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Rise & Shine: Big bond on the ballot for Boulder schools

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:46

Steel City Turnaround

Pueblo City Schools is the largest district to near the end of the state's timeline to improve or face interventions. But it was once touted as a reform "miracle." Chalkbeat looks at what happened, in the first in a three part series. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Setting the stage for election season

Boulder Valley's school board ok'ed a move to put a $576 million dollar bond for schools on the ballot. ( Daily Camera )

Scantron Skirmish

The battle over testing has opened on a new front: the AP U.S. history test. And it's coming to Colorado. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Outside the classroom

In a look at what kids learn from play, NPR takes on a classic recess activity: marbles. ( nprEDU via KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

As the state’s accountability clock ticks down, a district struggles to move forward

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 20:04

PUEBLO — There’s little carpet visible in the modest living room of the row house in the shadow of Pueblo’s steel mill after Julianne Williamson spreads out all of her children’s academic awards.

“My daughter is so smart,” said Williamson, the mother of a sixth-grade daughter and third-grade son at the city’s Bessemer Academy. “She’s going to be outsmarting me soon. My son, he reads like an adult.”

But recently, Williamson’s children haven’t been bringing home awards as often, and she’s worried that the school’s chaotic environment might be hurting their learning. The list of questions she has for Pueblo’s school officials is growing long:

Why has Bessemer Academy had three principals in as many years? Why was her son shuffled between two different teachers this school year? Why can’t the adults in the building control the students’ behavior?

She also has questions that reach beyond Bessemer’s four walls:

What are Pueblo officials doing about the school’s state designation as a “turnaround” school, a marker that gives Bessemer two more years to improve or face state intervention? What happens if the school doesn’t make the deadline?

“What’s going to happen to my kids?” she asked.

Turnaround tension

Williamson’s question is shared by many parents in Pueblo. A third of the public schools in the city are failing, according to state ratings.

And if the district doesn’t improve its students’ academic performance soon, Pueblo could pose the first big test of Colorado’s school accountability system, which gives struggling schools and districts five years to improve or face sanctions.

The district, which enrolls nearly 18,000 students, is the largest in the state to near the end of that timeline. Unless Pueblo’s most recent test scores — which will be released later this week — reflect significant gains, officials will have just a year to get the district into the state’s safe zone.

If they fall short, the next steps are uncertain, fueling the anxiety of educators and parents like Williamson. Colorado law requires state officials to strip the district of its accreditation, which could leave graduating students ineligible for college scholarships. The district could also lose significant amounts of federal funding.

Individual schools that don’t improve in time may be asked to replace their principal and teaching staff, be turned over to a charter operator, or be closed altogether.

But some observers question whether the state has the political will or the capacity to enact dramatic changes in districts like Pueblo — and nearly a dozen others — that are close to the deadline.

In Denver, questions about the state’s ability to impose changes come mostly from people who want to see the state step in. But in Pueblo, those questions come from a deep-seated skepticism of outsiders and a belief that local problems call for local solutions.

Steel City Turnaround

Even as a small but influential group of Pueblo community leaders have recognized the scale of the challenge and are doing what they can outside of school walls to improve student achievement, they remain resistant to seeing the state get involved. In fact, they are skeptical that the state’s intervention would bring any improvements.

“If the state has all the answers, why are they waiting for five years?” Rod Slyhoff, president of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, asked. “Why didn’t they just come in year one?”

District officials and city leaders claim they’re on the right path to beat the clock. And state officials agree that beating the clock is possible. Pueblo has already climbed the state’s rankings for two consecutive years.

“It is within striking distance,” said Keith Owen, the state’s deputy commissioner of education and a former Pueblo elementary school principal.

But following the retirement of the district’s superintendent in June, many in Pueblo fear that a leadership transition might trigger a backward slide just as the state’s deadline closes in.

This spring and summer, to better understand how a school system that primarily serves low-income and Latino students and its city are affected by and driven to improve under immense pressure of a ticking clock, Chalkbeat interviewed dozens of students, teachers, parents, district leaders, and observers in Pueblo. We also reviewed dozens of public documents and district data that detail the conditions of the city’s neediest schools.

Over the next three days, we will explore the bureaucracy still struggling with change revealed in those interviews and documents. While Pueblo’s school improvement efforts have been undertaken by a group of well-intentioned individuals fighting against the odds of high poverty and shrinking budgets, not everyone is on the same page.

District officials and teachers are both mentally and physically worn.

And several of the district’s neediest schools still lack consistent quality instruction and the robust school culture that turnaround experts believe is necessary to drive student achievement.

As Bessemer goes, so goes the city

The academic rise and fall of Bessemer Academy parallels that of the Pueblo City Schools system as whole.

In the early 2000s, Bessemer, a kindergarten through 8 public school in one of the poorest parts of this Southern Colorado town, was nothing short of a modern education reform miracle, observers said.

Results from the state’s first-ever round of third-grade reading exams found, in 1997, barely one in 10 students was reading at grade level. But by 2000, the percentage of students that passed the fourth-grade test had increased; seven in 10 students tested at grade level.

The school headed into the new century either meeting or beating the state’s average on its standardized tests. And everyone from Gov. Bill Owens to President George W. Bush was paying attention to the little Southern Colorado school district that could — and did.

As Bessemer held its significant academic gains and other schools’ scores also rose, district officials were invited to Denver and Washington, D.C., to share the secret to their formula.

Then-superintendent Joyce Bales told the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education in 2002 that Pueblo’s success was based on its focused mission and high quality teachers. She also cited teachers’ professional development tools, organizational systems, and their use of data to inform their instruction. The district also used a literacy program called Lindamood-Bell, a renowned and expensive phonics-based program.

Less than a decade later, Bales was gone and, according to present-day Pueblo officials, so were all of her systems and the Lindamood-Bell program.

New leadership and budget cuts forced Pueblo City Schools to abandon the literacy program and instead chase instructional grants haphazardly.

