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Report: How 23 charter schools have ‘personalized’ learning

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 19:09

“Personalized learning” is in — just look to the more-than-$5 million in grants Denver Public Schools has received in recent years to create new personalized learning programs for evidence. But just what makes learning “personalized,” let alone whether such programs work, is less clear.

A new report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation aims to define and analyze the practices and performance of schools focused on personalized learning. It concludes that while early efforts are promising, there remain practical and systemic barriers to expanding programs that aim to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs and skills.

“It seems theoretically like a good idea to let children work at their own pace and continue working on things until they get mastery on a topic,” said John Pane, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation who led research for the report. “But it’s important to see if these schools did produce stronger takeaways than traditional schools.”

On that question, the report, ”Early Progress: Interim Report on Personalized Learning,” is cautiously optimistic. Researchers from RAND found that students in 23 personalized learning schools did better on a computer-based reading and math assessment known as MAP than peers in a control group, and students who started out behind were even more likely to show growth.

But the report notes that overall, it’s not yet clear whether the personalized learning programs are responsible for the gains. Other elements of the schools — all charter schools that use technology in instruction — might help explain the scores, the report notes.

“Clearly it’s not harming students,” Pane said. “And it might be a possible explanation for why they’re doing well. We need to do more work to decide.”

The researchers looked at schools that had been using personalized learning programs for at least two years and had gotten funding from the Gates Foundation or other philanthropies to support technology, professional development, and other elements of personalized learning, but each had designed its program independently. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from the Gates Foundation.)

Although not all of the features were in place at every school studied, researchers found that the schools tended to use:

  • “Learner profiles,” or records with details about each student;
  • Personalized learning plans for each student (students have the same expectation but have a “customized path”);
  • Competency-based progression, in which students receive grades based on their own mastery of subjects rather than on tests that all students take; and
  • Flexible learning environments, in which teachers and students have physical space and time in the schedule for small-group instruction or tutoring.

The report highlights advantages of personalizing learning beyond boosting test scores. Most teachers in the schools reported that they felt supported by administrators and that their professional development helped them tailor lessons to students’ needs.

It also notes areas where teachers said their schools’ personalized learning efforts fell short. Fully half of teachers said the training they got took up more time than it was worth, and only a third said they got data about their students’ performance in subjects other than math and reading. Others said discipline and absenteeism presented challenges.

In Denver, the district is considering creating several new personalized learning-focused schools, including one that would grow out of Grant Beacon Middle School.

Alex Magaña, the principal at Grant Beacon — which was not included in the Gates study — said that when his program adopted a blended learning program and focused on personalizing lessons to students three years ago, test scores and student engagement both improved. He said the school has built a bank of lessons and best practices for its teachers over time.

“Now we have people from around the country coming to visit us and sharing ideas, asking us, what does this look like?” Magaña said. “Because there is no model. That’s the fun part. We get to create it. Yet the gains are showing.”

Vicki Phillips, who heads the Gates Foundation’s U.S. education division, said the results in the 23 schools in the study “give us a sense of what’s possible.”

“We have a lot more to learn and a broader band of schools to see if this is more effective — and a lot more to do to really isolate what works,” she said. “But if we don’t talk about it, we don’t grow or mature as a field.”


Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Coloradans put GOP back in charge

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 09:53

Colorado votes 2014

Last night's seismic shift that resulted from a Republican wave may have serious implications for Colorado's education community. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

According to late returns, Colorado Republicans are in a strong position to take control of both chambers in General Assembly. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

That means the Republican Party picked up at least nine seats in the Colorado House. ( Denver Post )

Two incumbents on the State Board of Education kept their seats. That means the Republican party maintains its control of the school board. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Voters statewide torpedoed Amendment 68, which would have expanded casino gambling. At the same, they approved open negotiations between teachers unions and school districts. Additionally, Denver voters approved a tax increase to fund preschool tax credits. But Adams County residents said no to nine different tax increases ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post, 9News, KDVR )

But Adams 12 voters said no to a a $15 million mill levy override and a $220 million bond. ( Adams County Sentinel )

Voters in Boulder passed a $576.5 million school construction tax increase — the largest in Colorado's history. ( Daily Camera )


Head Start, the federally-funded early childhood education program, is still making a difference in El Paso County where one in six children live in poverty. ( )

No attack ads here

It might have been Election Day in America, but it's STEM week at Aspen Creek K-8 in Broomfield. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Voters reject slots-for-schools plan, pass open negotiations measure

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 22:36

Updated Nov. 5, 7:15 a.m. – Colorado voters continued their anti-gambling tradition Tuesday and defeated Amendment 68, the constitutional amendment that would have expanded casino gambling and devoted some of the revenues to K-12 education.

But voters statewide approved Proposition 104, a measure that will require contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions to be held in public.

Voters delivered a mixed verdict on proposed district tax increases, approving slightly over half of the more than 40 measures on the ballot. The Colorado School Finance Project released this list early Wednesday morning.

Of nine proposed tax increases in five Adams County districts, none passed.

But Boulder voters resoundingly approved a record $576.4 million bond for construction, while in Falcon, a construction bond failed but an override for operating expenses passed.

In Denver, voters approved an increase in the Denver Preschool Program sales tax, from .12 to .15 percent, and an extension of the tax until 2026. (Get background on the program and the tax here.)

Advocates of the DPP say it’s helped ensure school readiness, boost third-grade test scores and improve preschool quality, while skeptics said providing subsidies should be the state’s role, not the city’s, and that the program’s universal approach means that tax-payers are subsidizing preschool for families who don’t truly need the help.

It was a record year for local tax proposals. Some two dozen districts proposed a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides for operating expenses just a year after voters statewide rejected a $1 billion state income tax increase for K-12 funding.

Here are the major proposals:

  • Adams 12-Five Star – $220 million bond, $15 million override – Both fail
  • Boulder – $576.4 million bond – Passes
  • Brighton – $148 million bond – Fails
  • Commerce City – $95.7 million bond, $4.9 million override – Both fail
  • Mapleton – $67 million bond, $2.5 million override – Both fail
  • Westminster – $30 million bond, $2.5 million override – Both fail
  • Falcon – $107.4 million bond, $7.5 million override – Falcon override passes and bond fails

(Get more details on all the 2014 district ballot measures here.)

Districts were hoping for a change in voters’ attitude toward local school taxes—toward which they have often been skeptical—this year. District tax proposals received reasonable support in 2010, but 2011 was the worst year in memory for bonds and overrides. Voters were very supportive in 2012 but returned to their skeptical ways in 2013. Of course, voters rejected statewide proposals to increases taxes for schools in 2011 and 2013.

The gambling proposal would have allowed opening of a full casino at the Arapahoe Park horse track south of Aurora, with one casino each allowed in Pueblo and Mesa counties at later dates, if certain conditions were met. The initiative would have devoted 34 percent of a casino’s adjusted gross casino proceeds to a new K-12 Education Fund, which would have been distributed to districts on a per-student basis. Legislative analysts estimated $114 million in K-12 revenue in 2016-17. (See our archive for more information.)

The proposal drew virtually no support from education groups. Since casino gambling was approved in 1991, Colorado voters have rejected every proposal to expand gaming beyond the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.

Most voters were skeptical of the proposal. “Number one, I’m not for gambling,” said Brittany Moore, of Golden. “Number two, I don’t trust that the money is going to go to the school system like they say it will. I’m sure there is some loophole.”

“I don’t think we need any more opportunities for the working man to throw away his money,” said Phillip Doe, of Jefferson County.

Other voters supported the change. “If they’re going to gamble, it may as well go to schools,” said Jeff Tomlinson, of Denver.

