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Voices from turnaround: What five schools are doing to boost student achievement

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 15:42

The state of Colorado labels more than 100 schools with the same term: failing.

But no two turnaround schools, as they’re sometimes called, are failing for the exact same reason. And it’s unlikely that the solution the schools need is the same.

That’s probably because the schools and the communities they serve are just as unique. Some schools are urban, some are rural. Some serve large populations of English language learners. Others serve second, third, and fourth generation Coloradans.

Last month, nine schools from five school districts that are participating in the state’s voluntary Turnaround Network gathered at a Colorado Springs hotel for a lesson on teacher feedback. In its first year, the network is run by the Colorado Department of Education and provides mentoring and independent analysis for its partnered schools.

At the seminar, Chalkbeat asked school leaders about their most important work to improve student learning. Listen to the clips below and then explore the turnaround network school profiles on the map below. Clips are color coded to match their schools on the map.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: School funding fights go to court

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 09:56

Q&A with “School Psychologist of the Year”

Andrea Clyne talks about changes in the field, the importance of universal mental health screenings and how Louisville Middle School staff make sure every student feels a sense of belonging at school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

What education issue shouldn't be overlooked by Colorado lawmakers? Let us know what you think. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Springs scholarships

After a two-year break to reorganize, educational empowerment nonprofit Parents Challenge is running at full speed - planning two January events for parents and educators and taking applications for programs that offer scholarships and grants. ( Gazette )

School funding in court

Lawsuits like one in Kansas have become a popular tactic to try to win more money for public schools. Thirteen states, from Texas to Pennsylvania, are facing active school finance litigation. ( Marketplace )

In a ruling more than 100 pages long, a Kansas district court stood by its 2013 ruling that school funding is unconstitutionally low, but declined to order the state to inject a specific amount of money. ( Topeka Capital-Journal )

Teacher evaluations

In the second year of what was intended to be a tough new system of evaluating Indiana educators, the results were the same: hardly any were rated ineffective and nearly all were certified as doing their jobs effectively. ( Chalkbeat Indiana )

Home schooling

Unlike so much of education in this country, teaching at home is broadly unregulated. Along with steady growth in home schooling has come a spirited debate and lobbying war over how much oversight such education requires. ( NY Times )

Broadband access

A series of broad policy changes to the federal E-rate program will bring billions of dollars in increased funding and a greater focus on high-speed wireless technologies to schools and libraries. ( EdWeek )

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What education issue shouldn’t be overlooked by Colorado lawmakers?

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 14:48

The Colorado General Assembly will begin a new session Wednesday. Funding and testing are likely going to be the sessions hot-button and most-watched education issues. Some lawmakers also plan on taking a close look at how schools report violence to the state and parents. We’ll have a preview of the session later this week.

But this week’s question of week wonders: what other, maybe more under-the-radar, education issues should the Colorado General Assembly take on? And what should they do about it? 

If you’re interested in receiving breaking news alerts and exclusive analysis of education issues in the session — and receive our most in-depth preview of the session later this week — make sure to sign up for our new Capitol membership. Find out more details here.

Each Monday, we ask readers a question about a timely or timeless question about their experiences in education. Readers who want to share their opinions should leave a response in the comment section below, tweet us @ChalkbeatCO, send an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook wall. Every Friday we round up the responses. Here’s last week’s.

Categories: Urban School News

“School Psychologist of the Year” on the changing role of mental health services

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 13:53

Dr. Andrea Clyne, a school psychologist at Louisville Middle School, was recently selected as the 2014 School Psychologist of the Year by the Colorado Society of School Psychologists. Here’s what she had to say about how she got into the field, how it’s changed and the importance of making sure students feel connected to school.

Why did you become a school psychologist?

I was in my undergrad program at the University of Colorado-Boulder and I was taking a summer seminar course for seniors and a lot of different types of psychologists came in and spoke to our class about careers. When I heard about school psychology I got really excited because I’d never heard of it before.

I’ve always loved children. I found out I could start working with a Master’s degree and I came from some more humble beginnings so the idea of making some money before getting a Ph.D. appealed to me.

In 1989-90, that was the school year that I did my internship while I was in grad school, and I actually interned in Boulder Valley with several different school psychologists… I was actually at this school one day a week for a school year.

At the time, school psychology traditionally involved really more itinerant services. Through the years, I’ve worked at several different schools, but this has always been my common school… I’m here four days a week and I have a private practice in Boulder one day a week.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day involves a lot of consultation with kids and with the adults. I work a lot with the counselors and our administrators around system-level things… I consult with them about mental health concerns that students have, talk with them about parents who are needing support.

I work with students individually, with different social concerns… if they’re really struggling in different classes, doing some problem-solving. [With the counselors] we give social-emotional lessons to the entire school in small group assemblies. We do that eight times a year.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that school psychologists face today?

We come from very rigorous training programs so we’re prepared as school psychologists, and probably the biggest struggle is just the sheer number of students needing our consultation and our support, and families.

I would love … to be here full time. I would love to also have a social worker here full time because there’s plenty of work for everyone to support students trying to succeed academically and socially. That’s nothing new and that’s not a real easy thing to solve.

In terms of the profession, we really have a huge problem, especially in the western states, with shortages of school psychologists.

You’ve been a school psychologist for 24 years, how has your work evolved over that time?

My role took a big turn half way through my career, about 10 years ago, the role of school psychology broadened nationally. This happened as a result of some different legislative changes…IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] was reauthorized…One of the changes…had to do with the identification of learning disabilities and RTI [Response to Intervention] became part of that decision-making paradigm…That really pushed forward more of a consultative role.

We began…performing less and less formalized cognitive testing because that was not part of the new criteria for qualifying for a learning disability…Also, what became a big educational trend at that time was Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports [PBIS]. In 2006,…we launched a PBIS program here. RTI and PBIS together came about right around the same time and that helped me as a school psychologist evolve into a consultative role.

On the flip side, how have the problems that students face changed during your tenure?

Truly, I don’t see the children changing that much over that 20 year period of time…Some of the issues remain exactly the same. Everybody wants to be liked, everyone wants to fit in, no one wants to look different in a bad way. Everybody wants to be understood and to be successful in school.

We seem to have more parent involvement now, over the last 10-15 years, and I think it’s really good for kids.

One change is that…students are way more tech-savvy than they used to be. That has produced a crisis at times regarding cyberbullying…That’s why at our school we do a lot of education with all the students about being careful what you send, being careful with your decisions when electronics are available to you. We touch on cyber etiquette and responsible use of electronics at least six times a year in our assemblies with students.

Do you think universal mental health screenings should be a standard tool for schools?

I do… and there is a new paradigm that we’re working on right now…It’s MTSS and that stands for Multi-Tiered System of Support. What it does is bring together the idea of Response to intervention and Positive Behavior Support together, with the further idea that we provide enough layers of support in a school to try to meet everyone’s needs.

If we don’t know who is struggling emotionally, it’s difficult to be able to do that. So, some sort of screening for mental health concerns is a major part of the MTSS model…I’m not exactly sure what that will look like, but we’re working on that as a district. It’s going to be a multi-year project.  

The recommendation letter from your principal states that you said believe the most important behavior information isn’t discipline data but whether students felt attached to the school? How did you come to that conclusion?

I’d like to give [my principal Ginny Vidulich] credit for this. For years and years, our leadership team has talked about the relationships between teachers and staff and students. The data shows that students who are more involved at school and who have positive relationships with their teachers have better outcomes behaviorally and academically.

A few years ago, she devised a method for measuring the level of involvement of every single one of our students–600-plus students…She made this tremendous spreadsheet…We have gone one by one to make sure that we have students who are connected to school or connected to a teacher.

We might find a student who maybe is not much of a joiner of clubs and sports, but we know they have a very strong relationship with several of their teachers and they have conversations with them about things other than just school.

How do you and your colleagues identify students who don’t feel a sense of belonging at school?

We have an activity that our school did last week….It’s called a DOT activity, “Developing Our Ties”…Teachers identify students where they might not have connections with any teachers. Then we work on matching teachers with students that they would like to mentor and form connections with.

It’s usually teachers who already have the student in one of their classes. So it becomes a more natural way to show more interest, get to know them more, ask them more about what they’re involved in at home, what different hobbies they might have. They might show interest and go to a football game on a weekend, things like that.

We’ve just found that it works. It helps our students feel like there are people at school who care about them and that’s a huge protective factor right there.

Middle school is a notoriously tough time in terms of peer relationships, how do you help students navigate problems like cliques, mean girls, peer pressure and bullies?

Now…I’m able to work at different layers and tiers of the system whereas before it was at the top tier with the student with the most disabilities or struggles. We teach some of these social-emotional learnings in assemblies to the whole school and we have no more than about 60 students at a time…We talk about friendship skills. We talk about conflict resolution.

The second level of support is the counselors or I will work with pockets of students who need a little more practice with it…so we might even meet with a group of students together and do some very short-term counseling intervention.

Individual students who are really struggling, probably the biggest intervention that makes the most change for them is for them to find a friend or two. That goes so far in terms of supporting their mental health…So we really work hard on helping students to find friends, and to at least start with friendly acquaintances….Then we also sometimes work with positive peer mentors to help support that process.

By eighth-grade, almost without fail… students sort of find their people…Now that doesn’t solve every mental health problem, but in terms of the fitting in aspect, that helps quite a bit.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Catching up on the news

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 10:00

CPS leaders are open to handing over the education of the district’s most troubled, vulnerable students to private entities, putting out a Request for Proposals last week that asked for vendors to apply to serve students considered at risk of dropping out who are as young as 6th grade.

“We have been struggling with this population and we are looking for experienced providers to help us,” said Jack Esley, chief of the Office of Incubation and Innovation, in a press call last week.

That the district is looking to open what are essentially alternative schools for middle-grades students is likely to raise some eyebrows. Esley says district leaders have no idea if there is a private company that has been successful with this age group. “That is what the RFP is for,” he said.