Today, 46 percent of the district’s students are reading on grade level and 28 percent write proficiently, according to the state’s literacy exams. (Comparatively, the state averages about 70 percent of students reading at grade level and 55 percent of student writing at grade level.)

It’s a big improvement from the late 1990s, when only 12 percent of its fourth grade students were reading at grade-level and just 2 percent could write on that level. But it’s also a big drop from Bales’ heyday.

And neither Bessemer nor the district — which has not experienced any radical demographic shifts since the early 2000s — are meeting the state’s expectation for student growth, the measure of how much a student learned from year to year compared to his or her academic peers.

The most conservative interpretation is that growth is flat. Students who have been designated as below proficient on state tests are staying behind. And those who are considered proficient are barely hanging on.

At Bessemer, while some classes of students are posting slow but steady growth, others fluctuate every year, moving between minimal and fairly large gains.

So close, yet so far away

Right now, Pueblo is just three points shy of the 52 points out of 100 on the state’s annual school review scoring system to get itself off the state’s accountability watch list.

PHOTO: Nicholas GarciaPueblo City Schools board members Mike Colucci, left, and Kathy DeNiro and Superintendent Maggie Lopez recite the school district’s mission before a school board meeting in April. School officials are confident they’re on the right path to beat the state’s accountability clock.

And Pueblo officials are confident their efforts have been enough to push the district across that threshold, if not this year, by 2015.

“We’ve flown through some turbulence — but we continue to fly,” Superintendent Maggie Lopez, who retired at the end of June, told State Board of Education members in April. “Achievement is beginning to take a turn.”

The district, officials told the State Board, has aligned their standards and created a single instructional roadmap for all of its schools. They’ve instituted interim assessments to monitor student progress. Principals are now trained to be leaders, not managers. Teachers are working together in communities, not isolated in their classrooms. And a team of district administrators has been created to respond directly to individual classroom needs.

“As a district we are far more timely and responsive to meeting the schools’ needs than we have ever been,” said Brenda Krage, then the assistant superintendent of learning services.

The district has also put an emphasis on school choice. It’s closed some low-performing schools — mostly for budgetary, not academic, reasons. And it has created a path for students on the city’s East side to access the International Baccalaureate curriculum at each grade.

District leaders have also elected to provide more autonomy to three of Pueblo’s most troubled middle schools by designating them “innovation schools.”

A 2008 state law created the innovation schools designation. Schools granted innovation status are freed from many central administration policies such as budget rules, curriculum mandates, and teacher contracts. Architects of the law believed that granting such freedoms could accelerate academic achievement.

But early anecdotal reports from those schools — the Roncalli STEM Academy, Risley International Innovation Academy, and the Pueblo Academy of the Arts (formerly known as Pitts Middle School) — suggest that results are mixed.

And if third grade reading scores from last spring’s standardized tests are any indication on whether Pueblo’s efforts have paid off — and, depending on who you ask, they are or are not — the news isn’t good for Pueblo. As a whole, the district saw its scores drop by more than 3 percentage points, while the state remained relatively flat.

At Bessemer Academy there was a double digit drop.

According to reading scores released in May, just one in three of the kids at the school can read at grade level.

Watching, waiting

With those dismal academic results and increasing discipline and leadership issues at Bessemer, the Williamson family’s frustration is rising.

This year, the school is getting its fifth new principal since 2007. At the last awards assembly she and her husband attended, Williamson said, it took 20 minutes for the teachers and administrators to gain the student’s attention. And there appears to be no clear discipline protocol. As punishment for acting out, one teacher made students make her coffee, missing valuable lessons.

Williamson would consider sending her children to a different — better — school. But with only one car for her family of five, that’s not possible.

And Jacob, the third grader, would be devastated, she said. He thinks the test scores don’t reflect how hard the kids are working.

“They think the school is dumb,” he said. “But if they were to watch a class for a full day, they’d see how much we learn and pay attention.”

Like the local leaders who want to keep the solutions local, Jacob believes that his and his classmate’s hard work will eventually be clear. But Williamson is more worried about the work that school officials are doing — and, like the state officials who are watching Pueblo closely, she is anxiously waiting to see whether the work will pay off.

“I know there has been a lot of turnover as far as the staff and principal goes,” Williamson said. But she doesn’t think those reasons are excuses for the school’s struggles. “I can’t think of anything that could justify it.”

Tomorrow, Chalkbeat Colorado will explore how Pueblo’s strategy to improve one school in part created the state’s lowest performing middle school.

Categories: Urban School News

Another skirmish shaping up in testing wars

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 17:02

Some testing critics are taking aim at a new Advanced Placement United States history program, and the the Republican chair of the State Board of Education is bringing the debate to Colorado.

Paul Lundeen of Monument has presented a resolution for consideration at the board’s session this Thursday (see text here). Lundeen told Chalkbeat Colorado, “Some concerns had been expressed to me by constituents. My research suggests that a resolution delaying is appropriate at this time.”

The proposed resolution reads, “The new APUSH Framework reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects. … The Framework presents a biased and inaccurate view of many important events in American history.” (APUSH is an acronym for Advanced Placement United States History.)

The resolution also claims the AP framework conflicts with state content standards and asks that roll-out of the new program be delayed “for at least a year.”

An Aug. 1 Huffington Post column by Patte Barth traces the flap to a March paper published by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank.

The hue and cry since has been picked up by commentators for the National Review and on conservative websites such as Breitbart.com and TheBlaze.com. Glenn Beck’s website. Last weekend the Republican National Committee passed as resolution opposing the new history framework, and the controversy also has popped up in Georgia and Texas.

Because College Board President David Coleman was a leading figure in creation of Common Core State Standards, commentators have tried to draw a link between the new AP program and Common Core, a focus of conservative worries for more than a year. (The College Board runs both the Advanced Placement program and the SAT tests.)

