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In quest to put more local foods in school cafeterias, district treads new ground

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 15:52

Last fall, Denver Public Schools had a zucchini problem.

The district’s school farms had produced a bumper crop of the vegetable, some of which had been damaged by hail. Administrators couldn’t use it all as a fresh ingredient in school meals, but they didn’t want it to go to waste either. That’s when they turned to their northern neighbor, Weld County School District 6, for help.

Under the leadership of Nutrition Service Director Jeremy West, the Weld 6 team  grated and packaged 445 pounds of the product, most of which was returned to Denver for later use in zucchini muffins. Those muffins were served to DPS students one day in February.

“It’s great having that kind of partnership,” said Anne Wilson, the Farm to School coordinator for DPS. “Had he not been able to process it, we might not have been able to use it.”

Grating zucchini for students in another community may sound like an odd project for a school district, but it fits perfectly into West’s ambitious plans to turn the district into a food hub that will help put more locally-grown foods on the plates of Weld 6 students as well as those in other districts.

While food hubs come in many forms—often stand-alone wholesale distribution centers–their general purpose is to aggregate, process and redistribute local products to area customers. Such operations can help buyers circumvent some of the problems that otherwise make local purchases challenging. These include connecting with small local growers, cobbling together the necessary quantities of ingredients, navigating storage and delivery logistics, and tackling time-consuming food prep tasks such as washing and chopping hundreds of pounds of produce.

A food hub is hardly typical terrain for a school district, but many think it’s a worthwhile endeavor with the potential to break new ground in the farm-to-school movement. Deborah Kane, national director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program, described West’s food hub plans as unique, then added, “not just unique, but brilliant.”

She said school districts across the country regularly call her program wondering how to source and obtain local products. Often, her answer is, “Try to find a food hub.”

In Weld 6, several factors appear to make the concept a good fit, at least theoretically. In addition to a huge central production kitchen, a rare breed in the school food world, the project complements the district’s recent conversion from heat-and-serve food to scratch-cooked meals.

There’s also the district’s location in one of Colorado’s most bountiful agricultural counties. Weld County has 3,525 farms, more than any other Colorado county, and is second only to Las Animas County in total farm acreage, according to the USDA’s 2012 Agricultural Census.

“We just have a great opportunity in Northern Colorado to really tap into local agriculture,” said West. “If we can’t get it done here, I’m not sure where we can get it done.”

A gradual launch

Conversations about a possible food hub in Weld 6 began about three years ago. West heard about the concept from members of the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and was intrigued. The district had recently re-opened its long dormant central production kitchen, which, in addition to 11,500 square feet of food prep space, had about 20,000 cubic feet of refrigerated storage and 85,000 cubic feet of frozen storage.

“The thought was, ‘How can we make that concept work in a functioning kitchen that already has staff, that already has some infrastructure?’” said West. “That’s why it became attractive to look [at].”

Currently, there are five food hubs in Colorado, according to the USDA’s food hub directory. These include cooperatives in Denver and Fowler and private companies in Colorado Springs, Delta and Fort Collins.

Around the same time West began learning about food hubs, staff at the Weld County Department of Public Health Environment were also becoming interested in the concept. For them, the primary goal was to keep more Weld County products in the region.

Leslie Beckstrom, healthy eating and active living coordinator for the department, said while there were also preliminary conversations with two area food banks about housing the food hub, District 6 ultimately proved to be the most workable option.

“They have three months in the summer, which also coincides with the large growing season here in CO,…when there’s not a whole lot going on,” she said. “There’s some really nice overlapping unused capacity so to speak.”

This crate of chopped onions in the freezer in the Weld 6 kitchen represents the type of product that the food hub could eventually sell to customers.

Initially, customers of the “District 6 Food Hub” will probably include other school districts in northern Colorado, particularly some of the dozen that participate in a group-buying cooperative with Weld 6. But big districts like Denver Public Schools, which has already contracted with West on a couple small processing jobs, are also potential customers. So are institutions such as hospitals, nursing care facilities and food banks.

All told, it’s expected the “District 6 Food Hub” will take about three to five more years to roll out.

“It’s still a toddler,” laughed West.

Krista Garand, supervisor of school nutrition for the Durango school district, knows the feeling. She’s also in the process of taking baby steps toward what she described as a “food hub-like activity” but not a full-fledged food hub.

With the help of a $100,000 USDA grant she’s creating a new receiving center out of some poorly used space next to the high school cafeteria. The new center will give Garand more space to receive and stage local products for both Durango and four neighboring districts that collaborate on farm-to-school programming.

“The potential of it is that we can take larger deliveries, store them properly and trace them a little more closely,” said Garand.

Why local?

Many Colorado school districts, including Weld 6, already seek out local products through their farm-to-school programs, although what’s considered “local” varies widely. A recent national “Farm to School Census” found that 26 percent of respondents defined local products as those from within the state, while 21 percent said they should come from within 50 miles and 13 percent said within 100 miles.

Currently, some districts spend around a quarter of their food budgets on local items, ranging from Palisade peaches to grass-fed beef. In Weld 6, that number is 22 percent, but West hopes it will eventually grow to 50 percent with the help of the food hub.

Some of that local yield may even come from the district itself eventually. This summer West and his staff are working to rehab several unused greenhouses at two of the district’s high schools. There’s also a district-owned plot of land that he has his eye on as well.

The rationale for local food depends on who you ask, but many people believe that just-harvested local items taste better than those picked in far-away fields and shipped long distance. There’s are also arguments around reducing environmental impact and teaching consumers about their region’s seasonal rhythms.

But perhaps one of the biggest reason for buying local is the economic impact.

“Part of Farm to School, especially in Colorado, is honoring the fact that we are an agricultural state number one,” said Julia Erlbaum, a member of the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and founder of Real Food Colorado.

“If you’re buying local ingredients that money is staying in your local environment.”

Beckstrom said some farmers also feel strongly about seeing their products stay local.

“Being able to grow it and sell it to Weld 6 and they know it’s going to feed local kids has that really good heart feel to it,” she said.

There’s also no doubt that demand for local products is growing among consumers, even in school cafeterias. Garand said it’s not unusual for her to hear from parents who plan to send their children through the lunch line on days when local products are featured. These include things like beef, potatoes and wheat that’s incorporated into a pancake.

Testing, testing

As West’s food hub plans unfold, he’s taken on several test projects to help determine what services to offer eventual customers. In addition to the zucchini job for DPS, he also worked with the Windsor school district to convert that district’s surplus frozen butternut squash into a squash soup. In both cases, Weld 6 kept a small amount of the final product as payment.

In addition to the zucchini, Weld 6 ran some tests for DPS to see whether bell peppers could be frozen for use in the district’s stuffed pepper entree. West said such jobs have helped the district not only test out potential products but also given him a sense of how much labor it takes to do complete various processing tasks.

With many districts, even big ones like DPS, lacking the spacious, well-equipped facilities that West has, it’s possible that the Weld 6 Food Hub will offer prepared foods to customers too.

“If they like our chili and we’re making mass quantities of chili for our students, what would it look like for us to also make additional chili that we sell?” asked West.

Making the money work

While the zucchini-for-labor barter system has worked well enough during the initial phase of the food hub’s gradual launch, the long-term plan calls for a dedicated food hub manager and a model that’s financially self-sustaining.

Up until now, grants from the Colorado Health Foundation, the USDA Farm-to-School program and the Colorado Department of Agriculture have helped with planning and start-up activities. And Beckstrom said it’s likely additional grant funds will be needed to create the manager position.

