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Weekend reads: The real story behind the Common Core standards isn’t its upcoming collapse

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 18:38
  • As 29 states and Washington, D.C., start to administer new Common Core-aligned tests, the big story portrayed by the media seems to be the growing grassroots movement against the tests and imminent collapse of the standards. But reality isn’t as cut and dry. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • One middle school teacher asked her students what they expect from their teachers. The response: Students want to be treated with the expectation that they will succeed, not fail. (Center for Teaching Quality)
  • After a New York City elementary school abolished traditional homework for its students last week, the debate over giving take-home assignments to younger children was pushed back into the spotlight. (New York Magazine)
  • Education doesn’t have to be an environment that hinders curiosity among children. Rather than testing and discipline, adults can spark creativity by influencing students to question and explore. (Salon)
  • A small network of nine hedge fund billionaires are on the cusp of remaking New York public schools. (The Nation)
  • After Chicago schools moved away from punishing student misconduct with strict disciplinary action, suspensions in middle schools and high schools dropped across the board — except for the city’s black students. (DNAinfo)
  • A day in the life of an eighth-grade student attending one of New Jersey’s best-performing charter schools. (Politico Magazine)
Categories: Urban School News

Two superintendents moving up

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 17:44

A pair of well-known Colorado superintendents are headed to new jobs in other districts.

The Littleton school board this week named Brian Ewert as the final candidate to be the district’s new superintendent. Ewert has been superintendent in the neighboring Englewood district.

Center district Superintendent George Welsh has been offered the superintendent’s job in the Cañon City schools.

Ewert came to Englewood in 2010 following a time when the district had gone through eight superintendents in 10 years. He launched a common instructional model, lengthened the school day and expanded student access to technology, among other initiatives. The 2,866-student Englewood district is rated at the improvement level in the state rating system, having moved up from turnaround status in 2010. Ewert is the current state superintendent of the year.

Littleton, with 15,691 students, is one of the state’s highest-performing districts, having been classified at the distinction level for the last five years. Once a contract if finalized, Ewert will succeed Superintendent Scott Murphy, a long-time Colorado school administrator who announced his retirement earlier.

For the last year Littleton has been at odds with the parents of Claire Davis, a student who was killed in a shooting at Arapahoe High School in December 2013. The family feels the district has not been forthcoming in in providing information about the incident.

The state superintendent of the year in 2014, Welsh is a former president of the Colorado Association of School Exeutives and was active on the plaintiffs’ side in the Lobato v. State school funding case.

Welsh is moving from the 649-student Center district to a system of 3,603 students in Cañon City. Center is at the accredited level in the state rating system, having moved up from priority improvement in 2010. Center’s improvement efforts were detailed in this 2012 Chalkbeat story. Cañon City is accredited with improvement.

District voters this week recalled two Center school board members who were critics of Welsh and retained a third member allied with the superintendent.

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Keep student health survey as is

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 16:35

On Monday we asked our readers: Do you think Colorado parents should have to give advance written permission for their children to participate in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey?

The results are in, and Chalkbeat readers overwhelmingly said no.

In our — very — unscientific poll, nearly 63 percent of readers said the current system is fine and that parents should have to opt out of the survey.

Bob Eber left this comment on our website: “There is no personal information such as name, etc. on it. It is totally anonymous. I see nothing wrong if the kids want to do it. I just wish they would be honest in their answers, because I don’t think they are most of the time.”

Meanwhile, 37 percent said parents should have to give explicit permission.

“Parents should always need to give their permission where a minor is concerned,” wrote Lisa Sanborn. “If this survey has changed then all the more reason not to keep us out of the loop. Information gathering is becoming too invasive and more excessive every year.”

As always, we invite you to join the conversation on our website, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

Categories: Urban School News

A new home for school that serves Jeffco students with severe emotional needs

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 12:51

JEFFERSON COUNTY — Lurleen McCormick’s science classroom at the Sobesky Academy doesn’t have a fully functioning sink.

McCormick and her students have devised a makeshift solution that involves a sink with buckets and a hose they’ve rigged to the faucet. They lug buckets of water back and forth between the classroom and the janitor’s closet.

“We’re limited in how many experiments we can do in this classroom,” McCormick said. Sobesky Academy’s current building was constructed in the 1940s.

But by the end of the calendar year, McCormick and the rest of the Sobesky Academy, which serves students who live with severe emotional needs, will be moving across the county to a new more-up-to-date campus that currently houses Stevens Elementary School.

The move was confirmed by the Jefferson County school board, which unanimously approved a shuffle of schools and programs on Thursday. The vote means the district will move ahead with a bundle of changes in the hopes of boosting student achievement, especially at schools that serve mostly low-income and Latino students. 

But McCormick almost didn’t get her new science classroom.

At a board meeting earlier this year, board member John Newkirk proposed a different set of changes for schools in Wheat Ridge and Golden that would have left Sobesky in its current building.

The proposed changes involved the high-performing Manning School, where every student who attends has to choose to go there, Maple Grove Elementary and Everitt Middle schools.

The proposal to move those schools was first suggested by a few members of an organization called the Wheat Ridge Education Alliance, which advocates for schools in Wheat Ridge.

Jeffco Public Schools officials vetted that proposal while developing a plan for the Jefferson neighborhood that included dissolving the Wheat Ridge 5-8 school. They determined the alliance’s plan was not feasible and told board members that.

Newkirk and board President Ken Witt still asked for community feedback.

And they got it: Parents, teachers, and students packed three community meetings earlier this week and said they weren’t interested in a move.

Newkirk told an audience at Manning on Wednesday evening that’d he’d withdraw his motion.

On Thursday night, he did. He maintained that he only put forth the motion in order to get feedback on the alliance’s proposal. He asked the parents and teachers of Manning, Maple Grove, and Everitt to move forward “with malice toward none.”

The surprise motion by Newkirk nevertheless brought to a boil what had been a simmering tension between the board’s conservative majority and a vocal group of parents and teachers. They saw the surprise proposal as another example of the school board not listening to the public and district employees.

“It’s a sinking ship,” said Jill McGranahan, referring to the divided school board. McGranahan is an Everitt Middle School parent. “And we’re being pulled down with you.”

Ultimately, with the alternative proposal off the table, Sobesky Academy will move to the current Stevens Elementary campus and  Stevens will move to the empty Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus.