In an email sent this week to members of the state board, Coleman wrote, “People who are worried that AP U.S. History students will not need to study our nation’s founders need only take one look at this exam to see that our founders are resonant throughout.”

Because of public concern, Coleman said the College Board was taking the “unprecedented action” of releasing a full sample exam (see it here). He added, “We will soon release a clarified version of the course framework to avoid any further confusion.”

Read a defense of the framework in this June article by Lawrence Charap, director of AP curriculum and content development. See the full framework here and a College Board FAQ here.

The AP American history class is not a part of high school for most Colorado students. According to Department of Education data, 5,568 students took the class in 2012-13, about 4.5 percent of the 121,352 high school juniors and seniors enrolled that year.

Discussion of the resolution is on the board’s Thursday afternoon agenda, after results of the 2014 TCAP tests are presented to the group. The only public comment period of the board’s two-day August meeting is scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon, so the issue may get an airing then.

Over the last year opponents and supporters of the Common Core have made monthly appearances during SBE public comment periods to express their views.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:05

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS principals: The voice you’ve been waiting for

Catalyst Chicago - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 11:05

A few months ago, a group of CPS principals began work on what would become the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education (AAPPLE).  AAPPLE—pronounced “apple”—is a member-driven arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association (CPAA).  Since introducing AAPPLE to school leaders two weeks ago, nearly every CPS principal we’ve talked to told us CPAA is not taking a strong enough stance on behalf of principals and their schools.  They want the organization to stand against policies and practices that are crippling the ability of principals to provide their students with the education they deserve; policies and practices that send throngs of talented principals, assistant principals and even network administrators limping away from the district each year.  

In surveys and conversations, principals voiced concerns about a lack of autonomy and an “endless daily barrage of direct orders, mandates, and deadlines” that hurt students by focusing principal time on activities that have no bearing on improving teaching and learning. In survey responses they protested “overbearing” network chiefs and their staff, whom principals felt were nothing more than “glorified compliance clerks” too busy with central office projects to offer schools any real support (Networks 1 and 11 were often cited as exceptions to this rule).  In addition, CPS passes on the work of understaffed central office departments to principals so that school leaders end up “working for departments that are supposed to work for us.” Principals also voiced strong concerns about CPS’s new budgeting system and its detrimental effects on their ability to provide students with the instructional resources and support they need.

Perhaps the loudest message was that principals and assistant principals wanted CPAA to be a “strong voice” for them and their schools.  They wanted CPAA to be an organization that is “at the table and in the press.” They want an advocate that “publicly vocalizes the many concerns of school leaders,” works to resolve them, and campaigns for effective policies that assist principals in their efforts to facilitate and support student learning.  The following comment is illustrative:

“I have often thought about quitting because I could not see the organization standing up against many of the outrageous backward policies put forth by Central Office Officials and the mayor’s office. CPAA needs to be more vocal.“

The clear message they sent us is that CPAA isn’t doing enough.  Their concerns are legitimate.  Not long ago, I had those same concerns.  In fact AAPPLE got its start when a group of principals went into CPAA and approached President Clarice Berry with these exact issues.  We asked the question, “What is CPAA doing?  What impact is it having?” We learned that CPAA has made significant accomplishments; that--as bad as things have gotten--they would be worse without CPAA’s efforts on behalf of school leaders.  The organization fought battles in the areas of administrator long-term illness policies, state legislation, salary, principal eligibility, and network abuse and harassment of school leaders.  CPAA fought some—but not all—of our battles. It won some and lost others.  Some fell through the cracks, and this must be addressed.  However, it is certain that CPAA was at the table fighting and winning victories for principals and their schools.

None of us knew anything about these accomplishments before that meeting. So we focused our frustrations on what we perceived as CPAA’s lack of communication with its members.  President Berry told us that she puts everything in the bi-montly newsletter.  We said this was not enough and began peppering the president with questions and ideas about how she can communicate better with CPAA members.  One idea that surfaced was for CPAA to send out regular short messages focused on one or two current issues it is working on, in addition to the lengthy bi-monthly newsletter.  Like all of us, she had quite a bit on her plate, and—like CPS does to us—we were asking her to pile even more on it without any additional resources or support.

At that point, I stepped back for a moment and listened to the president respond to our ideas about what she should be doing for principals through CPAA. After a few moments the words, “I’ll do it” came out of my mouth.

“I will do it,” I repeated.

There is a quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address.  All of us have heard it, but until that moment I had not thought so deeply about its meaning to my own life and work.

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

With those words, President Kennedy encapsulated the idea that our nation is only as great as the dedication, passion, ideas, and sweat that “we the people” put into it. We must be a citizen-driven nation.

As I listened to the CPAA president respond to our complaints about what the organization hasn’t done, it became obvious that Kennedy’s principle must be put to work in our organization.  CPAA must be a member-driven organization.  It is our work--the work of on-the-ground school leaders--that will make CPAA a powerful force for positive change in our schools.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll write the bi-weekly update,” I said.

“I’ll help,” said another principal.  He continued, “Clarice, just give us a time that we can sit down with you and hammer out the first one.”  Other principals then stepped up to help implement various ideas that had been put on the table, including an idea for a citywide education forum that one principal had been working on with community members and university faculty.  Two principals stepped up to lead the work on a series of surveys and interviews that led to the current inquiry into CPS’s Student Based Budgeting.  Yet another principal stepped up to do the research for a framework for effective education policy—an evidence-based framework for AAPPLE’s policy advocacy work.

President Berry supported every one of those initiatives and even commissioned an official CPAA committee to help implement them.  We decided to focus our work on policies that affect our ability to provide our students with the instruction, learning climate, and resources they need and deserve (e.g., budget, autonomy, school closings, REACH, custodial privatization [Aramark], testing, etc.).  We gave the committee the name, “Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education” (AAPPLE) and moved forward with its work.

