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In the News: Failure built into the system, researcher argues

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 09:41

A new book by Camille Farrington, a research associate (assistant professor) at UChicago Consortium on Chicago School Reform, argues that high schools were designed to generate widespread student failure and considers the changes that would need to occur for all students to have a legitimate shot at college.

Roughly half of all incoming ninth-graders across urban districts will fail classes and drop out of school without a diploma, suggesting an underlying flaw in the way high schools are structured. Failing at School: Lessons for Redesigning Urban High Schools proposes fundamental changes to high school design, based on what researchers know about how students learn, what motivates them to engage in learning, and what kinds of educational systems and structures would best support their learning. The book is available on Amazon. (Press release)

MURDERS AND TESTING: Homicides in a handful of Chicago neighborhoods "are affecting children's test scores, some studies show -- at the same time the school system is struggling to fund enough counselors, social workers and psychologists who could help students cope with the violence," according to CNN's docuseries "Chicagoland," which recently looked at the city's "crime gap."

LSC ELECTIONS: Earlier this week, the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Local School Councils reported 4,474 candidates had filed to run in the April 7 and 8 elections for 5,771 LSC positions. That leaves 1,297 positions to fill by 3 p.m. today. (Austin Talks)

IN THE STATE
POOR FINANCIAL HEALTH: Statewide data show that Illinois public school districts are continuing to struggle financially, with 532 districts – or nearly 62 percent – deficit spending, using their reserves or borrowing, this year compared to 32.5 percent in 2008, according to an annual Illinois State Board of Education statewide review. The ISBE analysis shows that one third of students in state are in schools in poor financial health. (Press release)

IN THE NATION
PRESCHOOL EXPANSION: Starting in the 2011-12 school year, the 27,000-student St. Louis school system began increasing its number of preschool seats, using part of the money from a 2011 court settlement of a long-running desegregation case. The number of preschoolers enrolled grew from about 1,300 in 2011 to about 2,000 this school year. And now, the preschool program is counted as a bright spot in the troubled district, and an example of the working partnership between Kelvin R. Adams, 57, the district's superintendent since 2008, and Mary J. Armstrong, the president since 2003 of the St. Louis Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. (Education Week)

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Late start boosts grades, attendance

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 08:55

Vaccination show-down

After a six-hour hearing and a late night vote, a bill to make opting children out of immunization more difficult passed the House committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, AP via 9News, Denver Post )

Where have all the teachers gone?

Fewer Coloradans enrolled in teacher prep programs last year, including in specialties already struggling with a deficit of qualified teachers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Lawmakers near and far

A bill to increase funding for school counselors joined a growing list of bills waiting on the legislature to make 2014-15 budget decisions. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Colorado senator and former Denver superintendent Michael Bennet sponsored legislation supporting early childhood education, which passed Congress this week. ( Gazette )

And at the nation's capitol, a Denver official testified in support of charter school legislation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

dramarama

After disagreement over a student's testing led a parent to pull her out of school, Denver released new guidance on opting students out of tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

P.E. meets Plato

A P.E. teacher says get out and get active! Oh and Plato said it too. And so did Kennedy. And Thomas Jefferson. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Hit that snooze button, kiddo

According to a study that will elicit cheers from high school students everywhere, later school start times for high school lead to higher grades and test scores and better attendance. ( AP via Denver Post )

Give me the money!

Mancos School District in southwestern Colorado joined a suit to force lawmakers to increase education funding, as the lead plaintiff. ( Cortez Journal )

Categories: Urban School News

House panel passes contentious vaccination bill

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/14/2014 - 01:06

A House committee late Thursday voted 9-2 to advance House Bill 14-1288, which would require parents who want to opt out of vaccinating their children to certify that they’ve received medical information about the benefits and risks of those shots.

The bipartisan vote came after a hearing of more than six hours before the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, a session that got increasingly passionate and heated as the evening wore on.

The session, which started more than two hours late because of a lengthy House floor debate, drew a crowd comparable in size to those that showed up for recent hearings on testing and standards and on guns in schools.

Vaccination has become controversial in recent years for some parents, who believe shots are triggers for a variety of illnesses. On the other hand, public health groups fear declining vaccination rates could lead to resurgence of infectious diseases such as measles and pertussis and that unvaccinated children can pose a threat to other kids with compromised immune systems. Medical researchers also have found no link between immunizations and such conditions as autism.

HB 14-1288 is backed by more than 30 state medical, education and advocacy groups, ranging from the Colorado Children’s Campaign to Children’s Hospital to Democrats for Education Reform, not to mention hospitals and medical societies.

Colorado has a relatively high rate of unvaccinated children, 4.3 percent, according to bill sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver.

State law requires certain vaccinations for enrollment in licensed daycare centers, schools and colleges. But parents may opt out of vaccinating their children for religious or medical reasons, or merely because of a “personal belief” opposed to vaccination.

HB 14-1288 would require parents who want to use the personal belief option to either obtain a form signed by a medical professional certifying the parents have received written information about the risks and benefits of immunizations or have completed an online vaccination information program. The bill wouldn’t eliminate the personal belief opt out.

There were stark contrasts among the 45 witnesses who testified, with businesslike panels of doctors, childcare professionals, educators and parents supporting the bill. A much larger cast of opponents, many of whom identified themselves just as mothers or fathers, told sobering and emotional stories of their children’s severe reactions to shots, of autism, of disabilities and even of death.

(At the end of the evening, Pabon read the long list of supporting organizations, saying, “We kept the pro testimony very short. … We could have easily packed the room with proponents.”)

The contrasts were exemplified by two witnesses.

Dr. Jim Todd, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and the University of Colorado Medical Center, said, “Our analysis of Colorado data over many years shows that vaccines are safe and effective,” noting “there’s a lot of misinformation that circulates.”

But Michael Gaeta, an acupuncturist and nutritionist, argued, “Vaccines do more harm than good” and that vaccines “have not eliminated or prevented any diseases.” Gaeta and several other opposition witnesses criticized the alleged self-interest of drug companies in pushing vaccines.

Opponents also argued that the notifications would just be used to pressure parents to have their children vaccinated. Others said they suspect the bill is just a step toward outlawing parental opt-out. Most of the opponents arrived at the witness table with stacks of reports and other paperwork for the committee. Critics also called the bill an attack on personal liberty and parent choice.

But the last witness, Sundari Kraft of a group called Vaccinate for Healthy Schools, said children need “freedom from” the risk of infectious diseases as much as some parents need “freedom to” opt out.

Supporters said the bill wouldn’t discriminate against people who have sincere objections but is rather aimed at those parents who opt out purely for convenience because they don’t want to take the time to have their kids vaccinated, for instance.

Things got heated late in the hearing when witness Mary Hendrick intimated that committee member Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, has a conflict of interest because his wife works for a pharmaceutical company.