That means not just a new science room for McCormick, but a library, more quiet space for students to move to when class becomes too much for them to handle, and a playground that has more than just a small basketball court and four swings on a patch of grass.

“It will be a boost for our students. It will make them feel appreciated. It will show them that they matter,” McCormick said.
Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Colorado Springs district had hack attack during testing

EdNewsColorado - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 09:43

Aurora Central pride

Students at Aurora Central High think state officials may have it wrong about the quality of their school. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, 9News, Denver Post )

Opening bid

The first draft of a 2016-17 school funding bill has some interesting proposals and a long way to go. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Test hack?

Colorado Springs District 11 reported that a barrage of outside traffic trying to access the district's network forced postponement of testing one day earlier this month. ( Gazette )

No tests for us

Nearly a quarter of the students in the 120-student Peetz school district have opted out of PARCC tests. ( Sterling Journal-Advocate )

Sober prom

Dolores High School students will have to pass Breathalyzer tests to attend prom next month. ( Dolores Star )

Take it to court

The teachers union has sued the Greeley school district, claiming administrators wrongly shifted some employees to a different pay scale. ( Greeley Tribune )


Four educators have made the cut to be considered for superintendent of the Telluride schools. ( Vail Daily )

Calendar shift

The Cherry Creek schools will shift to a school year that starts earlier, partly in response to parent and student requests. ( Aurora Sentinel )

Unique STEM lesson

Ping pong polls provided an illuminating science lesson for students at a Colorado Springs middle school. ( Gazette )

Editorial view

Criticisms of the Pearson testing company for trying to prevent cheating are overblown. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

First draft of 2015-16 school funding bill starts circulating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 20:51

A draft proposal of a school funding bill floated this week would provide a modest boost to base district revenues and also suggests increased funding for at-risk students and some charter schools.

But the bill likely won’t satisfy district leaders, leading to plenty of dickering and debate before a final plan emerges.

Like most big education and budget issues, the school funding bill is running late. In contrast, the 2014-15 K-12 budget bill was introduced Feb. 28, 2014.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, will be the Senate sponsor for the school finance bill. Here are the highlights of the draft he circulated this week, based on the document and an explanation by Hill.

  • District funding would be increased by $100 million, but that would be one-time money and not built into permanent base funding for schools.
  • The “negative factor,” the state’s school funding shortfall, would remain at about $880 million.
  • An additional $38 million would be provided to districts, allocated according to the numbers of at-risk students they have.
  • $12 million in additional funding would go schools supervised by the state Charter School Institute.
  • Starting in 2016-17, an additional amount of state income tax revenue would be funneled to the State Education Fund, on top of a diversion already required by the constitution.
  • A current distribution of $20 million to all charter schools for facilities costs would be increased by $540,000 and would automatically escalate in future years.
  • A much-disliked financial transparency mandate on school districts would be eased and districts required only to supply data to the Department of Education for inclusion on a state website. (Get background here on this contentious issue.)

Colorado’s complicated school funding system requires two bills to pay for schools every year. Base school funding, including constitutionally required inflation and enrollment increases, is contained in the annual state budget bill. (By the way, the Joint Budget Committee is struggling to make its Monday deadline to introduce that bill in the Senate.) The second measure, which which Owen is sponsoring, is called the school finance act is needed for additional school spending.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed a $200 million one-time boost in school funding next year, on top of what’s required to cover enrollment growth and inflation. The state’s school superintendents want $70 million in addition to that amount, $50 million for at-risk students and $20 million for small rural districts.

State and local operating funding for schools in the current 2014-15 school year is about $5.9 billion.

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora Central High students: we’re not a failing school

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 17:55

AURORA — While dozens of parents and school officials gathered in the media center down the hall to discuss the future of the academically struggling school, a handful of junior-class girls at Aurora Central High used their lunch to promote the upcoming prom.

They were putting the finishing touches on the school’s main spirit window, which tells students what time of year it is. St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun were out, prom was in.

This year’s theme: the roaring ’20s.

As they admired their window work, three students took time to share their thoughts on the school’s designation as a failing school. They explain why they think state officials may have it wrong about Aurora Central.

Numbers tell a grim story at Aurora Central. According to state exams, only three out of 10 ninth grade students can read at grade level. And only 13 percent of ninth graders there are proficient or advanced in math. The school’s on time graduation rate is 46 percent.

But the school is getting better, they said. They have options like attending Pickens Technical College, a trade program, or classes at the Community College of Aurora. Everyone is really nice at Central. It’s like a very large and diverse family. The state should visit the school and look beyond the test scores that determine its failing status, they said.

Listen to the student’s in their own words below:

Beatriz Avelar

Bry’Ona Johns

Angelica Ramirez

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong spelling of Pickens Technical College. We regret the error.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Pearson monitors social media for PARCC cheating

EdNewsColorado - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 08:51

Innovate Aurora

Superintendent Rico Munn wants to free several of the city’s academically struggling schools from district and state red tape as well as the district’s collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union in an effort to improve student achievement. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

opt-out, shmopt-out

One of the nation’s most prominent opt-out leaders said she opposes a bill introduced in the Colorado General Assembly this week that would legitimize her movement because she fears it could foil her larger goal: to end what she calls the “privatization of public education.” ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

tweeting is cheating?

Although officials say social media monitoring by Pearson Education is contractually required and needed to ensure fair play, the practice has only deepened suspicions among parents and activists concerned about how companies handle student data. ( Denver Post )

shot full of holes

Many schools don't document either a child's immunization or the exemption. Nor do they bar anyone from school. As a result, officials don't know if Colorado has the worst vaccination rates in the country or just the worst records. ( Denver Post )

Opt me out

Significant numbers of Colorado Springs-area charter school parents are opting their kids out of PARCC tests. ( Fox21 )

Funding flaw

California's new school funding formula provides less money to educate low-income kids in wealthier schools than in poorer schools, a new study shows. ( EdSource )


When parents around Denver were finding out what schools their children got into for next year, Fran Sterling was finding out that her daughter's school choice application was never processed. ( 9News )

The return of tiny tim

A trip to Hawaii five years ago inspired a Jeffco Montessori teacher to start a ukulele band for fourth-, fifth, and sixth-graders. ( Denver Post YourHub )

Two cents

Four former teachers of the year discuss how and why to reduce Colorado's reliance on high-stakes tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Categories: Urban School News

Aurora chief pitches broad reform plan to save Central high from state sanctions

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 16:38

AURORA — Superintendent Rico Munn wants to free several of the city’s academically struggling schools from district and state red tape as well as the district’s collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union in an effort to improve student achievement, he told the school board last night.

