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Arts education report: More teachers and programs, but inequity remains

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 07:35

Two years ago, when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled an arts plan for schools, it was unclear how much arts instruction was already being offered to students – either by certified teachers or through partnerships with community organizations.

Now, schools and arts leaders know the answer: There are more teachers than many would have guessed, but they are inequitably distributed across the city and the total is far below the goals.

“There are a lot of assumptions that people make about what is out there and what isn’t out there,” said Paul Sznewajs, executive director of the arts nonprofit organization, Ingenuity Inc. “What we found is that there are a lot of resources out there, maybe more than we anticipated, but there are still many gaps in the system. More teachers than we assumed there to be in the system, but underneath is the challenge of student access to those teachers and whether those teachers are distributed equitably across the system.”

Today, Ingenuity released a first-of-its kind analysis of arts offerings, staffing, partnerships and funding in CPS during the 2012-13 school year, when the Chicago Cultural Plan was unveiled. Among the findings in the report:

-- On average, elementary students received 99 minutes of arts instruction per week. As part of the district’s arts guidelines, elementary schools should provide at least 120 minutes per week of arts instruction. But, according to the self-reported data, only 40 percent of CPS elementary schools offered that much arts education during the 2012-13 school year.

-- The number of arts programs provided by partner organizations varied wildly from neighborhood to neighborhood. A striking map in the report shows how wealthier neighborhoods such as  Lincoln Park and Lake View have more than 50 arts partnerships in schools, while some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods in the South and West side have 10 or fewer.

-- More than 400 arts organizations had active partnerships to offer programming in CPS schools. Sznewajs said he thought the number was about half as many.

-- 95 percent of elementary/middle schools, and 88 percent of high schools, had at least one part- or full-time arts instructor. Most schools with arts instructors – 82 percent – also had community arts partners.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, CPS leaders said it wasn’t surprising that the district hadn’t met its goals during the 2012-13 school year; after all, that’s when they were created.

 "Are we anywhere near where we need to be? Of course not,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “This is a snapshot in the past that has now informed us.”

One way the information has already done so, she explained, was in the placement of 84 certified arts teachers who will be hired with $10.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars.  The vast majority, Byrd-Bennett said, will work in schools in the South and West sides “where there is the greatest need.” (Here's a list of where all the arts teachers will be heading next fall. Separately, CPS will hire an equal number of high school gym teachers with TIF dollars to comply with another mandate. Also, read a CPS fact sheet in response to the arts report.*)

The TIF money for new art teachers won’t be permanent, nor is it complete. Next year, schools must pay 25 percent of the cost of the teachers, and the district will pick up the remainder with the TIF money. The following year, schools must pay 50 percent of the cost.

And that, say CPS critics, is a problem.  Last year, a reported 100 arts teachers lost their jobs in budget cuts across the district.

“We’re either going to make a commitment to arts education or we’re not,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “Relying on vanishing ways of paying things puts us in the same position we’re already in […]. I don’t think this is a sustainable plan.”

Too much attention to partnerships?

Ingenuity’s “State of the Arts” report was based on a variety of sources including the CPS Creative Schools Certification survey, which only 57 percent of schools completed. This fall, Ingenuity will publish a follow-up report using 2013-14 data, which is just now being analyzed.  The report promises to include better data, as this time around, 89 percent of schools completed the CPS survey.

“That’s a really positive sign to show both participation and movement forward,” said CPS arts director Mario Rossero.

Charter and contract schools, however, were the least likely to return surveys than traditional neighborhood schools both years.  Sznewajs said he expects that will change over the years, as all schools become more familiar with the annual survey.

The report provides data on a district-wide level, but not on individual schools. However, school-level data will be made available online later this year in a revamped version of Ingenuity’s interactive map of school arts offerings.

Ingenuity also issued a series of recommendations, starting with hiring more arts instructors. At a bare minimum, the report asks for at least one certified arts instructor per school; Rossero said he hoped the 84 additional arts teachers would ensure that all schools in Chicago had at least one arts teacher on staff but could not confirm whether that would be the case next fall. Other recommendations include increased training opportunities for principals and teachers; the creation of a system to measure arts instruction; and locating new public and private funding for the arts.

One key finding in the report is on the wide range in programs offered by arts partners that work in schools.  The majority of these programs are one-time field trips or performances that, “while valuable and may address an identified school need, signal little consistent or ongoing student access to partner programs,” according to the report.

Ingenuity points to art residency programs in schools as an alternative which provides “a deep arts learning opportunity” for students. Just over a quarter of schools reported having an art residency in 2012-13.

Sznewajs said outside arts partnerships make sense for schools in a city like Chicago, with its vast wealth of “cultural resources” that schools could tap into. He stressed that his group’s focus on schools partnering with outside arts organizations is in no ways meant to undermine the role of certified arts instructors in the classroom.

“If you want to grow the arts, it starts with having a certified arts instructor on staff. They’re the anchor of everything,” he said.

Still, the attention to partnerships has caused some concern among arts instructors in CPS. In late April, the CTU’s arts committee filed a grievance alleging that some schools were using outside arts partners to replace instruction by certified teachers, even though that instruction isn’t supposed to count toward the 120 minutes per week requirement.

John Perryman, who chairs the CTU arts committee, said some principals were leaving students alone with outside arts partners. CPS officials did not respond to questions about the grievance.

*This story was updated on July 10, 2014, to include a CPS-provided list of which schools will receive arts teachers next fall.

Categories: Urban School News

Top Dougco administrator hired as Jeffco chief academic officer

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/08/2014 - 19:11

Syna Morgan, chief system performance officer for the Douglas County Schools, has been hired as chief academic officer for the Jeffco school district.