“Every little bit that goes to education helps,” said Christine Davis, also of Denver. “Public schools need more funding.”

More than $30 million—most of it on TV ads—was spent by the two campaigns, the pro side funded by Arapahoe Park’s owner, a Rhode Island casino firm, and the opposition bankrolled by the gaming corporations that own the mountain-town casinos.

“A vigorous campaign was waged on both sides; now Colorado voters have spoken and with their votes have said that they prefer the status quo,” said Monica McCafferty, a spokeswoman for Coloradans for Better Schools, which supported Amendment 68, in a press release.

“Horse racing will continue at Arapahoe Park and the company will continue to be a good neighbor as it always has been,” she wrote. “The company will continue to work with the education community in Colorado in an effort to find ways to improve education in the state.”

“Trying to write special rules didn’t pass muster with voters tonight and it won’t in the future,” said Senate Minorit Leader Bill Cadman, who led a campaign against the amendment, in a statement on Tuesday. “If you want to have casinos in Colorado, then you need to do it in the three towns Colorado voters have set aside for you.”

Proposition 104, drafted and backed by the Independence Institute, requires collective bargaining sessions between school district and employee unions be held in public, as well as school board strategy sessions. It also would require that school board strategy sessions be open.

“The battle to bring sunshine into the smoky back rooms where school districts and teachers union scheme to decide how our kids are to be taught is coming to an end,” said Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute, in an email to supporters.

“I agree [negotiations] should be public,” said voter Dave Giroir, a former member of an electricians union from Lakewood. “It would create confidence in the process.”

“I was glad that was on the ballot,” said Davis, a resident of the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. “It’s a public issue.”

Voter Tomlinson said he voted against. “I don’t think that should be public. It’s the administrators’ job.”

The measure was opposed by most education interest groups, who warned it is vague enough to affect conversations beyond formal meetings and might require clarification by the courts. (Learn more about the measure here.)

“Coloradans have always valued transparency in their government, so it’s no surprise that they support open school board negotiations too,” said Ranelle Lang, a spokesperson for Local Schools, Local Choices, which opposed the measure. “But this measure’s vague wording will leave many school districts unclear on what will now be expected of them. At a time when school districts across the state are struggling to educate rapidly-growing populations of school-age children in Colorado, this measure could take money out of the classroom to pay for the legal counsel needed to help navigate and comply with this new mandate.”

Categories: Urban School News

GOP retains control of state school board, despite big bucks behind Democrats

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 22:30

Updated 11:30 p.m.  – Two incumbents held onto their seats on the State Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, leaving the board’s 4-3 Republican majority in place.

GOP incumbent Marcia Neal of Grand Junction had a 34,000 vote lead over Democrat Henry Roman, a former Pueblo City Schools superintendent, in the sprawling 3rd District at about 11:30 p.m.

In suburban Denver’s 7th District, Democratic incumbent Jane Goff easily defeated Republican Laura Boggs. With 76 percent of the votes counted, Goff led by about five points.

The state board performs a primarily regulatory function and tends to vote unanimously on most such issues. But there are significant philosophical differences between Democratic and Republican members on bigger issues like the Common Core State Standards, testing, local district autonomy and the federal government’s role in education.

Some education reform groups have been worried that continued Republican control could lead to board efforts to pull Colorado out of the Common Core and the PARCC tests.

State Board races typically are quiet affairs, and anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 fewer votes typically are cast in a board race than in a congressional race. (State Board seats are based on congressional district boundaries.)

But there was heightened interest this year because a campaign committee affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform pumped more than $200,000 into campaign literature supporting Roman and Goff and criticizing their opponents.

The 3rd District covers most of western Colorado and stretches east to Pueblo. While the district generally is considered Republican territory, winning vote margins were relatively small in Neal’s 2008 victory and in a prior win by another Republican.

Neal is a former social studies teacher and Mesa 51 school board member who sometimes is a swing vote on the board and who’s been a strong advocate for rural districts. Roman is a former Pueblo 60 superintendent, has worked recently as a charter school consultant and hadn’t previously run for elected office.

The 7th District includes much of Adams and Jefferson counties. Adams County tends to lean Democratic, while Jeffco is pretty evenly balanced between Democratic, Republican and unaffiliated voters.

Goff, of Arvada is a former Jeffco foreign language teacher and administrator who also served as president of the Jefferson County Education Association. Boggs, from Lakewood, is a former Jeffco school board member who was a one-woman conservative minority before the board changed hands in the 2013 election.

Despite losing her race, Boggs said Tuesday was a good night for education. She said,  “Proposition 104 was a huge win. I’m excited for Marcia Neal. So obviously, I’m disappointed about the results in CD7, but a good number of voters — not all voters, but a good number of voters — spoke loudly that they want to break the one-size-fits-all education system.”

The board’s 1st District seat, which primarily covers Denver, was also on the ballot this election, but the only candidate was retired educator Valentina Flores, who defeated a reform candidate in the June Democratic primary. Flores will replace Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman, who chose not to run again.

Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, ran unopposed for a seat in the state House. A GOP vacancy committee will choose a replacement for his District 5 board seat.

Three board members are in the middle of terms and weren’t on the ballot: Republican Pam Mazanec of Larkspur (4th District), Republican Debora Scheffel of Parker (6th) and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder (2nd).

Categories: Urban School News

Republican groundswell could have big implications for education

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 20:44

Updated Nov. 5, 8 a.m. – Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper gained a narrow lead as additional votes were tallied early Wednesday, and some news outlets called the race for the incumbent, apparently leaving GOP challenger Bob Beauprez as the odd man out in a election of big Republican gains.

While the governor’s race went down to the wire, voter intent became clear earlier in other key races and on ballot issues.

Here are the highlights:

Republican candidates were making a run at taking control of both houses of the legislature (see story).

Voters passed a bit more than half of school district tax increase proposals but defeated all of the measures proposed by five Adams County districts. As expected, voters statewide rejected a casino expansion plan that would have generated money for schools and passed a measure that will require district-union contract negotiations to be held in public (see story).

In Denver, voters supported the proposed tax increase and extension for the Denver Preschool Program.

In two races for the State Board of Education, incumbents Republican Marcia Neal of Grand Junction and Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada won reelection, leaving the board with a 4-3 Republican majority (see story)

Battleground Jefferson County state Senate races were very close, with Andy Kerr, chair of the Senate Education Committee, holding a slight lead early Wednesday. Rachel Zenzinger and one other Democrat were trailing, while a fourth Jeffco Democratic senator held a very narrow lead. Democrats appeared to have picked up GOP seats in El Paso and Pueblo counties, while the Democrats looked to be losing a Western Slope district.

While the dominant narrative of Election 2014 was the strong Republican challenges to Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Hickenlooper, control of the State Board, the governor’s office and the legislature, construction funding for school districts and casino-funded revenue for school districts also all were closely watched for their education implications.

A Hickenlooper win would mean Democrats still would have important leverage at the Capitol, even if the GOP takes legislative control.

Two familiar names from past education debates in the House, Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs and Judy Solano of Brighton, were bidding to return to the Capitol on the Senate side. Merrifield was headed to victory while Solano was trailing.

The race for Neal’s 3rd District SBE seat drew late interest because Democrats for Education Reform threw a last-minute slug of independent spending behind Democrat Henry Roman of Pueblo.

Amendment 68’s backers promised that revenues from a casino at the Arapahoe Park horse track would send more than a $100 million to Colorado school districts.

Proposition 104 is a change in state open meetings law that would require public contract negotiations between school districts and employee unions, as well as open strategy sessions of school boards.

At the local level, there were proposed tax hikes in about two-dozen districts. Passage or defeat will have important implications for district construction and renovation plans and for districts’ efforts to raise local revenues to compensate for recent years of state budget cuts.