The proposal to create three “innovation zones” comes as the district is beginning preliminary conversations with the Colorado Department of Education about the future of the struggling Aurora Central High School.

Based mostly on test scores and graduation rates, Aurora Central has been rated by the state as a chronically underperforming school for five years. If there isn’t drastic improvement by the end of the school year, Aurora Central will likely face state sanctions.

That is unless the Aurora school board and district act first, Munn said.

“I want you to be able to exert as much influence as possible,” he said.

Innovation zones are clusters of school that are given innovation status under a 2008 state law. Similar to charter schools, those schools are granted waivers from school district and state policies and regulations and usually any collective bargaining agreement the district has with its teacher and classified unions. Waivers usually lead to different school programs, calendars, and one-year contracts with teachers.

School leaders at innovation schools also usually have greater flexibility with their budget and professional development for staff. But unlike a charter school, which answers to an independent board, an innovation school remains under the control of the school district and its board.

Architects of the innovation law believe greater flexibility at the school level will allow educators to respond more quickly to the changing needs of students.

Community meetings planned
APS officials will meet with parents at three times to discuss the future of Aurora Central High School: 10 a.m., Thursday, March 19; 6 p.m., Thursday, April 2; 10 a.m., Saturday, April 4. All meetings will be held at the Aurora Central media center.

A majority of the teaching staff, parent advisory committee, and school board would have to sign off on an application in order for a school to receive innovation status. The State Board of Education must also OK the proposal.

The first innovation zone would include Aurora Central and some mix of Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, Boston K-8, Crawford and Sable elementary schools. Like Aurora Central, those schools serve mostly poor students, a large population of refugees, and English language learners.

If approved by the board, Aurora Public Schools would spend the next year developing a plan for how they want to change the schools for the 2016-17 school year. APS would then repeat the process in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school year.

Munn told the school board creating innovation zones would allow the district and its community to pursue a number different models and policies to improve its schools for students. But if the board fails to act now, the state could dictate a more limited solution like closing the school or turning it over to a private management company.

The proposal could be considered Munn’s boldest move yet since he was named superintendent in 2013 and it was met with skepticism and tepid support from the board.

“This scares me the least,” board member Mary Lewis said at the end of the conversation.

Other board members were equally lukewarm to the proposal. Several asked for more details and evidence that innovation status would lead to better schools.

“It’s important to me that [innovation status] looks different,” Lewis said. “If its just the same thing with a different acronym that would concern me.”

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn

APS already has a mechanism to allow schools more autonomy. Schools granted flexibility are called pilot schools.

A committee of teachers at Aurora Central did put together a proposal for pilot status last fall. But that proposal has been tabled in part because Aurora Central has 2,200 students. According to the district’s contract with its teachers union, which created the pilot school status, pilot schools can’t have more than 600 students.

Munn said it is important for the school district to seek innovation status for two reasons. First, the state recognizes the status as a possible solution for schools like Aurora Central that run out the state’s accountability timeline. Second, moving toward the state’s model would enhance the district’s model because of resources the state could provide like grant money and research.

Board member Dan Jorgensen appeared to be the most concerned that the district wasn’t doing enough to improve its schools.

Besides Aurora Central, APS has 17 other schools on the state’s accountability watch list and its graduation rate is the lowest among the state’s largest school districts.

Jorgensen suggested, as he has done multiple times, that the district begin soliciting charter school proposals. But district officials told the board Tuesday charter schools weren’t a viable option because the district has no buildings to offer. Further, it’s unlikely a charter school would agree to take over a large high school like Aurora Central, Munn said.

Jorgensen also said he’d be in favor of earmarking funds for additional staff members to research different school improvement efforts on an ongoing basis.

Freeing a school from district bureaucracy as a school improvement strategy has provided mixed results, Munn acknowledged. He said he thought of innovation status as more of a mechanism than a school model or design. The real work would be in how the schools are restructured once free from some district policies.

A series of reports from education advocacy organization A+ Denver examined those mixed results elsewhere. The most recent in 2013 found innovation schools in Denver weren’t outperforming similar campuses without innovation status. But students in schools with more autonomy were catching up at a faster rate.

“Innovation status can be a useful tool when thoughtful,” said Van Schoales, CEO of A+ Denver. “To do it well, schools really need to understand what it is they plan to do.”

When Denver first launched its innovation schools, it did so haphazardly with unproven leaders who didn’t know how to operate outside the district’s bureaucracy, Schoales said. But the district is learning from those mistakes.

“It’s about the right leadership, culture, and school design,” Schoales said. “I hope Aurora will be very, very, thoughtful about what they want to do.”

Munn’s innovation proposal to school board DV.load('', { width: 620, height: 600, sidebar: false, text: true, pdf: true, container: '#DV-viewer-1688440-aurorainnovationzoneproposal' });
Categories: Urban School News

Here’s how we can measure student growth outside of standardized testing

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 14:09

Our legislature is currently considering bills to reduce standardized testing in Colorado public schools. Meanwhile, Congress is undertaking its most serious effort to rewrite the law known as No Child Left Behind, and could potentially reduce testing requirements for states.

These serious conversations taking place inside our government have their origins in the people’s concerns. Educators, parents, and students are voicing frustration that testing is excessive and takes away too much time and resources from classroom instruction.

It’s clearly time to reduce the emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests and allow educators to focus on what is most important: Instilling a love of learning in Colorado kids.

As a group of Colorado Teachers of the Year, we have dedicated our hearts and souls to our students. We are keenly aware of how and what they have learned, as well as the time it takes to facilitate high levels of student achievement. However, attempting to quantify and accurately measure what our students know and understand is complicated.

Tests that only measure the information students retain (e. g., multiple choice questions) are too limited. We need to determine beyond standardized tests what skills students have acquired and mastered.

Today’s technical, knowledge-based economy requires teachers who can prepare their students to master higher-order thinking skills and determine relationships among seemingly diverse concepts. Teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and moral character are increasingly important to businesses looking for employees. These skills and traits are not measured by typical standardized tests.

Teachers know their students learn in a non-linear, complex, individualized process that can’t be measured in fragmented, short-term formats. Single-letter grades and stand-alone test scores are aimed at quantitatively sorting and ranking students at isolated points in time.