“It’s going to require some seed money,” she said.

Still, Beckstrom is optimistic that with a food hub manager, the operation will eventually turn a profit that can help the hub grow and expand.

“I do think it’s possible,” she said. “That’s why I’m really impressed with Jeremy because he kind of has that entrepreneurial spirit in him and that’s what it’s going to take for a food hub within a school district environment to…thrive.”

Erlbaum said given that a school district’s primary mission is to feed school children, the creation of a food hub in that context necessitates a slow, strategic approach.

“School districts… need to be able to stay within their budget line,” she said.

Erlbaum said among potential revenue sources for a district-based food hub are increased school meal participation, driven by tastier, locally-sourced items, and fees for hub services provided to customers. West said there’s also the potential to lower food costs through volume buying as more districts sign on.

“Our gain is that we get better pricing and more local into our system,” he said.

Categories: Urban School News

YMCA child care workers back at negotiating table on pay, health care

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 11:31

More than a year and a half after voting to unionize, YMCA child care workers in Chicago have yet to agree on a contract with the large, not-for-profit organization.

Workers and management went back to the bargaining table two weeks ago, but have not yet reached an agreement on issues such as pay increases or reduced health insurance costs.

Now, organizers say they are seriously considering a strike vote, which could temporarily cripple early childhood programs at the 12 YMCA of Metro Chicago sites, with about 160 workers who joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in November 2012.

“The pay is really, really low,” said Aurora Cavazos, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education yet makes just $15 per hour as an Early Head Start teacher at the North Lawndale YMCA. “Some of the people who work there have gotten degrees and have gone elsewhere. I believe children need quality education, but they’re not paying me quality wages.”

YMCA spokeswoman Sherrie Medina said she couldn’t comment publicly on ongoing union negotiations.

“We’ve exchanged proposals, and have had thoughtful and energetic conversations,” she said. “We respect the collective bargaining process and can’t comment further.”

SEIU organizers say they empathize with smaller community agencies that administer Chicago’s Head Start and other early childhood programs, and whose budgets rely mostly on government funds. Instead of taking an antagonistic approach with management, workers at three other unionized sites in Chicago advocate for increased government resources alongside their bosses.

But it’s another story with the YMCA of Metro Chicago, which in 2012 reported annual revenues of more than $100 million plus some $276 million in assets, according to public records. There, workers have taken a more aggressive tone in their campaign for higher wages and lower health care costs.  SEIU organizers said workers want the YMCA to supplement Head Start and preschool workers’ pay with funding from donations to the YMCA and gym membership fees.

Low wages are a long-standing problem for Illinois’ childcare workers, even as the educational requirements for the job have steadily increased in recent years. A 2013 salary and staffing survey prepared on behalf of the Illinois Department of Human Services found that the median hourly wage for Chicago’s early child care teachers was $14.27; that is, just under $30,000 per year. Assistant teachers, on average, make just $10 per hour.

Other unionized child care workers

Workers at the other three unionized Chicago child care sites -- Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Centers for New Horizons, and Mary Crane Center – do not have contracts either. A fourth unionized child care site, Marcy Newberry Association, closed last year.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana also represents some 28,000 home-based workers who provide care to children from needy families through the state’s Child Care Assistance Program. In exchange for dues, SEIU represents these workers in negotiations with the State of Illinois.

It’s unclear whether that representation would be affected by this month’s Supreme Court decision that ended mandatory union dues for Illinois’ home-based health care workers who are also paid by the state. The decision could open the door to challenges to union requirements for other categories of home-based workers, including those in child care. No such challenges have been filed.

Illinois is one of 14 states where home-based child care workers that receive state funding have the right to unionize, according to a recent study by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Noble Charter changes, TIFs and teacher turnover

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 10:17

Noble Street Charter School Network often boasts that its schools are the highest-achieving non-selective schools in the city. And, while it is true, Noble does not have students test in, critics have charged that its admissions and discipline policy keeps out unmotivated students and pushes out unruly students. But this year, under pressure, Noble has abandoned big parts of both policies. In its renewed contract with CPS, Noble agreed to stop requiring students to go to an “information session” before applying. Also, they have to make clear that the essay is optional. State law states charter school admission should be decided through lottery. This comes on the heels of Noble announcing in April that it will stop charging students $5 for a detention. Noble founder Mike Milkie defended the discipline policy, which is still stricter than CPS, in a Catalyst Chicago op-ed. It will be interesting to see if the charter school operator can maintain its academic status without these policies.

Will we find out more?….We’ve heard repeatedly that charter schools push out problem students. We reported in 2010 that one in ten charter school students transfers out, even though there is supposedly a waiting list for the coveted seats. An upcoming report from a researcher who worked on the well-known CREDO (Center for Research on Educational Outcomees) charter studies out of Stanford University will take a look at push-outs from charters in dozens of cities, according to Chalkbeat New York. The researcher says there’s no evidence New York City’s charters are guilty of the practice, but that other districts are. No word in this article on whether Chicago will be part of the new report, but previous CREDO studies have included Illinois and Chicago.

On its way… DNAinfo reports that the city's planning commission has approved Walter Payton’s annex. The annex will expand enrollment by between 300 and 400 students. Currently, the school has about 940 students. The project will be paid for with $17 million in tax incremement financing money. The TIF money was one of the justifications Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave for building the addition, even as other schools are overcrowded and desperately could use the addition. 

It is worth repeating that deciding which capital projects will get the go-ahead based on how much they can collect is a losing proposition for poor neighborhoods. In a nutshell, TIFS allows cities to to use new tax dollars in specific geographic areas to fund economic development (as property values -- and taxes -- rise after the TIF district is created) .

So how much is being collected in TIFS? ... Cook County Clerk David Orr has made it easier for the public to see how much tax money is being collected in these controversial entities.   Orr says that  “”it’s very hard to find the necessary information to make a good judgment about what’s the purpose of this enormous expansion. Clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to follow the TIF money trail.” Orr has a primer on TIFs here  and a video here. When talking about schools, TIFs are important because tax money that otherwise would have gone into the public coffers instead is diverted into these special pots. As a result, TIFs have many critics, including the CTU and the Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky. 

The high cost of losing teachers... Illinois spends up to $71.7 million per year replacing teachers who quit, according to a new analysis from the Alliance for Excellent Education that pegs the national cost at $2.2 billion a year and reiterates the well-known and distressing fact that poor students of color are most likely to attend schools with the worst turnover. That’s about the same price tag for replacing the 4000 Chicago Public Schools teachers who left in 2011 and 2012, according to cost estimates from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future that we reported In our spring issue of Catalyst In Depth on teacher turnover.  Turnaround schools posted the highest attrition, even after the initial firings that are part of the turnaround model. In other words, the teachers who were brought in to be part of the turnaround--most of whom were rookies--swiftly quit, often citing the long hours, tough environment and the pressure to quickly raise test scores.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Gambling group is hijacking education funding issue, claim ballot question opponets

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 09:48

Teacher talk

Four teachers and a superintendent share the highs and lows of teaching — and recruiting good teachers — in rural schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Horse Race

Opponents to a possible state ballot question that would constitutionally allow the expansion of casino gambling to horse race tracks say supporters are hijacking education funding to see their issue pass. ( Colorado Statesman, KDVR )


Secrecy and exclusion — and possible Colorado Open Meetings Act violations — among Greeley-Evans board members led to the resignation of Superintendent Ranelle Lang, costing the tax payers nearly a quarter of a million dollars. ( Greeley Tribune )

"Keeping" a promise

President Obama is expected to announce today 60 of the nation's largest school districts have signed on to his "My Brother's Keeper" initiative. Those schools will be responsible for expanding quality preschool options and provide early intervention services to African-American and Hispanic students in higher grades. ( New York Times )

Let's Fly A Kite — err, fire a rocket

Students at Denver's East High School partnered with their younger peers to build rockets as part of a summer STEM program. ( 9News )

Good news for good behavior

A Boulder school plans to implement a behavior program that rewards student for good behavior with gift cards rather than punish them for bad behavior. School officials report there was a 9 percent drop in students being sent to the office last year during the school's test run. ( Boulder Daily Camera )

shelter city

The Denver Post's editorial board says Mayor Michael Hancock's decision to seek federal funding to help temporarily house a fraction of the thousands of Central American children caught illegally crossing the U.S. border. ( Denver Post )

Who's on first?