But as many as 9,000 middle grades students are in such academic trouble that CPS officials think they need early dropout prevention. About 900 of them—and this might be first time CPS has identified middle school dropouts--are labeled “transfer within district” or “unable to locate” and they never reenroll. The rest are basically failing with less than a 1.0 GPA and attendance of less than 80 percent.

The district also wants to explore creating some new third-party programs for the 2,000-some students forced to enter high school without graduating from eighth grade. Ever since the district established a strict promotion policy in the late 1990s, it has been confronted with the problem of students who didn’t meet the criteria to graduate eighth grade but are over 15 and therefore must leave elementary school.

At first, CPS had small schools for these students, then a special program within high schools. Both had mixed results. For the past few years, there has been no program and the students were just sent to high school.

Esley said district officials had a lot of discussion about lessons they can learn from failed attempts at serving these students.

2. Expanding private operators… CPS also is asking for proposals for new charter/contract schools, Dyett High School and for current providers to expand. This year, the general new school RFP is for schools to fill what CPS calls “under represented programmatic designs.” These are identified as dual language, arts integration, humanities focused and something called Next Generation models, which incorporate “personalized, blended learning.”

CPS also would like more schools to serve the 27,000 students who are either short of credits needed to graduate on time--what are called young and far or old and far--or have dropped out, but only need a few credits to get a diploma. Under CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, there has been a major expansion of these schools, but CPS still only has 11,584 seats for available. These schools could either be charter schools, contract schools or run as Alternative Opportunities Programs.

Existing charter and contract schools only have to submit business plans and not full proposals.As has happened in the past, Neighborhood Advisory Councils will be formed to recommend new schools, though board members have final say and have in the past ignored the direction of community councils.

Public hearings will be held in August and the board will vote on recommended proposals at their October 2015 meeting. Approved new schools will open in the Fall of 2016. CPS leaders had already announced that no new schools would be approved this year for Fall 2015.

3. Pricey school for rich kids?… Disputed cost overruns with a politically connected contractor could drive the final price tag for  Jones College Prep to $127 million -- that is, $13 million more than expected. The Sun-Times reports that the city is bracing for a court fight with Walsh Construction, which submitted the extra bills related to the steel structure and accelerated construction over the summer. The Public Building Commission of Chicago rejected the claims and set aside money for legal fees in preparation for a possible lawsuit.

Jones College Prep -- a selective enrollment school in the South Loop -- is already the most expensive public high school ever built in the city, the Sun-Times notes. Construction for the new school was financed with the always-controversial tax-increment financing.

Also, last week, cpsobsessed.org published data showing that 44 percent of the students admitted to Jones this year were from the highest income of the four tiers that make up the framework of the selective admissions process. Students from the highest income tier can claim more seats by claiming a large number of the 30 percent awarded solely through rank order of test scores (which remain strongly tied to income).

The selective enrollment high schools on the South and West sides of the city--Brooks, King, Westinghouse and Lindblom--tend to have a disproportionate number of students from the second to the highest income tier or tier 3.

4. Quazzo investigation… Right before Christmas, the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigation that showed that in the mere year and a half since Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the School Board, companies in which she is a major investor have tripled their business with CPS, raking in an additional $2.9 million. Some of the companies, the Sun-Times notes, are selling programs to schools for just $1 under the $25,000 threshold that would require board approval. Soon after the revelation, the Sun Times called for her resignation and the inspector general has opened an investigation.

Quazzo is big investor in what are called EdTech firms, which provide individual schools with ACT prep or online instruction in reading writing or math. The EdTech industry is reportedly exploding.

While it is not clear whether Quazzo has done anything wrong (and she insists she hasn’t), Morrill Principal Michael Beyer writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that it is the type of company she promotes that is problematic. “I have yet to find independent scientific research proving any software is equal to or better than other non-digital teaching strategies,” writes Beyer. What’s more, many of these companies promise “personalized learning” with one even telling a group of educators that the software is “Montessori on steriods.” “I thought at the time, `Why not just do Montessori? Why do we need steroids?’” Beyer writes.

5. Recouping money… Not letting up on its earlier investigation into CPS’s risky bond deals, the Chicago Tribune reported on other bodies that have succeeded in “clawing back losses, with banks repaying millions of dollars to governments that issued the same kind of problematic auction-rate debt Chicago’s school system did.” The story notes that many governments’ claims are still in progress, including cities ranging from Houston and Reno, Nev., to a Florida school district. "If we had not pursued it, we would have never gotten anything," RoseMarie Reno, the outgoing treasurer of a California hospital district, told the Tribune. That hospital district secured a $4.5 million settlement to help cover its losses on auction-rate securities last year.

CPS told the Tribune it’s reviewing the litigation in other parts of the country “to determine if other options are available,” while noting that it had previously reviewed the transaction “and determined there is no avenue for arbitration.”

In another story, the Trib also wrote about a new federally mandated test for advisors who guide government borrowers -- and whether it’ll actually be enough to tests advisors’ ability to evaluate “the burdensome derivative deals that helped Congress to set the standards in the first place.”

 

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Looking back and forward at education changes in Colorado

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 09:59

Looking back, forward

Students took to the streets, testing backlash grew and Denver took on equity in 2014. Here's a look back at those stories and more. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

As Colorado's standardized exams move nearly entirely online, the issue of testing isn't going anywhere in 2015. ( Denver Post )

Jeffco Public Schools, under new leadership, saw massive change in 2014. ( Arvada Press )

"They're doing it this way because we're not giving them a voice in other ways. We need to question why we're not giving youth power in some other realms." — Hava Gordon, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Denver on the four months of student protests in the metro area. ( Denver Post )

Some Colorado lawmakers plan to review how schools report violent crimes to the state and parents during the next legislative session. ( Denver Post )

A Grand Junction school sending home a 9-year-old girl after she had shaved her head in support of an 11-year-old friend who was facing chemotherapy treatments to fight cancer made Westword's "Strange but true" in education year-in-review list. ( Westword )

Human Resources

To improve its principal pipeline, Denver Public Schools is now running or partnered with a number of programs that train, certify, and support assistant principals, principals, and even the instructional superintendents who supervise school leaders. ( Chalkbeat )

Two Erie Middle School students were recognized for winning the Samsung Mobile App Challenge for an app that aims to improve brain function and soothe students with disabilities. ( Longmont Times-Call )

Devil in the details

Cities and states — including Denver — are still in the midst of figuring out how to make preschool more accessible to four-year-olds, right now. When it’s used, the term “universal” is often aspirational. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Living and learning transgender

While Colorado now recognizes same-sex marriages, for transgender Coloradans, including students, acceptance may still seem far away. ( Daily Camera )

Rural context

Roaring Fork School District officials hope an affordable housing plan will drive down teacher turnover. ( Post Independent )

Meanwhile, The Colorado Department of Higher Education has outlined five initiatives aimed at helping more rural students graduate ready for college by helping prepare more educators. ( Denver Post )

dollars and sense

A plan to funnel a chunk of the town's oil and gas revenue into Windsor-Severance schools ran into opposition last week. ( Fort Collins Coloradoan )

College prep

College application numbers are on the rise both in Boulder and nationally. High school counselors attribute the increased number of applicants to the ease of using the Common Application, more encouragement for low-income students to apply to more places and, especially for top students, simple fear of not getting into the most wanted and selective schools. ( Daily Camera )

Home-school hybrid

Boulder Explore, a part-time program for the Boulder Valley School District's home-schooled students that's in its third year, is now lead by teachers and looking for a more specific mission. ( Daily Camera )

Two cents

Colorado lawmakers should establish tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations that provide tuition help to students seeking a private education. ( Greeley Tribune )

Categories: Urban School News

Inspector Gen'l. report: Major financial fraud, abuse of selective admissions

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 06:00

Over the past five years, a CPS employee who worked at two struggling high schools milked them of almost $900,000 in a large, multi-faceted purchasing and reimbursement scam, according to today’s release of the Inspector General’s annual report.

Also, the inspector general report details incidents in which parents falsified their addresses to make it easier for their children to get into selective high schools; and cases in which two high schools mis-categorized dropouts to improve their graduation rates.

The employee accused of the fraud scheme resigned from CPS under investigation and is designated as "Do Not Hire." The inspector general’s office has been working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, but no arrests have been made yet.

The report does not name the schools involved, but sources have identified them to Catalyst as Gage Park and Michele Clark.

While this is one of the largest, if not the largest single scheme in the district's recent history, just two years ago, Lakeview High School’s technology coordinator was found dead after being accused carrying out a similiar scheme. In both cases, the employees worked with associates to funnel money to companies for goods and services that the schools never received, and the scheme was carried for years without being noticed.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says that CPS “continues to evaluate its procurement processes to increase safeguards and adopt best practices to prevent these occurrences.”

But for several years, the inspector general’s office has been encouraging CPS to provide more resources the internal audit and the inspector general’s office, noting that CPS contracts are lucrative and thousands of people in schools have the authority to request and approve payments to vendors.

This case was flagged during a financial audit, which led to the Inspector General’s report.

In the report, IG Nicholas Schuler notes that his office was able to investigate only 20 percent of the complaints received. The office is limited because it is often investigating big, complex issues and has a small staff of only 13 investigators, plus Schuler and his deputy, to scrutinize the $6 billion school district with 41,000-some employees.

By contrast, Houston Independent has 20 professionals to investigate a school district that is half the size of CPS. In 2011, the IG report noted that Chicago has one inspector for every 2,300 employees, while Cook County has one inspector for every 1,100 employees and the city's municipal government has an inspector for every 455 workers.

“The inability to investigate more complaints creates a substantial risk that instances of fraud and employee misconduct go undetected,” he writes.

In an interview, Schuler added: “We are undersized and understaffed compared to other IGs in the area.”

