A new report from our partners at Rocky Mountain PBS I-News has found drug suspensions in Colorado schools are up since the legalization of recreational marijuana.
From the investigation:
The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-’13.
The I-News analysis found:
That brings us to our question of the week: What should Colorado schools do to address the issue of legalized marijuana?
Each week, 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.
The first months of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado saw a jump in drug policy violations in the state’s public schools, a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analysis of Department of Education data has found.
Alarmingly, the biggest spike in violations came in the state’s middle schools, according to the analysis. The first months of legal recreational marijuana coincided with the winter and spring of the 2013-14 school year.
“Middle schoolers are most vulnerable to being confused about marijuana,” said Dr. Christian Thurstone, attending physician for the Denver Health Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment program. “They think, ‘Well, it’s legal so it must not be a problem.’”
In many cases, marijuana is simply more available to younger teens, officials say.
“We have seen parents come in and say, ‘Oh that’s mine, they just took it out of my room,’ and that sort of thing,” said school resource officer Judy Lutkin of the Aurora Police Department. “Parents have it in their houses more often, and the kids just can take it from home.”
The hike in drug violations came as overall suspensions, expulsions and referrals to police for other transgressions decreased between the year of legalization and the previous academic year, 2012-13.
The I-News analysis found:
Still, it’s hard to discern the specific types of drugs involved in the increased number of reports as statewide policies to measure and extrapolate teen use of marijuana and other drugs are often inconsistent and unreliable.
In fact, the data collected by the Colorado Department of Education does not identify any specific drugs. Instead, this data lumps prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine and marijuana all into the same category of disciplinary cases.
“I would say that at any given time, any day of the week, there are probably about 10 percent of kids in the high school that are under the influence of something,” said school resource officer Susan Condreay of the Aurora Police Department.
Marijuana is second only to alcohol in teen substance abuse, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an annual survey from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.
“Alcohol is by far and away the most used substance by middle schoolers, then it goes down for marijuana and tobacco is just below that,” said Dr. Thurstone. “Prescription drug use is number four, and it’s increasing, so that’s been an alarming increase, as well, that we need to pay attention to.”
The Department of Education wants to address the lack of specificity in its drug reporting, according to Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton. She said she was asked to carry a bill that would require schools to be more transparent with their drug reporting, particularly about marijuana.
“We are still continuing with stakeholder meetings, but I am hoping to have a bill drafted and ready to go (this month),” Rep. Lawrence said. “If we don’t start now, we are not going to have a baseline to compare to in the future.”
She hopes that potential new requirements will not only show how legal marijuana is impacting students, but also provide more data on other potentially harmful drugs.
“Colorado ranks I think second in prescription drug abuse in the country and that is something we need to keep a constant eye on,” Lawrence said. “And I think starting to monitor the marijuana use is very important so we need to make sure that we are collecting the best data we can.”
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health ranked Colorado as the second worst state in the country for prescription drug abuse in 2013. That year, 598 people of all ages in the state died from unintentional drug poisoning, according to the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. That’s nearly four times the number of deaths that were caused by drunk driving during the same period.
Still, marijuana remains a top priority for school resource officers and treatment providers, especially in middle schools.
Denver Public Schools hired a district substance abuse treatment coordinator this school year, who will focus greater attention on middle schools.
“According to our data, middle schools are where most people begin to experiment,” said John Simmons, DPS executive director of student services. “It’s much easier to stop someone from using in the first place than it is to stop it once it’s started.”
The Denver district saw a 7 percent increase in drug incidents, from 452 in 2012-13 to 482 in the 2013-14 year. Simmons says that marijuana accounts for almost every drug incident.
But legalization supporters point out that kids aren’t coming in and buying from stores, and packages that leave the stores do not market to children.
“We have gone above and beyond to make sure that we are not marketing to children,” said Meg Sanders, owner of MiNDFUL, a cannabis company that operates in several cities in Colorado. “We feel it’s our responsibility as a responsible business to card not just once but twice for any recreational customer, and medical patients have to show several documents before they can purchase marijuana.”
Some say that legalization might help provide resources for addressing underage consumption of marijuana using tax revenue generated through legal sales.
“The fact is that we had a significant number using marijuana then and now (before and after legalization),” Simmons said of public schools in Denver. “We are hopeful that these changes will provide more resources.”
The Colorado legislature set aside $2.5 million in grants for schools from marijuana tax revenue. As of November 2014, the Department of Education had awarded $975,000 to 11 districts to hire more health professionals to help address student behavior regarding marijuana, sometimes as an alternative to traditional punishment like expulsion or suspension.
But alternative or non-punitive methods currently dealing with drug incidents by districts or individual schools are not tracked by state data.
“We have a lot of different things that we will do for kids who have gotten involved in drug incidents in school,” said Kenlyn Newman, the student engagement initiatives director for Adams 12 Five Star School District. She says that different behaviors require different responses and schools will try to intervene and work with parents to address inappropriate behaviors.
Adams 12 schools are in five different municipalities, and each of those schools have different agreements with the local government. This means that police involvement can vary from school to school, with similar incidents being reported differently to the state. But the Department of Education has no means to measure these differences in reporting.
“There is no manpower to audit the data; we can’t go back to the districts to check what they say,” said Annette Severson from the Colorado Department of Education. “We just have to trust that what they report to us is accurate and then they have to sign off and say that it is accurate.”
Even as Colorado has been launched into the national spotlight as the first state to legalize and commercialize the sale of marijuana for adult use, the state has yet to begin collecting comprehensive and consistent data to describe how it is impacting Colorado’s teens.