 We talked to—and surveyed—scores of principals and we believe their concerns about CPAA’s power to counter negative district policies and practices are legitimate. CPAA lost some of its strength over the years and there is certainly more it can do to advocate for principals as well as put principals in a position to advocate effectively for their schools, their students, and for each other.  However, in order to make that happen we must realize the depth of President Kennedy’s words.  More importantly we must come face-to-face with the truth of a statement our current President made famous:

 “We are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

 Troy Anthony LaRaviere is the principal of Blaine Elementary School, a parent at Kellogg Elementary School, chairperson of the Administrators Alliance for Proven Policy and Legislation in Education and president of Auxiliary II - Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Aurora middle school evacuated after failed pipe bomb

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 08/12/2014 - 08:49

it's official

Denver's City Council gave the ok to put a tax to voters that would extend and raise funds for the city's preschool program. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School violence

An Aurora middle school was evacuated yesterday after the discovery of a failed pipe bomb. Authorities are looking for two suspects. ( Gazette )

Something old, something new

A new school is opening in Salida, with a long history in the community. ( Mountain Mail )

Marijuana and teens

An anti-marijuana campaign commissioned by the governor will specifically target teens, telling them that the effect of the drug on teens is still uncertain. ( Gazette )

Lunch box transparency

Parents with kids in Poudre schools will soon be able to know exactly what's in the school lunch, using a database that has nutritional information, ingredients and allergens for every meal served. ( Coloradoan )

Cars and the classroom

The Arapahoe County Sheriff's office is kicking off a back to school safety campaign -- for drivers. ( 9News )

Big Oops

Sensitive student records from Smiley Middle School somehow ended up in a dumpster behind the school yesterday. ( KDVR )

Categories: Urban School News

Denver voters to decide extension, expansion of preschool program in November

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 22:11

Denver’s City Council on Monday night agreed to ask the city’s voters to extend and raise a sales tax to fund a preschool program that provides tuition scholarships to families of four-year-olds.

The vote, 10-1, was expected.

If approved by Denver voters, the sales tax would be raised from .12 percent to .15 percent, or 15 cents for every $100 spent in Denver on taxable items. It would also extend the tax until 2026.

The additional revenue would go to reinstate summer programs and keep up with the demand of full- and extended-day options, officials from the Denver Preschool Program have said.

Mayor Michael Hancock announced his intent to campaign for the tax increase earlier this summer. The official campaign backing the tax, Preschool Matters, is co-chaired by Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks and has some of Denver’s most influential politico heavyweights behind it.

Still, Denver voters narrowly approved the tax in 2006 — the third time supporters took the initiative to the ballot. And supporters, while confident they have the data to prove the Denver Preschool Program is a success, are prepping for an uphill battle.

Since 2007, the program has provided about $55 million in tuition credits to 31,816 four-year-olds. The credit is determined by family need and the quality of the preschool provider. The average tuition credit during the 2013-14 school year was $290. The Denver Preschool Program also conducts quality reviews and professional development for its partnered-preschool providers.

Eight individuals spoke in favor of the ballot initiative at the council meeting.

“I can see a notable difference in the student who attend a preschool program,” said Stephanie Romero. Students who do not attend preschool “lack the confidence to become independent learners.”

Single mother JoMarie Garcia told the council the Denver Preschool Program allowed her to send her student to preschool, something she didn’t think she could afford. Her preschooler was also ready for kindergarten by the end of the year.

“My daughter went into preschool already able to sound out words,” Garcia said. “When she went into kindergarten she was ready to read.”

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, the lone no vote, said she supports early childhood education but she would rather see the state’s program expand rather than the city — which has no official business in public education — take on the effort.

She also raised concerns about the programs administrative expenses. Under city ordinance, the Denver Preschool Program has a 5 percent limit on administrative costs. But Faatz believes its much higher because it doesn’t consider media or customer service as contract work.

Part of the reauthorization would allow the program to increase its administrative costs by 2 percent. Faatz estimated the program could be spending as much as 19 percent of its budget on items not related to tuition credits.

“That’s just too high,” she said.

The program’s CEO Jennifer Landrum said using Faatz’s math, the total costs discussed was about 10 percent of the programs budget $11.8 million budget.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: DPS to expand STEM options with $7M grant

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:49

Money matter

School district leaders don’t necessarily see new budget and spending reporting requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

expanding options

A $7 million grant is helping Denver Public Schools to expand its science, technology, engineering, and math offerings next school year. ( Denver Post )

Scout's honor

A Longmont Eagle Scout is rounding up used band instruments for a local — and growing — middle school. ( Longmont Times-Call )

#teamchalkbeat

Don't forget, the Chalkbeat Book Club kicks off today with Elizabeth Green's "Building A Better Teacher." It's totally going to be better than Oprah's. Yeah, we went there. Join today on Facebook. ( Facebook )

Still need convincing? Check out Green's weekend interview with NPR via local affiliate KUNC. ( KUNC )

And teachers, we especially want to hear from you! We're curious how much you plan to spend to outfit your classrooms and whether new reforms are putting an extra burden on your back-to-school budget. Fill out our survey here. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

back to school

While we're on the subject of back to school, here are 37 "insanely smart" teacher hacks to file away. ( Buzzfeed )

Non-Hispanic white students are projected to be the minority this school year for the first time. The shift is largely due to a growing Hispanic population. ( AP via 9News )

Open communication between parents and students can go a long way during the back-to-school season, a psychologist said. ( 9News )

Pueblo City Schools is launching an app this year for parents and students to better understand their lunch menu. ( Fox 21 )

Every penny counts

Vail students who were dually enrolled in high school and college courses last year saved an estimated $1 million. ( Vail Daily )

Out of school context

Environmental education leaders, business people and others will meet later this month to develop an environmental education curriculum. ( Steamboat Today )

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Concept Schools Chatham location, healthy food and standardized testing

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 09:46

Concept Schools just can’t catch a break. The Chicago Sun Times reports that the building they are trying to rent for their Chatham location is being foreclosed on by the bank run by CPS board president David Vitale.