Most people recognize that a single point-in-time test score does not define student achievement. College admissions officers as well as employers are more interested in a unified evaluation of ongoing academic potential or workforce readiness.

Teachers rely on timely, relevant data to drive their instruction. The value of information gained from testing declines exponentially over time. Today’s standardized tests don’t provide data until the following school year. As a result, the test results lose their effectiveness in helping teachers identify and revisit content with a student when remediation is needed.

Colorado’s statewide CMAS testing system requires significant blocks of time from March through May, with feedback that can’t be used in a timely way. For example, teachers know high school students now lose more than 15 percent of a semester’s instructional time preparing for and taking the PARCC and ACT tests. They’re taking AP tests for college credit during the same time period.

The time delays in getting feedback from state-wide testing makes them irrelevant to students who have already moved on to the next instructional level, college or the workforce.

Accountability is important as long as it supports sound teaching practices. We believe the “Measures of Student Learning” as prescribed by SB-191 must incorporate more qualitative evaluations of student learning that support long-term instructional goals, as well as provide quantitative data.

These tools are available. Teachers are now using more relevant vehicles – peer-group research projects, student work portfolios, oral and written communications, and students as instructors – that better demonstrate learning and achievement than do standardized tests.

Individualized classroom assessment should take priority in the system. These are tests developed by teachers that require students to apply acquired knowledge and skills to real world tasks, and provide students with real-time guidance and immediate feedback from peers, teachers, and outside experts.

Teachers know how to prepare their students for testing at any level, but understand that statewide standardized-test preparation takes away valuable classroom time.

When is too much testing detrimental to learning? Clearly, students, teachers, administrators, legislators and parents must come together to determine appropriate levels of standardized testing that support our students’ learning.

Excessive testing does not support students; instead, it seems only to serve those who seek validation to make reactionary decisions for the smallest of education gains. This approach seems certain to fail the vast majority of Colorado students in the long run.

We owe our students a deeper, more well-rounded education, supported by relevant and timely assessments, which will better develop the skills and traits they’ll need for future success.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of commentary pieces on a variety of perspectives from the testing debate. Check back next week for more. You can read an earlier piece here

Categories: Urban School News

Opt-out leader opposes bill that would legitimize parent refusal of state tests

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 11:08

One of the nation’s most prominent opt-out leaders said she opposes a bill introduced in the Colorado General Assembly yesterday that would legitimize her movement because she fears it could foil her larger goal: to end what she calls the “privatization of public education.”

If passed, the bill would signal a significant victory for activists fighting back against a series of reform efforts the state has implemented since 2010, all centered on the Common Core State Standards and their aligned exams.

But that isn’t how Peggy Robertson, a founding member of the nonprofit organization United Opt Out, views it. She said legitimizing opt out could stop the conversation about how much money is being spent on tests rather than other education initiatives she and her colleagues say would improve educational outcomes for students in the poorest school districts.

“I think people have good intentions around this, but if they make opt out legal, it takes away the power of our social movement,” said Robertson, who is also an instructional coach for Aurora Public Schools. And that could stop the growing chorus against testing, she said.

“This is not an anti-testing movement,” Robertson said. “This is a movement to return real learning to the classroom. All the thing we need — nurses, librarians, books, food — we don’t have, because all the money is being funneled to test prep and the test.”

The bill would require school districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

PHOTO: Courtesy Peggy RobertsonOpt out leader Peggy Robertson

And while the State Board of Education has already directed the Colorado Department of Education to hold districts and schools harmless if they fail to meet the required 95 percent test participation rate, Senate Bill 15-223 would codify those protections in state law, adding an extra level of security for educators.

The bill has broad bipartisan support and the blessing of the state’s largest teachers union, which will lobby for it.

“Certainly, the [state union] has, in the past, lobbied for a parent opt-out bill that does not penalize students, teachers, schools and districts,” said Kerrie Dallman, president of Colorado Education Association. “We’re hopeful with the increased opt outs this year that the legislature will finally act.”

The right to opt out of standardized tests is not addressed anywhere in state statutes. State education officials have long asserted that opting out is not legal.

But some parents and student say they believe they have a constitutional right to do so. State and federal law, as well as agreements between the Colorado and U.S. education departments, require schools to have a 95 percent participation rate on annual standardized tests.

If school districts do not achieve those rates it could mean a lowered accreditation rating or trigger redirection of federal funds from high opt-out schools without input from the local school district.

Previously, no school or district had come close to that 95 percent threshold. Given that, some education officials and observers have long dismissed the opt-out movement as nothing more than a band of misinformed and paranoid suburban moms.

Until now.

The opt-out movement, in Colorado and across the nation, has grown from social media chatter to conservative media fodder to mentions in The New York Times. While it’s not possible to draw a direct line from the first opt-out family to today’s testing debate, it’s equally impossible to ignore the movement any longer.

“I think that when parents and students are strongly — and very publicly — voicing displeasure, it has very great potential to influence policymakers,” said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. “Much more so than researchers who voice displeasure. Or for that matter, than educators who voice displeasure. There’s something about the voices of parents and students that’s very authentic.”

In the largest anti-testing demonstration in Colorado, thousands of senior high school students last fall left their classrooms when they were asked to take another round of standardized tests in social studies and science. Those students, mostly in white, middle-class suburbs, said the tests were meaningless and added to the already bloated testing regimen.

“We knew this would happen,” opt-out leader Robertson said, reflecting on the year that saw her movement make headlines like never before. “The key was being ready for it. Here in Colorado, we had a nice head start with the CMAS senior tests [protest]. That gave us an extra edge that other states didn’t have.”

Robertson said her organization has grown from seven people in a handful of states to hundreds across the nation. In Florida alone, she said, there are 25 groups organizing parents who oppose standardized tests and the Common Core State Standards.

Philip E. Bernhardt, the department chair for secondary education, K-12,  and educational technology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the growing debate around testing is forcing education reform activists and lawmakers to question who is gaining more from the testing system: students or test-makers.

“People are raising questions: are these tests based on research or because there is a tremendous profit to be made?” he said. “I certainly believe it’s the latter. The opt-out movement is definitely making people ask hard questions.”

John Buckner, D-Aurora, who chairs the House Education Committee, said he said the opt-out community has made its concerns known and that the debate is settled: The standardized testing burden in Colorado will be lightened.