Chair Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, calmly came to McNulty’s defense, saying, “I have no reason to expect that Rep. McNulty would have anything but the utmost integrity in voting on this bill.” (Another witness tried to raise the same issue later, but McCann cut her off, again very politely.)

Another element of the bill would have required schools to publicly report the percentage of students who aren’t vaccinated. That provision was criticized by opponents as something that could lead to bullying of kids who haven’t had their shots. The committee approved an amendment that only would require such information be provided on request.

Read the bill text here and a legislative staff summary here.

Categories: Urban School News

Enrollment in teacher prep programs declines

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 18:04

Fewer people are enrolling in programs to become teachers in Colorado, according to the latest report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

The annual report on state teacher preparation programs found the drop in enrollment cut across age groups and program type. The decline also impacted specialized fields that already experience a deficit of qualified candidates, including science and special education teachers and bilingual educators.

Teacher preparation programs have come under fire in recent years, with critics saying that acceptance requirements are too weak and that programs fail to prepare teacher candidates for the classroom.

Programs that saw particularly drastic declines (upwards of 25 percent) include Colorado State University in Fort Collins, University of Denver, online-based University of Phoenix and Jones International University.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • One specialty experienced a slight increase: mathematics.
  • Teacher librarian and instructional technology programs saw the largest declines, of 50 percent or more.
  • Minority students were somewhat underrepresented, compared with their representation in other four-year higher education programs in the state.

The full report is available here.

Categories: Urban School News

Counselor funding joins list of bills in holding pattern

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 18:00

A bill that would double funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps was passed 4-2 by the Senate Education Committee Thursday and was sent to join the growing stack of bills waiting for the legislature to sort out its 2014-15 spending priorities.

The corps grant program provides funds to district to increase their counseling staffs and improve counseling services. The corps currently receives $5 million a year, and Senate Bill 14-150 would double that amount, as well broadening the number of eligible schools and imposing some new administrative requirements. (Read the bill summary here.)

Created by a 2008 law, the program has been targeted at schools with higher-than-average dropout rates and enrollments of at-risk students.

Some 126 schools in 59 districts have received funds to date, and more than 100,000 students have been served, program administrator Misti Ruthven told the committee. She said dropout rates have decreased and graduation rates have increased at schools that received grants. (For details, see the program’s annual report here.)

Schools currently receive three-year grants. SB 14-150 would extend the term to four years, funding an additional 50 counselors a year.

Samantha Haviland, president of the Colorado School Counselors Assocation, said the state has one counselor per 400 students, compared to the recommended ratio of 1-to-250.

Two Republican committee members, Mark Scheffel of Parker and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, voted against the bill, saying they’re concerned about its requirement that the program meet “nationally accepted guidelines and standards.”

The measure joins a growing list of spending bills, education-related and otherwise, that are on hold in the House and Senate appropriations committees. Legislative leaders will start culling that list after release of quarterly revenue forecasts next week gives them a better idea of how much money lawmakers have to spend in 2014-15.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver official testifies on charter school practices before Congress

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 16:14

Denver’s head of innovation, Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, joined officials from Ohio, California and national charter school organizations to encourage Congressional support of charter schools.

Whitehead-Bust praised the work of Denver charter schools, saying “charters do add quality seats to a system that needs them.” Although House representatives praised Denver’s charter program, it has proved more controversial closer to home.

She continued:

While Denver has shown steady improvements across all measures and all school types since 2005, charter schools have simultaneously and consistently outperformed other school models. Since 2010, our charter school enrollment has grown by 17 percent annually. Charter schools are in demand in part because their autonomies give them the opportunity to try innovative and promising new practices. If isolated to the province of charter schools alone, such promising practices would only impact 15 percent of students in Denver. But because of Denver’s approach to equity and collaboration, these promising practices are able to spread quickly to schools across governance types…I encourage Congress to align its work with the reauthorization with the important role of charter schools at the forefront of your mind.

The full testimony is available here, including questions from House representatives following Whitehead-Bust’s testimony.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver releases new opt-out guidance for schools after parent conflict

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 15:21

Denver Public Schools officials on Wednesday evening issued new guidelines for how schools should treat families who have opted-out of state assessments after a conflict between a parent and the principal at a Hilltop neighborhood middle school.

The recommendations, which allow students to attend regular classes while skipping early morning tests, comes almost halfway through the time period the state allots for schools to proctor the tests. The district is also issuing the memo amid a growing cacophony of assessment protests: Since the fall, teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing in schools.

But as more parents have asked that their students be exempted from the state exams, schools have sometimes struggled with how to reconcile the demands of parents and of the law, which requires students to be tested.

“It is important for families to understand the value of assessments and the district’s responsibility to follow the law,” wrote Susana Cordova, the district’s chief academic officer, in an email to Denver principals. “Each school is responsible for assessing students in attendance during the testing window.”

However, she continued, “Students refusing to participate in testing should still be allowed access to all other non-assessment activities.”

Parents who want to opt-out their students of the state exams argue that there is legal precedent that allows them to do so, despite a Colorado law that requires students to be tested in third through tenth grades.

So far, the debate over testing in Colorado has seemed to be concentrated in suburbs like Douglas County. But while still relatively small — the total opt-outs from the 2013 round of tests amount to about 1 percent of students — the emergence of spats in Denver may indicate that momentum among parents to opt out is growing.

Meanwhile, parents who wish to have their students abstain from the test are encountering pushback from districts, said Angela Engel, a former Colorado teacher turn author and parent activist. 

Susan Johnson, the Denver parent whose conflict with her child’s school prompted the new guidance from DPS, is one parent who recently joined the opt-out movement.

“I never liked the tests,” she said during an interview Wednesday. But this year is the first she decided to opt her children out of the exams.

Johnson, following the guidance of organizations like United Opt-Out, sent a letter earlier this month explaining her decision to opt-out her children to both her daughter’s middle school and her son’s high school.

She said she didn’t receive any grief from staff at Denver’s South High School.

“They encouraged me to send my opt-out letter to the school board,” Johnson said.

But on Tuesday, she removed her sixth-grade daughter, Sarah, from the Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences after her suspicions were aroused that the school was not respecting her request to exempt her daughter from TCAP testing.

Johnson, who is also the school’s PTA treasurer, said she dropped Sarah off at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday, after testing was completed for the day.

In a video shot on a cell phone shortly after Johnson believed her daughter was in class, Johnson found  Sarah, in an office with school staff.

“Excuse me, I explicitly said my daughter was not to be spoken to about this test or coerced in any way,” she told a school employee.

Johnson then asked her daughter if they denied her access to her class. Sarah nodded.

“Get your backpack, let’s go,” Johnson told Sarah.

As Johnson and her daughter left the room, an unidentified DPS employee stood and recited testing protocol.

“Legally, she can’t be in a testing room and interacting with other kids who have already tested same sessions that day,” he said.

Denver school officials declined to discuss the incident at Hill in detail.