“I was against legalization,” said Doris Cooper, while waiting to pick up her 7th grade granddaughter from North Middle School in Aurora. “If you legalize it, you know it’s just going to make them want to use it that much more, that’s what I figure.”
Chalkbeat Colorado brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news. Contact Katie Kuntz at email@example.com. I-News reporter Burt Hubbard contributed to this story.
The agenda of for a two-day State Board of Education meeting includes a laundry list of hot-button education issues, including opt-outs, No Child Left Behind, and graduation guidelines. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Drug incidents in school, especially middle school, are on the rise, according to an I-News investigation. ( Post Independent )
Grading Grading Systems
Colorado Springs parents say Falcon High School's grading system is overly complicated. ( Gazette )
Dance Dance Dance
Students at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont are learning science in dance classes. ( Times Call )
Many Colorado schools have vaccination opt-out rates high enough to threaten kids' health. Chalkbeat reporters discuss their findings on Colorado Public Radio. ( CPR )
A principal in Yuma writes about his efforts to break down perceptions about how students learn. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Students say universities should do a better job welcoming first-generation students. ( KUNC )
Drugs in School
Thornton police are investigating a claim that a teacher gave students pot. ( Denver Post )
A theater in Aurora has rolled out a new youth program. ( Aurora Sentinel )
When 14-year-olds can control their school days... ( Hechinger Report )
It seems that every contentious education issue of the day has a spot on the State Board of Education’s agenda for the two-day meeting that starts Wednesday.
The seven-member board is known for full agendas at its monthly sessions. But the February meeting is especially crowded, including such issues as testing, the state’s waiver from NCLB requirements, opting out of the Common Core State Standards, future state graduation guidelines, and parents’ rights to opt out of testing. There’s even a briefing on math standards, which have been a sore point for some Common Core critics.
Most of the issues are labeled as “information items,” meaning the board will be briefed and likely have a discussion but won’t take any action.
But the two new members who joined the board last month have added an element of unpredictability to the group’s deliberations, heightening interest in what individual members have to say on key issues.
The new board produced a surprise at its Jan. 8 meeting when it voted 4-3 for a resolution instructing education Commissioner Robert Hammond to grant waivers to districts that requested exemptions from the first part of CMAS/PARCC language arts and math tests, due to be given starting next month.
The motion was made by new GOP member Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and supported by two other Republicans plus Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver, the other new member (see story).
Since then 18 districts, including Douglas and Jefferson counties, have applied for waivers. But more important, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has issued a formal opinion concluding that neither the board nor the Department of Education have legal authority to grant such waivers.
Deciding what to do about the waiver applications is on the agenda for Wednesday morning. In light of the attorney general’s opinion, the department is recommending the requests be denied.
“I don’t have a lot of answers about how it’s going to go,”said board chair Marcia Neal, a Republican from Grand Junction.. “What the response will be from individual board members is unknown.”The rest of the agenda
Here’s a look at the other issues the board will be talking about this week.
More testing – Significant numbers of seniors in some districts boycotted science and math tests last fall, raising concerns about opting out during the main testing season this spring. Under federal and state requirements districts face reductions in accreditation ratings if fewer than 95 percent of students are tested. The board will be briefed on that issue Thursday (see the slide show members will view).
Common Core withdrawal – A majority of the board supports pulling out of the Common Core standards. But, like testing waivers, that may be easier talked about than accomplished. On Thursday the board will be briefed on the issue. An informal opinion from one member of the attorney general’s staff outlines the procedure, and the document basically concludes it can’t be done without legislative action.
NCLB waiver – Colorado currently has a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education that gives it flexibility in rating districts and schools and in use of federal funds for the most struggling schools. That waiver needs to be renewed, and the state has to file its paperwork by March 31. The board will get an update Wednesday; see this document for details.
Graduation guidelines – Since 2008 the state has been working on high school graduation guidelines, a system that won’t go into effect until 2017-18. (The state can’t impose graduation requirements because the Colorado constitution gives local school boards final control of instruction.) A recent story in The Denver Post raised the issue of possibly watering down the proposed guidelines, so the issue has taken a higher profile. The board will have a study session on the guidelines Thursday, using this document.
New math – The board will have a “learning session” Wednesday on Colorado’s math standards, with CDE staff trying to explain how and why the standards seek to teach kids how to both get the right answers and also understand why those answers are correct. (Here’s the staff presentation.)
On top of all these issues, the board has the usual long list of other business, including a charter school appeal, rule-making hearings, and various procedural matters – plus time for public comment. Over the last year public comment sessions have been a lively forum, primarily for critics of testing and Common Core.
If board members were paid – and they’re not – they’d earn their money this week.
Following the direction of John Keating — masterfully played by Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society — it was time to stand on the desk. Time to change not only our view but our approach as well. The students with whom we work each and every day — Gen Z’ers as they are now known — needed something more.
So at Yuma Middle School on Colorado’s eastern plains, we created MindWorks.
MindWorks is a combination of Brainology — an online program created by Drs. Carol Dweck and Lisa Blackwell of Stanford University — and project-based learning using inspiration from the works of Dweck, Blackwell, Angela Duckworth, and others in the field of brain development. To reinvigorate a passion for learning, MindWorks breaks down perceptions (one’s self or others’) that often limit what students are able to accomplish.
MindWorks has been incorporated into our counseling program at Yuma Middle School. At the helm of our counseling program is tech-geek/problem solver Elaine Menardi. She explains the need for the course this way:
“MindWorks is an integration class. Where core classes focus individually on math or science or language arts or social studies, MindWorks is a time to practice all of those skills simultaneously. Middle school students make up the core population of Generation Z and easily outpace our adult skills with their digital native intuitiveness.