“Once we have made the appropriate adjustments to the tests, I’m guessing the opt-out movement will conclude that its work is done, and it will fade away,” Buckner said in a statement to Chalkbeat.

Don’t count on it, Roberston said.

“We have to be really careful about not being appeased,”she said. “It would be easy to have a little bit less testing, but I’m not willing to accept a little.”

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Littleton school board to get advice on Davis lawsuit

EdNewsColorado - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 09:32

#COLeg Report

Developments Tuesday afternoon provided fresh twists to the Colorado legislature’s complicated testing debate, including introduction of a bill that would formalize the right of parents to opt out of tests. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

One of those developments was a coalition of some strange political bedfellows that appears to be united around an alternative to a bipartisan bill aimed at scaling back required testing and assessments. ( KDVR )

Attempting to rally support for that bipartisan bill, Gov. John Hickenlooper threw some weight behind the measure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

The Parents Bill of Rights Bill met its expected end in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But a carefully crafted compromise bill on privacy and security of student data got preliminary Senate approval Tuesday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Arapahoe High School shooting

Littleton Public Schools' Board of Education will get legal advice behind closed doors this week to review a proposal from the family of Claire Davis and discuss it in open session at a later date, Superintendent Scott Murphy announced Tuesday. ( Denver Post, 9News )

Revisiting desegreagation in Denver

A former Denver Public Schools board member said Tuesday the decision to remove the city's busing order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time. But almost 20 years later many Denver students attend schools with high levels of racial isolation. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Jeffco Interuptted

While some members of the Jefferson County school board see a proposed school shuffle as an opportunity to expand successful programs, parents and administrators are worried it will muddy the close relationship a neighborhood has with the two schools. ( Denver Post )

Pay Day

The St. Vrain Valley School District is considering a new teacher salary schedule that would increase the base salary, give more raises as teachers increase their education and reward educators for sticking with the district. ( Daily Camera )

Better teaching

The NPR Ed Team asked folks at the SXSW education conference to share some thoughts on their favorite teachers and how to improve the profession. ( NPR via KUNC )

Two cents

The new PARCC tests will not be perfect the first year, but they will get better every year, writes a Colorado educator who helped build the exams. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Mass testing seeks to fill the void created by class sizes that overwhelm teachers but they can never replace having a teacher who knows you, cares about you as a person and wants you to be a critical thinking, well-educated citizen of the world, opines a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

New twists complicate testing debate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 23:30

Developments Tuesday afternoon provided fresh twists to the Colorado legislature’s complicated testing debate, including introduction of a bill that would formalize the right of parents to opt out of tests.

The new measure also would bar the state from penalizing school districts for low student participation.

Also Tuesday, the Colorado Education Association issued a statement critical of Sen. Owen Hill’s Senate Bill 15-215. Union President Kerrie Dallman said the bill “takes a few, tentative steps toward easing the testing burden for some students, but it’s largely a bill of cosmetic changes. Most parents across the state will be left asking, ‘How does this help my child?’”

Those developments came just hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper publicly endorsed Hill’s bill, a move seen as an effort to shore up faltering support for the bill. (See this story for details on the governor’s news conference.)

Still unanswered Tuesday evening was the question of whether the bill will be heard as scheduled by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Education lobbyists who’ve been following the bill don’t believe Hill, chairman of Senate Education, has the votes on his own committee to pass it.

But Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, told Chalkbeat Colorado Tuesday afternoon that he was considering delaying the bill because Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, might not be able to attend the hearing. Johnston’s father died earlier this week.

Hill wasn’t available for comment late Tuesday evening. But another committee member said the bill would be laid over for consideration at a later date.

(Get more information on the bill in this story.)

Reportedly waiting in the wings if SB 15-215 falters is a proposal – not yet introduced – by Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. A recent bill draft reviewed by Chalkbeat Colorado includes provisions that would ban testing beyond federal minimum requirements, allow districts to ask state approval for giving local tests in place of state assessments, give districts flexibility on when to administer science and social studies tests, and provide schools significantly greater flexibility in assessing school readiness and early literacy of young students.

The draft bill also would require the Department of Education to ask the federal government for permission to use the ACT test as the sole high school test.

Also, the bill would change the use of student academic growth measures in evaluation of teachers. Current law (which is on hold for this school year only) requires that growth measures account for 50 percent of evaluations.

As drafted, the draft bill would allow districts to choose what percentage they want to use for growth, but the level couldn’t exceed 20 percent. Growth calculated from student scores on multiple years of state tests is one of the measures used to calculate growth of a teacher’s students. Local growth measures also are used in many districts.

That provision is attractive to the state teachers union, but tinkering with the teacher evaluation system is anathema to the education reform and business groups whose representatives flanked Hickenlooper at the morning news conference.

Six other testing bills were introduced previously, but none of them are considered likely to pass. See the Testing Bill Tracker at the bottom of this story for details.

Opt-out bill has wide support

The opt-out proposal, Senate Bill 15-223, has bipartisan support and 31 cosponsors, a significant number in a 100-member legislature. (Read the bill here.)

The Senate sponsors are Holbert and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. Carrying it in the House are Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, and Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Douglas County, two legislators who haven’t been heavily involved in education issues.

The bill would require districts, boards of cooperative educational services and charters to allow parents to opt out of any standardized tests required by the state or local districts. Written district policies on opting out would have to be provided to parents.

The bill’s summary also says, “The Department of Education and the local education provider cannot penalize the student, the student’s teacher and principal, or the public school that the student attends, and the department cannot penalize the local education provider that enrolls the student, if the parent excuses the student from taking the standardized assessment.”

Current state and federal policy requires that at least 95 percent of students participate in state testing. The federal government requires states to impose a penalty on districts that drop below that level. The penalty Colorado has chosen is a one-step drop in a district’s accreditation rating if participation drops below 95 percent on two or more tests.

While the bill doesn’t specifically reference the accreditation penalty, its no-penalties provisions presumably would prohibit that.

The new bill is in line with recent action by the State Board of Education, which voted in February to absolve districts of any penalties that might be triggered by parents opting their children out of tests this year. (See this story for details.)

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

Parent rights bill meets its expected fate

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 22:15

As expected, the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to kill a bill that would have created a sweeping “parent’s bill of rights” affecting how parents relate to schools, courts, health care agencies, and medical professionals.

