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Weekend Reads: Moving past standards to teach joy

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 18:52
  • Joy, not “standards,” should be taught in school — especially at schools that educate the neediest. (Atlantic
  • It’s important to factor student poverty into education policy as it is a strong predictor of a child’s success, but is the “free and reduced-price lunch” qualification the best measurement of economic circumstance? (NPR Ed)
  • A possible model for teachers incorporating Common Core standards into the classroom, a Manhattan computer science teacher has relied on his love of fiction to help teach his students to learn HTML coding and explain how computers work. (Hechinger Report
  • While educators and policymakers have embraced “grit” as a characteristic that leads to students being successful both in the classroom and in life, some critics argue it is a “racist,” sought-after trait that could harm low-income students. (EdWeek
  • How many amendments does the Constitution have? What severed ties with Great Britain? Take part of the civics test that Arizona students must now take to graduate high school. (Huffington Post Education
  • A viral social media campaign has raised more than $1 million for a Brooklyn middle school serving many low-income students after a 13-year-old praised his principal on the popular Humans of New York blog. (New York Times)
  • Following allegations that one-third of California’s charter schools require parents to volunteer their time, the state superintendent reiterated that such policies are not permitted. (KPCC
  • Ms. Lee Goes to Washington: Watch a Manhattan special education teacher give her take on testing to a U.S. Senate committee. (Ed Notes)
  • A Philadelphia teacher sees the power of a nightly reboot to stay present in the classroom. (NewsWorks
  • This — more or less — is the amount of snow it would take to cancel school in your state. (Vox
Categories: Urban School News

Fresh bills raise hot-button education issues

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 18:23

New education bills introduced in the legislature at week’s end include a measure that would allow carrying of concealed weapons on school grounds, and a proposal requiring schools to get state approval if they want to use American Indian names and images as school mascots.

Both measure are likely to spark emotional and lengthy committee hearings, but neither has a high chance of passage, given split party control of the General Assembly.

Another new bill seeks to give small school districts relief from some of the paperwork required by the state accountability and rating system. The bill also would streamline early-literacy requirements for small districts.

And two fresh measures seek to involve schools more closely in state workforce development initiatives and encourage school-business cooperation in training students for future jobs. Workforce issues are a top priority this session for a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and there may be more bills on this subject.

Here’s a quick look at the new education bills. Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to texts and more detailed information. With the new measures, 54 education-related bills have been introduced so far this year.

House Bill 15-1168 – Repeals the current prohibition on carrying concealed weapons on school grounds. Prime sponsors: Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock; Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton.

House Bill 15-1165 – Requires schools and colleges that have American Indian mascots to get approval from a special state committee to use such mascots and imposes fines for unauthorized use. Prime sponsors: Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora; Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster.

House Bill 15-1155 – Reduces some of the paperwork required under state accountability law for districts with fewer than 1,000 students. Also exempts such districts from some school accountability requirements and streamlines paperwork required by the state early literacy program. Prime sponsor: Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida

House Bill 15-1170 – Expands the state rating system for districts and schools to include factors related to how many high school graduates enter technical training, community college or four-year colleges. Also specifies business representation on district accountability committees and creates a new position of statewide postsecondary and workforce readiness coordinator. Prime sponsors: Reps. Tracy Kraft Tharp, D-Arvada, and Jim Wilson, R-Salida; Sens. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Rollie Heath, D-Boulder.

House Bill 15-1190 – Requires the state departments of labor and education to provide technical assistance to school districts on how to focus on workforce needs and develop partnerships with industry. Prime sponsor: Rep. JoAnn Windholz, R-Brighton.

House Bill 15-1184 – Creates new requirements for the relationships between school districts and charter school networks that operate more than one school. Prime sponsors: Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver; Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs

House Bill 15-1156 – Technical but potentially controversial proposal to require that only the graduation rates and other performance indicators of resident undergraduate students be used in calculating college performance under the new higher education funding system. Prime sponsor: Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch

Categories: Urban School News

State Board endorses anti-Common Core bill

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 17:38

The State Board of Education Friday voted 5-2 to a Republican-sponsored measure that would pull Colorado out of the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC testing group, reduce state assessments, and give districts more testing flexibility.

The measure would also require periodic updates of state content standards.

House Bill 15-1125 was introduced Jan. 16 but won’t be heard in committee for a few weeks. During past legislative sessions the state board has tended to monitor bills until later in the process. But the current board, with two new members, is taking an active stance on testing, and the bill endorsement fits in with that.

New board member Steve Durham said the bill “seems to fit some of the previous board actions in terms of trying to reduce testing. … It seems to me to fit our basic criteria, and I think we need to make statement on what the board feels is appropriate for the state.”

Member Jane Goff suggested that board only “monitor” the bill until members have a better understanding of its provisions and its sponsors’ intentions.

Goff and Durham are the two board members delegated to follow legislation and make recommendations to the full group. They were split in this case. Durham is a Republican and Goff a Democrat.

Durham argued that the board might have more influence if it took a position. “There’s no reason to go over to the Capitol and tell people we are monitoring the bill.” He also acknowledged, “This bill will have a very difficult time passing” the Democratic-controlled House Education Committee.

Democrat Valentina Flores of Denver joined Durham and Republicans Marcia Neal, Pam Mazanec and Debra Scheffel in endorsing the bill. Democrat Angelika Schroeder voted no along with Goff.

One of the bill’s prime sponsors is freshman Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, former chair of the State Board. (Read the bill here.)

The board unanimously agreed to monitor several other bills, including testing measures that would reduce assessments to federal minimum requirements, a proposed scaling back of social studies testing, and a second omnibus Republican bill that also would change the educator evaluation system.

Last spring the board (with a slightly different membership) voted 4-3 for a resolution asking the legislature to withdraw Colorado from the PARCC testing group (see this story).

In November the board issued a unanimous letter suggesting that the amount of state testing be reduced (see story).

And earlier this month the board shook up the statewide testing debate with 4-3 approval of a resolution allowing school districts to seek waivers from part of this spring’s PARCC tests in language arts and match (see story). The legality of the resolution is in question, but five districts already have applied for waivers. They are Merino, Steamboat Springs, Weldon Valley, Wiley and Wiggins.

Those and any additional waiver applications – plus a formal legal opinion from the attorney general on whether waivers are allowed – are expected to be the top agenda items at the State Board’s next full meeting Feb. 18. Friday’s meeting was a conference-call session only for discussion of pending legislation.

Categories: Urban School News

Readers: Graduation rates a ‘feel-good feeling’

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 16:58

On Monday, we asked our readers “How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools?”

The week before, the state released graduation and dropout rates for its high schools. Continuing a trend, the dropout rate dropped and the number of students who completed high school in four years increased. As of last spring, nearly eight out every 10 Colorado high school students are graduating on time.

Reader Alan Davis said the positive trend on the whole is good. But graduation data at individual schools raises more questions than answers.

Improved graduation rates at the state and district level really do mean that more students are graduating, and that in itself is good and important. The gaps associated with gender and ethnicity remain surprising stable, however, and the most perplexing to me is why the graduation rate for girls remain about 7 percent ahead of boys year after year.

At the level of individual high schools, however, graduation rates tell us less. Fewer than half of students who drop out of high school drop out of the school they started at in the ninth grade. When they are unhappy and unsuccessful at their first school they transfer to another and then to another, and each transition typically takes a toll and puts them further behind. Finally they drop out, and are counted in the graduation rate of that final school. Alternative education campuses (AECs) in particular can’t be compared fairly to other high schools based on graduation rates for this reason.

But some are concerned the increased graduation rate isn’t painting an accurate picture of school improvement.