Combine this with their uncanny ability to multitask and consume media and you have an explosive opportunity to take them to the next level academically. These students must be challenged to persevere through difficulty so we are focusing on key character traits like grit and curiosity.”
In addition to words like grit and curiosity, setback and obstacle, one will also hear us use the term growth mindset. It is a concept that is gaining popularity in the field of education and beyond. Research has shown us that one who possesses a growth mindset does not shy away from setback and failure; rather, the growth-minded person is one who uses those challenges as motivators to try harder and improve his or her character.
On the opposite side of the growth mindset is the fixed mindset. The fixed-minded person is one who is unable to move forward when faced with obstacles. He or she operates with a perceived “ceiling” of ability disallowing for any type of positive, vertical movement.
I am passionate about using MindWorks to instill in students a growth mindset and to redefine what 21st century college and career readiness should mean. My support for this endeavor is inspired by an even greater cause: I want to shatter the misconception of what rural schools can achieve.
Rural districts like Yuma are faced with smaller budgets, limited personnel resources and inaccessibility due to location. Often the perception is that these limitations mean students cannot or should not be expected to compete with students in urban and suburban districts. This is a myth.
Still in its developmental stage, our desire is for MindWorks to instill in students a growth mindset and to reenergize and feed the intellectual fire that we know all students possess. In doing so we seek to uncover each student’s potential and help him or her embark on the educational journey with renewed energy.
The class meets for 30 minutes every other day and students engage in small group activities, online research and team collaboration.
Menardi further describes how students spend their class time.
“For the first semester, we have been focused on how our brains absorb and process information. If we view the brain as a muscle — which it is — students learn that practice and hard work in school grows their mental abilities in the same way that athletes improve at their sports.”
“By the end of the semester, we will have blogs, videos, Slide Shares, Blackout poems, cartoons, infographics and newspaper articles posted on the student website YumaMindWorks.com. It is a very exciting time at Yuma Middle School.”
There is a lot of misconception out there as to what a counseling program can truly provide a school. All too often, counselors are remanded to menial tasks and occasional chat sessions with students. Our philosophy is that a good counseling program can serve to meet the needs of the individual as well as the masses.
Standing on a desk shouting O Captain! My Captain! helped us envision a larger world for students and create a new path of learning that does more to meet the true needs of students. Already we see their growth and renewed energy for education.
I invite you to follow the research that has inspired us and to check us out on the web. The class website is YumaMindWorks.com. You can also visit the Yuma School District-1 YouTube Channel for a great look at some of the projects that have taken place thus far.
Denver Public Schools is poised to end two of the district's six dual-language programs, both in the southwest quadrant of the city. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Higher ed costs
Higher education tuition increases in Colorado slowed this academic year, but perhaps not for long, a new report says. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A top El Paso county health official says Chalkbeat's school immunization database may be built on flawed data, but praises Chalkbeat for publishing it nevertheless. ( The Gazette )
Leading from the ranks
Readers respond to our question of the week about the role of teacher-leaders. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Pot and Schools
An I-News investigation finds that the first months of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado saw a jump in drug policy violations in the state’s public schools. ( Summit Daily News )
A survey of Summit County students found that leading concerns include substance abuse and bullying. ( Summit Daily News )
A local businessman makes the case for investing in early childhood education ( Denver Business Journal )
Denver Public Schools is considering ending dual language programs at Valverde Dual Language Academy and Charles M. Schenck Community School, two of the district’s six Spanish-English immerison programs.
District officials say the program changes are aimed at stemming declines in academic performance at both schools among native English- and Spanish-speakers alike.
Some parents say that the district didn’t give the programs enough time to thrive, and that the changes would leave southwest Denver without a dual language program.
Both schools would likely house instead new Transitional Native Language Instruction programs, which provide Spanish-speaking students with instruction in their native language, supports when they are taught in English, and specific courses in English language acquisition.
Susana Cordova, the district’s chief schools officer, said DPS still supports its dual language programs, in which students receive instruction in both Spanish and English. But, she said, at Valverde and Schenck, “the implementation was not nearly as strong or robust as we’d like to see it. When we started looking at data, we had real concerns about viability of the programs.”
“We felt that the best decision was to make sure we had quality, strong first-language programming in Spanish as well as quality strong first-language programming in English for English speakers,” Cordova said.
In addition to Valverde and Schenck, the district currently has dual language programs at Academia Ana Maria Sandoval, Bryant Webster, the Denver Language School, and Valdez.Frustrated parents
Replacing a dual language program with a native-language program would uphold the district’s legal requirement under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, to provide native language instruction options for Spanish-speaking students, Cordova said.
She said that most teachers who were eligible to teach in the dual language program would still be able to teach at the schools, even if the model changes.
But at a public comment session at the DPS board meeting in January, Schenck parent Gregoria Salcedo told district officials that she was frustrated by what had seemed like half-hearted implementation of the dual language program.
“Why was this decision made? Why do they support schools like Valdez but not us? Why don’t you support dual language at [Schnck]?” Salceda said. “We feel the district disrespected us.”
Parent Martha Juarez said that while she knew the school had earned red, the lowest category on the district’s school performance framework, “the reason it’s in red is because of all the changes you have done. I feel there is a lot of causes, and it’s because you don’t let a specific program develop in a school.”
The district’s other dual language programs are all several miles away, in other quadrants of the city. Cordova said the district is not considering changing programs at those schools. “The dual-language programs we have in other parts of the city are showing far greater academic gains.”