Fraud at two high schools

Employee records show that the administrator who orchestrated the fraud in question worked at Gage Park High from at least 2009 to 2012. In 2012, he made $104,000. In the 2013 employee roster, he shows up as a 0.5 (half-time) position at both Clark and Gage Park, with an annual salary of $109,168.

Gage Park High School has seen its enrollment drop by more than 70 percent in the past five years. This summer, when teachers got wind of the investigation, they were outraged.

“We are sinking and nobody cares,” Susan Steinmiller, a 23-year veteran teacher and a representative on the local school council, said this summer. “We have no newspaper, no library, no band, why would anyone want to be here?... I am just really upset because we really need the money.”

In September, however, Gage Park’s principal abruptly retired and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett hand-picked the principal’s replacement. Byrd- Bennett has said she is personally invested in the revitalization of the school.

According to the IG’s report, the principals of the two high schools did not seem aware of the scheme. But they did put a lot of trust in this one particular employee and one of them gave him their password to the district's IT system, which helped facilitate the fraud.
Still, questions remain about how so much money could be paid for such an extended period of time without coming to attention of school or district leadership.

The employee used a variety of methods to siphon money to himself. But the majority of the scheme was carried out by engineering payment to a number of companies for more than $700,000 in goods and services that were never delivered to the schools. The Inspector General’s report confirms that the CPS employee in question received at least $100,000 in kickbacks from one of the deals and indicates that the office suspects he received much more.

“In addition to the large cut that Business Owner 4 was keeping, the OIG could not eliminate the possibility that Business Owner 3 or Business Owner 4 kicked back portions of the $581,947 to Employee A, who made over $122,000 in cash deposits—usually round amounts—during this scheme,” according to the inspector general report.

The employee also steered false reimbursements to three of his CPS colleagues and, in at least one case, had the bulk of money given back to him in cash.

The employee also participated in "stringing," meaning that purchases were distributed to several companies in order to avoid the non-competitive purchasing limits of $10,000.

Beyond the Gage Park case, several incidents of stringing were identified in the Inspector General report and it has been a consistent problem noted in previous reports. At another high school, the school operations manager strung together purchases for office supplies among four businesses and got kickbacks from the companies. The employee was laid off and is designated as Do Not hire.

In two other situations, companies tried to promote "stringing" to schools by getting multiple vendor numbers and advertising the fact that they have them to schools.

Schuler says CPS needs to do a better job of informing operations managers and clerks about stringing and the fact that it is illegal. Also, he acknowledges that some stringing may be done to avoid paperwork or to speed up purchasing.

The report also points to several individual incidents of fraud or ethics violations. One of them, in which two teachers also work as police officers, is not a violation. The IG is recommending that CPS look into making it one.

Dropouts, selective admissions

The inspector also honed in on two high schools, linked by a common administrator, that wrongly labeled a few hundred students as transfers to GED programs or verified transfers, but without confirming them. The report concludes that these students should have been labeled as dropouts or “unable to locate.”

It is unclear whether correctly labeling these students, which as far as the IG knows never happened, would have lowered CPS’ graduation rate—which, at 69 percent, is regularly touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a major accomplishment. Also, many more schools may be miscoding students, as the IG only focused on the two high schools where there were complaints.

None of the three school administrators in this case have been disciplined as recommended by the Inspector General, and one of them has been promoted.

Meanwhile, parents, including some who are CPS employees, got themselves into trouble this past year for falsifying their addresses in order to give their children an edge in getting into selective enrollment high schools--confirming suspicions  that parents would try to game the admissions system that now relies on neighborhood and family socioeconomic characteristics rather than primarily on race, as under the former desegregation decree.

According to CPS, last year, 16,000 students applied for 3,200 selective enrollment seats.

Schuler says his office has looked into individual cases of abuses in the past, but wanted to take a hard look at it this year.

“Everyone in the city is trying to get these seats,” he says. “They are highly sought after and we want to make sure the process is fair and honest.”

McCaffrey says that parents should be aware that district leaders are taking misrepresentation seriously and working to try to prevent it. “This may include future audits of students in selective enrollment schools,” he says.

Schuler's office found12 cases in which parents provided false addresses that would put them in a better position to land a seat; and, in half of those cases, the parents worked for CPS. Schuler says that this is by no means the full scope of the problem, but that his office looked for particular “red flags” and this was the result of that review. In addition, he says the fact that CPS employees tried to cheat the system is particularly egregious.

In two of the cases, the students would have gotten into the selective enrollment high school even if their parents had used their true address. Those students were allowed to continue attending the school and the parents weren’t subjected to any discipline.

However, eight students were dis-enrolled, one student withdrew on their own and another one was allowed to stay because she was going into her senior year. Four of the employees were either fired or resigned.

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Catching up on the news

Catalyst Chicago - Sun, 01/04/2015 - 21:43

CPS leaders are open to handing over the education of the district’s most troubled, vulnerable students to private entities, putting out a Request for Proposals last week that asked for vendors to apply to serve students considered at risk of dropping out who are as young as 6th grade.

“We have been struggling with this population and we are looking for experienced providers to help us,” said Jack Esley, chief of the Office of Incubation and Innovation, in a press call last week.

That the district is looking to open what are essentially alternative schools for middle-grades students is likely to raise some eyebrows. Esley says district leaders have no idea if there is a private company that has been successful with this age group. “That is what the RFP is for,” he said.

But as many as 9,000 middle grades students are in such academic trouble that CPS officials think they need early dropout prevention. About 900 of them—and this might be first time CPS has identified middle school dropouts--are labeled “transfer within district” or “unable to locate” and they never reenroll. The rest are basically failing with less than a 1.0 GPA and attendance of less than 80 percent.

The district also wants to explore creating some new third-party programs for the 2,000-some students forced to enter high school without graduating from eighth grade. Ever since the district established a strict promotion policy in the late 1990s, it has been confronted with the problem of students who didn’t meet the criteria to graduate eighth grade but are over 15 and therefore must leave elementary school.

At first, CPS had small schools for these students, then a special program within high schools. Both had mixed results. For the past few years, there has been no program and the students were just sent to high school.

Esley said district officials had a lot of discussion about lessons they can learn from failed attempts at serving these students.

2. Expanding private operators… CPS also is asking for proposals for new charter/contract schools, Dyett High School and for current providers to expand. This year, the general new school RFP is for schools to fill what CPS calls “under represented programmatic designs.” These are identified as dual language, arts integration, humanities focused and something called Next Generation models, which incorporate “personalized, blended learning.”

CPS also would like more schools to serve the 27,000 students who are either short of credits needed to graduate on time--what are called young and far or old and far--or have dropped out, but only need a few credits to get a diploma. Under CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, there has been a major expansion of these schools, but CPS still only has 11,584 seats for available. These schools could either be charter schools, contract schools or run as Alternative Opportunities Programs.

Existing charter and contract schools only have to submit business plans and not full proposals.As has happened in the past, Neighborhood Advisory Councils will be formed to recommend new schools, though board members have final say and have in the past ignored the direction of community councils.

Public hearings will be held in August and the board will vote on recommended proposals at their October 2015 meeting. Approved new schools will open in the Fall of 2016. CPS leaders had already announced that no new schools would be approved this year for Fall 2015.

3. Pricey school for rich kids?… Disputed cost overruns with a politically connected contractor could drive the final price tag for  Jones College Prep to $127 million -- that is, $13 million more than expected. The Sun-Times reports that the city is bracing for a court fight with Walsh Construction, which submitted the extra bills related to the steel structure and accelerated construction over the summer. The Public Building Commission of Chicago rejected the claims and set aside money for legal fees in preparation for a possible lawsuit.

Jones College Prep -- a selective enrollment school in the South Loop -- is already the most expensive public high school ever built in the city, the Sun-Times notes. Construction for the new school was financed with the always-controversial tax-increment financing.

Also, last week, cpsobsessed.org published data showing that 44 percent of the students admitted to Jones this year were from the highest income of the four tiers that make up the framework of the selective admissions process.

Students from the highest income tier can claim more seats by claiming a large number of the 30 percent awarded solely through rank order of test scores (which remain strongly tied to income).

The selective enrollment high schools on the South and West sides of the city--Brooks, King, Westinghouse and Lindblom--tend to have a disproportionate number of students from the second to the highest income tier or tier 3.

3. Quazzo investigation… Right before Christmas, the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigation that showed that in the mere year and a half since Deborah Quazzo was appointed to the School Board, companies in which she is a major investor have tripled their business with CPS, raking in an additional $2.9 million. Some of the companies, the Sun-Times notes, are selling programs to schools for just $1 under the $25,000 threshold that would require board approval. Soon after the revelation, the Sun Times called for her resignation and the inspector general has opened an investigation.

Quazzo is big investor in what are called EdTech firms, which provide individual schools with ACT prep or online instruction in reading writing or math. The EdTech industry is reportedly exploding.

While it is not clear whether Quazzo has done anything wrong (and she insists she hasn’t), Morrill Principal Michael Beyer writes in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that it is the type of company she promotes that is problematic. “I have yet to find independent scientific research proving any software is equal to or better than other non-digital teaching strategies,” writes Beyer. What’s more, many of these companies promise “personalized learning” with one even telling a group of educators that the software is “Montessori on steriods.” “I thought at the time, `Why not just do Montessori? Why do we need steroids?’” Beyer writes.

5. Recouping money… Not letting up on its earlier investigation into CPS’s risky bond deals, the Chicago Tribune reported on other bodies that have succeeded in “clawing back losses, with banks repaying millions of dollars to governments that issued the same kind of problematic auction-rate debt Chicago’s school system did.” The story notes that many governments’ claims are still in progress, including cities ranging from Houston and Reno, Nev., to a Florida school district. "If we had not pursued it, we would have never gotten anything," RoseMarie Reno, the outgoing treasurer of a California hospital district, told the Tribune. That hospital district secured a $4.5 million settlement to help cover its losses on auction-rate securities last year.