Reader Elise suggested in an email that graduation rates are no more than a “feel good” moment for a struggling system:

Graduation rates are basically meaningless when students are unprepared for career or college. Rising graduation rates provide a feel good moment for districts and a distraction away from the low proficiency numbers. No one seems to notice a lack of reporting of “proficiency.” It is all smoke and mirrors… and very sad.

And Adams County teacher and sometimes contributor to Chalkbeat Mark Sass commented on our website:

Let’s start by looking at what it takes to graduate. We still use the old industrial model of seat time. We drop students who are shy of credits in front of computers to complete their seat time to make up missing credits. Is seat time a good indicator of how successful our students will be post K-12? 2020 graduations will be based on competency requirements, a much better way to evaluate students. Let’s look at the results then.

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

Categories: Urban School News

Jeffco board lawyer: emails can be deleted

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 16:00
Given that emails have no statutory, federal, any sort of outside authority holding us to a retention [time period], that retention policy could be as simple as ‘they are not required to be maintained.’ Period."
– Brad Miller, Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education lawyer

Jeffco Public Schools should adopt a policy that spells out how long board members should retain emails they send or receive, the board’s lawyer said Thursday night.

That policy could say emails must be kept indefinitely. Or it could allow board members to delete them immediately — leaving no paper trail of district business discussed electronically.

Brad Miller, the Jeffco board’s attorney, reviewed the state’s open record and open meeting laws with the  board Thursday night. Board members requested the training after a Chalkbeat investigation found the elected officials didn’t have a policy regarding how they should manage emails related to district business on their personal email accounts.

Miller at one point suggested that if board members receive emails about the school district to a personal account, they should forward that correspondence to their official district email addresses and respond from that account.

The rationale behind Miller’s recommendation is that the district could keep all emails, and has employees who could search and retrieve those emails when requests to review them came in. This sort of system, Miller suggested, would take the burden off board members to manage and search their private email accounts when record requests are made.

However, the district does not have a policy regarding how it retains email records, as Chalkbeat reported last fall. That means board members can delete any correspondence as they see fit until the board adopts a policy that spells out how long emails must be kept.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman requested Thursday night the district adopt a policy and guidance regarding retention of documents, including email, as required by law.

“I need direction,” Fellman said.

Miller said he’d draft a policy for the board to review.

Board member Julie Williams said she has directed constituents to only email her at her official Jeffco email account.

Board President Ken Witt, who ran on a platform of transparency, said the district should follow the law.

“We should make every effort to minimize the burden while meeting the statutory expectations,” he said.

But as Miller pointed out, the law allows for the board to set it’s own policy — including one that would allow them to immediately delete any email after it has been read.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Students point out school security gap

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 09:59

District wants charter back

The Adams 14 district surrendered control of the Community Leadership Academy to the state Charter School Institute in 2011, but now the district hopes to bring the school back under its control, an effort likely to be challenged. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

School safety

Student journalists have pointed to doors left propped open as a possible security problem for Jeffco's Standley Lake High School. ( 9News )

Teacher tax break

A bill that would allow teachers to take a $250 state tax deduction for school supplies and materials they pay for out of their own pockets passed a House committee after members agreed it would be a nice gesture even if it wouldn’t make much financial difference. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, Denver Post )

DPS closure

The Denver school board has voted to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Change is hard

Members of a panel on student achievement stressed that implementing Colorado school reforms takes time. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Leadership dispute

Controversy continues in the Roaring Fork schools over whether the district should continue to employ two top administrators, Superintendent Diana Sirko and Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein. ( Aspen Times )

Looking for a way out

The Mancos school board hopes that applying for state innovation status will get the district out of standardized testing requirements. ( Mancos Times )

Growing pains

Telluride Town Council members expressed some concerns over portions of the school district’s preliminary plans for expansion. ( Daily Planet )


Two writers suggest that Colorado teachers should be eligible for Social Security, not just PERA pensions. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

Adams 14 moves to regain control of state-authorized charter school

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 06:06

An unprecedented legal battle between the Adams 14 school district and a local charter school could have ramifications for charter school governance across the state.

The Adams 14 board passed a resolution this winter asserting its authority over Community Leadership Academy in Commerce City and requiring it to reapply for a charter or else close its doors altogether—a move the school has appealed to the State Board of Education, and which state officials say is illegal.

Adams 14 relinquished control of the school to the state Charter School Institute in 2011.

But Superintendent Pat Sanchez said he and the district’s board members are concerned that the status quo means the district has no control over the charter school’s planned expansion.

Community Leadership Academy recently started a high school, Victory Prep, and announced a goal of adding up to 4,000 students to its current enrollment—currently around 875—by 2019. The Adams 14 district currently enrolls just over 7,500 students, so such an expansion would likely put a significant dent in district funding.

No school district has ever attempted to reclaim authority of a school governed by the institute, a state agency that serves as a charter authorizer and runs 34 schools enrolling 14,000 Colorado students.

“We believe it has never happened before because it is not legal,” said Ethan Hemming, the director of the Charter School Institute. “It’s clear that the resolution is a violation of the law and needs to be rescinded.”

In a letter from the state’s attorney general’s office to Sanchez, Anthony B. Dyl, the senior assistant attorney general, wrote that Adams 14 “cannot attempt to turn back the clock” and reassert its authority over the charter school. The Charter School Institute’s board perceives the district’s action as a “broad and significant threat against all charter schools and against school choice in this state,” he wrote.

Nora Flood, the director of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said it would set a bad precedent if the district were able to reclaim control of a school it had previously given up without the school’s consent.

However, Sanchez said the expansion of Community Leadership Academy is not in the interest of the students and parents in the small, high-poverty school district.

Adams 14 officials also dispute the state board’s authority to rule in this situation. The state board will determine in February whether it has the right to rule in the case or whether the matter should be handled in court.

A troubled relationship

The charter school and district have had a fraught relationship from the start.

When Community Leadership Academy applied for a charter, the local school board sought to put conditions on its approval that included, for instance, granting the district the ability to name members to the charter school’s board. Those conditions were removed after the school appealed to the state board of education, and the charter school opened in 2005.

In 2010, the charter school sought permission from the state board to be authorized by the state charter institute rather than by Adams 14. That request was denied and appealed. In 2011, Adams 14 rescinded its authorization of the charter school while retaining its ability to authorize other charter schools in its boundaries.

Last fall, the relationship turned contentious once again. In November, the school board voted to rescind the resolution that transferred the charter school to state institute in the first place and require the school to reapply to be authorized by district or else close by the end of the 2014-15 school year.

In December, the board passed a revision to that resolution that delays the deadline until December 2015.

Sanchez said the board’s actions were prompted partly by a letter in which Ron Jajdelski, the director of Community Leadership Academy, simultaneously disparaged Adams 14’s academic performance, claimed the district had misrepresented its progress, and announced plans to expand the charter school enrollment dramatically.

In the letter, distributed at parent-teacher conferences shortly before the November election, Jajdelski also criticized a November mill levy ballot issue that would have provided Adams 14 with additional funds for building and construction projects. That mill levy didn’t pass.

Jajdelski said the letter was “provoked by our sheer frustration…They keep trying to drag us back into their dysfunctional abyss.”

“There are about 7,000 kids in the community. For us to have true education transformation in this community, we have to have 51 percent,” he said of the goal of enrolling 4,000 students.

Meanwhile, Sanchez said the district is in a gray area. “We have a CSI school in our boundary. As they expand, how does the communication or interaction go?”