DPS is under consistent pressure to meet the educational needs of its nearly-30,000 English language learners, especially in southwest Denver, where more than 80 percent of students are Latino and many are English language learners. Earlier this school year, plans to place two charter schools in nearby Kepner Middle School drew fire from advocates who were concerned the district would not offer appropriate native language instruction to Spanish-speaking middle schoolers in the Southwest.Academic struggles
Students at both schools have not fared well on state standardized tests. Schenck, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch and 76.4 percent are English language learners, has alternated between red and yellow rankings—the two lowest possibile—in recent years, and last year was ranked red on the district’s performance scorecard.
Fewer than a quarter of its students scored proficient or advanced on last year’s state standardized tests in reading or math. The school’s native English-speakers scored ten or more percentage points worse than their native Spanish speaking peers—a reversal of trends in the district as a whole.
Declining enrollment is also an issue at Schenck: Enrollment has dropped from 670 in 2011 to 500 in the current school year.
Valverde, where nearly 60 percent of the school’s 400 students are English language learners and 98.5 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, was also given the lowest ranking on the district’s performance framework. Its rating has been steadily declining over the past five years, and its English-speaking students also scored lower than English language learners on reading and writing tests.
Valverde’s former principal announced in September that she would leave due to the school’s stagnant test scores. The school has an interim principal and will have a new permanent leader next year.
“We want to be responsive to all of our parents, but as we look at performance level in both schools–frankly we’re not doing well enough by any students in these schools,” Cordova said.
DPS officials say the decision to change the programs at Valverde and Schenck is not yet final.
A new report from the Department of Higher Education casts fresh light on a never-ending worry for parents and policymakers – rising college costs.
The 2014-15 Tuition and Fees Report, presented to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education Friday, found that the median increase in resident tuition for the year was 5 percent. That was the lowest since the 2.5 percent recorded in 2006-07, before the 2008 recession slashed state revenues and forced cuts in higher education spending, which led to substantial tuition increases.
The combined average burden of resident tuition and student fees rose 4.7 percent in 2014-15 over the 2013-14 school year. The average tuition-and-fees increase was 5.7 percent at four-year schools – about $462 – and 3.8 percent at community colleges, about $150 per student.
Over the last decade, tuition and fees have increased by an average of 8-12 percent a year at four-year state colleges and universities. (As the chart shows, there were wide swings in percentage increases year to year.) So while the 2014-15 figures may look better to students and parents, lower rates of tuition growth may not last.
First, the 2014 legislature capped annual tuition increases at no more than 6 percent this year and in 2015-16. That cap was accompanied by a $100 million increase in higher education support for this year. Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $60 million increase for the next school year.Source: Colorado Department of Higher Education
But the flow of additional state money may soon dry up, and the tuition cap is set to expire. (A Senate committee recently killed a bill that would have extended the 6 percent ceiling indefinitely. Lawmakers were persuaded by college leaders’ concerns that they may have to rely more heavily on tuition the next time state support is trimmed.)
State budget director Henry Sobanet briefed the commission on state budget prospects during Friday’s meeting and warned that in the 2016-17 budget, rising demands for K-12 spending, transportation, and refunds required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights could mean “everything else will have to drop by $148 million.”
Asked by CCHE chair Richard Kaufman about the potential impact on colleges and universities, Sobanet said, “Under some circumstances it could end up being that there are cuts to higher education.”
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, speaking earlier in the meeting, also noted “We know that in the next couple of years we may again be in a situation where we’re cutting.”Inside the report Do your homework
Dating back to 2010-11, increases in base tuition have varied widely by college. At the high end, five-year increases were 74.8 percent at Adams State University, 64 percent at Fort Lewis College, 61.8 percent at Western State Colorado University and 60.1 percent at Metropolitan State University. The lowest percentage increase was 23 percent at CU-Colorado Springs. The community college system had a 29.8 percent increase.
Looking at fees alone, over the last five years increases have ranged from a low of 5.8 percent at Colorado Mesa University to 72.5 percent at Western. (Fees have risen sharply at Western and a few other institutions because fees were used to fund campus construction projects when state support for projects dropped.)
According to the College Board, average four-year tuition and fees increased 2.9 percent nationally in 2014-15. Colorado’s average tuition and fees were slight above the national average of $9,139 this year. But Colorado’s per-student state support – $3,494 – was the second-lowest in nation and well below the national average of $7,072.
The department also reports annually on student financial aid and debt in a separate study. The 2013-14 version of that report found that 70 percent of students graduated with debt from four-year institutions. The average debt was $26,057 for a bachelor’s degree. Of students who earned an associate degree, 65 percent used loans, and the average debt upon graduation was $14,344.
On Monday we asked our readers: How might schools benefit from this split role, and conversely, what are the biggest risks of the teacher-leader model?
Educator and reader Kenneth Durham reminded us in a comment that teacher-leaders are not a new concept:
Prior to the creation of principalships, schools were lead by teachers and in some cases a lead teacher. Leadership at its core is about helping other to realize their potential for their benefit and the benefit of their community. The first advantage I see in this split role is the intentional communication that leadership is not confined, nor should it be, to the principal’s office. … A risk of the teacher leader model is poor development that leads to leaders that do not understand the role of a leader. Leadership should be studied, experienced, reflected on, refined, and then have the process repeated. Leadership is not about the leader.
A Denver teacher-leader, who asked to remain anonymous, emailed this:
Most effective has been the chance to model and co-plan with teachers and to give them release time to afford them opportunities to observe other teachers’ practice. Far less effective, and even damaging to the role, is the mix of evaluation and coaching. It hampers the process of building trust, detracts from time that could be spent actually mentoring, and flavors the entire process in an unfortunate way. The training I have received this year has solely been on the evaluative side of the process: giving feedback, having difficult conversations, understanding rubrics and calibrating LEAP scores, etc. There has been no opportunity to grow in areas of educational practice.