CPS told the Tribune it’s reviewing the litigation in other parts of the country “to determine if other options are available,” while noting that it had previously reviewed the transaction “and determined there is no avenue for arbitration.”

In another story, the Trib also wrote about a new federally mandated test for advisors who guide government borrowers -- and whether it’ll actually be enough to tests advisors’ ability to evaluate “the burdensome derivative deals that helped Congress to set the standards in the first place.”

 

 

 





Categories: Urban School News

Inspector Gen'l. report: Major financial fraud, abuse of selective admissions

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 01/02/2015 - 17:30

Over the past five years, a CPS employee who worked at two struggling high schools milked them of almost $900,000 in a large, multi-faceted purchasing and reimbursement scam, according to today’s release of the Inspector General’s annual report.

Also, the inspector general report details incidents in which parents falsified their addresses to make it easier for their children to get into selective high schools; and cases in which two high schools mis-categorized dropouts to improve their graduation rates.

The employee accused of the fraud scheme resigned from CPS under investigation and is designated as "Do Not Hire." The inspector general’s office has been working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, but no arrests have been made yet.

The report does not name the schools involved, but sources have identified them to Catalyst as Gage Park and Michele Clark.

While this is one of the largest, if not the largest single scheme in the district's recent history, just two years ago, Lakeview High School’s technology coordinator was found dead after being accused carrying out a similiar scheme. In both cases, the employees worked with associates to funnel money to companies for goods and services that the schools never received, and the scheme was carried for years without being noticed.

CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey says that CPS “continues to evaluate its procurement processes to increase safeguards and adopt best practices to prevent these occurrences.”

But for several years, the inspector general’s office has been encouraging CPS to provide more resources the internal audit and the inspector general’s office, noting that CPS contracts are lucrative and thousands of people in schools have the authority to request and approve payments to vendors.

This case was flagged during a financial audit, which led to the Inspector General’s report.

In the report, IG Nicholas Schuler notes that his office was able to investigate only 20 percent of the complaints received. The office is limited because it is often investigating big, complex issues and has a small staff of only 13 investigators, plus Schuler and his deputy, to scrutinize the $6 billion school district with 41,000-some employees.

By contrast, Houston Independent has 20 professionals to investigate a school district that is half the size of CPS. In 2011, the IG report noted that Chicago has one inspector for every 2,300 employees, while Cook County has one inspector for every 1,100 employees and the city's municipal government has an inspector for every 455 workers.

“The inability to investigate more complaints creates a substantial risk that instances of fraud and employee misconduct go undetected,” he writes.

In an interview, Schuler added: “We are undersized and understaffed compared to other IGs in the area.”

Fraud at two high schools

Employee records show that the administrator who orchestrated the fraud in question worked at Gage Park High from 2002 to 2012. In 2012, he made $104,000. In the 2013 employee roster, he shows up as a 0.5 (half-time) position at both Clark and Gage Park, with an annual salary of $109,168.

Gage Park High School has seen its enrollment drop by more than 70 percent in the past five years. This summer, when teachers got wind of the investigation, they were outraged.

“We are sinking and nobody cares,” Susan Steinmiller, a 23-year veteran teacher and a representative on the local school council, said this summer. “We have no newspaper, no library, no band, why would anyone want to be here?... I am just really upset because we really need the money.”

In September, however, Gage Park’s principal abruptly retired and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett hand-picked the principal’s replacement. Byrd- Bennett has said she is personally invested in the revitalization of the school.

According to the IG’s report, the principals of the two high schools did not seem aware of the scheme. But they did put a lot of trust in this one particular employee and one of them gave him their password to the district's IT system, which helped facilitate the fraud.
Still, questions remain about how so much money could be paid for such an extended period of time without coming to attention of school or district leadership.

The employee used a variety of methods to siphon money to himself. But the majority of the scheme was carried out by engineering payment to a number of companies for more than $700,000 in goods and services that were never delivered to the schools. The Inspector General’s report confirms that the CPS employee in question received at least $100,000 in kickbacks from one of the deals and indicates that the office suspects he received much more.

“In addition to the large cut that Business Owner 4 was keeping, the OIG could not eliminate the possibility that Business Owner 3 or Business Owner 4 kicked back portions of the $581,947 to Employee A, who made over $122,000 in cash deposits—usually round amounts—during this scheme,” according to the inspector general report.

The employee also steered false reimbursements to three of his CPS colleagues and, in at least one case, had the bulk of money given back to him in cash.

The employee also participated in "stringing," meaning that purchases were distributed to several companies in order to avoid the non-competitive purchasing limits of $10,000.

Beyond the Gage Park case, several incidents of stringing were identified in the Inspector General report and it has been a consistent problem noted in previous reports. At another high school, the school operations manager strung together purchases for office supplies among four businesses and got kickbacks from the companies. The employee was laid off and is designated as Do Not hire.

In two other situations, companies tried to promote "stringing" to schools by getting multiple vendor numbers and advertising the fact that they have them to schools.

Schuler says CPS needs to do a better job of informing operations managers and clerks about stringing and the fact that it is illegal. Also, he acknowledges that some stringing may be done to avoid paperwork or to speed up purchasing.

The report also points to several individual incidents of fraud or ethics violations. One of them, in which two teachers also work as police officers, is not a violation. The IG is recommending that CPS look into making it one.

Dropouts, selective admissions

The inspector also honed in on two high schools, linked by a common administrator, that wrongly labeled a few hundred students as transfers, but without confirming them. The report concludes that these students should have been labeled as dropouts or “unable to locate.”

It is unclear whether correctly labeling these students, which as far as the IG knows never happened, would have lowered CPS’ graduation rate—which, at 69 percent, is regularly touted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a major accomplishment. Also, many more schools may be miscoding students, as the IG only focused on the two high schools where there were complaints.

None of the three school administrators in this case have been disciplined as recommended by the Inspector General, and one of them has been promoted.

Meanwhile, parents, including some who are CPS employees, got themselves into trouble this past year for falsifying their addresses in order to give their children an edge in getting into selective enrollment high schools--confirming suspicions  that parents would try to game the admissions system that now relies on neighborhood and family socioeconomic characteristics rather than primarily on race, as under the former desegregation decree.

According to CPS, last year, 16,000 students applied for 3,200 selective enrollment seats.

Schuler says his office has looked into individual cases of abuses in the past, but wanted to take a hard look at it this year.

“Everyone in the city is trying to get these seats,” he says. “They are highly sought after and we want to make sure the process is fair and honest.”

McCaffrey says that parents should be aware that district leaders are taking misrepresentation seriously and working to try to prevent it. “This may include future audits of students in selective enrollment schools,” he says.

His office found12 cases in which parents provided false addresses that would put them in a better position to land a seat; and, in half of those cases, the parents worked for CPS. Schuler says that this is by no means the full scope of the problem, but that his office looked for particular “red flags” and this was the result of that review. In addition, he says the fact that CPS employees tried to cheat the system is particularly egregious.

In two of the cases, the students would have gotten into the selective enrollment high school even if their parents had used their true address. Those students were allowed to continue attending the school and the parents weren’t subjected to any discipline.

However, eight students were dis-enrolled, one student withdrew on their own and another one was allowed to stay because she was going into her senior year. Four of the employees were either fired or resigned.

Categories: Urban School News

The eight stories that changed Colorado’s education landscape in 2014

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/23/2014 - 16:05

As 2014 year comes to a close, Chalkbeat Colorado looked back to identify the stories and themes that had the largest impact on classrooms across Colorado. Major themes included discontent about testing and school funding, school improvement efforts that are and in many cases aren’t working, and questions of leadership by principals and school board members.

Students take to the streets “The students of Jeffco are standing up for themselves, and for their friends, family, teachers and most importantly, their education. So are you with us?”
— Jessica Yan, Standley Lake High School student

Colorado students along the Front Range made sure their frustrations — on a variety of issues — were heard loud and clear this year.

Students in Jefferson County, Boulder, Denver, and Aurora left their desks for a string of protests against their school board, standardized testing, and two grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of black men in Missouri and New York.

While the issues were not connected, the series of student-led protests stretched from September through December. Adult reaction to the walkouts was mixed. Most school and civic leaders in Jefferson County and Boulder marveled at the walkouts. Others wondered out loud about the influence of adults on the student’s decisions to protest. And Denver Mayor Michael Hancock pleaded with students to return to class.

In Jeffco, students have vowed to keep an eye on the school board. Adults behind the opt-out movement plan to capitalize on the largest public demonstration against testing to date. And Denver school and city leaders are hosting conversations about race relations. But whether any systemic change comes from the protests is still unclear.

Testing backlash “Colorado still has to have that conversation — what is that we want from our state system. I think that conversation should be occurring.”
— Joyce Zurowski, executive director of assessment at CDE

Students in Boulder weren’t the only ones — and certainly not the first — upset about changes to Colorado’s testing system. Since the start of the 2014 legislative session, some Coloradans have been been engaged in a renewed debate about how many exams students should be asked to take, and for what purpose.

While the debate about standardizing testing is not new, it has become increasing charged due to two main factors. First, individuals and organizations who respectively oppose the Common Core State Standards, which the state had adopted, and standardized testing have found commonalities in their issues. In some instances, they’ve joined forces. Second, this is the first year of new computer-based assessments, which seem to be eating up more class time and causing logistical headaches, some school leaders claim.

A panel created by the Colorado General Assembly is expected to make recommendations to the legislature early next year on how the state’s testing system should change.

The fight over the negative factor “We have much ground to make up in school funding. We made some good progress this year, but we are nowhere close to making a proper investment in our public schools.”
— Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association

After voters soundly defeated a constitutional amendment that would have raised an additional billion dollars for schools in November 2013, the coalition of education interests behind that proposal found itself in disarray and split by deep disagreements over the path forward.

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Take a longer and deeper look back at 2014 with the Chalkbeat Colorado yearbook. Get yours today when you donate to our end of year campaign here.