Adams 14 officials claim that when Community Leadership Academy created its high school, Victory Prep, it in fact created a separate school and should have had to vet the plans with the local district. Charter school leaders argued that the Victory Prep is an expansion. The schools have different school identification numbers, and Victory Prep moved into a brand new building this year. The schools share administration, budget, and other components, according to school representatives.

District’s motives questioned

In July, Adams 14 will begin its fifth year on the state’s accountability watchlist—at which point the district will have to prove that it has taken action to improved its lowest-performing schools or risk losing its accreditation. One possibility is chartering its schools, though Sanchez said the board was currently most interested in gaining innovation status for those schools. This would keep them under district control.

Meanwhile, Community Leadership Academy was dubbed a failing school soon after it opened, but last year it and Victory Prep both earned the highest rating on the state’s scale.

District officials say they are most concerned about determining how to work together with the school and the Charter School Institute. “We have no desire to oversee CLA,” Sanchez said.

Jajdelski says he believes the board’s resolutions are punitive and aimed at shutting the school down.

Since this fall, the district has issued three requests to Community Leadership Academy under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Sanchez said the requests were an attempt was to clarify the claims about academic performance and expansion made in Jajdelski’s letter. “The intent of using CORA was, if you’re saying these things [about expansion plans and academic performance] in this letter, we need to see some documentation.” He said the charter school has not yet replied to all of the requests.

Jajdelski says the CORA requests are “retaliatory…this is not about transparency or public accountability.”

Meanwhile, Hemming said that while the CSI has had several schools transfer back to their local districts, that decision has always come from the school rather than the district and had not involved an adversarial relationship.

“It’s not in the interest of children and parents to have this tug-of-war going on above them,” Hemming said.

Categories: Urban School News

House panel advances modest teacher tax break

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 23:05

A bill that would allow teachers to take a $250 state tax deduction for school supplies and materials they pay for out of their own pockets passed the House Finance Committee Thursday on a 9-2 vote after members of both parties agreed it would be a nice gesture even if it wouldn’t make much financial difference.

Things didn’t look promising for sponsor Rep. Clarice Navarro as the hearing opened. Democrats peppered the Pueblo Republican with questions about the bill’s real impact and whether it would be better to use the revenue lost to the deduction for more K-12 funding.

Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, did some quick calculations and estimated the deduction would only save an individual teacher about $10 on state taxes. “I think it’s not a huge benefit to a teacher,” she said.

Navarro stood her ground, saying, “I absolutely do believe it’s worthwhile.”

Most Democrats eventually came around to that point of view, especially after House Bill 15-1104 was amended to eliminate an escalator clause that would have increased the deduction to $750 in a couple of years. (The legislative staff estimate for the bill projects that it would cost the state about $350,000 in lost revenue for the first year.)

As Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs put it, “This is truly a case of it’s the thought that counts.”

Only Becker and Rep. Michael Foote, D-Lafayette, remained unconvinced and voted no.

The bill goes next to the House Appropriations Committee, where it faces an uncertain future, as chair Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, noted.

If the bill passes, it would go into effect only if Congress does not reinstate a lapsed federal deduction for teacher purchases of school supplies. Teachers would be able to take the state deduction even if they don’t itemize other deducations.

Senate Education has long and ragged afternoon

The Senate Education Committee’s afternoon hearing ran for four and a half hours, and the panel didn’t even get to the most interesting bills.

Much of the hearing was devoted to Senate Bill 15-020, which would require the state’s School Safety Resource Center to provide materials and training for schools on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and assault. It also encourages districts and schools to adopt abuse and assault prevention plans.

The bill is a Colorado version of what’s called Erin’s Law, named after an Illinois woman who has made it her mission to get states to pass such laws. Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, came to the hearing in person to support passage of the bill. The bill’s prime sponsor is Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, whose daughter is an abuse survivor.

Most of the hearing consisted of emotional and moving testimony from abuse survivors and advocates in support of the bill.

Before testimony started, chair Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, announced that a vote on the bill would be held at a later meeting because some amendments were in the works.

So, after testimony ended, the audience was surprised when Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, moved to pass the bill unamended. “I think not acting on this bill today is disrespectful to the people who came here today to testify, to bare their souls.” He also noted the bill still has to go to another committee, leaving plenty of time for amendments.

Kerr’s motion threw committee Republicans into confusion. Hill had to be hastily recalled from another committee where he was presenting a bill, and several Republican “passed” when their names came up in the roll call.

Ultimately Kerr’s motion failed on a 4-5 party-line vote, so the committee will consider the bill again later.

(The back story here is that Democrats suspect that Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, is going to use the bill to propose a broader rollback in state sex education requirements, an issue that prompted a hot partisan fight a couple of sessions ago.)

Marble was tight-lipped about her plans, telling her colleagues only, “The amendments being looked at are very important. … That’s all I can share with you.”

The committee also had trouble of a more technical kind with Senate Bill 15-117, which has the interesting title of “Concerning prohibiting discrimination in public financing of institutions of higher education.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, appears to be aimed primarily at the new higher education funding formula created under a 2014 law of which Lambert was a prime sponsor. That law and related formula base part of higher education funding on how well colleges perform on goals including the recruitment, retention, and graduation of minority students.

Lambert told the committee he thinks its discriminatory that the formula excludes Asian-heritage students from the group of minority students included in the formula.

The bill passed the committee on a somewhat surprising 9-0 vote, although several Democrats made it clear that they were yes votes “for now.” This is an issue that we haven’t heard the last of and which may resurface when the Joint Budget Committee decides on the higher education budget for 2015-16. The JBC is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, and Lambert is chair for this session.

After the committee had finished Lambert’s bill, Hill abruptly announced that the two most interesting bills of the day were being “laid over” until a later meeting. (Lobbyists and others in the audience quietly breathed sighs of relief.)

Those two measures are Senate Bill 14-072, another Lambert measure that would raise admissions standards at Metropolitan State University, and Senate Bill 15-045, the annual Republican effort to create tax credits for parents who pay tuition at private schools. Look for those on next Thursday’s committee agenda.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts, fiscal notes and more details on the measures covered in this article.

Categories: Urban School News

Panelists: Results of education reform will take time

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 17:45

“Let’s not give up on all the hard work,” Colorado education commissioner Robert Hammond told a Denver audience Thursday, predicting that education reforms enacted in the last six years ultimately will pay off in student achievement.

That sentiment was echoed by panelist Curtis Garcia, school principal in the 220-student Centennial district in the San Luis Valley. “We’re only a few years into some of this change. … I always argue for patience. Give us the time to invest where we know is right.”

The two participated in a panel discussion on student achievement sponsored by the Denver Business Journal and the Colorado Education Initiative. The other panelists were Aurora teacher Jessica Cuthbertson and Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds.

“This is probably the most interesting time to be in education,” Hammond said, noting the wave of major education laws passed in recent years, including requirements for new standards, tests, school accountability, student career and academic plans, and teacher evaluation. “All of that has transpired in the space of a few years.”

But, Hammond noted, “Just remember that last year was the first year our schools were teaching to the new standards.”

He added that the new standards are the centerpiece of educational improvement, saying, “We believe kids with high expectation will attain those expectations, but you need to start with high standards.”

Two sets of Colorado standards, language arts and math, incorporate the Common Core State Standards, which have come under increasing criticism, primarily from conservative groups.

Hammond noted that the state adopted its standards before the Common Core – “Colorado was ahead of the game” and said the “modification was very small.”

Cuthbertson said Colorado’s education system “needs is equitable funding. Some of the initiatives and reform efforts are great strides, but without equitable funding we can only go so far. That would be my plea for our legislature.”

Laband said the state needs to maintain momentum to improve schools – “Shine a bright light on what’s working and turn a bright light on what’s not.”