Adams 12 teacher and sometimes First Person contributor Mark Sass agreed that teacher-leaders can do more than just evaluate other teachers:
Teachers have expertise in many areas that should be recognized and utilized. Some teachers are expert data analysts, others are knowledgeable in writing curriculum; still others have policy expertise. Teachers, and not paid outside contractors, should be leading professional development. All of this means a new and progressive look at how we recognize and compensate teachers. No more one size fits all compensation program. It also means a systematic and structured approach that doesn’t rely on TIFs to pay for teacher leader positions. What will Denver do when the TIFs run dry?
On Facebook, Antonio D’Lallo suggested leadership should be shared by the principal, teachers, parents, and students:
I worked in a site-based managed alternative high school and we had a council of students, parents and teachers along with our principal that made decisions that impacted us from instruction and curriculum to hiring and firing/renewal of contract. It was a great system that empowered all of us to make the best decisions for students.
There's a fresh angle in our analysis of school-by-school immunization opt-out rates with an interactive map of schools. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Voices of change
Three LGBT students talk about the barriers they've experienced that have prevented or hindered learning for them. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Count us in
The Douglas County school district has joined the line of districts seeking waivers from state testing, even though it's doubtful any exemptions will be given this year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
A Fairview High School student explains why students don’t care about standardized tests and provides solutions to create “buy in.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The nation's high school graduation rate has gone up for the second year in a row, to 81 percent. ( Washington Post )
A girl was shot by a pellet gun on the grounds of Broomfield High Thursday. ( Broomfield Enterprise via Denver Post )
A Douglas County parent urges the school board to place a bond issue on the ballot next November. ( Denver Post )
Around the network
A bill targeting the Common Core State Standards has been delayed in the Tennessee legislature as the conversation on the issue shifts. ( Chalkbeat Tennessee )
The Douglas County School Districts has filed a “just in case” request for a waiver from statewide testing with the Department of Education.
The Dougco application surfaced after Attorney General Cynthia Coffman issued a formal opinion this week concluding neither the State Board of Education nor the department has authority to grant testing waivers (see story).
In a Wednesday letter to education Commissioner Robert Hammond, Dougco lawyer Robert Ross noted the opinion and wrote, “We understand that there will now be legal (and likely legislative) issues to address for you and/or the State Board in order to proceed with such waivers.” Still, Ross wrote, the district wanted the education department to know of its desire for a waiver, should circumstances ever change.
The resolution passed unanimously by the Dougco board sounded a similar conditional note.
The Douglas County board has been a strong advocate of giving districts more flexibility in testing and standards.
Dougco is among 15 districts that have applied for testing waivers. The only other large school system that has done so is Jefferson County. Those two districts combined enroll 153,249 of the state’s 889,006 students.
Most of the districts that have asked for exemption from the first portion of this spring’s CMAS/PARCC language arts and math tests are smaller and rural. Two districts have asked for five-year testing time-outs.
The applicants are Buffalo, Byers, Dougco, Elizabeth, Hayden, Jeffco, Julesburg, Kit Carson, Montrose, Steamboat Springs, Weld RE-9 (Ault), Weld RE-10J (Briggsdale), Weldon, Wiggins and Wiley. Kit Carson, with 108 students, is the smallest of the group.
The State Board is scheduled to discuss the attorney general’s ruling and the waiver applications Wednesday morning during its regular monthly meeting.
[Updated]Colorado’s patchwork of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are often celebrated as the most progressive in the nation. That includes a set of inclusive laws that protect LGBT students from bullying in the classroom.
But for many LGBT students, those laws mean little to nothing if their school leaders, teachers, and peers fail to create a safe environment that respects and honors different identities.
What’s more, three Colorado high school students who identify as gay or transgender told Chalkbeat, they’re sometimes more knowledgeable about the laws that protect them then their educators. And that needs to change, they said.
Chalkbeat interviewed the high schools students at Creating Change, the largest annual gathering of LGBT advocates, hosted by the National LGBTQ Task Force. More than 4,000 LGBT leaders gathered in Denver for the weeklong conference between Feb. 3 and Feb. 8 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Denver.
Chalkbeat asked the three students what are some of the barriers they experienced that prevented or hindered their learning. Listen to the clips below.Jonathan Herbst
Jonathan Herbst is no stranger to the “big issues.” As his school’s only out-gay student, he’s not afraid to talk about his sexuality, gender neutral bathrooms, or bullying. But it’s the little things inside Lyons Middle-Senior High that are wearing him down as he nears the graduation line.Jake Snow
Choosing to express a gender other than the one assigned to you at birth is a battle against bureaucracy, said Fairview High School student Jake Snow. There’s little room to experiment inside a traditional public school that must follow decades-old rules.Xander Fager
When Xander Fager began to transition from female to male, the Smoky Hill High School administration was slow to adapt, he said. He was asked to use a gender neutral bathroom at first, instead of the boys bathroom. (Colorado schools, as public places, are required to allow individuals to use whichever restroom serves their self-selected gender.) While he said he was later given access to the boys restroom, Fager has opted to attend the Cherry Creek Option School, a home-school program.
A spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District said Fager was was never denied access to any restroom.
The experiences of Herbst, Snow, and Fager are not unique.
According to a 2013 nationwide school climate survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 65 percent of LGBT students claimed to hear homophobic remarks in their schools often. Three out of every 10 students said they missed at least one day of school because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Nearly 90 percent said they were verbally harassed at least one during the previous year. And 19 percent of students said they were forbidden from wearing clothing that represented their chosen gender
The survey also found LGBT students who experienced higher levels of discrimination based on their identity had lower grade point averages than students who were less often harassed. And students who were harassed more often were less likely to go to college.