At the heart of the disagreement was the negative factor, a mechanism that the legislature created during the recession to cut the state’s basic school funding. School superintendents and school boards argued that the legislature should focus on backfilling years of cuts driven by the negative factor, and that money should come with no strings attached so that they could restore whatever programs they’d been forced to trim.

But others, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, argued that new school funding could be used as a driver of educational improvement if used in very specific ways to support programs like early literacy and English language instruction.

The two main finance bills, the Student Success Act and the School Finance Act, were introduced in late February. But the arguments, negotiations, and amending continued until the last day of the session, when the House approved the final version of the finance act.

While it’s likely schools will get even more money next year, superintendents are lobbying lawmakers and the governor to ensure that money comes without conditions. And a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the negative factor is making its way through the court system now.

Jeffco interrupted “Organizations founder when there is instability. Like any corporation, where there is infighting and distraction among leadership, the organization loses direction.”
— David Bloomfield, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center professor PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Standley Lake High School students rallied near their school Sept. 19 to raise awareness over a proposed curriculum panel that would report to the school district’s Board of Education. The rally was the same day as an apparent teacher “sick out.”

For many years, the Jefferson County school district was the epitome of a suburban school district in Colorado. Most of the 85,000 students in the district performed better than their peers across the state on standardized exams and the district was seeing rising graduation rates.

But in 2013, a new majority, with strong conservative ties, was elected to the school board.

Their message: we can do better. In little more than a year that board has hired a new superintendent; given more money to charter schools in order to close a past funding disparity; and developed a new compensation system for teachers that rewards teachers that earn the highest evaluation rating.

But along the way, critics of the board majority believe they rushed to half-baked decisions; the board chairman failed to comply with open records requests; and one member proposed a curriculum review committee to ensure U.S. history is patriotic which triggered weeks of acrimony and national headlines.

Rumors of a possible recall effort continue to swirl throughout the sprawling suburban county, which also serves as an election bellwether. But opponents to the board majority face an expensive uphill battle if they want to make that happen.

Denver’s new plan emphasizes racial equity, closing opportunity gap “I can’t worry about tomorrow. That’s not my job. My job is to make sure these kids get to high school. They deserve it.”
— Elza Guajardo, Kepner middle school principal PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Students at Kepner Middle School in southwest Denver pass between classes. Plans to open a new STRIVE charter school and district-run program in 2015 are on hold for a year.

In August, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education approved a new and slimmed-down strategic document. The aim: to increase the number of quality school options available to families and close stubborn racial achievement gaps. With the self-congratulating phase over, all eyes are on several big moves aimed at improving equity and access to top educational pr grams throughout the district.

The quality of schools in southwest Denver, which is home to some nearly a fourth of all Denver students, has for years been the subject of concern and discontent. But that’s starting to change, as the district has made reform in southwest Denver — particularly at the neighborhood’s struggling Kepner Middle School — a priority. But not everyone agrees on the best path forward for schools in the southwest. Possible fault lines in the debate include whether new schools that open in the neighborhood should be charter or district-run, and how those schools should best serve the neighborhood’s many students learning English.

And across town, the IB program at George Washington High School has for 30 years educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges. The rigorous four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations and interviews. But in an effort to make the program more inclusive, district officials are opening up the pre-IB program to a much wider swath of students. The move caused an uproar among families at the school, many of whom worry that broadening the program will dilute its rigor.

A promise of improvement at Denver’s Manual High School flounders “A lot happened this year that we can’t get back. If we can get thought this year, next year will be good.”
— John Goe, Manual art teacher

Eight years after Denver Public Schools officials rebooted struggling Manual High School, promising to rebuild it as a world-class school for northeast Denver, the school had once again fallen away from the public eye and languished as the city’s lowest-performing high school.

PHOTO: Marc PiscottyEnglish teacher Olivia Jones works with students in a computer lab. Jones is the faculty adviser for an honors book club.

But that changed in 2014, after Chalkbeat reporters detailed the rise and fall of reform efforts at the school and Denver officials attempted a dramatic and at times controversial mid-year course correction.

Chalkbeat’s months-long reporting effort found many factors that hindered the school’s efforts to provide a high-quality education for its students, including a continuously tense relationship with the district that stretched through the tenure of three principals over seven years and mismanagement of the school’s budget, which forced staff to abandon key parts of the school’s instructional program.

A week after Chalkbeat’s series ran, Denver officials replaced the school’s principal.

New principal Don Roy made immediate changes to the school, some small and some more significant. He brought on more school security and implemented tighter disciplinary rules. He also backpedaled from some elements of the school’s model, including an extended school calendar that had left many students and staff burnt out. And in June, Roy announced that he would not renew the contract of the school’s assistant principal Vernon Jones, a decision that drew protests from many community members who felt Jones was their connection to and voice in the school.

DPS quietly and shortly considered merging Manual with its flagship high school, East. But community outrage from both campuses squashed that idea. The district is now searching for a new principal to lead Manual in the 2015-16 school year.

In DPS, principal turnover is highest where improvement intentions are most intense “The notion that great systems can exist without great principals is ridiculous.”
— Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent

A key and very public strategy the Denver school district has touted has been its reform of how it hires, trains, and retains its school leaders. And while Denver’s overall principal turnover rate has fallen by almost half in recent years, churn of school leaders has not slowed at nearly a quarter of Denver schools, where three or more principals have come and gone since 2008.

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Columbine Elementary School principal Jason Krause looks at a student’s hall pass. Krause is Columbine’s latest principal, the school’s fifth in seven years.

That turnover, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of state records, is concentrated in schools where the district has pushed its most intense improvement efforts, schools that researchers say are most in need of high quality and steady leadership. Principals have been thrust into struggling schools with little training, given support that feels more more burdensome than beneficial, and held to expectations that some describe as impossibly too high.

As schools lose principals to burnout or officials move them out, rocky transitions disrupt students’ classrooms and leave communities feeling isolated from their schools.

District leaders say that they are beginning to take steps to understand Denver’s principal churn in order to figure out what to fix. For example, most principals now have development coaches.

The struggles of Steel City’s turnaround “If the state has all the answers, why are they waiting for five years?”
— Rod Slyhoff, Pueblo Greater Chamber of Commerce PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia Students at Roncalli Middle School in Pueblo worked on a robotics project in April. Pueblo City Schools is one of 10 school districts the state is monitoring for low performance.

It’s becoming increasingly likely the 18,000 student Pueblo school district will be the first big test of the state’s school accountability system, which gives struggling schools and districts five years to improve or face sanctions. Of the dozen or so school districts that are less than a year away from having a conversation with the state about its accreditation, Pueblo City Schools is the largest.

At risk is a loss of federal funding; students’ diplomas will likely be worthless; and the city’s reputation, which was once nationally recognized for teaching students of color how to read well, and its economic recovery is on the line.

The struggle to improve the city’s schools has been fought on many fronts. And to better understand how a school district with a large concentration of poor and Latino students works to improve itself, Chalkbeat spent the spring interviewing dozens of district officials, teachers, principals, students, and community members.

In one case, the city designed a socioeconomically diverse school where most students are succeeding. But in doing so, the district also unintentionally created the state’s lowest performing middle school that has struggled to keep a principal more than a year.

Categories: Urban School News

Denver pins high hopes on new leadership programs, incentives

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/23/2014 - 16:00

“He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil.”

That line from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” stuck out this year to Barbara O’Brien, a member of the Denver school board and the director of Catapult Leadership, a Denver-based leadership development organization that works with schools, as she listened to the audiobook that’s been playing in her car this winter.

Dickens was describing Mr. Fezziwig, a kind-hearted boss in late Victorian England (who stands, of course, in stark contrast to the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge).

It struck O’Brien that Mr. Fezziwig’s example also applies to school principals, who, she said, have significant power to shape the schools in which they work.

Principals manage everything from community relations to teacher evaluations to leading schools through changes in instruction that are accompanying new standards.

The demands of the job can take a toll: High principal turnover, especially in higher-poverty schools, has been a major challenge for Denver and for urban districts across the country.

While Denver has seen its overall principal turnover decline in recent years, the district still struggles to quell churn in its neediest schools.

Figuring out how to prepare, incentivize, and retain principals in all of the district’s schools has been a major focus of Denver Public Schools this year. Improving school leadership is one of the major focuses of the Denver Plan, the district’s five-year strategic roadmap.

The district is now running and partnering with a number of programs that train, certify, and support assistant principals, principals, and even the instructional superintendents who supervise school leaders. District officials are also proposing significant financial incentives for school leaders and new attention to the details of principal preparation, support, and placement.

That Denver is turning its attention to the particular challenges of principals puts the district at the forefront of a national and statewide shift in focus. “Denver’s ahead of the curve,” said Bob Farrace, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “Across the country, it’s finally sinking in that principal leadership matters.”

Part of that shift comes as Denver principals are preparing to receive their first performance reviews under the district’s LEAD framework, which ties school leaders’ evaluations to measures of student learning.

“There’s been such a tremendous focus on teacher accountability,” O’Brien said. “Even though [principals] are included in S.B. 10-191 [a law that created accountability systems for teachers and principals] they were in a way sort of an afterthought because the focus was on classroom teaching.”

Now, she said, there’s an acknowledgment that “there’s a really serious role for principals.”

Incentives

The district’s leadership strategy includes a proposal to increase financial incentives for principals that is similar to systems already in place for teachers.

“We are in the middle of developing an incentive system for school leaders that’s like our teacher incentive system through ProComp,” said Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, referring to the district’s taxpayer-sponsored incentive program for teachers.

She said principals would be able to earn incentives for performance and placement: Principals in turnaround schools and in high-growth schools, for instance, would both earn bonuses.

“We want our leaders to be well-compensated,” she said. “We see other districts competing…we want to make sure we are number one so we don’t lose the best people.”