He said educational improvement is vital for the whole state. “Colorado’s kids right now are not ready for Colorado’s jobs. … It’s a moral issue for Colorado’s kids.”

Laband also made a pitch for the importance of educational data, saying, “Data can drive key decisions” for parents trying to choose schools, for teachers working to improve instruction, for principals who are evaluating teachers, and for policymakers trying to figure out what works.

And data is vital for “identifying the achievement gaps. We need to be mindful of that.”

Anxieties about data privacy and the amount of standardized testing have been rising among parent and activist groups in the last couple of years. A variety of bills to reduce testing, set limits on data collection, pull Colorado out of the Common Core and change the teacher evaluation system are pending during the 2015 legislative session. Some education reform groups fear such measures could weaken the education initiatives of recent years.

Categories: Urban School News

UPDATED: Denver board agrees to close Trevista middle school

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 15:45

Updated after school board meeting, January 29, 7 p.m.

The Denver school board voted tonight to approve a plan to close the middle school at Trevista at Horace Mann at the end of the current school year due to declining enrollment and financial concerns. The school will continue to house an early childhood education program and an elementary school.

Board member Arturo Jimenez was the sole dissenting vote. Jimenez said that while he approved of the plan to have separate elementary and middle school programs, he was disappointed that the planning process had begun so late in the school year.

At a special school board meeting, current principal La Dawn Baity, assistant principal Jesus Rodriguez, and Laura Brinkman, the director of the district’s West Denver Network that includes Trevista told board members that they had considered phasing out the middle school or delaying the closure for year, but had decided a prompt closure would be better for students.

Baity, Brinkman, and Martinez said that the decision was driven by financial, not academic, reasons. Though the school has alternated between the two lowest rankings on the state accountability system, it had the highest student growth scores in northwest Denver last year and has seen improved student attendance in recent years.

Jimenez said that the district has been aware of declining enrollment near Trevista for several years but just began working with the school to plan for the closure earlier this month. He suggested delaying the vote until the February board meeting, saying he believed the process “would have been done differently if it had occurred in southeast or central Denver,” both more affluent parts of the city.

The district is planning to create a committee in northwest Denver focused on long-term goals for school facility use in that part of the city. That committee has not yet met.

Original story starts below:

The Denver school board will vote tonight at a special meeting on a plan to close the middle school program at Trevista at Horace Mann, a school in the northwest part of the city that currently houses early childhood, elementary, and middle schools students.

The vote comes just a day before the district’s school choice applications are due. Families of students enrolled at Trevista have been granted an extension until Feb. 6.

La Dawn Baity, who has been Trevista’s principal for three years, said that the decision is being driven by financial considerations, as the school’s middle grades enrollment bring insufficient funds to cover the staff the school needs. “We’re feeling sad because it’s a loss, to our school and to our community,” Baity said. “But the middle school was no longer really viable.”

The plan for Trevista comes after several district programs serving elementary, middle school, and early childhood students have been separated into distinct elementary and middle schools. “The very strong growth in our middle schools has meant in some cases over the last several years that E-8 school communities have recommended changing back to E-5 elementaries, and we have accepted those recommendations,” said district superintendent Tom Boasberg. Boasberg said the district would also continue to have and support E-8 programs.

If the board approves the plan, Trevista would remain open in 2015-16 as a K-5 school with an early childhood program. Middle school-aged students zoned to attend the school will be guaranteed a spot at Strive Sunnyside, a charter school, or Skinner Middle School. Students enrolled in Trevista’s Transitional Native Language Instruction program for English language learners will attend a similar program at Bryant Webster. The district would provide transportation.

Baity said the school had been using per-pupil funds technically allotted to the school’s elementary school students to cover middle school programs and staff. The school’s middle school population has hovered between 120 and 140, but Baity said the school really needed closer to 200 students to fund a robust program. Overall enrollment at Trevista has dropped from 637 in 2010-11 to 514 this year.

Requirements for teachers working with English learners at the school had added a layer of complexity. Baity said finding teachers with the right mix of skills had proved to be a challenge. “We’re a turnaround school. We needed top teachers,” she said. “But we couldn’t get the best teachers in every content area and also have bilingual teachers.”

She said this was harder at the middle-school level than in elementary school. Some 45 percent of the school’s students are English learners, and 90 percent of those speak Spanish.

Because of the lack of Spanish-English bilingual teachers in the school’s middle school, DPS and school officials decided earlier this fall to move a native-language program for Spanish-speaking English language learners to Bryant Webster, according to DPS chief schools officer Susana Cordova. But that meant the school would have even fewer middle schoolers in coming years and would be even more financially strapped.

“That took an enrollment of 140 down to 120,” Baity said. “And on a student-based budget like DPS has—Well, it’s a great way to fund schools but when you lose 20 students, we couldn’t fund the teachers, the programs, the counselors, everything that a middle school needs.”

Baity and Cordova said they were not sure yet what would happen to the empty space left in the building.

In the fall, a group of parents known as the Sunnyside Education Committee had asked the district to move the Trevista elementary program to the nearby Smedley Elementary building to create a neighborhood elementary school. The Smedley building is now slotted to hold the Denver Montessori Junior/Senior High School.

After learning of the plans to close Trevista’s middle school, the Sunnyside committee sent an email to the district again requesting that Trevista’s elementary program be moved into the Smedley building. A district representative replied that the district planned to wait until it had heard from a working group of community members in Northwest before making major changes.

Baity said Trevista students had taken field trips to the schools they would be zoned to attend next year and that other schools had also reached out to students and families. The principal at Skinner Middle School said her staff would welcome the students and has already created already had a transition plan for them.

The school’s seven middle school teachers are not guaranteed placements at other schools. Baity herself is leaving the school this year, in a move she said was unrelated to the plans and announced before the current closing was planned, and will be replaced by Rodriguez, currently an assistant principal at the school.

The board vote will take place at a special meeting, which includes a public comment session, at 5 p.m.

Clarification: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the superintendent’s comments about the district’s approach to E-8 schools.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Nation’s per-pupil spending continues to decline

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 08:59

Manual reset

Denver's Manual High School is about undergo another in a long series of transformations. All previous reboot attempts since court-ordered busing ended in 1996 have ended in failure. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

testing testing

Legislators quickly got into the weeds on testing Wednesday after receiving a new report on the issue, previewing future debates on the amount of testing, equity, parent opt out and a host of other issues. ( Chalkbeat Colorado, The Denver Post )

And here are some details on the testing panel recommendations ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Consensus, by George!

Plans to open the International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School to more students have taken a major step forward, without the controversy that has engulfed similar efforts in the past. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Starry night

Colorado Springs' District 11 will shutter the nine-year-old STAR Academy for poor academic performance, the school board decided Wednesday night. ( The Gazette )

Spending down

After more than a decade of increases in per-pupil funding for K-12 public schools, the nation’s per-pupil spending dropped in 2012 for the second year in a row, according to data released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics. ( The Washington Post )

Sex abuse education?

A bill being debated at the Colorado state Capitol would teach children as young as five about sexual abuse. Some lawmakers call it the biggest public health issue that no one is talking about. ( CBS4 )

Categories: Urban School News

Manual High School’s next leader to be named, advisory panel behind career education option

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 21:16

Denver school officials will solidify the direction of the district’s neediest high school in the coming weeks when they introduce the next principal at Manual High School. But some parents and community members aren’t sure they’ll be part of the welcome wagon.

Manual parents and community members met with two finalists, Nickolas Dawkins and Robert Kelly Jr., Monday evening. The candidates will meet with Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg next week for a final interview.