But, the school’s principal was following a literal interpretation of guidance provided to him from Colorado Department of Education that said all students who are present during a testing period are required to take test from district and state officials, a district spokeswoman said.

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And the district acknowledged the incident highlighted the need to help school leaders understand what to do if parent demands conflict with state guidance.

“We have apologized to the family for what happened at Hill yesterday,” said Kristy Armstrong, DPS’s spokeswoman. “Our assessment staff has received further clarification on how to accommodate students whose families choose to opt their students out of the portion of the school day devoted to state assessments. Students whose families choose to opt out of state assessments are welcome to participate fully in classroom activities during non-testing time.”

Denver’s new guidance mirrors established policy in neighboring Aurora Public Schools.

“When parents decide they will not allow their students to take TCAP, we ask for them to share their decision in writing, and then we keep the letters for our records,” said Georgia Duran, an APS spokeswoman. “Often parents choose to keep their students home during testing time, but we encourage parents to allow students to attend school. If a student does attend school, we have the student work with another class, and we provide individual work for the child.”

Opting students out of tests is not new. Since 1997, state law has required public school students in specific grades to take the standardized tests in math and English language arts.

However, as states have begun to introduce new exams tied to Common Core State Standards, parents have increasingly begun to organize across the nation to protest.

Engel, the author and activist, likened the opt-out movement to the civil disobedience of the Civil Rights and Women’s liberation movements.

“Parents are sick and tired of the commercialization of our child’s education,” Engel said, explaining just one of the many arguments of parents who want to opt-out their students. “They are not for profit. The policies around high-stakes testing is making a lot of money for the test publishers like Pearson. Kids don’t have lobbyists. It falls to the parents to protect their interest. Too many commercial interests including consultants, data managers and curriculum publishers are benefiting.”

The conflict over the role of testing has pitted parents like Johnson against many state and district officials, who point out that testing is necessary to drive schools’ progress and undergird a complex system of school and teacher accountability that the state has built over the past several years.

Colorado schools are rolling out the state’s new standards, which incorporate the national Common Core math and English language standards. Beginning in April, some Colorado students will be tested on science and social studies standards. And a year from now Colorado students will be assessed using the new PARCC tests, which will assess students on the Common Core math and English language standards in nearly a dozen states. 

“Next year will be worse,” Johnson said, referring to the PARCC tests.

In light of the debate, Colorado’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would establish a commission to study the issue. And on Tuesday, the State Board of Education Chairman Paul Lundeen, who is also running for a seat in the state House, introduced a resolution that if passed would call on the legislators to abandon the state’s participation in the PARCC tests.

How Colorado could move forward with its accountability reform efforts if the state abandoned the high-stakes testing could prove difficult. But parents like Johnson might be OK if the system was dumped.

Johnson believe the accountability measures are misguided and is obstructing quality learning. That’s just one of many reasons why she doesn’t want her children taking the test.

“Teachers have been forced to change the way they teach,” she said. “Who can blame them? Their livelihood is on the line. They insist they’re not teaching to the test. But you can see they are. If I were a teacher, I would.”

Categories: Urban School News

Famous people of influence have been saying it for centuries: physical education is key

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 15:00

Colorado parents need to take a more active role in these so called education reforms occurring in our schools. Last November, Colorado failed to pass Amendment 66, which was supposed to put nearly a billion dollars directly into our classrooms, bypassing the school administrators. Supporters even provided commercials stating we could bring “gym class” back for a mere $133 a year per household!

Quality “physical education” is a valuable content area which educates our children on the concepts required to live an active and healthy lifestyle. This is Colorado! Go outside and go for a walk! Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” President Thomas Jefferson said, “Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far.”

In 2004, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation found that 92 percent of parents consider P.E. and health as important as English, math and science. Although core content areas are expected to provide evidence of student growth, due to local control issues or values, Colorado does not assess nor evaluate physical education programs. Many school administrators expect physical education teachers to demonstrate growth in math and literacy rather than physical education content.

President Harry S. Truman said, “We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation.” According to the CDC and Health Policy Solutions, Colorado’s childhood obesity rates have increased by the second fastest rate at 23 percent in three years. One could assume this is due to Colorado having one of the least funded education systems in the country and the influx of education reforms, which focus on the “core” content areas in order to achieve higher scores on state assessments.

President John F. Kennedy stated, “Intelligence and skill can only function at the peak of their capacity when the body is healthy and strong.” Colorado is one of only two states in the country that does not require any physical education from kindergarten to 12th grade. High school graduation requirements in Colorado vary from ZERO to three credits, with the average being one and a half credits.

Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” What type of physical education program did you have in high school? There are basically two types of a secondary physical education program in our schools: “new school” and “old school.”

“New school” physical education programs are standards-based and include lifetime fitness and active and healthy lifestyle. These programs include a large variety of mainly individual fitness/sport type activities, where students benefit from the knowledge and concepts to participate for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, there are very few “new school” physical education programs in Colorado that offer a comprehensive variety of activities due to funding and lack of priority.

“Old school” physical education programs include very large class sizes that include: roll out the ball (weight), athletic centric, power lifting, and represent what many adults had when they were growing up. Team sport skill development is the featured goal of an “old school” program. But how much do baby-boomers bench press these days? When less than three percent of high school athletes continue to play their sport after they graduate, and only three in ten thousand high school boys’ basketball players actually get drafted to play professionally, why are team sports still the focus of many of the secondary physical education programs across the country? In short, these “gym” classes with fifty to seventy students in them are easier to manage. All a student has to do is show up appropriately dressed and simply participate without causing problems.

President Thomas Jefferson said, “Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” One of the most alarming trends occurring around the nation is the practice of waiving or exempting students from physical education because they are in some other EXTRA curricular activity; they do not take into account the actual content being taught or the physical and mental benefits provided through brain research in a quality physical education class. Don’t get me wrong, extracurricular activities are very important and teach some important concepts that assist with the education of the whole child, but they are extra. Colorado also allows for extracurricular coaches to be hired without any kind of teaching certification. They may have gained their experience playing the particular sport they are hired to coach but are not provided with the professional development required for quality physical education.

Physical education was created in order to develop our young men for military service. President John F. Kennedy said, “A country is as strong as its citizens, and I think mental and physical health, mental and physical vigor go hand in hand.” It was President Kennedy that renamed the President’s Council for Physical Fitness to include ALL Americans. Currently, 75 percent of high school students that would like to enter a career in a service profession do not qualify physically and military and policy academies are forced to reduce the physical requirements because of this.

As far back as 300 BC, Herophilis said, “When health is absent, Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be executed, Wealth is useless, and Reason is powerless.” Colorado’s school children are in school for seven hours a day; with all this knowledge and the resources available, shouldn’t our schools assist students by teaching them how to live a healthy lifestyle?

Parents: if you would like for your children to develop healthy lifestyle habits, you should ask the important questions around how these habits are being developed in their school. If more parents would ask the important questions concerning their priorities for their children, then our local control school administrators, school boards and legislators would have to focus on improving the system towards educating the whole child.