Jeffco Public Schools announced the appointment Tuesday, a week after Dan McMinimee started work as that district’s superintendent. McMinimee was the assistant superintendent of secondary schools in Dougco before taking his new job.

In a statement, McMinimee said this of Morgan: “Her knowledge of curriculum, instruction and assessment is exceptional. She will lead our team forward in a positive and balanced way with a focus on student achievement and growth.”

In her Dougco job, Morgan was head of research, assessment and accountability for the district since August 2010. Prior to that she owned a local educational consulting firm and worked for the Nevada Department of Education. She was elementary teacher in Nevada from 1989 to 1996. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Fort Lewis College and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Nevada-Reno.

Morgan was recently appointed to serve on the Standards and Assessments Task Force, a new study panel created by the legislature to review the state testing system.

McMinimee, hired by a new conservative majority on the Jeffco board, has sparked concerns among board critics that he will try to copy some of the controversial initiatives undertaken in Dougco. Learn more about the new superintendent’s first day in this Chalkbeat Colorado story and read what he has to say on key issues in this article.

In Jeffco, Morgan takes the position vacated by Heather Beck, who left the job last month to become a superintendent in Oregon.

Corrections in Morgan’s professional background were made on July 10.

Categories: Urban School News

Sen. Mike Johnston: Districts have “a lot of freedom” under SB191

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/08/2014 - 16:43

Sen. Mike Johnston has been at the forefront of reform efforts in the Colorado legislature since his appointment in 2009. His signature measure, the overhaul of the state’s teacher evaluation system that kicked into gear this year, has received mixed reviews, especially from rural districts.

Recently, Holyoke, a small district in northeastern Colorado, signaled its intentions to apply for a waiver under the 2008 innovation schools law that would free the district from a key portion of the evaluation law –  basing half a teacher’s evaluation on student academic growth as measured by state and local tests.

Chalkbeat spoke with Johnston by phone recently to discuss the Holyoke waiver and the implications of education reform for rural districts, as well as what reformers can learn from rural educators. 

(The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Let’s start with the recent push from Holyoke to apply for innovation status. Speaking to Superintendent Bret Miles, I think their feeling on the test scores is there is already a high level of accountability for teachers. They release their state scores in the newspaper and they know exactly who is responsible for those test scores. Does that do the same thing in your mind as the state system?

The purpose of any good evaluation should be improvement, so giving people feedback they can use to get better. And our initial belief behind the design of Senate Bill 191 was that you want that evaluation to consist of two components. One is an agreed-upon set of quality standards about what effective teaching practices look like. And then a link to actual student outcomes so we know the work we are doing with adults is having an impact on the learning of students. The law as it exists already allows a great deal of flexibility about how one measures student growth measures.  So I don’t think we would want to depart from the notion that students’ actual improvement ought to be a significant part of what our work is focused on.

In the Kit Carson context, it was more about providing full autonomy to all the schools in a way that innovation schools have sought. That’s a pretty significant overhaul of how the district operated before. [The Kit Carson district in eastern Colorado received an innovation waiver from some SB 10-191 elements in 2011.]

When the original innovation bill was passed, it was before we had passed other state performance bills like 191. So it was somewhat silent on whether you could innovate out of other requirements. The Kit Carson example seemed to be in the spirit of both innovation and accountability because they wanted to give schools and districts more autonomy, which often meant more control for principals over budget and hiring and firing and program. If in fact that’s the case with the Holyoke proposal, I’d be interested to see it.

One issue I’ve heard about SB-191 is the question of how much time it takes to fill out the paperwork, struggles that come down to some pretty practical considerations. And in Holyoke, they felt that those actually took away from teachers’ time with students and principals’ time in the classroom.

I’d be curious to learn more about what that is. One of the changes that exists is that people should be evaluated every year, instead of every three years. I don’t think it’s unnecessary paperwork to say that a professional ought to get good feedback once a year on how their work is. I think that that seems to be meaningful interaction between supervisors and teachers.

If they’re talking about what the evaluation system is itself, they have plenty of room to innovate in terms of how they design or use an evaluation system, without adjusting the balance of student growth measures and teacher quality standards. So I think a lot of freedom is in place within the law. So I’d be very curious to know what is the paperwork burden that they see and how do we make sure that that aligns to actual student outcomes.

What feedback did you get this spring from districts? We’re now several months into SB-191 implementation.

The most feedback we got this spring was, “We need more resources to support implementation of this,” which is why we spent all of the last year working on the school finance issue. People said, “This is the right work. We think it’s important but we need additional resources to provide that support.”

So we talked a lot about how we want to provide dollars for professional development, we want to provide dollars for technology so they have resources to provide assessments. And they all very clearly said, “Don’t target any of those resources to specific needs like professional development or technology, but rather give them to us with flexibility and we the local districts will determine what the best way is to use those.” So that’s exactly what we did. We invested almost $450 million into K-12 this year. So now the really important thing is to see how exactly are we going to develop and support this implementation. What are districts doing with the resources that are effective and making an impact and what lessons can we learn to share statewide?

How do you prevent flexibility from turning into overwhelming complexity?

I think that’s why we tried to set some guardrails around some common forms of practice. For instance, that’s why we’ve had educators work over the past two years to build the common evaluation rubric. I think we prevented districts from feeling like they have to reinvent their evaluation system on their own, if they don’t have the time or people to do it, and so there would be some commonalities. How you measure growth is up to you, but the fact that we have a shared commitment that growth is 50 percent of the evaluation is one of the things that keeps the statewide system common. I think the same fact that all the evaluation systems will roll up to the same basic effectiveness measures means we can start the process a little bit of making sure there’s some common and consistent feedback for educators and common language around what success looks like across the state, while still allowing for local flexibility.