Originally, Concept planned to rent space from a megachurch being built by the Rev. Charles Jenkins, pastor of Missionary Fellowship Baptist Church in Bronzeville and a close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Concept had agreed to pay the church $528,000 in rent annually. Then, after the FBI raided its charter school locations in Illinois and other places, church leaders said they weren’t so sure that they wanted to rent to Concept.

But Concept leaders say they already have students signed up for the new school, set to open this Fall. They then announced they were eyeing a location at 9130 S. Vincennes, an old Christian school building. Concept leaders say they are planning to pay $210,000 to rent the property on a one-year lease, with options to extend the lease for another year or two, according to the Sun-Times. The Sun-Times says the building is in foreclosure proceedings with Urban Partnership Bank of which Vitale is the president. So, according to the Sun Times, Vitale’s bank will benefit from having the building rented. CPS officials and Concept deny Vitale had any knowledge of the connections. Vitale did not comment for the story.

Also, on Saturday, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Concept hired an Ohio-based public relations firm, Communications Counsel Inc,. that worked for the campaigns of Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and has been a spokesman for gambling interests and electric utilities, according to the newspaper.

2. Healthy snacks… As Catalyst reported in June, for the first time, new federal nutritional standards are being extended to all food sold in schools during the school day, including in vending machines and fundraisers. The Chicago Tribune writes about how suburban schools are approaching these new rules, while pointing out that Illinois has been quick to dole out exceptions to federal nutritional standards. With 36 high schools and nine elementary schools being allowed exceptions, Illinois is one of only four states that together allow more than 21 school districts to bypass the guidelines. CPS’ guidelines for fundraisers are more restrictive than the state's guidelines, allowing only two food fundraisers every year. Considering CPS schools are underfunded compared to some suburbs, it will be interesting to see whether these strict guidelines turn out to be another way city schools are at a disadvantage.

3. Protesting Pearson… As part of the “Public Education, Not Private Profits” campaign, New York union leaders plan to shred standardized tests in Albany Monday night to protest the dominance of textbook and test publisher Pearson, which develops tests for students and teachers. Last year, a television station in New York did an investigation into Pearson and found that the London-based company has a lock on administering tests in that state.

Illinois also funnels a lot of money toward Pearson, which created and administered both the standardized tests that the state is phasing out (the ISAT) and those it is putting in thier place (PARCC). Pearson also administers the test and performance assessment required for teacher certification in Illinois. The performance assessment is a new requirement and, earlier this year, some University of Illinois-Chicago students questioned why Pearson was awarded the single-source contract to administer it. They said they would rather have university professors grade them.

4. Speaking of testing … Jury selection begins today in one of the nation’s biggest school cheating scandals. Twelve former educators are on trial in Atlanta in connection with a 2011 state investigation that accused them of conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores to make it seem as though the students were meeting academic benchmarks.

The case raised questions nationally about what role standardized tests should play in education reform. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, “the pain has been felt particularly keenly among African-Americans, who make up 54 percent of Atlanta’s population,” the New York Times reports. “It is largely black educators who have been accused, and largely black students who have been harmed by bogus evaluations of their educational progress.” In a recent essay, the New Yorker magazine profiled one middle school caught in the investigation.

Such scandals have added fuel to campaigns in Chicago and elsewhere against high-stakes testing. Earlier this year, a group of teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Montessori refused to administer the   standardized test the state is phasing out.

5. Libraries matter… The Atlantic Education channel has a moving video chronicling a day in the life of New York City libraries. The first image is a video of people lined up outside the library in the morning. Among the stories told are a shut-in who calls into a book club, a young mother using library computers to look for a job and a little boy who goes to the library for a quiet place to do his homework after school. Also, there are stories of immigrants who go to the library to learn English.

The video ends with the statement that the hours at the New York libraries have been cut and only eight are open on Sundays. Sound familiar? As you will remember, in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel shortened the number of hours libraries are open.  He did this to save $11 million to help make up a budget deficit. These days only four Chicago libraries are open on Sunday and less than half have any hours beyond 6 p.m.

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Introducing the Chalkbeat book club

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:28
  • Discussion of “Building a Better Teacher” is starting in the brand-new Chalkbeat Book Club. Join now!
  • A critique of the book says content, not teaching quality, has derailed Americans’ math learning. (Brookings)
  • A new kind of calculator that requires estimation could be a tool in Common Core-aligned classrooms. (Voice of San Diego)
  • The story of one student arrested in a Chicago school last year shows the potential of diversion programs. (Catalyst)
  • A new nonprofit joins a cadre of others in evaluating Common Core teaching materials. (Curriculum Matters)
  • In a hift, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel picked a former teacher and school administrator to advise him on education. (Sun-Times)
  • An educator rounds up the best advice she’s got for new teachers. (On the Shoulders of Giants)
  • A New Jersey district that gave some students iPads and others Chromebooks now prefers the less expensive gadget. (Atlantic)
  • Formal collaboration agreements between charter schools and districts allow strong practices to be shared. (Education Next)
  • Graduation rates are on the rise again in Texas. Is it another miracle? (Texas Tribune)
  • A Detroit school that lost students when it lengthened the year highlights the challenges of expanding learning time. (Hechinger)

Join the club!

Categories: Urban School News

“The places are poor, and the people are poor.”

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 15:06
“My goal here is that these kids aren’t out there slashing tires,” [Mimi] Marmon says. Everything she does, she says, is oriented toward setting their minds on getting jobs, which might not be the norm they grow up with in a place where government benefits often substitute for work. “My fear is that these kids grow up, and they think, ‘my parents lived through this, so I can too,’” Marmon says. “If you’ve got this mindset that the world owes you something, and that’s all you hear, it’s a very scary thing. I watch these kids and I just think, they’re so adorable when they’re little, but what’s their future going to be?”
– "How rural poverty is changing: Your fate is increasingly tied to your town," Washington Post

The southeastern Colorado town of Las Animas is fading, along with many rural towns. The Washington Post explores the intertwined fates of the town and its inhabitants, who often stay despite a lack of opportunities. Read the full article here for a look at how that decision impacts the lives of children who live there.