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: UNO teachers to vote on union contract

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 03/13/2014 - 08:22

Teachers at the scandal-plagued UNO charter school network are about to vote next week on their first union contract. (Huffington Post)

If approved by teachers and by UNO's own board, the contract negotiated by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff would more than double in number, with between 500 and 550 teachers and other UNO staff joining about 300 ChicagoACTS members at 11 charter schools. The UNO contract could be one of the biggest labor contracts in the country for a charter network.

NAME CHANGE: Gordon Tech College Prep will become DePaul College Prep as soon as summer, the school’s board announced Wednesday. The school in the 3600 block of North California Avenue will be renamed DePaul College Prep, but its campus will be known as “Fr. Gordon Campus.” (Sun-Times)

IN THE NATION
ZERO-TOLERANCE DISCOURAGED: Schools should avoid zero-tolerance policies and reserve suspension and expulsion of students only for the most serious offenses or when it is legally required, a draft of a model policy under discussion by the State Board of Education says. (MLive.com)

POORER FAMILIES BEAR BRUNT: Tuition tax credits and other tax breaks to offset the cost of higher education _nearly invisible federal government subsidies for families that send their kids to college— disproportionally benefit more affluent Americans. So do tax-deductible savings plans and the federal work-study program, which gives taxpayer dollars to students who take campus jobs to help pay for their expenses. (The Hechinger Report)

CHARTER STRATEGIES: New York City charter leaders strategizing about how to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and avoid paying rent say committing to particular enrollment policies could be one way to assuage de Blasio’s and Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s concerns about charter schools “doing their part.” One main issue is backfill, or what happens to space vacated by students who leave charter schools. Some schools fill those spots by calling students off of their waiting lists. Other schools focus on teaching the students who remain. (Chalkbeat)

Categories: Urban School News

Cyberbullying advances, student data privacy stalls, board executive session bill dies on hectic day

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 21:35

The 2014 student data privacy bill was delayed, a cyberbullying measure advanced and a contentious bill on school board executive sessions was killed Wednesday as both houses and three separate committees worked through a big stack of education bills.

It was one of the longest daily calendars of education bills so far this session. Also advanced were a bill that would allow Colorado State University Global Campus to expand its reach, and the measure that would give the state’s district and school rating system more flexibility to handle the “data gap” that will occur after Colorado launches new tests in 2015.

That measure, House Bill 14-1182, sailed out of the House March 3 on a 59-0 bipartisan vote. But all three Republicans on the Senate Education Committee voted against it on Wednesday, indicating that the bill may get more debate in the Senate.

Here’s a look at the day’s developments in education.

Data privacy bill held over until next week

Common Core Standards, state testing and student data privacy have emerged as hot issues this year. A bill to delay standards implementation has been killed, and it looks like the only action on testing may be creation of a task force to study the issue.

A data security proposal, House 14-1294, had its first hearing Wednesday in the House Education Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, the bill would impose eight data security requirements on the Department of Education – all things the department says it’s doing already. The bill wouldn’t impose any new requirements on school districts and only would require CDE to create a “data security template” that districts could use.

Several witnesses argued that the bill doesn’t go far enough and urged addition of requirements for districts.

“The focus should be expanded to the local district and student level,” testified Paula Noonan, a former Jefferson County school board member. Other witnesses included several Jeffco parents who were active in the campaign against the inBloom data system that Jeffco was using but since has junked.

“The technology has simply gotten ahead of the leadership of our state and our schools,” Flynn said. “This has caused parents to lose trust in the public education system.”

Committee chair Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, noted that the bill can’t be expanded to cover local districts because its formal title, which restricts what can be included in the bill, is limited to data administered by CDE.

Murray said she was sympathetic to what the witnesses said but that felt data security requirements for districts need “a much bigger and longer discussion” than is possible this year. “At some point we need a mandate,” she said.

She and other committee members do have some amendments for the bill, but the committee didn’t get to those because the hearing ran past the lunch hour, and another panel had the meeting room reserved starting at 1:30 p.m.

Hamner laid the bill over for amendments and a vote at the committee’s meeting next Monday.

Read a legislative staff summary of the bill here, and the full text here.

Cyberbullying bill passes – with complaints

The House gave 54-10 final approval to House Bill 14-1131, the measure that would make cyberbullying a separate misdemeanor in state law.

The bill prompted emotional testimony during House Education Committee consideration and was the focus of a partisan fight during preliminary floor debate last Monday.

The measure sets a two-tier penalty system. Cyberbullying would be a class 2 misdemeanor, but the crime would be a more serious class 1 offense if bullying took place because of “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

A class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by 6-18 months in the jail and/or a $500-$5,000 fine while a class 2 misdemeanor can get 3-12 months in the jail and/or a $250-$1,000 fine.

On Monday Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, proposed an amendment making all cyber bullying a class 1 offense. He lost that fight, voted for the bill Wednesday but said he still doesn’t like the two-tier language.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, also voted yes but complained, “this bill does not provide equal protection of all children.”

Both said they hope Senate colleagues will try to amend the bill. The final vote was 54 in favor and 10 other Republicans voting no.

Read the bill here.

School board executive sessions bill killed — for now

House Bill 14-1110 has emerged in recent weeks as one of 2014’s more controversial education measures.

The bill would have imposed new requirements for recording of school board executive sessions and required boards to keep logs generally describing issues discussed behind closed doors and how much time was spent on each subject.

The bill was prompted partly by the extensive use of executive sessions by the Douglas County board and the suspicion by board critics that members were using closed meetings to discussion policy issues that aren’t supposed to be discussed in private.

But the legislative debate focused on the broader issue of whether the bill would compromise the long-standing legal doctrine of attorney-client confidentiality.

The bill survived such criticism in the House and passed 34-31.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on the bill March 3 and was supposed to vote Wednesday. Sponsor Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, cut the session short by asking the committee to kill the bill, which the panel did.

Hodge explained after the meeting that she didn’t have enough votes on the floor to pass the bill but might try a new version later this session – if she can come up with language to assuage opponents. Asked about the opposition, she said, “Those darn lawyers,” and smiled.

Republicans have questions about accreditation “data gap” bill

One of 2014’s more important – if technical – measures is House Bill 14-1182. The proposal, developed by the Department of Education, proposes that district and school accreditation ratings issued next fall, which will be based on 2013-14 test results, apply to both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The department feels the bill is necessary because results from the new 2015 CMAS tests won’t be available in time for the department to calculate ratings in the fall of 2015 and because student growth data, which requires more than a year of test results, also won’t be available. (Get more details in this story.)

The bill would allow districts that feel their ratings should be changed in 2015 to appeal to CDE and provide additional data. The bill also would give the State Board of Education additional flexibility in choosing intervention measures for schools that reach the end of the five-year “accountability clock.” (The board already has such flexibility for low-performing districts.)