Key proposals included those in Adams County’s five largest districts, a record bond issue in Boulder Valley that was passed and a bond proposal in fast-growing Falcon, which was defeated.

In Denver, corporate leaders and education reform groups poured significant cash into the campaign for a measure that would increase and extend the sales tax that funds scholarships for the Denver Preschool Program.

Refresh your memory about the top education-related races and issues in our voter guide, and follow Chalkbeat on the web and on social media tonight for the results.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Election Day brings education issues, funding to forefront

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 09:44

Election and Education

Control of the State Board of Education, the governor’s office and the legislature, construction funding for school districts and casino-funded revenue for school districts all depend on the results of today’s election. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Vouch for This

Colorado's supreme court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Douglas County's voucher program is constitutional next month. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Douglas County News-Press )

Herd Immunity

Students without immunizations will not be allowed to attend school in some Colorado districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Money, Maybe

Gov. Hicklenlooper proposes $380 million in increased state spending on education, but a large chunk is a one-time increase. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Tell Us More

Chalkbeat wants to know: How are education issues influencing your vote? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Mix it up

Should there be more to teacher evaluations than student test scores? CPR explores. ( CPR )

Jump Rope

Boulder County teachers get training to bring more movement into the classroom. ( Daily Camera )

Numbers game

Online data tools hope to help students make college decisions. ( Gazette )

Eyes on Colorado

Colorado's election day results have national and local implications. ( Denver Post )

history lesson

A University of Denver report finds that one of the state's first governors is culpable in Sand Creek massacre. ( CPR )

Around the network

In New York, Bill DeBlasio released a plan for school improvement. ( Chalkbeat New York )

Categories: Urban School News

Colorado Supreme Court to hear Dougco voucher case arguments in December

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 19:05

The state’s highest court will hear oral arguments on the Douglas County School District’s voucher program next month.

Arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court, three years in the making, will be at 1:30 p.m., Dec. 10, the Lone Tree Voice reported.

The voucher plan, which has been on hold since 2011 pending litigation, would allow Douglas County students to use public tax dollars to enroll in private — and often religious — schools.

Plaintiffs, who oppose the voucher program, believe the tuition credits would siphon away much-needed revenue from public schools and subsidize religious institutions. In effect, the program is unconstitutional, lawyers argued in a brief filed late last spring with the Colorado Supreme Court.

The suburban school district, in a pair of briefs, fired back that the voucher program provides parents with their constitutionally-protect control over their student’s education. Further, lawyers argued, Colorado’s “deep constitutional roots of local control” allows Douglas County to use tax dollars any way the board of education there sees fit.

Categories: Urban School News

Missing shots means missing school in some districts

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 18:10

Starting today, students without up-to-date immunization records aren’t allowed to attend school in some Colorado districts.

Weld County District 6 officials expected the deadline, which is always the first Monday in November, to affect less than 50 of the district’s 21,000 students. In the Poudre School District, where the deadline is usually Nov. 1, about 400 students lacked up-to-date records as of Friday, but a spokeswoman said many likely remedied that over the weekend. Most of the affected students were sixth-graders lacking their Tdap booster shot, which protects again tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Such “exclusion dates” are not only perfectly legal, immunization advocates say they can be an effective way to get parents to comply with state law and prevent outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough and chicken pox.

In Colorado, which has among the lowest immunization rates in the country, students must have proof they’ve received certain vaccinations to attend school. In lieu of that, their parents may sign a form exempting their children from shots for medical or religious reasons, or because of “personal belief.”

The practice of “exclusion” comes into play when immunization paperwork, whether it’s a child’s up-to-date shot record or a signed exemption form, is missing. While districts like Weld 6 and Poudre typically use exclusion dates as a last-line-of-defense measure, the strategy raises questions about the impact of lost instructional time, often for the students who can least afford it.

“We always have concerns about instructional time,” said Theresa Myers, the district’s director of communications.

Still, she said the district makes a concerted effort to give parents advance notice about the exclusion date, through letters and follow-up phone calls. It also hosts immunization clinics and offers information about community resources for immunization.

FAQ on HB 14-1288

  • A new set of frequently asked questions, posted today by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, provides information about a new state immunization law.

“We give them ample chance and opportunities to get the vaccination records in,” she said.

Danielle Clark, Poudre’s director of communications, said it’s unclear how many students are absent today because of the exclusion deadline since they are lumped in with all absent students. Also unknown is the length of time excluded students stay out of school because of missing immunization paperwork.

The state, which now requires schools to disclose immunization and exemption rates upon request, doesn’t mandate exclusion dates, or track the number of schools or districts that use them. But immunization advocates say exclusion letters—often a version of a state form letter—are fairly common and often get quick results from families.

“Sometimes that’s the best way to get parents’ attention,” said Kathleen Patrick, assistant director of health and wellness at the Colorado Department of Education.

Who gets excluded?

In the K-12 system, kindergarteners and sixth-graders are most likely to miss school because of exclusion dates since certain vaccinations are required by age five and around age 11. In districts offering preschool, the deadlines may affect younger children, who not only need a raft of required shots but typically have greater vulnerability to vaccine-preventable disease.

Schools can actually bar kids who don’t have their shots-or a medical, religious or personal belief exemption-much earlier than November. That’s because State Board of Health rules allow exclusion once parents are given 14 days to get their children vaccinated or prove that the process is underway.

Theoretically, if parents are notified on the first day of school, unvaccinated students could be barred starting the third week—say late August or early September. In practice, that doesn’t happen.

“At the beginning of school it’s a little bit busy,” said Patrick. ”So sometimes immunizations might take a little bit of a back burner.”

Even after things settle down, there’s the October 1 count day to think about. With school funding dependent on how many students show up that day, implementing exclusion dates then doesn’t make sense.

But after count day—and usually a series of reminders from school nurses and even principals—exclusion dates are fair game. Some administrators don’t use them because they want kids in seats, but others believe the threat of communicable disease is a greater concern, said Patrick.

Some districts use a form letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to let parents know their children are missing required shots. The letter warns that children can be excluded if the records aren’t submitted and allows school staff to fill in an exclusion date.

“Sending home an exclusion letter is definitely a tool in the tool kit,” said Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition. “That child that’s out of compliance could bring disease that impacts the whole classroom, the whole school.”

The Boulder Valley School District uses the state letter, said Susan Rowley, the district’s director of health services.

“Non-compliance is truly very low,” she said. “I don’t know that there have been specific kids excluded except in pre-K.”

New legislation

A new Colorado law intended to make schools’ immunization rates more transparent may bolster efforts to ensure students are up to date on their shots. House Bill 14-1288, which took effect July 1, requires schools to disclose immunization rates and exemptions upon request.

Patrick said the state is in the process of offering guidance to school districts about how to calculate immunization and exemption rates. In general, that information should be ready for release by second semester, she said.

“It’s a soft implementation, but definitely in the coming months and for next school year….there’s going to be a lot more support and messaging around telling parents, ‘Did you know you can ask your school what their rates are?’” said Wasserman. “It’s a great tool for parents and parents are thrilled about it.”

Some advocates believe the new law could serve as a consumer-driven lever to push up immunization rates. While many states have rates in the 90-95 percent range for three common kindergarten vaccinations, Colorado and Arkansas bring up the rear with rates in the low to mid-80s. These rates—below the threshold for herd immunity–are a concern for public health experts, particularly because of outbreaks of whooping cough in recent years. The highly contagious disease, also known as pertussis, can be deadly for babies and young children.

Along with disclosure of immunization rates, the new law directs the state to create an online education module on immunization. State officials say that module, which must be approved by the State Board of Health next spring, should be ready in mid-2015.