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Lyons

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 12:30

Matt Lyons, deputy chief in the Office of Strategic School Support Services (OS4) at CPS, is joining the Chicago Public Education Fund as chief operating officer. He is stepping into the post that Arnaldo Rivera left to become deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Lyons holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from The Broad Center and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University.

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

Districts take wary view of new transparency law

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:19

School district lobbyists did their best to kill the idea during the 2014 legislative session, but now that new financial reporting requirements are law, school districts and the Colorado Department of Education are scratching their heads and sorting out how to make them work.

There have been ripples of anxiety – and not a little confusion — in many districts as details of the mandate started to sink in after both the legislative session and the school year ended.

“People are grumpy,” said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer for Colorado Springs District 11. “No doubt about it.”

Some district leaders don’t necessarily see the requirements as an impossible burden, but they wonder about the value of the changes.

The financial transparency requirements are part of House Bill 14-1292, the Student Success Act that was at the center of fierce school finance policy debates during the 2014 session. (See this Chalkbeat Colorado story for details on all the bill’s provisions.)

What the law says has to be done

While many nuts and bolts of implementing the transparency requirements remain to be worked out, the new mandate goes significantly beyond a 2010 transparency law (get details on that here) and requires three main things:

Uniformity – The law requires greater standardization in how districts display financial information on their websites. “All districts will have to report [data] in the same fashion,” said Leanne Emm, associate commissioner for school finance at CDE.

Data for every school – Districts ultimately will have to report spending information for individual schools, information that some districts report now but others don’t.

One-stop shopping – Three years from now there will be a single website containing financial information about all districts and schools. The law requires the website to be designed so as “to ensure the greatest degree of clarity and comparability by laypersons of expenditures among school sites, school districts, the state Charter School Institute, and boards of cooperative services.” (The site will be created by a to-be-selected contractor, not CDE.)

What worries districts

A wide variety of district officials interviewed by Chalkbeat raised four main concerns about the law:

Implementation – District officials generally agree that compliance will be relatively painless for large districts but presents a greater challenge to some medium-sized and small districts. “It is going to be a lot of work for a lot of people. It depends on how big you are and how many people you have working for you,” Gustafson said.

Comparability – Even with the requirement for greater uniformity, some district officials wonder if district and school data will be fully comparable. They raise the question of likely district differences in how they account for costs borne by multiple schools – things like the salaries of special education teachers, psychologists and other staff who split their time among buildings.

“It is a significant change to set up your personnel systems [to account for] a teacher or even a principal who works at several different schools,” said Bill Sutter, chief financial officer of the Boulder Valley School District.

Use & Misuse – District officials say they support transparency as an ideal but are openly skeptical that new financial data will see much use by the public.

“Who’s going to actually look at this website?” asked Tracy John, business manager of the 606-student Peyton School District northeast of Colorado Springs.

Anecdotally, districts say there’s little public use of financial information currently available online. “I don’t receive very many calls about transparency,” said Guy Bellville, chief financial official of the Cherry Creek Schools.

And districts are nervous that advocacy groups will use school-level financial data for their own ends, ignoring the context and nuances of why districts spend money as they do.

“Rather than build confidence in school budgeting decisions, it is more likely to provide ammunition to public education detractors who have no interest in learning the deeper context or complexity that comes with school budgeting,” argues Jason Glass, superintendent of the Eagle County Schools.

Impact on student achievement – “Tell me how this is going to impact student achievement,” Gustafson said. “This is a distraction that takes away from student achievement.” Said Boulder’s Sutter, “I’m fairly certain there are no studies about how one more accountant in the district office is going to affect outcomes.”

Another view on data use

Sen. Mike Johnston, a prime sponsor of HB 14-1292 and the instigator of much recent education reform legislation, has a different take on the law.

The Denver Democrat made his case at a recent meeting of district finance officials and CDE staffers who are starting to flesh out the details of implementing the law.

“People will use the data depending on how easy it is to use,” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of presenting information in the right way.”

Johnston also made the pitch that greater financial transparency might make voters more sympathetic to increased funding for education.

During the Amendment 66 campaign in 2013 many voters has “this misperception that education was this large overfunded bureaucracy.” He argued the state needs “to allow parents to understand in regular language where the dollars go in their schools. Our belief is doing this well will paint a clear picture to parents and taxpayers about where those dollars are going. … This makes it easier to make that case” for more funding.

Education interest groups have a variety of reasons for supporting greater financial transparency. Reform groups that advocate for funding equity hope it will provide greater insight into whether low-performing schools are getting the money they need to help at-risk students. Charter schools think greater insight into district spending will show whether or not they’re getting an appropriate share of funding. Republican lawmakers hope transparency will shed more light on pension costs. And others hope transparency is a step toward greater control of money at the school level and even “backpack” funding for individual students.

Transparency a second-tier trend

While financial transparency doesn’t have the high profile of issues such as Common Core State Standards or testing, “it’s a trend we’re seeing right now, and it’s been going on for awhile,” said Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

“Most states require districts to report on financial data,” Griffith said, and now policymakers are saying, “You need to start accounting on a school-level basis.”

Part of the trend is rooted in overall technological change. “As the technology has advanced and people have gotten used to looking things up … that has pushed policymakers.”

Griffith added, “When the idea is presented to policymakers they get excited because they like data. The question is what they do with it when they get it.”

On the school district side, he said, “There’s another fear – they’re going to have to change the way they do business.”

As Colorado administrators discuss the new law, Michigan and Rhode Island are frequently mentioned as possible examples to follow.