Cordova said extra funds would help the district send principals where they’re most needed, attract potential leaders from within and outside of Denver, and retain successful principals. “It’s certainly not the only reason people take on hard positions,” she said of compensation, “but it’s a big part.”

In a recent draft of the incentive system, an elementary principal who is eligible for incentives could earn $103,000, a K-8 principal could earn $112,500, a middle school principal $106,700, and a high school principal $121,000, Cordova said. Right now, the minimum salary for an elementary principal is $80,500; K-8 is $84,000; middle school is $87,000; and high school is $96,000. (These are all the low ends of a range that extends up to $125,000 for high school leaders.)

That jump would represent an significant additional investment on the part of the district, superintendent Tom Boasberg said at a recent meeting of the district’s board. Most board members expressed support for the plan at that meeting.

“We want to create a value proposition for leaders to come here,” said Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic officer.

New Leadership Programs

DPS is also building out a series of programs to train or license people within and out of the district who might be interested in becoming principals. As part of that effort, the district recently applied for and was awarded the ability to license principals.

DPS now advertises programs for people who are already certified to lead schools and for those who have some relevant experience but may not meet all the state’s requirements for traditional certification:

  • The Residency of Educational Development of DPS Intrapreneurs (REDDI) Program places aspiring school leaders into charter schools, where they observe the systems and school cultures in those schools.
  • AP Ascent, new this year, is a cohort-based program for assistant principals in which the participants execute a project focused on improving their school.
  • Learn to Lead, or the Denver Principal Residency, places full-time residents in schools. The candidates ideally become DPS principals the year after they finish their residency.
  • Denver Lead Today is an alternative licensing program for aspiring principals.
  • Catapult is an external program that also offers alternative licenses to principals, especially focused on turnaround and innovation schools. (O’Brien said Catapult would likely begin to shift its focus to work on helping current school principals evolve as leaders.)

The district also has partnerships with the University of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver’s programs that offer principal licenses. One of those programs, the Ritchie Program, was the district’s earliest foray into pairing with a university (the University of Denver) to ensure principals are prepared for the district’s and schools’ real needs.

The district also recently hired a firm to help with external recruiting.

Jonta Morris, an assistant principal at McGlone Elementary who is one of the first participants in AP Ascent, said she thought the variety of programs would allow anyone who was interested in being a school leader to find a path.

“With the district being so large, it’s easy for emerging leaders to fall through the cracks,” Morris said. “But they’re make it their priority to ensure candidates are exposed to a lot of leadership opportunities.

She said she had been looking for something like AP Ascent program, which would allow her to focus on her own leadership style and strengths while learning from a group of peers. “This allows the district to have people who understand the DPS core values.”

District officials point to a reduction in turnover from 20 percent three years ago to 13 percent last year as evidence that the focus on leadership is paying off. Shannon Hagerman, the director of talent preparation for the district, said that more teachers are rating their principals as effective than before. Just 3 percent of teachers have deemed their principals not effective.

But as far as the effect of the entire suite of training programs, especially newer efforts like AP Ascent and REDDI, “there’s no way to know if they’re making much of a difference yet,” O’Brien said. “They’re too new. New things take a whole lot of tender loving care to get them going.”

“The focus coming out of the senior team has been on the preparation of principals. That’s led to this proliferation of programs, which kind of worries me,” she said. “How do you do anything well when you have so many things?”

Looking Up and Looking Down

The district is also focusing on those who oversee principals and on potential principals-to-be.

For principals-to-be, Whitehead-Bust said the district is looking at improving  teacher leadership programs and career pathways in addition to its AP Ascent program. One district official described finding potential leaders a year before, two years before, and even three years before they’re prepared to be principals.

For the first time, the district held meeting of all its assistant principals to give them a glimpse of the district’s expectations for school leaders. A leadership framework outlines the basics.

For overseers, DPS sent a cadre of instructional superintendents and principals to a training run by the Relay Graduate School of Education in New York over the summer. The Relay Graduate School of Education, which initially garnered attention several years ago for creating a training program for teachers that is unattached to any college or university, is planning to expand to Denver.

DPS also reduced the number of principals any given Instructional Superintendents oversees to eight, and in some cases to just four. Principals will receive their first review under LEAD, the district’s new evaluation system, this January, and instructional superintendents are responsible for those evaluations.

Some of the district’s work on expanding its leadership programs is funded by the Wallace Foundation. Denver is one of six large school districts that received a grant focused on building principal pipelines — building the systems that identify, train, and retain school leaders. The NASSP’s Farrace said those funds help the district fund principal training programs that can be prohibitively expensive elsewhere.

As these efforts and others get off the ground, discussion has turned recently to nuances that were less talked-about in the past: How can potential school leaders be matched with schools that fit their particular skills? How can the district identify teachers with leadership potential early on? At a board work session, board president Happy Haynes encouraged the district to focus on diversity in school leadership.

Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said there is also a new focus on “succession planning” at schools to help make sure that gains made during one principal’s tenure aren’t lost if and when that principal moves on.

At a meeting of the district’s board, Cordova said she was most optimistic about the supervision and support for principals. “It matters what teachers do in the classroom, and the way you give them feedback also matters,” she said. “Principals have to get coached to be that presence in the classroom.”

Whitehead-Bust said the district would be proposing some tweaks to its existing leadership programs and career pathways and a more final version of the incentive systems early next year.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct acronym and timeline for the district’s school leader growth and performance system, LEAD.

Categories: Urban School News

What we talk about when we talk about ‘universal’ preschool

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/23/2014 - 10:50

Hellen Juarez was excited when she heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce that the city would introduce universal preschool.

“Universal means there will be open slots for those who need it,” said Juarez, a single mother of three whose youngest, a three year old, is not yet in school.

But that isn’t how things have turned out. Emanuel’s plan adds only about 1,500 seats, for low-income families only. Juarez’s local Chicago Public Schools program has a three-month wait to get in, and it provides only two and a half hours of instruction a day.

“It’s not universal,” said Juarez, who decided not to try to take advantage of the city program after realizing how much it would cost her in train fare and lost work time.

Juarez’s experience is not unusual as more school districts and states expand access to early childhood education in an attempt to add learning time at a crucial point in children’s development. Politicians and advocates alike have seized on research that says starting school young offers lasting dividends — as well as on the political expediency of promising a benefit to every voter. As they have, the meaning of “universal” preschool has become, well, not so universal.

“People end up using ‘universal’ to cover the notion that they want to serve more than just poor kids and maybe they want to open it up to all kids,” said Steve Barnett, the director of National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. “But that doesn’t mean they’re going to serve everybody.”

In many places, including Chicago, promises of universal programs extend only to low-income families, but other cities have branded “universal” preschool as being accessible to families of all income levels. Some districts are picking up the full tab for preschool classes, but others, such as Denver, call their programs universal but don’t promise to cover all costs. And many other programs that are billed as universal fall far short of serving every student, at least right now. For example, West Virginia passed a universal preschool bill this year while emphasizing that not all children would be served for at least a decade.

Only a very few districts have attempted to do what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has done: provide free, full-day early childhood education for every child in the city whose family wants it, regardless of their income. (De Blasio’s program builds off of a decades-old city program, also called “universal,” that served only a fraction of eligible families.) And even there, where universal preschool is limited to prekindergarten, the city isn’t planning to be able to accommodate all families until next year.

That parents like Juarez can wind up perplexed about what “universal” means comes with the territory when securing preschool funding is a political feat, Barnett said.

“It’s undoubtedly confusing,” said Barnett. “If [politicians] started out trying to create a universal program and came up short, they don’t want to stop calling it universal.”

The confusion around the term doesn’t just stem from politicians and district leaders. In Denver, most news reports refer to the city’s program as “universal” preschool and many advocacy organizations have praised the city’s “universal” approach. But the word rarely appears in city-published materials, which instead say the program makes preschool “possible for all four-year olds.”

That may be because cities and states are still in the midst of figuring out what’s possible to do, right now. When it’s used, the term “universal” is often aspirational.

For example, in Denver, city officials gained support from more affluent voters by presenting a program that helps to cover at least a portion of every family’s preschool tuition, rather than fully subsidizing the poorest families.

“I could never have afforded it,” said Samantha Ruiz, a single parent in Denver whose four-year old daughter started preschool last spring. Without aid, she would have had to pay over $1,000 a month for her local preschool. Instead, she cobbles together state aid, federal Head Start funds, and money from the Denver Preschool Program to bring down the cost to just over $100 a month.

De Blasio in New York City largely repurposed what providers were already doing by funding them to extend their half-day programs to a full day. In Chicago, the mayor’s plan is intended to fill in the gaps between what the state and federal government already provide.

“In an ideal world, we’d have universal access for every child and family who needed or wanted services,” said Samantha Aigner-Treworgy, the national policy director for Ounce of Prevention, which advocates for early learning initiatives. “That said, we are in a time of limited public dollars. The way that ‘universal’ has played out is individual communities are looking at what feasible steps are.”

But sticking to what is feasible has left some families disappointed — and unable to secure the early education that might change their children’s lives.

“My family is not the only one that needs it,” Juarez said. “When they said universal, it’s not what I thought.”

Because each state defines “universal” preschool in its own way, it’s difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of states that currently have or are working toward “universal pre-K” or “preschool for all.” Chalkbeat attempted to create that list by researching cities and states, and speaking with the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, Steven Barnett. If you see a city or state missing, let us know.