The party-line vote on Senate Bill 15-077, with Democrats in the majority, came after nearly four hours of often-emotional testimony. The witness list was dominated by parents airing grievances about run-ins with judges, guardians, social workers, doctors, teachers, and principals.

Vaccination laws also came under fire from some witnesses supporting the bill. Two witnesses claimed that half of American boys will be autistic in the future because of vaccinations. And one witness maintained that flu shots cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Opponents of the bill, representing victim rights organizations, medical groups, the Colorado Bar Association, teachers, and school districts, said the bill was unnecessary because existing laws protect parents and because it would have weakened protections for children who are victims of abuse and sexual exploitation by family members.

Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, proposed a successful amendment intended to ease concerns about protection of abused children and about vaccinations. But committee Democrats killed the bill anyway.

The bill also proposed criminal penalties for teachers, health workers, and others who violated its terms.

The measure was sponsored by the father-son team of Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton and Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. Both are Republicans and strong social conservatives. (Read the bill here.)

Committee Democrats were uniformly polite and attentive to the witnesses who testified during the long hearing. “Some things were quite eye-opening to me,” said Rep. Joan Ginal, D-Fort Collins.

But House Democratic staff members were more direct in the news release issued after the bill was killed. “Another GOP Tinfoil-hat Bill Bites the Dust” was the headline on the email.

Truancy bill advances, but questions linger

The Senate Finance Committee passed a truancy bill on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, but the measure’s future remains unclear.

As passed by the Senate Education Committee last week, Senate Bill 15-184 aims to end jailing of truant students who ignore court orders to return to school. The bill would take truancy cases out of juvenile courts and assign them to administrative judges, who don’t have the power to send people to jail.

There’s concern by some senators that passage of the bill in its current form could cut off promising truancy court programs that have been developed in a few counties.

A more immediate concern is the bill’s fiscal impact. It would generate an estimated $389,881 in revenue from fees school districts would pay to have truancy cases referred to the administrative judges. But that income would count against the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights revenue cap that requires refunds to taxpayers once revenues reach a certain level.

The bill goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will consider that issue before deciding whether to send the measure to the Senate floor.

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, told the finance committee Tuesday he has an amendment that would avoid the fiscal issue, but he didn’t offer the change because the amendment language isn’t final.

Kerr’s plan would keep truancy cases in juvenile courts, but it would ban youth correctional facilities from imprisoning students found guilty of contempt of court for ignoring district requests to return to school.

Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has said his main goal with the bill is to keep truant students out of juvenile detention.

Categories: Urban School News

Former board member: Racial isolation persists in Denver schools

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 19:40

In 1995, Laura Lefkowits, then a Denver Public School board member, was in the district’s office when a staff attorney came with some news: The district was no longer bound by a 22-year-old federal court order to desegregate its schools.

“It’s over,” Lefkowits remembers the attorney saying.

In a lecture at the History Colorado museum in Downtown Denver Tuesday, Lefkowits begged to differ.

“It’s not over,” she told a crowd.

Lefkowits, who has been studying desegregation efforts in the city for two years, traced the evolution of the district and city’s approach and attitude toward desegregation over time in an hourlong talk called “Segregation in Denver Public Schools: The 1960s and Today.”

Keyes v. School District no. 1, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the district to integrate its schools, led to the first federal desegregation order outside the southern states. From 1973 until 1996, Denver students were bused across the city in an effort to create racial balance of black, Latino, and white students in the schools. (A consent decree that stemmed from this case still governs how Denver works with its English language learners.)

Its impact was profound. More than 30,000 students left the district in the wake of busing, and though enrollment in DPS has been surging in recent years, it has still not returned to its 1969 level. The district’s demographics have also almost flipped: While white students were a majority in the late 1960s, Hispanic students make up more than half of the student population now.

Lekowits said the decision to remove the order in 1995 was emblematic of cultural attitudes toward integration at the time.

But almost 20 years after that court order was lifted, Lefkowits said, many Denver students attend schools with  high levels of racial isolation, and schools that have high concentrations of students of color and low-income students are more likely to be lower-performing — the very issue the initial cases aimed to address.

At one point, DPS was required ensure that each school’s racial mix was within 15 percent of the district’s overall demographic profile. Lefkowits found that in 2014-15, just 15 percent of the district’s 186 schools meet that goal for Hispanic students, while 20 percent of the district’s schools are more than 90 percent Hispanic.

Most schools that earn low ratings by the district have higher concentrations of students of color and students who live in poverty.

Lefkowits praised the current board for specifically including improving the academic performance of students of color and closing the “opportunity gap” between white students and their peers” in the most recent version of the Denver Plan, the district’s strategic roadmap.

Lefkowits’s talk covered much more of the political and cultural context surrounding the issue, including changing public attitudes toward integration efforts, the advent of school choice systems (which, she said, had been dismissed by a federal judge as a way to ensure integration in schools), and funding issues.

At the end of the event, a History Colorado researcher took an informal poll of the audience to determine how many had been directly affected by busing, either as parents, decisionmakers, or children. Close to a third of the mostly elderly crowd raised their hands.

Lefkowits told Chalkbeat last year that she believed the attendance zones created during her tenure on the district’s board concentrated low-income students in Manual High School, leading to a series of challenges for the school.

Categories: Urban School News

Amended version of data privacy bill passes first floor test

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 17:54

A carefully crafted compromise bill on privacy and security of student data got preliminary Senate approval Tuesday, but some issues remain to be debated in the House.

Senate Bill 15-173 primarily focuses on the businesses that provide data services to schools and districts. The bill prohibits them from sharing, mining, selling or using personally identifiable student data, and from compiling such data for commercial uses. The bill also would ban direct marketing to students based on their individual data.

The measure also would require school districts to provide information to parents about data collection and about all vendors used by a district. Small school districts would be excluded from this requirement. Districts also would have to provide staff training on data security and notify parents of data breaches.

Tuesday’s floor debate went quickly and smoothly, with senators approving a couple of minor amendments. They also approved a more significant amendment that removed a section of the bill that would have required vendors to destroy student data three years after a vendor no longer needed it to fulfill a contract with the district.

School districts were concerned that provision would have required them to keep expensive backup data systems to maintain records that former students might need later for higher education or jobs.

Two additional attempts to tweak the bill failed. Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, proposed exempting companies that don’t deal primarily in data but rather provide websites for class materials.

And Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, proposed an amendment to put small districts under the bill’s requirements. “I don’t understand why we wouldn’t choose to apply them [the bill’s requirements] equally,” he said.

He said students and parents in small districts deserve the same privacy protections as those provided in larger districts.

Prime sponsor Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, opposed the amendment but acknowledged the issue may come up again in the House. Holbert is determined to get a data bill through the 2015 session and is doing a delicate balancing act to generate support from or minimize opposition by various interest groups. Exempting small districts was part of that process.

The bill has bipartisan backing, and Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, is the prime sponsor in the House.

Two more comprehensive data bills already have been killed in a House committee (see story for details on what they proposed).

Tuition tax credits left for another day

The Senate Tuesday also was scheduled to debate Senate Bill 15-045, which would allow tax credits for private school tuition, but it was laid over. The bill may pass through the Republican-controlled Senate, but not until after vigorous floor opposition from Democrats. The measure is considered to have no chance of passage in the Democratic-majority House.

Categories: Urban School News

Hick defends ed reform, endorses testing bill

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 15:55

Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday said there’s no reason to go back on state education reforms and endorsed a new bipartisan bill that would reduce high school testing and streamline assessments in early grades.

While agreeing the testing system needs some change, he said, “We thought it important to re-emphasize that we are not slowing down” on rolling out recent Colorado education reform efforts.

He repeated that message several times during a Capitol news conference, saying, the politics of the moment and increasing criticism of testing shouldn’t slow down reform.

The governor’s news conference was seen by Capitol observers as a move to shore up support for Senate Bill 15-215, a measure significantly based on the recommendations of the Standards and Assessments Task Force, an advisory group on the issue. (See the bill text here.)

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. It’s currently scheduled for its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee Thursday afternoon, although it’s possible the hearing will be delayed. Neither Hill nor Kerr attended Tuesday’s event because the Senate was in session.

Some Democratic and Republican members of the panel have concerns with the bill, mainly that it doesn’t go far enough to reduce testing.

Standing with Hickenlooper at the news conference were Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder. Neither spoke.

The governor said he was sure there will be tweaks as the testing bill moves along. Asked what changes to the bill he’d support or oppose, Hickenlooper said, “I don’t have a list of things I’m for or I’m against.”

Hickenlooper was asked about students opting out of tests. He joked that his son, Teddy, came home from testing the other day and asked if he could opt out.

He said he told his son, “There’s nothing to be feared from tests.”

Parents who who don’t want their children to test “are not doing their kids any favors by opting out,” Hickenlooper said.

He also said he doesn’t favor taking Colorado out of PARCC tests.

“Let’s see how it goes,” he said of the Colorado’s participation in the multi-state testing partnership. “To throw something out before you’ve even tried it doesn’t seem to be the wisest course.”

Representatives from several reform and business groups flanked Hickenlooper at the news conference, including Democrats for Education Reform, Colorado Succeeds, Colorado Concern, Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Hickenlooper claimed the almost-unanimous support of the business community for state education reform programs.

Kelly Brough, a former Hickenlooper aide who now heads the chamber, spoke briefly to stress that Colorado needs a rigorous education system to train a highly skilled workforce of the future.

The Hickenlooper administration has been allied with education reform groups but has not taken as high a profile on education issues as did former Gov. Bill Ritter.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia has been the administration’s point person on education issues. In a December speech to a school boards convention Garcia said Colorado “can’t back down” on education reform (see story). And last week Garcia urged parents not to opt out of state tests (see story).

Seven testing bills have been introduced so far in the 2015 session, including SB 15-215. Additional bills may surface, particularly if support doesn’t coalesce behind the Hill-Kerr proposal. Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, has had a bill drafted but reportedly is holding off until after there’s some movement on SB 15-215.

Testing Bill Tracker

Click the bill number in the left column for more a more detailed description, sponsors and other information. Click the link in the Fiscal Notes column at the right for a bill’s description and an estimate of potential state costs.

Categories: Urban School News

I’m a Colorado educator and I helped build the PARCC math exams

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 14:40

As the students of Colorado take the first round of the new state tests for math and English, many debates surrounding testing, and these tests in particular, are heating up.

As a math educator for over 25 years, including more than 19 in Colorado, I hear comments and critiques of the tests that demonstrate fear and confusion around PARCC, the testing consortium at the core of Colorado’s new assessments.

I have had the opportunity to participate in several phases of the creation of the PARCC math tests, and each time, I learned more about the test, the expectations for students, and ways that teachers could support students in being prepared for the test. These experiences gave me confidence in these tests. I hope that by explaining my reasons for this confidence, I might help alleviate some of the stress teachers, parents, and students may be feeling.

Just days after Colorado became a PARCC state in August of 2012, I traveled with about 25 other Colorado educators to Chicago to the first convening of the PARCC Educator Leader Cadre. This group met approximately twice a year, and at each convening we had the chance to ask questions, give input, and provide feedback to shape what was important to each of our states.

Through these experiences, I learned that PARCC is built upon an evidence-based design: starting with the standards, identifying the specific skills and knowledge the standards require, then designing tests and items that align to those knowledge and skills. We also had the opportunity to collaborate with, learn from, and share resources with hard-working educators in other PARCC states, and we learned how much of the actual detail around giving the test was a state decision, and that we could make the best decisions for Colorado.

A few months after the first cadre meeting, I was invited to serve on the Performance Level Descriptors (PLD) committee. We created documents that describe the math that students know and are able to do at each performance level. We used, among other things, our collective expertise as math teachers to construct these descriptions.

During the PLD meetings, I helped in reviewing test items as well. We gave feedback on whether an item was acceptable as is, required revisions, or needed to be rejected altogether, based on how well it aligned to the standards, whether it reflected an authentic mathematical context, and whether or not it provided an understanding of a student’s mathematical thinking.

Although my work focused on content, there were other groups that reviewed each item through other lenses, such as bias and sensitivity. All in all, each item is reviewed by about 30 educators before becoming eligible for inclusion on the test.

This process, along with the evidence-centered design of the test, supports the validity of the test items, with many experts affirming that the item is indeed designed to assess the desired content.

Most recently, I participated on the test construction committee. We reviewed each item on all 10 forms of the test, checked that the computer-based items were scoring correctly, and confirmed that all 10 forms (six online and four paper and pencil) were parallel in terms of structure, content, and difficulty level. As a result, I feel confident that the finished product is what PARCC said it would be back at the first cadre meeting in August 2012.