Categories: Urban School News

Hick proposes big K-12 spending increase – for a year

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 18:06

Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing a $380 million increase in state K-12 spending in 2015-16, but about half of that would be one-time money that the legislature wouldn’t be required to continue providing in future years.

Higher education would receive a 14.1 percent increase under the proposed 2015-16 state budget released by the governor’s office Monday afternoon.

The fate of the K-12 proposal is difficult to predict – regardless of whether Hickenlooper keeps his job in Tuesday’s election.

State law requires the governor to submit a proposed budget to the legislature by Nov. 1 (or the next business day) regardless of whether the chief executive is in the middle of a term, about to leave office or in danger of losing his office.

The deadline is needed so that the legislative Joint Budget Committee and its staff have enough time to analyze the governor’s proposal and start making their own budget plans before the full legislature convenes next Jan. 7. The committee starts that work on Nov. 12 with an in-person briefing on the governor’s budget.

The governor’s K-12 plan In the weeds

Hickenlooper is proposing 2015-16 Total Program Funding of $6.4 billion, up from the current $5.9 billion. Total program is the combination of state funds and local property tax revenues used to support basic district operations.

The plan would raise the current statewide average per-pupil funding of $7,020 to $7,496 in the upcoming budget year, an increase of $475 a student.

However, only $233 of that increase would be generated by the annual inflation and enrollment increases required by the state constitution. The other $242 per student would be paid for with a one-time appropriation of $200 million from the State Education Fund, a dedicated account used to supplement state school support.

That money would go to districts on a per-pupil basis but wouldn’t go into the constitutionally required base that is used when school funding is calculated every year.

So the Hickenlooper plan wouldn’t make a significant permanent reduction in the negative factor, the formula the legislature uses to fit annual state school spending into the overall budget. The current size of the negative factor is estimated at about $900 million below what school funding otherwise would be.

Reduction of the negative factor was a major fight during the 2014 legislative session. Hickenlooper’s initial plan for the 2014-15 budget year, released a year ago, didn’t propose any reductions in the negative factor. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for full background on the issue and on what the 2014 legislature did.)

What they’re saying

Reaction to Hickenlooper’s budget was cautiously optimistic.

“I think it’s very positive that Colorado revenues are up and really encouraging that the governor would increase the percent of K-12 funding,” said Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

But Urschel added, “One of the things I know our members have as a priority is continued restoration of dollars on a permanent basis.”

The plan is “a step in the right direction,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives. “It’s always the case that the governor’s budget is a starting point. … We’re starting at a better place with the budget than we were a year ago.”

Caughey also said that he likes the fact that the $200 million could be spent as districts choose, and that it’s not earmarked for specific programs.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, said the additional $200 million “will make a difference for students and school districts still recovering from past budget cuts.”

But, she added, “There is much more still to be done to repair the damage caused by the budget cuts of the Great Recession.”

Higher education plan a placeholder

The governor’s plan for state colleges and universities proposes a 14.1 percent increase, or about $107 million. Some $30 million of that would go to the new College Opportunity Scholarship program and $75.6 million to institutions.

The budget plan doesn’t divvy up the money among campuses. The Department of Higher Education is in the middle of developing the details of the new funding formula required by a 2014 law, and that will determine which colleges get how much funding. (Get more details on that in this story and on the DHE website.)

Where the budget goes from here

Even if Hickenlooper is re-elected, his budget plan likely will be changed by the 2015 legislature, which holds the primary budget power in Colorado.

Last session lawmakers made considerable changes in his K-12 funding plans, although they largely accepted the governor’s proposal for higher education.

If Republican candidates Bob Beauprez wins on Tuesday, he’ll have the opportunity to make changes in Hickenlooper’s plan.

Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who chose not to run for re-election in 2010, submitted a budget on that Nov. 1. Hickenlooper didn’t propose a revised budget until Feb. 15, 2011, well into that year’s legislative session.

The makeup of the JBC also is awaiting the results of the election. The panel currently has four Democrats and two Republicans because Democrats control both houses. A Republican Senate takeover – the party needs to gain only one seat – would shift the budget committee to 3-3.

Regardless of the membership, the committee has 25 days of budget briefings and hearings with departments scheduled through early January. The briefing for the Department of Education and K-12 funding will be Dec. 10, with the hearing on Dec. 18. The briefing for DHE will be Dec. 4, with hearings 15-17. During briefings JBC staff analysts present details and options to the committee. At hearings department executives answer committee questions.

Categories: Urban School News

Chalkbeat wants to know: How are education issues influencing your vote?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 17:32

Today we’re launching a new feature on our site: “Chalkbeat wants to know.” Every Monday, we’ll 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’ll round up the responses. 

This week’s question: What role — if any — have public education issues played in your vote this election?

Tomorrow, the votes will be tallied in the midterm election, and we’ll know if the state governor’s mansion, Senate seat, legislature and State Board of Education will switch partisan hands. We’ll also find out whether voters said yes to a wide variety of ballot measures, including a proposal to allow casino gambling, which could mean more money for public schools, and to extend a tax to support preschool in Denver. How has education factored into your voting? Let us know! And if you’re still undecided, check out our guide to the education issues of the election here.

Categories: Urban School News

For the Record: Paying for preschool with social impact bonds

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 12:58

Board of Education member Henry Bienen took an unusual step at last month’s meeting: He voted against a plan that came down from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Bienen, a former president Northwestern University, said he was “very uneasy” with a proposal to borrow nearly $17 million from investors in a so-called “social impact bond” (SIB) to pay for a four-year preschool expansion.

“I’m not against social investments,” he said during the meeting. “And I don’t question the good motives of the people who are putting up the money. I think the measurement issue is very difficult, and I think the rate of return, or interest rate, is high.”

Social impact bonds haven’t been around long enough for researchers to have a consensus on the benefits to local governments, which must pay significant start-up costs and set aside money in escrow to make projected repayments. As a result, it's too early to tell whether Bienen is right.

But a review of the loan agreement and related contracts – which were approved by the CPS board and still must go through the City Council -- shows that the deal relies on a complicated formula that poses little risk to investors. That’s due largely to the proven track record of the project’s chosen preschool program, child-parent centers. In addition, investors gain good will and publicity in the deal.

The review of the documents found that:

--Nearly $1.3 million of the $16.6 million loan will never reach CPS. That money will go to pay a third-party project manager, audits, additional social services, and legal fees – including up to $250,000 for the investors’ own legal costs.

--In addition, the city must pay $319,000 for an outside group to evaluate the project in the third and fourth years.

--According to the city’s projections, CPS would pay about $21.5 million over the life of the 16-year program in payments for “savings” from fewer special ed services. However, if the program is more successful than expected, CPS will have to pay more, up to a maximum of $30 million.

--The city expects to kick in an additional $4.4 million in “success payments” based on children’s performance on kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests.

This means that if it's very successful, investors could get back more than double their money over the life of the progam.

City officials have not said how much– if anything – they expect to save. But Emanuel and his supporters have pointed to research on the benefits and long-term cost savings from good early childhood education.

“Each dollar invested is returned to society sevenfold,” said CPS board member Jesse Ruiz during a press conference announcing the project in October. “Because we can’t afford to wait for better fiscal climates, we’ve been searching for every possible dollar to expand high-quality early learning programs. This new initiative is an innovative public-partnership to bring the high-quality child-parent model to more children across Chicago.”

Low risk for high quality

Over four years, the money will pay for slots about 2,600 low-income 4-year-olds to attend child-parent centers that provide preschool, support services, and require strong parent engagement.