This story was produced as a collaboration among all news organizations participating in the Expanded Learning Time reporting project.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: 2014 was a building year for Pueblo schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 12/23/2014 - 10:20

the lawmakers dilemma

Revenue forecasts are up again, but constitutional limitations mean that little of that new money is likely to be used for education funding without a fight. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

doe, a deer

Teachers develop more voice disorders than any other profession, but many teachers don't know that taking care of their voices is something they should do. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

pueblo's year in review

Pueblo school officials spent 2014 trying to boost student achievement, but will still enter next year on the final year of the accountability clock risking state intervention. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

Pueblo schools also saw the first phase of their construction bond projects completed in 2014, gaining new secured entrances, renovated sports fields and more classroom space. ( Pueblo Chieftain )

the downsides of the holiday

For low-income students in Colorado, winter break can mean time away from free school meals and thus a time to go hungry. ( Colorado Public Radio )

Spreading cheer

A Hanover School District 28 board member has opened her house to students at Prairie Heights Elementary School every December for the past seven years to make sure they all get a fun holiday experience. ( Gazette )

Categories: Urban School News

Revenue forecasts highlight state’s budget dilemma

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/22/2014 - 19:59

The improving economy continues to pump increased revenues into the state’s coffers, but constitutional limitations likely will reduce how much of that money lawmakers can spend during the 2015 session.

That could make it harder to whittle down the negative factor, the state’s $900 million shortfall in K-12 spending, and to provide more funding for programs like expanded preschool services and full-day kindergarten.

The latest quarterly revenue forecasts were presented to legislative leaders and Joint Budget Committee members Monday morning by economists from the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting and the Legislative Council, the General Assembly’s research arm.

“We did increase our expectations for general fund revenue,” said Natalie Mullis, the legislature’s chief economist. In theory, she said, lawmakers could have $1.05 billion more to spend on the 2015-16 budget than what’s being spent in the current, 2014-15 budget.

“It’s not enough money to fund everything that every interest group is going to bring to you,” Mullis cautioned, to laughter from lawmakers. The basement Capitol hearing room was packed with lobbyists, the very people Mullis was referring to.

The challenge is created by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, commonly known as TABOR, which sets ceilings on the amounts of revenue the legislature can spend each year. The state hasn’t hit the so-called TABOR limit for several years, but now revenues are growing fast enough that Mullis’ team estimates the state will owe taxpayers $120.3 million out of the 2015-16 budget and $620.4 million in 2016-17.

Read the forecasts

The OSPB has similar but somewhat different forecasts, including a projection that a $196.8 million refund will be required from surplus revenues in the current budget, plus $186.5 million in 2015-16 and $269.2 million in 2016-17. (Refunds would be made through a variety of mechanisms, including earned income credits, sales tax rebates and a temporary reduction in income tax rates.)

“We should plan for exceeding the TABOR limit in fiscal year 2014-15,” OSPB director Henry Sobanet told lawmakers. He also warned that the combined budget demands and spending restraints “will combine for an extremely tight environment” in 2016-17 and that lawmakers may not be able to spend much more in that year than they do in 2015-16.

And, a different provision of TABOR also will require lawmakers next year to make a $58.7 million rebate of some marijuana revenues. The mechanism for doing that hasn’t been determined.

The prospect of TABOR refunds worries education advocates, who would like some surplus revenues diverted to further reduce the negative factor. The 2014 legislature made a $110 million dent in the shortfall and stipulated that the negative factor couldn’t grow in the 2015-16 budget. Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed that the negative factor be trimmed another $200 million in 2015-16 – but that cut would apply only for one year.

School district leaders say they’d be happy with the one-time cut but would be even happier if the negative factor were reduced permanently. A group of superintendents has proposed an additional $70 million in K-12 spending in 2015-16, $50 million focused on at-risk and $20 million for rural districts. Both the governor’s and the superintendents’ proposals have been received somewhat coolly by JBC members, even before Monday’s forecasts were issued.

The legislature can avoid making the TABOR refunds and keep excess revenues, but only by proposing a ballot measure seeking voter approval to do that. Putting a measure before voters requires passage in each chamber, something that might be a long shot, given split party control of the legislature. Hickenlooper also has indicated he supports the refunds, at least for now.

Districts may not get extra money in current year

Legislative economists also told lawmakers that it appears a mid-year adjustment in 2014-15 K-12 funding won’t be necessary because the enrollment projections made last spring were higher than actual enrollment this fall. Total enrollment was only 163 students fewer than expected, and the actual number of at-risk students was down about 4,560 (1.5 percent) from the projection made last spring.

Enrollment is the key variable in the school finance formula, and the actual student count regularly exceeds annual estimates, meaning lawmakers often give schools extra money in February or March.

That isn’t the case this year, and Legislative Council staff said that might give lawmakers the opportunity to make a $14 million mid-year reduction in the negative factor. (See the document at the bottom of this article for more details.

Forecast indicates past K-12 growth rates will continue

The December forecast from legislative staff always includes a two-year projection of K-12 student enrollment trends.

This year’s analysis found that enrollment grew 1.5 percent in the current school year and is expected to grow 1.4 percent in 2015-16 and 1.3 percent in 2016-17. Those rates are similar to the growth seen in recent years.

The largest rates of growth are expected in northern Colorado followed by the Denver metro area, with smaller increases in students elsewhere in the state and even slight declines in some regions.

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Categories: Urban School News

Why taking care of teachers’ (literal) voices matters for student learning

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/22/2014 - 16:14

For Rebecca Nicholson, a second grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary in Steamboat Springs, the most glaring sign that something was wrong was a series of headaches.

“It was not a ‘these kids are driving me crazy’ headache,” she said. “I love my kids…There was just a strain. My voice would start to wane by the end of the day. ”

Nicholson had always had a raspy voice, but she thought it was normal—just a consequence of her natural chattiness.

“I’ve always been a talker,” she said. “I had a rattle that said ‘mighty mouth.’”

But when she went to the doctor for a check-up soon after giving birth, the doctor said she should investigate the raspiness.

It turned out Nicholson had a cyst on one of her vocal folds—part of the “voice box” that lets us speak.

Nicholson is not alone in her struggle with her voice, or in not knowing that there was a problem in the first place.

The most well-known examples of voice problems involve superstar singers. Think about the reaction when Julie Andrews announced that her famous singing range had been diminished, or when Adele canceled tours to avoid permanently hurting her voice.

But being a classroom teacher is responsible for more vocal injuries each year than professional singing.

It should come as no surprise. Teachers spend hours talking every day, often in a loud, projected voice. A teacher’s voice is, like a singer’s, his or her instrument and tool.

The difference is that while (most) professional singers know how to tend to their vocal cords and are on the look-out for the slightest irregularity or strain, most teachers have received no training at all in how to use their voices.

And very often, teachers assume that it is normal, and certainly not something to complain about, when their voices grow hoarse or tired.

“When you look at all the most common voice disorders, teachers have more voice problems than any other profession,” said Amanda Gillespie, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh.

“A lot of teachers think hoarseness is part of their job,” Gillespie said. “But hoarseness is never normal.”

Consequences for students

When a teacher’s voice is hoarse or injured, students suffer too.

Things teachers can do to take care of their voices:
• Do a vocal warm-up, like buzzing your lips, before you start teaching. See video below
• Hydrate: If your classroom or house is dry, use a humidifier. Drink lots of water.
• Don’t talk over students.
• Keep in mind that hoarseness is not normal. If you are regularly hoarse by the end of the week or the end of the day, see a doctor, ideally a laryngologist or voice specialist.
• Listen to your voice. If your voice is tired, figure out a way to give it a break. Don’t try to power through.
• Get lots of sleep.
• Do your best to stay healthy. (Wash your hands!)
• Watch for any sudden changes in voice. Sudden change can be a sign that there’s something seriously wrong.

One study showed that 20 percent of teachers had missed at least one work day due to vocal problems in the previous year, while no one from any other profession had missed work because of voice issues. That researcher deemed teachers at “high risk” for voice disorders.

Other research indicates that students actually find it harder to process information presented in a hoarse or raspy voice. A yet-unpublished study from a group of researchers at Towson University shows that it takes more processing time and cognitive work to understand a hoarse or injured voice.

“You’d hope it’d make teachers and administrators sit up and say, ‘Hey, we should really pay attention,’” said Gillespie.

Potential Triggers

Teachers’ intense day-to-day schedules are part of what puts them at risk. Speech therapists recommend vocal breaks—stretches of quiet—throughout the day. But teachers often use their voices even when they’re not giving instruction—while they’re on bus duty or lunch duty, for instance. Schools are also often dry, and it’s hard for teachers to get enough water over the course of the day.

Certain specialties and situations can exacerbate the challenge, said Juliana Litts, an instructor and vocal therapist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Teachers who work in louder environments, including music, drama, chemistry, or physical education teachers, are more likely to develop vocal problems.

Being stressed also doesn’t help. “Most people who come in will say, I get so much tension in my neck and shoulders,” Litts said. “Well, all those muscles are connected to systems that control the voice.”

Neither does struggling with student behavior. “A lot of vocal health has to do with classroom management,” she said. “I understand that you teach a bunch of first graders and they’re rowdy, but you can’t talk over them.”

Female teachers are also more likely to develop problems than men, due partly to physiology. (Women’s vocal cords hit each other twice as many times per second than men’s, which means they’re more likely to develop calluses or certain other problems).

Things schools can do to help teachers’ voices:
• Consider a short training on voice use for teachers.
• Provide amplification for teachers, especially in classrooms that have a lot of ambient noise (such as a music, chemistry, or gym class).
• Create schedules that allow teachers to have down time where they do not have to use their voice, ideally spread throughout the day.

But teachers receive very little training in how to use their voice.

“Nobody tells teachers, okay so this is a really good way to use your voice in your classroom. So teachers go by how they’ve always talked,” Litts said. “And a lot of times that gets them into trouble.”

“The teachers we see are usually to the point where they literally cannot function as a teacher anymore,” she said. She said some need surgery because they have waited so long. Others leave the profession or enter administration to avoid strain.

Under the Radar

Nicholson had one surgery to address vocal problems in 2012, and then another this fall with Matthew Clary, an assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus. Each surgery required time off work and a period of rehabilitation.