The flexibility measures would be in effect for only a year.

Unlike their House colleagues, GOP members of the Senate Education Committee had questions during Wednesday’s hearing, and all voted no. Sen. Scott Renfroe of Greeley suspects such flexibility might be needed for more than a year. Sen. Mark Scheffel of Parker was worried the bill gives the State Board too much power. Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins explained – at length – that she opposes the bill because it’s part of the whole standards-testing-reform education system that she’s against in general.

So the 4-3 committee vote indicates the bill may see more floor debate in the Senate than it did in the House.

Expansion of CSU Global gets committee approval

Witnesses supporting Senate Bill 14-114 gave an encore performance of testimony presented in the Senate, and the House Education Committee responded by passing the measure 11-1 on Wednesday.

The measure would give Colorado State University Global Campus authority to enroll freshman and sophomore-level students in its online-only programs. The bill is a carefully crafted compromise with the community college system, which feared expansion of Global would poach its own online and campus students.

So the bill has several restrictions, including one that prevents Global from enrolling Colorado freshmen students younger than age 23.

Murray thought Global should be given free rein and proposed an amendment to eliminate the age restriction. That would have unraveled the compromise that has kept the community colleges neutral on the bill and unleashed a lobbying firefight.

The committee apparently wanted to avoid that, and the amendment failed 2-10.

Five other mostly technical education bills were on Wednesday’s calendars. Check the Education Bill Tracker for what happened to them.

Categories: Urban School News

To boost teacher diversity, state scraps limits on basic skills test-taking

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 17:22

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) voted on Wednesday to scrap a policy established just four years ago that set a limit on the number of times prospective teachers could take the required basic skills tests.

The decision is aimed at eliminating a barrier for minority college students who want to enter the teaching profession, but tend to fare worse on exams than their white counterparts.

State school board president Gery Chico said the state needs to “manipulate the pipeline” of teachers in order to increase the disproportionately small number of African American and Latino educators in Illinois schools.

“When you have a student body like ours, nobody is looking for perfect parity but we have to improve,” he said. “You have to have some reflection of what the student body looks like.”

Half of students in Illinois public schools are white, but close to 84 percent of their teachers are white, according to state records.

In Chicago Public Schools, 86 percent of students, but less than half of teachers, are black or Latino. Catalyst Chicago wrote about the lack of diversity in the teaching force in 2011. The problem has worsened in recent years, as veteran black educators have lost their jobs with the advent of more school closings, turnarounds that overhaul entire faculties, and other actions. In addition, as the percentage of Latino students has soared to 44 percent, Latino teachers remain a paltry 18 percent of CPS teachers.

 “So many people are not passing” 

 In January 2010, the state set a five-attempt limit on the number of times teacher candidates could take each of the four portions of the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP). But many candidates-- especially black and Latino students – found it challenging to pass all of the exam’s components in five tries or less, especially after the state adopted higher cut-off scores in September 2010.

Test result data from the fourth quarter of 2013,  for example, showed that only 18 percent of blacks and 23 percent of Latinos passed the math portion of the test, compared to 40 percent of whites. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Latinos met the reading comprehension requirements, compared to 52 percent of whites.

Overall, less than a third of all test-takers – and less than 18 percent of black and Latinos -- passed all four sections of the test last year, according to state records.

“So many people are not passing these tests,” says Anne Hallett, director of Grow Your Own Teachers, an organization that seeks to diversify the teaching workforce. “Lots of factors are troubling about standardized tests, from test anxiety to [the quality of] your own education leading up to the time you took the test. If it’s been less than sterling, it makes it more difficult to pass these tests.”

Hallett added that students who speak English as a second language face additional challenges when taking standardized tests. Plus, many people have difficulties with math.

“If you’ve taken [the test] four times, then you’re now facing a limit which puts yet another stressor on the test taking,” Hallett says.

Until recently, state law required that prospective teachers pass the TAP before entering an education program. Now, schools have the discretion to allow students into an education program before they’ve passed the exam, although candidates must still pass it before their student teaching.

The state also waives the tests for students who have high scores on the ACT or SAT.

The decision to do away with the cap on test-taking attempts stemmed out of an ISBE meeting last fall on diversifying the state’s teaching workforce, says Jason Helfer, the state’s assistant superintendent on teacher and leader effectiveness.

During two subsequent meetings in February, ISBE staff spoke with administrators of college education programs, as well as young teachers of color, about how to improvement minority recruitment.

Helfer noted one difference in the two groups’ opinions: “Faculty thought of recruitment and support in terms of program elements, [but] the young teachers thought of recruitment and support in terms of individual relationships.”

In order to continue the conversation, ISBE has convened an advisory group on recruiting a more diverse teaching workforce that will meet periodically and share its work with the state.

Categories: Urban School News

State board hints at different paths forward for two very different struggling districts

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 17:21

The two low-performing districts that presented their improvement efforts to the State Board of Education on Wednesday offered a study in contrast: Adams 50 is a Denver metro-area district serving nearly 10,000 students. Vilas RE-5, a rural district in the southeastern part of the state, serves fewer than 140 students, half of whom attend school online.

The differences between the two school districts, both of which face a looming deadline to dramatically improve their student outcomes or face state intervention, are forcing state officials to grapple with how they will tailor turnaround efforts to meet divergent district needs.

Wednesday’s state board meeting was an opportunity for  officials to hear directly from districts about their efforts to improve before the state’s so-called “accountability clock” runs out. Officials hope the talks will inform state board members’ thinking when they make decision about accreditation and potential interventions when districts’ time runs out.

Vilas, whose students are divided roughly evenly between a K-8 online school and a K-12 brick and mortar campus, could face a state decision regarding its accreditation as soon as next fall. Westminster, which adopted a district-wide competency-based learning program, has an additional year to show considerable progress.

During Westminster’s presentation, nearly a dozen district and school officials clustered around the table separating them from board members to present their case. They showed the progress the district has made, showing that none of the district’s schools are ranked in the state’s lowest tier, down from seven of the district’s 18 schools that received the ranking four years ago.

Westminster leaders also pointed out their efforts to improve early childhood education access and overhaul data systems that state and district officials said were lacking.

Board members praised those efforts and several, including Debora Scheffel, appeared sympathetic to Westminster officials’ point that their efforts were showing success that state accountability systems could not capture.

“How can CDE support your efforts?” Scheffel asked.

“Cut back on tests and stick to one model” was the refrain from Westminster officials.

Both district presentations are available here, along with additional documents provided by CDE.

What to do about the online school?

When state board members returned to their seats following a short recess, they faced a very different group of district officials, including Vilas’ superintendent Joe Shields and the district’s two other administrators who lead the online and brick and mortar campuses.

Robert Hammond, the state commissioner of education, set the tone for much of the discussion around Vilas’ future as he introduced the district to the board.

“One of the biggest challenges for Vilas is the online school,” Hammond said. “If the online school was not part of district, it would probably jump out of improvement.”