A 2002 cost-benefit analysis showed many long-term positive benefits to the centers -- ranging from a 41-percent reduction in special education placement and a 40-percent drop in retention. While child-parent centers serve children up to third grade, the research has found that the preschool participation alone saves taxpayers more than $7 for every $1 spent.

Experts who have tracked their success said it was easy to see why Chicago officials and the lenders zeroed in on the program.

“Most other [social impact bonds] that have been done are treatment programs that don’t have a record that the CPC program has. It’s already a renowned model, by far the most evidence-based program out there,” says Arthur Reynolds, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied Chicago’s child-parent centers for nearly three decades and co-authored the 2002 cost-benefit analysis.

“The risk for investors to come in to fund it is much, much lower,” Reynolds added. “It’s a great way to take a creative financing mechanism and take advantage of the fact there needs to be a larger greater access to high-quality preschool expansion – and really fast-track the expansion of a very strong program that was showing strong evidence […] that things were working well.”

Even before Emanuel announced the expansion, CPCs were already growing in Chicago as a result of an Investing in Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Preschool enrollment has doubled since the 2011-2012 school year, Reynolds said, and many programs offer a full day of preschool. The social impact bond will only cover a half-day of services.

Reynolds said he’s been helping the mayor’s office on the proposal since last fall, when the city won technical assistance from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government’s Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab. The lab provides pro bono full-time fellows to governments implementing “pay-for-success” contracts.

Understanding the loan

If approved by City Council, the bond program would become the fifth in the country.

As in the other programs, Chicago would not borrow the money directly from the lenders – which include the Goldman Sachs Social Impact Fund, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation. The foundation is serving as the subordinate lender, meaning it’ll take any financial hits before the banks -- which reduces the banks' risk. The Pritzker family has been a longtime advocate of early chidlhood education.

As an added bonus, banks can use the social-impact bonds to boost their ratings under the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages lending in low-income communities.

The preschool loan money goes to an intermediary project coordinator, IFF Pay For Success I, LLC, a limited liability company set up by IFF, a lender and consultant to non-profits.

IFF then loans the money to the city, which will in turn disperses most of the funds to CPS.

However, a portion of the loan goes toward other costs. These include $470,000 for IFF’s services; $200,000 for Metropolitan Family Services for parent support and training; $170,000 in audit fees; $75,000 for IFF’s legal fees; and $100,000 for the city’s and CPS’s legal fees.

IFF is responsible for hiring an evaluator, whose fees are paid during the first two years by the Finnegan Family Foundation. The city must come up with $319,000 to pay its fees during the last two years of the loan disbursement.

As students in each cohort take kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy tests, IFF will take money out of the $4.4 million that the city must put into escrow to pay back the investors according to the evaluator’s findings.

In addition, next year CPS must begin to budget for its own projected payments for special education requirements; some years, CPS expects to set aside as much as $1.9 million to make the payments.

Those who are skeptical of social impact bonds have said that the escrow payments and administrative costs to government make them tough to justify on economic terms. At the end of the day, they say, governments are simply kicking the can down the road instead of paying to provide services up front.

In a 2013 report on a Massachusetts proposal to use SIBs for a prisoner re-entry program, Kyle McKay, who was then a policy analyst for the state’s Department of Legislative Services, said that a direct government investment was likely to have a greater impact and pose less risk than SIB financing.

“Given the difficulty of linking the evaluation of a social program to a highly complex contract centered on an outcome payment, the government may actually increase its operational risks in undertaking a SIB,” McKay wrote. “The government would also need to budget upfront for the contingent liabilities of outcome payments. As a result, a SIB program would increase both budgetary pressure and operational risks.”

Calculating “success” payments

Under the Chicago proposal, the loan will pay for 374 half-day slots in the first year; 782 slots in both the second and third years; and 680 slots in the fourth and final year. Six sites have already been chosen to receive funding this year: De Diego, Melody, Peck, Thomas, Wadsworth and Hanson Park elementary schools; two additional sites will be added next year.

According to the city’s evaluation plan, students in the “treatment group” will be compared to students from similar low-income neighborhoods who did not attend preschool at any CPS site or at any Head Start site that’s overseen by the city.

City officials did not explain how the control group of children would be identified, considering Emanuel’s goal of providing preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds by next year.

The biggest loan repayments come from the expectation that the children who attend preschool at child-parent centers will be less likely to use special education services for mild disabilities than those who never went to preschool at all -- a projection based on the earlier cost-benefit analyses.

“Without additional support, many of these children may end up being diagnosed with a mild learning disability, emotional disturbance, or developmental delay including speech and language impairment,” according to the evaluation plan. “For these children, additional support in the classroom and at home can help ensure that they stay on track developmentally with their peers, avoiding the need for years of special education purposes.”

Children with severe disabilities, including autism or deafness, will be excluded from the study group.

When the first cohort of students enters kindergarten, CPS will begin paying the lenders for each fewer child who needs special education services when compared to the control group. CPS will pay $9,100 per child annually, an amount that increases by 1 percent each year.

The city did not provide Catalyst with a breakdown of how it calculated the $9,100 figure, but said it was “based on the time that teachers spend with children with specific learning disability types and the cost associated with that time per student.”

Other measurements, PARCC concerns 

The evaluator will measure “kindergarten readiness” through an assessment that’s already used in CPS preschools. For each child in the “treatment group” who performs at or above the national average on at least five of the six sections of the assessment, the city will repay lenders $2,900. The city projects half of the children will score high enough to trigger the payments.

Meanwhile, third-grade literacy will be measured using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a new test to which CPS is transitioning this year. The new assessment is aligned to the controversial Common Core State Standards and is considered more rigorous than current state tests.

The projections indicate that half of third-graders will be at “grade level,” meaning they score at or above the 25th national percentile on reading portions of the PARCC. Under the agreement, the city will pay lenders $750 for each child that meets that benchmark.

But the city and lenders have agreed to reconsider using this test if CPS students don’t do as well as expected.

“At the time of drafting this analysis, the PARCC test has yet to be officially implemented in CPS schools,” according to the documents. “Given the uncertainty of performance on this test and how its outcomes will compare to past tests taken by CPS students, the evaluator may suggest amendments to the definition of reading ‘on grade level’ that could include utilizing a different test or metric.”

Parents who have been protesting the PARCC and the use of other high-stakes tests in CPS said they were surprised to know the scores wouldn’t necessarily be used to determine payment to investors.

“It’s really concerning to have financial deals based on test scores. You’re going to get paid back on how kids score, compounding the fact things are already too high stakes,” says Cassie Cresswell, of the group More Than A Score. “Why not gather some political will to really fund these programs that work?”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: ISAT scores stagnant, college disparities, consultants with clout

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 10:56

CPS did not have a major announcement about this year's state test scores--and it turns out the scores remain exactly the same as last year's, with 52.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. Whatever the caveats, the figures and the lack of upward movement don't look good, especially with the district about to move to a new, more difficult exam aligned to the tougher Common Core standards.Also, the achievement gap widened: average scores for black and Latino students fell slightly, while white and Asian students posted tiny gains.

With the state officially releasing report cards on Friday, CPS finally posted ISAT information on district and individual school performance on its website. Historically, CPS would release the scores some time over the summer.

Scores on the NWEA,  another test that CPS students must also take, have not been released by race.

2. Welcoming schools worse off... Catalyst’s analysis shows that 35 of 52 schools, or more than two-thirds of the official welcoming schools that took in children displaced by closings, posted decreases in ISAT scores. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the highest-performing welcoming schools saw the biggest drops. The top 10 welcoming schools in 2012-2013--the year before the closings--saw an average of a 17 percentage point decrease on the ISAT. Only one--Hefferan--did not have a significant decrease.