Now, she uses an amplification system to teach. She said technology like smart boards and online lessons helped her keep kids’ attention, especially when her voice is hurting. When she knows she has long days, like during parent-teacher conferences, she plans for classes that require less talking.

“It’s definitely challenging, especially when your voice is waning,” she said. “I have core subjects at the end of the day and I don’t have a choice but to teach them.”

Nicholson has recently embarked on a new regime of vocal therapy with Litts, in which she’ll learn to use a healthy “resonant speaking voice” when delivering lessons and tips about “vocal hygiene”—how to keeping her voice rested and well.

“All teachers want to have different ways to get their kids’ attention. It’s about being creative and not using your voice as much,” she said.

“If your voice is waning or if you’re getting fatigued in your voice, it’s worth checking out,” she said. “You might have voice issues and not know it.”

Potential Solutions

But there are signs that even a little bit of knowledge and preparation can go a long way in helping teachers take care of their voices.

Below: Litts, a vocal therapist, demonstrates some exercises teachers can do in the morning to help warm their voices up for the day. (If you’re self-conscious, she says, just do them in the car or in another space where you can be alone.)

Amplification systems like the one Nicholson is using have been shown to have a positive effect on students’ learning and on teachers’ voices. A study by Nelson Roy, a professor of communication science and disorders at the University of Utah, found that when teachers used amplification, it had a marked positive impact on their voices. Teachers often use amplification systems to aid students with hearing challenges, but they can make it easier for all students to understand, Litts said.

Early results from a five-year study of teachers and voices led by Katherine Verdolini Abbott, a professor of communication science and disorders at the University of Pittsburgh, shows that a short training seemed to help teachers who had voice troubles.

In the University of Pittsburgh study, now in its fifth year, teachers who identified as having a voice problem were given a short “voice therapy boot camp,” Gillespie said.

Those who received the training showed more improvement in their vocal health than a control group that had not.

Gillespie said having such trainings early could help catch problems before they cause teachers to miss time in school or students to struggle to understand instruction.

“It might only take a one-day voice seminar to help the voices of teachers who are already starting to experience some voice problems,” she said. “Having a voice problem doesn’t mean they have to have a lot of medical visits.”

Litts said her Denver-based practice was hoping to conduct in-service trainings for teachers about healthy voice use.

She said that in the end, having a healthy voice means more than the ability to do a job.

“Ultimately what brings people in is that they feel like they can’t be person they are because their voice is limited,” Litts said. “Voice is so much part of your identity.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Mayor’s forum focuses on race, police and student voice

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 12/22/2014 - 09:17

let's move

A Colorado educator is trying to raise the money to build the state's first "kinesthetic classroom." ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

starting conversations

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted a forum discussing race, police bias and student voice featuring students, school board members and police officers. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

solidarity

Manitou Springs High School students wore ribbons to school last week in remembrance and support for students murdered in Pakistan and their families. ( Gazette )

smartypants

A group of Erie Middle School students won a national award for building an app that aims to boost brain function and help students with dyslexia and autism improve their math and language skills. ( Times-Call )

get well soon

School officials in Johnstown and Milliken saw absentee rates as high as 15 percent last week because of a flu outbreak. ( Denver Post )

Teacher pay

Three letter-writers to the Denver Post argue over whether teachers should be paid more at the expense of professional athletes. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Mayor’s forum on race touches on police bias, role of media, youth voice

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 20:04

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hosted the first in a planned series of conversations about race this afternoon at the History Colorado Center.

After Denver students across the city organized protests focusing on police brutality and race earlier this month, both the mayor and the Denver Public Schools announced plans to host conversations about the issues students raised. Students at more than 30 schools across the city walked out of class to contest two separate grand jury decisions that chose not to indict police officers who killed African-American citizens.

Today’s event touched on topics ranging from bias among police to the role of the media to how the city can improve race relations.

The mayor directed several questions at the panelists and audience and then invited the audience to make comments and ask questions. “Why has the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ protests turned into a movement? Has it turned into a movement?” “What’s the role of the media in conversations about race?” “What one lesson would you share with the academy class [of new police officers]?”

Police chief Robert White said that a lack of positive relationships between communities and the police underlies some of the current issues. “We have to come together and figure out, how do we do this together…and come through these healing processes together?”

DPS board president Happy Haynes said that during the protests, media too often focused on adults rather than what was on students’ minds and what prompted the protests.

Part of the mayor’s panel on race, held at History Colorado.

One panelist, a student at Denver School of the Arts who is a member of the mayor’s initiative on youth, said that she is now organizing a club focused on social injustices.

Another student panelist said that students want change, and that they would like more opportunities to interact with police.

Students wearing hoodies from KIPP, a charter school, asked the mayor what the intended goal and next steps would be.

“I hope the clarion call after today is that the entire community must lead,” Hancock said. “Denver has made a lot of progress but there is a long way to go.”

Hancock said there will be two more events in January and others later in the year, leading up to a citywide summit. 

Categories: Urban School News

Goodbye desks, hello pedal tables!

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 17:40

C.J. Cain is a physical education teacher, not an architect or interior designer. Still, he has big plans for a classroom makeover at Denver’s Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment.

He wants to create the state’s first “kinesthetic classroom” there. The term may be a mouthful, but it’s really just another way of saying that the room would feature desks and tables with built-in bicycles, elliptical machines and other exercise equipment. The idea, which has been piloted at a handful of schools around the country, draws on neuroscience research showing how exercise facilitates learning and memory.

It’s the same research that’s behind trends such as brain breaks and school-wide movement sessions. The biggest difference is that students would be doing academic work in the kinesthetic classroom—reading while they pedal or taking notes while they swivel at a “kneel and spin” desk.

“[It’s] a creative way we can look at closing the achievement gap and overall greater achievement for all students,” said Cain.

Besides helping students stay focused in class and better retain what they learn, he believes a kinesthetic approach can improve mood and help kids get along better. While that remains to be seen at Montclair, students have shown lots of interest in the blue pedal desk on loan from the South Carolina company KidsFit.

“The feedback has been great,” said Cain. “They love it.”

As is often the case, lofty ambitions come with hefty price tags. It will take about $27,000 to outfit a classroom with enough equipment for 32 students. So far, Cain’s raised just $25 through a ColoradoGives donation page. He said there’s no specific time frame for raising the full amount.

“We’re reaching out certainly to the community and asking for their help in this,” he said. “I’m very patient.”

While Cain hopes to eventually raise enough money to buy a full classroom set of kinesthetic equipment, he said a stripped-down version of the model could make it cheaper and easier to scale down the road. For example, instead of a full kinesthetic classroom, several classrooms could have a two or three kinesthetic stations.

Parent Kelly Dwyer, a member of Montclair’s school wellness team, expects fund-raising to be the toughest part of implementing the kinesthetic classroom, but likes the concept.

“We’ve seen so much research about how movement stimulates the brain and focus…I think this could really help in that regard,” she said.

“Our biggest challenge as a health team is to really help our school get to a point where we look at the research and say more time in the seat is not necessarily translating to performance.”

Montclair, an innovation school, enrolls about 480 students. Two-thirds of them are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

Along with academic benefits, Dwyer believes the kinesthetic classroom may provide fitness benefits too.

“Today, we have so much that teachers need to cover…that specials of all sorts, from art and music to PE, have gotten squeezed…and I’m very concerned most students are lacking in exercise.”

Dwyer, who has two sons at Montclair, believes the kinesthetic classroom could be especially helpful for her energetic second-grader “because he is one of those guys who is constantly moving his body.”

Eric Larson, physical education coordinator for Denver Public Schools, said Cain’s kinesthetic classroom vision could eventually serve as a model for other district schools if it has an effect on things like behavior and attendance.

“I think everything is data-driven,” he said. “I think it would be something the district would look at if there’s data there.”

 

Categories: Urban School News

Weekend Reads: The ethical quandary of the turnaround administrator

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 15:41
    • An administrator asks if it’s ethical to pull his children out of the low-performing schools he’s supposed to help. (Dear Prudence)
    • Taken together, two charts suggest that American students do a lot of homework that doesn’t pay off. (Vox)
    • AFT President Randi Weingarten shared her own sexual assault story as part of a union push to protect women. (Jezebel)
    • An education professor argues that teachers unions should agitate against police brutality. (Jacobin)
    • The upswing in school choice in Nashville leaves neighborhood schools with uncertain futures. (The Scene)
    • A teacher grapples with the best way to write about teaching and lands on some solid advice. (Rational Expressions)
    • A city ESL teacher says bilingual programs sound promising — as long as they’re done right. (NYC Educator)
    • A former teacher shares a tongue-in-cheek quiz to help colleagues figure out if they’re no good at their jobs. (Answer Sheet)
    • Two New York City educators see a school-to-prison pipeline for gifted students and want to change it. (Hechinger)
    • The latest episode of a podcast about careers profiles a KIPP principal from Houston. (Slate)
    • The Common Core State Standards could be on the precipice of widespread repeal. (Hechinger)
    • Idaho student journalists “plagiarized” a news story after their new state superintendent did the same thing. (Romenesko)
    • A recap of 2014’s biggest news in Los Angeles schools starts with the superintendent’s resignation. (L.A. School Report)
    • “The Colbert Report,” which ended this week, frequently featured education-related guests. (Russo)
    • Below, a college admissions video from Democracy Prep Charter High School that made some Chalkbeaters cry.

//

Post by Princeton University.
Categories: Urban School News

Gone for the holidays

Catalyst Chicago - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 13:09

The crew at Catalyst is taking a break to celebrate with friends and family. We will return to work on Jan. 5.

In the meantime, our reporters will remain on alert and post briefs about any major news on Facebook and Twitter.  (If you haven’t already liked us on Facebook, now would be a great time to do that.)

Again, happy holidays to you all and the very best of wishes for 2015.

(And, yes, we are still accepting donations for 2014. We would love to see your name among them. Support from our readers is important for Catalyst’s health and well-being!)

Categories: Urban School News

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