Meanwhile, a community committee assembled to advise Denver Public Schools officials on how to move the school forward has issued its final report.

The committee, made up of Manual alumni, parents, staff, and community members, has endorsed a career and technical program where students can earn biomedical training and certificates.

Some committee members also stressed their hope, despite Manual’s low enrollment, the school will continue to offer a comprehensive education to students that includes music and the arts.

“We feel like the Manual of today is strong, is moving in a wonderful direction, has a lot of momentum,” said Karen Mortimer, a member of the committee and DPS parent. “It’s not a school that needs to be unplugged. It’s a school that needs to be supported in its continued excellence.”

Yet as the next chapter for Manual is coming into focus, some community members and parents are raising concerns about the principal candidates qualifications and how the school’s new biomedical career track.

About the finalists

Dawkins is principal at Hamilton Middle School in Denver. Kelly is an assistant principal at Overland High School in Aurora.

Dawkins grew up in Denver, graduated from East High School, and later taught English at South High School.

In 2009, he was an administrative intern at Thomas Jefferson High School as part of the University of Denver’s Ritchie Program for School Leaders.

He then spent two years as a principal in residence at Martin Luther King Jr. Early College as part of the district’s leadership program, Learn to Lead.

Since 2012, he has been the principal at Hamilton Middle School, which has about 900 students.

According to Dawkin’s resume, he managed a $4.1 million budget, launched a program that gave every student a laptop, and raised the school’s performance rating to green, a status that indicates the school is meeting the district’s expectations.

Kelly is a graduate for the University Of Alaska-Anchorage. He began teaching physical education in Anchorage in 1995. He also coached a variety of sports teams including wrestling, track, football, and soccer.

According to his resume, he moved to Colorado in 2006 to become the athletic director and assistant principal at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County.

In 2007, Kelly moved to the Cherry Creek School District to become an assistant principal at Overland High School, which has more than 2,000 students. There he took a role in instruction and teacher evaluations. He has also been the school’s assessment coordinator. He developed an intervention program for at-risk students. And he launched two leadership programs for male students.

Both Hamilton and Overland are racially diverse schools. About half the students at both schools qualify for federally-subsidized lunches. Manual’s population is predominately black or Latino. Nearly three-fourths of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Neither Dawkins nor Kelly responded to requests for interviews.

Not afraid of the spotlight

A lot of hard work awaits Manual’s next leader. It is the city’s lowest performing high school.

Not only will the new principal need to drastically boost student achievement and roll out a new program intended to help students develop expertise in the medical field, he’ll also need to win over students, parents, faculty, district officials, and a fiercely protective group of alumni and community supporters.

At times, those constituencies haven’t seen eye-to-eye.

“We’re looking for someone who has the right skills to engage and engender buy in of community,” said Susana Cordova, Denver’s chief schools officer. “We’re looking for someone who is able to articulate and build on vision for the school and do that in collaboration with stakeholders. We’re looking for someone who is not afraid to be in the spotlight.”

Manual has been a hotbed of reform efforts since the mid-1990s. In 2006, the school was shut down for a year when Denver Public Schools attempted to reboot Manual, which sits in a historically black northeast portion of Denver. The reform efforts led by then-Superintendent Michael Bennet, now the state’s senior U.S. senator, was subject of a New Yorker profile.

While test scores improved for a short time, a leadership transition in 2010 meant a slip in academic rigor and culture. In 2014, then-principal Brian Dale was fired after he overspent the school’s budget by more than $600,000 without improving test results. Don Roy, a Denver middle school principal was named as Dale’s successor and charged with steadying the school. Roy’s tenure will end at the conclusion of the school year.

DPS officials announced this fall they were searching for a new principal at Manual High School. The news came as the district abandoned a plan to merge Manual with nearby East High School.

Cordova said whomever the district chooses to lead Manual will be working closely with his direct supervisor to ensure the school’s culture and academic rigor — which reportedly have been improving under Roy — don’t backslide. The district, she said, has put an emphasis on coaching not just teachers, but principals as well.

Some in the Manual community are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming leadership transition.

“Manual has been screwed a lot — starting with those boundary lines — but I feel like the district is taking a little more ownership,” said Lainie Hodges, a Manual alumni who served on the Manual Thought Partner committee.

Processing the process

Not all members of the Manual committee are convinced DPS has turned over a new leaf when it comes to Manual. A vocal group of parents who share a strong bond with former Manual assistant principal Vernon Jones, whose contract was not renewed this fall, have been raising concerns about how DPS has positioned Manual for the future.

Parent Courtney Torres, a member of the community advisory group, said she left the committee because she felt the process was only for show.

“From my point of view, [my participation] wasn’t beneficial for me or my students,” Torres said.

She also took offense to DPS suggesting a program to track students into the medical careers and not college.

“I think the reason I chose Manual was because it was a college prep,” Torres said. “It’s oxymoronic to call Manual a college prep school and offer [career programs]. College prep is when you’re preparing students to think critically, to learn with books, to engage in conversation. But when you track kids into giving kids medical assistance and technician certificates — that’s the opposite of college prep.”

Both Mortimer and Cordova stressed the biomedical track, which will be paid in part by a grant from the Kaiser Foundation, will be optional.

Parent Jason Janz said he is concerned that Monday’s parent meeting with the principal finalists appeared to be thrown together at the last minute with little notice to parents. He also expressed concern the candidates were not asked demanding questions.

“Both [candidates] are very likable individuals,” Janz said. “They’re passionate about education. But as a community, we only had 20 minutes to hear them talk. The questions were all scripted — I call them, ‘do you like children questions.'”

District officials did send out a letter announcing the forum. But the date was changed due to a scheduling conflict one of the candidates had. A district spokesman said three automated phone calls were placed alerting parents to the change in time. The district also posted notices on the school’s Facebook page.

Hodges, who helped organize the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, disagreed with some of Janz’s claims.

“Any rumor that hardball questions weren’t asked is just wrong,” she said.

Audience members were asked only to submit questions that both candidates could respond do. Participants were also able to ask both candidates individual questions afterward for about 45 minutes, she said.

Janz also said he is uneasy about the candidates’ qualifications: Neither has been a principal at a high school before.

“If you think every assistant principal is cut out to be a principal, you probably also think Sarah Palin or Joe Biden could run this country,” Janz said.

Cordova, DPS’s chief school officer, wouldn’t respond directly to those concerns, but said she had faith in the hiring process that included input and a review of applicants by multiple groups including Manual’s Collaborative School Committee, a formal body made up of parents, teachers, and community members.

Categories: Urban School News

Task force report kicks off legislative testing debates

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 20:32

Legislators quickly got into the weeds on testing Wednesday after receiving a new report on the issue, previewing future debates on the amount of testing, equity, parent opt out and a host of other issues.

The Standards and Assessments Task Force, created by the 2014 legislature, presented its final 25-page report to the House and Senate education committees Wednesday morning. The group is recommending significant cutbacks in high school testing and some reductions and streamlining of K-3 tests and evaluations. (See this article for more details on the recommendations and the links in the box below for the full report and appendices.)

Testing is expected to be the top education issue of the 2015 session. While the main recommendations of the task force report have been known for some time, the official release seemed to focus legislators’ attention and sparked nearly three hours of questions to and dialogue with task force members. The Capitol’s new second-floor hearing room was packed with a crowd of well over 100 for the report’s release, although the audience thinned considerably as the discussion wore on.

Here are some snapshots of the discussion on key issues.

Equity and tracking student progress

A key concern for some education interest groups is whether reduction of testing will make it harder to gather the annual data on student academic growth that reform groups say is necessary to track the progress of at-risk and minority students.