Last year, the district, with the help of the state, shut down its online high school and helped its students, few of whom came from the area, transition to other schools.

Vilas’ new online coordinator also highlighted other efforts to overhaul the online program for elementary and middle school, including hiring an interventionist for struggling students and overhauling the reading curriculum.

“Sometimes you have to slow down and go back to grow,” said Carrie Veatch, who joined the district last fall. “I wish we were in year one because now we are getting somewhere.”

Before, Veatch said, the approach was “if they had a pulse, [we would say,] ‘come on and enroll.’” Now the district screens students to make sure they are a good fit.

Veatch has also introduced more structure to classes, including requiring students to turn in homework on a deadline rather than by the end of the quarter. Struggling students are required to participate in weekly intervention classes, a change which has driven some families from the district.

“Some families have said, ‘we came to online because of the flexibility,’” said Veatch. She hopes families will adjust to the added structure. “This will become part of the status quo.”

Veatch said the district was seeing positive trends, including rising student achievement, higher grades and more participation.

“We’re doing things right,” she said.

But questions lingered about the viability of the Vilas online program. State board member Elaine Berman raised the possibility of closing the district’s K-8 online school.

“I am going to be very optimistic that online students are going to do better,” said Berman. “But if they don’t, are you prepared to have the online school separate from the brick and mortar school?”

Shields said they would make that decision based on this spring’s test results.

“We don’t want to do it if we don’t have to,” he told Chalkbeat in an interview following the board meeting. He plans to look at end-of-year internal testing data and make a recommendation to the school board in May.

But the final decision will be made in August when TCAP scores are released.

The challenges of rural turnarounds

Vilas’ presentation also raised questions about what the possibilities are for rural turnaround efforts. Board members probed the inner workings of small rural districts, asking about Vilas’ financial viability and how staff copes with state reforms.

“I’m always curious how small districts manage to make it financially,” said Berman. She and others commented on the burden of systems like educator evaluations on small districts.

Board member Angelika Schroeder asked Vilas officials about their work with the local BOCES, which are collaborative regional systems that provide services to many rural districts.

“What kind of work are you doing together?” Schroeder asked.

Shields said they worked with the BOCES and nearby districts more than in the past.

“There used to be a great deal of animosity,” Shields said.

While rivalry between districts has prevented collaboration through the BOCES system in the past, they are becoming a tool for many rural districts to adapt to state standards.

State board members praised the district for its efforts and discussed the difficulty of overhauling rural districts.

“In other states, if a district falls below 500 [students], they close them down or force consolidation,” said board member Marcia Neal. “You can’t do that in rural Colorado.”

She said distances were too great and in many areas, “the rural school is a driving economic factor in community.”

Categories: Urban School News

For the Record: Gifted education

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 16:12

Students who lose out in the upcoming round of selective elementary school admissions – as well as other students whose families might have never considered applying – have another option: The district’s less-well-known comprehensive gifted programs, located within magnet and open-enrollment neighborhood schools.

In recent years, these gifted programs have lost the extra staff that the district once allocated to them, such as psychologists and coordinators. But they remain a draw for parents, offering classes that are accelerated by half a year to a year plus perks such as foreign language instruction or violin or jazz band classes.

Admissions are determined by each school and there is no centralized collection of data on the demographics of students. But most schools with gifted programs enroll students of color: Eight schools are majority African American, 12 are majority Latino, one enrolls mostly Asian students, and the remaining six are integrated.

Overall, enrollment at most of the 27 schools with comprehensive gifted programs is on the upswing. At 17 schools, enrollment increased. Nine schools experienced decreases, and one school did not have enrollment data for 2012-13.

Less selective

Unlike magnet and selective enrollment programs, gifted schools do not control for socioeconomic factors when sorting out which students get a slot. And at small schools, running separate classes for gifted students can mean putting everyone in split-grade classes.

In general, students are selected for the programs using a language development test administered at the end of kindergarten, often combined with teacher recommendations and standardized test scores. At O.A. Thorp Elementary, says Principal Efren Toledo, teachers use a checklist of traits that aims to bring more objectivity to the identification process.

Even so, he notes that the students tend to come from middle-class families, with a few exceptions. There is no scientific definition of “giftedness,” but middle-class children who have more learning and enrichment opportunities usually have advantages in selective admissions.

“I’d love to see more, but the scores just aren’t there,” Toledo says. “In kindergarten, the only students who do well are those who’ve been read to, those with language skills.”

Once accepted, students get the chance to work at their own ability level with online curricula such as Compass Learning and Khan Academy.

This year, Toledo says, teachers are launching small-group math instruction that will teach 3rd- through 8th-grade students based on their math abilities rather than their grade.

Yet gifted programs can “create a bubble” of students who only socialize with each other, Toledo points out.

“When they get out of school, they’re not going to go to a ‘gifted’ grocery store. They are not going to go to a ‘gifted’ gas station. They need to know how to interact with everyone,” he says.

To avoid elitism, Toledo mixes students from throughout the school for recess and classes in non-core subjects.

Gifted programs solve another problem, he notes: “We tend to focus on getting the low students up. Rarely do we focus on getting those kids who are scoring really high and pushing them, because they’re not a problem.”

 

 

Categories: Urban School News

In the News: W. Side high school students go without teachers

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 08:40

WBEZ interviewed a dozen students at Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, and all of them told the same story. Their core courses in English and science have been taught mostly by substitutes this year—sometimes a different substitute every day—meaning no homework, and often no classwork.  One student said students are passed automatically since there are no teachers.

CUTTING TOO DEEPLY: The head of the Illinois State Board of Education says some districts might not make it through the school year if the proposed state budget cuts are approved. (WICS.com)

REBELS WITH A CAUSE: Chicago is not the only scene of the high-stakes testing revolt. The uprising is growing nationwide, with FairTest fanning the flames. Teachers and parents and students cities in Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas are rebelling.

IN THE NATION
OPT-OUT STRATEGY: Riding what they see as a wave of anti-testing sentiment among parents, opponents of high-stakes assessments believe a strategy known as opt-out — having parents refuse to let their children take state-mandated tests — could force policymakers to take note of their cause. (Education Week)

SHORTENING THE SCHOOL YEAR: In an effort to save money for cash-strapped Wisconsin districts, state lawmakers are considering ending a requirement that schools teach for 180 days a year or lose state funding. The bill, expected to win Senate approval, would allow schools to extend school days rather than force them to stay open later in the summer to make up days lost to weather closings and parent teacher conferences. (Associated Press)

Categories: Urban School News

Bill could liven up higher ed discussions

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 23:10

This year was supposed to be a legislative session of sweetness, light and more money for Colorado’s colleges and universities.

Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a $100 million increase for higher ed, both for institutions and financial aid, a significantly higher percentage increase than he suggested for K-12. (Total state dollar spending on school districts, of course, dwarfs higher ed budgets.)