For example, Leland, a small kindergarten through third-grade school in Austin, had nearly 80 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding standards in 2012-2013. Last year, only 33 percent of third graders met or exceeded standards. Another school, Courtenay, was a small school where more than 70 percent of students met or exceeded standards. It was combined with Stockton, a poor-performing school. Many Courtenay parents were outraged and took their children out. The result was that Courtenay was no longer the same school--and scores dropped 20 percent in just one year.

The Chicago Sun-Times concludes that, when using ISAT data as a barometer,  the performance of welcoming schools was a mixed bag at best. Six of the eight CPS schools that saw the biggest decreases in meeting/exceeding on the ISAT were welcoming schools. However, some (about 10) official welcoming schools saw increases in ISAT scores.

The Sun-Times points out that one of Byrd-Bennett’s promises was that students would wind up in better schools. Confronted with the analysis, CPS officials just e-mailed a statement, saying  that the district “continues to work to offer all students a high-quality education.”

The results are especially disappointing considering the district spent $285 million at welcoming schools. This money paid for iPADs, computers, long-needed renovations and labs for schools that were designated as International Baccalaureate or STEM, as well as extra staff and resources to help with the transition.

3. Opt-out info… That students were forced to take the ISAT, even though it won't be used for accountability purposes, sparked a big, embarrassing opt-out push. CPS officials downplayed the number of students who opted out, but activist parents say they think about 2,000 students sat out the test.

This is important for the upcoming year when CPS students will again be forced to take two standardized tests in the spring. The state will be using the PARCC for accountability purposes and the district will use the NWEA. Byrd-Bennett says she wants to delay districtwide implementation of the PARCC, perhaps in hopes of avoiding another opt-out push.

Activists hoped to use the ISAT information posted Friday to prove their point that a lot of students opted out. Overall, about 5,000 fewer students took the ISAT in 2013 than did in 2014, while only 1,800 fewer third to eighth graders were enrolled in CPS schools. Yet there could be many reasons for the number of ISAT test takers to be low, such as more students taking the alternative test for disabled students. More Than A Score leader Cassie Creswell says she will submit a Freedom of Information Act to request for the actual numbers.

The numbers indicate that at some schools the push to have students opt-out was successful. At Saucedo, where teachers took a stand against the ISAT, the number of students who took the ISAT dropped from 765 to 247, though the school had more third to eighth grade students. Also at Drummond, a Montessori magnet school on the North Side, so few students took the ISAT that CPS did not post detailed information about performance following a policy that the district shields categories of less than 10 students. Though about 176 students were enrolled in third through eighth grade at Drummond, only 31 students took the ISAT.

4. College disconnect… The Chicago Tribune focused their coverage of the school report card release on the disconnect between the number of students who are college-ready. Statewide, within 16 months of graduating from high school, 70 percent of students enrolled in college. Yet only 25 percent of students were college-ready according to the ACT definition, and only 46 percent according to the state’s definition. The Tribune quotes Elaine Allensworth from the Consortium on Chicago School Research who notes that high-stakes tests are not the only factor that determine whether someone does well in college.  The report cards do not include information on college persistence, but studies have shown that grades, not test scores, are a better predictor of whether students stay in college.  

The Tribune also points out CPS had a below-average college-going rate of 67 percent, but that the selective enrollment schools had some of the highest rates in the state. On average,  only 27 percent of CPS students were deemed college- ready. The highest college-going rate was at Catlin High School in Vermilion County, east of Champaign. However,  most students are not "college ready" and go to the local community college. Glenbrook South is one of the few districts that doesn't have a disparity in college-readiness and college-going. 

5. Clout consultants… The Sun-Times reports this morning about dozens of high paid, politically connected consultants working as employees or subcontractors with CPS contracts to manage “small renovation projects” done by other contractors. Among two examples are former CPS COO Sean Murphy and former CTA Chief Operating Officer Richard Rodriguez. Murphy gets paid a whopping $388,000 as the subcontractor to URS Corporation. That is a good deal more than he made while working for CPS and more than Byrd-Bennett makes. Rodriquez, who currently serves as chairman for the UNO Charter School Network, works for Lend Lease, which has been paid $10.9 million by CPS since 2012.

While the fact that these guys are politically connected is worrisome, the story also begs the question of whether the district could get this work done for far less than it is paying. It also reminds us that CPS still only has an interim inspector general, even though it has four months since the former inspector general resigned.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Center superintendent to continue controversial punishment

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 10:00

Testing madness

Two more Colorado school districts want waivers from state tests. But some of those tests are required by federal law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

High school seniors in the Thompson School District will have a few extra days before they take the next round of standardized tests because of connection problems throughout the district. ( Reporter-Herald )

Thinking inside the box

A Colorado superintendent will continue to ask students who misbehave to study in 4-by-6-foot rooms, instead of being expelled. The Center School District leader says this approach is leading to a decline in dropouts. ( AP via Gazette )

The Colorado Department of Education does not monitor how schools discipline students statewide, because of local control laws. ( The Denver Channel )

Human Resources

According to an open records request, not a single Colorado teacher has lost their license for being a weak educator. ( KDVR Fox 31 )

Election 2014

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to support tax increases to support four Adams County school districts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The Boulder Valley School District is asking voters to approve a $576 million bond question — which would be the largest amount in Colorado history. ( 9News )

Ya Basta!

A methodical and strategic approach by Denver Public Schools to improve southwest Denver schools is fine, The Denver Post editorial board says. But it shouldn't have taken this long for the conversation to start. ( Denver Post )

Taking a toll (road)

Parents of a Denver elementary school worry what sort of unintended consequences could disrupt their school if a plan to widen Interstate 70 come to fruition. ( Denver Post )

Stolen thunder(bolt)

A thief or thieves stole 18 computers from Denver's Manual High School. ( 9News )

It's all about STEM

Some Jefferson County students are developing an understanding that what they're learning in the classroom has real-world applications due to a partnership with Xcel Energy, which sends mentors to classrooms. ( Denver Business Journal )

A Cherokee Trail High School shop class has replaced its saws with lasers. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Seven Pueblo schools have received mini-grants to be used for science projects or equipment. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Healthy schools

About 95 teachers from eight Boulder Valley schools attended a training sessions on classroom movement. The goal was to increase classroom movement and student achievement. ( Daily Camera )

Parents at a Longmont high school — saying research shows teens simply aren't wired to wake up early — want classes to start no earlier than 8 a.m. ( Daily Camera )

Could our sedentary schools be a root cause to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? One research thinks so. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

Contributions ramp up in Adams school tax campaigns

EdNewsColorado - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 23:38

Campaign committees supporting tax increases in five Adams County school districts have raised nearly $260,000, according to final pre-election spending reports filed with the Department of State.

Committees in the Adams 12-Five Star, Brighton, Commerce City, Mapleton and Westminster districts grew their combined war chests by about 50 percent since the previous set of reports were filed on Oct. 14.

Those five districts all have bond issues and/or tax override proposals before voters, believed to be the first time all five large districts in the western end of the county have been on the ballot at the same time.

Those districts are among some two-dozen statewide that are proposing a total of about $1.5 billion in bond issues and tax overrides. (See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this story for details on those proposals, and see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more background.)

A total of nearly $475,000 has been raised statewide by district campaign committees. The largest single amount is the $99,000 raised by Citizens for District 49, which is supporting the bond and override proposed by the Falcon district.

The statewide total doesn’t include the $395,450 raised in Denver by the Preschool Matters committee, which is backing the proposed increase and extension of the sales tax that funds scholarships for the Denver Preschool Program (see story). All the district proposals elsewhere involve property taxes.

The largest amount of money raised in Adams is the $87,697 collected by IAM27J, the committee backing the $148 million bond proposal in the fast-growing Brighton district.