Several Democratic lawmakers asked about the issue.

Task force member Lisa Escarcega said, “There are other growth models out there” and that growth data is more important in earlier grades than in high school. She’s the chief accountability and research officer for the Aurora Public Schools.

“This discussion we’re having now is at the crux of the difficulty the task force was having,” said member Bill Jaeger, vice president for early childhood at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “The question is what do we give up when we go down that road” of reducing testing.

Learn more

Testing cost study done for task force

Jaeger said while new ways of measuring growth through local testing systems are on the horizon, “We’re not there yet. … The challenge is that it is not a flip of a switch, it is a system change.”

High school testing

The task force recommends that mandatory state tests be eliminated in 11th and 12th grades, and part of the group wanted to eliminate 9th grade tests as well.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, asked about that, saying, “It seems a little bit to me like turning off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter” and it’s important to have data on high school academic growth.

Task force chair Dan Snowberger said the group heeded public input on the issue, which was critical of high school testing. Snowberger is superintendent of the Durango schools.

In his opening remarks, Snowberger said, “The current system is hugely burdensome. … We’re hoping this report will give you traction to do something to reduce the pressure on our schools.”

John Creighton, a St. Vrain board member, said, “You try to take the one that makes the most sense to reduce,” and that was high school tests.

“I think there are valid arguments on both sides,” said Johnston.

State and local tests

The task force made no recommendations about local school and district tests, although Snowberger cautioned lawmakers about trying to limit local testing. “We want to recognize that as a local control issue.”

There were several lawmaker questions on the issue, and task force members emphasized the value teachers put on the usefulness of local tests in helping guide classroom instruction.

Social studies

The task force’s recommendation to end all 12th grade tests would in effect eliminate that social studies test, but the group made no further recommendation on that exam. It was split on whether to continue or eliminate social studies tests in 4th and 7th grades.

Snowberger said, “All of us recognize that social studies has a high value” but in the overall context of testing he felt it was worth taking a “pause” on social studies. Creighton agreed.

Parent opt-out

The ability of parents to opt their children out of testing is a top concern for some parent groups and Republican legislators.

The task force recommended that the state create an accountability “timeout” for the 2015-16 school year in case significant numbers of students don’t take tests this spring. (Districts’ accreditation ratings can be lowered if fewer than 95 percent of students take state tests.) The group also recommended that the state provide clear information to parents about the impacts of opting out.

Bethany Drosendahl, a Colorado Springs parent, was the only task force member who dissented from the report and didn’t sign the document.

“Parents have a right to refuse. We are not asking for that right. We already have it,” she told legislators.

Drosendahl also said she supports broad district testing flexibility because it’s “the best way for accommodating the vast variety of individual learners.”

Snowberger said final agreement by the group went down to the wire, including lengthy conference calls last Friday and on Sunday evening, when Drosendahl indicated she couldn’t sign on to the final report. He added, “Until everyone signed this morning, I could not have told you everyone was in agreement.”

Future reforms

The task force’s recommendations are based on the conclusion, as the report puts it, that options for changing the system are “severely restricted by the current federal testing requirements.”

The group didn’t address the issue of what could be done if those requirements change until its second-to-the last meeting. “We just didn’t have time to come to consensus,” Snowberger said.

So the panel’s “long-term recommendations are questions,” as member Syna Morgan put it. She’s chief academic officer of the Jeffco schools.

She added, “We believe there is an opportunity to have common ground” on a future testing system that’s much more flexible for districts and students. “It’s going to be challenging, but we believe we can get there.”

Where lawmakers go from here

Five testing bills have so far been introduced in the 2015 sessions.

There are two Democratic bills in the Senate, one that would reduce testing to federal minimum requirements and one to cut back on social studies testing.

Three Republican bills in the House are more comprehensive and propose various combinations of testing cuts, a withdrawal from the Common Core State Standards and PARCC tests, and greater district flexibility in assessments.

Hearings aren’t likely until mid-February and there’s also talk of a bipartisan bill on testing only, although nothing definite has surfaced.

What others are saying

Education advocacy groups reacted quickly to the report. A group of nine reform and business-related groups led by Colorado Succeeds issued a statement saying, “Colorado’s students spend too much time taking tests, and our state needs to address this problem. … Legislators should respect the opinions of the experts who were entrusted with this task.”

Colorado Children’s Campaign CEO Chris Watney issued a separate statement, saying. “We believe the recommendations strike the right balance.”

And the Colorado Education Association issued a lengthy statement expressing teacher concerns about testing and – without details – calling for “testing solutions beyond task force recommendations.”

Union spokesman Mike Wetzel said, “Teachers, parents, and students want more than what was recommended today. Just as we worked with this task force, we’ll partner with legislators to explore what we can do together to lessen the testing burden and return time and resources to classroom instruction.”

Categories: Urban School News

Revamp of George Washington IB, other programs progresses without past rancor

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 15:06

Plans to open the International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School to more students have taken a major step forward, a committee planning the changes reported Tuesday night.

Although some IB parents and teachers expressed vehement opposition to the plan when it was first floated by Denver Public Schools last spring, consensus is building at the school that major changes to the school’s programming can work for all students, members of the One George steering committee told a crowd of about 100 people in the school’s auditorium.

Read the One George report here.

“We set out to develop pathways that would lead students to college prep, AP, or IB, keeping in mind that we wanted to keep IB intact as a world class opportunity for study but to beef up some of the other programs so they’d have an equivalent level of rigor,” said Suzanne Geimer, George Washington’s long-time IB coordinator.

The consensus plan to revamp the school’s programs represents a marked departure for the school, where a succession of earlier attempts to open the IB program to more students over the years dissipated under intense parental opposition.

For almost 30 years, the IB program at GW has educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges. The rigorous four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, and interviews. Freshman and sophomore students in the program take “pre-IB” courses to prepare them for the rigors of the IB Diploma Program, which spans grades 11 and 12 and whose curriculum is set by an international organization.

The school also has non-IB classes, including an Advanced Placement program, which has had a less-than-stellar reputation. On Tuesday, two student speakers described the separation they noticed between IB students and those in non-IB classes.

Under the One George plan, the 9th- and 10-grade Pre-Baccalaureate program would be opened to “qualified” students without any application process. And to gain admission to the IB Diploma Programme, students are “advised” but not necessarily required, as they were in the past, to take a full compliment of Pre-Baccalaureate courses.

The One George plan also includes efforts to build unity in the school and improve student support.

Jose Martinez, named interim principal last summer after former principal Micheal Johnson became a lightning rod for parent discontent over the proposed changes, will stay on for another year to oversee implementation of the changes.

“We recognized early on that in order to achieve our stated goals, [Martinez] agreeing to stay was very important,” said Todd Mackintosh, a GW parent and member of the steering committee. He said Martinez had brought “a sense of optimism and years of experience” to his role. Martinez was a principal coach, leader of diversity programs, and principal in the Jeffco school district before coming to George.

DPS leadership approved the plan earlier this winter. A number of task forces focused on school culture, leadership, the content of the new pathways, and student-centered learning will meet over the course of the next few months.

Categories: Urban School News

Testing task force report, recommendations released

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 13:51

Here are highlights of the recommendations made by the Standards and Assessments Task Force to a meeting of the House and Senate education committees on Jan. 28. (Read the full report here.)


Task force members agreed that testing has several values and uses. “However findings from research studies and public input made it clear that Colorado’s current system of state and local assessments has created far too many demands on time, logistics, and finances that are impacting the teaching and learning process in schools and undermining public support for the assessment system as a whole.”