I think that is one of the key challenges of statewide action is how to both preserve local flexibility and maintain some sense of statewide coherence.

It seems to me like you could have districts doing so many different things and having to come up with so many different solutions that the question becomes how much of a value is this for districts and how much of this is truly a change.

The nice thing about local control, like federalism in our federal system, is you’ll have different districts who’ll find different ways to revise and innovate. That means we’ll really learn from some innovative practices we hadn’t anticipated before. I think that helps the state grow strong. I don’t think we ever presumed the state was going to have one hard and fast best answer and everyone else was going to have to comply with it. We built the system with  a common set of outcomes and a common set of standards, but with flexibility for districts to implement with their needs the best. The needs are so different from an 80,000-student urban district to a 120-student rural district. You have to allow for some flexibility.

I think the question for a lot of folks in rural areas is, can you even ask the same thing? Can you even ask for an evaluation system that goes statewide?

Well, I think you have to ask the question. Can you even ask for rural teachers to be evaluated? I think you can say yes. Can you even ask for rural students to make growth every year? I think you can say yes. I’ve never talked to a rural educator who said their students couldn’t do that. I’ve never heard someone say I think we can’t expect our students to make progress each year or I don’t think we should give our teachers meaningful feedback each year. I’ve never heard them say that. I’ve never heard the argument that we should abandon the basic value that all students should be expected to grow and professionals are entitled to good feedback.

I think one of the questions is not whether this work is hard but whether this work is useful. I think if we are building a system that gives educators really good feedback and helps them improve their practice, gives really strong support to kids and helps them learn, then I think it’s worth doing. And I think that becomes the most important question now.

What kind of supports can the state provide to help rural districts recruit teachers?

One of the biggest challenges we find in retaining staff in rural districts is compensation. This is why when you look at my efforts on the school finance reform two years ago on Senate Bill 213, Amendment 66, we tried to change the measures on the school funding formula that really disproportionately hurt rural districts and made it much harder to get competitive salaries in those districts. I think we need to find ways to attract and incentivize teachers to stay in rural districts. And I think that’s one ongoing challenge we’re going to have to work on.

What about changes to licensure?

We’ve worked on it some. We’ve heard a lot from rural districts who’ve said, “We want more flexibility in being able to choose the folks that we think are best and we can train to support our needs.” I think that’s an issue that still remains. We have to figure out how to provide more opportunities to recruit and hire high quality staff for some of the tougher to serve regions of the state. I think they’re going to need some more tools in the toolbox than they have now.

What do you think larger districts can learn from smaller districts?

I think that smaller districts have a tremendous sense of intimacy and sense of teamwork that comes from the adults in the community because they all know each other so well and they all work well together.

No kid is a number. Every student is not just a name, but is a name with history, with brothers and sisters and cousins and parents and grandparents that they know. I think there’s a real sense of teamwork and collaboration in rural districts. Not that you don’t find that in urban districts, but it’s just not as familiar. I think that when you talk to career educators who’ve worked in rural districts, they’ll say they’d never do it anyplace else because it’s everyone at the grocery store they know and then everyone at the football team that they know. That sense of community is really, really powerful. What you find is a lot of urban schools are trying to recreate structures that make the community come closer, that really wonderful sense of community that a lot of rural parts of Colorado have.

What about innovation? Do you think small districts are able to be more nimble or are they going to run into resource issues?

Some of our rural districts are some of our most innovative. Sometimes they’ve had to be by necessity because they didn’t have the resources or they didn’t have the people and so you don’t find a lot of urban districts in which the principal is also the bus driver or the custodian. I remember one district in particular where we were coming to do an event. All the bleachers and all the setup for that was all done by the high school students because they had practice right afterwards and they didn’t have paid staff to set up and break down the gym. So they came in and got the whole thing set up and got ready to go.

There’s just a sense of all hands on deck and we’ll figure out what we need to get done and do it, instead of saying there’s going to be a set procedure or policy or process for everything that’s done. There’s going to be more of a sense of teamwork and innovation. I think some of our rural districts will probably come up with some of our best innovations on all of these.

Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?

An issue I wanted to raise that I’ve talked to a bunch of rural educators about, what I’ll continue to focus on, is they’ll say, “We think early literacy is important. We think evaluations are important. We think college readiness is important. The problem is we have all these other things on our plate, that we’re asked to do five or 10 or 15 years ago that aren’t as important as these things.”

We pushed them on this and said, “Well, what would go?” They said, “Well, it’s not that we think we should stop doing early literacy support or stop doing teacher evaluations. It’s that there are other things that take up hours in the day that aren’t so useful and aren’t so directly linked to student outcomes.”

So one of the things I’ve been asking people is what would put on the “stop doing” list. I think that there’s increasing sense that standards and evaluations and outcomes are all important. But when there are reports that are taking up a lot of your time and energy that don’t have a direct link to student outcomes that we are asking you to do because of legislation a long time ago, I think we should take a look at what some of those things are and what are some things we can take off the list.

So I am in full support of saying, can we simplify the work and let educators get back to the core work that draws them to schools?

I think the core work that draws us to schools are finding ways to support students to improve their learning and finding ways to support adults to support their practice. That’s what this system focuses on so I don’t think we should take our focus off of that. I think we should see if there are other parts of the system that are more distracting and more disconnected from actual student learning that we should take off the plate. I think that should be part of the conversation, absolutely.

Is there any area that comes to mind specifically, that you are potentially looking at?