Michigan’s state system is under construction; get more information here. To see how districts report, see this page on the Lansing School District site. (All Michigan districts are required to have a prominent financial transparency logo on their home pages. But school-level data isn’t currently required.)

Learn more about Rhode Island’s system here.

The transparency to-do list

The state transparency website doesn’t have to launch until July 1, 2017, but that doesn’t mean CDE and districts don’t face a lot of work – starting now.

A subcommittee of CDE’s Financial Policies and Procedures Committee is working to develop a standard template for districts to use on their websites and hopes to finish that by October.

The full FPP group is supposed to develop a recommendation for the State Board of Education on how to report district revenues.

CDE plans to have a request for proposal finished by the end of the year. This contains specifications that outside bidders will have to meet if they want the $3 million contract to build the statewide website.

Districts will have to use the new template starting July 1, 2015, posting the financial information required by the 2010 transparency law.

In late 2016 or early 2017, using a second template developed by the state, districts will have to post individual school financial data on their sites.

Using data provided by districts, the contractor is supposed to launch the statewide site July 1, 2017.

Emm said the current 2014-15 school year “is almost a planning year” but that districts will have serious work to do starting in about February.

But it’s not fully clear what that work will require. “School districts will not understand what’s required until the FPP completes the template,” said Cherry Creek’s Bellville.

Finding district information can take some effort

District leaders and lobbyists last spring repeatedly made the point that state law already requires posting lots of financial information on district websites, making a new mandate unnecessary.

They were right that the 2010 law requires districts to post annual budgets (full budgets and summaries), audits, quarterly financial statements, salary schedules, check registers, credit and purchase card statements and investment performance reports. (See CDE’s suggested – not mandatory – current template for displaying that information.) The new law allows districts to drop quarterly statements, check registers and card statements after July 1, 2017.

But in many ways the current system is more translucent than it is transparent.

Chalkbeat clicked around the websites of Colorado’s 10 largest districts plus eight more districts of varying sizes – one district with about 1,000 students, another with about 900 students and so on down to a 100-student district.

Overall we found that if you’re looking for district financial information, be prepared to make educated guesses about which homepage link to click and be ready to do a fair amount of clicking, scrolling and opening of large PDF files.

Here are some highlights (and lowlights) of what we found, along with a few hints to help your searches.

  • Home page links to transparency information aren’t consistent. We found them near the top of some pages, in the middle of others and at the bottom of some. (Boulder Valley gets kudos for its blue “BVSD Financial Transparency” button near the top of the home page. Dougco has a Transparency link in a row across the top of the home page.)
  • The link doesn’t always read “Financial Transparency.” If you don’t see those words, look for links with wording like District Finance, District Office, Financials, Administration, Finance & Budget and even About. Pull-down menus generated by such links sometimes reveal a Financial Transparency link.
  • When all else fails, type “financial transparency” into the search window on the district’s home page and see what you find.
  • District budgets and budget summaries can contain a wealth of information, including school-level information for some larger districts. But every district uses its own format. Cherry Creek, for instance, provides easy-to-read information for every school, including photos and demographic details. Other districts’ budgets contain multiple number-crammed spreadsheets of school information. Some districts provide per-pupil spending by school; others don’t.
  • You’ll need to click and scroll. Once you find it on the website, open your district’s budget in Adobe Acrobat or another PDF reader, use the table of contents column on the left and start hunting.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Teen marijuana use down very slightly in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 08/08/2014 - 09:48

Welcome wagon

Several weeks before school starts, members of Manual High School's small incoming class met their teachers, each other, and began to prepare for high school life. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

mea culpa

State education officials said that their processing mistake led to the omission of the Arapahoe High School shooting from violence reports, not the district's failure to report it. ( Denver Post, Colorado Public Radio )

starting early

Thursday was the first day of school for a handful of Denver schools that are adding more time to their school years. ( 9News )

Less lighting up

Teen marijuana use in Colorado is down slightly, but health officials say it's too early to declare legalization the reason for the decline. ( Denver Post )

out in the field

A new regional council of environmental education leaders is meeting to make their programming more accessible to students and schools around the state. ( Steamboat Today )

outside the schoolhouse

More families are choosing home-schooling and other alternative education options in Mesa County. ( Post Independent )

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:53

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Categories: Urban School News

CPS touts rising NWEA scores

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 16:53

More students scored above national norms this past year on the new standardized tests CPS is using than in the previous school year.

About 51.5 percent of elementary school students are performing at national norms in reading and 49 percent in math, compared to around 46 percent in both categories in 2013, CPS officials announced Thursday. Scores improved in every grade, with 8th-graders scoring above national norms.

In contrast to past practice, CPS did not simultaneously release school-by-school scores, which allow for analysis that can show whether gains were largely at certain types of schools or across the board. Chief of Accountability John Barker said he plans to release school-level data next Friday.

The key is getting more detailed information, said Paul Zavitkovsky, leadership coach and assessment specialist at UIC’s Urban Education Leadership Program. “Anytime test scores go up it is promising, but until they break it out on family income and race and ethnicity, then we do not know what is going on,” he said. “Those demographics make a big difference.”

CPS did provide some averages for the schools designated to take in students from closed schools. In general, there was little movement, and the schools remained substantially below national norms. In math, scores decreased 4 tenths of a percent, and 34 percent of students were at national norms. In reading, scores increased less than 1 percent, and 38 percent of students were at national norms.

These so-called welcoming schools had extra resources that allowed them to keep class sizes small and provide additional support.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett described the citywide gains as “incredibly encouraging. … This is saying that a lot of hard work is going on at the schools.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also issued a statement. “Improvements in every grade demonstrate that we are building a strong foundation upon which Chicago students can grow and succeed.”

Byrd-Bennett said she thinks “welcoming” schools are headed in the right direction. “I think that in another year, we will see improvements,” she said.