It is important to remember that we have new tests because we have new standards. These new standards are not just a reshuffling of content; they are transformational in that they ask us to engage all students in learning experiences that are proven to be aligned to college and career readiness.

This transformational change requires a significantly different tool for measuring. And if we are truly teaching to the standards, this test is a better measure of what students are learning than any other option out there.

These tests will not be perfect the first year, but they will get better every year. And although change is scary, we owe it to our students to have systems that provide them whatever opportunities they choose after graduation.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of commentary pieces on a variety of perspectives from the testing debate. Check back tomorrow for more. 

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Online schools regulation bill dies in committee

EdNewsColorado - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 10:01

online schools

A bill that would change regulations for online schools died in a Senate committee. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Teen Policy

The Colorado Youth Advisory Council showed off their policy chops and collected business cards at the Capitol on Monday ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Question of the week

Do you think parents should have to actively give permission before their students take a survey about student health? ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

District Academics

Denver Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Alyssa Whitehead-Bust is featured in an Education Week piece on district academic leaders. ( Education Week )

Common Core

The environment surrounding the new standardized tests in Colorado remains heated. ( Education Week via Associated Press )


Summit schools dive into standardized tests. ( Summit Daily )

Points for Creativity

Four innovative school models that were on display at South by Southwest. ( Hechinger Report )

Gimme Music

Bringing Music to Life, which brings musical instruments to students, kicked off an instrument drive. ( 9News )

New Schools

The Boulder Valley district is opening a new elementary and middle school in Erie earlier than initially planned. ( Daily Camera )

Bit by Bit

The Mead elementary and middle schools are holding a second annual fundraising bash to supplement school funding ( Longmont Times Call )

Parent rights

A bill that would allow parents to exempt their children from "any learning material or activity" is up for a vote (and expected to be killed) in a House committee today. ( Aurora Sentinel via Associated Press )

Financial Rewards

A group of foundations made big donations to two successful elementary schools in Jeffco, Stein and Peck. ( Arvada Press )

Thinking Big

Dougco superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said she didn't sign a letter from most superintendents to the legislature raising concerns about school funding because she feels the letter doesn't go far enough. ( Douglas County )

Glory Days

Award-winning Dougco fitness teacher: "The days of dodgeball are over." ( Douglas County News Press )


A Denver student shared her story about being the daughter of a police officer killed in the line of duty. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Online regulation bill quickly killed

EdNewsColorado - Mon, 03/16/2015 - 21:52

This year’s proposal to change the regulation of online schools that operate across multiple districts was killed Monday by the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The 3-2 vote was expected. Senate Bill 15-201 had bipartisan backing, but its Republican sponsor, Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, admitted that he didn’t have the time to get the bill into the shape he wanted. He asked the committee to postpone the bill indefinitely.

Multi-district online programs have been dogged for years by persistent problems with low student retention, achievement and graduation rates. Those issues have been repeatedly documented by official reports, annual state data, and media reporting, including an award-winning 2011 series by Education News Colorado, Chalkbeat’s predecessor news service.

But the legislative has passed no significant online oversight legislation since 2007, following a critical 2006 state audit of online programs. Recent legislative attempts to tackle the issue have been stalled by politics and effective lobbying by schools.

SB 15-201 largely incorporated the recommendations of the Online Task Force, an advisory panel that studied the issue over the summer and fall. (Get bill details here.)

Currently the Department of Education reviews multi-district online programs and decides if they can operate. Then districts can agree to authorize a program as a charter. But there’s been concern that some smaller districts don’t have the expertise to oversee such programs, even if they’ve been approved by state. The bill proposed to have CDE review districts and decide if they had the ability to oversee an online program. Only districts authorized by the state could authorize the programs as charters.

Some online advocates feel extra oversight isn’t needed and that it’s sufficient for the schools to be rated by the state’s accreditation system, as all schools are.

Bill sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, R-Lakewood, and task force chair Ethan Hemming made brief, polite plugs for the bill.

Ahead of his request to kill the measure, Hill said, “I need to apologize to Sen. Kerr. I may have bit off a little more than I could chew. … I didn’t have the time to devote to” making fixes in the measure.

Hill is chair of the Senate Education Committee and at the center of education issues in the GOP-controlled Senate. Hill’s testing bill was introduced only last Friday, later than many people had expected. And work on the 2015-16 school finance bill, which Hill will carry in the Senate, also is lagging behind schedule.

Buckner allows more time on incident reporting bill

After a two-hour hearing, the chair of the House Education Committee Monday delayed action on a school incident reporting bill and asked sponsors to work with various interest groups to amend the measure.

Given divisions among those groups, Rep. John Buckner told sponsor Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton, to work more on the bill. “It seems to be we might be able to get where we need to go” with further negotiations, he said.

House Bill 15-1273 proposes to update the system by which school criminal incidents are reported to the state and, ultimately, to the public.

Among other requirements, the bill would require separate reporting of marijuana-related incidents and of sexual assaults, two things that now are included in catch-all categories. Current law requires reporting of assaults, incidents involving weapons, robbery, drug offenses in general, and various other kinds of incidents.

The bill also would create a new, supposedly more streamlined way for police and sheriffs’ departments and district attorneys’ offices to report school-related incidents to the state.

Hearing testimony revealed that some law enforcement agencies and district attorneys haven’t been following the reporting requirements of a 2012 law.

That troubled Buckner, an Aurora Democrat. “I don’t understand why law enforcement agencies and DAs don’t comply with the law.” He never got a good answer, other than that the old reporting requirements are time-consuming and that the state didn’t provide money to pay for them.

HB 15-1273 also would require the state Department of Public Safety to make statewide school crime reports publicly available. (Get more information on the bill’s details here.)

School districts oppose the bill because they feel the sexual assault reporting requirements, which would be based on federal Title IX standards, are too stringent. County sheriffs oppose the bill because they feel it would mean more work with no funding.

But witnesses representing victim rights groups want the bill expanded to cover reporting of dating abuse incidents.

For the record

Another measure related to student discipline, House Bill 15-1240, passed the full House Monday morning 34-31. The bill would encourage school districts to reach formal agreements with local law enforcement on how to handle student-police contacts. The goal is reduce the number of school problems that get referred to police. The bill probably won’t get far in the Senate.

Categories: Urban School News

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