As Colorado launches its first turnaround network for failing schools, Chalkbeat's Indiana bureau examines how that state has handled five of its lowest-performing schools. It's investigation found rampant confusion over who is in control and hundreds of thousands of tax dollars in jeopardy. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

State of the Union

The new leader of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association, has inherited a tenacious relationship with the White House. And it appears the relationship will only continue to strain. ( MSNBC )

testing testing

As the nation debates the merits of standardized testing, a professor shares tests — without high-stakes attached — can be useful to inform instruction and increase retention of knowledge in students. ( New York Times )

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: School segregation, Chicago-style

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 17:33
  • In Chicago, high schools are segregated by students’ prior academic achievement. (WBEZ)
  • A postscript about the cheating scandal in Atlanta’s schools is a tragedy all around. (New Yorker)
  • The billionaire, right-wing Koch Brothers are trying — and succeeding — to influence what schools teach. (HuffPo)
  • In Philadelphia, out-of-date textbooks put poor students at a disadvantage when prepping for tests. (Atlantic)
  • The president of the Eagle Academy Foundation argues that standalone middle schools should be abolished. (Daily Beast)
  • The struggling Detroit Free Press is doing away with its high school journalism program. (CJR)
  • An educator says recruiting more teachers of color won’t solve schools’ problems. (Jose Vilson)
  • Against trends, here’s an argument in favor of ed tech that isn’t student-centered. (Annie Murphy Paul)
  • A parent argues against the culture of competition among children. (Deadspin)
  • Sweden ran with vouchers and doesn’t have improved student performance to show for it. (Slate)
  • In New York City, some schools disproportionately punish students with long suspensions. (New York World)
Categories: Urban School News

A portrait of the challenges of rural teaching, in teachers’ own words

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 14:21

HOLYOKE, Colo. — Nic and Allie Balog’s decision to take teaching positions in the Holyoke School District, a small district on the eastern plains, was based at least in part on a case of mistaken identity.

“There’s a Holyoke, Mass., which looks a lot different” from the rural Colorado town of about 2,000 inhabitants, just 20 minutes from the Nebraska border, said Nic Balog. “The whole time I was driving out here [for my interview], I was like, ‘What is this oasis in eastern Colorado that I’ve never heard of?’”

But in the end, the couple was drawn by the lure of the small town and decided to stay.

Rural administrators say they must rely on this sort of rare lucky catch to attract teachers to their remote districts, where pay is often lower than in urban centers and the towns offer fewer amenities. And the even greater challenge, convincing teachers to stay, often requires administrators to look outside the school building for solutions.

Holyoke’s superintendent Bret Miles recruits candidates like the Balogs who he thinks will find a reason to stay, although he says he’s often happy to get anyone. One tactic he’s had some success with is finding local candidates, either by getting alternate teaching licenses for folks who have other expertise or by drawing back locals who have left. Nearly a third of Holyoke’s teachers graduated from the school where they teach.

Chalkbeat spoke with a group of Holyoke teachers about what drew them to Holyoke — and what made them stay.

Abby Einspahr, math teacher, Holyoke Junior High School

I grew up here. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher…[But] I did not decide to stay here. I decided to go into Lutheran education.

But when her position in a private Lutheran school in California was cut, she ended up back in Colorado, teaching in nearby Yuma. Then the high school principal in Holyoke lured her back. That’s a common practice in rural districts, where teachers are often poached from nearby schools, creating a game of musical chairs of open teaching positions in rural areas.

Einspahr returned to her hometown where she hadn’t lived for several years, which created its own set of social challenges:

The friends I did have coming back are at a different phase of their life. They’re married with kids and coming back single is hard.

It also meant returning to a community where the lines between work and personal are blurred.

I changed greatly from who I was in high school and who I was in college to living in California for six years. I was completely different person, coming back here. I have kids in my class going, “Well, your brother, right?” They have perceptions of me based on my siblings, my parents, my cousins, my grandparents. I have nieces and nephews in school.

Einspahr just finished her first year back in Holyoke but she still isn’t sure whether she’ll stay.

Maury Kramer, math teacher, Holyoke Senior High School

In many rural and remote districts, administrators turn to talent that already exists in their community to recruit teachers. Kramer is one of those, a former auto technician who now teaches the higher levels of math at the high school.

I grew up here in Holyoke. I really failed at college the first try and ended up raising a family. So I moved back here to work with my dad on the farm and that went to trouble in the eighties. So I just had to work around here and raise a family, raise six kids through the school system.

After, while they were starting to go to college, because of my job and things changing there, I knew I wanted to find something else. Helping them with homework and every job I’ve had I’ve been teaching or training students in some way or another. So that kind of led me to [teaching]. So I went back to school online in 2003, finished in 2008, tutored for a couple years, finally started here in 2011.

He uses his deep roots in the community in his classes, to deal with students and pull in the town’s history.

It’d be really hard for me to teach where I don’t know anybody. Here, I know everybody in town. I also know what kids’ parents do and I can make math more applicable to them. So kids whose folks work in construction, we can talk about the triangles in the house, how they work in the rafters or…using the Pythagorean Theorem rather than a laser or a GPS or something.

And he often knows kids’ families and their issues and can adjust to students’ needs.

Sometimes you don’t know everything but you know something is going on so you can be a little less restrictive of them.

Nic and Allie Balog, social studies and special education teachers, Holyoke Senior High School

Sometimes, the barriers are as simple as a lack of housing. When the Balogs first moved to Holyoke to take up teaching positions, there was only a single house in the entire town available for rent. The house lacked amenities and was in rough condition.

Nic Balog: When the wind blew, the curtains would blow open and move [even with the windows closed].

Eventually, the couple purchased a house, that was in better shape.

Nic Balog: It probably kept us here, to be honest…Conveniences like the garbage disposal and air conditioning made Holyoke a lot more livable.

But the transition wasn’t easy, especially for Allie Balog.

Allie Balog: I’ve never been away from my family. I know it’s only two and a half hours. But for me that was still hard. And not only that, I love to shop and go out and do things. I couldn’t do any of that. That was what I felt at first.

But I think doing it together, we always had each other at the end of the day, you know playing cards in our house for three months straight, because we didn’t have anything to do.

When the couple first accepted the position, they arrived with a group of five other young teachers. Today, only one of that group still teaches in Holyoke, along with the Balogs.