Updated: This article has been updated to include a statement from Cherry Creek School District. An official claims Fager was never denied access to the men’s bathroom.
More than 140 Colorado schools in the state’s 20 largest districts have enough students opting out of immunizations to potentially compromise herd immunity and hasten the spread of communicable diseases.
The Boulder Valley School District has the most schools–three-dozen–with exemption rates of 10 percent or higher, but several other districts, including Academy 20, Jeffco, Poudre, Pueblo and Thompson have a dozen or more schools in that category. Meanwhile, Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has just three schools with exemption rates higher than 10 percent.
Hover your cursor over dots on the map below to see school names and exemption rates.
In Colorado, parents may legally excuse their children from immunizations by claiming religious, medical, or personal belief exemptions. Personal belief exemptions are by far the most common kind of exemption in the state.
Exemption rates of 10 percent or more are significant because herd immunity usually requires immunization rates of 90-95 percent. If too few students are immunized to achieve herd immunity thresholds, communicable diseases like measles and whooping cough spread more easily.
To learn more about immunization compliance and exemption rates for individual schools in the state’s 20 largest school districts, go to Chalkbeat’s first-of-its-kind database with school-by-school data.
That’s one suggestion for state lawmakers and school officials on how they can create buy-in from students on standardized tests. It comes from Fairview High School student Jessica Piper in Boulder. Piper was one of the hundreds of students who authored this letter to school officials and participated in a protest last fall against Colorado’s new science and social studies assessments for seniors.
In a new blog post, Piper attempts to explain why students don’t buy into the tests and what the state can do to fix that.
The notion that some student’s don’t try on state tests because they have no stake in the results rings true for many educators. While the results in Colorado mean little to individual students, the state does use data to determine the quality of schools and teachers. Critics say that’s not enough motivation for students to do their best and that adults may be held accountable not for how much a student knows but how much a student cares.
By comparison, test results mean everything for students in China. Check out this article from the New York Times Magazine on that nation’s test-prep factories.
Compromised immune system
Low immunization rates at some Colorado schools shock parents, but not health experts. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
The Denver Post weighs in with its own school immunization rates story and database, a day after Chalkbeat Colorado broke the story. ( The Denver Post )
Pioneer, one of Denver's oldest charter schools, will close in 2016 after years of subpar performance. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Parent rights bill passes state Senate, but is likely dead on arrival in the state House. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Denver Public Schools announced 32 new sites that will house its "teacher-leader" program beginning next school year. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )
Englewood celebrated the completion of a new $50 million school campus. ( The Denver Post )
A housing boom in northwest Arvada has Jeffco schools scrambling to figure out where to put an expected influx of new kids. ( 9News )
Classmates support a Highlands Ranch eighth-grader who has a debilitating eye disease. ( Fox 31 )
Sports trumps P.E.
St. Vrain Valley officials are proposing making it easier to opt out of physical education classes through participation in sports. ( Daily Camera )
Some school districts are wondering what's next after the state attorney general ruled testing waivers are illegal ( The Gazette )
Blocks not bytes
Blocks are better learning tools for young kids than even the spiffiest high-tech gadget, an expert tells NPR. ( KUNC-NPR )
Updated Feb. 12, 9:25 a.m. – The state Senate Thursday gave final 18-16 approval to the bill dubbed the “parent’s bill of rights.” Republican members voted yes and Democrats voted no, with one Democrat excused and not voting
The measure, supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, had passed on a preliminary voice vote Thursday following more than two hours of debate that highlighted philosophical and partisan differences over the roles of parents and government, and protecting children. There was no additional discussion Thursday.
Parent rights are something of a theme for Republicans this session. With their new 18-17 majority in the Senate, GOP members have the opportunity to advance such social-issues bills to the floor, although proposals have little chance in the Democratic-controlled House.
Senate Bill 15-077 declares that parents have the fundamental right to raise, educate, and provide medical care for their children and that government cannot interfere with that unless there’s “a compelling interest.” It sets out a long list of parental rights, including withdrawal of children from classes whose content they find objectionable, receiving information about opting out of sex education classes, access to textbooks, and consent to medical and diagnostic procedures and to video and audio recording of children. (Read the bill text here and a summary here.)
“We need to get back to understanding that parents make the best decisions for their children in almost all cases,” said prime sponsor Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, during Thursday’s debate.
“It’s about time we had this discussion. … It’s an issue that’s not going away,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.
Democrats had different views.
The bill “is fine as a manifesto,” said Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “The problem is this is actually law that we are writing.” She added that SB 15-077 “radically reduces and in some cases completely eliminates the rights and protections of the child. To me this looks like a no bill of rights for kids.”
Much of the debate focused on the bill’s possible implications for child welfare and health, with less attention paid to the impact on schools. Democratic senators warned that requiring parent consent for all medical and mental health care would be dangerous for children who’ve been abused by their parents or have issues they didn’t want their parents to know about.
Republicans countered that existing laws require medical professionals and educators to report suspected child abuse and are sufficient.
Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, said state law already covers parent notification and opting out of a wide variety of classroom activities. (There’s been a lot of discussion about how the bill affects vaccinations. The measure requires schools to notify parents of their existing rights to opt out of vaccinations but wouldn’t change the opt-out system.)
Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill, but all were defeated except one that removed misdemeanor criminal penalties for teachers and other school personnel who didn’t seek parent consent before sending a troubled student to a counselor or health professional.Health survey a lightning rod for activists
A youth health survey conductedperiodically by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has come up frequently in committee hearings on SB 15-077 and on student data privacy measures that were considered in the House (see story).