I’m just asking every superintendent, principal, educator that I meet to make that list for me. They’ve all said they’re going to do it and going to send it to me so we can start building our own list of things that are burdensome and not linked to impact.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Final budget for Montezuma-Cortez includes more spending

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 07/08/2014 - 10:02

Teacher talk

The U.S. Department of Education kicked off a push to get more experienced teachers in classrooms with low-income and minority students. So what does that mean for Colorado? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Schools (not) out for the summer

First through fifth graders in Pueblo are wrapping up summer school and it was a big hit for some. ( Chieftain )

But a closer look at summer school education revealed a lack of information across the country and one big question: what, exactly, is summer school? ( NPR via KUNC )

Simple fixes

A Colorado program that provides contraceptives to low-income women contributed to a large drop in teen pregnancy -- and drew national attention. ( Vox )

By the numbers

Montezuma-Cortez's school board approved the budget for the next year, which includes a 4 percent increase in spending over last year. ( Cortez Journal )

A change in how funding is disbursed has opened up more opportunities for extracurriculars in Routt County. ( Steamboat Today )

On fire

An arson attempt at Boulder middle school resulted in $500 worth of damages. ( Daily Camera )

Categories: Urban School News

Feds push to get experienced teachers in low-performing schools

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 18:30

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has some updated marching orders on how to ensure all students have effective teachers – orders that could require action from state departments of education, including Colorado.

Duncan unveiled the “Excellent Educators for All Initiative” Monday with a letter to chief state school officers, a White House news conference, a roundtable discussion with teachers and principals and a conference call with reporters.

In Colorado, 5 percent of all students were enrolled in schools with 20 percent or more first-year teachers in 2011-12, compared to a 4 percent rate nationwide. Colorado also had higher percentages of black and Hispanic students enrolled in such schools, according to a DOE “Data Snapshot – Teacher Equity” document released in March.

While lack of educator experience isn’t necessarily equivalent to low quality of teaching, concentrations of new teachers in low-performing schools has been a concern for policymakers for some time. Discussion of equity also includes placement of highly effective teachers in such schools, as well as teachers who have appropriate subject-matter expertise.

In unveiling the latest effort, Duncan said, “All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, zip code or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential. Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation’s teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better.”

The new federal initiative has three elements:

  • States are requested to analyze their data and consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community groups to create locally developed educator equity plans. States have to report by April 2015. An earlier set of such plans were required by the federal government in 2006.
  • A $4.2 million program of federal assistance to help districts implement their plans.
  • Publication of “educator equity profiles” for each state by DOE this fall.

The problem has been a topic of discussion in Colorado for several years, dating back to a 2006 report titled “Shining the Light – The State of Teaching in Colorado.” (See text of report here.)

But the issue hasn’t been the focus of major legislative or policy initiatives. State reform efforts have been focused on implementation of new standards, rollout of the new educator evaluation system and improvements in early literacy, all things that districts had to juggle for the first time in the school year that just ended.

Do your homework

In a statement Monday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Education noted, “Even before today’s announcement by the U.S. secretary of education, Colorado has been working with each district with high numbers of minority and poverty students and a high percentage of novice teachers to address any inequitable distribution of teachers through its state improvement plan.” (Districts and schools have to file improvement plans as part of the annual accreditation and rating process.)

CDE has developed a data tool to help districts analyze staffing patterns and “identify equity staffing between schools,” according to Janelle Asmus, CDE chief communications officer. (See the tool here. Use the links on the right of the page to search any school district.)

The CDE statement sounded a cautionary note about the initiative, saying, “While Colorado has been working with districts and schools on these issues, the commissioner of education is extremely wary of any additional burdens that may be placed on districts which are already stretched beyond their means.”

The DOE collects some data about students and novice teachers in the civil rights information it compiles. Here are U.S. and Colorado figures from the Data Snapshot – Teacher Equity report, which covers the 2011-12 school year.

Nation

  • 4 percent of all students were enrolled in schools with 20 percent of more first-year teachers
  • 1 percent of white students
  • 4 percent of black students
  • 3 percent of Hispanic students

Colorado

  • 5 percent of all students were enrolled in schools with 20 percent of more first-year teachers
  • 4 percent of white students
  • 7 percent of black students
  • 8 percent of Hispanic students

Last year the DOE considered tying state action on teacher equity to renewal of NCLB waivers but backed off the idea. (Colorado’s waiver was renewed last week – see story.)

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions were briefed on the plan Monday and were generally supportive, if cautious.

“The Excellent Educators for All project, with its goal of attracting, retaining and supporting good teachers for all of America’s children, especially those in the highest-need schools, is necessary and important—but the actual work of achieving a comprehensive solution to inequity is far from easy,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.

Dennis Van Roekel, outgoing president of the National Education Association, said. “We urge the Department of Education and the Obama administration to take a comprehensive approach to equity that includes access to high quality pre-school and early learning opportunities and access to high quality, rigorous curriculum, adequate facilities and other learning conditions in schools and attention to out-of-school needs so we are educating the whole child.”

Categories: Urban School News

Take 5: Victims of violence, “transparency” stats, Ventra misstep

Catalyst Chicago - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 11:18

Connecting CPS to violence
Apparently hoping to impress U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week announced that 49 fewer CPS students were shot and 12 percent fewer were victims of homicide. Up until the announcement, Chicago media had veered away from the previous common practice of identifying every young person killed by whether they went to Chicago Public Schools, a connection that led some folks to observe that the connection made it appear as though CPS were somehow responsible for the violence.

With Emanuel making the connection again, the media followed suit. The Chicago Sun Times headlined a weekend story “3 CPS students accused of robbing, raping girl, 16, on the South Side.”

But take note: Chicago police over the weekend police shot five people, including a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy. Neither Emanuel, nor the media, mentioned whether the two young victims were CPS students.