Allie Balog: We have a life here and I don’t know if that’s true for the others. You have to try really hard to fit in with people. Once you do and you are willing to do that, people are willing to do the same back to you.

Bret Miles, superintendent, Holyoke School District

Getting teachers is harder and harder for rural districts, as pay stagnates and cuts made during the recession linger.

It used to be that we’d sit down and say, “Any elementary opening, we’ll be able to fill that.” Social studies, no problem, we’ll fill that anytime of day…Now, all of them are really hard to find. We’re going into the last week of June and we haven’t filled our social studies opening, which used to be no-brainer.

We’re trying to make the work environment so attractive that people will just want to stay. So we try to improve technology, we try to make sure we focus on a collaborative structure for how we make decisions in the district.

We have to have all those other things working because we don’t pay as well as in the city. That’s a really a school finance formula issue, partially.

And the competition for a small pool means districts are competing with each other for candidates.

At the baseball game in Haxtun last weekend, I spoke with the elementary school principal there. It took her five offers to hire a fifth grade position. We found out two of them had interviewed in every school in northeast Colorado [including Holyoke] and only one of us gets him.

So Miles has started to search for teachers farther afield.

Tomorrow, we will interview international candidates because we haven’t had a math teacher application…we’re Skyping with someone in the Philippines.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado Springs officials acknowledge problems at youth correctional facility

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 10:42

safety patrol

Colorado Springs youth correctional officials acknowledged safety problems at a juvenile facility, and the contract to provide educational services at the facility is also changing hands. ( Colorado Springs Gazette )

open arms

Denver officials are applying for a grant to help convert a residential treatment facility into housing for unaccompanied immigrant children. ( 9News )

picking a yardstick

The University of Colorado's Board of Regents discussed how to best measure its progress towards its strategic goals. ( Daily Camera )

at an impasse

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is among a group of legislators trying to simplify the college financial aid process, but the bill is likely to get stuck in Congressional gridlock. ( Vox )

how a bill becomes a law

More than 100 Latino high school students participated in a mock government program at Colorado State University. ( Rocky Mountain Collegian )

lend a helping hand

A new respite care center aims to help families of children with special needs. ( 9News )

Categories: Urban School News

Just a reminder: Find out more about integrating arts into your classroom tonight!

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 16:08

Are you spending the summer looking for inspiration about how to make your school a more creative place when the new year starts? Interested in weaving the arts more seamlessly into your instruction, but not sure where to start? Or just looking for some great local art?

Then join us tonight for our  event “Coloring Outside the Lines: Integrating the Arts into Your Classroom.” We think it’s going to be really cool and hope you will also.

Registration starts at 4:30 at the Clyfford Still Museum, and from there you’ll embark on a scavenger hunt through Golden Triangle art galleries.

Then at 6:15, we’ll re-group at the museum to have a discussion about how to get more arts instruction into your schools and classrooms. The discussion will include panelists Barth Quenzer, whose teaching approach we profiled earlier this week, as well as Diana Howard, a retired Denver principal and founder of several arts integration schools, and the Still Museum’s Tori Eastburn. (If you can’t make it for the art walk, you’re still more than welcome for the panel.)

To whet your appetite for the event, take a cool interactive tour of Quenzer’s classroom here.

Hope to see you there!

Categories: Urban School News

Budget critics air laundry list of school cuts

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:57

With a new mandate that students have daily gym class and a policy calling for more arts instruction, school librarians are becoming increasingly rare, speakers charged at hearings on the district’s budget. At the Kennedy-King College hearing, one of three held late Wednesday, speakers also criticized cuts to Simeon High’s career education programs, cuts to welcoming schools that took in students displaced by closings, the additional money being funneled to charters and a plan to save $6 million by reorganizing bus aides for disabled students.

Rhonda McLeod worries that aides will be shuffled around and children won’t get to know them. “They need to feel safe,” said McLeod, who noted that there is already a long delay in getting bus routes set up and that she has had children get lost.

In previous years CPS officials sat stone-faced at hearings, but this year, they tried to answer questions when they could. In regard to charters, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro told the audience that money follows students and CPS is funding charters because students are choosing to go to them.

Asean Johnson, the student who was featured in CNN’s “Chicagoland” speaking out against the closure of his South Side school, asked the panel whether the continued opening of charter schools puts CPS on the right side of history or on the wrong side.

“That is a question,” he said.

“We will have to reflect on that,” Ostro answered.

A number of speakers were upset that district officials blamed a big pension payment for budget problems and one CTU member pointed out previous long pension holidays, even in good years when the district could have afforded to make their entire contribution.

“Saying you don’t have money is like a gambler saying that they went to Horseshoe [casino] and then telling the landlord they have no money to pay the rent,” she said. 

More librarians lost

CPS schools are getting a $250 per pupil increase, but must pay teachers raises and are pressed to make difficult decisions—including, the speakers pointed out, to librarian positions.

Megan Cusick, who leads the CTU’s librarian task force, said last year, 140 schools lost their librarians and another 60 schools laid off their librarians this year. That means that more than half of CPS schools do not have librarians. Yet CPS promised that schools would be better resourced after the closing of 50 schools last year, she said.

Cusick was followed by Marie Szyman, president of the Chicago Teacher-Librarians, who took issue with a claim that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made at the last board meeting that there was a shortage of available librarians. She said she knows of 200 of them ready to go work today.  

“With the Common Core emphasis on literacy, I am mystified that libraries are closing,” she said. “How can our students become “college ready” without adequate instruction in research and exposure to literature which librarians provide?”

Figuring out exactly how many librarians are budgeted for next year is difficult. The budget only lists 21 librarians, though there are likely more. Under student-based budgeting, in which schools are given money for each student, not for specific positions, there is no money provided specifically for a librarian. Principals, along with LSCs, must decide if they want a librarian and weigh the decision against other positions they might need or want—and now the district has new policies calling for daily gym class and 120 hours of arts instruction per week.

Under the old system, schools were given one physical education teacher or librarian for every 600 students. Schools with fewer students got money for half-time positions.

“I stand before you today to ask you to prevent principals from having to make the dreaded decision ‘Do I need to close the library to hire another PE teacher?’” Syzman said.

Simeon’s career education loses out

Another principal decision that came under fire was the decision to close the electrician program at Simeon Vocational High School. Latisa Kindred said she was laid off after the principal and the network office decided the school could no longer afford the program, and that an automotive teacher was laid off as well.

Simeon’s enrollment is projected to drop by about 60 students and its budget is down by about $200,000.

Kindred told the budget panel that she had been able to get students certified as well as into a union. “Working with their hands gives students hope,” she said. “I want to know how [career education] decisions are made? What guidelines are principals given when they make these autonomous decisions?”

Asean Johnson’s mother Shoneice Reynolds said she was at a meeting at Simeon about these cuts on Tuesday night and many students came out to speak about the importance of the programs. “It was a beautiful meeting and we invited CPS and the fact that you did not come shows you do not care about our children,” she said.

Also, an older gentleman spoke about being able to make a living based on his participation with the electrician program at Simeon.

International Baccalaureate threat?

The schools that were designated to receive students from closed schools were also dealt big budget blows this year as they lost the extra transition funds and got less than the expected number of students.

Ald. Pat Dowell said two welcoming schools—Mollison and Wells Prep--are supposed to become International Baccalaureate schools, but will struggle to meet the requirements because of the cuts. Other schools have higher than average rates of homeless and special education students, she said.

“Teachers, parents and myself are worried that the loss of these resources will be another disruption for these students,” she said.