Democratic lawmakers liked the idea so much they plucked it out of the governor’s budget and put it in its own bill, Senate Bill 14-001. That measure also includes a 6 percent cap on tuition increases in 2014-15.

A key part of the proposal is that all colleges will receive an 11 percent increase based on the current formula for distributing money to institutions. That formula is a combination of various old factors. Policymakers have been reluctant to tinker with that formula, which tends to disadvantage faster growing institutions, for fear of reigniting old intercollegiate battles over money.

While colleges are likely to get their money next year, those old feuds could be stirred by a bill being floated by House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. The speaker, a genuine budget wonk, is serving his last term.

A draft of that bill was circulated to colleges on Monday evening, and it could stir old disagreements about funding shares.

State aid comes to colleges and universities in two forms. One is called the College Opportunity Fund (COF), and it’s supposed to represent stipends paid to resident undergraduate students to reduce college costs. The second is called fees for service, and it’s supposed to represent money the state pays to institutions for such “services” as graduate education, providing remote areas of the state and enrolling underserved students.

In practice, the dual system is primarily a way for the state to avoid having to count tuition payments as revenue that would be subject to limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Ferrandino’s proposal would more tightly define fees for service, and weight those payments based on such factors as institution size, research activity, graduate education, retention of students and degree completion. And it would set higher COF stipends for lower-income students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants.

There’s a lot of other complicated math in the bill, which wouldn’t go into effect until 2015-16, if it’s introduced and passed.

There isn’t much reaction yet to the bill draft. State colleges and universities, ever vigilant about protecting their financial interests, employ squads of analysts and lobbyists to scrutinize proposals like this, and you can be certain those folks are doing just that. A period of negotiation over the bill’s provisions is the likely next step.

The higher education system, which doesn’t have the same constitutional cushions as K-12, has been hit with two periods of significant budget cuts since 2000. But colleges, unlike public schools, can charge tuition, and those rates have steadily risen in recent years as institutions have tried to stay afloat. Tuition now provides roughly 75 percent of revenues.

Read the draft bill here.

Categories: Urban School News

State board chair drops a little PARCC surprise

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 21:39

Paul Lundeen, chair of the State Board of Education, informed his colleagues Tuesday that he plans to ask them to vote next month on a resolution calling on the legislature to repeal a 2012 law that required Colorado to sign up with a multistate testing group.

Lundeen’s surprise (at least to some board members) came at the end of a daylong meeting, “I respectfully call for action by the General Assembly and the governor during this legislative session,” he said. “It is time to demand action from the General Assembly to repeal the statute” that led to Colorado committing to use of language arts and math tests being prepared by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

He said he’d ask the board to consider such a resolution during its April 9-10 meeting.

Lundeen made the announcement near the end of a 10-minute speech in which he criticized the Common Core Standards (“Colorado must remain true to its independent standards”) as “an increasing burden of standardized assessments.”

The 2012 “PARCC law” (only 14 lines of text in an education laws cleanup bill) was controversial then because lawmakers – led by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver – basically forced the board to join the multistate testing group. Earlier that session lawmakers rejected the board’s request for $26 million to develop new Colorado-only tests.

Testing and the Common Core have become even more controversial since then.

The effect of a board resolution – if Lundeen gets one passed – might be minimal. The board historically doesn’t have a lot of sway with lawmakers, particularly when the board is divided, as it would be on this issue. Johnston would be expected to oppose any change in the state testing system. And lawmakers likely would be reluctant to take up such a controversial issue with less than a month to go in the session. (They have to adjourn by May 7.)

Lundeen, a Republican, is likely a short-timer on the board. He’s a candidate for the state House from a safely GOP seat in El Paso County and has been endorsed by the incumbent.

Testing also came in for criticism at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, when Keith King, a Republican former legislator from Colorado Springs, appeared before the board to complain about testing – “there are just really too many mandated tests” – and warn that new standardized tests are threatening the autonomy of charter schools. King, an influential figure on education issues while in the legislature, operates an early college charter.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the board’s public comment session was taken up by the usual assortment of citizen witnesses complaining about or praising the Common Core. (This has become a fixture at board meetings since last summer.)

Sonja Semion, who heads Stand for Children Colorado, brought along a unique visual aid to show that group’s support for the standards – a printout containing more than 7,000 signatures from citizens who signed a Stand online petition supporting the standards.

PHOTO: Chalkbeat ColoradoPetition submitted to State Board of Education by Stand for Children.
Categories: Urban School News

Community input, teacher voice drive overhaul at a struggling elementary school

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 20:36

When district officials threatened to replace the entire staff of Ashley Elementary, Donna Simms went with other parents to the school board to protest.

“The way they came in and said, ‘this is what’s happening and this is what’s going on’” angered parents, said Simms.

But unlike some situations in which the district moved ahead on its plans without community consensus, in this case the district backed down. They replaced the principal but agreed to work with the current staff and teachers to come up with a plan for the school’s principal.

That decision, Simms said, helped save the school, which has over 95 percent of students below the poverty line and has struggled with low performance for years.

“Had we not spoken up, I think a lot of the families that have been with the school for years and years would have left,” said Simms. “We agreed as a community to stay for this year to see what’s happening and see if what they said was going to happen really did happen.”

The result is a plan that would give the school what is known as a innovation status, meaning it is freed from a number of district mandates. The plan, which observers say is unusual in the amount of community input that shaped it, includes cutting class sizes, incorporating technology and adding time for non-core subjects.

It received the go-ahead from the state board Tuesday morning and has garnered praise even from critics of Denver’s innovation schools process.

The full plan, clocking in at over 160 pages, is available here.

Innovation schools

Denver’s innovation schools have proved to be controversial, with critics saying that the plans schools submit often lack rigor or specificity and often fail to produce results. But Ashley’s plan has garnered praise even from those critics.

“Their’s was the only proposal that seem to have buy-in and be substantive in some way,” said Van Schoales, who heads education advocacy group A+ Denver. “A lot of these proposals are superficial. You can tell they’re going through the motions, that they haven’t had conversations with their staff about how they want the school to get better.”

A recent report produced by A+ Denver, CU-Denver and local unions showed that innovation schools produce mixed results, often failing to outperform similar traditional schools and falling below state averages.

Schoales says that’s because of the relative lack of scrutiny in the innovation schools process.

“Almost everyone gets innovation status,” said Van Schoales. In fact, a 2013 lawsuit alleged that Denver’s school board inappropriately approved innovation plans for two new schools, which were not allowed for under the 2008 innovation schools law.

Innovation schools should be required to submit a comprehensive vision for their school, says Schoales.

“If the proposal was a disaster, then [the school's] probably going to be a disaster,” he said.

How to have a conversation

District officials, school leaders and community members agree that the decision to have the school community lead the transformation is part of the reason for how strong Ashley’s plan is.