Citizens for Adams 12 Schools has raised $85,220 in that district, while Yes for Mapleton has raised $37,855, Our Schools – Our Community in Westminster has raised $37,189 and the We Believe committee in Commerce City has raised $11,864. The reports covered activity through Oct. 26 and were filed Friday.

The largest contributors to most committees are bond advisors, construction companies and developers.

For example, investment banker Stifel Nicolaus has contributed a total of $27,500 to Citizens for Adams 12, while contractor Adolphson & Peterson has given $15,000.

Shea Homes and Oakwood Homes have each donated $10,000 to IAM27J, which also has received funding from several construction companies.

The Yes for Mapleton committee has received $7,388 from investment bank George K. Baum & Co. (That contribution came in after the latest report so is in addition to the committee’s reported total.) The group also has received $10,500 from the Mapleton Education Foundation.

Falcon’s campaign also is heavily funded by developers and construction companies.

The largest single proposal this year is Boulder’s $576.4 million bond issue. But the Yes on 3A committee has raised a relatively modest $37,778.

Most committees statewide reported substantial jumps in spending from Oct. 14 to Oct. 31 as mail balloting began and the election date neared. Committees had spent a combined total of nearly $400,000 as of the Oct. 31 report.

This story was updated and corrected on Nov. 3 to include information about the Westminster campaign.

What districts are proposing

This spreadsheet includes information gathered by the Colorado School Finance Project as of Oct. 6.

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Categories: Urban School News

Weekend reads: A classroom role reversal sparks inspiration and sympathy

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 15:29
  • A teacher spent two days shadowing students and came away with inspiration and sympathy. (Answer Sheet)
  • The mother of a child with special needs notes problems with evaluating nonverbal children. (Uncommon Sense)
  • Teachers unions are pressing Time Magazine to apologize for its cover story about “rotten apple” educators. (HuffPo)
  • The KIPP charter network is moving beyond the basics to invest heavily in technology-infused instruction. (Hechinger)
  • Getting low-income kids to go to school more frequently could have a big impact on test scores. (Vox)
  • California students lost a wormy science experiment in this week’s NASA rocket explosion. (Oakland Tribune)
  • Los Angeles officials are working feverishly to fix sweeping errors in high school transcripts. (L.A. School Report)
  • U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has softened on testing. Some say the president pushed him to. (Politics K-12)
  • Some say teachers unions have turned on the Common Core, but the truth is more complicated. (Ed Next)
  • An internal memo reveals the lengths that Teach For America goes to to combat what it sees as criticism. (The Nation)
  • Kids who don’t love science class love watching YouTube-star science teachers. Here’s why. (Atlantic)
  • Stock photos tell hilariously misleading stories about teaching. (Buzzfeed)
Categories: Urban School News

School board testing discontent rumbles louder as more districts ask for waivers

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 11:48

Two more Colorado school boards have passed resolutions requesting waivers from state testing requirements, even though federal law bars such exemptions.

Boards in Montrose County and Dolores County both unanimously passed resolutions earlier this month. The Montrose resolution petitions “the Colorado State Board of Education for a 5-year waiver from PARCC and CMAS testing requirements.”

As Dolores Superintendent Bruce Hankins readily acknowledged, “Most people realize it’s a symbolic gesture, but I think it’s a gesture that needs to be out there.”

The board in Colorado Springs District 11 was first out of the box this year when it passed a similar resolution in September. The district since has decided not to press its request with the state Department of Education. But board vice president Elaine Naleski told the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We’re not ready to just drop everything. We’re still having the conversations.” (See full Gazette story here.)

Also in September, delegates attending a Colorado Association of School Boards meetng passed resolutions calling on the state to reduce testing to federal minimum requirements, allow parents to opt out of state tests without penalty to districts and to let districts use approved alternative tests instead of the state’s CMAS program.

“We hope that many, many districts will follow suit,” said Montrose Superintendent Mark MacHale, while noting, “We’re under no fantasy that the state board will grant this.” But it’s important to raise the issue, he said, “Because most of us feel our voices have been lost.”

Prompted by district concerns and State Board questions, CDE officials recently queried the U.S. Department of Education about testing flexibility. The answer was that the state has few if any options on measures suggested by testing critics, such as sample testing and use of local tests. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for more details.)

Do your homework

Jane Urschel, CASB deputy executive director, said it’s hard to guess how many more school boards may pass testing resolutions but noted, “At the CASB delegate assembly the conversation was that there’s too much assessment, and the majority of people feel that way.”

Paula Stephenson of the Rural Alliance said small districts feels their concerns haven’t been addressed in the past. “As a result, more and more of our member districts, with the support of their parents and communities, are standing up and saying, ‘This is not OK. We will no longer stand idly by and voluntarily participate in reform measures that we know are harmful to our schools and students.’”

Testing worries aren’t limited to only small districts. Several big-district superintendents who participated in a Denver panel discussion on Wednesday were critical of the state’s current testing system. (See this story for what they said.)

Debate about the state testing system has been bubbling for a year but seems to have intensified in recent months.

New online social studies and science tests were given in two grades last spring, and the somewhat sobering scores were released just this week (see story).

Next spring’s online language arts and math tests for grades 3-11 are fast approaching, raising anxiety levels in many districts, and the testing window for 12th grade science and social studies tests opens next week.

MacHale is skeptical of the value of those tests, noting, “We will get the results back when they’re in college.”

“What are we going to do with that?” asked Hankins.

An appointed Standards and Assessments Task Force has been studying the issue over the summer and fall and is supposed to make recommendations to the 2015 legislature. The group hasn’t yet made any major decisions and has three more meetings scheduled.

The State Board has discussed testing several times in recent months, and the issue is expected to come up again in November. Montrose district leaders want to make their case to the board in person.

The upcoming legislative session will be key. “I think people may be waiting to see what happens at the Capitol,” Urschel said. “Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in control, one of the top issues is going to be assessment.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Proponents of change in southwest Denver schools disagree on specifics

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 09:06

Pick a plan...

Southwest Denver parents and activists told board member Rosemary Rodriguez that DPS needs to come up with a plan for their schools—but disagreed on just what that plan should be. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Preschool Really Matters

Preschool Matters has raised nearly $400,000 to push for an extension of Denver's preschool tax. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

green schools

The U.S. Green Building Council's Colorado chapter highlighted work in Colorado to make environmentally sound schools. The University of Denver will host a green buildings conference in November. ( Education Week )

State Board

Colorado's state board of education races are drawing more attention and money than usual. ( Denver Post )

mental health

Sarina Gonzales is Colorado's secondary counselor of the year. ( Daily Camera )

This class is on fire

The U.S. Chemical Board studied several classroom fires, including one in Colorado, and determined that science teachers need more safety training. ( Aurora Sentinel )

money matters

Colorado superintendents say they want fewer laws dictating what they can do and more money to do it. ( Arvada Press )

Reach Higher

Michelle Obama has announced a video contest encouraging students to apply for FAFSA or show off college programs. The prize: The first lady speaking at your school. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Unsharing spaces

In Memphis, the school district is backing away from "co-locating" traditional schools with charter schools. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )

Us, Too

Large suburban and countywide districts call for testing flexibility. ( Education Week )

Socratic Seminar

Kids talk about Socrates as part of NPR's 50 Great Teachers project. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Campaign for Denver preschool tax raises nearly $400,000

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 16:14

The campaign that’s pushing for extension of Denver’s preschool sales tax has raised $395,450 for its effort to persuade Denver voters to pass measure 2A.

The Preschool Matters committee has spent $391,952 for mailers, yard signs and other advertising, according to the group’s final disclosure statement before Tuesday’s election.