Given these cuts, parents and teachers struggled to understand why CPS keeps opening charter schools. Concept Charter School came under particular fire. Concept, which has more than a dozen campuses throughout the Midwest including three in Chicago and two more planned, was recently raided by the federal government’s Securities and Exchange Commission and is under investigation by the state board in Ohio.

One of the planned new campuses is supposed to be located in Chatham in a megachurch development, but the church’s spokeswoman has reportedly said they are not going forward until Concept works out its problems. Concept officials said 250 students have registered for the school and they are now looking for a new location.

CPS Chief Innovation Officer Jack Easley, who was part of the panel at the South Side hearing, said the district is monitoring the situation closely and will soon reveal how the situation will be handled.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Academic tracking and choice, selective enrollment, Concept Schools

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:31

WBEZ releases a big package this morning that proves what many have long charged: The opening of new charter high schools and selective enrollment schools--becoming a district focused on school choice or a “portfolio” district--has resulted in pronounced academic tracking between schools. Nearly all the high performers are in a select few schools, while charters attract average achievers and neighborhood schools now almost exclusively serve low-performers. Very few schools serve students with a wide range of academic abilities.

Education Reporter Linda Lutton looked at more than 26,000 incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012. That year and only that year, the district mandated that every high school give students an “EXPLORE” exam about a month into the school year. Check out the cool interactive graphic that allows you to check out what type of student each school attracted.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she was troubled by the findings, but did not think they made the argument that choice should be abandoned. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on improving neighborhood schools so they can attract a wider range of students, she said.

But is Byrd-Bennett’s vision realistic? One consequence of this academic sorting is that neighborhood schools have little reason to offer honors classes. Not only does the lack of accelerated classes make the school less attractive, but it also means that students have little to aspire to and might not be challenged in particular subjects they do well in. A 2011 Catalyst In Depth looked at Marshall High School on the West Side, which faced this challenge as the school had a difficult time offering honors classes, a big disappointment for the few students who qualified for them. 

Not to mention the budget… The parent advocacy group, Raise Your Hand, this week put out an analysis that they say shows CPS is spreading itself too thin by opening charter schools, while taking money from CPS-run schools. The biggest losers: Those very neighborhood high schools that are only attracting the lowest performers.

The dichotomy between charter schools and neighborhood schools was one of the many issues brought up by speakers at three budget hearings held Wednesday night. The Chicago Sun Times reported from the hearing at Malcolm X where the closings of 50 neighborhood schools hung over the discussion.  Catalyst went to the one at the South Side’s Kennedy-King College

Race is also an issue… This week, Ald. Latasha Harris, chairwoman of the City Council’s Education Committee, held a hearing on the dwindling number of black students at selective enrollment high schools, the Sun-Times reports. After the announcement of the planned Obama Prep on the Near North Side, attention was called to the increasing white enrollment at the top North Side selective schools and the dwindling black enrollment. CPS officials told the aldermen that when looking at all 10 selective enrollment high schools, including those on the South and West sides, the number of black students is actually rising. CPS officials also said they were having lawyers look at whether the district can legally insert race back into the admissions’ process. 

A little-known fact is that CPS does give extra help to some black and Latino students from the worst-performing elementary schools. CEO Ron Huberman used a provision of No Child Left Behind to open up 100 seats in the top performing schools to students from the worst performing elementary schools. As far as we know, this provision is still being used and Catalyst reported on the students who got into top schools under this program, many of whom struggled at first but eventually did well. 

WBEZ’s freshman test score analysis adds a wrinkle to this discussion. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black.

And a pink slip goes to … the computer teacher at Benito Juarez High School who alleged that attendance records and grades were altered in order to boost the school’s ratings. DNAinfo Chicago reported that veteran teacher Manuel Bermudez got the boot, and that he believes it was done in retaliation.

CPS officials say the layoff was connected to budget cuts. Juarez is projected to get 100 fewer students next year and its budget is down by about $1 million. The principal is laying off 11 teachers, according to CPS’ proposed budget. Across the district, 550 teachers are being laid off. Meanwhile, CPS’s inspector general,is investigating the allegations into that high school administrators were cooking the books.

Troubles continue at Concept … This week, Ohio’s State Board of Education ordered an investigation into the Des Plaines-based charter school chain in response to allegations that range from attendance tampering and cheating on tests to a failure to tell parents about sexual acts performed by students in front of their classmates at a Dayton school.

Federal authorities, are conducting their own white-collar investigation into the chain of 30 schools in the Midwest, including three in Chicago. In addition, one recent news report recently detailed how the charter school chain obtained hundreds of visas for Turkish citizens to teach, while also providing trips to Turkey to state, local and federal lawmakers. The Sun-Times wrote about the chain’s political connections in December.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Poll finds education minor issue in gov race

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 10:08

Dougco evaluations

After a review requested by the Dougco teachers union, state officials found no evidence that the district’s teacher evaluation system violated state law. The review was the first under a 2013 law that requires the state to respond to complaints about district evaluation systems. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

Paying for preschool

A Denver City Council panel has voted 3-1 to advance a proposed ballot language asking voters to hike and extend a sales tax to fund the Denver Pre-School Program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teacher placement

The Colorado Education Association has filed formal notice that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association will appeal dismissal of the union lawsuit that challenges the teacher placement provisions of Colorado educator evaluation law. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What matters

Voters responding to a poll about their preferences in the governor's race also were asked about issues, and only 5 percent listed education and 1 percent cited education funding as the most important issues in deciding how to vote. All issues polled in the single digits except for the economy, which was the top issue for 20 percent. ( Denver Post )

Philanthropy rebounds

Colorado foundations donated $646 million to charitable and community causes in 2011, up 25.4 percent from 2009, according to a new report. More than a third of that went to education-related causes. ( DBJ )

Helping students read

A Golden publishing house is putting a new focus on graphic novels aimed at teachers who increasingly are using such books to teach reading. ( Westword )

Helping hand

Volunteers in the Boulder Valley and St. Vrain districts are working to fill 9,825 backpacks with school supplies for low-income students, and they need more donations. ( Boulder Camera )

Tracking truants

The Westminster school district has been awarded a $430,000 Expelled and At-Risk Student Services grant from the Colorado Department of Education for programs to help reduce explosion and truancy cases. ( Westminster Window )

Early learning

A report by the New American Foundation recommends that preschool programs be integrated fully into elementary schools, with comparable hours and funding and with fully trained teachers. ( Washington Post )

Common Core

North Carolina lawmawkers have rejected pressure to junk the Common Core State Standards, instead opting to study the standards and improve them later. Colorado is following a similar study path on testing. ( Washington Post )

Categories: Urban School News

State review rejects union claims against Dougco teacher eval system

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 18:15

In a review requested by the Dougco teachers union, state officials found no evidence that the school district’s teacher evaluation system violated state law.

The review, which kicked off in May, was the first of its kind to come out of a 2013 law that required the state to respond to complaints about district evaluation systems. It was prompted by a grievance filed by the local teachers union, which alleged the district procedure did not meet with state law and resulted in inconsistent evaluations.

Courtney Smith, the head of the teachers’ union, questioned the findings, saying she was “shocked” by the outcome. In an email to teachers, she said, “Despite a definitive finding from…nationally-recognized experts in the field of teacher evaluation creation and implementation that the DCSD system is both invalid and unreliable, CDE has chosen not to act and instead will allow a dysfunctional and demeaning system to remain in place.”

