its evaluation tool to its strategic goals and not as a result of shifting assessments. (Check out the proposed changes here.) 

The district plans to reintroduce an overall rating and the omitted numbers in 2016.

More permanent changes

DPS is also planning to make a slate of more permanent changes to the SPF starting in 2016, including re-establishing an overall ratings for schools.

Talk to us
We want to know what measurement is more important in determining the quality of a school. Answer our question of the week here.

The 2016 SPF will introduce conditions that schools must meet in order to earn one of the top two ratings, green or blue. For instance, a school might have to show that its students’ test scores are improving (“growth”) and also that they are, overall, strong (“status”) to earn one of the top two scores.  

“We want to be signaling to our staff and our community that a green or blue school is a high-quality school,” Guyer said. In the past, some schools with low overall test scores have been ranked green because of their growth.

District officials and education advocates in the city have been debating the SPF for more than a year. There is still not a clear consensus about the respective roles of academic proficiency and academic growth in determining a school’s quality.

“We want ensure we are not creating a system in which socioeconomic or racial factors are a predictor of SPF rating, while also ensuring that we’re not creating a false sense of promise that growth is enough if you never get to proficiency,” Whitehead-Bust said.

The 2016 School Performance Framework will give straight academic proficiency, or status, a stronger weight:

  • Elementary schools will shift from a ratio of 3 to 1, growth to status, to 3 to 2, growth to status.
  • Middle schools will most likely shift from 3 to 1 to 2 to 1 in 2016.
  • High schools will most likely remain at 2 to 1.

A survey of principals showed that they were mostly in favor of the change, Whitehead-Bust said.

A school touts its score in Denver Public Schools’ School Performance Framework.

The district is also considering adding an equity indicator as a way to identify achievement gaps within schools, but few details are public.

District officials said they plann to communicate the final changes to the SPF before the beginning of the 2015-16 school year so schools have time to understand and prepare for the changes.

At a meeting in February, board President Happy Haynes asked whether the district is attempting to use the SPF for too many decisions.

Boasberg said that while the multiple purposes are a “hard aspect” of the SPF, “I’m not sure I want to run from that. The alternative of having multiple different and conflicting systems I think would be even worse. I think it would cause more confusion and less transparency.”

Categories: Urban School News

Childhood poverty finally on the decline, according to KIDS COUNT report

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 13:15

The state’s child poverty rate declined for the first time in five years, falling from 18 percent to 17 percent, according to the latest KIDS COUNT report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The drop likely won’t have a big impact on schools and doesn’t bring Colorado to pre-recession child poverty levels, but represents a bright spot after years of depressing news.

“That was certainly an encouraging number for me,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The annual report, which this year is 172 pages and includes 11 new data topics, tracks the state’s progress on child health, education, and well-being. It’s part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national KIDS COUNT project.

New data

Among the report’s new topics this year are “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” which include poverty, domestic violence, or the death of a parent. A growing body of research indicates that such experiences are risk factors for health problems, difficulties in school, poor quality of life and premature death.

The topic has garnered increasing attention in recent years and is driving national conversations about how to mitigate the alarming long-term effects of childhood trauma.

New in Kids Count this year

The data below are among 11 new additions to the 2015 report:

  • Non-medical use of painkillers among teens (Page 50)
  • Mental health and mental health disparities by race/ethnicity and gender (Pages 52-53)
  • Adverse childhood experiences (Page 56)
  • Child care capacity by county (Page 63)
  • Homeless students by school district type (Page 74)
  • Suspensions and expulsions by race/ethnicity and district type (Pages 83-84)

According to KIDS COUNT, 20 percent of Colorado children under 18 have had two or more adverse childhood experiences. That figure grows to 31 percent for children living in poverty and drops to 9 percent for children from affluent families.

Top counties retain their rankings

As usual, KIDS COUNT illustrates vast differences in child well-being from county to county. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in the report’s annual ranking of child well-being in the state’s 25 most populous counties.