 Along the same lines…
As Emanuel announced the “safest year since the city began tracking student safety data,” another “good news” statistic emerged: A drop in expulsions of 1300 students over the last three years. That didn’t sound right, as CPS typically expels only a few hundred students a year. Now CPS, which had repeated the number in its own documents, says that what the mayor meant to say is that expulsion referrals are down. But what does the decline mean? Not much, since most students never make it to hearings and even fewer are expelled.

A good high school…?
…. Or maybe just a high school that attracts top students. In a short piece for The Chicago Reader, Steve Bogira makes the point that all the schools highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report are those that enroll high-achieving students--either through testing or by virtue of being located in a wealthy suburb. The two highest ranked Chicago high schools are Northside and Payton.

In Chicago, the path to these and other selective enrollment high schools starts well before eighth grade. A 2012 Catalyst Chicago analysis found that children living in high-income census tracts were four times more likely to take the test for gifted and classical schools than children in low-income areas—even though research has found that intellectually gifted children are no more likely to be rich than poor. By the time students go to high school, more lower-income students apply for selective schools—and there are more seats available—but the disparity continues: 31 of 77 community areas with low application and acceptance rates for selective enrollment elementary schools continued to have low rates for high schools.

Like pulling teeth…
Getting information out of CPS isn’t always easy. We here at Catalyst -- as well as other reporters in Chicago -- can attest to that, anecdotally. Now there’s official proof from the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.

The IAG’s public access counselor reviews complaints by citizens and reporters that a public body has violated the Freedom of Information or Open Meetings acts. As of late June, Chicago Public Schools ranked fourth among all public bodies for which the IAG received complaints—higher than last year, when CPS finished in fifth place.

So far this year, there have been 43 requests for review on CPS, including one from Catalyst that was eventually closed out when the district turned over school-level data on absences and truancy--more than two months after the initial request was made.

Top of the list: The Illinois Department of Corrections, which so far this year has received 246 requests for review (including hundreds from prisoners), followed by the Chicago Police Department (178) and the Illinois State Police (115).

No other school districts were in the top 10, and neither was the Illinois State Board of Education. One educational institution did stand out though: Chicago State University, with 41 requests for review.

A costly “Oops” for students…
In the transition to the new Ventra cards, many young people participating in summer school or programs are being forced to pay full fares, WBEZ’s Linda Lutton reports. Reduced fare is 75 cents, compared to the full fare, which is $2.25. In the past, special summer reduced fare cards could be purchased for these students. Now, the student transit card ID number needs to be submitted to Ventra in order for the reduced fare to take affect.

One last note: Next school year all students, even rich kids, will get free lunch as CPS takes advantage of a federal program, WBEZ reports. Under the program, the feds reimburse based on the percentage of low-income students, not on the specific number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. By making lunch free for everyone, CPS doesn’t have to deal with all the collecting of loose change every day and the worry that a clerk’s hands might be a little sticky.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: NEA delegates want Duncan gone

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 11:07

NEA in Denver

Outgoing union president Dennis van Roekel had a message for the thousands of gathered educators: Take charge of reforming schools. And he has some suggestions for how to do it, some of which Colorado is already pursuing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

What We're Reading

Catch up on the top education stories we found surfing the Web over the last few days. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

R2T

Federal education dollars will continue to flow to Colorado after the U.S. Department of Education announced it has granted the state a one-year extension to its No Child Left Behind waiver. ( Chalklbeat Colorado )

Jeff Q&A

Dan McMinimee, Jeffco Public Schools’ new superintendent, sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado for a wide-ranging interview. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Enough of Arne

Delegates to the National Education Association's annual convention passed a motion calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign. ( EdWeek )

No Core

Why are more states backing off the Common Core standards? ( PBS Newshour )

Child abuse reporting

Few people who by law are supposed to report suspected child abuse — such as teachers, nurses, coaches and clergy members — ever face punishment for failing to report, a Denver Post review has found. And the punishment for failing to report can be as little as $50. ( Denver Post )

Commentary

Paul Lundeen, chair of the State Board of Education, argues that a new pilot program for use of Title I funds by an online school is an important step toward having funding follow students. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

How Colorado stacks up on national union leader’s priorities

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 18:08

On the eve of Independence Day and the election that will determine the leadership of the nation’s largest teachers union, the outgoing president, Dennis Van Roekel, had a message for the thousands of gathered educators: take charge of reforming schools. And he has some suggestions for how to do it, some of which Colorado is already pursuing.

“We allowed the politicians to define the solution and their solution was No Child Left Behind,” Van Roekel said, referring to the 2001 law passed under former President George W. Bush which set out strict accountability for schools based on test scores.

Yesterday, Van Roekel and other union leaders kicked off an anti-testing campaign yesterday, after months of turmoil over the nationwide rollout of tests tied to the Common Core State Standards. Van Roekel predicted the entire system of standardized testing would crumble. And when that happens, Van Roekel said educators will have an opening to define the future of public education in the U.S.

“I figure there will be a vacuum, a void for one nanosecond,” Van Roekel said. And at that moment, he said, “we the educators must define the solution and we must lead.”

His declaration, during a lunch at the union’s national conference being held this week in Denver, received noisy support from the gathered educators, as did the statement that departing from the current system did not mean reverting to old ways. Van Roekel reeled off a list of fixes ranging from dollars for schools to early education which could define union priorities for the coming years.

“What he mentioned is either in line with what we are attempting to do or are ongoing conversations,” said Henry Roman, in an interview following the speech. Roman heads up the Denver teachers union.

So how does Colorado stack up against Van Roekel’s proposed initiatives? Well, it’s a mixed bag.

School readiness

Van Roekel’s first suggestion: early education for all.