The union’s complaint was based on two reports by the consulting group Teaching Learning Solutions, who were initially hired by the district to review its processes.

District officials said, in a statement, that they were pleased with the outcome.

The state’s review centered on three primary areas: whether the system aligns with state standards for teachers, how well evaluations are validated, and whether the district’s process for evaluating teachers was transparent.

On the first two counts, the state said the district presented that they met the expectations of the law and did not ask for any additional work from the district. However, the state review indicated the process for reviewing teachers’ scores was not clearly communicated to the district’s teachers.

Read the full letter from Robert Hammond, Colorado’s education commissioner:

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Categories: Urban School News

Denver council committee OKs preschool ballot question

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 16:39

A proposed measure that will ask voters to increase and extend a sales tax to fund preschool tuition credits for Denver families is one step closer to the November ballot.

The Denver City Council Government and Finance Committee approved the ballot question this morning, 3-1, kicking off a bureaucratic timeline to Election Day. Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz was the lone no vote.

Denver voters narrowly approved the .12 percent sales tax to fund the Denver Preschool Program in 2006. The program provides tuition credits to Denver 4-year-olds based on a calculation that includes family income and the quality of program they are enrolled in. The program also ranks the quality of partnered preschool sites and provides professional development to early childhood educators.

If voters approve the question, the sales tax will increase to .15 percent, or 15 cents on every $100.

The tax is set to expire in 2016. But supporters of the tax are now armed with data they believe proves the merit of the program and are prepared to ask voters in November for more money and a 10-year extension.

“We have 31,816 reasons why this is an effective measure,” said Councilman Albus Brooks, referring to the number of students who have received a tuition credit since the program launched.

Brooks is the sponsor of the council ordinance that would refer the question to voters and co-chair of the forthcoming campaign.

And the $55 million spent on those credits have paid off, supporters told the council subcommittee.

Nearly 100 percent of students who received a program tuition credit left their respective program in 2013 ready with the literacy and math skills they’d need in kindergarten, according to the Denver Preschool Program. And about one in nine had the appropriate vocabulary. Further, the first class of the program to reach third grade outperformed their peers who did not receive a tuition credit from the program on the state’s reading test.

“The research is clear: Students who come to school with larger vocabularies and a broader range of experiences simply do better throughout their school years and into their adult lives,” said Sally Augden, chairwoman of the education committee of the League of Women Voters of Denver. “Making early childhood education within the reach of all families, particularly for our low-income children, is the first step in closing the achievement gap.”

Councilman Chris Nevitt agreed.

“This makes perfect sense,” he said. “The return on investment is enormous.”

Councilwoman Faatz, who opposed the ballot question in 2006 and plans to oppose it again, said she doesn’t disagree that early childhood education is important, but she has numerous concerns about how the program is run.

“I don’t believe the city should be involved in education issues,” she said.

Faatz went on to raise concerns about the program’s administration costs and speculated about potential fraud in the program.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech countered, “it’s really hard for greater oversight without higher administration costs.”

If voters approve the ballot question, part of the tax increase would allow the program to increase its administrative costs from 5 percent to 7 percent. The program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum told the subcommittee her four-member team is at capacity and a fifth staff member is needed as the demand for the program grows.

The additional revenue will also be used to reinstate summer programs, keep up with the rising cost of tuition and demand for full- and extended-day programming.

The full council is expected to vote on sending the ballot question to voters at its Aug. 11 meeting. It will also hear public comment at that time.

Categories: Urban School News

Union signals coming appeal of teacher placement ruling

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 14:38

Updated: As promised, Colorado’s largest teachers union filed a notice Tuesday that they intend to appeal a Denver judge’s ruling that left the state’s teacher evaluation law untouched.

The Colorado Education Association (CEA) is challenging the dismissal of a case they filed earlier last year. In their January lawsuit, CEA, along with the Denver teachers union, alleged Denver Public Schools (DPS) abused the mutual consent provision of the law, which requires both principals and teachers to agree to a teacher’s placement. The union said that DPS’ practices violated teachers’ due process rights, while supporters of the state law said the lawsuit was intended to bring down the whole system.

In June, a Denver judge threw out the case, saying it covered ground laid by other similar lawsuits, also previously dismissed.

In the wake of the suit’s dismissal, the CEA promised to appeal. They made good on that promise Tuesday afternoon.

The notice lists the issues the union intends to make a part of their appeals, which are largely a reiteration of its arguments from the original lawsuit. The actual appeal will come later. In the meantime, the case will be transferred from the district court, where it was dismissed, to the state’s appeals court. That bureaucratic process must occur within 91 days, after which a schedule will be set for briefings on the case.

A group of organizations, including the Gates Family Foundation and A+ Denver, who support the law issued a statement Thursday, criticizing the coming appeal.

“We feel this intent to appeal is an unnecessary waste of resources and waste of time for our state—hurting Colorado’s children the most,” they said in a statement.

The full notice is below:

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Categories: Urban School News

Finding solutions to curb chronic truancy, absenteeism in earliest grades

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 13:43

One of the most important factors that's keeping many of Chicago's youngest children from learning is poor attendance. On Wednesday, educators, parents and community organizers talked about how to address the problem during a special forum that's part of our Catalyst Conversations series.

Speakers included: Stacy Ehrlich, the lead author of a recent pre-school attendance study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research; Cecelia Leong, deputy director of the nonprofit Attendance Works, which promotes better policy and practices around school attendance; and Janet Vargas, Rosazlia Griller and Adela Pedroza, who are parents and organizers from COFI / Power PAC, a local non-profit that has worked on this issue for years. Catalyst Editor in Chief Lorraine Forte moderated the discussion.

Catalyst Conversations are a benefit of membership in Catalyst. Become a member to join in on discussions like this one, and to support our journalism and analysis of Chicago school policy.

See a storified version of the tweets from this morning's forum below.


[View the story "Finding solutions for chronic truancy and absenteeism" on Storify]

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Why students in poor schools struggle with standardized tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 09:05

State of Public Schools

A task force created by the General Assembly met Tuesday to talk about how public schools assess their students, how exams scores impact education reform policies, and whether students and teachers need relief from standardized testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Slow But Sure

The task force members left the three-and-a-half-hour meeting with a lot to process, according to the task force's chair Dan Snowberger. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Domino Effect

Companies responsible for creating state and national exams also publish the textbooks that contain the answers. Unfortunately for students, low-income schools can't afford them. ( The Atlantic )

CSI: College

Fourth and sixth grade students are spending three days at Northeastern Junior College learning about forensic anthropology as part of the CSI Investigators Kid College. ( Journal-Advocate )

Finding Federal Loans

According to a study by the Institute of College Access and Success, nearly a million community college students who need help paying for school don't have access to federal student loans ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Testing study panel faces steep learning curve

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 18:17
“I think we have digested an awful lot today. I think there’s a lot of processing we need to do.”
– Dan Snowberger

That’s how Snowberger, chair of the state’s new Standards and Assessments Task Force, summed up the group’s first meeting Tuesday as the three-and-a-half hour session at the Capitol ended.

The task force, created by a law passed earlier this year, elected Snowberger chair, did some other organizational business and then got a rapid-fire briefing on the ins and outs of the state’s testing system from Joyce Zurkowski, director of assessment for the Colorado Department of Education (see her slideshow here).