“That was a brilliant idea,” said Jennifer Keel, Ashley’s parent liaison who has been with the school for 30 years. “We were able to take our strengths from the past and bridge them into our goals and our aspirations for the future.”

It’s an example of a successful outreach strategy in a district that in other cases has been accused of alienating parents, teachers and community members.

At Ashley, parents and teachers were initially suspicious of the process, believing the district would go ahead with predetermined plans. But the principal’s openness to their ideas brought them around.

“I was one of those that was very, very, very hesitant,” said Simms. She participated in the principal selection process and in the subsequent school design.

For one, the candidate the district selected, current principal Zachary Rahn, raised red flags for Simms.

“We had a feeling that because he came through the DPS system and the DPS training, we were going to get cut under the table,” said Simms. Rahn arrived in the district as a Teach for America teacher and went through a district principal training program last year.

Instead, she said, “he’s been receptive to the input of the staff and the community. He has been upholding what he said he would do and what we wanted to see in the building.”

Innovation status as an afterthought

Paradoxically, the strength of the plan may come from the fact that it was an afterthought, rather than the end goal of the process.

Starting at the end of last spring, the district convened a committee including Rahn, the school’s teachers and a group of parents to begin discussions about what the school should look like.

“The question that we opened it with was, ‘what does your dream school look like?’” said Rahn. “Innovation was never a thought until after.”

Instead, becoming an innovation school was a tool for doing what the community wanted.

“If this is what we want to do, [innovation] is the way to do it,” said Rahn.

The committee also had plenty of time to complete their work, a component district officials say was crucial to having a successful process.

“They started last winter and didn’t finish until September and October,” said Joe Amundsen, a senior manager of innovation schools for the district. He worked with the committee on the school’s design. “Our hope that is schools do go through the similar process of starting in the spring and working over the summer and putting together the plan in the fall.”

He said two other schools going through a similar process, Isabella Bird Community School and the Oakland elementary campus, are on a similar timeline.

Let’s try that again

For many schools, improving means replacing the entire staff and starting at zero. That’s what happened last time Ashley faced an overhaul, in the 1990s.

Keel, who was at the school at the time, said that the staff was called to an emergency meeting and told they would have to reapply. At the time, she thought it was hard on the school but the intense conversations of the past year have made her wonder if that approach was simpler.

“Going through it twice makes me see how important it is to start all over,” said Keel.

With Ashley’s less drastic approach, both Keel and Rahn say they expect the outcome will be the same, with large-scale turnover of the teaching staff. But the timeline will be more gradual, giving people time adjust to the new way of doing things.

“Change is hard for adults,” Rahn said.

The slower process means many teachers have decided for themselves that the school’s new direction won’t work for them, rather than being fired or pushed out.

“There’s a chunk of people who voted for the plan who think it’s right for the school but for themselves it wasn’t right,” said Rahn.

Rahn says the key was to balance making big picture changes with easing community fears.

“Turnaround fails because change is incremental” said Rahn, a message he drove home for teachers starting at the first committee meeting. On the other hand, he understands why school closings and mass firings can be hard on school communities.

For him, it’s still an open question of whether this approach will work.

“Will we get the same results without getting blown up?” said Rahn, but he’s hopeful. “We’re bound to prove the stats wrong.”

Categories: Urban School News

State board denies Sheridan Schools’ accreditation appeal

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/11/2014 - 18:50

A struggling school district’s quest to become the first to successfully appeal its low state accountability rating ended today when the State Board of Education voted 6-1 to deny their request.

Despite evidence of a continued effort to improve academic performance of its students, members of the board said the statewide consequences would be too great if they agreed to lift Sheridan Schools’ accreditation rating.

Sheridan officials argued a bump in accreditation would more accurately capture the fruits of the intense turnaround efforts schools have undergone including lowering its dropout rate from 5 percent to 0.9 percent.

Officials from the Colorado Department of Education countered: If the board approved Sheridan’s appeal it would put the state’s accountability framework and processes of collecting and analyzing data into question.

The board agreed with the department.

“It’s clear you’re on the right track … In concept, I’m in support of you,” the board’s chairman, Paul Lundeen, told Sheridan officials. “But, in practicality, I can’t.”

State officials argued in order to bump Sheridan’s rating, the department would have had to allow the district to resubmit graduation rates after a statewide deadline for all schools. Allowing Sheridan to amend its data as it’s convenient to the district would create a precedent that would throw off careful timelines and procedures.

More importantly, state officials argued it would allow districts to retroactively manipulate their data if they weren’t happy with their school accountability rating.

“Sheridan is asking for CDE to create a unique framework that fits their needs,” said Keith Owen, the department’s deputy commissioner. “The state board has responsibility to safeguard the accountability measure.”

Debora Scheffel was the lone dissenting board member. She said she believes the district is supporting its students to the best of its ability.

“I feel [Sheridan] is doing a great job serving a very needy population,” Scheffel said. “The fact they could remove a service and increase their accreditation means they’re trying to serve their students.”

The crux of Sheridan’s argument was that it has more than a dozen students enrolled for a fifth, sixth or seventh year of high school who are concurrently enrolled at both its high school and Arapahoe Community College. Those students have met the qualifications for a standard diploma, but they are seeking an advanced “21st Century Diploma” that requires college courses.

Sheridan officials believes the state should not only track graduation rates, but should acknowledge the “success rate” of Sheridan students who are now taking college courses in pursuit of an advanced degree.

Districts, not the state, set the parameters for graduation requirements. It is also the local board of education and superintendent who certify those numbers to the state. Those numbers are then factored into the school’s annual rating. It is Sheridan’s policies, not the state’s, that have determined the district’s rating, department officials said.

The state board, at times, had trouble following the numbers and logic from both Sheridan and department officials. Questions during the two hour hearing ranged from exactly how many students Sheridan has concurrently enrolled — those numbers ranged from 19 to 24 — to the intricacies of school finance law.

“This is a case of ‘is or is-you-aint,’” said board member Angelika Schroeder. “And I think you’re saying they’re both.”

Sheridan Schools serves about 1,500 students, most of whom qualify for free- or reduced-lunch. The district earned a “priority improvement” ranking from the state’s department of education. The district believes it should be rated as an “improvement” district.

Since 2010, the state has linked its accreditation of districts to an annual review of student performance on state standardized tests and post-secondary preparedness. Districts that receive either a “turnaround” or “priority improvement” rating on the district performance framework have five years to improve or lose accreditation.

No school district has lost its accreditation — yet. But Sheridan Schools is one of 11 districts entering either year four or five of the accountability timeline. Sheridan will enter year four of the clock in July when state accreditation ratings take effect.

Sheridan Superintendent Michael Clough said while he’s disappointed, he understands the board’s decision.

“I guess that’s what happens when you have 178 districts — and not just one — to worry about,” Clough said after the hearing.

Sheridan’s failed appeal was the second of its kind. Mapleton Public Schools unsuccessfully pleaded with the state board to raise its accreditation rating last year.

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