No one doesn’t want their children to be prepared to enter school, Van Roekel said. “Why don’t we believe it’s important for other people’s children, for all children?” he said.

Colorado legislators, including many of those most supportive of education reform, have pushed for universal preschool and full-day kindergarten. Denver, in particular, has been at the forefront of providing access to all families, at affordable levels. And the efforts have received support both from reformers and the local teachers union.

“Kindergarten, who could say no to that?” said Roman. Denver leaders plan to go to voters this fall to ask for additional funds for the city’s preschool program.

Early childhood received a funding bump this year in the state education budget, although not as large as initially proposed.

Still, early education efforts haven’t been universally popular. In the state’s second largest district, Jeffco Public Schools, a new school board majority curtailed a program to expand full-day kindergarten.

More on Colorado’s early childhood education initiatives here.

Dollars for schools

Among the most popular suggestions Van Roekel listed was to bolster money for classrooms, not tests.

“Instead of spending billions on toxic tests, spend it on the learning conditions of students,” he said. “To those people who say learning conditions don’t make a difference, you’re just wrong.”

Recession-era cutbacks to school spending are still in place for Colorado, even as the state’s finances have improved. School finance proved to be the defining education issue of this year’s state legislative session, with school administrators, teachers, and boards of education across the state banding together to defend money for schools without strings attached. They got some of what they asked for, but many school leaders remained dissatisfied with the outcome and some districts still faced six-figure cuts to spending.

And a recent lawsuit suggests the fight isn’t over. A group of school districts and parents filed suit against the state to abolish the practices that maintain recession-era cuts. The lawsuit promises to fuel the fire in the fight over school finance for the coming year.

See more on Colorado’s school finance practices here.

Preparing the next crop of educators

His final proposal: raise the bar for entering the teacher profession, so every new teacher is “profession-ready” on day one.

“What kind of crazy world do we live in that we let in anybody?” Van Roekel said. In an indirect reference to a recent legal decision striking down California’s teacher tenure laws, Van Roekel said that it should be harder to become a teacher, rather than easier to fire one.

Teachers without licenses and without extensive preparation are placed in the highest-need schools, Van Roekel said. Some research suggest low-performing students are placed in the classrooms of inexperienced teachers more often than their higher performing peers.

The state department of education is likely to roll out an accountability system for teacher preparation programs, based on teacher performance, in the next couple years. But efforts to alter how teachers are licensed have stalled out. A committee charged with coming up with recommendations for potential legislation couldn’t come to agreement over whether to tie teacher licenses to the results of the state’s evaluation system.

Another sticking point? Whether to allow alternate licenses in hard to staff positions, especially in rural areas — a particular area of vitriol for Van Roekel, who said all teachers should have to clear a high bar to enter the profession.

For more on the laws governing the teaching practice in Colorado, see here.

Categories: Urban School News

What We’re Reading: Newark school chief gets new contract, same conflict

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 17:42
  • Newark’s embattled superintendent could stay another three years but internal strife seems unlikely to die down. (PolitickerNJ)
  • Could the war over Common Core testing contracts take down the whole initiative? (Politico)
  • What’s right way to teach students how to read? A debate. (Room for Debate)
  • The problems with school discipline and mental health for students of color extend far beyond the classroom. (Colorlines)
  • In North Carolina, legislators are pushing out the Common Core, over the objections of the teachers’ union. (WFDD)
  • Beloved author Walter Dean Myers, who took on stories of adolescence that are rarely told, passed this week. (A.V. Club)
  • Longer school days haven’t gone over well with Washington D.C.’s teachers union. (Washington Post)
  • The national teachers union head and Los Angeles’ superintendent go head to head over Vergara on stage. (Atlantic)
  • What’s wrong — and what’s right — with a “need-to-know” list of facts on education reform. (Shanker blog)
  • A teacher reflects on what it takes to write good math problems. (Rational Expressions)
  • Even doctors and airplane pilots struggle their first year. Why should we expect anything different of rookie teachers? (Education Next)
  • There’s a new degree specifically for those who hope to open a charter school or redesign an existing school. (EdWeek)
  • Reading Rainbow is for getting kids to enjoy reading, not teaching them reading in the first place. (New Yorker)
Categories: Urban School News

Colorado gets one-year extension on federal policy waiver

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 14:31

Federal education dollars will continue to flow to Colorado after the U.S. Department of Education announced today that it has granted the state a one-year extension to its No Child Left Behind waiver.

But in a letter to the Robert Hammond, Colorado’s education commissioner, the department noted it still has to sign-off on changes to Colorado’s school and district accountability system.

The department also said the waiver was contingent on the state working with the department to smooth out its teacher and principal evaluation tools. That’s because the Colorado General Assembly earlier this year passed two pieces of legislation that tweaks those two policy initiatives.

Colorado was one of the first states to receive a waiver after the Obama administration began using them to circumvent the federal education law, which Congress has not revised since it expired in 2010. The waivers let states maintain their federal funding even if they do not meet the law’s requirement that 100 percent of students pass state tests — as long as the states put policies in place that conform to the Obama administration’s priorities.

Those policies include adopting new college- or career-ready standards and aligned tests, developing teacher evaluations that include student growth data, and identifying and monitoring the bottom five percent of schools based on various data points.

But how those policies are adapted to local jurisdictions is broadly left to the states.

The Colorado Department of Education did not have a comment on the extension.

Other states that received a one-year extension today include Arkansas, Connecticut, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia.