Do your homework

Taking in all that information in a short time prompted Snowberger’s comment, along with a similar remark by Nancy Tellez, a Poudre district board member. “We have just taken in a whole lot of information here. I would like a little more time to process it.”

The task force’s assignment is to study the impact of testing on teaching time, the interaction of testing with the state accountability and educator evaluation systems and the feasibility of waiving some assessment requirements, among several other issues. (See the full list of duties below.)

The group is to report findings and recommendations to the legislature by next Jan. 31, giving the 2015 session plenty of time of consider the issue. House Bill 14-1202, the law that created the group, allows the group’s recommendations to include minority reports.

But Snowberger, who’s superintendent of the Durango schools, and some others repeatedly mentioned the desirability of having a single report.

“Ultimately we all share the same goal,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who kicked off the meeting but isn’t a task force member. Ferrandino said he hopes the panel can reach consensus. “It’s a very heavy lift for you guys. The legislature will take whatever recommendations you have very seriously.”

Members had a scattering of questions for Zurkowski, including one from Tony Lewis, representing the board of the Colorado Charter School Institute. He asked about possible federal penalties if a state cuts back on NCLB testing requirements.

“There is about $326 million that we receive from the feds that could be at risk,” Zurkowski quickly replied.

Flexibility and waivers are expected to be among the tough issues the panel will have to discuss.

The task force’s next meeting is expected to be the week of Aug. 3, after a subcommittee comes up with a proposed schedule of meetings and list of topics to be covered at each session.

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Categories: Urban School News

As a state panel convenes to examine state testing, a look at the big issues

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 10:25

On Tuesday morning, 15 Coloradans will gather at the state Capitol to kick off a six-month marathon of meetings intended to dissect and evaluate Colorado’s testing regimen.

Created by the 2014 General Assembly, the panel is tasked with understanding how Colorado’s public schools are assessing their students, how exam results impact certain education reform policies, and whether relief from standardized tests are needed for students and teachers.

Before the panel begins its query, here’s a look at some of the issues.

Why is the commission meeting and what are they supposed to do?

Since last fall, a growing chorus of voices has raised concerns about the amount of student testing in the United States. The protests became louder as states began ramping up their efforts to deploy the new Common Core State Standards (which Colorado adopted) and their aligned tests.

Locally, the suburban Douglas County School District hosted a series of town hall meetings they called “Testing Madness” to discuss with parents what district officials believe is a heavy testing burden levied by the state. The district wants to control which tests and how many they administer to their students. The school board, working with lawmakers, drafted a bill that would allow school districts that meet a certain level of achievement to opt-out of the state’s testing regimen.

Conventional wisdom said the bill was dead on arrival in the Democratically-controlled General Assembly. Democrats in Colorado have strong ties to the many advocacy groups that have pushed the testing-accountability apparatus. But lawmakers, recognizing increased public anxiety around standardized testing, compromised to form a panel to study the issue.

The 15-member panel will now look at a variety of questions regarding standardized testing. But the big three, as outlined by the bill, are:

  • How do the statewide assessments affect teacher evaluations and the state’s school accountability system?
  • How do statewide and local district standardized tests work together — if they do — and how much instructional time is used to administer the tests?
  • And can the state could waive certain testing requirements for local districts?
So, what are standardized assessments and what are we supposed to learn from them?

Standardized tests, like the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) exams that students took this spring, are designed to gauge how proficient a student is to the standards approved by the state and local school boards.

There are broadly two types of standardized assessments: summative and informative.

A summative assessment, like the TCAPs or the forthcoming PARCC tests, is meant to provide education professionals, parents, and students a snapshot of just how much a student learned throughout the year and how they compare to their academic peers.

An interim assessment, such as the Galileo or MAP tests commonly used by Colorado schools, is meant to provide teachers with information to inform their instruction throughout the year. For example, results from a formative assessment might tell a teacher she needs to revisit the difference between similes and metaphors because most of her students failed to demonstrate they understood the difference.

What standardized tests does the state require students to take?

Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, all Colorado students in grades three through 11 will be required to take a summative English and math test. Students in those grades who are identified as learning English as a second language will also be required to take the state’s ACCESS test. Beginning this fall, fifth, eighth and 12th graders will be required to take a science test; fourth, seventh and 12th graders will be required to take a social studies test.

Eleventh graders will also be required to take the ACT test. And all pre-schoolers will be assessed using the school readiness TS Gold program — although teachers, not toddlers, do most of the work with that assessment.

The state does not require any of the formative assessments most districts employ throughout the year.

Who is affected by the results from summative assessments? And how?

Before 2001, there were few if any consequences for the results from the standardized assessments states gave their students. (Colorado began proctoring standardized assessments in the early 1990s.) But the federal No Child Left Behind law, which was passed with broad bipartisan support, attached high stakes — including an increasing level of sanctions for schools that failed to meet the law’s benchmarks — to the results. Since then, other state and federal laws and policies have increased the stakes.

And now nearly everyone in the education ecosystem feels the impact of the results.

Colorado students are perhaps the least affected by their results on the state’s standardized tests. While some schools may use students’ results to group them with peers with similar academic needs, students can’t be held back a year based on their results and their diploma is not on the line.

Beginning in 2015-16, half of a teacher’s annual evaluation will be based on his or her students’ academic growth as measured by multiple scores on state and other tests selected by districts. In the upcoming 2014-15 school year, districts have flexibility in deciding what percentage student growth comprises of a teacher’s evaluation. All districts will have to collect student growth data on teachers, but each can choose to use any percentage between 0 and 50 in the evaluation. (The other half of evaluation is based on supervisor observation of a teacher’s professional practice.) Districts are getting the year of flexibility because the switch to new state tests means there will be a one-year gap in the data needed to calculate student growth.

And schools that post among the lowest scores and do not improve in five years face state sanctions, including being shut down or turned over to a charter operator.

Similarly, entire school districts face state sanctions if they find themselves with chronically low scores. The State Board of Education must strip a school district of its accreditation if the district falls among the lowest 5 percent of school districts in the state. When that happens, the local school board may be asked to close schools, merge with another school district, or dissolve itself into smaller districts.

Who supports the use of summative standardized tests and why?

Supporters of standardized tests include elected officials of both political parties, special interest groups, school leaders and teachers, and parents. Boosters of the testing regime have a common mantra: that which gets measured improves. They believe standardized tests hold the public education system accountable to advance student learning and achievement. This accountability system, they believe, forces school boards, leaders, and teachers to take a hard look at their practices and allows them to figure out what and who is working toward improving public schools — what they believe has been a failed system.

Who opposes summative standardized tests and why?

Opponents of standardized tests also include elected officials of both political parties, special interest groups, school leaders and teachers, and parents. Their opposition, however, isn’t monolithic. Many different people oppose standardized tests for many different reasons. Some believe testing stifles both teacher and student creativity. Others believe the tests eat up too much classroom time that should be used for more instruction. Some believe testing is an important part of the education cycle but oppose the high stakes attached to the test results. And others are fearful of the influence of private businesses making a billions worth of nickels in creating and selling the tests while violating student privacy.

Just how much time is used to take the state’s standardized tests?

Remember, the state only requires certain summative assessments that are mostly given for about two weeks in the spring. In previous years, the state estimated about 3 percent of classroom time is used for students to test. However, that’s not counting any of the interim assessments districts and teachers choose to use throughout the school year. And it’s not counting test prep time when teachers give sample tests to prepare students for the testing environment. State officials have conceded the new computer-based tests will take more time but still argue that it is time well spent.