NWEA replaced ISAT

In addition to the NWEA, CPS students had to take the ISAT this year, as it is still being used by the state for accountability. CPS officials say they just recently got ISAT scores from the state and will soon release them.

The ISAT is being phased out because it is not aligned with new Common Core standards, which are seen as more rigorous. Beginning in the upcoming school year, Illinois will use a new test aligned with Common Core, called the PARCC.

CPS officials decided to transition to the NWEA because it is aligned with Common Core and they wanted students to be ready for the PARCC. NWEA will still be used next year, even though PARCC scores will be available. 

Beginning next year, growth in test scores will be part of the CPS accountability system for teachers and principals as well as schools. CPS will use the NWEA for that.

However, Byrd-Bennett said she does not believe that NWEA growth being factored into evaluations had anything to do with the better test scores. Instead, she says that she, unlike other CEOs, have set a district plan. Her plan has lead to professional development being aligned with standards being taught in class, Byrd-Bennett said.

Also, the district is now using more “personalized learning instruments,” which are mostly computer programs that differentiate instruction based on what students are deficient in, she said. “Personalized learning instruments are not grade specific, but content specific,” she said. “… Technology is an incredible tool to do it.”

But Zavitkovsky also notes that CPS has been improving faster than the state for about five years. However, test scores are a lagging indicator, meaning that the reason for their change usually starts about five years before it happens.

Categories: Urban School News

A new, uncertain year ahead for soon-to-be Manual High School freshmen

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

Jen Strasheim was nervous when she first found out her son would be attending Manual High School.

“There’s some stuff on the internet that makes you go, ‘Oh my god, I’m not sending my kid there,” Strasheim said. But after watching from the sidelines for the school’s freshman academy, a three-day program that involved a combination of pep talks and practical preparation for the coming year, her fears had calmed.

“I can’t tell you how amazing it is,” she said.

The academy is just one of a host of changes at the school, where declining academics and mismanaged budget led to a high-profile mid-year change in school leaders.

District officials announced plans to introduce a still undefined overhaul of the school, potentially as soon as next year. If those plans go forward, it would be the fourth attempted transformation of the troubled school in the past decade.

The fallout from the school’s public troubles has trickled down to the prospective students. The number of students slated to attend the school this fall dropped by more than third from previous years. As of this week, just 70 students were projected to enroll at Manual as freshman, compared with 145 last October.

And the roughly 17 students who showed up to freshman academy said they were well aware of the school’s issues.

But most were more nervous about the challenges that face ninth graders across the district: will I make my friends? Will my work be hard? How will I find my classes? Chalkbeat spoke with students and their families about what they anticipate for the coming year.

Caroline Herrera, who will be a freshman at Manual this fall, sat with her friend Monica Villanueva in the cafeteria. Both students attended Whittier K-8 School and were among the 49 students who assigned to Manual automatically because they did not submit a form in time to pick a different school during the district’s school choice process.

The two girls said they’d been warned off the school, due to its low performance, but decided to go anyway.

Herrera: [I told my parents] It doesn’t matter who goes there and what people say about it. We’ll go and find out for ourselves.

Herrera was intimidated by the transition to high school but she was more worried about her social nerves.

Herrera: I did OK in middle school but I’m worried about high school…I’m not a talkative person. I’m nervous about fitting in with people. Yesterday we talked about how some people would act like clowns.

But Manual’s shrinking student body could prove an unexpected boon to Villanueva.

Villanueva: I’m shy so I’m glad it’s a smaller school.

Jen Strasheim and her 15-year old son just moved to Denver from Littleton and she now lives just 10 blocks from Manual. Despite her initial hesitation, she hoped Manual would prove to be a good school for her son.

Jen Strasheim: I was talking to [Fernando Branch, the assistant principal] and he was saying there are two paths at Manual, the A track and the B track…You don’t see teachers trying to connect with students [at other schools]. A lot of kids say they’re the best teachers they’ve had.

Besides, she said, the message her son gets at home will be important too.

Jen Strasheim: I’m his mom. I’m going to be there every step of the way. He’s got to stay on the right track or he won’t like being at home (laughs).

Jeremiah Strasheim was less worried about the school’s reputation. He had never attended a school with three floors and the prospect of losing his way made him nervous.

Jeremiah Strasheim: Just, like, getting lost. Last year, I went to a pretty big middle school. I got my huge schedule and I asked one of the teachers where my classroom was. He said, “You should know that.” I was so late.

And the phantom of schoolwork and tests is already hanging over his head, with older students warning him to get ready to work hard.

Elijah [Huff], a junior, took the ACT and he said it was the hardest test he’s taken. He said to prepare and to get help.

The students he talked to also told him to tread carefully during the first heady days of school, as he finds his social group.

[Students] were saying, “Make new friends but be careful. You don’t want them to choose for you.”

Categories: Urban School News

Comings and Goings: Peters, Sheren, Swanson, Rivera

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 08/07/2014 - 15:29

Harrison Peters, a former CPS chief of schools, is now the chief school officer for the Houston Independent School District in Texas. Peters was with CPS for the past four years.

Amy Sheren is leaving her position as executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Education and relocating to Singapore to be with her family. Sheren was at the foundation for five years.

In case you missed it:

Beth Swanson has resigned as deputy chief of staff for education for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Arnaldo Rivera, chief operating officer of the Chicago Public Education Fund, has succeeded her.

Swanson is moving to the Joyce Foundation, where she will serve as vice president of strategy and programs. Previously she was an administrator for the Chicago Public Schools and executive director of The Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Before joining the Chicago Public Education Fund, Rivera was deputy chief of staff for CPS CEOs Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Jean-Claude Brizard. Rivera began his education career as a teacher at Disney Magnet School. 

Be a part of Comings & Goings. Send items to Catalyst Community Editor Vicki Jones: vjones@catalyst-chicago.org

Categories: Urban School News

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