The top six counties — Douglas, Elbert, Broomfield, Boulder, Larimer and Jefferson counties — were exactly the same as last year. In some cases, they are close neighbors to low-ranking counties like Denver and Adams. The ranking is based on a variety of health, education, family, and economic indicators.

Overall child well-being rankings of Colorado’s 25 most populous counties.

Denver, which has always been in the bottom spot before this year, moved up to 24th by switching places with Montezuma County. Five other counties, including Summit, El Paso, Eagle, Garfield and Adams, improved their ranking by at least two spots.

Meanwhile, Teller, La Plata and Fremont all fell in the ranking by at least two spots. Mesa County experienced the biggest drop, falling five spots to 17th. (Logan County also fell two spots, but the report’s authors say the ranking should be considered cautiously because of a data anomaly.)

Education highlights

Other key findings related to education:

  • In 2012, Colorado spent an average of $2,715 less per pupil than the national average, a gap that’s grown every year since 2008.
  • Last year, 75,687 or 9 percent of Colorado’s public school students attended a school in the lowest two state accountability categories — Priority Improvement or Turnaround.
  • This year, 74 percent of the state’s kindergarteners attend full-day programs, up from 40 percent in 2007-08.
  • Wide achievement gaps (28-29 percentage points) continue to exist between Colorado’s low-income and higher-income students in math and reading proficiency. The 2014 reading gap narrowed by three percentage point since 2004 and the math gap widened by a percentage point during that time.
  • While boys have historically performed better than girls in math, that gap was virtually gone in 2014. Meanwhile, boys lag significantly behind girls in reading proficiency (10 percentage points lower) and writing (15 percentage points lower).
  • Last year, black students were more likely to be suspended or expelled than any other racial or ethnic group, experiencing nearly three times the suspensions and expulsions that white students did.


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Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Reforms at North High sticking, working

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 09:28

Do the School shuffle

The Jefferson County school board approved moving a school that serves students with severe emotional needs to a larger and newer campus. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

moving on up

Reform efforts at North High appear to be taking hold and working. ( Denver Post )

Question of the week

Chalkbeat readers told us last week that they the think parents should have to opt out their children of a health survey, not give explicit permission. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Human Resources

A pair of well-known Colorado superintendents are headed to new jobs in other districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Schools across the country are struggling to find substitute teachers. ( AP via KOAA )

safe schools

An Aurora lawmaker says her bill is aimed to prevent students from being arrested or charged with assault for misbehavior that can be handled by a school administrator. ( Aurora Sentinel )

technology in schools

A program in Broomfield connects students interested in performing real-world programs in collaboration with local business and organizations. Saturday, some students programmed two humanoid-like robots called Nao to perform at Flatiron Crossing mall. ( 9News )

Meanwhile, a group of Colorado students from Niwot, Silver Creek, Longmont, Frederick and Lyons high schools have advanced to compete in a national robotics competition in April. ( Longmont Times-Call )


Boulder's Friends' School submitted a video about volunteering to the White House. And President Obama watched it Friday. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: The real story behind the Common Core standards isn’t its upcoming collapse

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 18:38
  • As 29 states and Washington, D.C., start to administer new Common Core-aligned tests, the big story portrayed by the media seems to be the growing grassroots movement against the tests and imminent collapse of the standards. But reality isn’t as cut and dry. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • One middle school teacher asked her students what they expect from their teachers. The response: Students want to be treated with the expectation that they will succeed, not fail. (Center for Teaching Quality)
  • After a New York City elementary school abolished traditional homework for its students last week, the debate over giving take-home assignments to younger children was pushed back into the spotlight. (New York Magazine)
  • Education doesn’t have to be an environment that hinders curiosity among children. Rather than testing and discipline, adults can spark creativity by influencing students to question and explore. (Salon)
  • A small network of nine hedge fund billionaires are on the cusp of remaking New York public schools. (The Nation)
  • After Chicago schools moved away from punishing student misconduct with strict disciplinary action, suspensions in middle schools and high schools dropped across the board — except for the city’s black students. (DNAinfo)
  • A day in the life of an eighth-grade student attending one of New Jersey’s best-performing charter schools. (Politico Magazine)
Categories: Urban School News

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