Meanwhile, recent teacher surveys conducted by the state’s and Denver’s teachers unions estimate total testing time — and all that goes with it — occupies nearly a third of the school year.

What do anti-testing folks propose the state use instead of the PARCC tests?

At this time, there is no unified suggestion. Some ideas for possible alternatives that have been floated include a portfolio approach, in which students are evaluated on a variety of work samples; a scaled-down version of annual exams like the PISA or NAEP tests, which only test a sample of students each year, and have no stakes attached; and simply eliminating standardized exams entirely.

What would happen if Colorado abandoned its current testing regime?

If Colorado lawmakers decided to leave the PARCC consortium of states and/or abandon the Common Core State Standards, the legislative body and the Colorado Department of Education would have to act fast or face federal sanctions. While neither the  adoption of the Common Core nor deploying one of the two tests created for the multi-state partnerships is required, the adoption of similar standards and computer-based tests are. If Colorado didn’t put something similar in place — and quickly — it could put the state’s waiver from NCLB in jeopardy.

Is there some middle ground?

It’s possible — and the conversation certainly is shifting. Previously, Colorado lawmakers and education reform-minded advocacy groups drew a hard line about the need for standardized assessments. However, throughout the year, some lawmakers and policy advocates have considered publicly and privately whether the state’s diet of tests is too bloated. The questions appears to be who can cede ground on their core beliefs about the purpose of testing and what policy solutions can be created to keep Colorado aligned with federal mandates, which don’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

How are the new tests different from what came before?

Very. Not only are the new tests taken electronically — compared to the paper and pencil of yesteryear — the tests ask students to do more. Gone are the open-ended essays in which students could write just about anything. Students on the English portion will now be asked to read multiple passages, watch short films, and write argumentative essays based on reason and facts.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teen who placed bomb-like device in a Lafayette HS sentenced

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 08:59

Monster Mash

In one teacher's classroom, an imaginary art monster entertains students and encourages their learning. And its evolution says a lot about how the teacher runs his classroom. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Slot machines for schools

Backers of a measure to expand casino gambling and put the resulting tax proceeds towards schools say they have the signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

School violence

A teen who placed a bomb-like device in a Lafayette high school received his sentence yesterday. ( Daily Camera )

Toddler tax

In his annual state of the city address, Denver' mayor reaffirmed his commitment to the tax to fund city-wide preschool. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Awards for educators

A Montezuma-Cortez teacher was among those honored by the Boettcher Foundation for their teaching. ( Cortez Journal )

Vying for a spot

Four candidates applied for an open position of the Steamboat school board. ( Steamboat Today )

Summer jobs for the future

In a program meant to reduce drop out rates and build career skills among low-income students, 16 students worked at local companies to gain experience. ( Daily Camera )

Around the network

A summer school teacher uses everything from phonics to Shakira to keep her fourth-graders engaged. ( Chalkbeat New York )

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Categories: Urban School News

Casino backers say they’ve got the signatures to advance school funding measure

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 18:54

Supporters of a proposed ballot measure to expand casino gambling announced Monday they’ve gathered well more than the required number of signatures to put the plan on the Nov. 4 ballot. A percentage of the projected gaming revenues would go to K-12 education.

“Today is a significant milestone for our citizens committee and the thousands of supporters we have across the state,” said former state Sen. Bob Hagedorn, an Aurora Democrat who is one of the initiative’s backers. The signatures still have to be reviewed by the Department of State.

The plan that is currently labeled Initiative 135 would allow creation of casino-style gaming at the Arapahoe Park racetrack in the metro area and at tracks in Pueblo and Mesa counties in the future.

The committee behind the plan calls itself Coloradans for Better Schools, and the group’s website promises the initiative “will provide more than $100 million in new funds every year to enhance K-12 education in our state – without costing taxpayers a dime.” The money would go into a new account called the K-12 Education Fund.

The state-approved ballot title for the measure estimates $114.5 million in net gaming revenues. Money in the fund would be distributed directly to school districts on a per-pupil basis by the state treasurer. That distribution would bypass the existing school finance system, and the amendment’s language says it’s supposed to be “in addition” to current school funding.

The Prop 135 split

  • Assuming $100 million in tax revenue, the per-pupil amount would be $114, based on current state enrollment of 876,999
  • Denver, the largest district, would receive $9.8 million. Current per-pupil funding is $7,398
  • Agate, the smallest district, would get $1,368. Current per-pupil funding is $14,883
  • Current basic K-12 funding – $5.93 billion
  • Current funding shortfall – $900 million
  • Search your district’s current funding in the Chalkbeat Colorado database

The amendment says the new money would be for “addressing local needs,” including reducing class sizes, acquiring technology, enhancing safety and security and improving facilities.

The text of the amendment doesn’t specify dollar amounts. Rather, it require that 34 percent of adjusted gross proceeds from casinos be distributed to schools. Casinos created by the amendment would be allowed to have up to 2,500 slot machines, plus card games, craps and roulette. They could be open 24 hours a day, if the communities where they’re located agree.

No education advocacy groups currently support the measure. The Colorado Education Association isn’t taking a position, and the Colorado Association of School Executives won’t consider the issue until September but won’t necessarily take a position. The Colorado Association of School Boards also won’t look at the proposal until a September meeting. Some members of that group already are using opposition. Such groups in the past have been reluctant to support such “sin taxes” because of their perceived unreliability as revenue sources.

Get ready for lots of TV ads

The Better Schools group already raised $2.1 million in campaign funds, much of it in-kind contributions from Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns the Arapahoe Park racetrack and that is a subsidiary of Rhode Island-based Twin River Casino. The committee has spent $1.6 million since it registered with the Department of State in March.

The proposal already has sparked fierce opposition from mountain casino interests, whose spending helped defeat a similar measure in 2003. A committee named Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos, also formed in March, has raised $9.1 million, most of it from mountain casino interests, including Isle of Capri Casinos and Ameristar Casino.

Not the first time around the track

This year’s plan isn’t a brand-new idea.

In 2003, racing interests pushed Initiative 33, which would have required creation of gambling facilities with “video lottery terminals” at racetracks. Such terminals are basically slot machines. Tax revenues would have been devoted to tourism promotion and outdoor recreation projects. Mountain casino interests fought the measure, the two sides spent a combined $11.5 million and voters killed the idea, with more than 80 percent voting no.

Do your homework

In 2012 racing interests took their idea to the legislature with House Bill 12-1280, which was based on the controversial legal theory that since the gaming machines at three locations would be overseen by the Colorado Lottery Commission and would be classified as “lottery terminals,” no voter-approved constitutional change was necessary. (The constitution currently limits full casinos to the three historic mining towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, which are overseen by the Colorado Limited Gaming Commission. Two Native American casinos in southwestern Colorado aren’t subject to state jurisdiction.)

That 2012 plan would have funneled tax revenues to community colleges and higher education scholarships, with a bit of money for the Building Excellent Schools Today construction program. A slimmed-down version of the bill was killed in a House committee on the last day of the 2012 session.

State law requires 86,105 valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot. Initiative proponents typically gather significantly more signatures that required in order to compensate for signatures that are thrown out. For instance, last year backers of Amendment 66, the K-12 tax increase, collected 165,710 signatures, but only 89,820 were ruled valid. The Department of State has 30 days to review petitions after they’re filed.

If sufficient Proposition 135 signatures are verified, it will be assigned a different, permanent number for the ballot.

Categories: Urban School News

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