Categories: Urban School News

Early childhood quality rating system comes online

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 13:55

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Categories: Urban School News

Early childhood quality rating system comes online

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 13:55

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Categories: Urban School News

McMinimee on teacher evaluations, the Jeffco budget, and his role as peacemaker

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:58

On Tuesday, we told you about how Dan McMinimee, Jeffco Public Schools’ new superintendent, introduced himself to district staff. Prior to the meeting, McMinimee sat down with Chalkbeat Colorado for a wide-ranging interview. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

First 100 days

McMinimee’s No. 1 goal during his first 100 days is high visibility. “I want people to feel I’m accessible,” he said. “My door is wide open. I want to meet with anyone.” Acknowledging his role as a chief peacemaking officer, he pledged to attend any meeting he’s invited to and will host anyone in his office who asks. He also said he wants to start putting together a coalition, or as he said, “setting a table,” of individuals from throughout the district and county to work on shared goals — especially around the Board of Education’s academic achievement goals, post secondary readiness and teacher effectiveness. “A lot of people want to be engaged in these conversations,” he said. “The challenge is how do we get people to move toward common goals.”

His predecessor

McMinimee confirmed he has been in communication with his predecessor, Cindy Stevenson, who left abruptly in February after she felt she could no longer work with a newly configured board. McMinimee called Stevenson a “respected educator” and characterized the conversations as productive. Stevenson offered her support to McMinimee through his transition, he said. “I appreciate it,” he said.

Lost time

McMinimee said he wants to move quickly to make up for any impact on the classroom the ongoing turmoil between between the board’s three-member conservative majority and certain portions of the community may have had. “The last six months some momentum may have been lost,” McMinimee said, quickly pointing out that “great” work has and continues to be done in Jeffco Public Schools.

Statewide education policy issues and Jeffco

As the superintendent of the state’s second largest school district (largest if you only count K-12 enrollment, as Jeffco officials point out), McMinimee will now have a very prominent role in helping shape statewide education policy. McMinimee said he plans on not only leveraging Jefferson County lawmakers but also his old Douglas County contacts.

He said the three biggest issues challenging school districts statewide are teacher evaluations, standardized testing and how the state funds its schools.

The challenge with teacher evaluations, McMinimee said, is how does a district evaluate a teacher fairly, consistently and within different contexts.

While teacher evaluations may be the most important conversation for those working within schools, state testing is the biggest conversation moving forward, McMinimee said. He said the state and its school districts need to strike a balance and noted that sometimes districts — and not the state — are the culprits behind excessive testing.

McMinimee also said he’s looking forward to working with other superintendents to find a better way to fund schools. He said the funding debate is bigger than just Jefferson County. “We have to look out for all of our students,” he said. “That’s the future of this state.”

Compensation

McMinimee’s salary, which makes him the highest paid CEO for any school district in Colorado, was hotly debated last month. McMinimee said time will tell if he’s worth it, but he hopes in five years peoplewill consider his total $280,000 compensation as a “bargain.”

Budget

Another contentious issue the Jeffco Board of Education took up last month was the district’s budget. In the end the board approved an $18.5 million placeholder for increases in compensation and directed an extra $5 million to charter schools. McMinimee said he was “very comfortable” with how the budget ended up. And he’s confident he can sit down with Jeffco staff to find the $5 million in cuts — if necessary — the district’s finance team is projecting in subsequent years.

Categories: Urban School News

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:09

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $140 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Categories: Urban School News

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

Catalyst Chicago - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 11:09

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $140 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Manitou teacher expects to bring space into classroom

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 07/03/2014 - 07:52

Mad About Tests

The nation's largest teachers union is holding its annual conference in Denver during the holiday weekend. While there's plenty on the agenda, the convention has a target: ending high-stakes testing. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Meet the 15 people who may decided whether Colorado schools are testing too much and what to do about it. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

The largest causality in the war over the Common Core State Standards so far aren't the standards themselves, but it appears to be the tests that are supposed to measure student proficiency. ( Politico )

(Outer) space in the classroom

A Manitou Springs teacher has plenty of new science lesson plans for her students after returning from Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala. She studied space on a scholarship and hopes to incorporate what she learned into her third-grade class next fall. ( Gazette )

Continious Improvement

State Sen. Andy Kerr, who's also a Jeffco teachers, says the 2014 legislative session wasn't perfect, but did a lot for the state's students. ( Denver Post )

What's old is new again

A trend in education reform has been smaller schools. Now — in large part due to technology — some schools are so small, they're just one classroom. ( KUNC )

Categories: Urban School News

Budget details still in short supply

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 07/02/2014 - 18:44

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. 

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

Categories: Urban School News

Budget details still in short supply

Catalyst Chicago - Wed, 07/02/2014 - 18:44

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. 

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

Categories: Urban School News

NEA president: Current testing system “will crumble”

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/02/2014 - 16:48

Two National Education Association leaders Wednesday called for a massive reduction in the amount of student testing and predicted accountability systems based on such assessments “will crumble.”

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3 million-member NEA, told a handful of reporters (and several dozen cheering members), “This entire accountability system that’s based on tests will crumble. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

He appeared with Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, an NEA affiliate. Dallman, citing a CEA teacher survey that concluded 30 percent of the school year is consumed by testing, said, “Let’s cap it at 5 percent.”

The two leaders appeared a day before the NEA’s representative assembly convenes for four days of elections, voting on resolutions and deciding on union initiatives for the upcoming year.

The national meeting at the Colorado Convention Center is the first in Colorado since 1962.

Testing, which has come under increasing criticism from state and national teacher groups in the last year, is expected to be a major topic of discussion. One agenda item proposes creation of a “NEA Campaign Against Toxic Testing” that “will conduct a comprehensive campaign to end the high stakes use of standardized tests, to sharply reduce the amount of student and instructional time consumed by tests, and to implement more effective forms of assessment and accountability.” (Read about full proposal here.)