Parents who testified complained the survey is intrusive, asks inappropriate questions, and that that they sometimes weren’t properly notified that the survey was being given.
The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is given every other year to students in randomly selected schools. More than 220 schools and 40,000 youth took the 2013 survey, according to the department. Learn more here, and read the 99 questions on a past survey here. Some questions are very specific about drug use, sexual activity, and other risky behaviors.
While state officials have testified that the surveys are completely confidential, parents who spoke at committee hearings were skeptical of that.Other bills involving parent rights
Several Republican bills introduced this year attempt to protect various parent rights, from the broad provisions of SB 15-077 to Senate Bill 15-129, which involves family court proceedings.
Parent rights also are an element in several education-related bills, including:
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to detailed information about these bills. Some already have been defeated.
Pioneer Charter School, one of the first charters in Denver, will close at the end of the 2015-16 academic year, its board decided recently.
The 17-year-old school currently enrolls more than 450 students in early childhood, elementary, and middle school classes.
Board officials say the decision to close the school came after years of stagnant academic performance. The school had not met academic benchmarks set by Denver Public Schools in its current contract.
The vote to shutter Pioneer took place more than a year before DPS would have determined whether the school should be closed for poor performance.
Family members and staff at the school were taken aback by the decision to close, said Silvia Hernandez, the president of the school’s parent association and mother of a fourth and eighth grader at the school. “It was a shock.”
Pioneer board member Anna Nicotera said that the board voted to close the school early to give both the district and the school’s families and students time to make plans for coming years. The vote took place in December.
“Faculty and families felt the board made a decision without asking for input,” Nicotera said. “But the board just felt like we were deciding what was in the best interest of kids.”
Charter advocates said they supported the board’s decision to close rather than continue with a struggling program.
“The school’s board of directors recognized that children only have one chance at a great education,” said Nora Flood, the director of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. “And they are acting in the students’ best interest.”
Jason Janz, a pastor in northeast Denver, said that “the community roots at Pioneer are strong, but at the same time we can’t ignore the fact that our kids are not moving ahead in the current model….We need a quality provider, not an experiment or a new model. We need something we know we can trust.”
DPS has already issued a public call for new school operators to run a middle school and potentially two elementary schools serving students who currently attend Pioneer, 95 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and 77 percent of whom are English language learners. The call highlights that many of the school’s students go to high school at nearby Manual.
At a time when the district is squeezed for facilities, the building will likely not sit empty.
The DPS board will vote next week to approve a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer board’s vote.Evolving school
Pioneer was founded in 1997 as part of a collaboration between the University of Denver and DPS. That partnership never fully materialized, said board member Nicotera. A plan for the school to serve as a lab school for University of Denver teachers, for instance, never got off the ground.
The school shifted from being a partly-autonomous school to being a fully independent charter in 2008. The school has seen several leadership changes over the years, including an effort five years ago to turn the school around under the leadership of Rich Barrett, one of the founders of Denver’s branch of KIPP, the national network of charter schools.
Barrett left the school this winter, before the board’s vote. Barrett said one challenge in improving performance at the school school was recruiting teachers to work at a one-off charter school that doesn’t have the brand-name recognition of KIPP or Teach For America.
Current staff declined requests for interviews.
All of the school’s students can still attend the school in 2015-16 with the exception of rising sixth graders, who were encouraged to apply to other schools.
The school held a community meeting last week for parents to air their concerns. Parent Hernandez said that only about 20 parents attended that meeting.
Hernandez said that the school had been recommended to her by neighbors. But she said she had been disappointed by the school’s services for English language learners.
While her eighth grader already has plans to attend East High, she is still determining where to send her elementary-aged son next year.
Nicotera said such uncertainty was to be expected. “We have been trying to make it clear to families and staff that there will continue to be uncertainty about the future for Pioneer until the Denver Public Schools school board makes a decision about the educational program that will operate in the school in 2016-17, per the call for new schools.”
PHOTO: D. Schepmann for Denver Public Schools
Denver Public Schools announced today which 32 schools will be home to its “differentiated roles” program, which creates hybrid teaching-administration positions.
At the start of the of 2015-16 school year in August, more than half of the district’s schools will have teacher-leaders, a role the district first piloted in 14 schools in 2013-14. Teacher-leaders teach a part-time courseload but also coach, mentor, and evaluate a team of teachers at their school.
See the full list of new schools here.
At an event at the Denver Center for International Studies this morning, superintendent Tom Boasberg said he would like eventually to have the program in all the district’s schools. In the past, he said, teachers were faced with an “unnecessary choice, which is, Either you can continue to teach or you can lead. We wish to make sure our teachers have the opportunity to teach and to lead.”
Kevin Adams, a teacher who is working with Gerardo Munoz, a first-year team leader at the international studies school, said that in this, his 10th year of teaching, “I have thought more about practice than in my previous nine years.”
The district plans to invest as much as $4.5 million in the program next year.
What do you think about the teacher leadership role? Let us know by responding to our Question of the Week.
Chalkbeat wrote about the district’s plan to expand its differentiated roles program earlier this week.
When House Bill 14-1288 passed last spring, some public health advocates believed the provision requiring schools to disclose their immunization and exemption rates would affect parents’ school choice decisions.
Charles Buchanan may be proof they were right.
The Denver father was appalled to learn Tuesday that his daughter’s school—Mountain Phoenix Community School in Wheat Ridge—has an immunization compliance rate of 48 percent and an exemption rate of 37 percent. In other words, more than half of students have submitted no immunization records at all—and may not be immunized—and most of those who have submitted records have opted out of some or all immunizations.