Major contributions of note during the most recent reporting period include $25,000 from DaVita, $15,000 each from Xcel Energy and the Gary Community Investment Co. and $10,000 apiece from education philanthropist Joan Brennan and the Merage Foundation.

The campaign also reported a $100,000 in-kind contribution from Entravision, a Spanish-language media company with operations in Denver. (See the full list of recent contributors here.)

Measure 2A proposes to increase and extend the sales tax that funds tuition credits for families participating in the Denver Preschool Program. The measure would increase the tax from .12 to .15 percent and extend it until 2026.

Read about prior campaign fundraising here, and learn more about the Denver Preschool Program and the ballot proposal in this story.

Categories: Urban School News

In Southwest Denver, calls for change but clashes on details

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 14:11

Southwest Denver parents and activists are pushing the district to move faster to improve schools in the neighborhood, but are still far from a consensus on exactly what changes are needed.

At a community meeting convened on Wednesday by Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez and a coalition of advocacy organizations, residents and advocates agreed that a plan to boost the neighborhood’s struggling schools was overdue. But they disagreed about whether charter schools or in-district solutions would be most effective and about how the district should serve the area’s many English learners.

This week’s meeting comes on the heels of DPS’s decision to delay plans to open two new schools in southwest Denver next year, including one run by charter operator Strive.

DPS officials say they are working steadily to improve schools despite the delay, but parents and advocates have claimed change is not coming quickly enough.

The quality of schools in the southwest, which is home to some 22,000 students, has been the subject of concern and discontent for years.

“This is something that’s been going on for decades and generations. The school board has known it, the superintendents have known it,” said Marco Antonio Abarca, a board member of Latinos for Education Reform.

Wednesday’s meeting began with a barrage of statistics illustrating the neighborhood’s plight drawn from a report called “Ya Basta”—Enough is Enough—released by a coalition of local advocacy groups last spring.

“We’re saying that now is the time for change,” said Van Schoales, the CEO of A+ Denver, one of the groups behind the report.

“We’re here to demand from the school district high-quality public schools in southwest Denver,” said Oscar Castillo, a member of Stand For Children. “It’s disappointing to see a slow response on the part of the district.”

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaPadres & Jovenes Unidos co-director Ricardo Martinez, right, at Abraham Lincoln High School on Wednesday.

Castillo and other parents spent the evening advocating for more school choice, more high-quality elementary schools, and better transportation options in the neighborhood. One mother described how her child had to travel an hour to get to school. Another said students need a restorative justice system, healthy food, high standards, and extended time in school.

Schoales said efforts in the Far Northeast, where many schools have undergone intense turnaround efforts and others have been converted into charter schools, could be a model for improvements. Several parents said they hoped Strive and DSST, networks of high-performing charter schools, would move into the area, and one charter operator used the public comment section to recruit families.

But Padres & Jovenes Unidos, originally slated to cohost the event, chose not to host because it did not agree with the other sponsoring groups—Stand For Children, Latinos for Education Reform, A+ Denver, and Democrats for Education Reform—that charter schools are the answer.

Members still showed up to the Wednesday’s meeting to call for change.

“Our strong recommendation is to improve our schools, not to replace our schools,” said Ricardo Martinez, the group’s co-director. “Not all charters are bad. They’re good incubators for best practices. But we feel the incubation period is over. We know what works and we should do our most to replicate those practices in our schools.”

In this heavily Spanish-speaking neighborhood, there was also disagreement about how the district should work with students who are learning English.

One commenter said research showed students should begin learning English at the very beginning of their school careers. A first-year Teach For America corps member spoke in both English and Spanish to illustrate the benefits of bilingual education.

Darlene LeDoux, DPS director of academic achievement for English learners, said the district’s current program, in which some students learn in their native language before focusing on English, is research-based and benefits students. “It’s imperative to retain culture and the connection to family,” LeDoux said.

Nearly a third of the comments came from school and advocacy group leaders. Two staff members at Compass Academies, which plans to open in the neighborhood next year, used the comment time to present a slide show featuring images of teachers and kids. And David Hicks, founder of the Colorado Construction Institute, described his school—now in its second year—and said the district shouldn’t neglect career education in favor of college preparation for all.

Rodriguez told the crowd that she planned to share their perspectives with the district. She said she planned to host additional meetings and events, including having a college fair for elementary-aged students in the area and having a community-wide conversation about restorative justice and bullying.

Though the meeting was not organized by DPS, district officials and board president Happy Haynes came to listen to comments and talk to attendees. DPS officials have said they are already working with community members and schools in southwest Denver to address concerns.

After the meeting, Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said she and other DPS staff had already been in conversations with community members in the neighborhood. She said the district was taking a different approach to school improvement in southwest than it had in northeast Denver, where dramatic changes and turnaround efforts led to some pushback from community members.

She said parents in southwest should already be seeing some improvements. One school is receiving a new leader; other principals are learning strategies for coaching teachers. “The principal should be more visible, there should be changes in the kind of work students are doing…it’s not nearly as flashy as, we’re going to shut this school down and bring in a brand-new program, but it’s the kind of work that will pay off.”

“You heard here in the room this tension between urgency and, don’t close down all our schools, don’t make the same mistakes,” she said. “I thought it was a very balanced conversation around the role high-performing charters can play, about the role of improving neighborhood schools. I think it’s really a good way to move into a region-wide approach to thinking about this.”

Rodriguez said more people came to the meeting than she had anticipated. “People thought there was an opportunity to be involved. People are aware we have room to grow and want to come up with steps to achieve it.”

She said she wasn’t surprised that most of the meeting participants had ties to the advocacy groups that had organized the meeting.

“They wouldn’t join an advocacy group if there weren’t something to advocate for,” Rodriguez said.

Categories: Urban School News

Dyett supporters vow to fight for "green tech" plan

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 10/30/2014 - 11:59

The announcement last week that CPS reversed course and now plans to reopen Dyett High, set to close at the end of the school year, was a hard-won battle for community activists. But the war is not over.

Members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School and Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization gathered this week at City Hall to issue a no-confidence vote – symbolized by slips of yellow paper – for the reelection of 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns. The Washington Park school is in Burns’ ward and has been a flashpoint in the alderman’s relationship with some in the community.

KOCO’s Jitu Brown said the demonstration was a result of Burns’ recent comments on WVON-AM Radio, which Brown called a “smack in the face” that would lead to Burns’ “political death.”

On WVON’s Matt McGill Show earlier this week, Burns discussed the recent developments regarding Dyett. He explained that the request-for-proposals CPS will issue for the school as it seeks a new operator for it will make it “very clear” that Dyett will not be a charter or alternative school and would be an open-enrollment, neighborhood high school.

“If there are groups in the community that have an idea and have the extra piece,” Burns said on the show, “it’s their opportunity to come forward with a plan to run Dyett and bring it to the Board of Education.”

Burns made no mention of the coalition’s existing plan to turn Dyett into a school whose curriculum would be based on teaching “global leadership and green technology.” The academic plan was developed over several years, Brown said, and has the partnership of several outside institutions as well as the input and support of more than 2,000 Bronzeville community members.

“Thousands of people in the ward have said what they want,” Brown said. “This is not some cockamamie plan. We’ve been dreaming about what should be happening in this community [since 2008], so we are not going to let some [private] contract operators go into these schools.”

Other speakers talked about mobilizing voters to elect a new alderman in the 4th Ward and pressuring CPS officials to skip the RFP process in favor of the full proposal from the coalition.

At the end of the press conference, the activists relocated to the City Council Chambers, calling out Ald. Burns in the middle of a budget hearing and chanting, before being escorted out by security.

Categories: Urban School News

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