The panel’s conclusion “is that, where possible, changes must be made to the type, frequency, and use of various assessments.”

The report noted that the state’s ability to change the testing system is “severely restricted by the current federal testing requirements.” In the short term, “the state must adhere to these federal requirements in order to avoid the fiscal and other consequences of non-compliance.”

High school
  • Eliminate state-require tests in 12th grade
  • Eliminate 11th grade tests except for a college entrance exam like ACT. Make language arts and math an option for districts
  • Fulfill high school science testing requirement with an augmented college entrance exam
  • Consider whether to continue 9th grade testing (task force split)
  • Consider whether to continue social studies in 4th and 7th grades (task force split)
  • Continue language arts and science tests in the 10th grade, as well as in 3-8
  • Schools and districts shouldn’t be held accountable for test results in 2015-16 school year
  •  Kindergarten students should be able to take the first literacy assessments within 90 days of start of school, rather than immediately
  • A student who’s proficient on first test shouldn’t have to take further tests during the school year
  • A student who doesn’t show grade-level proficiency on the first test should be tested again within 60 days before being designated as having a significant reading deficiency
School readiness
  • Reduction to six in the number of learning domains assessed
  • Assessment should be given only at beginning or year, not three times
  • Kindergarten students shouldn’t have to take both readiness and READ Act tests
  • Schools shouldn’t have to develop separate readiness and READ plans for the same child
  • State should continue to expand choices for readiness and literacy evaluations
ACCESS tests
  • English language learners in a Colorado school for less than a year shouldn’t have to take English language arts tests
  • Their second-year test results shouldn’t be used for accountability purposes
  • Availability of pencil and paper tests at all levels beginning in 2015-16
  • Consider additional funding to districts for costs of test-related technology
Future changes in testing
  • The task force recommended creation of a long-term advisory board to work on testing issues. The report suggested that group should consider:
  • Balance of state and local testing
  • The use of state tests for accountability and student growth and whether local testing can be used for part of these purposes
  • The amount of flexibility local districts should have in choice of tests
  • Handling of parent opt out and how should it affect accountability
  • The extent to which paper and online tests can be balanced in the future

One of the 15 members, parent representative Bethany Rosendahl of Colorado Springs, dissented from the report. She told committee members she believes districts and schools should have greater flexibility in choosing tests and that parents have the right to opt out of testing.

Get more information on the task force and its work here.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Crowded Jeffco elementary schools spur changes

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:52

Graduation By the numbers

A variety of college-prep and career-training programs are driving a jump in graduation numbers at Sheridan High, school officials said. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

But school officials in Sterling, where the dropout rate increased, are concerned they don't have enough alternative options for students who leave school. ( Journal-Advocate )

But how complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools? Tell us and we'll share your answer on Friday. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

No room at the Inn

Crowded elementary schools in Lakewood are forcing Jeffco Public Schools to rethink which programs should be in which buildings. ( Denver Post )

For good measure

Another school district — Steamboat Springs — will ask the state for a waiver from this spring's testing. Meanwhile, the attorney general still hasn't issued a formal opinion on the matter. ( Steamboat Today )

Decisions, decisions

Colorado Springs' Academy District 20 and District 49 led the region in the number of students who choice in. ( KOAA )

Meanwhile, Colorado dropped one spot on a national survey of state's and charter school laws. We're now ranked No. 6. ( Gazette )

parochial problems

Some rural Catholic schools are struggling to keep enrollment up, while others have an iPad for every student. ( 9News )

Two cents

Parents should reach out to local school boards in support of standardized comprehensive sex education policies. ( Denver Post )

Categories: Urban School News

At Sheridan High School, an all-in approach to boost graduation rates

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 22:36

SHERIDAN — When Makayla Joe stopped showing up for school last year, one of her best friends begged her to return.

Joe’s friend, then a fellow junior at Sheridan High School, even threatened to stop attending class herself if Joe didn’t come back.

That didn’t make any sense to Joe. But the threat worked. Joe soon was back in her seat at Sheridan High where school administrators recruited her into a program that took her to a college campus last summer and showed her how to prepare for college.

“Everyone has motivated me to be my best,” Joe said, Tuesday. “They’ve shown me there is always another step for me to take to make myself a better person.”

It’s that sort of communal support — along with a growing variety of college-prep programs — that Sheridan School District officials point to as the driving force behind a doubling of its on-time graduation rate during the last three years.

In 2012, just three out of every 10 students who began high school in 2008 graduated from either Sheridan High or the district’s alternative high school, SOAR Academy. In 2014, six out of every 10 students who began high school in 2010 graduated from one of the tiny district’s high schools. (Sheridan High enrolled 377 students, most of whom are poor and Latino, during the 2013-14 school year. SOAR had just 147.)

According to 2014 graduation data released last week by the state, 80 percent of seniors who attended Sheridan High School, just south of Denver, completed their high school coursework in four years. That’s up from 60 percent the previous year.

“These numbers are a testament to what is happening at our high school,” said Michael Clough, Sheridan’s superintendent. “It’s also evidence of the quality of the learning coming up through our entire system.”

Sheridan has so few students that the graduation rate can move significantly with just a handful more students graduating on time. Each graduating class has fewer than 100 students. That means if the school graduates just a few more students than the year before, the numbers grow at a faster rate than at a larger school.

Talk to us
Chalkbeat’s question of the week asks: How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools? Answer here.

School officials have used the small student population to their advantage.

“We know all our kids,” said Michele Kelley, Sheridan High’s principal. “This is there safe haven. This is where they are getting their needs met.”

Among Sheridan High’s efforts to move more students toward college and career: an extended day that affords students an hour of intervention services if they fall behind, a redesign of the district’s summer school program, and a new elective that focuses on the academic and social skills students will need for college.

Sheridan High also requires students to take four years of math, including one taught by an instructor from a community college. Students must pass each math class with at least a 70 percent or repeat the course before they can graduate.

“The question we always ask ourselves is ‘does the student have the skills they need to do what they want to do?'” Kelley said. “If they don’t, they stay here.”

The school also partners with a variety of nonprofits and federal programs including College Summit, Upward Bound, and TRIO, to prepare them for college life.

Graduation rates in Colorado do come with a warning: Just because more students are graduating doesn’t mean they are all prepared for college or career. Individual school districts, not the state, determine the requirements for graduation. Those requirements can vary widely.

Other factors that illustrate the rigor of a high school’s course of study include the graduating class’ composite ACT score, the number of students who are eligible for and enroll in college courses while in high school, and their college remediation rates.

Sheridan’s graduating class of 2014 had a composite ACT score of 16.14, about three points behind the state average of 19.68. And it will be several years before the state will release either the number of Sheridan students who concurrently enrolled in a college course or how many students who needed remediation at a Colorado college.

However, Sheridan High officials said each year more high school students are becoming eligible to take college level courses.

Twenty-seven students, or about a fourth of the the graduating class of 2014, scored high enough on a third-party exam to be able to enroll in courses at Arapahoe Community College. Meanwhile, 39 students in the graduating class of 2015 have done so.

While the graduation numbers are accurate, Sheridan’s graduation rate — and whether it means more students are prepared for life after high school — is further complicated by an appeal the district made to the State Board of Education last year.

The district, which has been on the state’s watch list for poor academic performance and may face state interventions next year, asked the state board to reconsider the district’s accreditation rating, claiming the district’s schools were meeting the state’s expectations.

The crux of Sheridan’s argument last year was that it had students enrolled for a fifth, sixth or seventh year of high school who were concurrently enrolled at both its high school and Arapahoe Community College. Those students had met the qualifications for a standard diploma, but were seeking an advanced “21st Century Diploma” that required additional college courses. Sheridan officials believed those students should have counted toward its overall graduation rate.