“It’s affecting my school choice in a big way,” he said on Tuesday evening. “My daughter won’t be going back to Mountain Phoenix Community School next year unless they come up with a different game plan.”
Buchanan said his family loves the Waldorf-inspired charter school, but added, “My daughter has medical issues where whooping cough or the measles would be more devastating than to the average kid.”
With what’s referred to as “herd immunity” usually requiring immunization rates of 90-95 percent, it’s clear that Mountain Phoenix wouldn’t even come close to that threshold. Without that group protection, its easier for communicable diseases to spread, even sometimes to people who have been fully vaccinated, like Buchanan’s third-grade daughter,
Mountain Phoenix was among more than 1,000 schools included in Chalkbeat Colorado’s new database showing immunization compliance and exemption rates in the state’s 20 largest districts. Currently, the data is not compiled by any state agency or available in aggregate form anywhere else.
For many observers, it’s no surprise that certain charter schools and other schools with alternative philosophies tend to have higher exemption rates and lower compliance rates.
“I do know that charters may attract different types of parents. The data does show that non-immunizing parents tend to cluster geographically… and they probably tend to cluster around school philosophies as well,” said Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition.
Dr. Simon Hambidge, Chief Ambulatory Care Officer and co-chair of the immunization committee at Denver Health noted that many vaccine-hesitant parents are white, upper-middle class, college-educated women. He didn’t think he’d be surprised by the schools where lots of parents opt out of immunizations.
“I can guess which ones may have higher [exemption] rates.”The start of something
While schools have long collected documents demonstrating that students either had all the required shots or were officially excused from shots by their parents, the mandate to publicly disclose those numbers is new. And while most experts believe this new level of transparency will have positive impacts on public health, they say some schools may have to change procedures to better comply.
“Districts are going to have be a little more on top of things,” said Kathleen Patrick, assistant director of health and wellness at the Colorado Department of Education or CDE. “It’s going to be a little bit of a growing pain for schools.”
Public health advocates were disappointed in the final version of HB 14-1288 because it stripped a key provision that would have made it harder for parents to claim “personal belief exemptions” from some or all vaccinations. Still, advocates see it as a first volley in a long-term push for stronger immunization laws and policies in the state.
“It’s an incremental success,” said Wasserman. “We want to be able to revisit to see whats working, what’s not working. Do we need to attach a fiscal note or some funding?”
So far, the short-term effects of the law, particularly the public disclosure of immunization rates—coming during a national measles outbreak—have garnered praise.
“I think it is always good to put meaningful data into the hands of people to whom it is important. And this is important to parents,” said Hambidge.
Besides factoring into school choice decisions, worrisome immunization and exemption rates also present an opportunity for parents to become immunization advocates within their schools, said Wasserman.
“It would be a great tool to advocate among school leadership and peers to have some kind of parent event where someone from my organization or someone from the state can talk about why choosing to exempt your child…puts your own school community at risk,” she said.
It’s a role that Buchanan took on in small way on Tuesday when he phoned both the school nurse and the operations manager at Mountain Phoenix to discuss his concerns. He said the operations manager reported that school staff will meet to develop a plan to increase compliance rates.
“That’s a good thing because the legislation was intended to make this information publicly available so there would be pressure on these schools to up their compliance,” said Buchanan. “Its proof that the law is working and hopefully having some effect.”What’s next
While some schools and districts may now be scrambling to up compliance rates and decrease exemption rates, the state’s health decision-makers are hatching longer-term plans that might someday mean the creation of a public database with immunization rates and exemption rates for all Colorado schools and child care providers. Patrick said that probably won’t happen from within a state agency without additional legislation. Wasserman said she’s been talking with funders about such a project, which is one of her organization’s key goals.
In the meantime, officials from various state departments and organization are discussing ways to streamline the paper chase that can hamper overburdened school nurses in their pursuit of immunization paperwork. Patrick said officials have talked about allowing parents to submit exemption forms electronically, though such a streamlined process is probably farther away for immunization forms because of privacy issues.
CDE officials have also talked about leveling out the playing field when it comes to disclosure of immunization and exemption rates by recommending a set date that rates be compiled. Currently, there are no requirements about when rates must be compiled. Among the 20 districts that provided data to Chalkbeat, collection dates ranged from May 1, 2014 for the Thompson School District, which achieved near-perfect compliance-to February 2015 for a number of other districts.
And while the gears of policy-making grind on, health care providers still see plenty of parents who worry about the safety of vaccines.
Hambidge said it’s important to remember that 90 percent of parents who claim personal belief exemptions, the most commonly used exemption in Colorado, get at least some required vaccinations for their children. Typical concerns, he said, tend to be about the discredited notions that the MMR vaccine, which stands for Measles Mumps Rubella, is linked to autism, or that the number of shots required for one-year-olds “overwhelm their systems.”
“Most impactful, because we’re having the most serious measles outbreak that we’ve had since the 1990s, is the autism fear,” he said. “I think it’s important to acknowledge their fears. They are trying to do what’s in the best interest of their children” he said.
“It’s really important to continue the conversation.”
Explore this map by hovering your cursor over dots to see school names and exemption rates. The map highlights the more than 140 Colorado schools in the state’s 20 largest districts that have enough students opting out of immunizations to potentially compromise herd immunity and hasten the spread of communicable diseases.
Use Chalkbeat’s database to look up immunization compliance and exemption rates for individual schools in the 20 largest districts in the state. These districts enroll around three-quarters of the state’s students. Visit this page to learn more about the database’s terminology and how we compiled the data.