Dennis Van Roekel (left) and Kerrie Dallman.

Van Roekel and Dallman pounded on those themes Wednesday, with Van Roekel saying testing “has failed the children of America” and “I don’t need five more years of the same results to show me which students aren’t getting what they need.”

Dallman criticized “the corporate-driven testing culture” and said it’s “taking the joy” out of schools.

“We are here to tell Colorado we are all more than a score. … We are not anti-testing. Teachers invented testing. But too much of a good thing is a bad thing,” she said.

Asked about a new state task force that will study the issue, Dallman said she hopes the group will “separate student testing from high-stakes decisions” about accountability. “I hope that recommendations come out of that task force to put a cap on testing.” (Get more details on the task force here.)

Criticism of the Common Core State Standards and testing also is on the rise among conservative groups. Asked if the liberal NEA might make common cause with such groups on testing, both Van Roekel and Dallman avoided answering.

Nearly 9,000 people started gathering last week for the NEA’s annual meeting, attending a variety of events including special-interest caucuses, committee business meetings and state delegation sessions, plus service and educational events.

The business portion of the meeting kicks off in earnest Thursday when the NEA’s representative assembly digs into business items, constitutional amendments and – starting Friday – election of officers. Van Roekel is ending his term, so a new president will be elected. Those sessions run through Sunday. (See agenda here.)

The resolutions could take some time. The table of contents for proposed resolutions runs to more than nine pages by itself, not counting proposal texts. (See the full set here.)

The teachers unions’ annual summer conventions come at a time of increasing pressure on the groups. (The smaller American Federation of Teachers holds its convention in Los Angeles starting July 11.)

EdWeek on Wednesday posted a set of graphics showing the changing membership, finances and other stats about the two groups. A recent article on Politico concluded, “As the two big national teachers unions prepare for their conventions this summer, they are struggling to navigate one of the most tumultuous moments in their history.”

Categories: Urban School News

Long summer and fall ahead for testing task force

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 07/02/2014 - 12:48

Members of the 15-member task force assigned to review Colorado’s school testing system, whose names were released Wednesday, represent a fairly wide spectrum of backgrounds and include a number of familiar figures.

The Standards and Assessments Task Force could play an important role in the growing debate over the role and form of testing.

Creation of the task force was something of a compromise plan for the Democratic majority (and a few Republicans) during 2014 legislative session.

Some conservative Republicans, backed by a variety of citizen groups, pushed bills to delay rollout of the new PARCC tests next year or allow districts to opt out of tests. And some Democrats tried a last-minute rollback of the new social studies tests.

The delay and opt-out proposals had no chance of passage, given potential disruption to the state’s accountability system if such measures were passed. (The social studies gambit also failed.) But Democratic leaders needed to show some response to rising public and teacher criticism of testing, so conversion of the opt-out bill into a task force measure provided a way to do that.

The 15-member panel’s assignment is to study the impact of testing on teaching time, the interaction of testing with the state accountability and educator evaluation systems and the feasibility of waiving some assessment requirements, among several other issues. (Get more information on the task force in this legislative staff memo.)

As is the case with most legislative task forces (and permanent state boards and commissions), members had to reflect a careful balance of interest groups and professional backgrounds. The appointment power also was divided, with members being named by all four political party leaders in the legislature and by the chair of the State Board of Education.

Here are the members, organized by who appointed them:

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver

  • Bill Jaeger, Colorado Children’s Campaign vice president, representing organizations that advocate for low-performing students
  • Donna Lynne, chair of Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, representing business
  • Dan Snoweberger, Durango superintendent, representing administrators
  • Ilana Spiegel, leader of the activist parent group SPEAK, representing parents

Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora

  • Adele Bravo, Boulder Valley teacher, representing teachers
  • Lisa Escarcega, Aurora chief accountability officer, representing administrators
  • Nancy Tellez, Poudre board member, representing school boards
  • Susan Van Gundy, associate director of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the group that developed the new tests Colorado is supposed to start using in 2015

Paul Lundeen, Republican chair of State Board of Education

  • John Creighton, St. Vrain board member representing school boards
  • Tony Lewis, executive director Donnell-Kay Foundation and Colorado Charter School Institute board member, representing CSI
  • Syna Morgan, Douglas County chief performance officer, representing administrators

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland

  • Luke Ragland, vice president of Colorado Succeeds, representing business
  • Dane Stickney, Strive Prep Charter School teacher, representing teachers

Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs

  • Jay Cerny, CEO of Cherry Creek Academy, representing charter schools
  • Bethany Drosendahl, author and educator, representing parents

The legislation that created the task force, House Bill 14-1202, also allocated $142,750 to the Department of Education to coordinate the group’s work, commission a testing cost study, pay for a separate review analyzing how different testing schemes would affect the accountability system and obtain legal advice on the implications of letting parents and districts opt out of some testing requirements.

CDE also has an outside consulting group, WestEd, reviewing the administration of online science and social studies tests last spring.

The task force and CDE are to report findings and recommendations to the legislature by next Jan. 31, giving the 2015 session plenty of time of consider the issue.

The November elections could provide a wild card in the process, as the terms of the testing debate could change if Republicans take control of the governor’s office, or of one or both houses of the legislature.

A poll released Tuesday showed Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Bob Beauprez neck and neck. Republicans are pushing hard to flip the Senate, where Democrats only have a one-vote majority, but they face longer odds in trying to take the House.

The task force’s first meeting will be July 15, at a time and place to be determined. (Parts of the Capitol are under renovation this summer, so staff still are trying to find an available meeting room.)

Learn more about Colorado’s testing system, planned changes and about the debate in this Chalkbeat Colorado story.

Categories: Urban School News

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