The state board, taking the advice of CDE staff, disagreed.

Clough, the district’s superintendent, said his staff was working with CDE to ensure the advance diploma’s legitimacy and that for the time being, the community college is overseeing the district’s concurrent enrollment program.

Meanwhile, he said he’s hopeful the high school’s higher graduation rate will boost his district’s official rating enough next year to stave off the state from imposing sanctions.

“I’m a lot less worried about [the state] then I was a year ago,” Clough said.

The district will learn its next rating in the spring of 2016.

As for Joe, the senior who almost gave up her junior year, she hopes to attend Fort Lewis College after graduating to become a pharmacist.

But before she goes she has to finish one extra year of math.

“I want to be ready to go to college,” she said.

Categories: Urban School News

Rise & Shine: Marketing plays a growing role in Denver schools

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 10:16

School choice

As the city's school choice system evolves, DPS and charter schools are employing marketing specialists to tell their schools' stories. ( Denver Post )

Little Ones

A House panel passed funding increases for kindergarten and preschool, but it's unclear just where the money will go. ( Chalkbeat Colorado )

Show what you know

The idea of a "competency-based degree" is increasingly popular. ( KUNC )

Stay Fit

Students at Aspen Academy are taking a 90-day fitness challenge. ( 9 News )

Onward and Upward

Peak to Peak Charter School in Boulder has raised funds to provide scholarships for its college-bound seniors. ( Daily Camera )


9 News spotlights an online learning academy in Douglas County that's expanding its offline programming. ( 9 News )

Cloud Ceilings

Students contributed design ideas for a new school building in Colorado Springs. ( Gazette )

Always on My Mind

Aurora state representatives are concerned about student loan burdens, state testing. ( Aurora Sentinel )

What's in a name?

In Louisiana, providing funding for promising minority students to help boost their IQ scores and get them into gifted programs. ( Hechinger Report )

Categories: Urban School News

Panel passes kindergarten, preschool funding bills, but divisions remain

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 23:18

The House Education Committee on Monday passed two bills intended to increase funding for both preschool and full-day kindergarten, but the discussion highlighted differences over which program should have the highest priority.

House Bill 15-1020, a measure that would increase state financial support of full-day kindergarten, passed 10-1, with only one Republican voting no. But House Bill 15-1024, which would provide more funding for the Colorado Preschool Program, only passed on a 6-5 party-line vote, with majority Democrats on the winning side.

The two issues consumed much of a hearing that lasted more than six hours.

The primary impact of the committee votes is to keep the ideas alive. The real decisions on the two proposals will come much later in the legislative session, when lawmakers wrestle with and finally decide the broader issue of school funding for 2015-16.

The kindergarten proposal would cost $236 million, while the preschool plan adds up to $11.3 million, according to initial estimates by legislative staff.

Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, a retired superintendent from Salida, has made a crusade of increasing kindergarten funding.

The state provides districts with .58 percent of full per-pupil funding for each kindergarten student. “As a state we claim to have a K-12 system. We do not. We have a .58 system,” Wilson told the committee.

A majority of Colorado’s 178 districts offer full-day kindergarten, but they pay for it themselves or, in some cases, charge tuition. “We have a K-12 system only because the districts are footing the bill,” Wilson said, adding that districts spend $207 million on full-day kindergarten.

If the state picked up the tab, districts could use that $207 million for other educational needs, including preschool, he argued.

Three witnesses supported the bill – two school superintendents from Wilson’s district and Bill Jaeger, lobbyist for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which is a strong supporter of the preschool bill.

Jaeger supported the kindergarten measure but in a nuanced way. “We encourage you to think about a long-term strategy to implement the goals of Rep. Wilson’s bill.”

Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, was the only no vote on the kindergarten bill.

The discussion took a different turn on HB 15-1024, whose funding would allow expansion of the Colorado Preschool Program from 28,360 students to 31,360. The program primarily serves four-year-olds who meet a specific definition of being at-risk. The program is offered both through schools and non-profit groups.

“The funding for this program has not kept pace with the need,” said prime sponsor Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

There are a couple of fault lines on this issue, which cropped up during committee discussion.

On one side, Wilson argues that school districts should be able to choose whether to devote state early childhood money to preschool or to full-day kindergarten, depending on their individual needs. A 2014 increase in early childhood funding went into what’s called the ECARE program, which allows districts to choose how to spend the money. Some preschool advocates think too much of that money went to kindergarten.

“Why should we think we know better than the educators” in deciding how to use the money, Wilson asked.

Other Republicans are skeptical of the value of preschool and prefer that young children stay at home until kindergarten.

A parade of witnesses from advocacy groups – the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Together Colorado, Mile High Montessori, and others – testified for the bill, while two parents opposed it.

The committee also voted 6-5 (same partisan split) to advance House Bill 15-1001, another Pettersen-sponsored effort that would provide funding to education schools and non-profits to pay for scholarships for early childhood educators who want more training in their field.

Wilson said he’d be interested in amendments that would require scholarship recipients to both finish their degrees and work in the field for two years, and Pettersen said she’d be open to discussing those.

“We look forward to earning your votes,” she said to the committee Republicans.

Panel rejects change in school age requirements

The committee also split 6-5 on House Bill 15-1053, with Democrats voting to kill the bill. The measure would have changed the required age to enroll in school from six to seven and allowed students to leave school at 16 instead of 17.

The bill was sponsored by freshman Rep. Kim Ranson, R-Littleton, who told the committee, “This bill will allow the decision making to rest with the parents rather than the school authorities. … It simply gives parents additional time with the special cases” such as children who aren’t ready for school, illnesses, and family crises.

Ransom said the compulsory attendance ages were seven and 16 as recently as a decade ago.

Three parents testified in favor of the bill, while a representative of the Colorado Education Association opposed it.

Native American tuition bill advances

A bill that would expand resident-rate college tuition to a wider range of Native American students passed House Education on a 6-5 vote, with majority Democrats supporting and Republicans voting no.

To be eligible for the lower rate, students would have to be registered members of one of the 48 tribes with recognized “historic ties” to Colorado. One of the witnesses supporting the bill was Marshall Gover, president of the Oklahoma-based Pawnee Nation. Pawnees once lived in Colorado before white settlement. A long list of other witnesses supported the bill.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, sponsored a similar bill during the 2014 session. It got all the way through the House but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee late in the session, primarily because of cost issues. The potential cost of House Bill 15-1027 is tough to predict, given that it’s not known how many such students currently attend state colleges and pay out-of-state tuition, nor how many new students might be attracted. (See the best guess by legislative staff in this fiscal note.)

With Republicans now in control of the Senate, the tuition bill may not have good prospects there regardless of financial considerations.

Categories: Urban School News

Talk to us: What do graduation rates really mean?

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 18:40

Last week the Colorado Department of Education released spring’s graduation and drop out numbers. The state saw a slight increase in graduation rates, and for the eighth straight year a decrease in dropout rates. You can read our coverage here, here, and here.

Denver Public Schools was among the school districts who celebrated an uptick. Superintendent Tom Boasberg had this to say:

It’s an enormous positive change for our community to have more students finishing high school, ready to go on to college and career. In today’s economy, it’s actually essential.

But one of Boasberg’s bosses, school board member Barbara O’Brien, cautioned:

A lot of people have worked very hard to increase graduation rates and lower dropout rates. But we have to keep the eye on the prize—students who can do college or career level work without remediation after high school.

That brings us to our question of the week: How complete a picture do you think graduation rates give us about what is happening in schools?

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

Categories: Urban School News

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